Showcase: The Force of July: The Crime Champions, Chapter 3: Friend or Foe?

by Libbylawrence

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Mayflower had placed a quick call to her friend, Captain Comet, who replied with equal dispatch.

“Rachel,” he said, “if they abducted Stacy following the attack on Rogers, it’s pretty certain that Carlisle was right about their interest revolving around the power each possessed during their respective Moonman and Lady Lunar roles. With that in mind, I’ve built a device to register that specific level of radiation. It’s somewhat akin to kryptonite, according to my files. Both villains could weaken Superman.”

“Thanks, Adam!” she said. “I thought I’d hung up me costume for good, but I want to bring in the rotters who killed Dreamer.”

“I’m sorry about that,” replied Comet. “I know losing any teammate, even one you did not know very well, can be painful.”

Now Rachel smiled as the super-speedster Joanie Swift of the Forgotten Heroes, sent by the team leader Captain Comet, arrived to deliver the device and explain its use. The lively blonde could move so fast that doorstep delivery from across the nation, and even from the Atlantic island of Vumania, was simple.

“Rachel, I know Adam offered to help you. Are you sure you don’t want us to join you?” asked Joanie.

Rachel smiled. “I want to try to do this with the Force, seeing as Dreamer was one of us.” She activated the tracker and smiled as it began to show movement. “Hmmm. Someone’s giving off that radiation, and he or she is close to a pal of mine. Maybe I’d better rethink my plan.”

She referred to Debbie Domaine, the former Cheetah, who had served with her on Captain Comet’s Rehab Squad and now lived in Georgetown near the federal prison in D.C., which was the current scene in which the detection device indicated the radiation was present. Rachel picked up the phone and made a rapid call. “Debbie? Rach. I need a favor,” she began.

***

Debbie Domaine had been an heiress with a passion for the environment and wildlife. Her zeal for these causes had led her to devote considerable time and money to crusading, sometimes illegally, for their preservation. She had been abducted by the madman called Kobra, who had brainwashed her into becoming the new Cheetah. She had responded to his mental manipulation to such an extreme that she had become a homicidal felon with little regard for human life. Her hatred had been focused on Wonder Woman. (*)

[(*) Editor’s note: See “One Super-Villain, Made to Order,” Wonder Woman #274 (December, 1980).]

Time, therapy, and the loss of the original Wonder Woman had calmed Debbie’s rage, and she then sought to use her feline gifts to make amends for her criminal past. She had earned a pardon from her work in the Rehab Squad and had gained self-respect and a sense of healing she had never known before. She had been living quietly in Georgetown since departing when Captain Comet resigned from his position at the Meta-Human Rehabilitation Agency over disagreements in method and purpose for the government-funded team.

She responded to her friend’s call eagerly. The federal prison is the scene in which the radiation is detected, she mused. They’re planning to break someone out. Maybe I can stop them!

Now clad in her Cheetah costume, Debbie prowled toward the high walls of the prison and cleared them in a few agile flips. She easily slipped past security and crawled across the shafts between the buildings until she perched above shadowy figures.

Below her, Lady Lunar glowed as she waited with Terra-Man and the Shadow-Thief. “We break in and distract the guards while Sands snatches the woman,” she said.

“Exactly. Only I don’t think nobody’s gonna be lookin’ for no living shadow-man to begin with!” said Terra-Man.

The Cheetah frowned. So I’m in time. They’ve been waiting for the guards to change shifts; they knew that would be the peak moment to strike. Debbie shook out her auburn hair and considered. Question is, what am I going to do about it?

She decided to wait and stalk her prey for as long as possible. If Rach and her Force of July get here soon, the odds will be even. I hope I can wait that long, she mused, watching as Zond materialized and startled his own allies.

Don’t do that!” snarled the Shadow-Thief.

Zond grinned. “You don’t enjoy it when someone else surprises you. You think that living shadow routine of yours makes you so frightful. Bah!

“Let’s free Diana Lyon and get back to the base,” said Lady Lunar. “I have plans!” She flew higher and concentrated, and the effects of her efforts became obvious as the guards began to fight each other furiously. “Moon madness! They are literally luna-tics now!” she laughed.

