On a fall evening in California, seven security guards calmly walked their regular patrol route. They wore matching uniforms and carried regulation sidearms. Occasionally, a man or woman in a lab coat would encounter them, and either a few spoken words or the sight of an identification badge on the coat would enable them to pass on and continue with their individual routines.
The oldest guard was rather bored. He felt as if he had little of value to do except check his watch and complete his shift. “Somebody needs to know the time. Glad that I’m here,” he muttered.
“What did you say, Al?” asked a burly younger guard.
Al smiled ruefully and said, “Just reciting an old Beatles lyric. It’s a wry little comment about how being able to tell someone the time is all the guy feels good for.”
The other guy shrugged and said, “Me, now, I like Zeppelin.”
Before they could continue their conversation, the perimeter alarms sounded. “Good night! We’re under attack!” bellowed a third guard.
Al ran forward with the others as five costumed figures came into view. The leader was dressed all in black and blue. “I know that creep! I read about him fighting Firehead. His name is Multiplex,” said Al.
Multiplex replicated into three identical doubles and charged forward as the others followed suit. “You mocked my genius, but now you’ll all serve me alone!” he cried.
As the guards saw the intruders and reached for their weapons, Poison Ivy gestured, and spores filled the air to leave them choking for breath. “I usually have that effect on men,” said the smirking woman as she walked by them. She was an auburn-haired beauty with a sultry allure and a tight, leafy green costume. Al gagged as the sweet-smelling aroma clogged his nose.
Another woman with long, curly red hair and a purple jumpsuit followed Ivy. Plastique reached for the metal discs that lined her purple jumpsuit and hurled them at the security fence, causing energy to shatter the gates and leave an opening. The burly young guard was knocked across the compound by the sheer impact of the blast.
A muscular man in a purple costume with a weird red star on his cowl ripped the fallen gate apart and hurled it into the air with amazing power. “Starling, secure the perimeter!” said Evil Star in a stentorian tone. A glowing dwarf flew into the air, and bright light blinded the remaining guards. “The Injustice Gang lives again!”
Al saw three of his team fall as Evil Star slapped one down with super-strength, Plastique left another trapped beneath a fallen cabinet loosed from the wall by her disc, and Poison Ivy deftly kicked one flat with martial arts skills that surprised the old man. He saw smoke billow out of the main lab, and as he squinted through the fire, he saw Ivy stop by one of his fallen partners. That witch is going kill Tommy! he thought.
However, Ivy was abruptly pulled away from the man by Evil Star, who said something to her in words Al could not hear. Al saw Multiplex emerge from the lab itself with a device under his arm. That’s the prototype laser Dr. Greer was working on, thought Al as he fired his gun at the man in black.
The glowing dwarf called Starling rammed into him and caused him to miss his target. Al groaned and stayed down. It was not worth getting hurt to slow down powerhouses who normally dueled with men like Batman and Firestorm.
Plastique ran over and cried, “We have what we wanted! Now, let’s escape!” They departed swiftly as the flying duo of Evil Star and his lone Starling carried the others to freedom.
Al remained still until the alarms were silenced and other guards and several lab men rushed out to help the injured. “Minor bruising, allergic reactions, but no real harm done,” announced Dr. Greer.
“What about your invention?” asked Dr. Mihn.
Greer said, “It can be built again.”
Mihn frowned. Old Greer showed little concern for the loss of his precious creation. Mihn knew that he would be crushed if anyone took his proton generator away before he could complete it.
The new Injustice Gang paused a few miles from the STAR Labs facility. They whispered to one another as Evil Star casually twisted the prototype into scrap metal. In a loud tone of voice he said, “Bah! It is incomplete! It is worthless to us!”
Minutes later, they were met by men and women in costumes of a brilliant red. “I would keep moving if I were you! You don’t want any part of us!” said Poison Ivy.
“Oui! We have been disappointed this day, and you may become the source of our recovery of spirits!” said Plastique as she raised a disk.
A plump woman in a red and black outfit approached them with outstretched hands. “You have us all wrong. We wish nothing more than to aid you. We wish to offer you sanctuary. Would you come to know the peace of Blood? Would you find renewal and people of similar outlooks in a setting of splendor and sunshine?” she said.
Multiplex said, “Blood? As in the Church of Blood? I’ve heard a rumor that Zandia has become a little island paradise for super-crooks! We’re tired. We failed in our mission. So, sure, why not sell us on your hideout!”
