Superman: The Apokolips Factor, Chapter 1: Lady Death

by PDebord

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Apokolips, six months after the Crisis on Infinite Earths:

Darkseid stood in his palace watching his next prize in conquest — the planet Earth. Mantis walked through the door, interrupting him as usual.

“The psycho-probes have completed their survey of Earth,” Mantis said, doing his best to grovel. “Our activities in the Crisis have gone unobserved.”

“Has DeSaad’s little pet project proven fruitful?” Darkseid asked.

“It has,” said DeSaad, entering the room. “Lady Death is prepared to be your instrument in Earth’s conquest.”

“Send her ship to the dark side of Earth’s moon to await further orders,” Darkseid said as he stood.

His lackeys, though loyal, lacked the intelligence to offer much conversation, but they knew how to take orders and knew better than to question one. Darkseid almost cracked a smile as he watched them grovel their way out the door. As he turned his attention back to the monitor, he barely noticed as one of the shadows in the dark recesses of the room began to move.

As the shadow took a vaguely human form, Darkseid turned to face it. “You are the one the Terrans call the Phantom Stranger.”

Almost hidden by a long blue cloak and a broad-brim, dark blue hat that hid most of his face, he blended very well into the somber atmosphere of Apokolips. “I am called by many names, but that is the one that most know me as,” the Phantom Stranger said as he stepped out of the shadows toward the tyrant of Apokolips.

“I have no quarrel with you, Stranger.”

“A most ingenious plan,” the Stranger commented. “Your new Secret Society of Super-Villains should keep Captain Comet’s Rehab Squad occupied for a while. (*) And your new Injustice Gang should keep the Justice League of America busy. (*) That paves the way for your new acquisition — what did you call her? Lady Death? — to create havoc in your name.”

[(*) Editor’s note: See Captain Comet’s Rehab Squad: Heroes and Villains and an untold JLA tale.]

“This is still none of your concern. By your own admission, you cannot interfere,” Darkseid said triumphantly.

“As of yet you have done nothing to warrant my interference. You have cheated death and tricked your way around the natural order of time.”

“Time! What is time to a god?” Darkseid asked proudly.

“Your arrogance will be your undoing,” the mysterious Stranger said as he faded back into the shadows.

Darkseid laughed as he pressed a button on a computer console in front of him. “Lady Death, your first target is an insignifigant little place called Smallville,” he said.

***

As a new moon came over the Eastern United States, the launch of a small spacecraft went unnoticed from the dark side of the moon. It broke the atmosphere and was immediately spotted by NASA radar in Florida, Texas, and California. The tiny craft penetrated the atmosphere unharmed and settled to a gentle landing in a large field of grain in Smallville, just a few miles away from Metropolis.

In the small town, the police chief was on the scene of the landing in minutes. He and his deputy got out of the car and unbuttoned their holsters. A six-foot door came open on the side of the craft and fell down to create a ramp from which a distinctly female form walked down. She wore armor from head to foot and a blue helmet with silver covering the face, with a sleeveless blue tunic, trunks, gloves, and knee-high boots over her silver body armor. A long blue cape was fastened at her throat by a silver medallion with the stylized letter D on it, and long, golden-blonde hair flowed out from under the back of her helmet and down over her cape below her shoulder blades. She carried a flag out of the spacecraft and planted the pole in the ground by her ship.

“I claim this planet in the name of Darkseid!” the woman said in a commanding voice.

As Lady Death made her claim to Earth, no less than three miles away, Clark Kent looked over an all-but-deserted house at 321 Maple Street at the southern edge of town. He had been staying there much of the time over the past few months while recuperating from his kryptonite overexposure. He was now living there until he could figure out Clark’s next career move. His unwillingness to sell to anyone had left the house vacant for many years now. His super-hearing picked up on a name that he had not wanted to hear again for a long time: “Darkseid.”

He went into what had been his bedroom in his youth and turned a bookshelf, as he had countless times back then. He rushed down the short flight of stairs, changing his clothes as he went. Thus it was Superman who stepped into the underground lair that had been Superboy’s headquarters years before he built the Fortress of Solitude. He flew through the secret underground passageway that took him back above ground out of a trap door in the woods, never stopping to think about how he had done it so many times before and how long it had been since he had last. He arrived at the spaceship just in time to watch the police chief’s car being wrapped around a tree and the local law enforcement officials diving for cover.

