A joyous gathering of several happy young men and women was taking place on an island in the East River of New York City, where a gleaming T-shaped tower rose skyward. A young man with brown hair who wore a blue rugby shirt and jeans grinned as he swigged from a canned beverage. “OK, I admit it. You got me. Throwing me a birthday bash a month early really threw me off-guard!” said Hank Hall as he looked around the decorated room, seeing gifts and smiling friends.
A pretty blonde girl in a pink cashmere sweater and green skirt leaned over to give him a friendly kiss on the cheek. “Is that your way of saying you’re normally much too clever for poor saps like us to fool?” said Dawn Granger in a teasing manner.
“Dude, she, like, totally burned you that time!” said a blond young man who stepped forward to slap Hank on the back.
“I’ll let it slide this time, Parker,” said Hank as he smiled at Charley Parker.
A handsome black man entered the room accompanied by a dark-haired youth. They were carrying a case of assorted beverages, and their friends parted to let them ease their burden down on a table. “Thanks, Jason,” said Mal Duncan. “I hate to put you to work the first time we meet, but Gar’s not likely to exert himself needlessly.”
Jason Hart nodded but said nothing. He was feeling more than a little bit worried about fitting in with these newcomers from Titans West, the West Coast branch of the team. He had only recently become comfortable as a member of the New Titans of the East Coast, and that well-earned feeling of belonging was not something he wanted to lose in the presence of so many who were old friends of his friends.
Cyborg grinned and yelled to Mal from across the room, “Don’t short-change Logan! He’s always ready and willin’ to work — his jaws!” said Vic Stone. Mal laughed appreciatively and made a thumb’s-up gesture.
“Slander! Libel! Malicious mischief!” cried a green eagle as Changeling assumed an avian form and swooped around the room. “I’ll sue! I’m just the legal eagle to do it! Where’s Debra Winger when you need her?”
“Really! You know, she totally reminds me of Artemis,” said Charley with a smile. “She could be, like, her long-lost sister or something.”
“I’m here, and I appreciate the comparison,” said the dark-haired Donna Troy Long, who entered with two other women.
“Donna was just showing me some of her photos,” said a pretty elfin girl with blonde hair and orange skin. “She’s awesome! I would, like, totally love to have you do a fashion layout for me. I could add it to my portfolio.” Arisia, the Green Lantern of Graxos IV, wore a red miniskirt, heels, and a white-and-red-striped, scoop neck top. She gestured to a woman with long, reddish-blonde hair and sensitive eyes. “Lilith could so be a model as well. I know girls who would kill for looks like hers,” she added.
The empath Lilith Clay smiled and said, “Thank you, Arisia. I’m happy just working with the kids in Mr. Jupiter’s current project. They may be the newest group of Teen Titans someday.”
Gar bounded on to her back in the shape of a monkey as he chattered, “Forget them, legs! I’m addicted to your love. You’re like a monkey on my back, or did I get that one backward?” he joked.
Cyborg casually yanked him off Lilith’s back and dropped him into the floor. “Why don’t you chill for a while? You’re more irritating than usual!” he said, trying to conceal a spreading smile.
Gar shrugged and said, “You know us chimps — just naturally curious, George!”
Raven, a dark-haired beauty in a white gown and high heels, said nothing but was clearly enjoying herself. “Why so quiet, Raven?” asked Dawn as she moved closer to the other woman.
“For so long I was unable to share the joys of others,” Raven replied. “Every emotion was a forbidden fruit to me. Now that I am free from that condition, I often just like to savor the happiness and laughter of others.”
Dawn said, “Well, don’t hesitate to join in.”
Raven smiled and took her hand. “Thank you, Dawn. You are always so thoughtful,” she said.
Dawn smiled and said, “Well, my mother always seemed to disapprove of most anything I did. My shoes didn’t match my skirt. or my music was too loud. I guess growing up like that made me learn to think of other people’s feelings.”
Raven said, “My mother was always my best and only resource, but I’m sure your mother cares deeply for you. She may just express her concern in a manner that is unintentionally critical.”
Dawn nodded and reached for a Diet Coke as two other women emerged from the kitchen area with a birthday cake. “This song I wrote! Happy birthday, don’t molt!” screeched a woman with brown hair and a rather rubbery face, which contorted wildly as she sang.
