“Good evening, Ollie,” J’onn J’onzz greeted his longtime friend as Green Arrow entered the communications room of the JLA Satellite. The Martian Manhunter’s shift on monitor duty was over, and Green Arrow was relieving him.
“Hey, J’onn,” the emerald archer muttered sourly.
“Something troubles you?” the green-skinned giant asked.
“Ahh, it’s Artie,” Green Arrow said. To this day, the archer was the only one whom Aquaman allowed to call Artie. “He begged off my bachelor party. Seems this group of animal rights activists has a demonstration planned in Tokyo that day, protesting the hunting of dolphins and whales, and he promised to put in an appearance.”
“An excellent cause,” J’onn pointed out.
“Oh, sure, I’m behind it a hundred percent,” Green Arrow agreed. “It’s just not gonna be the same, him not bein’ there. He’ll be there for the wedding, of course, but the bachelor party is a guy’s last farewell to his old life. He likes all his friends around him.”
“Sadly, I, too, must make my apologies,” J’onn said. “The party has been scheduled for a holy day in the Martian religion, a day of fasting and prayer. Katar was unable to reschedule it.”
“Aw, man!” Green Arrow cursed. “First Artie, now you! What is it with you guys? Are you offended that I didn’t ask you to be my best man, or somethin’?”
“Certainly not, Ollie,” J’onn said. “To spoil your festivities to assuage hurt feelings would be childish and immature. That is not my way.” The jade-hued alien paused a moment. “However, I would have been honored to stand for you. You are like a brother to me.”
Green Arrow raised an eyebrow. “Aren’t you, like, a hundred and twenty in Earth years?”
The Martian shrugged imperceptibly. “A younger brother, perhaps. I’ve always felt a kinship between us, Ollie. Both of us seem strangers in a world we never anticipated, clinging to our friends as our only true family.”
“Got that right,” Green Arrow said. “Say, do you have bachelor parties on Mars? Or weddings? I mean, I know you get married and all; you’ve told me about that. But what’s it like? The ritual?”
J’onn paused, thinking about that. “Different. Vastly different. As you know, the green-skinned race on Mars is one of science and philosophy, prizing knowledge above physical strength and combat. However, in our infancy, ours was a warlike race, given to much bloodshed.”
“Yeah, Blanx’s pale people never got much past that, did they?” Green Arrow asked.
“Indeed not,” J’onn agreed. “However, as with most civilizations, a few of our ancient rituals still survive into the modern day. Much as, for example, the Terran custom of communion in the Christian religions, the symbolic eating of the flesh of their God, evolved from ancient barbaric rites of human sacrifice and cannibalism.” J’onn paused again. “In ancient times, when a young Martian male desired a mate, he had to fight her father, or eldest living male relative, to the death for her hand. A variation of that ritual survives, even unto this day.”
Green Arrow did a double-take. “What?! You guys still do that?”
“Presently,” J’onn explained, “the ritualistic combat takes the form of b’akk, a contest of strategy and intellect not dissimilar to Terran chess, only much more difficult.”
“Chess? You mean, when you want to marry a Martian gal, you have to beat her daddy at chess?”
“I wouldn’t have phrased it so simply,” J’onn said, “but that is the heart of the matter, yes.”
“Suppose you lose?”
“It is customary for the father of the bride to allow the groom to win,” J’onn said. “After all, it is merely a ritual.”
“J’onn,” Green Arrow began, “I like to think I’m a pretty liberal guy, but… man, that’s weird.”
“Indeed,” J’onn agreed. “I felt the same way about Halloween when I first heard of it.”
“Batman calling the satellite, code 6-7-9,” the voice of the Darknight Detective came through the communications speakers.
“Martian Manhunter acknowledging,” J’onn replied into the voice-activated communicator. “What is the trouble, Batman?”
“No trouble,” Batman replied. “At least not at the moment. I just had a run-in with what I believe to be a brand-new costumed criminal. At least, I have never encountered him before, nor have I seen his like in the JLA files. I want to dictate my encounter to the League computer while it’s still fresh in my mind.”
“A new super-baddie?” Green Arrow said. “Just what we don’t need!’
“Direct patch to computer voice files established,” J’onn said. “You may begin when ready, Batman.”
