by Starsky Hutch 76
Superman stared in horror as an enormous shadow fell across the royal palace and much of the city. Suspended above the capital city of Kahndaq floated the huge slab of alien rock known as Black Island.
A sickening feeling of déjà vu came over him as he soared toward the giant slab of rock. The last time he had been in this situation, Mr. Mxyzptlk had been about to drop Argo City on Metropolis. That experience had nearly killed him. After Krypton had exploded, the city had been transformed to anti-kryptonite. The imp had apparently removed anti from the equation, forcing him to barrel through a substance lethal to him. Now, he had only the people of Kahndaq to worry about, so he could take a more careful tactic.
“You wanted Black Island, Kobra. Now take it!” Lex Luthor’s voice blared from a hidden loudspeaker, echoing so that everyone below could hear.
Superman knew that if he struck it, rock would rain down on Kahndaqistan City. He no longer had radiation limiting his ability to act, so he could take a more deliberate approach.
He circled the diameter of Black Island again and again in the space beneath the large slab of rock. With every revolution, he increased his speed. To any of Kobra’s spy satellites watching his actions, he was now a red and blue blur. His speed was such that when whatever devices Luthor was using to hold Black Island aloft disengaged, the air pocket continued to hold it up.
Superman began to aim his path upward, carrying Black Island into the sky. The air pocket became a tornado, sending the slab of rock flying higher, leaving Earth’s sky and soaring off into the farthest reaches of space.
When Superman flew back down toward the surface, he was shocked to see that Kahndaq was already a battlefield. Luthor’s airship drones battled Kobra’s new and improved dreadnoughts in the skies above Kahndaq as a panicked populace below ran screaming, as if judgment day had arrived.
Superman flew toward the nearest of Luthor’s drone-ships. A thought flickered through his mind that the ship was almost elegant in its design. With its broad wingspan and long neck bearing an eyepiece/laser-cannon, it looked much like a flying metal killer swan.
A ray shot forth from its eyepiece, hitting him square in the chest. Fire shot through Superman’s veins as he plummeted from the sky and crashed to the street, sending up a shower of dirt and pavement. Every muscle in his body seemed to seize up at once. His stomach lurched, and he gave a furious cough. A crowd of Kahndaqians gathered around to look on with concern as their would-be savior struggled to his feet. In this part of the world, Kobra may not have been known as a villain, but Superman was still known as Earth’s greatest hero. If he could not save them, then who could?
Superman felt an overwhelming wave of despair as he looked up at the burning cityscape. Luthor and Kobra’s war had quickly engulfed the capital. He had to end this before it went any further. The skyline itself looked as if it were aflame.
His super-hearing had become almost a curse. He could pick out every shriek of pain, every newly orphaned child’s cry of hopelessness, every mother’s song of lamentation wailing to the heavens. Countless villains over the years had asked, “How do you hurt Superman?” This was it. This was how. Luthor had finally found a way to make Superman hate him as much in return.
He reached down and sank his fingers into the pavement, uprooting a huge chunk of earth and stone. A cry of rage escaped him as he swung his arms and sent it flying into the nearest drone-ship to explode into a cloud of fire.
Kobra’s jaw was set grimly as he looked out the window at the chaos that had befallen his capital. Kahndaq was to have been his paradise, a gleaming utopia serving as a shining example to the rest of the world that the Cobra Cult was the one, true religion.
“You’re just going to stand there?” a voice said from behind him. “At least Nero fiddled while his city burned.”
Kobra whirled around quickly. “You!”
“You’re surprised to see me?” scoffed Luthor, clad in his battle armor. “You really think you could steal my work and not pay the price?”
“Your work…” Kobra spat. “I have made far better use of your technology than you ever did.”
“Oh, I’ll get around to solving the ills of the world someday,” Luthor said. “But when I do, they’ll know it is Lex Luthor to thank, not some fool in a snake costume.”
“Thisss is what it’s all about?!” Kobra exclaimed. “Credit? People are dying because you didn’t get credit?”
“Oh, please,” Luthor said. “Save the saint routine for the media. You’re dealing with a higher intellect now. I know what you really are, and you can’t just suddenly decide to stop being a monster.”
“If I give you your pound of flesh, will you call off your army and leave ssso my people can rebuild their lives?”
“You really have come to care for these people, haven’t you?” Luthor smirked.
“I felt the same way about Lexor before it was destroyed, thanks to Superman. All I had left to remember it by was Black Island, which you took away from me and scavenged like a vulture!”
“I… apologize,” Kobra said solemnly.
