As a second glass pellet shattered, and more gas filled his lungs, Mark Shaw now saw himself in the costume of his second heroic role, the Privateer. (*) He had been helping the JLA and was slowly becoming more accepted by most of them, except for the unerring Batman and the synthetic Red Tornado. In this role he was living the cinematic fantasies of his boyhood as a modern-day swashbuckling hero like Errol Flynn or Cornel Wilde.
[(*) Editor’s note: See “A Tale of Two Satellites,” Justice League of America #143 (June, 1977).]
However, this, too, was just another role — another mask worn to deceive. For while he posed as an ally to the heroes, he was also manipulating them. He was still under the sway of the Manhunter cult’s brainwashing, and he had also begun using a third role. As the masked villain called the Star-Tsar, he was secretly setting up the heroes he pretended to help as the Privateer. Again, he was exposed by the Red Tornado, whose inhuman manner reminded him painfully of his false masters, the inhuman Manhunters. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Face of the Star-Tsar,” Justice League of America #149 (December, 1977) and “The Key or Not the Key,” Justice League of America #150 (January, 1978).]
He was defeated. He was exposed. He was imprisoned. He saw his mother’s tears. He heard his father’s pain. He was nothing more than a common criminal. His dreams of heroism and crusading for justice had been taken away, and nothing remaining but guilt, shame, and regret.
Mark shuddered and rubbed at his eyes as the scene slowly returned to that of the Reynolds home. James Shaw stood over him and called his name until he blinked and nodded to indicate that he was unhurt.
“Some kind of gas… like LSD!” said Mark. “I had a weird flashback to scenes from my past — scenes that robbed me of the will to act. I felt all the old emotions again. What happened here? Is Dad OK?”
“No!” said James. “That creep took my — our father! He said he wouldn’t allow the proud nation of France to unite again in an illicit affair with the harlot America!”
“I feel terrible,” said Richard Reynolds. “I’ve notified the police. I blame myself. My home was not as secure as the office would have been. I brought this on all of you myself!”
“Mark, why are you wearing that costume?” asked Marjorie Reynolds. “You look like one of the super-heroes from the news.”
Looking at the woman, Mark wiped one hand across his face. “No. I’m no hero. Far from it!” he said, walking out of the room.
James followed him into the night air, following his brother as he strode off. “Mark, I didn’t know you still had that costume. I thought those days were behind you. You could work at the firm with us. That is, when we get father back. Can you do it? Get him back, I mean? I know I’ve been the one who gave you the hardest time about your past, but only you can track this man down and fight him. You have all those abilities and that knowledge that others don’t have. I see that it’s wrong to ask you to let them go to waste. I’ve been so smug, so hateful. I’ve tried to deny what you are and what you’ve been, but now we need you, and I love you.” Stopping him in mid-stride, he begged, “Please, will you save our father?”
Mark looked at his brother and was startled by his passion and his words. “I love you, too. I will do anything to save him. You know that. The family means everything to me, but I don’t know that I can do it. I have been a failure and a fraud for most of my life. I’ve always been pretending to be something I’m not.” Placing one arm on James Shaw’s shoulder, he said, “But I’ll try. I promise you that.
“First, let me get this nut’s name,” Mark continued. “He spoke so bitterly about America and the wealthy in general. He has a grudge against an entire class of people and against America in particular. He used advanced drugs against me. He wore a distinctive costume. I can learn who he is. I still have connections.”
Mark made his way across the city until he reached an elegant penthouse. Slipping inside, he snuck by the doormen with ease. He could still use those old talents. He could slip into the shadows, pick locks, defy the odds, and yet he still felt that he was a fraud.
He made his way to the top floor where the wealthiest residents lived. He knocked on one door, glancing left and right with caution. The security cameras were deactivated. He had taken care of that earlier. He had no time to wait for social niceties. He had to get to the woman who lived in the suite. If she was away on a case, then he’d have lost precious time.
The door opened, and a beautiful woman with platinum blonde hair and bangs peered out at him. She wore a filmy nightie, and yet, for all her seeming frailty, she was clearly alert and capable.
“Mark? I knew you were in the city with your father, but I did not expect you would visit me,” she said. “Our last parting was not exactly pleasant.”
“Noelle, please help me,” he said. “Father has been abducted. I need your help. I need your sources of data.”
She frowned, then closed the door, only to unbolt and open it again. “Come inside,” she said.
Mark watched as Noelle Avril typed rapidly on a computer. She glanced at the screen for a few moments, then looked up at him. “The costume, the M.O., the weaponry all mark this man as a former chemist of brilliant mind and bitter views,” she explained. “His name is Louis Regarde. He lost his father to an industrial accident in an American-operated French factory. Thus he vowed to use his chemical skills to oppose all efforts of American industry to unite or work within France with local companies. His last effort to ruin such a trade agreement ended when Batman and the first Wonder Woman defeated him. He calls himself Déjà Vu or Flashback, due to the LSD-like drug he uses on his foes. The gas makes them relive their worst moments.” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Yesterday Never Dies,” The Brave and the Bold #158 (January, 1980).]
Mark hesitated for a moment, then touched her cheek. “Thank you!” he said. “I knew you would be able to identify him. You always knew more about the French underworld than the authorities.”
Noelle started to push his hand away. His touch brought back too many memories, but then again, not all of the memories were bad ones. “Mark, I will help you locate Elliot,” said the French beauty. “I have an idea that Regarde is hiding out at the place where his father died. The now-empty factory is almost a sacred spot to him, according to files his prison shrink compiled.”
Mark nodded and said, “Noelle, I understand you are no longer with the Global Guardians. A new hero called the Musketeer replaced you. That surprised me.”
