by Martin Maenza
There was a spark of energy followed by the sound of rushing air as a shimmering round portal opened up suddenly in the far end of the room.
The brown-haired Blindside, dressed in blue, and the blond Throttle, dressed in purple, looked up from the canisters they were examining as the sound came. “Oh, $#!*!” the latter one exclaimed as four figures leaped out of the portal. “We’ve got company!”
A well-built, dark-skinned man in his early thirties with dark hair and a mustache led the group of new arrivals. He wore a tight, short-sleeved black T-shirt, light-colored pants, and black boots. “By order of our president,” he said to the two, “surrender to us, or be killed immediately!”
A younger man with long, flowing black hair tied off with a headband, dressed only in a pair of faded olive green pants, tapped the tip of a long metal weapon on the stone floor near his bare right foot. “Why give them a choice?” the Arab of Bedouin origin said as he shifted from foot to foot agitatedly. “It would take no time to run them through!”
A large hulking figure with orange skin, brittle yellow hair and glowing red eyes snarled in agreement. With its sharpened claws, the lionesque figure wore spiked bracelets about its wrists and ankles and protective armor about its chest and torso. Behind the beast swished a scorpion-like tail that looked similarly augmented like the rest of its body.
“At ease, Jaculi,” the fourth man, also dark-skinned and dark-haired, said to the youth. Like the group’s leader, he had a mustache and also a beard, yet his dark hair also had streaks of white at the temples. About his neck he wore a necklace of many circular stones, a symbol of the old Thuggee sect of India from which he hailed. He put his hand out to restrain the beast. “You, too, Manticore. While I have no qualms with shedding the blood of these thieves in the name of Kali myself, we must first find out why they are here.”
“I agree, Ravan,” said Rustam, the leader. He eyed the two costumed men that they were sent to intercept. “It is up to them whether they wish to cooperate with us or not. Let us hope they have the sense to choose wisely!” With an outswept gesture of his hand, the Middle Eastern man summoned forth a blazing scimitar to further emphasize his point.
Throttle and Blindside exchanged a quick, terrified look. They had been together many years, even before they had donned costumes and faced Green Lantern. They often knew what the other was thinking without words being spoken.
Throttle could tell that his companion had that how did we get ourselves involved in this? look on his face. Both of them readily knew the answer to that, though, as their minds instantaneously retraced the recent events in light of the arrival of these unexpected opponents.
A day or so earlier, nearly half the world away in downtown San Francisco, a group of individuals met in the wood-paneled conference room situated in one of the upper floors of a gleaming tower of steel and glass. Unknown to most of the inhabitants of the city that walked past or worked within the architectural wonder on a daily basis, the upper floors of the Loman Building housed the Sinister Citadel, home base for the criminal organization known as the Secret Society of Super-Villains.
Seated about the table along with Throttle and Blindside were a half a dozen other colorfully costumed criminals, each with his or her own reputation.
Hunched over the table and dressed in a green fatigues-like uniform with a hood was the brown-haired and bearded dwarf named Gizmo. This former member of the Fearsome Five and enemy of the New Titans was applying his inventive genius to a circuit board with a small soldering iron from his ever-present cache of tools.
Next to him was a black man in his late twenties dressed in a purple and yellow skintight bodysuit. The man’s golden weapon, from which he took his name, was propped up against the table, his mask dangling from the end of one of the tines. Like the dwarf, Trident, too, had battled the East Coast Titans on a few occasions.
At the far end of the table, with his feet propped up on the large oak table and his chair leaned back against the wall, was Copperhead. Dressed in a golden bodysuit with a slippery, scaly surface and a huge serpentine headpiece, this wily criminal who once gave Batman, Batgirl, and Wonder Woman the slip appeared totally at ease, and rightly so, in his own mind, for he had the most seniority of the group assembled, having been the first one recruited for this latest incarnation of the team.
Another black man, this one well-built with broad shoulders and huge biceps, was dressed in yellow pants and a blue shirt unbuttoned halfway. Power Fist had battled Black Lightning one time back in Metropolis years ago before hooking up with the new Society. Since then, he had spent a good portion of the year as a walking, talking ape until his teammates could finally reverse the process.
