Aquaman would not have wanted any pity, but he would have deserved it. He was a hero by nature and by trade. As the champion of both Atlantis below the waves and New Venice on the surface, the heroic and regal hybrid of two races embodied the very best each race had to offer. He was as capable above the oceans as he was at their darkest depths. His strength, speed, and telepathic command over all nautical life forms made him a truly impressive warrior, but it was his quick mind and experience that gave him even more of an edge.
He now needed every advantage he possessed as he struggled bravely against impossible odds and horrific foes. The blond hero, wearing his customary orange and green costume, stood defiantly outside the city limits of the undersea community known as Poseidonis, where Aquaman could see the legions amassed against his home. “There’s a whole army out there!” he said softly.
The creatures were humanoid, although some had odd skeletons that revealed that at one time they had possessed fish tails instead of legs. This would have been in the past, since all of them were swimming skeletons now.
Aquaman’s lovely wife Mera nodded and said, “You will triumph over them. I know you will!” The flame-haired beauty in the green-scaled leotard believed in her husband. He had faced deathly threats countless times over the years she had grown to know and love him. The other-dimensional royal had witnessed her husband achieve miraculous feats in the past. She knew for her, their daughter Nautica, and for his people, Aquaman would risk more again.
A platinum-haired girl in a light blue shirt and shorts swam nearby with two other young people. Dolphin, alias the Lady Mara, frowned as she saw the army marching toward them. “If only my father was here,” she said. “Arion would know how to fight such monsters.” She referred to the regal mage of Atlantis, who had defended the realm in ancient days before arriving in the present to bring his power and skill to the defense of the remains of the empire he once knew.
“Arion had a right to see the surface world’s wonders,” said Aqualad. “We can’t blame him for taking a trip. The timing may be bad, but that’s beside the point. It’s not like we can page him. Aquaman will figure out something.” The young Titan was Aquaman’s partner in crime-fighting, and the purple-eyed youth clad in red and blue had equal faith in his mentor. He held a slender blonde young woman who wore a pink costume and possessed the tail of a mermaid in place of human legs.
The Mermaid also came from multiple worlds. Ulla Påske’s parents came from Tritonis and Poseidonis, respectively, while her foster family lived above the oceans in Denmark. The mutant girl could call all those places her heritage, and she defended them all as one of the heroic Global Guardians. She clung to her boyfriend and said, “Garth, what exactly are those things? They look like horror movie zombies!”
“That’s what they are, honey,” said Aqualad, “undead beings brought to some semblance of life by dark magic. We’re seeing the ancient dead of Atlantis rise up with some evil motive.”
“How do you kill someone that is already dead?” asked Dolphin. “All we can do is destroy them completely, or they’ll eventually keep coming!”
“Ulla, what exactly happened when they hit Tritonis?” asked Aquaman.
“Aquaman, it was a typical day for the fishtailed natives of that city when the ocean gave up its dead, so to speak,” replied Ulla. “From every side came an army of skeletal warriors. Some wore ancient jewels that came from the days of Arion. Others wore military uniforms from various periods of history.” She shuddered as she recounted her grim tale. “The soldiers tried to resist. Iquila even died fighting them. May Neptune keep his soul! I led some citizens to safety, and we all came here. You know the rest.”
Aquaman nodded and said, “Poor Iquila. He had a real hatred for me, but I’m sorry to hear of his death. He loved Tritonis. I know that for a fact.” He referred to the passionate and furious warrior who had blamed Aquaman for the times the surface world’s villains had invaded or threatened the undersea community. (*) He had been an enemy more out of misguided motives than true evil.
[(*) Editor’s note: See Aquaman: Can Any Place Be Home? Chapter 3: Treachery in Atlantis.]
“I have a plan,” he said. “We’ll hold them off as long as possible while some of us go in quest of the source of their rise. Some magic brought them into form and animated them. That same magic can put them to rest again.”
His JLA signal device began flashing, but he shut it off. I can’t answer it, he thought, not while so much is at stake here.
“Why not call in your friends?” asked Mera.
“The signal was labeled urgent,” said Aquaman. “I can’t take the others away from what perils they are facing above. This is my fight.”
King Vulko came out and stood beside a legion of soldiers. “Arthur, my friend, how can you beat such power?” he asked.
Aquaman stared at the legions, and his brow furled in concentration. Suddenly, the sea was full of massive black sharks who filled the seascape, obeying their master’s telepathic call. They smashed into the skeletons and devoured what they could not break apart.
“Vulko, Aquaman knows a thing or two about power himself!” said a smiling Dolphin.
Mera sent a huge fist of solid water into the skeletal ranks and broke several apart. “We will stand by you, good Vulko,” she said.
The Mermaid agreed readily as she thought of her displaced parents. I won’t let them lose their home! she thought, swimming forward as Dolphin led her forward with the army of Poseidonis.
The women swiftly began to fight the skeletons, and each found their foes to be inhumanly strong, if slow and unthinking. As a bony hand clutched for her throat, Dolphin brought a shell down to smash the arm and the owner into bits of bone. They break easily enough, but they never tire, she thought. Mermaid shattered two other warriors as her extra strength came into play, while Mera said nothing as her concentration created a spinning barrage of hard water to drive the enemy forces apart.
