Legion of Super-Heroes: The Return, Chapter 7: The Nightwing Cult

by Libbylawrence

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Lesla Vol-Lar flew across the deck and raised her hands to release a burst of energy that drove Nightwing Prime out of the shadows.

He rolled across the deck with an impressive display of agility and regained his feet. “Lesla Vol-Lar!” he shouted. “I was told you were dead. I’m rather glad to see at least one of the Rokyn-based spawn of Superman still lives. You represent all that I hate. You stand for the forces that weakened and ruined our society!”

The blonde girl shouted back, “You monster! You built a whole cult around lies and misconceptions. I’d pity you, if you had not killed my Uncle Yon and my parents!”

Shrinking Violet suddenly grew into view below his very chin and ripped away his hood, to reveal handsome features that left the heroes to gaze at the villain in surprise.

“Superman?” whispered Phantom Girl. “You look just like Superman!”

Nightwing Prime swung at Violet and narrowly missed her as she blocked his punch and kicked him in the jaw. “You come from his line, too!” said Vi. “You say you want to destroy the House of El, when you clearly belong to that family, too!”

“Wait!” said Phantom Girl. “Wasn’t the original Nightwing a hero of Kandor, and didn’t he look greatly like Superman?”

Nightwing Prime laughed harshly and said, “The original Nightwing was the first true champion of Kandor and later of Rokyn. He came of Kandorian stock, and he stood for the triumph of native skill and courage over alien-spawned super-might! His legend inspired me to take this costume and name and use it to strike against the forces I blamed for all that left our world to sink beneath economic hardship and social injustice!”

“How can anyone see Superman as a force for injustice?” said Brainiac 5.

“Don’t you see?” said Nightwing Prime. “Kandor was a proud city on Krypton until Jor-El, Zor-El, and Nim-El began their crusade to get the people to evacuate. They wanted to drive out the natives of Kandor, because that city was a stronghold for their only rivals, the House of Lar. You’ll notice they made no effort to evacuate their home city of Kryptonopolis!”

“That’s not true,” said Lesla. “The brothers wanted to save all the people of Krypton. They were building a space ark. We all know that!”

“That lie was told to conceal the truth,” said Nightwing Prime. “They were creating a false doom to increase their own power. Krypton would never have exploded, had they not damaged the very core of the world with their forbidden sciences that dared to touch other-dimensional realms! Their intellectual hubris brought down Krypton!”

Brainiac 5 shook his head and whispered, “His own story is riddled with false assumptions and faulty logic. He is obsessed, and he is mad!”

“Jor-El’s evil mind tapped into a limbo called the Phantom Zone,” explained Nightwing Prime. “That infernal realm drove him mad! Don’t you see? He was insane! He brought our world into contact with that stygian zone, and it rotted away the core of our planet! He died for his sins, but thanks to mighty Brainiac, our people did not all die! Brainiac came from space, and with a wisdom beyond that of mortal men, he took us away from the fiery doom that the Els brought to Krypton!

“However, even that act of salvation was not enough to reach the corruption that survived in the form of Zor-El and Nim-El. Those siblings of Jor-El’s each survived. Zor-El made a pact with the dark forces of the Zone, and they allowed him to enter their domain. Nim-El was in Kandor when it was saved by our master. Neither of them saw the light of his mercy. They painted him as an enemy. Zor-El’s daughter Kara and his late brother’s son Kal escaped their proper fates and tainted themselves on alien worlds, where they were viewed as gods and goddesses. They took the titles of Supergirl and Superman, and they waged war on Brainiac when he crossed their path and attempted to liberate some of their adopted world’s cities from their thrall!”

“OK, pal,” said Ultra Boy. “We can haul out the tranq pads. You’re ready to be sedated!”

“You are nothing more than the followers of Superman!” cried Nightwing Prime. “You formed your diabolical club in his image and in his name! Brainiac was driven away by Superman’s supernatural and alien might. Superman kept our proud world as a trophy to soothe his ego. He put us on display in his Fortress, as if we were his pets! He robbed our people of dignity. He took away our self-sufficiency. He denied us the alien power that would have been ours had we been allowed to depart from his Fortress shrine to the House of El!”

“Superman restored your ancestors to normal size and gave you Rokyn as a new home,” said Shrinking Violet. “How can even a fanatic like you distort that fact?”

Nightwing Prime’s eyes flashed with emotion as his voice shook, and he continued on in his passion. “He could not keep us within his shrine, since already there had begun to be heard voices of discontent that railed against him and his shameful deeds. The first Nightwing donned his costume to rebel against the enslavement and defilement we suffered under Superman’s hands!”

“That Nightwing was a hero and an ally of Superman’s!” said Lesla.

