by Goose Gansler
Michael Carter tugged at the knot of his tie as he looked at the mansion that stood before him. The Houston heat was bearing down on him, and sweat was beginning to bead on his forehead. It would be so easy to go inside into the air-conditioned comfort, but that would mean taking one more step into accepting the reality that he so fervently wanted to deny.
By the sight of the other cars parked outside next to his motorcycle, he knew that there were others inside. As to their connection to the deceased, he could only guess. They obviously weren’t family. He had been his uncle’s only surviving family, and he hadn’t been there when it counted.
“If only I hadn’t been in Europe when it all came down,” he sighed as he continued to stand at the doorstop, unwilling to reach out and ring the doorbell. “But I had to track that eco-terrorist down. I finally had a lead on Greenwar, and I wasn’t going to lose him. That was one thing that Uncle Greg taught me — ‘When you start something, you’d better dang well finish it, ‘specially when it come to deliverin’ justice to varmints.'”
Michael sighed as he recalled how, a few years ago, he became the Swashbuckler, receiving help from both his uncle, the Vigilante, and the Batman himself. Swashbuckler and Batman had teamed up when the latter’s old enemy the Riddler had decided to relocate in Michael’s stomping grounds of Houston, Texas. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Riddles in the Dark,” Detective Comics #493 (August, 1980).]
He decided that he had been indecisive too long. He had to go in. He pressed the doorbell and waited. Soon, the door opened, and a familiar figure greeted him.
“Hello, Michael.” A gaunt man with thin white hair reached out with his hand. He wore a dark, three-piece suit with a bolo tie.
“Mr. Papp,” Michael said as he shook the elderly gentleman’s hand.
“Come in, come in,” George Papp said, motioning Michael inside. “You’re the last to arrive. We can begin now.”
Michael nodded his head and stepped inside. It had been a few weeks since the memorial service when he had last seen George Papp, his late uncle’s business manager. As he stepped into the parlor back then, he had noticed that there were some familiar faces already seated there. Not that he knew any of them by name, but he had recognized their faces from the memorial service. He had noticed them amidst the mix of country and western stars who had also come to honor the prairie troubadour, Greg Sanders. Merle Haggard, George Jones, Tammy Wynette, Dolly Parton — they had all been there. The people now gathered here were all too young to be Uncle George’s contemporaries. They didn’t seem to be any of the new up-and-comers like Randy Travis or Garth Brooks, either.
Michael wondered what this was all about. The memorial service for his uncle had been weeks ago. Of course, it had been about the man behind the mask, Greg Sanders, an innocent victim of the invasion. The truth was, Greg Sanders had died in his guise as the Vigilante, protecting innocents during that momentous conflict. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See DC Universe: Invasion Interludes, Chapter 4: The Vigilante’s Last Stand.]
Michael Carter had no idea what this event was to be about. The invitation from George Papp had been very cryptic. Perhaps it was to a reading of the will. Greg Sanders had certainly amassed a fortune along with fame during his decades of a music career. Still, Michael knew he was the only blood relative that Greg had, the only son of Greg’s late sister. So who were these other people?
As Michael sat down, he noted his fellow attendees. Two were obviously of Native American heritage. The first was a large fellow with close-cropped hair dressed in typical American outfit. The second was in somber-colored clothing though definitely Indian in style. He wore his straight hair shoulder-length, although it was tied back in a ponytail.
The next attendee was a blond-haired man. He seemed to have a rather athletic build underneath his suit. This fellow’s eyes seemed to be very aware of his surroundings. The last member of this gathering was the only female. She sat at the far end of the table wearing a conservative black blouse and had her brown hair pinned up.
Michael took his seat and watched as George took his own at the head of the table.
“I thank you all for coming,” George began. “I am very glad that you did, and I’m certain that Greg would be as well.”
The greeting elicited no response from the attendees. All were focused on trying to decipher why they all were there.
George smiled briefly. “I’m sure that you are all wondering why you were invited to this meeting. You all were kind enough to attend Greg’s funeral, but as you know, this gathering was by invitation only. The reason for that will become apparent in a few moments.
“Greg Sanders lived a full life,” George continued, “and during that time, he wore… many hats.”
That reference piqued Michael’s interest. He thought he noticed a reaction from some of the others.
“From his simple childhood,” George resumed, “to his days of fame as a country and western singer, Greg Sanders was all about doing his best… and, more importantly, doing good.” It was in this way that he became involved in all of your lives, and it is in this way that he wants his legacy to be honored.”
“I don’t think any of us are sure about what you’re talking about,” Michael interrupted.
“On the contrary, Michael,” George replied softly. “I am certain that you do.” He reached down and took some folders that were inside the briefcase at his feet. “You see, you don’t work with a man for decades, traveling across this great nation from show to show, without learning virtually everything about him. I know a lot about Greg Sanders, and I know what each of you know — that he was the Vigilante.”
The five attendees exchanged nervous glances amongst themselves. Everyone seemed to have the same question on the mind — Does he know who I really am?
George chuckled. The reaction was what he had expected. He raised his hands and patted the air. “Now, now. Before you get too unnerved, rest assured that my knowledge only extends to the fact that Greg had worked with you all in the past as a mentor. I simply mailed the letters at Greg’s instructions after his death. I didn’t see the addresses or the addressees.
“All I know is that Greg was a mentor to each of you in your early days as super-heroes. The prairie troubadour traveled a great deal, so the Vigilante inevitably got involved in trouble all across the country. In some of these places, he found each of you. Greg Sanders had no children, but the Vigilante had them in you. He trained you and made you the heroes that you are today, whoever you are.”
George handed out the folders around the table. They were sealed and marked with initials, and no one tried to open theirs before George indicated that it would be appropriate to do so. “I’m sure you all are not of the level of Superman or Wonder Woman. I don’t know how Greg might’ve helped someone like Green Lantern, but I’m sure you are all effective crime-fighters. Greg was proud of, although he wouldn’t tell me much, of you.” He pointed around the room. “You can open the folders now.”
All of them did. Inside was a cashier’s check along with a list of instructions. “This is what Greg asks of you. The money represents the remaining part of his fortune, that which wasn’t donated to various charities or deposited in a trust for his only nephew.” He shot Michael a smile. “The list details Greg’s request. He wanted it to be used in the cause of justice. Specifically, just as he helped train you to be the next generation of heroes, so does he ask you to help train the generation after you. Greg always said the world always seemed to be short a few heroes. He asks you to use the money help fill that gap.”