A surprised and puzzled look crossed Luthor’s face. “I swear, you’re like Malcolm X after his trip to Mecca. Nice sentiments, but a simple apology won’t do.” He raised his right arm, and the built-in blaster of his armor started to hum to life.
“Lex, no!” a feminine voice called out. A startled gasp escaped Luthor at the sound of the voice.
“Wha–?! How?!” Luthor exclaimed as a very pregnant Angela Blake moved between the two of them.
“When you exiled me to the L-Zone, I found her there, and I took her with me when I escaped. Everything I am now I owe to her.”
“And now she carries your child,” Luthor sneered. “Do you never tire of taking from me?”
“You were already married,” Angela said accusingly, startling Luthor. “Or did you forget?”
Luthor’s mind flashed back to the elaborate scheme to trap Superman in the L-Zone where Angela had been a pawn. “I… actually, yes,” Luthor said.
“To make yourself more convincing,” Angela said. “Because Superman would have known your rehabilitation was a sham. So you brainwashed yourself into forgetting Lexor, forgetting you already had a wife, forgetting your own plan, and into loving me.” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Luthor’s Last Stand,” Action Comics #510 (August, 1980), “Luthor Fights for Good,” Action Comics #511 (September, 1980), and “Luthor’s Day of Reckoning,” Action Comics #512 (October, 1980).]
“Right on all counts except for that last one,” Lex said hoarsely. “That was real.”
“Oh, please,” Angela said, rolling her eyes. “Your only regret was that your plan failed, and I was transported to the L-Zone without Superman. Oh, and that your self-brainwashing allowed you to be hurt instead of him.”
“Yes, yes, my plans backfired on me. I admit it. That doesn’t change the fact that our marriage would be considered the legal one here on Earth, not my marriage on Lexor. And snake-boy, here, has made a cuckold of me, which I cannot abide.” He raised his blaster-arm again.
“Ssso, you plan to take the coward’s way out,” Kobra hissed, “rather than give me a fighting chance.”
“If you think I’m going to fall for any of your trickery…”
“Are you afraid to face me like a man?” Kobra asked.
“You dare?” Luthor’s eyes grew wide at the audacity. “I should vaporize you right now.”
“And I should expect no less than your usual cowardice — slaughtering women and children, hiding behind your technology.”
“If you think you can bait me…”
“It’s no wonder Sssuperman doesn’t take you seriously.”
“All right! Damn you!” Luthor sputtered. “You want your fight, you’ll get it! I’ll enjoy getting to take you out with my bare hands.”
A sly smile crossed Kobra’s face. “As you wish.”
Fifteen minutes later, they stood at opposite ends of the grand hall of the royal palace, each prepared for the coming battle.
Luthor began to remove his armor piece by piece, casting surreptitious stares in Kobra’s direction. Despite his protestations of being a changed man, he didn’t trust him not to have some sort of hidden scheme. He palmed a small device from his equipment and brought it to his arm, giving himself a quick injection of antitoxin. It would protect him from all known venoms in case Kobra tried to pull one of his usual routines.
As they walked to the center of the room, they were each approached by one of Kobra’s foot-soldiers, each of whom brought a lacquered wooden box. The boxes were opened to reveal ceremonial swords of fine Kahndaq steel.
Luthor hefted the sword and gave it a few passes through the air. “Good weight.” He brought the blade closer to his face. “Nice edge.” He gave it an appraising look from hilt to tip. “You didn’t just pick these up at the local Stagg-Mart.”
“These belonged to the royal family of Kahndaq before General Kuffar’s bloody coup,” Kobra said. “They were used to sssettle debts of honor.”
“How fitting,” Luthor quipped. He swung his sword toward Kobra’s neck, and the cult leader dropped to his knees, narrowly avoiding his decapitation.
Kobra, in turn, swung his sword at Luthor’s knees. Luthor leaped into the air, narrowly missing the crippling shot. He landed behind Kobra and took a jab at his side. Kobra quickly dodged to the side and swung at Luthor’s midsection. Luthor deftly blocked the shot with his sword, and the hallway filled with a loud metallic ring. Luthor attempted to return the shot, and Kobra blocked it with an equally loud metallic ring. Several more metallic rings filled the air as the combatants continued to swing wildly at each other.
Kobra’s blade came toward Luthor’s head. Luthor dodged backward, but the blade managed to nick his cheek. Luthor brought his hand up to his face, wide-eyed with horror as Kobra stared at him blandly.
There was a pregnant pause, and then Luthor’s expression quickly changed. “Ha!” he exclaimed. “Your poisons had no effect. I was prepared for you!”