Hank grinned and said, “Thanks, Duela. Where’s Chuck Barris when you need him?”
Duela Dent slapped her palm against her head in mock anguish and chuckled. “You wound me, sir! You also date yourself terribly. Uh, don’t take that the wrong way — there are children or childish minds present.
Kole Weathers was a young woman with curly red hair who had helped Duela bring in the cake. She laughed with pleasure and said, “I only wish Joey and Karen could have joined us!” She referred to her close friend and fellow New Titan Joe Wilson and Mal’s spouse Karen Duncan.
Mal said, “Yeah, I tried to get my baby to take some time off work, and she’d hoped to do just that. But a schedule crisis hit the lab, so she had to do her part. She does send her regards and promises to bake Hank some of her world-famous cookies when we get back to the coast.”
Hank said, “Karen’s a great cook. I’ll leave right now!”
Charley said, “Lisa would have, like, come, too, but she’s totally wrapped up in a new research project.” Lisa Morel was Charley’s romantic interest and housemate, as well as part-time Titan West member Oceana.
“Like Kole said, Joey is helping his mom with a case,” added Donna, “and I know Dick, Roy, and Wally are equally busy.”
Hank said, “No problem! I’m still getting it in my head that you all pulled this over on me! When Dawn and I decided to join you guys on this trip east ’cause of winter semester break from the college grind, I figured the point was ’cause Duncan wanted to confer with you all about upgrading some of our equipment.”
Arisia smiled and said, “Glad you didn’t think that out too much, or the surprise would have failed. Actually, with Kilowog’s help, our gear has become top of the line, too! Oh, and Hal’s started back to college early, so he couldn’t come, either.” She referred to her boyfriend Hal Jordan, alias Air Wave, the young cousin of Green Lantern.
Artemis said, “Maybe my daughter Jennifer is rubbing off on me, but I’m eager to cut into that cake. How about it, Hank?”
Hank nodded and said, “Sure, Wonder Chick, just step back out of my way.”
Arisia whispered to Lilith, “I didn’t know Artemis had a child!”
Lilith said, “Jenny is her stepdaughter, but they’ve grown very close since Jenny moved in with the Longs.”
Dawn jumped up and moved closer to Hank as he sliced into the cake. “You know, Duela wanted to jump out of it,” she whispered.
Hank rolled his eyes and said, “I’m tryin’ to eat, here! Please, no bad mental images!”
Dawn laughed and said, “So, one month from today, you hit the big two-five!”
Hank said, “I know! I’m getting better and older! I just wish…” As his voice trailed off, Hank looked troubled.
Dawn rubbed his arm affectionately and said, “I know. I’m sure he’s looking down on you and smiling.” The perceptive girl knew Hank was missing his late brother Don Hall, the original Dove. She knew their own friendship had blossomed to the extent that he no longer felt the pain of association every time he saw her costume, but certain more personal moments still made him think of his lost sibling.
“Hold it, crew!” said Cyborg. “We’ve got company, and they sure ain’t waiting for the barge to be sent over!” He pointed to a monitor screen, which displayed colorful costumed figures flying toward Titans Tower.
“Maybe we’d better suit up!” said Jason.
Dawn said, “Something definitely feels wrong.” She whispered the mystical word Dove as Hank muttered the word Hawk. This signaled their respective transformations into their super-powered alter egos.
Arisia merely used her ring to change her outfit into the green miniskirt and white top of which her Green Lantern uniform consisted. “Instant changing rooms. No waiting,” she said as her ring created a series of colored booths in which the others swiftly donned their heroic costumes.
Cyborg said, “I know that bunch from the news. They call themselves the Force of July!“
“Right,” added Dove. “They’re a super-patriotic team that works for a government agency. I read up a bit on them last year.”
Cyborg nodded as he pointed to where the flying form of a somber blond man in red, white, and blue was charging at their main level. This stalwart-looking individual was followed by a woman dressed like the Statue of Liberty, a gaunt man in black who wore dark glasses, a brightly glowing boy, and a brown-haired girl dressed like an English Pilgrim. The black-curled beauty with the flaming torch carried the Pilgrim girl in her wake, while the boy lifted the silent figure in black skyward.
“That’s Captain America!” said Golden Eagle. “I thought he was all down with the flag and stuff!”