The woman in red smiled broadly and said, “Excellent. My brothers and I will tell you all you want to know.”
Evil Star caught Ivy’s eye and nodded ever so slightly.
As November rain clouded his penthouse view, a strange man in an orange-gold jumpsuit ran his slender fingers across a remote and glanced at a television screen. A lively reporter named Megan O’Dell stood before the Peace Palace near the Hague in the Netherlands as images of a bitter man in a colorful and ornate costume of red and blue were superimposed on a blue screen behind her. “Bito Wladon, the international criminal also known as Sonar, was indicted today on three counts in the U.N.’s International Court of Law. If convicted, he will face up to thirty years of imprisonment,” she said.
The odd and rather gaunt man shook his oddly adorned head and said, “This must not be allowed to stand. Sonar, for all his quirks, is a key player in my little gambit.” He walked over to a sophisticated communications device and said, “Doctor, how charming it is to hear your dulcet tones. There’s something about an Asian woman that soothes one’s soul… but I digress. I need your help as per our last discussion in Zandia. Delightful meeting that was! I meant to tell you how chic your new armor is! Still, time is money. Let me get to the point, my dear. Could you provide me with some of the late Dr. Gustav Renault’s miraculous formula? Oh, I know it is toxic and can only be used once on any given individual. My own formulas have their own limitations as well. More’s the pity. Thank you, Doctor. I hope you can attend our next little summit in Zandia!”
He put down the phone and smiled thinly. “Well, that takes care of Sonar. On to bigger things,” he said as he rubbed his hands together with pleasure.
Days later, a smugly superior Bito Wladon emerged from the imposing Peace Palace and faced the media. A balding German reporter said, “Mr. Wladon, are you surprised by the outcome of your trial? It is rare that all fifteen judges reach a verdict and such a controversial one so rapidly.”
“I am Modora’s favored son. I am her rightful ruler. I am a man of destiny. Thus, I have never doubted that my liberation would occur,” he said.
Another reporter yelled out, “But you were not exactly found innocent. The evidence presented was merely dismissed due to violations in the manner of presentation. In fact, a panel of inquiry is being established to determine how so many respected judicial minds could make what appear to be outrageous errors in conduct and judgment! Without proper grounds to hold you, the court had no choice but to release you.”
Sonar dismissed the man with an imperious wave of his hand. “When one shapes the fate of a nation, one learns to be above petty legalities. What is red tape when one controls the heartstrings of a proud and noble people?” he said.
Other questions followed, but the freed villain ignored them after making one final impassioned statement regarding his rightful place at the head of Modora. He smiled as a limousine picked him up, and he closed the door to vanish behind tinted windows.
“Excellency, we are overjoyed by your justly granted liberation,” said the driver. He wore a red and black uniform and spoke with a Modoran accent.
“You have my thanks, loyal one! And yet I question again why a proud son of Modora wears the colors of a foreign-based cult?” he said.
The man said, “Zandia houses many friends to Modora and to you. The way of Blood knows no national barriers!”
Sonar adjusted his collar and said, “The only border I care about is the one which surrounds Modora. I must regain my throne and settle the role of my estranged wife once and for all. If your Brother Blood can help me do so, I will certainly entertain overtures from his cult.” The car drove off into the night, and Sonar’s keen mind began to plot.
Deep within the Temple of Blood on the isle of Zandia, a handsome blond man clad only in the ragged remains of a red-and-purple-colored costume ceased to struggle against the bonds that held him. His eyes were alternately bright with a fevered madness and dim with a listless manner like one deep within a narcotic slumber.
A man in the red and black robes of the Cult of Blood smiled and said, “He no longer resists us. He held out far longer than his partners. Still, even a mind so closed to anything beyond his conception of right and wrong was bound to break under the skilled influence of our acolytes!”
Another cultist nodded and said, “Truly, it will prove the divine right of Brother Blood when even his hated foes do his will!”
The other man replied, “Yes, and thus do even heretics perform the role he desires them to perform. Through this invader and his allies, will we destroy the American Titans who dared oppose us in the past.”
High above the hidden chambers where the blond captive suffered along with numerous other prisoners, the screams and curses so often heard in those Stygian depths were replaced by strident cries of pleasure as men and women of the criminal persuasion met, mingled, plotted, and romanced one another in security away from their heroic foes or the moral dictates of the world beyond the island nation.
