The woods outside Smallville, Earth-One, one year ago, 10:20 P.M.:
The wreckage of his ship still smoldered around his burned and battered body. In a few seconds it wouldn’t matter either way, as the self-destruct mechanism would reduce his body to ashes, ending his suffering. Cyber should never have come to Earth. “My end is coming soon, and it is what I deserve,” the large-headed alien said through his burned lips. “The Boy of Steel has defeated me.”
Cyber had come to Earth only a few scant hours earlier and had seeded Smallville with his Cipher robots in a bid to conquer the Earth. Each Cipher was assigned to one of the many houses in Smallville and was equipped with a devastating atomic bomb in its chest and the ability to generate beams of kryptonite radiation from its eyes. They were marvels of highly advanced alien technology, and Cyber had believed that Superboy was no match for them. Unfortunately, like so many before him, Cyber had miscalculated, and he was easily defeated by Superboy. The Boy of Steel had used his super-breath to freeze the contents of the Smallville Reservoir into a reflective, dome-shaped mirror that he used to redirect the robot’s detonation control signals back at Cyber’s ship, causing the alien’s ship to short-circuit and crash in the woods outside of Smallville. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Stranger Who Stalks Smallville,” Superboy #150 (September, 1968).]
Cyber leaned back in the wreckage of his ship, the flames growing around him. He was ready for his inevitable death, which was more preferable to him than returning to his home planet in disgrace and defeat. Superboy should be returning to investigate the wreckage momentarily and take him into custody. Cyber was hoping that the self-destruct sequence would commence before the Boy of Steel arrived on the scene. As he lay there in the wreckage, a slight humming sound began that he at first believed was the start of the self-destruct sequence, but when several seconds went by without the large explosion, Cyber looked up to see a doorway of energy materialize in front of him, and a being clad in a skintight purple, white, and black costume step through it. “Who — cough, cough — are you?”
“I am called Hourglass, and I am here to assist you, if you would like.”
Cyber cocked one eyebrow as he looked at the strangely garbed being in front of him. “I would indeed like assistance, but I have a sneaking suspicion that there is a hefty price to be paid involved. Am I correct?”
“Indeed you are, Cyber, but it is not a hefty price. It is a small price, but one I believe that you will have no qualms about paying me.”
“Oh? Do tell.”
“I am putting together a group of beings, both terrestrial and non-terrestrial, who have been wronged by Superboy. The express purpose of this group will be the destruction of the Boy of Steel. In exchange for your agreement to join this group and assist me, I shall remove you from the wreckage of your damaged ship before it self-destructs and take you to my secret base and heal your wounds. What is your answer, Cyber — death or revenge? The choice is yours.”
Cyber considered his options for a moment. He certainly didn’t want to die, but could he live with serving this being. True, both wanted the same thing, the destruction of the Boy of Steel, but could he figuratively sell his soul to the devil to achieve his goal? To Cyber, there was really only one response. “I choose to live. Take me out of here.”
Despite the full head mask that Hourglass wore, the hint of a smile could clearly be seen through it as Cyber replied to the enigmatic stranger. Hourglass raised his right arm and pointed it at Cyber, and as he depressed a hidden button on the right glove with his left hand, he said, “Don’t worry, this won’t hurt a bit.”
Cyber relaxed himself as a beam of blue energy lanced out of Hourglass’ right glove and struck the big-headed alien in the chest, forming a bubble of energy around his body. Hourglass moved his right hand ever so slightly toward his chest, pulling back on the blue energy beam, which lifted Cyber out of the wreckage and into the air where he hovered in front of his mysterious benefactor.
“Why not just pull the wreckage off of me and help me up?”
“Because,” began Hourglass, “this is much faster. Besides, the energy bubble that I have generated around you is not irritating your burns and other injuries the way that my hands would be were I to come into physical contact with you. Also, I prefer the use of a bit of theatricality.”
“That makes sense.”
“Let us return to my base to get you fixed up, and then we shall begin our planning of the Boy of Steel’s demise with the others.”
“And who, might I ask, are these others, Hourglass?”