Artemis said, “Yes, he is. But he’s called Major Victory.”
Hawk said, “Yeah, and I’m with him when it comes to handling commie punks, but he’ll be in major pain if he messes up my party! Still, I have no gripe with a real American hero.”
“The Force of July in full force,” remarked the Herald. “They don’t look too happy! Titans stand ready!” He glanced over to Artemis and Cyborg and said, “I don’t mean to act like the boss-man! Force of habit.”
“I understand,” said Artemis. “We welcome your input, Mal. Let’s go out and meet them!”
They flew out of the Tower as Arisia generated a platform that carried the non-flyers, while others like Changeling, Golden Eagle, and Artemis soared under their own power or rode on air currents.
Golden Eagle was slightly ahead of the others, and as winter sunshine glinted off his reflective armor, he said, “H’lo, super-dudes! Take a load off and come inside!”
Before he could say anything else, Dove cried out a warning. “Eagle, get back! There’s something wrong!” she yelled, having sensed as much from more than their silent and aggressive manner. Dove could instinctively tell that things were out of kilter.
Major Victory struck Golden Eagle hard before he could react, and the startled youth dropped out of the sky like a rock.
The petite and pretty Green Lantern knew her ring could not snare the yellow-costumed Charley Parker, so she did the next best thing. Arisia swiftly generated a giant energy-fan that blew Golden Eagle’s stunned body closer to Changeling, who swooped down to grab his friend in the form of a huge condor. Hawk saw it all and cursed under his breath. He would not allow anyone to hurt his friends.
Lady Liberty swung her own torch around and released a pulse of energy in the direction of the Green Lantern. Arisia dodged the blast easily and countered with a huge bell-shaped construct that dropped over Lady Liberty and swept her aside, even as her own yellow energy enabled her to slowly break free.
Artemis frowned as she reached them and said, “What do you want? There’s no need for a fight! We do work for the same goals in our own ways!” She ducked as Lady Liberty emerged to fire another blast at her. She blocked another with a lightning-fast movement of her gleaming bracelets. “If you insist on a fight, you’ll get one!” she said.
“Way to go, Artemis!” yelled Hawk. “Let me in on the fun!” He leaped forward and crashed into Major Victory, who grunted from the impact but made no other sound. They fell to the shore below and continued to exchange blows while their teams fought above and beside them.
Dove instinctively took a deep breath and held it as Mayflower, the British Pilgrim, caused an explosion of spores to fill the air. She rolled beneath them and leaped up to slap the other woman aside. I can’t breathe in or her artificially amplified spores will choke me! she thought, then flipped through the air and connected with a spinning kick that knocked her foe flat.
However, as soon as she made physical contact with the ground, Mayflower leaped back at Dove and knocked her backward into a rapidly spiraling net of grass. Dove struggled to free herself, but between trying to hold her breath to avoid the spores and ripping her way out from ever-tightening grassy bounds, she lost consciousness. Mayflower showed no elation — only a vacant look filled her eyes.
The Herald had raised his special horn to his mouth after entering a special code with his nimble fingers. A sonic blast filled the air and drove Mayflower to her knees, even as Lilith moved to free the fallen Dove. “She’ll be OK! She’s just stunned!” said the reddish-blonde-haired girl.
Changeling had deposited Golden Eagle on the ground near the white-gowned figure of Raven. He flew back into the sky, only to yelp in pain as his eyes were assailed by a brilliant burst of light and color that came from the flying boy named Sparkler.
Below, Golden Eagle groaned as he tried to sit up, but Raven gently touched him and said, “Let me take some of your pain.” She drew in his pain, and he smiled broadly as he regained his awareness.
“Whoa! That’s totally kicking!” he said.
Raven smiled and said, “I am pleased to be have been of help, Charles.”
Kole had created a crystalline slide to carry her skyward, but her efforts proved futile as Sparkler stunned her with a concentrated blast of light that reflected off her creations and knocked her cold. She crashed into Raven, and both women lay still.
Cyborg extended one artificial hand on a cable and gripped Sparkler. “C’mon down here, you shiny punk!” he said.
Sparkler flared up in dazzling light, but Cyborg had already closed his human eye, and his cybernetic one was shielded from extremes of light. He reeled in the teenager and knocked him out with a single punch.