“Foolish child!” said Nightwing Prime. “You and your generation can’t know the truth as I do. My father saw every deed I speak of. He witnessed it all, and he told me the truth!”

“He saw it all from the Phantom Zone, didn’t he?” said Brainiac 5. “Your father was a cousin to Jor-El, Zor-El, and Nim-El. His name was Kru-El. He was banished to the Phantom Zone for crimes against all Krypton!”

“You are clever, for one who defiles the very name of our master!” said Nightwing Prime. “My name is Sir-El. My late father was trapped in that limbo for eons. He was sent there, because he alone of the House of El dared to oppose the mad siblings. He survived the destruction of Krypton, and he saw everything! He was released long after Superman managed to banish all his former prisoners of Kandor to a barren world that not only denied them the superhuman powers they would have gained on his Earth, but also locked them away within another universe! You see, Superman and Supergirl could not risk having other super-powered survivors of Krypton around to challenge their mastery of Earth!”

“He’s referring to the fact that Rokyn is a phase world,” said Phantom Girl. “It is on the cosmic axis and only exists within this universe at certain times. The rest of the time it exists within an entirely different universe.”

“Right,” said Shrinking Violet. “Plus, I’ve always heard that the Kandorians deliberately wanted to live on a red sun world, even though that kind of sun would deprive them of the super-powers their people receive under a yellow sun.”

“That’s true!” said Lesla. “I know my ancestors picked a phase world so they could regain their sense of independence. Superman did not even know the nature of Rokyn when he brought them there after freeing them from the bottle and the reduced size Brainiac had inflicted upon them!”

“You are deluded by the self-serving propaganda that comprises Superman’s legend,” said Sir-El. “He put his people on that world so he could be certain none of them would rise up to challenge his rule of Earth. Remember, when my father dared to try to gather weapons to use against his own corrupt relations, he was banished into Jor-El’s private prison, the Phantom Zone. He was a helpless witness to the infamous deeds of the son of Jor-El until he was granted freedom from the Zone after far too long. He barely had time to sow the seeds of the group I would later form to honor him, before he was arrested and returned to that same limbo. Before he was imprisoned again, he sired me, and I was nurtured by his allies until I came of age and brought Nightwing into being!”

“You are a murdering madman, and I’m going to see you join your father in the Zone!” said Lesla.

“Don’t you realize that, after we abducted your ilk,” he said, “we broke them apart until we found the latent energies that remained in every generation that followed the generation that was saturated with the shrinking ray long ago? That same spark has been the source of a planet-wide catalyst that reduced them all again! My troops remain normal, and they will literally crush those who challenge them.”

“I fear you are in error,” said Brainiac 5. “The being you serve is not truly Brainiac. He is known as Pulsar Stargrave, and he merely played upon your group’s mad devotion to the real Brainiac in order to use you. You eliminated his enemies, and in turn he has conquered your whole world! My own analysis indicates that no one below escaped shrinking. Such was the nature of the catalyst.”

“You lie!” cried Nightwing Prime. “There is only one Brainiac. Tell him, master!”

At that moment, a green-hued powerful being in white emerged from below deck. “Sir-El, Brainiac 5 is many things, but he is not a liar,” he said. “He lacks the personality and imagination required for deception. I did shrink all of those below, including your little cult. I have no need of them, now that their efforts have enabled me to learn the exact nature of the shrinking process, among other things.”

Sir-El looked distraught as he faced his master. “You are not the one, true Brainiac?” he said. “You have mocked me! You have taken my dreams and made my whole life’s mission a thing of ridicule!”

“That does concisely sum up my actions and your folly,” admitted Pulsar Stargrave. “I took a great deal of amusement out of using you and your self-righteous followers!”

Nightwing Prime swung at the mocking figure and was slapped across the deck with one casual gesture. “Consider yourself fortunate that I have not ended your life,” he said. “Every ruler needs a jester!”

Lesla moved closer to Brainiac 5 and said, “I’ve transferred Brainiac’s awareness from the link in my ring to the main system of this craft! He may be able to take control of it!”

“You are resourceful!” said Brainiac 5.

“You know that creep framed me for murder once, and nearly killed me when I confronted him!” said Ultra Boy. (*) “I’ve wanted to greet his smug chin with my fists for a long time!” He charged forward at super-speed and then switched to super-strength as Stargrave laughed, and a precise bolt of energy blazed from the gems on his head to cover Jo Nah in a nimbus of stellar flame.

[(*) Editor’s note: See “Murder Most Foul,” Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes #239 (May, 1978) and “A Murderer Among Us?” Legion of Super-Heroes #273 (March, 1981).]