“You shall find out soon enough, my good friend. Soon enough.” With that, Hourglass stepped backward through the energy doorway, pulling the energy-bubble-enshrouded Cyber with him. A second after that, the doorway closed behind them, and the wreckage of the ship was vaporized by the self-destruct mechanism. When the flames finally died down moments later, there was nothing left, no trace of the ship or its sole occupant.
When Superboy arrived on the scene much later, he found nothing, determining that the explosion had vaporized Cyber. Little did the hero realize that his enemy had escaped, and the worst was yet to come.
Outside the Smallville Savings and Loan building, Oak Street, Smallville, Earth-33, Sunday, April 23, 1967, 10:23 A.M.:
Alex Luthor could see his life flash before his eyes as Ultraboy’s eyes glowed red hot in front of him. In mere seconds, the brown-haired son of the Smallville police chief was going to become a roasted Alex, and there was nothing he could do to stop it. Superboy was lying at his feet, still groggy from the kryptonite exposure he had just gone through while fighting Ultraboy. Dav-Im was still unconscious from the one punch he had received from the Smallville scoundrel. As the beams of heat-vision lanced out from Ultraboy’s eyes, Alex resigned himself to his imminent demise. He closed his eyes and exhaled a long, thin breath, preparing for the inevitable. Before the beams could strike the young Luthor, he felt something strike him from behind, knocking him to the ground.
Alex was dazed as he looked behind him to see what had knocked him down, saving his life from a burning death. Standing just behind him was a white dog wearing a yellow leather-like collar with a crimson cape attached to it. It was the very same dog who had showed up a few moments earlier with Superboy: Krypto the Superdog. Apparently, Alex thought to himself, this Krypto had stayed behind when his master had flown off to do battle with Ultraboy. But why did he save me?
“So,” Ultraboy said, smirking, “the dog comes to his master’s aid and rescues this world’s counterpart of their greatest enemy. How quaint.”
“That’s because,” Superboy said as he stood up and began to assist Alex to his feet, “he can tell an ally when he sees one. You can’t win here. Your two super-powered allies are being held immobile by the telepathic powers of this reality’s Kryptonite Kid. You can’t hope to win here. You want to continue this, or are you going to be smart and just give up?”
“Give up? Never,” Ultraboy replied as he began tossing some of the scattered debris from the demolished storefront toward the assembled police officers at super-speed.
Superboy only had seconds to react, which, with his super-speed, was all he needed. He quickly gestured to Krypto, and both started blasting the flying debris with their heat-vision, vaporizing each deadly projectile on contact before it could strike any of the assembled humans. It took the heroic duo only a few seconds to completely destroy every piece of debris, and just as the two destroyed the last two chunks of brick and mortar, from behind them came something they hadn’t been expecting — a large chunk of green kryptonite thrown by Ultraboy as he escaped from the scene carrying his two immobile associates under his arm.
The rays of the kryptonite, as well as the impact of the deadly green element, rendered the already weakened Superboy and his canine companion Krypto unconscious. As they began to lose consciousness and slump to the ground, Superboy felt Alex catch him. As the Boy of Steel started to black out, he heard the young Luthor talking to him. “It’s OK. I’ve got you. I’m going to take you to a safe location, and then you are going to tell me exactly who you are and what is going on here.”
Alex Luthor’s secret laboratory, the basement of the Luthor home, 324 Maple Street, Smallville, Earth-33, 11:03 A.M.:
As Superboy began to open his eyes and regain consciousness, one of the first things that he noticed was that he and Krypto were chained together inside a glass-like cylinder in a darkened room, the only illumination coming from straight above him inside the tube. The cylinder itself had an approximate diameter of five feet, plenty of room for him to get down on his hands and knees to check on his faithful canine friend. Krypto was laying at the hero’s feet, his soulful eyes looking up at his master as if to ask, Well, it’s about time you woke up.
“I know, Krypto,” the Boy of Steel said as he gently stroked the smooth white fur on his dog’s head, “I sure made a mess of this one.” Still crouching next to Krypto, Superboy began to use his super-vision to try to figure out the extent of their surroundings. As he focused his x-ray vision into the blackness around the cylinder that encased him and the dog of steel, his vision seemed to be blocked, and it was the same no matter what angle he glanced through the cylinder. “Transparent leaded glass. Very ingenious. I can see out, but I can’t see out.”