An equally tall, muscular woman with a flowing mane of blonde hair and dressed in a leopard skin print one-piece sat next to Power Fist. Giganta, originally an ape herself, had been transformed into a woman several years ago by Doctor Psycho in an attempt to use her against his enemy Wonder Woman. Ever since she had been rescued from prison, Giganta had felt a strong attraction toward the recently restored ape-man. She stared longingly at Power Fist.
The last at the table was a man in a full white-faced mask and a high-collared yellow cape that flowed over a green tunic and down to the floor past black-and-white-striped pants. The time-themed criminal and many-time opponent of the Atom tapped a watch on his left yellow-gloved wrist. “Can we please get started?” Chronos asked. “Time is money, you know.”
Standing at a podium at the head of the table was a man in orange and green. Mirror Master was known for his many years of fighting the original Flash and was no stranger to chairing meetings of diverse criminals. After all, prior to Sam Scudder’s supposed death, he oversaw many of the gatherings of the scarlet speedster’s Rogues Gallery. After coming back from the dead after the Crisis on Infinite Earths, he found a need to restart this criminal organization, one which he had been part of many years ago.
“It appears we’re all here, except for the Tattooed Lady,” he said. “I spoke with her earlier, so she’s excused. Let’s bring things to order!” He pounded the gavel twice on the podium to get everyone’s attention.
“It has come to my attention that a few of you are growing a bit restless,” Mirror Master said, slowly scanning his eyes about the table. “You want to see some action, commit a few more crimes and such — perhaps show what this little group is made of.” His eyes stopped for a moment a bit longer on Chronos, the most recent to join the group and one of his old associates from a previous group, the Injustice Gang.
Chronos caught the look. “I’m sure, if the timing is right…” he started to say.
“I’ve been reflecting on just that,” Mirror Master volleyed. “And I think it makes sense to take some action, especially in light of recent events.”
“What recent eventsss would thossse be, Ssscudder?” asked Copperhead.
“Let me show you,” the reflective rogue replied. Clicking a small device in his hand, the room dimmed. A small device mounted on the ceiling in the center of the room over the table sprang to life, projecting a light on the wall behind him. Mirror Master stepped aside and clicked the remote. “I’m sure you all know who this is.”
The first image popped up, a photograph of a figure with a bone-white face, pointed jaw and nose, wild emerald green hair, and a ghastly crimson-lipped smile. There were a few raised eyebrows and a gasp or two from the group.
“Sweet Arbor Day,” whistled Power Fist. “That’s the Joker!”
“Right,” Mirror Master said. “And according to my various sources of intelligence, he’s been working, albeit covertly, out of the country for possibly well over a year now.”
“Where?” Chronos asked, unshaken by the picture.
Mirror Master clicked the remote. The clown prince of crime’s visage was replaced with a map image from an atlas. It was blown up, focusing on a particular region in the Middle East with a nation bordering the southern side of the Persian Gulf.
“For those of you not up on your world geography, this is Qurac,” he said, indicating the location with a red beam of light from the remote. He traced the nation’s outline. “This country, though comparatively small in size, has a very large reputation. They are heavily involved with conflict in their own region of the world, among some of the top oil-producing nations of the world. Those include their neighbors, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iran.” He pointed out each of these countries as he listed them. “Qurac also has a very strong anti-U.S. policy and have been very vocal against our nation and others.”
“Given that, what’sss a bunch of sssand psssychosss have to do with the Joker?” Copperhead asked.
“Plenty,” Mirror Master said. “Turns out that the former leader of Qurac had granted the Joker exile for a while.”
“Former leader?” Trident asked.
“Yes, former leader,” Mirror Master repeated. “Turns out that Qatar Hussein was killed in an explosion during a live interview with American reporter Barbara Rivers last month, though the story was overshadowed by the news of the Invasion’s end.” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See DC Universe: Invasion, Book 3, Chapter 15: Showdown.]
“What a bitch!” Throttle said. “No big loss there.”
“Maybe so,” Mirror Master said. “But with Hussein dead, the former president of the country, Hurrambi Marlo, is moving back into power.”
“And what’s all this have to do with us?” Chronos asked impatiently, obviously bored with the background details.