The longtime Justice Leaguer took a deep breath, then began his narrative.
It had been, for Gotham City, a relatively slow evening; Batman had broken up a drug buy, saved the inhabitants from a tenement fire, and halted a street fight between rival gangs. The Caped Crusader was half-wondering where Gotham’s outré criminal masterminds were this evening, when the dashboard alarm alerted him to a robbery in progress at the Flugelheim Museum. Batman turned the Batmobile onto Keaton Avenue. In moments, he was pulled up in front of the museum; he climbed cautiously out of his vehicle.
“No lights on,” he said to himself. “I don’t even see a glimmer of a flashlight. Real pros; must have night-vision goggles.” Batman removed his own pair from his utility belt and fastened them around his head before entering the museum. He crept stealthily through the darkened museum until he spotted a man in a room housing Renaissance paintings. The man stood before a painting entitled The Night Watch and was reaching up for it. The man was dressed in a skintight costume, in shades of black and blue.
“Museum hours are over, friend,” Batman snarled. The man whirled on his heel, facing the Darknight Detective. The man wore a full-face mask, with opaque white coverings for his eyes.
“Ah, Batman!” the man said. “I’ve been expecting you. Gotham’s great guardian; how could I hope to liberate this painting from the Flugelheim without encountering you?”
“While I admire your color scheme,” Batman said, “we’ve got enough theme villains in Gotham. When you get out of prison, I’d suggest you ply your trade somewhere else.”
“My dear Batman, I have no intention of going to prison,” the man said. His right hand, which had hung limply at his side, suddenly shot forward like a striking cobra. Batman tensed, ready to dive to one side. He had a vague impression of a black light flashing from the man’s wrist, before the entire room was plunged into darkness, a darkness his night-vision goggles couldn’t penetrate.
“Surprised?” the man’s mocking voice came through the darkness. “Your toys are useless against me, Batman! No manmade devices can see through the darkness I create!”
“Keep talking,” Batman said, maneuvering slowly, cautiously, through the blackness.
“So you can find me?” the man mocked. “I’m right here, Batman, right next to you!”
The Caped Crusader threw a punch at the voice. It collided with something hard and dense; Batman quickly drew his hand back, his knuckles stinging. Before he could react, something struck him hard on the jaw, sending him reeling across the room.
“Adieu, Batman,” the mocking voice called out. “We’ll meet again, I’m sure! Oh, I forgot to introduce myself. Call me the Moonwalker!”
Slowly, the room came back into the cloudy view Batman saw through his goggles, as Moonwalker’s darkness faded. The man himself was gone.
“At least he didn’t get the painting,” Batman said, rubbing his jaw. “Just what I needed, another name for my rogues’ gallery. Moonwalker, eh? Be a lawsuit, there.”
“And he called himself Moonwalker? Actually?” Green Arrow asked, with a barely concealed chuckle.
“I’m sure it had nothing to do with Michael Jackson,” Batman said, sternly. “Probably referred to walking under the moon by darkness. That sort of thing.” Batman’s voice came through the communicator to Green Arrow and Martian Manhunter in the satellite headquarters; he had finished his account of his battle with the new villain.
“What were this criminal’s powers?” J’onn asked.
“He projected darkness,” Batman said, “a very persistent kind of darkness; my night-vision goggles were useless. He seemed able to see in the dark as well. Also, he seemed super-strong and resistant to injury.”
“Doctor Mid-Nite on steroids,” Green Arrow commented.
“I’ve run a check in our known criminals database,” J’onn said, ignoring the archer’s comment. “He doesn’t seem to match any costumed criminals, super-powered or otherwise, extant.”
“So there’s a new one,” Green Arrow said. “As if we didn’t have enough of them to contend with.”
“As this Moonwalker is brand-new,” Batman said, “I don’t know if he intends operating solely in Gotham City or not. It’s important that the entire League be alerted to his presence.”
“I agree, Batman,” J’onn said. “We’ll be alert for this Moonwalker.”
Green Arrow started laughing again, drawing a stern glance from J’onn. “Sorry, guys, I just can’t help it! Moonwalker, for Pete’s sake!”
“This from the man who’s fought Clock King, the Red Dart, and Camouflage King,” Batman said.
“Don’t forget the Pinball Wizard,” added J’onn.