“How many more times is old stone-face going to claim Earth?” Superman asked as he landed in front of the armored blonde. As Superman turned his full attention to Lady Death, he used his x-ray vision on her mask. Lead-lined armor — he doesn’t miss a trick, Superman said to himself.

A crowd of spectators caught Superman’s eye, which was a cause of much concern, particularly since he recognized a certain redhead among the crowd who was sure to get the story back to the Daily Planet before Clark Kent could.

“Earth’s greatest champion Superman, isn’t it?” Lady Death said as she walked toward him, leaving her flag in the ground beside her ship. “Now I see why my master sent me to this pitiful little village.”

“I’ve never been one to hit a lady, but in that get-up, I can assume you’re one of Darkseid’s stooges.”

“Why should you start now?” Lady Death said as she swung toward him.

Superman smiled as he saw the swing and didn’t move. The impact from the blow sent him flying back into what was left of the police chief’s car and sent the tree crashing to the ground. Superman shook his head as he stood rubbing his jaw. “I felt that,” he said. “Haven’t actually felt a punch like that since the last time I tangled with one of the phantom zone escapees.”

“That was just to get your attention,” Lady Death said as she leaped into the air.

She flies, too, Superman thought as he followed her.

Lady Death flew at a blur across Smallville to the remains of the Superboy Museum. Watching her with his x-ray vision as she flew inside to one of the exhibits, Superman spotted a sign: “One of three kryptonite rings worn briefly by Cosmic Boy of the Legion of Super-Heroes.” He recalled the case clearly as one of his earliest adventures with the Legion as Superboy.

At that time, the Brain Globes of Rambat had sought to conquer Earth and move it into their own star system; they took over the minds of Cosmic Boy, Saturn Girl, and Lightning Lad and forced them to defeat Superboy. But after the Brain Globes arrogantly released the Legionnaires from their mental domination, the Legion found a loophole when they recognized that the Brain Globes’ mental powers could not dominate beings with simpler minds, such as animals. It was a short leap in logic, then, when they formed the Legion of Super-Pets, composed of the super-powered animal allies of Superboy and his cousin Supergirl some years in the future. (*) Those were simpler times, he mused, thinking it was luck that the ring was in a lead box; he hoped that Darkseid hadn’t schooled his newest agent in reading English.

[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Legion of Super-Traitors,” Adventure Comics #293 (February, 1962).]

“That’s far enough, lady,” Superman said as he landed inside the museum several feet away from the exhibit.

“Pardon me, Superman, I forgot to introduce myself. My master calls me Lady Death.”

“Subtlety was never his strong suit,” Superman commented as she flew toward him.

He sidestepped her onslaught, caught her arm, and spun and threw her back across the room. She grunted as she landed in a heap after crashing through two tables and three walls. Lady Death ran back into the room with Superman so fast that he could barely see her with his super-vision. The collision knocked Superman off his feet and Lady Death back through the Legion of Super-Heroes exhibit, causing the box with the kryptonite ring to open on impact. Superman struggled to his feet, already feeling groggy from the radiation.

Only Wally and I — and perhaps Valor — are that fast, Superman thought as he stumbled back away from the kryptonite. Lady Death stumbled to her feet, glanced toward Superman, and dived out the window.

Superman watched her flying almost out of sight just before his x-ray vision failed and he found himself no longer able to stand. The door opened, and Lana Lang walked in. “I thought I spotted that red hair in the crowd,” he said as Lana placed the ring back in the lead box.

“I came home,” she said, walking toward Superman. “I didn’t have anywhere else to go after Morgan Edge fired me.” (*) When Edge had suddenly and inexplicably decided not to renew her contract two months ago, Lana had contacted a lawyer and had discussed suing Edge for wrongful dismissal. But the truth was that she simply wanted her old job again and was determined to win it back somehow. Much like Clark, she had recently returned to her childhood home of Smallville to consider her next move when fate stepped in and took a hand in the form of Lady Death.

[(*) Editor’s note: See Captain Comet’s Rehab Squad: The Return of Supergirl, Chapter 2: Transitions.]

“I wonder why she flew away,” Superman said. “With that kryptonite lying there, I was completely at her mercy.”

