Showcase: The Force of July: The Crime Champions, Chapter 1: For Old Time’s Sake

by Libbylawrence

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At the bottom of the ocean rested a large complex full of high-tech equipment. The original owner was rotting away in prison, and the new owner had made so many improvements to the secret lair that he considered it his in any case. The Black Manta stalked the halls of the base called Styx and enjoyed the feeling of power he got when his mere appearance sent henchmen scurrying. He wore his customary black costume with an imposing helmet. Red lens gleamed as he scanned the base and saw all was to his satisfaction.

He stopped by the medical facility and watched silently as his crew worked to revive a portly bald man. Vulko is getting better — excellent. Soon he will be as good as new, and his secrets shall be ours for the taking, he mused as he saw Aquaman’s mentor stir slightly.

“Mera!” moaned Vulko.

“Mera can’t help you, old man!” said Black Manta. “She’ll be welcome here to entertain my crew, though, after I conquer her husband’s home and make him suffer even more than he did when I killed his whelp!

He turned to the head of the medical team and said, “Don’t let your efforts to restore him slow in any manner. He must be cured in order to be of more use to me than as a mere hostage.”

“Aye, sir!” said the doctor.

Manta approached the main hall and smiled beneath his mask as a figure slipped out of the shadows. He did not move or turn around, but he calmly said, “Good morning, Sands.”

Carl Sands, the Shadow-Thief, frowned and caressed his beard. “Morning or night makes no difference here below the ocean. Can’t say I like it,” he replied.

Black Manta laughed a harsh, barking laugh. “Come now, don’t tell me the Shadow-Thief fears the dark?”

Shadow-Thief grimaced and said, “It takes some getting used to, this living beneath the waves. The Serum X I stole may have given me the ability to breathe and survive underwater, but I don’t have to enjoy the sensation.”

“Be calm,” said Black Manta. “Soon we’ll have the rest of our little squad. In fact, I see our crew have retrieved the next addition. See the sub arriving?”

He indicated the docking of a small sub. Minutes later, the uniformed crewmen appeared and carried a stunned woman between their outstretched arms.

“Got her as ordered, sir,” said one crewman.

“Fine. She is no worse for wear, I take it?” said Black Manta.

“No sir, she’s in fine form, I’d say,” replied the man as he gazed down on the lovely blonde.

The blonde woman awoke to find herself chained in a small cell. She was wearing a gold bikini and found herself well-guarded.

“Please, who are you?” she said. “Why have you brought me here?”

The uniformed henchman said, “I don’t know nothin’. I just get paid to see that you don’t go nowheres.”

The blonde woman named Dale Conroy struggled in her chains, but they were too strong. She settled down and realized all she could do was wait. Answers would surely come soon if she just waited. She sighed and prepared herself to wait. It was really all she could do.

***

Rachel Green smiled as she worked in her mother’s garden behind the small English cottage in which she lived. She had a real green thumb; in fact, as the super-powered Mayflower, she had used her rapport with growing plant life for causes both good and ill. She had been born with her power to control and stimulate plants, because her father had been Jason Woodrue, the villainous Floronic Man, who had battled the Atom and other heroes in the Justice League of America, and Rachel had inherited some of his bizarre power. Rachel had never met him until as an adult she was abducted by him and used as a seedling to grow the enigmatic plant woman called Blossom. She still shuddered at the footage her friends had shown her of her time as Blossom. She had retained no memory of housing the pale blonde nudist. She had no desire to recall it, either.

She had formerly served as a member of the Force of July under the leadership of B. Eric Blairman, and then she served under Captain Comet on his Rehab Squad. While Comet had been a good man and a friend, Blairman had misled his team, and Rachel had not been eager to ever rejoin her old Force of July teammates.

Rachel wiped a bit of dirt from her face and dusted off the white shorts and white tank top she wore. “Cor! The day’s half-shot. I lose m’self out here in the garden every time I come out,” she said.

“Mayflower, we can fill your days with more productive activities. Your country needs you!” said a stentorian voice.

She saw the broad-shouldered form of Major Victory and gasped. “Will! I’m glad you’re OK,” she said. “Captain Comet said you and the team had been manipulated by an Arabian businessman who wanted to engineer a war so his armament company would prosper.” (*)

[(*) Editor’s note: See Captain Comet’s Rehab Squad: The Suicide Squad.]

Victory frowned. “We were naive then; now we serve a real American. His name is Abraham Lincoln Carlisle, and he is the new director of the American Security Agency. He’s putting the Force back together, and we want you with us!”

“The Force is with you?” she joked sheepishly.

Victory frowned even more. “No, I’m alone. Will you join us?”

“I’m not too keen on being back in action,” Rachel said reluctantly. “I mean, life here is dead borin’ and all, but I don’t want to serve any bloomin’ politician.”

“One final mission for old time’s sake?” asked Major Victory.

Rachel sighed. “OK, OK. I’ll get me knickers.”