“Prepared for what?” Kobra said, his expression unchanging. “I told you I don’t do that sort of thing anymore.”
“Tell that to General Kuffar,” Luthor said, jabbing forward with his sword.
“General Kuffar’s death was an execution for crimes against the people of Kahndaq. Just as yours will be,” Kobra said as he quickly swung his sword downward, parrying his thrust with a loud metallic clang.
Both men were sweating profusely, and they wore equally determined looks on their faces. Luthor gave a savage yell and charged forward again, only to be quickly countered by Kobra.
“Give it up, Luthor,” Kobra said. “I have thoroughly studied the fighting techniques of the finest hand-to-hand combatants throughout history.”
“So… have… I!” Luthor growled, punctuating his words with another swing of his sword. He lunged wildly, and Kobra brought his sword hand forward, slamming Luthor in the side of the head with the hilt, causing him to fall backward. He raised up, seeing stars and seeing red at the same time. His eyes were filled with a murderous savagery that caused Angela, who watched from the sidelines, to gasp. She felt a sudden sharp pain come from her midsection as the thought, No, not now, flashed through her head as she let out an involuntary cry of pain.
Kobra’s head quickly turned in her direction, “My love…” he said, startled.
Lex Luthor took advantage of his distraction and lunged forward, plunging his sword into the center of Kobra’s chest. The light faded from Kobra’s eyes, and he slumped to the floor.
“Nnnooo!” Angela wailed, overcome by both the sight before her and the pain coming from her midsection.”
“Angela!” Luthor gasped, rushing to her side.
“Get away from me!” Angela cried out. “Get away from me! You killed him! You killed my husband! Get away from me now!”
One of the foot-soldiers acting as her attendants held up his hand to stop him. “You are free to go now.”
“Free to go?!” Luthor exclaimed. “I’m not going anywhere until I know she’s OK!”
“Any of us here would gladly strike you dead for what you have done,” the foot-soldier said, “but it was the Naja-Naja’s will that you be allowed to leave unharmed if you won. Should you choose not to leave, the council will consider that in defiance of his final wishes, and you will be executed.”
“You can try,” Luthor sneered.
“Can or cannot is no longer an issue,” Kobra’s envoy said frankly, stepping forward. “Your suit runs on Black Island technology. We have Black Island technology. Presently, you live at our discretion.”
“Point made,” Luthor said grimly. “I’ll go.”
“Hold it right there, Luthor,” a voice boomed from the doorway.
“If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard that,” Luthor said. All eyes turned to an exasperated Superman. “Hello, Superman,” Luthor quipped. “Been busy?”
“You’ve gone too far this time,” Superman said, shaking with anger as he moved toward Luthor.
“Hold, Superman,” the envoy said.
“Have you not made it a point in the past not to interfere in the affairs of other sovereign nations?”
“This man has assassinated a world leader and is responsible for who knows how much death and destruction to your country!” Superman said incredulously.
“This was a debt of honor that is now settled, ” the envoy said.
“I can’t just let him walk out of here!” Superman said, glancing back at Luthor, who was calmly reassembling his armor about him.
“What you do once you reach our borders is up to you,” the envoy said, “and no concern of ours.”
Superman looked back at Luthor, who looked him in the eyes as he pressed a button on his gauntlet. “Catch me if you can, Superman,” he said, then disappeared in a flash of light. Superman flew out of the room, cursing under his breath in Kryptonian.
Angela gave another cry, and the Kobra acolytes were spurred to action. “She is in labor!” the envoy said. “Get her to the infirmary!”
“Something’s wrong,” Angela moaned. “Why is there so much pain?”
The elders knew right away what the issue was. History had a way of repeating itself. Angela Blake was having twins — Siamese twins, to be precise.
Before, they had simply chosen the stronger of the twins. This time, Black Island technology allowed them to separate them easily, so both were strong, fully formed, and very healthy. Who would be the new Naja-Naja? Then one of the elders gasped at the screen and pointed. One of the twins had a birthmark on his left shoulder in the shape of a snake. They had their sign. And thanks to the science they had acquired from the stars, they would not have to wait another thirty years for their next Naja-Naja. With a word over the intercom, a nurse entered and lifted the infant from his bed and left for the laboratory.
The infant was quickly advanced to adulthood, and his mind was programmed with all the knowledge of his forebears, the doctrines of the Cobra Cult, and his place at the head of that cult.
“All hail Kobra!” the acolytes cried, dropping to their knees as the new Naja-Naja stepped from the chamber. The closest one handed him his ceremonial robes.