Meanwhile, the Key was almost rubbing his hands together in glee as he surveyed the streets of Empire City with a group of his darkly garbed Key-Men. “The placement of my psycho-chemicals in the water system has brought this city’s uniformed defenders to their knees,” he said. “They’ll recover, but they won’t be able to challenge my Key-Men until after this city has fallen! So shall it be with city after city until America is mine! The League will be unable to stop me, because they will have fallen to the machinations of my esteemed allies.”
The silent Key-Men stood in respectful attention as their master ordered them into action. “Now, secure the city, and remember — your loyalty is to me alone!” he said.
Heavily armored tanks rolled into view as the Key’s forces waged war on the helpless city. The Key gestured to a group of clearly dismayed journalists and broadcasters as he continued his posturing. He was clearly enjoying his moment in the spotlight, and he wanted every moment of his triumph captured by the media.
“You witness a new day!” he said. “You see before you the era of the Key!”
“The error of the Key?” said a mocking voice as three costumed figures raced into view. “Well, that gaudy hat would be a good place to start!”
“What is this? Empire City has no costumed thugs!” shouted the Key. “That was why I selected it over Gotham or Metropolis or Midway!”
The three men approached the Key, his army, and the cameras of the press with their own unique styles. The garishly garbed Technomancer rode into view on a chunk of soil.
A man in a green and gold costume with a protective helmet walked forward calmly and said, “Tech, you must learn to appreciate the blessings the Fates grant us. Good fortune has smiled upon us!”
“Chance, that is the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard!” said the Technomancer as he turned to face the agile man in solid white, whose feline-inspired costume made his agility and grace all the more fitting.
“Why can’t you be strong and silent like White Lion, here?” he said.
The agile man clad all in white said nothing as he leaped into the nearest group of Key-Men and started beating them with a reckless abandon.
Technomancer gestured, and the tanks started to wobble as the ground broke beneath them and sent them crashing into one another. “Tanks for the memories!” he said.
The Key cursed as the agile White Lion tore into his troops, leaving them senseless with graceful and precise martial arts blows. He backflipped out of their midst with a move that would have made any Olympian proud or green with envy. Still, he never spoke or made any sound. “Kill these insufferable dolts!” he said. “It’s bad enough that my every scheme runs afoul of the League. Why do I now find myself tormented by costumed non-entities?” He raised a strange, key-shaped weapon, but he yelped in pain as it blew apart in his hands.
Chance jumped forward and said, “Bad luck, old fellow. Pure and simple bad mojo!” Five more tanks in succession either fell apart or were buried by a tightly focused avalanche of earth.
The Key scowled and said, “You can’t win! I can still blow this city to ashes with my remote bombs! Serve the Key or die! That lesson will be taught with blood and loss!”
“Your bombs went boom up in space before we ever came out to face you,” said the Technomancer. “It was simple for one with my gravitational power to detect them. They were like a bad itch.”
Chance grinned and said, “Oh, and your escape craft happened to explode on its own. Faulty wiring, I’d say! Bad luck!”
The Key raced away as his remaining Key-Men tried to block the new heroes. “This is beyond belief!” he cried. “I won’t let my plans end like this! This can’t happen to me!” But White Lion bounded in his path and gripped him in a powerful wrestling hold.
The reporters cheered, as did the freed people of Empire City. “It looks like the Key’s not such a threat, after all!” said a young brunette reporter. “We’ve got a new team of heroes to thank as well!”
“No, we have our own mission,” said Chance.
As the crowd cheered and the media captured the victory of the new group, the Key gazed at the ground with a look of despair on his face that slowly changed into a sly grin as he was led toward a police van. He didn’t play the role as I scripted it, but still, he came close enough, he thought.
Back in space, a brilliant flash of emerald energy filled the arena as Despero’s third eye generated a beam of its own in the direction of the startled heroes. When the flash of light faded, Despero was holding his third eye with both hands as he rolled across the ground in obvious pain.
“What happened to him?” asked Green Lantern. “That bright light was almost certainly power ring energy, but I didn’t create it.”
“And I thought for sure that his eye-beam was coming right at us,” said the Atom. “Why didn’t it teleport us away to Planet X with the alien? I don’t see him anywhere!”
“I can explain,” said the Martian Manhunter. “My mind briefly communed with another oddly similar brain. The alien has returned to his own world with his newly selected champions. They will defend his world in our stead. Despero’s eye-beam took them all in place of us.”