The Shadow-Thief nodded. “Nice. Now, this Diana should be in cell block D, according to Manta.”

“Allow me to handle these new arrivals!” said Zona. He gestured, and the floor melted in front of the new shift of guards who had rushed forward to stop their brawling allies. They gasped and pulled back long enough for Terra-Man to stun them with a series of energy blasts.

The other-dimensional Terra-Man blew on the ends of his guns and grinned. “Missed nary a one!”

“The melted floor illusion slowed them down so you could aim,” clarified Zond. “Never forget that!

Terra-Man replied, “I reckon I’m fast enough fer a city slicker like you!”

Lady Lunar melted through the walls and led them toward a row of cells, where women of various types rushed to their bars and begged for freedom.

The Shadow-Thief laughed harshly. “Like a kid in a candy store, eh?”

Terra-Man grinned roguishly. “I like your style, hombre.”

Lady Lunar melted one cell and led out Diana Lyon. She was a bright platinum blonde with a voluptuous form and a keen mind.

“Thanks! I recognize you. Shadow-Thief, isn’t it? You’re the big-time!” she gushed.

“Stick with me, and you’ll go far,” Carl Sands replied.

Diana nodded and ran to join them.

***

The Cheetah had checked on the guards; the ones shot by Terra-Man were just stunned. She used her agility to stun the fighting guards with quick moves so they could not injure one another any more. This won’t look good on those security cams, she mused. I hope I don’t end up on the wrong side of these walls! She crouched low and snarled as her enemies looked up.

Zond rubbed at his greasy beard. “My, what a pretty kitty!” he said.

“The Cheetah! Aren’t you on the side of the angels now?” asked the Shadow-Thief.

Debbie Domaine raised her red nails and said in a sultry purr, “No. I got bored. I want to be with a real man like you — it’s where the thrills are!”

The Shadow-Thief grinned and said, “Come on. I’ll show you a good time!”

Zond eyed Debbie eagerly. “Perhaps I will.”

She followed them and hoped she had not placed herself in a deadly position. Getting them to take me to their base should be easy, she thought. My reputation for crime is greater than my image as a reformed ex-felon. Still, the way they keep eyeing me makes me feel like I’m the main course at some feast!

Diana said, “You broke my power disrupter!” The Shadow-Thief had indeed extended his hand and shattered the restraint.

Lady Lunar had melted a sink in one cell at Diana’s request. Water poured out in a quick stream.

Diana smiled. “Let me teach my former cellmates the error of their ways. I was bullied by these common thugs all during my time here!” She gestured, and bluish sea serpents solidified out of the running water. They attacked the women in the nearest cells while she laughed coldly.

“Naiad — mistress of water — never forgets a foe or a friend!” sneered Diana. (*)

[(*) Editor’s note: Naiad first fought Chris King and Vicki Grant of Dial H for HERO in “Lights! Camera! Destruction!” New Adventures of Superboy #33 (September, 1982) and “Water, Water, Everywhere, and Every Drop a Fright,” New Adventures of Superboy #34 (October, 1982).]

They rushed out, and Debbie regretfully watched the snakes frighten the captive women. Can’t help them. It’s more important to join these rogues, she mused.

At that moment, the Force of July swooped down along with Abraham Lincoln Carlisle; the wily politician had insisted on joining them. “I was in World War II and Korea. I can fight!” he had vowed. He felt American Dreamer’s death was his fault, and he wanted some type of revenge.

The Shadow-Thief scowled. “Those losers again!”

Naiad jumped forward. “Allow me!” She sent a stream of water swirling toward Lady Liberty.

The torch-bearer swung her torch upward and blasted it to steam. “Not so easy, no?” she taunted.

Naiad frowned. “I have more where that came from!” Naiad dodged the fire from Lady Liberty’s torch and sent her pretty French foe rolling around the ground in pain. As she thrashed back and forth, Naiad grinned evilly. “I made a swarm of ants out of water. She’s being eaten alive!” she laughed.

“Cold. I like that!” said the Shadow-Thief as he swung at Silent Majority.