“He is a good man,” she said. “His grandfather was the original hero of that name. He worked against the Vichy in the war. He was a logical replacement for me when I quit. I wanted to work free of any other restrictions. With my computer skills and my physical gifts, I am more suited to the role of a lone wolf.” Pausing for a moment, she added, “I’m used to being alone. You should know that better than anyone. I will change into something less comfortable.”
As she slammed the door to her bedroom, Mark frowned as he recalled their passionate romance. He had been a law student, and she had been a college girl with ties to the top-secret French law enforcement branch called Department Gamma. Her passion for justice had matched his own, and they had planned a life together based on working for the weak and the helpless.
But he had broken off their relationship when he joined the Manhunters. There was no room in his life for any lover except for the love of justice as perceived by his robotic masters from that moment on.
Noelle had tried to make him see that his new cause was not what he thought it was. She had her own keen insights, and she suspected the cult of being twisted or wrong in some manner. Still, the brainwashing had already begun by that point, and Mark had refused to listen to her.
She had eventually become the heroine called Fleur-de-Lis, and he had followed the path to disillusionment that he recalled so well. Now she was his best source for help, since her career as the national heroine of France had given her priceless knowledge about the French underworld.
Noelle returned wearing a skintight red jumpsuit. He started to speak, but she raised one hand. “I gave up the solid white masked version when I stopped wearing wigs,” she explained. “I care little now if anyone knows my secret. Noelle Avril has no real life outside the costume of Fleur-de-Lis.”
Mark wondered if this slightly bitter statement described yet another crime his Manhunter deeds had brought about.
They headed into the night, and she handed him a small device. “This filter should make you immune to Flashback’s gas,” she said. “Odd, you were always ready for anything during your days behind the blue mask.”
“I know,” he said. “Still, for every advantage that role gave me, it cost me far more in terms of my sense of self.”
After driving him to a rural area outside the city, she gestured to a structure up on a hill. “That was the factory in which Regarde’s father lost his life. I see light within. That is where your father is most likely being held. If you like, you can take him to safety, while I handle Flashback.”
“No,” said Mark Shaw. “I want to fight him. I need to do this.” She glanced at him and nodded slightly.
They made their way to the factory, and she ran forward to leap into a stunning series of spins that enabled her agile form to hurl through the air and break through the upper window high above. Mark admired her remarkable agility, even as he followed via a grappling hood she had provided.
Mark swung down to where Fleur-de-Lis faced the purple-costumed Flashback and a bound Eliot Shaw.
“You found me?” gasped Flashback, reaching for another gun. “I had little doubt that I would be found, but I expected the gears of the industrial complex to turn slowly enough that I could slay this pig!”
Flashback fired a series of energy bursts that illuminated the factory and left the heroes leaping for cover. Noelle’s faster than any Olympic athlete, thought Mark. She can dodge those bursts with ease. That means I need to get moving if I want to save Dad!
Rolling beneath the blasts, Mark kicked the gun out of Flashback’s hand. As the villain reached for his other gun, Mark grappled with him, and they fell to the floor. Flashback struggled to fire the gas-gun as Mark smashed him in the face three times. He reeled backward, and the gun went off. Mark’s gas-mask enabled him to ignore the vapors as he moved forward to connect with three more blows that left Flashback stunned and beaten.
Fleur-de-Lis had untied Eliot Shaw and had taken him outside while the men fought. Now she returned to see if Mark was unharmed. “Magnifique!” she said. “You have lost none of your skills.”
“No,” said Mark. “I have not lost my old skills, but more to the point, I think I’ve finally found myself.”
Fleur-de-Lis frowned quizzically as they carried their foe outside. “What do you mean?” she asked.
Stopping her, Mark said, “The mask was damaged in the fight. His gas worked on me. It brought back all my old failures and fears, but this time I faced them down and did the job I had to do. I think I’ve finally come to terms with my past, and I think just maybe I know what my future holds. Being forced to relive my past thanks to that vivid hallucinogenic gas and hearing certain words from my brother has given me a new perspective.”
She leaned over and kissed him. It was certainly not a complete reconciliation, but it was a start, and it promised healing.
Days later, after Eliot Shaw and Richard Reynolds had completed their business successfully, Eliot and James waited at the airport for Mark. As they glanced at their watches and made small talk, Mark rushed inside to join them. “So, this time you are the one who’s late!” joked James.
Mark smiled at his brother and said, “Nope. I’m right on time for the start of a new beginning!”
“Son, are you going to join us at the firm as I’d hoped?” asked Eliot.
“No,” said Mark. “I’m not going to live my live defined by roles of anyone else’s creation. I want to use my skills and my passion for justice in my own way. I am going to use my abilities to capture super-crooks. I’m going to bring in masked thugs, and with each one I capture, I’m going to be making up for my own past deeds behind various masks.”
James sputtered, “You mean you’re going to be the Privateer again?”
Mark shook his head. “Nope. I cut my hair, as you can see. My days of role-playing a modern-day pirate are over. The only name and role that suits me is that of Manhunter. Oh, I know what you’re thinking, but you’re wrong. I’m free of all the mental conditioning that cult gave me. I will be a new Manhunter who will do what he can to redeem the name of the original group. You see, they were designed eons ago to fight crime and help the weak, not to be a super-secret cult who dictated justice based on personal power. I’m going to alter my old gear and create a new Manhunter in my own image. With Paul Kirk dead, I have every right to that name.”
“This isn’t what I expected to hear from you, but I admire your desire to right old wrongs,” said Eliot. “Just remember that, no matter what you do, we love you.” They walked off together, and a new hero was reborn.