Superboy was truly starting to admire his captor. Obviously, he thought, I have been imprisoned by this world’s version of Lex Luthor, the kid who helped me up after I was knocked down by Ultraboy. Unless I miss my guess, he thinks I’m one of the bad guys, and has locked both me and Krypto up in this leaded cage and chained us with what is more than likely some kind of indestructible chain, probably made from Kryptonian steel given to him by the counterpart of Dev-Em. There is only one way out of here, then — I’ll have to use the direct approach. Superboy stood up, clenched his right fist, and pulled his arm back into the ready position to punch the leaded glass.
“I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” came a voice from the blackness around the cylindrical cage.
“And why is that,” Superboy began, “may I ask?”
“Because,” came the voice again as young Alex Luthor stepped into view in front of the Boy of Steel from the blackness that surrounded him, “that leaded glass is the only thing that is right now protecting you and your canine companion from being exposed to the kryptonite radiations emitted by the Kryptonite Kid. If you crack the glass, you will probably die.”
There was the barest hint of a smile on Superboy’s face as he heard Alex Luthor tell him this. He was definitely beginning to admire this young man. “Why the chains then… Alex, is it?”
“Yes,” Luthor began as he ran his hand back through his thick brown hair. “I am Alex. The chains are there to prevent you and your canine from trying to escape until I have fully ascertained who you are, how you got here, and why you are here.”
“Your arguments make sense in a world like this. Let’s start with who I am. I’m called Superboy, and I am a counterpart of your Ultraboy from a parallel reality where I am one of the good guys.”
“Oh, please — give me a break,” came a voice from the blackness. “If you are a counterpart of Ultraboy, then you are one of the bad guys, no matter what you call yourself.”
“Dav-Im,” Alex said sternly as he glanced back over his shoulder, “allow me to make the determination as to whether or not what he is saying is the truth. Thank you.” There was the faintest hint of venom in the last statement. “Please continue, Superboy.”
“Thanks. As far as how and why I am here, you can blame that on Ultraboy. He built this device, a cylindrical, cigar-sized metal tube with a crimson button, that he used to travel to my world. He goaded me into a fight because he felt that he had no challenges here, and when I got the upper hand with him, he kidnapped me and my dog Krypto. As far as why he did this, I have no idea.”
“Not to sound like Dav-Im, Superboy, but how do I know that everything you are saying is the truth and that you aren’t just as evil as Ultraboy is? In other words, what proof of your sincerity and honesty can you give me?”
“I can’t give you any proof. It is for you to judge my guilt or innocence.”
“A true criminal,” Alex began as he slid a rectangular device out from his shirt pocket, “would never have taken the chance to appeal to another person’s judgment. I believe you, Superboy.” Holding up the device — a high-tech remote control — toward the cylindrical cage, Alex pressed a blue button with his thumb, unshackling Superboy and Krypto and raising the leaded cylinder. “Welcome to my laboratory. Lights on.”
As the room’s illumination came up, Superboy could see Dav-Im and the Kryptonite Kid standing behind a glass partition, obviously constructed from the same leaded glass as the cylinder. Superboy smiled. “You lied to me, Alex.”
“Well, given the same situation, wouldn’t you have done the same in my place?”
“Point taken. You took an awfully big risk in trusting me. What if I had turned out to be a villain?”
“Well, then, in that eventuality, you would have been taken down. I do have my methods, you know. Besides, I saw your actions out on Oak Street earlier. You took the fight with Ultraboy away from the bystanders, my father amongst them, and you did save my life, for which I am eternally grateful. Also, while I was questioning you, the Kryptonite Kid was using his telepathic powers to read your mind and thought-cast his findings to me. Had you been lying, he would have let me know.” Alex put his hand out to Superboy.
“Again,” Superboy said as he shook Alex’s hand warmly, “point taken. Will you help Krypto and me get home?”
“We will, but on one condition.”
“Name it, Alex.”
“You and Krypto will assist us in defeating Ultraboy and that small gang of crooks.”
“I really have no idea exactly how much help we’ll be, but you have my word, Alex — the Smallville sensation and the dog of steel will help you three bring justice back to this town.”