Lady Liberty was also disarmed by a high kick from Artemis. In seconds, she was bound within the golden lasso the heroine wore at her hip.
Elsewhere, the man in black called Silent Majority had replicated into numerous other selves and they were battling the Protector and Harlequin to a standstill. Harlequin’s own bubble-pipe kept one of the replicates at bay as she glanced over at the acrobatic, purple-clad form of the Protector. “You’re kinda cute! Can you say boy-toy?” she laughed.
The Protector blushed and kept fighting. He would not let his pals down, but Silent Majority kept on replicating.
Mal Duncan was a self-made hero. He had worked, studied, and researched every way to make himself a better man. This drive might have originated in a sense of inferiority or a need to prove himself the equal of his super-powered friends back when he joined the Teen Titans, but that was only the initial motive behind his growth. Now, as a married man and a successful businessman with talent in music and writing, Mal improved himself merely to become all he could be. Thus he saw the futility of battling endless doubles, and he took immediate and thoughtful action.
The Herald’s skilled use of his horn left Silent Majority staggering in pain. As the original being collapsed, all of his other selves returned into his single body.
“You did it!” cried the Protector.
Hawk had battered Major Victory across the shore, but the blond patriot would not give up or fall. Nor would he speak.
Lilith said, “Hawk, can you hold him still?“
Hawk took a blow to the chin and then complied. He grabbed Major Victory in a crushing bear hug and said, “OK, Lilith, now what?”
She ran forward and placed her hands on Victory’s face, allowing her empathic powers to wash over him. He cried out for a moment, and then his blue eyes widened with clarity and awareness. “Great Scott! What have I done?” he gasped.
Lilith said, “They were all under some kind of spell!”
Arisia and Raven knelt over Kole and Changeling. Both had suffered from Sparkler’s sensory overload attack, and neither was recovering rapidly. Dove had, however, already recovered and joined Hawk. “None of them talked. I figured that meant they were in a trance or under mind-control of some kind,” she said.
Hawk had just begun to release Major Victory when the tide turned rapidly. A rainbow of colors washed over all of them with a random sequence of color and direction. For a moment Hawk was bathed in yellow, then red swept over the Herald, and so on.
Arisia cried out as a golden shaft struck her head from behind, and she fell to the ground. A second shaft knocked Lilith flat.
Herald said, “What the–? A spear?“
“Nein! Call it and its master Javelin!” said a blond man with a German accent and golden costume who charged forward.
He knew yellow would hurt her, the Herald realized as a second shaft knocked his horn out of his hand.
Javelin grappled with him, but in spite of Mal’s skill and determination, he fell after a few moments’ struggle with the somewhat bigger man.
Raven had turned to help, but she had found herself falling into an endless void. The shore beneath her white high heels had melted away into nothingness. She tried to use her soul-self to recover her ground, but she found herself spinning around in a void without any frame of reference. Before she could fight her way to a point of safety, she passed out.
A masked man in red appeared, holding up a ruby gem. “I owed her that and a lot more!” said Mirage. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See The Brave and the Bold: Batman and Raven: Wounds Unseen to find out why.]
Cyborg charged forward with the speed of a natural, but he was stopped in his tracks by an armored figure with a glowing mace. Blackguard brought the energy mace down at an angle, leaving Cyborg stunned. “That punk folded up like a cheap card table!” sneered Blackguard.
Golden Eagle and Harlequin were easily overwhelmed as a powerful vibratory blast struck them from the rear, leaving them beaten in a heap. “I owe Dr. Davis a big thanks for boosting my powers!” laughed a purple-and-green-costumed man who held a jackhammer-like device in his arms.
“Quakemaster! You’ll be shaking in jail when I get my hands on you!” shouted Hawk. He and Dove charged at the villain, but Mirage’s ruby left them seeing friends as foes, and they crashed into Artemis and Protector by mistake.
Blackguard pummeled Hawk again and again as he stubbornly tried to get back up. Finally, he stopped fighting as blackness embraced his senses.
“We got them all!” said Mirage. “Blood will pay us big for this. Good thing he sent us to babysit his zombie heroes.”
“I helped,” said Rainbow Raider as he emerged from hiding. “If I had not blanketed the area with my prismatic rays and disoriented them all by causing drastic emotional swings, you might have found them far more difficult to best.”