Elsewhere, Aquaman and Aqualad swam through dark waters to reach a weird structure made of coral.
“What is this place?” asked the younger man.
“The ancient crypt of the original Atlantis,” said Aquaman. “I think we’re about the find the source of our magical enemies. It has always been something of a magical focal point beneath the seas.” He charged forward, and as ten skeletons barred his path, he battered his way through into their midst. They closed in on him, but Aquaman lowered his head and rammed his body into them with crushing force.
Aqualad hurried to help his partner and quickly cleared a path to the embattled older man. Together they broke through the undead squad and approached the old tomb.
“I can’t read the glyph over the door,” said Aquaman, prying open the tomb with his bare strength. “It is in a language older than old Atlantean. I only knew this was a crypt from what the fish told me over the years. They avoid the place as a scene of horror and death. We’re on our own here, minnow. They won’t close in on the place even to help us.”
“Welcome, Aquaman!” cried a gaunt man in blue, whose ornately patterned robes and burnoose failed to distract from his burning eyes. “Be honored that you are the first of your cursed League to die at my hands!”
“Felix Faust!” said Aquaman as he recognized the master mage.
Faust smiled and said, “Correct! Soon to be known as the man who killed all of your watery friends! You see, the same tome that told me how to raise your dead and control them, also claims that he who kills all of your race will become a god!”
“He can’t breathe under here!” said Aqualad, confused. “The pressure alone should have crippled him!”
Felix Faust’s laugh was like the sound of breaking bones. “Fool!” he hissed. “My magic gives me total power! My undead legions will slay your people, and I will benefit from the blood sacrifice. For now, I’ll simply enjoy killing you two!”
“Get out of here, Garth!” cried Aquaman. “This is my fight! I want you to warn Mera and the rest about who we’re facing here.”
“I can’t leave you!” said Aqualad.
Aquaman shoved him backward and said, “Go! That’s an order!”
Aqualad hesitated and then swam furiously away from the crypt, only to be blocked by more skeletal warriors.
“OK, do your worst, Faust!” said Aquaman. “I’m sick of your kind dirtying my waters!”
While Aquaman prepared to defend his city, the other members of the Justice League of America sat grimly across from one another aboard their satellite headquarters approximately 22,300 miles over Earth.
Hawkman looked across at the other heroes gathered around the meeting room table. In addition to Hawkwoman, Green Arrow, and Black Canary, they had been joined by Red Tornado, Zatanna, Firestorm, the Elongated Man, and Steel. “Aquaman and Wonder Woman have failed to respond to their signals,” said the winged wonder. “Superman, Batman, Atom, Green Lantern, Flash, and the Martian Manhunter were mysteriously abducted. Vixen is still recovering from her own personal problems, and the Phantom Stranger, of course, responds at his own enigmatic whims.”
“Other reserve members or past allies like Adam Strange, Sargon the Sorcerer, Starman, and Metamorpho are equally unavailable,” added Hawkwoman.
“Surely we are equipped to deal with the present plight of our comrades,” said Red Tornado. The android hero looked calmly around the room and continued speaking. “While I have been continuously running various programs designed to either communicate with or determine the location of our allies, all I have discovered is as follows. Wonder Woman’s signal device has been shattered, and Aquaman has turned his off. I speculate that means Nubia is in peril, and Aquaman is occupied in some significant manner.”
“It doesn’t take a super-sleuth like myself to deduce that, Reddy, nor to anticipate our next moves,” said Ralph Dibny, the world-famous Elongated Man. “We divide up. Some of us will check on Nubia, while some of us see if Arthur needs help. The rest will try to find Superman and company.”
“How about magic?” suggested Firestorm. “Could you track them down with your magic, Zee?”
Zatanna shook her head and said, “No. I’ve tried more than once already.”
“Guys!” yelled Steel. “We’ve got company!” The red-and-blue-costumed Hank Heywood III indicated a weird image outside the satellite viewport.
Five figures walked calmly through the airless void of space without any visible protection. They marched confidently toward the satellite as if they were merely out for a stroll in a city park on the planet below.
“Holy cow! I know the guy in the white coat!” said Firestorm as he pointed to a man with dark hair and a thin mustache.
“We all know the crumb, kid,” said Green Arrow. “He’s Professor T.O. Morrow. He’s the genius who whipped up Reddy, here.” Red Tornado and Firestorm alone knew that this was not exactly true. The android hero consisted of a merger between an elemental being and a scientific shell.
“When we last met, Professor Morrow was badly injured by a woman who sought to frame me for the crime,” explained Red Tornado. “Superman and I cleared my name and bested her. (*) He did not seem to bear me any malice at that time.”
[(*) Editor’s note: See DC Comics Presents: Superman and Red Tornado: Storm Warning.]
Zatanna placed a gentle hand on his arm. “Reddy, I think that rules out a mere social call.” She nodded toward the portal, where the foursome with T.O. Morrow were charging forward in an aggressive manner.