Mirror Master switched off the projector, and the lights came back up. “OK, so here’s the deal,” he said. “Hussein was a big advocate of chemical weapons. The Joker, rumor has it, was supplying him with his own unique concoction of venom. You know the stuff — the kind that makes you laugh uncontrollably until you’re dead.”
“I heard he used it on fish once,” Trident said to Copperhead.
“While things are still all up in the air, you are all going to make a little trip to Qurac to acquire some of that deadly venom,” Mirror Master said. “If we can analyze it and reproduce it, it adds a powerful weapon to our arsenal.”
“Hmmm,” Chronos pondered. “One that you could use freely without drawing unwanted attention to yourselves.”
“Exactly,” Mirror Master smiled. “A little smoke and mirrors.”
“Whoa, hold up!” Power Fist said. Giganta had been pawing all over him. He pushed her away gently as he stood up. “You want us to go ta some foreign country to retrieve some formula?”
“Yeah,” Blindside said, a little concerned as well. “Why don’t we just get it directly from the Joker instead?”
A number of those around the table broke into laughter.
“What?” Blindside asked. “Why’s that funny? Dr. Quinzel said she’s worked at Arkham before. Maybe she can just ask him for some.” This brought more laughs.
“I did talk to Dr. Quinzel earlier,” Mirror Master said between chuckles. “She’s interviewed the Joker before, so I wanted her opinion. Truth is: even she thinks he’s a true nut-job! A criminal genius, but a nut-job, nonetheless. See what happened with Hussein? I’m betting the Joker did it.” Mirror Master moved back to the front of the room. “Believe me, it will be a lot easier and a lot safer going to Qurac and hitting their supplies.”
Those around the table started talking amongst themselves, weighing the options. Mirror Master gave them a moment before taking control of the meeting once more. From there, he began to lay out his plan. “You all leave soon,” he said. “Let’s go over the simple plan…”
Less than twelve hours later, in the main cabin of the team’s sleek jet, most of the group sat about a small table looking at a map. Up front, two made sure the jet remained on its flight course.
“Just to be clear,” Chronos said, taking charge of the field mission. “The base we’re hitting is this one. The intelligence that Mirror Master had indicates this is the most likely place for the Joker’s toxin to be stored.”
Four of the other villains listened intently. Copperhead, meanwhile, stood against the wall with his arms crossed. Stupid Chronos, he thought to himself with a frown. Who does he think he is, waltzing in here and taking charge? I should have been put in charge of this mission — me!
“Copperhead!” Chronos snapped. “Are you listening?”
“Yeah, yeah,” the serpentine villain grumbled.
“Really?” Chronos replied snidely. “Then show me the contact points.” He leaned back from the map, allowing the dissenter to have a view.
Copperhead frowned, then moved over to the map. “The three warehousesss are here…” He pointed with one hand. “…here…” He pointed with the other. “…and here!” He spun around, allowing his tail to slap down on the map hard, very close to Chronos’ hand. “Mirror Massster went over thisss with usss before. It’sss not that hard. We get in, we find the ssstuff, and we get out!”
Chronos raised his hand from the table. “Right,” he said, watching Copperhead carefully. “Three possible storage spots within the depot. Thus, we’ll split with three teams of two.”
“Chad and I will be one,” Blindside said, and his blond partner nodded in agreement.
“Fine,” Chronos said. “Power Fist and Giganta will be the second.”
The blonde woman nuzzled up at the black man at the sound of their names together. Power Fist rolled his eyes and muttered something incomprehensible.
“Copperhead, you’re with me,” Chronos said.
The snake stared at the man. Obviously, Chronos didn’t trust him, but that was fine with Copperhead. He certainly didn’t trust the other man, either. “Worksss for me,” he hissed.
“What about Gizmo and Trident?” Blindside asked.
“They’re our transport,” Chronos said. “They stick with the jet and make sure we can get out of there at the first sign of trouble.”
Throttle frowned. “Just how are we supposed to get into and out of a foreign country without being detected?”
“Not a problem,” Gizmo called from the cockpit, having been listening the entire time. “This baby’s equipped with the finest stealth technology on the planet. Between stuff we’ve swiped and modifications Mirror Master and I have made, this jet can slip in and out without notice, if we like. They won’t even know we’re in their airspace!”
“So, relax,” Chronos said. “Nothing will go wrong.”