“I’m telling you, Sammy, this one can’t miss!” Funky Flashman said as he paced around the Mirror Master’s office, waving his arms for effect.
The unchallenged leader of the Secret Society of Super-Villains sat behind his desk, gazing at the bust of Archimedes in the corner, trying very hard to maintain his temper. “Flashman,” the master criminal said, “would you like to see a typewritten list of all the schemes of yours that ‘couldn’t miss’? Annotated with the jail time I served because of each?”
“Now, Sammy, you need to be more forward-thinking,” Flashman said, leaning on Mirror Master’s desk. “You shouldn’t reflect on the past so much.”
That did it. Mirror Master banged his fist down on the desk with such force that Flashman leaped up. “For the last time, Flashman,” Mirror Master growled, “I do the mirror references around here.”
“OK, OK,” Flashman said soothingly, patting the air with his hands. “But listen, this one’s a cinch! Like taking candy away from a baby. Just a simple locate and kidnap, that’s all.”
“I have a lot of trouble believing it’s as easy as you say,” Mirror Master said. “Now, why is that, do you suppose?”
“OK, I get it,” Flashman said. “You don’t trust me, and in all honesty I can’t blame you. I admit, my ideas have turned out less than brilliant in the past. But even you have to admit they looked damned good on paper.”
“The map is not the terrain,” Mirror Master quoted.
Flashman raised an eyebrow. “Sun Tzu?”
“Von Clausewitz,” Mirror Master corrected. “Look, Flashman, I’m all for giving someone a second chance… and a third, a fourth, even a fifth. Hell, look at all the times I teamed up with the Trickster. But the simple fact is, I can’t spare anybody right now. I’ve got something in the works that requires our full strength. Even if I wanted to go along with this plan of yours, and I’m not saying I do, I just can’t.”
“Aw, Sammy, can’t you spare me anybody?” Flashman asked. “Maybe not your A-list, OK, but somebody off the B-list, maybe? For old times’ sake?”
Mirror Master looked at his longtime associate’s face, seeing the pleading in his eyes. He sighed and opened a desk drawer. “Here,” he said, taking out a manilla folder. “These are some people who’ve been in touch with me, trying to get a gig. I couldn’t use them; you’re welcome to them.”
“Thanks, Sammy!” Flashman said, taking the folder. “You won’t regret it!”
“You won’t live to,” Mirror Master said ominously. “You or any of these people get caught, you breathe a word about the Secret Society — even a syllable — it’ll be the last breathing you do.”
“Of course, Sammy,” Flashman said, trying to suppress a shudder.
Funky Flashman sat behind a modest desk in a small office much smaller than Mirror Master’s. He had rented the office for this occasion, and the furnishings were strictly bargain basement. Only one item was cutting-edge, and that was the flat-screen television monitor hanging on one wall. Hanging? It rather dominated the wall, for the screen was easily six feet square.
“I bet the ball games come in good on that,” commented his guest, a man in red and yellow seated in one of the four chairs in front of Funky’s desk, as he nodded at the screen.
“I wouldn’t know, Signalman,” Funky said. “It’s closed-circuit. Only our employer comes through on it.”
“And who’s our employer, again?” Signalman asked.
“Now, Sig, you ought to know better than that,” Funky said, spreading his hands wide.
Signalman winced at the diminutive. “Do you have to do that?”
“Do what?” Funky asked innocently.
“Call me ‘Sig,'” Signalman said. “I mean, really.”
“I’m sorry, I was just trying to be informal,” Flashman apologized. “Signalman it will be from now on.”
“You can call me Phil, if you want,” Signalman said. “I mean, it’s only my name.”
“Phil? OK, Phil, then… Phil what?”
“Cobb? Any relation to–?”
Just then the door opened. Two newcomers entered, a man in a bizarre purple costume with a weird-looking apparatus on his head, and a stunning dark-haired woman in a black and yellow outfit. “Well, well,” Flashman said. “We have two more arrivals! I didn’t expect you to come together.”
“We didn’t come together,” the woman said distastefully. “We just came at the same time.”
“Happened to arrive simultaneously,” the Calculator said. “What are the odds?” He glanced at Signalman. “You’re the Signalman, aren’t you? I’ve heard of you.”
“Thanks,” Signalman said, offering a hand. “I’m sorry, you’ve got the advantage.”
“The Calculator,” the younger villain said, shaking Signalman’s hand. “And this is–”
“Darklight,” the woman finished, taking Signalman’s hand herself. “It’s a pleasure.”
“So, are we all here?” Calculator asked Flashman. “I’d like to get started if we are.”
“Patience, my mathematical maladroit,” Flashman said. “There’s one more coming. As soon as he…” Just then, the wooden door disintegrated, revealing a man in orange and red standing there.
