Superman: The Unkindest Cut, Chapter 10: A Hero of the People

by Starsky Hutch 76, Frank G. Murdock and Doc Quantum

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Brainiac was defeated. The aristocracy was crushed. All that was left was to try to return the planet to some semblance of order. If Bodace fell to chaos, it would be felt throughout the empire.

“This should be a day of celebration,” Broot grumbled. “And this is how they behave! It’s a disgrace!” He uprooted a light post and flung it at a group of looters.

Anyone familiar with Oho-Besh, the easygoing minstrel from Changralyn, knew that anger was out of character for him. He was the second from his world to use the code name. On him, it seemed more ironic than it had with his predecessor. Charris-Nar had been called Broot for turning his back on pacifism to fight their oppressors. Oho-Besh simply had the artist’s need for discovery. Even the most even-tempered soul had his limits, though.

“You can always count on the riff-raff to come out to try and take advantage of a bad situation,” Blue Devil said, aiming his trident to deliver another blast toward a group of looters to send them scrambling.

“Do you ever regret choosing the path you did?” Oro-Besh asked.

“Nah. My path was pretty much set the moment I found out I’d be stuck being Blue Devil every day and not just in the movies. I go where I’m needed. And right now I’m needed here, helping you Omega Men and your newest allies restore order.”

“You Okaarans. Always on about duty and honor,” Oho-Besh chuckled.

“Okie-what?” Blue Devil said, squinting.

“You’re from Okaara, aren’t you?” Oho-Besh asked. “The blue skin… the teeth… the fashion sense… The horns are different, but I’ve never seen an Okaaran without the big hat before. There could be horns under there.”

“Nah, I’m from Earth.”

“You don’t look it.”

“Long story. Like I was saying, I go where I’m needed, and I can do the most good. And sometimes that means getting to go to new places and see some pretty interesting things. Like, who would have thought there was a whole world somewhere full of people that look like me?”

Oho-Besh laughed. “I was much the same way when I left my world. Much like the first Broot, I was an outcast for daring to question what they considered the natural order of things. But that is what artists such as you and I do. I had to see if there was something better beyond the borders of Changralyn.”

“I’m pretty happy with my life on Earth,” Blue Devil said. “Though I wouldn’t mind being able to change back and forth from my old look to this one every now and then.”

“You have the same thirst for adventure and discovery as I do,” Oho-Besh said. “I can tell. Hopefully, it’ll lead you back to us again someday.”

“Maybe so,” Blue Devil said with a grin. “That’s the good thing about making friends with JLA guys like Batman. If you do need to go away for a little while, they have ways of making it a whole lot easier to explain why you were gone.”

Their conversation was cut short by the sound of an explosion and then an alarm. “It never ends,” Oho-Besh said, looking at the chrono-monitor strapped to his enormous wrist. “I hope this doesn’t make you late for your departure.”

“It’s starting to feel like I never left home,” Blue Devil said, slapping a friendly hand on the large, gray-skinned minstrel’s shoulder as they both ran to investigate.

***

Meanwhile, back on Earth, a fiery cauldron rested in the center of a void of darkness. Within the flames, Blue Devil and Broot could be seen.

“It’s starting to feel like I never left home,” Blue Devil said, slapping a friendly hand on the large, gray-skinned minstrel’s shoulder as they both ran to investigate.

A raven-haired sorceress peered with emerald eyes into the flames. Grinning ever so faintly, she waved one hand over the cauldron. Pointing a single finger at Blue Devil, she cried, “Desmeftikos!”

Immediately, ectoplasmic chains wrapped around Blue Devil from his shoulders to his knees, utterly immobilizing him. The sorceress laughed as she beckoned with the curl of a finger, and the chains seized Blue Devil tightly, lifting him from the conflict below.

Casting her gaze across the alien battlefield, the sorceress exhorted, “Xechname synoliki!” A barely visible shimmering ripple blanketed the entire city, touching everyone within it in an instant. With a nod of satisfaction, she grasped the spectral chains restraining the dazed Blue Devil, causing him and herself to vanish.

***

Shortly after, the departure took place as scheduled. Hun’ya and several members of the Imperial Guard were present as Superman, Jor-El and Lara, Superwoman, and Valura Tur-Thol prepared to board their ship. The relatively small Supermobile was safely tucked away in the cargo hold of the larger craft. No one appeared to notice that a particular horn-headed, blue-skinned hero was not among the departing heroes.

