Showcase: The Force of July: The Crime Champions, Chapter 2: Black Manta’s Plan

by Libbylawrence

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Back at Styx, Black Manta smiled and assembled his new allies. The Shadow-Thief and Zond eyed each other suspiciously.

“Manta, I thought our next recruit was to be a bit more attractive,” said Carl Sands.

“Bah! I could turn you into the ebon regions for all eternity; then we’d see you truly live up to your dubious nom du crime!” said Zond.

Enough, gentlemen,” said Black Manta. “In order to secure our female allies, we need Zond’s help, and he is of help to us. I’ve given him an assignment. He is nearly finished with it, too.”

Zond smiled beneath his greasy black curls. “I have located him, and my mystical might has secured him,” said the wizard. “He is a bit disoriented, but that is to be expected when you consider from whence he came!”

Shadow-Thief frowned. “What is this nonsense? Did this Skid Row Faust bring in another member?”

“Indeed he did,” said Black Manta. “One from far away. He will enrich our ranks greatly.” He snapped to a henchman, “Bring him in!”

The door opened, and in swaggered a dust-clad cowboy. His face was unshaven, and his weapons seemed drawn from a long lost era of Western adventures. “I reckon I better intree-duce myself. Ah’m Terra-Man,” he drawled.

“But he’s dead!” gasped the Shadow-Thief. “We all know that. He betrayed you and others in the Secret Society to help the Green Arrow!” (*)

[(*) Editor’s note: See Justice League of America: Fear the Future.]

“I’m not going to hold that against him,” said Black Manta.

Terra-Man grinned. “You’re all right!”

“He was dead!” said the Shadow-Thief. “Are you saying this Zond brought back a dead man?

Zond grinned wickedly. “I could… but I did not. Black Manta sports with you.”

Black Manta nodded. “My apologies, Sands. This is not the Terra-Man who betrayed our cause and died as the Futurian — may he rot wherever he is — this is his counterpart from a magical realm. They once teamed up to fight Superman. (*) Although they lost that battle, we can use this Terra-Man. He has not reformed in any sense of the word.”

[(*) Editor’s note: See “Terra Times Two,” Superman #377 (November, 1982).]

Terra-Man grinned. “Now tell me who you want plugged, mister, and I’ll reserve ’em a place on Boot Hill!”

***

A startled Stacy Macklin found herself bait in a dangerous game when the two rival super-groups converged upon the pretty woman’s home. She gasped as first the Crime Champions broke in from the rear, then the Force of July rushed to meet them.

“I knew a careful surveillance would pay off! We’ve got them!” said a smug Major Victory.

Lady Liberty nodded. “Your leadership was as true as ever, Major!”

Mayflower frowned as she rode a rising stalk that shot skyward at her command. “This lot looks a bunch of right proper kooks!” she mused as she spotted the swaggering Terra-Man, the greasy and robed Zond, and the silently menacing Black Manta. She missed Shadow-Thief as he made his way through the darker parts of the house.

Stacy gasped and cried, “What do you people want? I gave up my Lady Lunar identity long ago!”

“We intend to rectify that error of judgment,” said Black Manta.

Major Victory stood defiantly in the center of the room. “Miss Macklin, take shelter. This could get rough,” he commanded.

Terra-Man scowled and produced a gun. “Reckon it maht at that, pard.”

Major Victory smiled calmly. “I believe I’m too much man for your six-shooter to stop!”

Terra-Man fired, and the gun’s energy blasted forward to slam the unprepared Victory into Lady Liberty. “This here beauty don’t fire bullets!” sneered Terra-Man.

Black Manta fired his red eye-beams and sent an overhead beam crashing down on them. “Gloat later,” he snapped.

Stacy screamed as she fled deeper into her home. She found herself being smothered from behind as Shadow-Thief reached out from the wall to grab her tightly. She struggled and fell still as her air was cut off.

Carl Sands caressed her eagerly and slipped back to their craft. “Business can be a pleasure at times,” he smirked.

Silent Majority had duplicated himself, and his five doubles charged forward to tackle Zond. They gasped and fell into one another as the wily illusionist stepped out of what had been empty space.

“You see me where I am not,” said Zond. “Is that not the height of the illusionist’s craft?”

“I can make you easy to find, mate!” said Mayflower; she made a gesture, and spores erupted from her plant to fill the air with pollen.

Zond began to choke and sneeze as his eyes watered painfully. “Fetching — achoo! — wench, but I will sttill — achoo! — kill her!” he gasped.

Lady Liberty crawled out from the rubble Major Victory’s body had shielded her from. She waved her torch and sent a blazing bolt toward Zond. His robes ignited, and he cursed desperately as he tried to smother them while dealing with Mayflower.

Black Manta found himself in their path. He fired again, and Lady Liberty spun her torch baton style to block the energy blast.

“Your move, m’sieur,” she said.

Black Manta ignored her banter and said, “Objective secured. Retreat!” He turned and hurried off as she pursued him.

Terra-Man had been dodging the blazing pyro-kinetics of the laughing Sparkler, who flew wildly around the room. “I guess this is your last stand, cowboy!” he crowed.