“Shouldn’t you go after her?” Lana said. “She’s obviously dangerous.”

“Good point — but I might need a little help on this one,” Superman said as he reached for the JLA communicator concealed in his belt.

“Kind of a switch for us, isn’t it? Me saving you?” Lana said, a slight smile on her face.

“And it should give you a good enough story to get back in Mr. Edge’s good graces,” Superman said.

“You’re right,” said Lana. “For once Lois isn’t around, and Clark quit his job at WGBS and is taking some time off before getting back into the news biz. (*) I should have an exclusive on this Lady Death/Justice League showdown. And hey, if that screwup Lombard could get his old job back, I’m sure I can!” She referred to the fact that Steve Lombard, Clark’s old nemesis, had in a surprising move recently been rehired by WGBS despite his being personally fired by Edge a couple of years ago. (*)

[(*) Editor’s note: See “Steve Lombard, Down, Out, and Dead,” Superman #384 (June, 1983).]

Superman smiled. After being overexposed to kryptonite radiation, he had fled to his Fortress of Solitude and had almost died from kryptonite poisoning until Kristin Wells and Lydia-7 — Superwoman and the new Supergirl — had cured him with the Sword of Superman. (*) Still quite weak after that brush with death, he took sick leave from GBS and began splitting his time between Metropolis and his boyhood home in Smallville. In Metropolis, he had to wear a lead-lined radiation suit at all times, which was very cumbersome and difficult to maneuver at times, even though it had an advanced holographic display that could make him look identical to his Clark Kent self. But Smallville was far enough that he could rest without being affected by the radiation.

[(*) Editor’s note: See Superman Family: Recovery.]

As days grew into weeks, and weeks into months, Morgan Edge became increasingly angry over having to use substitute anchormen for Clark Kent, including Steve Lombard, who had practically groveled before Edge to get his job back. Finally, Edge called Clark one day last month and demanded his return despite Clark’s illness. Instead, Clark offered him his resignation. Since Lana had already been treated so poorly, he didn’t regret his decision in the least, knowing he was much happier as a newspaper journalist. Perry White had assured him that he could always find work as a freelancer at the Daily Planet, no matter what Morgan Edge thought. (*) But Lana was a born anchorwoman and deserved to have her old job back.

[(*) Editor’s note: See Superman: Kryptonite City.]

He flew off in the direction that Lady Death had gone and activated his JLA communicator, then explained the situation to the Martian Manhunter.

“Sorry, Kal, but we’re still trying to clean up the mess that Despero left behind. (*) And I just sent Zatanna and Wally to check on an anonymous report that the Injustice Gang may be back in business,” J’onn J’onzz’s voice said over the two-way communicator.

[(*) Editor’s note: See Justice League of America: Pyre.]

“Thanks anyway, J’onn,” Superman said. “Looks like I’ll have to handle this on my own.”

“Perhaps Adam Blake and the Rehab Squad can help,” J’onn suggested.

“Unfortunately, that’s not possible,” replied Superman. “I got a call from Lyla before this thing started. She asked me to help them track down the new Secret Society of Super-Villains. I’ll keep you updated on the situation, J’onn. Superman out.” He broke off contact.

Scanning buildings below him with his x-ray vision, he suddenly saw Lady Death streak across his line of sight. Apparently, that blow did some damage to her as well; the lead lining in her armor is cracked, Superman thought as he followed her.

As they flew at supersonic speed in an east-to-west direction, Superman noticed they they were gaining speed and had already made three complete circles around the planet. If she goes any faster, she’ll break the time barrier, Superman thought just seconds before Lady Death vanished.

Superman stopped in midair as he saw the telltale signs of an opening into the time stream. “She’s gone into the future, but how far and where?” he asked himself.

“She has gone where you can find the help you need to defeat her,” a tired voice said from behind him.

Turning, Superman came face to face with the Phantom Stranger. “You’re still as vague as Darkseid is subtle, Stranger.”

“She has gone into the future and your past, and where you must follow before she is allowed to do any permanent damage to the fabric of time.”

“The future and my past. There’s only one time that fits that description — the thirtieth century!” Superman said as he began his super-speed orbit again. “And if anyone can stop her, the Legion of Super-Heroes can.”

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