His foe duplicated himself, and as one they charged Shadow-Thief. They all hurled pellets at him, and he gasped as a cloud of smoke enveloped him from all sides. “I knew he had to breathe, even as a shadow!” said the taciturn Gabby.

“Beware the demons of the abyss!” cried Zond. He made a gesture, and the illusion of several horrid monsters sprang up to block Mayflower’s path.

She screamed and ran back as her tendrils crawled across the floor under the monsters to snake up and crush Zond. The illusion vanished, and Mayflower said, “Not such a Doug Henning now, are ya?”

Sparkler flew toward Lady Lunar and laughed. “Look, legs, my show can keep your glow in check!” He sent a fiery explosion toward Stacy Macklin, who flew forward and gestured.

The roof then crashed down on the boy, and she said, “Gravitational control, you punk!”

Major Victory roared as he pummeled Terra-Man. “If that boy has been hurt, I’ll rip you apart!” he cried.

The other-dimensional Terra-Man fell as Major Victory pounded away at him with relentless fury. Lady Lunar then concentrated, and the Major stiffened and began to attack his own team. He slammed Silent Majority down, and the duplicates faded away. Meanwhile, Lady Liberty shrieked as Naiad’s assault left her helpless.

The Shadow-Thief choked and staggered forward as the Cheetah reluctantly led him away. Got to get back to their base. I wish Rach was thinking clearly; she’d know that was the thing to do, mused the Cheetah.

Mayflower frowned and said, “Cheetah! What do you think you’re doin’?

The Cheetah knew her idea was sound, so she said, “Stay back, Mayflower! This time I’m on the winning team!”

Rachel drew back. She hoped Deb was just play-acting, but she felt that this was the time to take them down. Why let them escape?

Abraham Lincoln Carlisle fired a rifle at the villains. The pulse weapon fired a white light, and the Shadow-Thief stiffened in the Cheetah’s arms. He’s out cold, thought the Cheetah as she kicked the gun out of the old man’s hands.

Major Victory fought to regain his senses as he lifted Sparkler out of the rubble. Zond, meanwhile, helped Terra-Man up as Naiad sent a blue-hued bear toward Mayflower. Mayflower fell as the brute swiped her across the arm. Cheetah gasped; she was not going to let them murder her friend, no matter what. Carlisle rushed forward, and she spun to claw him down by instinct. She recoiled and let the others gather around Zond.

“Take us back. Use your magic!” screamed Lady Lunar.

“Better yet, I’ll send them to Limbo!” he cackled. He gestured at the Force of July, and the Cheetah made a desperate move. She kicked the staggering Mayflower in the chin and watched her roll away. Then the Cheetah bounded back to her new team. Zond’s magic flickered, and the other members of the Force of July vanished, leaving a stunned Mayflower still on the ground.

“You’re vicious! You nailed your little friend soundly,” said the Shadow-Thief as they also retreated.

The Cheetah purred seductively. “She irks me. I’m not going back to her goody-goody life. Not while you’re around!” she laughed. “Where’d you send them, anyway?” she asked.

“Who knows? Wherever my magic took them. I have no idea,” said Zond.

The Cheetah’s mind reeled. Great. I’m on my way to their base, but one wrong move could mean my death. I’ve attacked federal guards and the head of the ASA. I must seem like I’ve gone bad again. She remained silent as the Crime Champions left.

***

At Styx, Black Manta greeted his team of villains and frowned as he saw an unexpected figure. “Cheetah! Why is she here? Surely she was not imprisoned there as well.”

“I was being confined there for violating my parole terms,” said the Cheetah. “I was still in costume when you attacked. I then broke free and joined your team. If you’ll have me!”

“If you earn your keep. You’re on probation. Give her Serum X and prepare for the next stage,” said Black Manta. “Zond, in my office immediately,” he snapped.

***

Meanwhile, Rachel Green woke up and ran a hand through her long brown hair.

“Cor! Debbie had to be playing along with the rotters. Still, she clocked me. Plus, she nearly sliced Abraham open. I hope that looked worse than it was. Where’d Zond send them, anyway? She glanced down at the device Comet had given her, with which she had tracked Lady Lunar. “Broken in the fight. Now what do I do?” she said.

Continued in Aquaman: Atlantis Attacked

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