by Martin Maenza
Power Fist continued to make his way through the jungle brush, hoping to discover where Copperhead had gotten off to. “No one’s seen much of him since we arrived on the island,” the man-ape said to himself. “Hope he’s doin’ OK.”
He stopped for a moment by a spring to get some water. Scooping the cool liquid up in his hand, he took a good, long drink. Then Power Fist paused for a moment as the ripples in the water began to spread. The mid-afternoon sun reflected off the surface, allowing the water to act as a mirror. He stared at his simian profile in the water and let out a deep sigh. He couldn’t help thinking about home and growing up in Metropolis’ Suicide Slum.
Luke Case was the youngest of four kids, his two sisters being closest in age to him. All through elementary school and junior high, he was scrawny and often got picked on by older or bigger kids. Even his own sisters could whup his butt. All that changed the summer before tenth grade.
Luke hit a growth spurt at the onset of puberty, gaining seven inches and fifty pounds in a three-month period. He continued to grow taller and began to work out more for the rest of his high school years. By the time he was a senior, he was six foot three and over two hundred and ten pounds of pure muscle.
The new, stronger Luke was now accepted by the very same type of guys who, years before, had hung him upside down from street signs to get his lunch money. He ran with a few different street gangs over time, having a number of brushes with the law. Eventually, he tired of doing all the work to benefit others and decided to go solo. Shooting for the big time, he opted for a costumed identity and went gunning for Black Lightning. Thus his career as Power Fist came to be. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See Black Lightning: Times Past, 1982: Fist Raised in Anger.]
The man-ape frowned at his own reflection and then swatted at it with a large, hairy hand. Water splashed all over. “Yeah, and look where it’s got me. I’m more suited for the big top than the big time like this.”
“S-s-s-s-so s-s-s-s-sad,” a low, weary voice laughed from somewhere behind him.
Whirling around, Power Fist only saw trees and brush. “Copperhead?” he asked. “Copperhead, is that you?” He took a few steps, listening for a clue. After a few moments, he heard a low hiss coming from a small cave behind an outcrop of rocks.
Power Fist leaned toward the cave’s opening. “Copperhead, you in there?” he called into the darkness. Only a low hiss was the response.
Still not sure, the man-ape began to move away some of the rocks to widen the opening and allow himself a better view. With his further augmented strength, moving aside the heavy stones was as simple as flicking a bottle cap. In a matter of moments, the opening was wide enough for him to peer inside. “Hello? Anybody home?”
The cave was cool, but the air wasn’t all that refreshingly pure. Power Fist soon realized why as he reached inside. What he pulled out were bones and mostly eaten carcasses of rats and other small animals. “Ewww!” he exclaimed as he flung the remains aside. He wiped his hand on his furry leg. “That was gross!”
Power Fist leaned back down toward the cave and stuck his head inside. It was fairly dark, but his simian eyes began to adjust to the dimness quickly. He thought he saw something move a little toward the back of the cave. “Copperhead, is that you?”
Suddenly, two eyes peered back at him in the darkness, and something sprang forward toward him. “Aaaaah!” Power Fist exclaimed as he pulled back. A large form slammed into his upper body as he tumbled backward out of the cave and into the jungle brush. The man-ape let out another scream as his arms grabbed for whatever had attacked him.
Power Fist had to keep his head turned away; whatever was on top of him was continually slashing toward his face. He cocked back his fist and punched at it. The shot barely connected.
“Yes-s-s-s-s-s, s-s-s-s-struggle,” the attacker hissed. “Prey is bes-s-s-s-st when it res-s-s-sis-s-s-sts-s-s-s.”
Power Fist used his simian legs as well to try to wrap them around his attacker. The pair rolled along the ground, crashing through the brush and crushing plants. The occasional jagged rock stabbed in his back, but the man-ape didn’t have time to worry about the pain. He was fighting for his life and not faring all that well.
In all the tussling, Power Fist managed to get a good look at his assailant. The golden costume with the large head-shaped mask was a direct giveaway. “Copperhead!”
“Vengeance is s-s-s-sweet!” Copperhead hissed. Saliva dripped from his lips, and his brown eyes were wide with anger. “Now’s-s-s-s the time for my revenge, Grodd!” He lunged forward, trying to bite the man-ape with his own teeth.
Power Fist held him fast with his own outstretched arms. “Wait, Copperhead! I’m not Grodd. I’m Power Fist. Remember?”
“Yeah, Power Fist!” the man-ape said. “We met back at the Bar Sinister when that jerk Ace tried to attack you!”
“Ac-c-c-ce?” Copperhead asked. His eyes appeared to relax slightly, as if the words were starting to sink in.
Power Fist saw this and continued. “Yeah, that jerk Ace wanted you to replace his beers. I punched the guy for you. We’re friends, you and me. Friends.”
“Friends-s-s?” the serpentine villain asked, and he stopped struggling against the man-ape’s mighty grasp.
“Yeah, you and me, Lydia, Mirror Master, Gizmo. We’re all friends. Friends help friends.”
“I…” Copperhead started to say, then trailed off. He broke free from Power Fist’s grasp, diving into the brush.
Power Fist sprang to his feet and bound after him. “Copperhead! Wait!” He chased the other man through the brush, ducking under branches and bounding over rocks. They were quickly back to the cave where he had found Copperhead to begin with. The serpentine villain slithered quickly into the opening and retreated to the back.
Power Fist carefully approached the cave. “Copperhead! Copperhead, come out.”
From the back, a weary voice hissed. “No!” And then, a moment later, he added, “S-s-s-sorry.”
Power Fist stood there for a moment and waited. He then decided it best to leave Copperhead alone for a while. “OK, I’ll go for now, buddy. But I’ll be back for you. OK?”
From the cave, the weary voice hissed, “Ye-s-s-sss.”
As the last of the evening sun sank off the horizon in a brilliant display of reds and oranges, the stranded villains sat by the fire. “The fish you caught today were great, M.M.,” Power Fist said.
Sam Scudder nodded. “It was easy thanks to Lydia and the spear she provided.”
The Greek woman stood up and stretched. “If you do not mind, I am going to turn in early,” she said. The others said their goodnights as she retired to the lean-to structure.
Gizmo sat quietly, just staring into the fire. Sam Scudder watched him for a moment, then turned to the man-ape. “Luke, you said you managed to locate Copperhead this afternoon?”
“Yep,” Power Fist said with a nod as he finished the last of his dinner. “Though I think we shouldn’t expect to see him hangin’ out for a while. I think he’s workin’ through some issues or something. Best just to leave him be for a bit.”
The reflective rogue nodded. “Do keep an eye on him, though. You never know when we might get out of here.” The man in orange and green then stood up and stretched as well. “Nature’s calling, boys. I’ll be back soon.” He then departed for the jungle brush just beyond the encampment.
Power Fist leaned back and half-closed his eyes to rest. He didn’t bother engaging the dwarf in conversation; Gizmo had barely said two words to anyone during dinner. He figured it best to relax and enjoy the sounds of the island at night.
Gizmo sat quietly for a few moments, carefully watching Power Fist. When he felt he wasn’t being watched by the man-ape, the dwarf quietly stood up and walked over to near the shelter area. He bent down, rummaged around the ground for a moment, and then grabbed something. Gizmo quickly darted back across the campfire area and started for the brush.
As the dwarf ran off, a twig snapped.
Power Fist’s eyes popped open at the sound. He glanced around quickly, hearing the sound of the dwarf as he darted off quickly through the brush. He sprang to his four simian feet and took off in pursuit.