“Hmm,” Funky Flashman muttered as he read a newspaper account of the exploits of the Secret Sorority of Super-Villainesses in Star City. (*) “Very enterprising ladies. I’ll have to show this to Sam; he’d probably–” Flashman’s musings were interrupted by the phone ringing. Flashman reached out to answer it. “Flashman,” he said into the receiver.
[(*) Editor’s note: See The Brave and the Bold: Black Canary and Hawkwoman: Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.]
“We’ve done it, Flashman!” the Crumbler’s voice came through the phone.
Flashman’s eyes popped wide. “You have? You got him? You really got him?”
“Sure!” the Crumbler said. “Calculator’s plan worked like a charm! The Galahadian sap surrendered on the spot, rather than risk the lives of all those poor kiddies!” The Crumbler snorted derisively at Nightwing’s compassion.
“Well, fine, fine!” Flashman said enthusiastically. “That’s wonderful! Where are you now?”
“On the way back,” the Crumbler said. “Should be there in half an hour.”
“Excellent!” Flashman exclaimed. “I’ll contact our esteemed employer right away! Wonderful work, Crumbler! All of you, magnificent!”
“Right. Tell the boss to have the check cut,” the Crumbler said, and broke connection on his portable phone.
“Crumbler, now that we’ve got Nightwing,” Signalman said, “how about deactivating the bomb?”
“What, getting soft in your old age, Cobb?” the Crumbler demanded. “We still need insurance that bird-boy doesn’t try anything cute when we turn him over to the boss.”
“Nightwing won’t know that the bomb’s deactivated,” Darklight suggested. “He’s in the back; he can’t hear us.”
“God, save me from softies,” the Crumbler snorted. “OK, OK.” The villain reached down and switched off the remote detonating device. “There. Happy now?”
“Happy,” Darklight said.
Thirty-five minutes later, Funky Flashman sat in his office, waiting patiently. The six-foot television monitor was on, projecting the gigantic image of his mysterious employer’s masked face. “What’s keeping them?” the masked man demanded.
“Traffic, probably,” Flashman suggested. “You know the interstate this time of day.”
“I’m tired of delays!” the masked man roared. “I want results! I want Robin, or Nightwing, or whatever he calls himself now!”
Before Flashman could reply, the door opened. The Calculator held the door as Signalman and the Crumbler carried the petrified Nightwing through the door, followed by Darklight. “Ask and ye shall receive, my bombastic boss!” Flashman exalted. “Here he is, signed, delivered, and sealed in amber, apparently.”
“Solidified dust,” the Calculator corrected him.
“Get that stuff off his head,” the masked man demanded. “I want to see his face!”
The Crumbler shrugged, then reached out with his right hand and gently touched Nightwing’s head. The solidified dust dissolved away from his face. Nightwing gasped in a deep breath. The air holes had allowed him to breathe, but not very much.
The giant face on the screen stared down at him, his eyes wide with delight. “It is him,” the masked man confirmed. “After all these years! Finally, I will have my revenge!”
“Have we met?” Nightwing asked, maintaining his flippant manner in the face of doom. “The voice is familiar, but…”
“You’ll know who I am soon enough!” the masked man declared. “Flashman, have your people bring him downstairs.”
Flashman did a double-take. “Downstairs?”
“Of course,” the masked man said. “Why did you think I instructed you to rent an office in this building? I’m on the first floor, Suite 101! Bring him down!”
The Crumbler grumbled. “Drag him into the elevator, drag him out of the elevator, bring him back down again…”
“Shut up, you fool!” Signalman hissed. “Remember the million!”
Not another word was said as the villains carted Nightwing back into the elevator and rode it down to the first floor. They quickly came to the door of Suite 101. Flashman knocked sharply on the door. “Enter,” a voice came from inside. The voice wasn’t quite so imposing, without the magnification of the monitor system upstairs.
“I guess we learn the identity of our mysterious employer,” Darklight said.
“I’d like to know that myself,” Nightwing quipped.
“I just bet you would,” the Crumbler chuckled. “Someone wants you dead, real bad — a million bucks worth of bad.”
“And mother said I’d never amount to much,” Nightwing joked.