The first man with Morrow was blue-skinned and bald. He wore a light blue leotard, and his legs seemed to change from normal human limbs to a whirlpool of water at will. The other man was entirely different; the stars and dark of space seemed to fill him from head to foot, but it was merely a trick of the eye, since he was actually transparent. The shorter woman had long hair, reaching down to her hips, which was composed of crackling flames that burned even in space, while her body glowed with an unnatural heat. The final woman was the tallest of the four, her whole body composed of granite-like rock or stone, although she moved with an ease and agility that belied her inhuman form.
“Elementals!” said Red Tornado. “Morrow has harnessed other elemental beings like the one that infused me with life!” Through a combination of his science and Felix Faust’s dark magic, that was exactly what the evil genius had done.
Meanwhile, the situation in Atlantis was getting progressively worse. Dolphin fell beneath a swarming group of skeletons, and it took the combined effort of Mera and the Mermaid to free her again.
Mera shook her head as she took stock of the enemy forces arrayed against them. “It is worse than we imagined!” she said. “When they kill one of our soldiers or one of Arthur’s loyal nautical subjects, then the poor victims join their undead legions and turn on us with new fury!”
The Mermaid nodded and said, “All of the city defenders are growing tired! Perhaps I should try to summon Doctor Mist and the other Global Guardians, even though most of them are not truly equipped for undersea combat.”
Dolphin held her injured arm and said, “I see Aqualad! He’s returning! I hope he has better news.”
As Aqualad swam closer and closer, the women realized by his grim expression that he certainly did not carry hopeful sentiments. “Aquaman’s fighting Felix Faust,” he said. “That evil wizard is the brains behind the whole invasion. We have to help him!”
They followed his lead and left the ordinary soldiers to continue the battle, but would they arrive in time to help the embattled hero?
Aquaman had received a blazing barrage of eldritch energy from Felix Faust, and the heat and smoke had slowed him down considerably. However, he knew what was at stake, and he refused to quit.
Charging forward, he forced himself to fight through wave after wave of burning energy until he gripped Faust’s collar and said, “Magic is merely a focusing of extra-dimensional energies through some relic via willpower! Without the book, you can’t work your magics! That’s always been your weakness!” He ripped the ancient tome out of Faust’s hands and slammed him against the wall of the tomb.
But Felix Faust showed no sign of distress, instead laughing. “If I was merely working alone, then I would indeed be at a loss without the book, but I have resources beyond the norm. The Key’s unique psycho-chemicals have given me temporarily enhanced stamina! I am able to focus all my magic without having direct contact with the book of spells!”
As an inky black substance spread up Aquaman’s arms, they grew increasingly heavy until it was all he could do to stand up. Still, he fought on as he projected his telepathic power directly against Faust’s own mind. I normally only use my ability to communicate with fish, but I can turn it on a human in extreme cases, and this qualifies!
He gritted his teeth as blood began to drip from his nose, but he refused to stop fighting, and slowly his powerful will began to dominate Faust’s own thoughts.
“Can’t concentrate!” gasped Felix Faust, staggering backward as Aquaman drew closer, leaving him no avenue of escape. “Curse you!” he hissed. “I can’t maintain my spell if I cannot think clearly!”
Retrieving a smaller book from within one voluminous sleeve, he used it to quickly open a black vortex in the midst of the waters. “A portal to another realm will give me freedom from you!” he gasped.
The villain started to move into it, when a huge female hand closed around him and extended itself from the opening. Faust screamed and turned to Aquaman with wide-eyed panic. “Help me, I beg you!” he pleaded, beginning to choke as his protective spells faded away.
Aquaman tried to move closer, but he was dizzy, and the strain from such an unnatural and prolonged use of his telepathic power had drained him as well. He grabbed the hand and pried the fingers away from Faust, even as Mera’s hard water forced the hand back within the portal before it closed.
The hero born with the name of Arthur Curry was steadied by Mera as she, Dolphin, and Mermaid raced inside, and Aqualad collared the frightened and fallen Felix Faust. “He’s dying! I’d better get him to safety. Vulko’s palace can stabilize him.” Aqualad quickly swam off with the fallen wizard.
Mera embraced Aquaman and said, “Arthur, you did it! As we came here, all of the skeletons collapsed into nothing more than inanimate bones!”
Aquaman smiled wearily and said, “It was a close call. I knew I could overcome Faust, but I had to break a vow I’d made to myself to never again use my power on a human mind. I’ll have to come to terms with that later. As for the giant hand, I hope we never see the rest of that being. She scared Faust half to death!”
“My father has told me that magic forces can draw upon other magical beings, like moths are drawn to lights,” said Dolphin. “I suppose Faust’s powerful spell awakened that terrible creature!” She shivered and added, “There was something about that hand that chilled me to the bone. It felt oddly familiar to me for some reason.”
“We’ll worry about that mystery another day,” said Aquaman. “Once I’m sure things are stable here, I’m going to see what’s wrong with the JLA.”