“Hope I’m not late,” the Crumbler said, striding in.
“Oh, no, not at all,” Flashman said, all the while thinking, For crying out loud, I’m renting this place! Did you ever hear of a doorknob?
The Crumbler seated himself. “Is this all of us, then?”
“This is all of us,” Flashman said, still casting wistful glances in the direction of the gaping hole that had once been a door. “Right, then. Let’s get started. As you all know, we have been retained by someone for a special job.”
“Right, we know that,” Darklight said. “How about letting us in on the fine details? Or do you want us to make it up as we go along?”
“Patience, my charming chimera,” Flashman said. “I’m just about to contact our enigmatic employer. He’ll fill you in.” Flashman worked some dials and buttons on the television screen.
The blank screen flickered into a field of snow, which all of a sudden resolved itself into the image of a man’s masked face — just his face, garbed entirely in a featureless black mask; all that showed were his brown eyes, but in those eyes everyone could read sheer, undisguised hatred and rage. On the giant screen, the face appeared six feet tall. Darklight almost made a joke about the Great and Powerful Oz, but thought better of it.
“Ah, Flashman,” the masked man said. His voice, amplified by hidden speakers, boomed like thunder. “I see you have assembled your strike force. Very good.”
“Thank you, sir,” Flashman said. “I’m sure you recognize everyone. From left to right, Signalman, Darklight, the Calculator, and the Crumbler.”
“And you’ve told them what is asked of them?” the masked man asked.
“Well, no,” Flashman said. “Not yet.”
The masked man seemed confused for a moment. “Why not?”
“Well, I thought you’d want to do that,” Flashman explained.
“Why would I want to do that?” the masked man asked, not understanding.
“Well… er… to be dramatic,” Flashman stammered.
“Dramatic?” the masked man roared. “Do you think I care about drama? I’m paying you one million dollars to help me achieve my revenge! I don’t give a damn about drama! Who do you think I am, a James Bond villain?”
“A million,” Darklight said in an awed whisper.
“I’m sorry, sir,” Flashman stammered. “I’ll just…”
“No, don’t bother,” the masked man said. “Since you waited for me to do it, I might as well do it. Gentlemen and lady, your task is to find someone, capture them, and bring them to me. Sounds simple, doesn’t it?”
“So far,” the Crumbler remarked. “I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop.”
“Very astute,” the masked man said. “The person I want found and kidnapped is Robin, the Boy Wonder!”
“I knew it, I just knew it,” Signalman muttered into his glove as he held his head in his hand.
“Robin, the Boy Wonder?” the Calculator repeated. “As in, Batman and…? That Robin?”
“I don’t mean Robin Williams,” the masked man sneered. “What, is that too hard for you?”
“Hard?” snorted the Crumbler, the only villain present who had never faced one of Gotham’s protectors in battle. “Hell, no! We’ll have the brat back here trussed up like a Christmas turkey faster than you can say–”
“One moment,” the masked man said. “Perhaps I misspoke. I mean for you to find me the original Robin.”
Darklight blinked. “There’s more than one?”
“Of course!” the masked man roared. “Haven’t you noticed, in the last couple of years, Batman’s partner suddenly got ten years younger?”
“Now you mention it,” the Calculator said, “he does seem smaller on TV.”
“Of course!” their employer snapped. “He’s a new one, a replacement! But the one I want is the original! The one who ruined my life! Bring me that Robin!”
“But how do we find him?” Signalman asked. “We have no idea what happened to him. He may have retired, he may have been injured, he may even be d–”
“No!” the masked man shouted in an amplified voice that shook the whole room. “He is not dead! He cannot be dead! I cannot be cheated of my revenge! I must be the one to kill him!”
“And you will, my mysterious master, you will,” Funky Flashman assured him. “We’ll find him, never fear!”
“See that you do!” the masked man snapped. “Report back to me when you have something positive to report. And that had better be soon!” The television screen suddenly went blank.
“You knew about this, didn’t you?” Signalman demanded of Flashman when the image had faded from the screen. “You knew he wanted us to find the original Robin!”
“Well, sure I knew,” Flashman said, spreading his hands wide. “I was just waiting for our enigmatic employer to fill you in on the dynamite details, is all. I don’t…”
“Hellfire and buggery,” Signalman spat. “If I’d known this, I never would have signed up for this chicken outfit.”
“Chicken is the word for you, it seems,” the Crumbler sneered. “Afraid to go after a kid in short pants!”
“In the first place,” Signalman said evenly, “I’ve fought that kid, and you haven’t. In the second place, that ‘kid’ would be about twenty-two by now. And in the third place, shut your pie-hole.”
“Boys, boys!” Darklight said quickly, before the Crumbler could react. “This isn’t getting us anywhere, fighting among ourselves! We need to work together if we’re going to accomplish what we’ve been hired to do.”