Flashman opened the door. Their employer stood inside the suite before them, unmasked. Everyone could read the burning hatred in his face, but that wasn’t what made them all gasp. “You?!” Nightwing cried.
“Yes, me!” the dark-haired man snapped. “Never expected to see me again, did you, Robin?” The villains’ employer was a man of about forty years of age. His hair was thick and dark. His face was hard and chiseled, with a lantern jaw and a cleft chin. Hatred blazed in his brown eyes as he stared up at the captive Nightwing.
The man who hated the original Robin so much was roughly twelve inches tall.
The diminutive man saw the villains staring at him, and chuckled mirthlessly. “I’m more than you expected, aren’t I?” he asked. “Or less, I suppose. What, it didn’t occur to you to wonder about the six-foot video screen? Why I felt the need to appear so big to you?”
“Who — who are you?” Flashman stammered, his astonishment momentarily taking precedence over his servility to his employer.
“Ask bird-boy,” the little man snapped. “He knows me.”
“His name is James ‘Jumbo’ Carson,” Nightwing said. “Chemical wastes from a research laboratory shrunk him to the size he is today. He had a brief career as a costumed criminal called the Ant-Man.” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Secret of the Ant-Man,” Batman #156 (June, 1963).]
“Until you captured me,” Carson snapped. “Imprisoned me! Trapped me at this size for the rest of my life!”
“Professor Hanson swore he’d find an antidote,” Nightwing said.
Carson laughed humorlessly. “Hanson died six months after I was imprisoned! My only hope at returning to normal, rejoining the human race — gone! But you didn’t know that, did you? You never bothered to find out! Oh, how I hated you that day, the day I heard of Hanson’s death! I swore to get revenge! I started by escaping prison. It was easy for a man my size; I had only stayed put in hopes of getting an antidote. I fled the prison and set out to make my fortune. That was easy, too; there are places a twelve-inch-tall man can get into that a six-foot one can’t! In just a few years I had stolen more wealth than Midas dreamed of, and I set it to work for me, planning for the day when I could have my revenge on the one man I blamed for this mockery of a life I have now — you!”
Flashman was stunned. He didn’t know what to say.
“Drag him over here,” Carson said, turning away from the assemblage and walking. “I want him to see the special surprise I have prepared for him!” The Crumbler and Signalman glanced at each other, then looked back at Carson. They lifted Nightwing’s trapped body and carried it over to where the diminutive criminal stood. They saw a glass panel in the floor.
“Look inside, Robin,” Carson said. “Look through the panel! What do you see?”
The Crumbler tilted Nightwing’s form, allowing him to look. The young hero peered down hard. “It’s dark down there,” he said. “I don’t see much of anything. I — wait a second. The floor seems to be… moving. Is that water, or…?” Nightwing’s eyes grew very wide then. He understood what Carson had prepared for him.
“Ants!” Carson cried, jumping up and down. “Brazilian flesh-eating ants! Oh, it took a fortune to import them. They’re quite illegal, you know, and even among criminals it took a lot of perseverance and money to find someone willing to capture and transport them. But I had time, bird-boy, I had time! And now my patience bears fruit at last!” Carson turned his gaze to the Calculator. “That button on the wall, there — the black one. Push it!”
Without hesitation, the Calculator pushed the button. The glass wall began to slide away. Darklight yelped and hopped backward a foot. Carson laughed at her.
“Don’t worry, the walls are slick and smooth. The ants can’t climb out. But neither can anything shoved in get away from them!” Carson stared at Nightwing in contempt. “You’ve grown a lot since last we met — more than I can say, I know. You’ll make a fit meal for the ants! They’ll be dining on you for ten, maybe fifteen minutes, before they’ve got you down to the bone!” Carson turned to the Crumbler. “Get that stuff off him, and shove him in!”
When the other villain didn’t move immediately, Carson shouted, “You heard what I said, Crumbler! Get that stuff off him, and throw him to the ants!”
“Right away!” the Crumbler said, glad that his mask hid most of his face. The idea of being eaten alive by ants made him a bit squeamish, but he would never admit that to anyone.