***

Thus it was that Mayflower soon found herself dressed in her traditional costume. She met her old partners with some affection and some reserve. Major Victory, alias Will Vickers, was a handsome blond man with super-strength that came from his star-spangled costume. His young partner Sparkler was a teenager with pyro-kinetic powers and a decided passion for blowing things up. The taciturn Silent Majority wore his dark glasses and remained quiet. Mayflower rather liked Gabby the most. He could create duplicates of himself at will. He literally was a one-man gang.

Next to him sat a pretty blonde woman in a short pink dress and heels. She was new to the team and unknown to Mayflower. Her name was American Dreamer, and she had the power to create potent fantasies in her victims. They would lose themselves in her bliss. Lady Liberty was the gorgeous Frenchwoman who could generate energy blasts. She dressed as the living embodiment of the Statue of Liberty, complete with torch and crown. The last new member they’d recruited, Minute Man, had deserted and thus could not be found for this case.

Behind a plush desk sat Abraham Lincoln Carlisle, former Presidential candidate and new director of the ASA. He rubbed his palms together and said, “My friends, I am rejoicing within to see so many fine Americans rallying to our cause. We are needed as always to secure American liberty. I need you, my Force of America, to protect this young lady. We have reason to believe she will be the target of a vicious attack from our nation’s foes. Her name is Stacy Macklin, and you may recall her as one of America’s first female astronauts.”

“Don’t worry, sir,” said Major Victory. “You can count on us.”

Mayflower hoped she knew what she was getting into this time.

***

Meanwhile, at Ivy Town University, a pretty teenager found herself facing rejection.

“I’m sorry, Miss,” shrugged a pretty work-study student at the science lab reception desk. “Dr. Palmer is not on campus today. His work often takes him in unexpected directions.”

The pretty brunette girl was around fifteen, and she wore her auburn hair long and straight. She looked tired and more than a bit frustrated.

“Do you know when he’ll be back? I’ve tried his home as well,” she snapped.

The student behind the desk said, “I don’t know. Do you want to leave a message?

“No, I’ll keep looking,” she said and hurried out. She wore faded jeans and a pink sweater, and both showed signs of wear and age. He was my last hope. If I can’t locate him, then what am I gonna do? she thought.

She glanced down and saw a trail of ants crossing the sandy edges of a construction zone. “Hmmm! Maybe I can get his attention in my own way,” she said, smiling.

***

Black Manta knew that some things were best done personally. Thus he entered a dirty little shop outside Georgetown and pushed aside the hanging beads that decorated one door. He sniffed and frowned as incense reached his nose. He was dressed in a costly black suit, and out of costume he looked every bit the successful man of the world he knew himself to be. He was certainly out of place in this shop of oddities.

A girl with deathly pale skin and heavy mascara leaned over the counter. “Yeah?” she said.

He said, “With this kind of sparkling customer service, I little wonder that the shop is empty of business.”

She stared at him and said, “Huh?”

“I need to speak to the owner. He is in the back office, I take it?”

“Yeah,” said the girl vacantly.

Pushing by her, Black Manta opened the door to reveal a tired man who pored through dusty tomes and scowled in anger as the villain interrupted his study. “You dare?” he shouted.

Black Manta nodded. “And I dare much more as well. I dare to offer you the chance to shake off past defeats and bitterness. I offer you a chance to get revenge upon your old foes. (*) I invite you to become a champion. Are you willing to take a chance, or is Zond just a name forgotten and scorned for good reason?”

[(*) Editor’s note: See “Now Comes Zond,” Adventure Comics #397 (September, 1970).]

Zond glowered at him beneath shaggy brows. “Oh, I accept your offer. It best be worthy of my time, or I’ll ignite your very heart to ashes!” he said coldly.

“I think we have a deal,” said a smiling Black Manta.

***

Jean Loring was a gifted lawyer, and she owed her success to a sterling work ethic. Thus, even though it was after six, she continued to work in her law office in Ivy Town. She sighed. “Ray’s gone with Adam. Looks like I either finish this brief or go home to cold leftovers.”

A buzzing sound caught her attention, and she glanced up to see a bug flying near her ear. She waved it away and pushed back her long raven locks of hair.

The buzzing increased, and she frowned as the bug hovered in front of her face and emitted a sonic shriek that caused the lady lawyer to cover her ears and fall to her knees in pain. She grabbed a lamp and hurled it at the artificial insect, which dodged the projectile and drew closer until Jean had passed out on the carpet.

Then the brunette teenager who had been seeking Ray Palmer — Jean’s lover and the former Atom — climbed inside the window and bent over the stunned woman.

“Cool! You know, who needs Palmer? I’ll take care of myself.” She calmly stripped Jean of her costly designer suit and helped herself to her purse.

Now, dressed in style and carrying more money than she had seen in a long time, Melanie Larvan exited along with the sonic bee she had made from her late father’s scraps. And a criminal career was born.

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