“Yep,” Terra-Man replied. He hurled a lasso that snaked out toward Sparkler, who stopped short and let it sail in front of his laughing face. Terra-Man clicked his gloves, and the lasso shifted in midair to snare the boy and send gas into his face. He fell down hard, and Terra-Man smirked at that. “Never could stand uppity young’uns!”

Zond was down as Mayflower and Silent Majority closed in on the beleaguered wizard.

“Nice dress!” laughed Mayflower as she sent tendrils snaking around Zond’s robed form.

“Not your color,” said Silent Majority, battering the wizard with unison from three sides.

Then, as Black Manta exited the house, he ran directly into the pink-clad American Dreamer. She batted her eyes and cooed, “Look at me! I can make your wildest fantasies a reality!”

He stared into her blue eyes from beneath his metallic lens helmet and casually blasted her to a flaming pulp. “So can I,” he said as he stepped over her fallen form.

Terra-Man retrieved Zond and rushed out, leaving the Force to tend to their injured ally.

“She’s dead!” gasped Lady Liberty.

“I can’t believe he killed her so casually!” said a grim Major Victory.

Mayflower wept softly for the woman she barely knew. They must be stopped, even if I have to call in some real heroes, she mused.

***

Back at Styx, Black Manta wasted no time. He strapped Stacy Macklin down and used a device the Shadow-Thief had tested upon Brice Rogers, the former Moonman, to bathe her in an odd glow. She moved restlessly and then arose with a gleam in her eyes.

“You have restored me. I feel the moon’s sweet call,” she said in a trance-like state.

Black Manta nodded. “Indeed I have, Lady Lunar. We need your services, and in return we’ll increase your power greatly. I seek to conquer an undersea realm. The Serum X I gave you earlier will allow you to breathe and function beneath the sea. Your special gifts will enable you to control tides to great effect down here.”

Lady Lunar smiled after a quick change. She now had long blonde hair and wore a green and orange costume. “I agree to your terms,” she said. “If you seek to conquer one of the cities of lost Atlantis, then I’ll gladly aid you. They’ve avoided the worship of the moon for far too long and should feel my wrath.”

“And mine!” said Manta.

Meanwhile, the Shadow-Thief stepped off the wall of the changing room Lunar had just exited and smiled coldly. “She’s magnificent,” he gloated.

Black Manta entered and said, “If you’re quite… satisfied, then I need you to prepare for a retrieval. I need the woman we spoke of earlier. Take some help with you and get her from her prison.”

The Shadow-Thief nodded. “I shall. Don’t you think Zond has proven his inability to play in our league? I mean, he was almost defeated by those witless governmental lackeys!”

“He is needed for our assault on Poseidonis,” explained Black Manta. “Must I go through it all again? One: I used Quakemaster and Jackhammer to occupy Aquaman long enough for you to secure Serum X, which allows air breathers to survive below, while I abducted Vulko. Two: Vulko told me of a secret of lost Atlantis. Three: I mean to refine my power by learning how Aqua-Queen controlled aquatic life forms, and thus we kidnapped her. Four: I used the excess remnants of the energy that made Brice Rogers the Moonman to restore Stacy Macklin to her Lady Lunar persona to aid us. Five: You’ll locate our final allies, and then we conquer Poseidonis. Think of it — we live in Styx. We freely plunder the underwater world. Aquaman is used to battling me and the Fisherman, and the Ocean Master and the others, but how can he prepare for a war with surface villains like yourself, Lady Lunar, and Terra-Man? He will be bested easily, and who else could stop us? There are no other underwater heroes. Aqualad is nothing to me.”

The Shadow-Thief smiled. “I see. It does make sense. Above the waves we’d be in constant peril from the New Titans, the JLA, and Hawkman, among others; below them we should soon be invincible.”

“That is how I planned it from the start,” said Black Manta.

***

By the time Jean Loring woke up feeling cold, angry, and more than a bit humiliated, Melanie Larvan had pawned her jewelry, bought a bus ticket, and was planning a bright future. She sighed as she sank back against the bus seat and recalled her past.

She had been raised by her widower father, Bertram Larvan, and his mother until first her grandmother died and then her father met a sudden end during the Crisis on Infinite Earths. Melanie had grieved and been placed in a foster home. She had hated life there and had formed a novel idea.

“Dad’s most persistent foe was the Atom, Ray Palmer. His secrets are all commonly known thanks to that memoir by Norman Brawler. Dad said the Atom was brilliant and a man of honor. Sappy that way. I figured I could meet him, and just maybe he’d take me in. I mean, the guy’s a do-gooder. Why not?” All these thoughts she had pondered before running away from the foster home.

Her father had left his old laboratory intact, and Melanie had helped herself to all his gear. As the Bug-Eyed Bandit, he had designed a number of remarkable artificial insects for various purposes. She had taken a few and hoped to make use of them. First she had hoped to meet Palmer and become a ward or sidekick or something. That had proven difficult, and she had been hungry and tired. So she had instead robbed his snooty wife and used the money to pay for a way out of the college town.

I’ll be a costumed criminal, too, like Dad, she mused. Why bother with the picket fence life?

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