Superman and Batman carefully bent over Despero and tried to offer him some aid.
“Just who are these champions?” asked Batman.
“For that matter, what happened to Despero?” asked Superman. “His third eye doesn’t appear to be injured, but I detect some nearly microscopic grains of sand.”
“In our absence, Doctor Destiny altered the dreams of five Earthlings to turn them into counterparts that roughly matched our powers and skills,” replied the Martian Manhunter. “The Sandman defeated him and used his ruby gem to alter them once more so that they were not merely superhuman criminals but men with a chance to make a difference. Given the chance to keep their powers rather than have their new roles fade away like dreams at dawn, they agreed to take our place. This second League, now no longer a Lawless League, will defend Planet X and perhaps help the natives learn to take care of themselves. I think they may even become true heroes in time.”
“Then the mind that told you all this was the other Martian Manhunter?” guessed the Flash.
“Of course!” said Green Lantern. “And the green energy that filled the arena came from the ring of the other Green Lantern.”
“And they also filled Despero’s third eye with the Sandman’s magical sands,” said Superman. “He can’t see anything with that eye now, except for wildly changing dream images.”
“Closing it will shut them out,” said Batman. “If he wants to live a normal life, he’ll never open that mutated eye again.”
Despero panted for breath as he stood up and obeyed their orders. “You’ve robbed me of my power! I will never forget this! One way or another, I will see you all pay!”
“We’ve heard it all before,” said Green Lantern. “After a stop off at Oa to place you in a sciencell, we’ll be heading home.”
“I read about the Sandman,” said the Atom. “We sure owe him a real debt.”
Within the dreamscape in the golden Dream Dome, the Sandman smiled and turned away from one of many monitors.
“The Lawless League will find their nightmare to be a dream of a new beginning,” he said. “They may truly find redemption as defenders of that planet, and if not, I’ll remove their powers as sunlight washes away the night’s phantasms.”
With those words, a very lonely hero turned away to walk ever deeper into the shadows of his solitary domain.
The Key’s inner glee faded rapidly as he was led into a cell within the holding facilities of Weatherbee Prison. He frowned as the cell door slammed shut, and he saw a man he knew all too well in a cell across the hall. “Major Disaster? Booker? What are you doing here?” he sputtered.
The villain sneered at him and said, “You should know! You set me up! You sold the idea of posing as super-heroes to me, Matter Master, and Cat-Man. You gave us fancy names like Chance, Technomancer, and White Lion and helped us act like new super-heroes. The plan was we would take down your attack on Empire City while the League was away and gain the adoration of the public through the media types you captured. Later, we’d be in a position to pull a Pearl Harbor on the heroes. Well, we fell for it, right up until the moment you had some costumed doubles jump us and take our places!”
“The new heroes who captured me didn’t say the lines I’d scripted, but I thought you’d decided to ad lib!” said the Key in shock. “I was duped as well. This new group, these new versions of my fake heroes, truly did defeat me! I fully expected you all to free me in time after gaining public trust! I know nothing about any second version of your fake identities!”
“Yeah, sure,” said Major Disaster. “If these special cuffs weren’t sapping my powers, I’d pay you back for this!”
The Key sat down and frowned in despair. If those heroes were for real and were not my pawns, then I’m here to stay until I can free myself, he thought.
Elsewhen in the far future, Professor Anthony Ivo smiled as a beautiful woman watched the events just described unfold on a time-viewer.
“Excellent! When you alerted me that the Key and his allies were behind the disappearance of my Royal Flush Gang robots and that they had used your father’s advice and Morrow’s scanner to steal them away into our past, I knew the perfect way to pay them back,” said Ivo. “I designed robots with your advanced science that would mimic the fake heroes like Chance and Technomancer and capture them in order to set up the Key. May he rot in that cell!”
“They took advantage of my father’s condition,” said Olanda, daughter of the Lord of Time. “I rather enjoyed the irony of letting you build robots to take the place of their recruited would-be heroes. The Key let them lead him to jail without knowing that they weren’t about to free him later.” She gestured to where the inert robotic bodies of the Technomancer, Chance, and White Lion lay on a lab table.
“They burned out all too swiftly,” he explained. “The chronal energy and the rather unstable nature of their powers made that inevitable. Still, they served their purpose. I would like to have used them against the Justice League, also. Oh, well! One thing about being immortal, I have time!” He laughed madly.