“It is good of you to see us off, Your Majesty,” Superman said to Hun’ya. “But I wonder if you could answer a question for me.”

“Ask away,” said Emperor Hun’ya.

“Actually, it’s more a couple of questions,” said Superman, going into the interviewing mode he usually reserved for his reporter role as Clark Kent. “First, were you and the rest of the Scrubb Empire aware that you would gain super-powers under a yellow sun?”

Hun’ya stared at Superman for a few moments, then smiled slightly. “Yes, I was made aware when I became emperor, and the commanders of our military forces have always known. But the general population did not know that these powers were ours under a yellow sun. It has been the longstanding policy of the Scrubb Empire to win battles and conquer planets through the might of our vast space fleet, not through our solar-induced special abilities. To be frank, those powers have always been an… embarrassment to us.”

“How so?” asked Superman.

Hun’ya shrugged his shoulders. “How can a race of warriors prove their prowess in battle if they are accused of having an unfair advantage in a fight, simply by a quirk of fate?”

“Interesting,” said Superman. “That brings me to my second question. Back when Rat’lar sent his adjutant to Earth to challenge Muhammad Ali, the adjutant had absolutely no super-powers while on Earth, despite being under a yellow sun. How do you explain this?”

“All military personnel sent to yellow-sun worlds are equipped with red sun radiation-emitters on their person, which constantly suppressed the effects of yellow sun radiation,” explained Hun’ya. “It would be… unseemly for a Scrubb emissary to be seen flying or using excessive super-strength on any world subject to our empire.”

“I see,” said Superman. “But the fact that you have those powers under a yellow sun makes me wonder if there’s any genetic connection to Kryptonians, even if it’s an extremely ancient one. We might never know. Anyways, I’m glad that we could leave the Scrubb Empire and this galaxy in peace, much like the last time we met. Though certain recent additions to your staff leave something to be desired.” He gestured with a nod of his head at Lobo.

The Velorpian bounty hunter had traded his biker gear in for the ceremonial uniform of a general of the Imperial Guard. He was clean-shaven, and his usually scruffy hair was slicked back and tied into a ponytail. For once, he looked surprisingly respectable.

“Lobo is a hero of the people,” Hun’ya said stiffly.

“I have heard a lot of words to describe Lobo,” Superman said. “Hero isn’t one of them, despite past attempts to make him into a hero. I ought to tell you about General Glory sometime.” (*) Lobo stared back at him, smiling with a look of mock innocence.

[(*) Editor’s note: See Justice League of America: A New Beginning, Chapter 2: General Glory.]

“No one decides to be a hero,” Hun’ya said. “History chooses them when greatness is thrust upon them. Lobo has earned the gratitude of the Scrubb Empire. He has amnesty with us and in our galaxy as long as he wishes it. He will not be going back to Takron-Galtos.”

“Very well,” Superman sighed. “I hope that you don’t come to regret your decision.”

“Coming from any other man, that would sound like a threat,” Hun’ya said. “Do not be concerned. The Scrubb Empire can see to itself.” With that, the heroes departed on amicable if somewhat strained terms, returning to Rokyn’s space through the wormhole connecting the Scrubbs’ galaxy to the Milky Way.

***

The stairs creaked as a figure shrouded in black descended, carrying a lit sconce at arm’s length. The must of mildew weighed the darkness like humidity on a Mississippi summer night.

“Speak,” commanded the figure into the darkness.

“It is done,” said the voice of a sultry woman. “He is secured. Do you have that which we have agreed upon?”

“Not so fast,” croaked the shrouded figure. “Did anybody see you take him? The spell has its limitations.”

A shadow moved closer into the light as a woman took shape. Standing just outside the illumination, the conflict between the light and the dark highlighted an image of dark temptation. She was the seductress of innocence, the mistress of dark desire — she was Tala, the queen of evil.

“I have done as you have requested,” she replied to the man in black, her sultry charm giving way to mild irritation. “The spell was cast. No one was around when I did it. No one will remember he was ever there. Now, as we agreed.”

The man stood unmoving for a few moments before raising one thin hand into his robes and pulling forth a large skeleton key on a chain of beaded silver skulls and intermittent onyx gems, and casually tossed it in her direction.

“As we agreed,” he rasped. “Our business is concluded.”