“Who hit you with a perky stick?” the Crumbler sneered.
“The luminous lady is right,” Flashman said. “We’re talking about a cool million in delightful dollars, here, boys and girls. Bickering isn’t going to get it for us. I never said this would be a walk in the park, now did I? If it were, I’d have hired the Fisherman and the Bug-Eyed Bandit!”
“Isn’t he dead?” the Calculator asked.
“Who, Fisherman?” Signalman said. “Naw, I saw him on the news just last week.”
“No, the Bandit,” Calculator said. “I’m pretty sure he died during that big to-do a couple years ago. What do they call it? The Catastrophe?”
“The point is,” Flashman said, steering the conversation back around, “we need a plan, a means of attack. And I’ve been considering the problem since I accepted the contract. I believe I have the answer.”
“We’re listening,” the Crumbler said gruffly.
“OK, there are two avenues to consider,” Flashman said. “Number one: Commissioner James W. Gordon. He’s been thick as thieves with the dynamic duo since their dynamite debut. If anyone knows what became of the original Robin, apart from his colorful colleagues in the super-hero set, it would be he.”
“Makes sense,” the Crumbler admitted.
“Number two: New Carthage University,” Flashman went on. “The teenaged titan was seen there on several occasions a few years ago. It’s just possible that the Boy Wonder was a mere matriculate at that Ivy institution. A crosscheck of the student records may reveal fascinating facts.”
“I can see that,” Darklight mused.
“So those are your assignments, my cohorts in crime,” Flashman beamed, hooking his thumbs into the lapels of his jacket. “I’d suggest you divide the deeds, make two teams of two, and, as the Good Book says, go forth and do evil, that good may come.”
“What good?” Signalman asked.
“A million bucks,” Flashman reminded him. “If that isn’t good, show me what is.”
The masked man stepped on the button that activated the remote control and stopped the video transmission. He reached up, pulled off the black hood, and ran a hand roughly through his dark hair. Robin couldn’t be dead. He had to be alive. Nobody else could cheat him of his revenge like that.
The dark-haired man walked across the floor of his lavishly furnished home and stopped on a section of floor made of thick, bulletproof glass. He peered down through the glass and into the pit he had prepared specially for Robin. It had cost a lot of money, but it was worth it. Oh, yes, definitely.
“I have to say what a thrill it is working with you!” Darklight effused. “I haven’t met anyone famous before! Except Two-Face, of course, but he gives me the creeps.”
“Famous,” Signalman said emotionlessly. He stared out the windshield ahead of him as he drove, piloting the rented car toward New Carthage University. “I guess I am, at that.”
“Of course you are!” Darklight said. “You’re one of the Batman’s enemies! You’re a super-villain!”
“I never wanted to be,” Signalman sighed.
“You didn’t?” Darklight asked, surprised. “But you’ve been one for so long!”
“I know,” Signalman replied. “But all I ever wanted to be was an ordinary crook, you know? I always wanted to be a big shot, have my own gang, from as long as I can remember. I guess I watched too many Jimmy Cagney movies as a kid, or something. But when I got to Gotham City, I found out you couldn’t be just an ordinary hood anymore. Nobody took you seriously unless you had a costume and a gimmick. I never wanted that, but I realized I had to play the game if I was going to get anywhere as a crook in Gotham. By the time I realized how ridiculous the game was, it was too late. I was too far into it.” He sighed again. “I feel like an old cowboy, and the only place left for me to work is the rodeo.”
“Wow,” Darklight said. “I kind of know what you mean. I never wanted to become a super-villain, either. It just sort of happened, you know?”
“No, I don’t know. How does that just sort of happen?”
“Well, my sister Coral and I are twins,” Darklight explained. “We always wanted to get into show business, kind of like the Landers sisters, you know? Well, we answered an ad for twins in an industry newspaper. Turned out to be Two-Face looking for twins for his gang! We were just kids only twenty years old; we figured to give it a go, as a lark. Two-Face outfitted us with super-weapons, and we became Darklight.” (*) She leaned back in her seat and drew her knees up to her chest. “Coral got out of the business, got married, had a kid. She gave me her light-projector, though, so I can do both halves of the team.”
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Trouble, Which Rhymes with Double,” Teen Titans #47 (April, 1977).]
“Where did Two-Face get his hands on such advanced weaponry, anyway?” Signalman asked. “I met him once or twice; he never seemed the high-tech sort to me.”
“Beats me,” Darklight said, shrugging. “I asked him once, but he just muttered something about a monitor.”
A silent beat paused, and then Signalman said, “Your sister’s name is Coral?”
“Uh-huh,” Darklight replied.
“What’s your name?” he asked.
Darklight smiled brightly at him. “Crystal.”
“I’m Phil,” Signalman said, smiling back.