The brawny rogue known as Blackguard downed a drink in one gulp and then faced a sullen-looking man with a portly stomach. “Sheesh! Turtle, could you at least answer a guy before he has to collect SSI!” said a third man who wore a pair of beach trunks and a loose shirt.
“I… have… learned… not to err… in undue haste, Rainbow Raider,” said the Turtle Man.
Blackguard said, “As I was saying, the word back in the States is that someone is offing super-crooks who turned legit. Your pal the Pied Piper might be a target.”
Turtle Man said, “The gentleman and I… are not… more than acquaintances.”
Rainbow Raider snorted and said, “Yes, and the Rogues don’t treat me like an equal yet. They look down on me just because I wasn’t fighting the Flash back in the beginning of his career! I don’t care what happens to Hartley Rathaway or that witch Lisa Snart, either!” He turned to a waiter and said, “Could I have one of those red drinks the Cat-Man is sipping?”
“The drink isn’t red! What are ya, color-blind?” asked Blackguard.
In a private cottage near the shore, a woman in silvery armor with an elegantly carved face mask that concealed her features but revealed long black hair sat regally across from the equally arrogant Sonar. “So the deliberate errors made by those who presumed to call themselves my judges were due to a chemical your minions laced their food with before the session started?” he asked.
Doctor Cyber crossed her legs and leaned forward as she replied, “Correct. A Dr. Renault created what he called the psycho-chemical formula a few years ago. The U.N. Security Agency confiscated all known samples after his murder. However, I had already analyzed the formula and have since duplicated it. It causes the users to behave in wildly erratic ways that are directly contrary to their normal inclinations. My associate in the U.N. drugged them, and thus your mistrial occurred.”
Sonar said, “So I was told, but why did you help me? What is it you want from me? I am a man who pays his debts and who never forgets a friend or a foe!”
Doctor Cyber said, “I was asked to help you by an associate of mine who will remain nameless. He wanted you free because of his undying patriotism. He cherishes Modora and sees you as that nation’s born leader.”
Sonar smiled broadly and said, “As well he should! But I know you do not share that fervor, that zeal. What do you want from me?”
Doctor Cyber said, “What do I want? I want you to do something for me. If you follow my instructions, you will not only serve me, but in doing so you will gain the means by which you may regain Modora’s throne!”
Sonar leaned forward and stared at her expressionless mask as he said, “I will bloody my hands or blacken my name itself if it will enable me to soar once more to my proper sphere!”
Doctor Cyber seemed to smile behind her mask as she replied, “I knew you would agree. Now, have you ever been to the Far East?”
A slightly cocky man with dark hair and a neat mustache adjusted his tie and waited impatiently until he was finally ushered into a private office marked by a stark but functional décor. “Ms. Waller, I know you’re a busy woman, but I’m not used to being kept waiting like this. I’m every bit your equal in my own department,” he said.
Amanda Waller, a heavyset black woman with a look of supreme disdain etched on her features, raised one eyebrow and replied, “You’re new to your job, so I’ll give your sorry tail the benefit of the doubt this time. I don’t like being talked to like that. If you work with me, then you work on my terms! I’d tell that to anyone who strutted in here. It doesn’t matter to me that you are the newly minted head of the American Security Agency or that you used to be a hotshot in the Air Force! Seems to me that you ended up being rescued by Wonder Woman during almost every mission you ever had! As for the last director of the ASA, Abe Carlyle was one brick short of a load. I don’t miss him. I won’t miss you, either, when you leave my office.”
Keith Griggs frowned and sputtered before smiling roguishly. “My apologies,” he began. “I was a cad. Please forgive me. I am new, and I am in need of help. As you know, my team has vanished. They were working the Zandia case, and–“
“They got caught,” Amanda Waller interrupted. “I figured they would. Their leader has a mind like a steel flagpole.”
Griggs said, “Will you help us? Your group is ideal for getting into Zandia to look for them. Word is, the Cult of Blood is opening the nation up to super-criminals in exchange for a cut of their revenue! Zandia no longer has any extradition agreements with any nation, so the crooks can live it up there and not fear being dragged back to the States or Europe.”
Waller crossed her arms and nodded. “I know all about the sorry mess. I’ll send in a team.”
Griggs said, “But you understand the special nature of the mission will require a certain kind of agent.”