A thin smile cut across her lips as the queen of evil probed the chain between her fingers. “It has, indeed. If you should seek my services again, you know how to reach me,” she said before disappearing into the shadows.

The man searched into the darkness for a moment before uttering, “I do indeed.”

Then, turning his attentions elsewhere, he raised his sconce for a better look. At the far wall, three heavy doors of banded oak lay beside one another, shut and bolted. From the farthest door, the voice of a man could be heard calling out.

“Somebody there? Please… somebody help me! Anybody!

The man in black raised the sconce to the bars on the door and looked in. In the far corner, Blue Devil strained against heavy shackles that bound him to the wall; beneath him, a ward of containment rendered him powerless to call upon his demonic abilities.

“Who are you?” asked the hero. “Why am I here?”

The man in black merely cackled before lowering the sconce and walking away.

As the reluctant hero called for his captor to return, a deep voice came from behind the first door as the man in black passed. The voice was calm and without emotion in its delivery.

“They will find you. They will stop you. And then I will kill you.”

The man in black slowly turned toward the voice and gave a sinister chuckle.

“We will see, my friend. We will see.”

And with that, he merely walked off, leaving his two captives in total darkness with nothing more than the uncertainty of their futures to contemplate.

***

Standing in the lobby of the Superman Museum back on Earth, Jor-El stared at the replica of the ship that had brought his son Kal-El to Earth. He winced as he looked at the background mural of Krypton exploding. He was glad the nearby wax figures of him and his wife were not a better likeness. Despite the fact that he was wearing a green polo, khaki slacks, and loafers, he was still getting hey, don’t I know you? looks, which made him uneasy.

His unease began to abate when he saw his son approaching, accompanied by his grand-niece, Jasma. He was wearing glasses as part of his Clark Kent identity, and the girl wore a black wig. That these somehow worked as disguises still amazed him.

Clark placed a comforting hand on his father’s shoulder. Jor-El turned to his son and sighed. “Even knowing you made it here and had a fulfilling life, this is still hard to look at.” Fulfilling, he realized, was a massive understatement, considering the fact that he now stood in the lobby of a museum dedicated to his son’s accomplishments. What more could a father possibly ask for? From what he had seen this day, there were hardly any expectations left for him to surpass.

“I understand what you’re going through,” Clark said. “I must have seen a thousand representations like this one over the years. You never quite get to the point where you can look at one without feeling regret.”

“If only things had been different,” Jor-El said. “If only I could have saved more of us…”

“You’re responsible for saving more lives than you’ll ever know,” his son said. “Every life I’ve ever saved is because of the chance you gave me. And Kandor would still be sitting in a bottle on Brainiac’s ship.”

Jor-El smiled and was about to respond to Kal-El’s comforting words when a teenaged boy walked up to him and said, “Can I have your autograph?”

“My… autograph?” Jor-El said, startled.

“Can you sign my book?” the boy repeated, handing him an open book and a pen.

“Uh… certainly,” Jor-El said, confused. He took the book and signed a blank page.

“Jordan Kent?” the boy said in a disappointed voice as he stormed away. “I thought you were Gregory Reed!”

“Gregory Reed?” Jor-El said, turning to his son in confusion.

“He’s an actor. He has played me in several movies,” Clark said.

“Oh, no. Now that you mention it, I remember seeing something about him on your television,” Jor-El said. “He’s famous for looking like you!”

“Father, I…”

“I was afraid of this,” Jor-El said. “My presence puts you in jeopardy.”

“Don’t be silly…”

“Look at the facts, Kal. You can’t tell anyone I’m your father, because Clark Kent had a father, and that man is dead. There’s clearly a family resemblance, but you can’t even tell anyone I’m your biological father, because I appear too young physically. I can’t even pretend to be your brother, because the Kents had no children Clark Kent’s age. However we might choose to explain the relationship, though, the truly frightening part, as we saw with that boy, is my resemblance to both Superman and Clark Kent. I fear I wouldn’t be as talented as you at getting people to overlook those common traits.”

“We can make this work,” Clark insisted.

“I’m sure you would move the very heavens themselves to try to make it so, my son,” Jor-El said, smiling wistfully. “But I can’t let you risk everything you’ve accomplished. You’ve made a life for yourself here — a good life.” He looked down at Jasma and placed an affectionate hand upon her head. “And you have more than just yourself to think of now. Your mother and I have been talking… we think it best that she and I make our home upon Rokyn.”

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