“You dolt! My computerized mind allows me to calculate the exact timing of your energy tricks,” he said. “I can time your changes from one use to another with perfect accuracy! But you know that now, don’t you?” He smiled.

“Legionnaires, attack!” Phantom Girl shouted as she led her friends into battle.

Before the concerned and caring Phantom Girl could offer any aid to the fallen Ultra Boy, Pulsar Stargrave spoke to her in mocking tones. “Foolish child!” he said. “If you solidify your comely flesh for even a moment, I will melt it from your bones! You had best watch from your phantom state and mourn for your friends!”

Phantom Girl saw Ultra Boy writhing in pain, and she longed to help him. She touched him as waves of energy surged around them. To her shock, her touch rendered Jo intangible and allowed him to escape from the energy blasts that had covered him.

Ultra Boy let her lead him free of the terrible energy, and he marveled as Phantom Girl’s hand rested firmly within his own, although both of the lovers were intangible. “Tinya, how’d you do that?” he said slowly.

Tinya Wazzo shook her head and released his hand as they reached a safe distance from the blazing Pulsar Stargrave. “Jo, I don’t know!” she said. “I honestly don’t!”

Ultra Boy flexed his muscles and said, “Well, I’m solid again. I guess it was your touch alone that enabled me to let that energy pass through me!”

“Remarkable,” said Pulsar Stargrave. “Love conquers all! I suppose that sentiment is how you explain what appears to me to be a previously unseen function of your own changing energy-based powers! Your own uses have been limited by your sadly obvious lack of intellect!”

“Yeah?” said Ultra Boy. “Well, I’ll be more than happy to find all kinds of new uses for my powers if I can wipe that smug grin off your face!”

Shrinking Violet knew that, even with her customary protective gear, she could not harm Stargrave with a microscopic attack from within his body, so she merely flew forward to tackle Quicksand and wrestle her to the ground with her usual skill. “If your hands are pinned to your own body, you can’t use your powers on me, but then you’ve figured that out!” she said as she shoved her knee into the angry woman’s bare back.

Holdur bounded forward to help Quicksand, but before the monster could reach her, he was grabbed roughly by a transformed Chameleon Boy, who extended eight snake-like arms to entangle the creature. “You may have a grip that can’t be broken, but as a Braalian brokamier, I have pretty strong limbs as well!” he said.

“Curse you, Stargrave!” cried Nightwing Prime. “You used me like a toy! You’ve defiled my father’s memory. He died shortly after being released from the Zone. In truth, he was left a madman by his ordeal. I sought to honor his memory, and you’ve mocked all my efforts!”

The angry man in black had hurled a projectile from his belt into Stargrave’s shrinking device, and as it shattered the instrument’s control panel, Nightwing Prime was engulfed in its energies. “I’m shrinking as well, but I’ve saved my planet from you! You’ll never use that ray again!” he shrieked as he literally shrank out of view. Lesla darted forward, but it was too late to reach the shrinking man.

“Witless dolt! I have no need of that machine, now that I have initiated the process. It served its purpose, as did you!” said Pulsar Stargrave as he turned to face the heroes.

Lesla whispered to Brainiac 5, “Brainiac has made progress in reclaiming the control of the ship! He may be able to wrest control of it from his son!”

“I am aware of my father’s efforts,” said Pulsar Stargrave. “Did you think anything could happen aboard my craft without my knowledge? He lives on in yet another form, and yet he can do nothing to stop me! Let him wage war upon my craft while I bring the universe down in defeat!”

“You won’t win!” said Brainiac 5. “I left orders with Invisible Kid to perform a specific action should we fail to return to the ship! You see, I always suspected your true plan.”

“Invisible Kid?” said Pulsar Stargrave. “Surely my defeat is guaranteed, now that I tremble at the sound of the name of that invincible champion!” he laughed.

“If we fail to signal him, Invisible Kid will use gold kryptonite taken from Colu’s museum to rob every one of your shrunken pawns of any super-powers you might try to grant them by moving them from Rokyn’s red sun!” explained Brainiac 5. “What good would an army of tiny but human pawns do you?”

Stargrave’s reaction shocked them all. He laughed. He laughed in a loud and mocking manner, and then he smiled. “You fail to deduce my motives. I never wanted to use my ray to shrink the Rokynites in order to use them as an army. Pulsar Stargrave is a living army of one. I merely wanted to shrink them until they would be helpless to interfere with my real goal.” He activated a modified scanner and displayed the world below them.

“Rao! Look at my homeworld!” gasped Lesla. “The entire planet of Rokyn has been reduced in size! It’s no bigger than a moopsball!”

Brainiac 5 nodded in surprise. “The shrinking of the populace was merely the first effect of the energy he released,” he said. “Stargrave’s real goal was to reduce and steal the whole planet!”

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