Nightwing tensed as the Crumbler’s right hand reached out for him. He knew he would only have a fraction of a second between the Crumbler’s glove dissolving the petrified dust and his plunge into the ant pit. He had to make it count.
Then the door exploded.
“What the devil–?!” Carson shouted. The heavy wooden door splintered under the attack of a pair of crimson-gloved fists. A body garbed in a shiny suit of red, white, and blue forced its way through the ruined door, catching everybody off-guard.
Nightwing took advantage of the surprise. Forcing his weight forward, he rocked himself into the stunned Crumbler’s gloved hand. “Hey, what the–?!” the Crumbler cried as his glove activated. The petrified coating dissolved, and Nightwing was free; he leaped over the pit in a single acrobatic leap, coming down next to the patriotically garbed newcomer.
“It’s Steel, isn’t it?” Nightwing whispered to him. “What are you doing here?”
“I followed you from the hotel,” Steel whispered back. “You made Artemis promise that no Titan would follow you. So she called Flash, and he called me.”
Good old Donna, Nightwing thought, grinning. “Let’s clean house!”
“Stop them!” Carson shouted, jumping up and down. “I can’t be cheated of my revenge now, not when I’m this close! Stop them!”
The Calculator was the first to press the attack, punching out a sequence on his chest-computer. A barrage of spiked spheres of solidified dust flew from his helmet projector at the two young heroes. Steel swatted them away with his fists, while Nightwing ducked under the barrage and hurled one of his throwing discs. It flew unerringly at the Calculator’s chest computer and buried itself halfway into the device in a shower of sparks. “My computer!” the Calculator cried. “My computer! It’s ruined!”
“Come on, Phil!” Darklight cried, thrusting her left hand forward. “Let’s–”
“No,” Signalman said, pulling her back. “Let’s not.”
Darklight looked at him with astonishment. “B-but the million! Nightwing!”
Signalman looked at her softly. “Haven’t we had enough fighting, Crystal?”
Darklight gaped at him for a moment, then her surprised features softened into a smile. Signalman returned the smile. He took a small device from his belt, pressed a button, and tossed it into a corner. In a moment, the room was filled with loud sirens and flashing red and yellow lights, blinding and deafening everyone.
“What the heck is that?” Steel asked, clapping his hands over his ears.
“One of Signalman’s tricks,” Nightwing said, putting earplugs into his ears. He handed some to Steel, who did likewise.
“This is going all wrong!” the Crumbler said. “I’m getting the heck out of here while the getting is good!” He turned to the rear wall of the office and reached out with his right hand to dissolve the wall.
“No!” Carson cried, running in front of the villain. “You can’t leave now! I-I won’t pay you unless you kill Nightwing!”
“Keep the money,” the Crumbler said. “It’s no good to me in jail!”
“No!” Carson cried. In desperation he leaped up at the Crumbler.
“Gaah! Get away!” the Crumbler cried, instinctively swatting the foot-high villain with his left hand. Carson sailed across the room and right into the open pit of flesh-eating ants. His screams pierced even the Signalman’s sirens. The Crumbler stood there dumb, gaping at the hole in the floor. He felt a horrible, queasy feeling in his stomach, a sour warmth in his throat.
“Excuse me,” said a voice behind him. Reflexively he turned his head just in time to see Nightwing’s gloved fist smashing into his nose.
“Here it is,” Steel cried from a corner of the room. There was the sound of metal and plastic crunching, and then the lights and sirens died away. “Amazing that all that came out of this little thing!”
“Signalman always was an inventive genius,” Nightwing said. He looked around the room. The Crumbler was unconscious at his feet, but everyone else was gone.
“Um, Nightwing,” Steel said, “I don’t think you want to see this.” Steel was standing at the lip of the ant pit, peering down into it.
Nightwing stared back at him grimly. “You know something?” he said. “That man spent the last ten years of his life doing nothing but hating me and planning my death. In this situation, the man who trained me would probably say something like, ‘A fitting end for his kind.'” Nightwing shook his head. “But somehow, I just don’t feel that way. I just think it’s a waste — a sad, sorry waste.”
Steel simply, silently nodded.