“Has a point,” Green Arrow conceded.
“And if there’s no old business,” Hawkman said, chairing the regular JLA meeting two nights later, “we’ll move on to new business. Batman has informed the League of a new costumed criminal, calling himself–” Hawkman shot a stern glance at Green Arrow, as if daring him to make a joke; the archer, smiling to himself, merely shrugged. “–the Moonwalker. This criminal’s abilities–”
“Incoming teleportation,” a breathy female voice, a perfect imitation of Marilyn Monroe, came over the public address system in the meeting room. “Identity confirmed as Superman.”
“Why did we let Ollie program the computer voice?” Hawkman asked of no one in particular.
“Hey, I kinda like it,” Green Lantern said.
A moment later, the Man of Steel was in the meeting room. “Sorry I’m late, everyone,” he apologized. “I had a situation come up that I had to deal with.”
“That’s all right, Clark,” Aquaman said. “Katar was just about to turn the floor over to Bruce, to brief everyone on the new super-villain he encountered.”
Superman frowned. “I’m afraid we need to make that two new super-villains.”
Superman left the Daily Planet Building via the rooftop, preparing to soar into space to attend the meeting in the JLA Satellite, when his super-hearing detected a silent alarm at the Metropolis University Library building. Instantly he changed course, hurtling through the sky like a blue comet toward the university.
“There’s the library,” Superman said, flying down to the darkened campus building. “Could be a desperate student trying to return a book before the due date to avoid a fine, but somehow I doubt it.”
Superman scanned the building with his x-ray vision and gasped at what he saw. He composed himself quickly.
“Take it easy, Clark; you’re not losing your mind,” the Man of Steel told himself. “It’s just a man in a pirate costume with a hook for a hand, prying open a glass display case. Happens all the time in Metropolis.” Superman flew down and pushed open the door of the library. The pirate whirled to stare at him.
“What be this?” the pirate snarled. “A buffoon in a clown’s costume, interrupting me at my business? Begone, clown!”
“Playing the part to the hilt, eh?” Superman asked. “OK, Cap’n, just come with me, and everything will be OK.”
“You dare address me thus?” the pirate demanded, drawing a flintlock pistol. “You’ll learn the folly of threatening James Hook, churl!”
“James Hook?” Superman said, raising an eyebrow as the pistol ball shattered on his chest. “Friend, you need serious help!”
“Name of the devil! The pistol ball bounces off!” Captain Hook cried. “This is no clown; ’tis a demon!”
“I’m no more those than you are Captain Hook,” Superman declared.
“Oh, trust me, he is,” a new voice said from the shadows, a feminine voice. Superman whirled to see a woman wearing a severe-styled gray suit and sensibly heeled shoes, with black-framed glasses and dark hair tied up in a tight bun. Her features were sharp, aquiline. She stared at Superman with a look that made him feel like he was eight years old again and caught whispering by Mrs. McGreevy, the Smallville librarian. She carried a large, leather-bound book under one arm.
“Um… he is?” Superman stammered.
“He is,” the woman confirmed. “Just the right one for the job I selected him for; but obviously insufficient to deal with you. Begone, Captain Hook!”
Superman watched in amazement as Captain Hook faded away into nothing. “A good trick, ma’am,” Superman said. “How’d you do it?”
“That comes under the heading of a trade secret,” the woman said. “Suffice it to say that any character ever created by the written word is at my service.”
“Interesting,” Superman said, his eyebrow raising again. “And you would be–?”
“In my youth, my callous classmates called me a Bookworm,” the woman said. “The name fits me as well as any other. I don’t suppose you’d consider flying out of here and letting me get what I came for.”
“I don’t suppose I would,” Superman said. “And even if you can summon fictional characters as you claim, I can’t think of one that could give me trouble.”
The Bookworm smirked at him. “You’re not very well-read, then,” she said. Before Superman could reply, a blow from behind struck him suddenly, driving him to his knees. He looked up behind himself to see a ten-foot giant standing behind him, a powerful giant, rippling with muscles. The giant’s skin was olive-toned, and he wore a pointed beard and a golden earring.
“Oh,” Superman said. “I forgot about him.”
“My master decrees you die!” The genie from A Thousand and One Arabian Nights snarled.
“Mistress,” the Bookworm corrected.