Waller sighed and said, “If we send in some crooks, they will merely stay there! We obviously can’t use the bracelets to control them. That would look real obvious! I’ve already arranged for certain individuals who have the unique combination of criminal reputations and good intentions to visit the island.”
Griggs smiled in a rather charming way and said, “I appreciate this. Unlike old Carlyle, I want to get along with you.”
Waller said, “Fat chance.”
A bizarre summit meeting of notorious criminals was occurring on Zandia. To be exact, the meeting was occurring above the island on a strange floating platform.
“Why are we up here?” asked a middle-aged man with brown hair and a thin mustache. “Surely the Cult could have offered us a private room.”
“Thomas Oscar — or do you prefer T.O.? — you must understand that we required extra security for our little conference,” said a man in gold who had an oddly adorned head. “We, are, after all, the greatest of our kind. While others duel with single champions, we have waged war upon them as an assembly.”
An even more bizarre being said, “I agree, Key. I am ready to do my part. But I still question the selection of those particular heroes.”
T.O. Morrow frowned and said, “Despero, I do not share your confidence in the wisdom of trusting our safety to this floating platform.”
A rather ghastly looking man in a blue costume with a hood laughed and said, “It is perfectly sound. I mastered antigravity years ago, long before you were ever defeated by the League!”
Morrow scowled and said, “Destiny, I won’t be treated like an inferior. You’ve lost to the heroes more often than I have! And what makes you so confident this venture will succeed?”
Doctor Destiny chuckled and said, “My talents are suited for more than just creating this little antigravity platform. I’ve looked to their very souls, and I know we can win.”
A thin man with a blue burnous on his head scowled and said, “Oh, please,” said Felix Faust. “Why don’t we ask Amos to join us next? He’d tell us victory was written in the cards!”
The skull-faced man in blue said, “I know the heroes better than they know themselves. I tell you I see them when they’re sleeping! I know we will triumph!”
Thomas Oscar Morrow sniffed and said, “You sound like Santa Claus! I’m a man of science! I deal in hard facts!”
The Key stood up and raised his hands in a placating gesture while the bizarre Despero merely watched the others out of his three eyes. “Gentlemen, we must not argue. We work for a common goal. That is why I organized this meeting here on Zandia, where we could have safe conversations. Now to business. As you may know, I have orchestrated the eventual return to power of Bito Wladon.”
Felix Faust spat in disgust. “He’s a minor player of no import!”
Despero said, “I agree, but he serves our common cause. He hates Green Lantern. All who hate our enemies help us, in a manner of speaking! Think of it as a cosmic chess game. There are pawns who serve a greater good.”
The Key nodded and said, “Exactly, and as ruler of Modora, he will be in a position to help us should we require such a pawn.”
Morrow said, “What of his bride? Surely we’d benefit as much by leaving her in power. She is no friend to any American hero in spite of her honeyed words.”
The Key glared at him and said, “She is far more dangerous than Sonar. Thus she would prove to be more of a problem to us in time than he ever could!”
Doctor Destiny said, “I agree. You should watch her dreams some evening. The stuff of lurid cinema pales in comparison!”
The Key said, “So we will depart from Zandia and each act on our plan. If any of us fail, then surely the others shall succeed. We will triumph through numbers and unity, much as our foes have often done in the past.”
The others agreed, and thus an unholy pact was formed that would plague the Justice League in days to come.
Elsewhere in Zandia, a Cult of Blood member cowered as he bowed to the imposing figure of his master. Brother Blood sat on his throne and gazed at the trembling man with eyes that seemed to glow with raging emotions. He remained perfectly still except for a very slight movement of one hand that shook as it rested in place on the arm of the crimson throne.
“Master, the captured American heroes have reached their homeland. The programming is complete, and they will do your bidding, as do we all! They are perched to strike at the Titans, and the other villains are with them to ensure nothing of your divine will fails to occur.”
Brother Blood remained silent as flickering torches crackled around them and an ominous shadow seemed to sweep the room. “So be it. The will of Blood shall be done! Let none question my edicts!”
The words were powerful, but had the cowering servant retained his normal power of observation in the presence of his dread ruler, he might have questioned the origin of the voice. Instead, he merely bowed lower and backed away from the man on the throne with an insistent chant on his lips.
When he was gone, Brother Blood remained still, and his eyes slowly dimmed as if he was falling into a trance of some kind.