Meanwhile, moments earlier the odd group of Lady Lunar, Star Sapphire, Moonman, Pulsar, Alyssa the Golden Blade, and Skyman had reached the prison planet of Kronis in time to witness the onslaught led by the imperfect duplicates of Superman.
Johnny Kirk recognized the creatures for what they were at first sight. “Bizarros! Those things are duplicates of Bizarro, and he was an imperfect copy of Superman himself. They’re only copies, and aren’t truly alive. Superman showed me a picture of his original imperfect duplicate that he fought as Superboy. (*) It gave me nightmares as a kid! Luthor created Bizarro No. 1 but was unable to control him, and Bizarro stole the duplicating ray, then made an imperfect duplicate of Lois Lane before creating countless duplicates of himself and Bizarro-Lois Lane to populate the Bizarro World! (*) But I thought the Bizarro World and all of its inhabitants were destroyed a few years back. (*) They must have multiplied again since then!” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Boy of Steel Versus the Thing of Steel,” Superboy #68 (October, 1958), “The Battle with Bizarro,” Action Comics #254 (July, 1959), “The Bride of Bizarro,” Action Comics #255 (August, 1959), “The World of Bizarros,” Action Comics #263 (April, 1960), “Phantom Zone: The Final Chapter,” DC Comics Presents #97 (September, 1986), and Ambush Bug: Let the Buggy Bizarro.]
“Multiplied?” said Star Sapphire. “I realize the actual means of replication differs, but this reminds me of the J’ai warriors!”
Alyssa the Golden Blade jumped to her feet and said, “If those things are tied to the creatures who killed my husband, I’ll slaughter them all!”
“I can’t understand it,” said Johnny. “These Bizarros aren’t acting anything like Bizarro No. 1, who could at least be outwitted with backwards logic! They look like they’re being controlled.”
“I set up a scanner on this ship while we were in transit,” said Pulsar. “It reacts to Starro’s unique atomic energies. I don’t see him, but his energy pattern is below us. He indeed controls those things, just like he controlled the J’ai warriors!”
“It has to be connected,” said Lady Lunar. “Our altered or regained powers came from a surge of cosmic energy. The Psi-Machine showed us we would find answers to the source of that wave here on Kronis. The attacks we witnessed back on Alyssa’s homeworld consisted of replicating alien warriors all created from one single warrior who was under Starro’s control. Could a similar method of copying a single mind-controlled Bizarro have resulted in this gang we seen below us?”
“I’m almost sure of it,” said Pulsar. “But, to get answers, we have to stop those things — and if each one has the powers of even a flawed Superman, we’re desperately out of our league!”
“And yet we must stop them,” said Moonman. “What if they free the prisoners? Perhaps Starro wanted to gain access to the inmates and enslave and duplicate them to add to his army!”
Pulsar brought the small ship down to where the observation deck extended into space. “I can breach the shield briefly where the Bizarros have broken its surface, but normally no ship could get through that force-field.”
As he guided the ship down, Pulsar shuddered in pain. Something is wrong, he thought. I’ve felt more than one pain since we started this trip. I think the process that gave me my powers may be wearing off or, worse, it may be damaging my cellular structure! I can’t tell the others!
Lady Lunar stared in wonder at the strange scene as she tried to focus her thoughts. Easy, Stacy, you’re a big girl, she thought. You can handle all this!
Star Sapphire pursed her perfect lips as she weighed her options. I fear no one, but I am too wise to risk my life on a fool’s crusade. Perhaps I should escape while I can. My original gemstone does have its power once again, and a throne still awaits me on Zamaron!
The group exited the ship and hurried to confront the nearest Bizarro-Supermen.
They’re slow, mused Pulsar. They lack either super-speed or the intellect to use the more subtle forms of Superman’s powers!
Flying down, Skyman battered one Bizarro with super-strength, fighting the urge to doubt his own restored abilities. “They are back, and maybe this time they’ve returned for good!” he said. “Can’t let Superman down!”
Alyssa’s golden sandals clattered against the floor as she raced into battle. Her brief golden armor gleamed under the starlight, and even in the midst of grief she was a remarkably lovely sight. Yelling a loud battle-cry, she brought her golden sword down on a red-caped creature.
The blade did not shatter, but it also failed to do more than attract the creature’s attention. My sword can’t hurt them! she realized as a second lethal slice failed to injure the monster. The blonde warrior blocked a fiery blast that came from the monster’s mouth, and her sword deflected the force of the inferno-like burst, absorbing its heat.
Nearby, Stacy Macklin soared forward and released a pulse of energy that proved more effective. Twisting with agility, she avoided the grasping hand of another Bizarro. My kryptonite-like energy-field seems to slow them down, if only slightly, but it doesn’t weaken them like it did the real Superman! she mused. When she kicked out against the brute, he reeled backward, but did not fall.
Moonman tried a more thoughtful approach. If those things have any iron in their bloodstreams then I should be able to affect them internally, thought Brice Rogers. Johnny said they aren’t truly alive, so killing them isn’t an issue! As he concentrated, his magnetic power caused a Bizarro to double over in pain.
Pulsar dived in front of Brice moments before a hurled piece of metal came close to decapitating the ex-astronaut.
“Thanks!” said Moonman. “I owe you one!”
Pulsar slammed into the Bizarro who had thrown the metal and said nothing. It’s getting harder to lift that kind of weight, he thought. I’m losing my strength. What have I done to myself?
Hovering above the others, Star Sapphire used her powers to shield herself from any attack that came too close. The beautiful alien queen was almost convinced that flight was now her best option. Do I really need answers as to what restored my gemstone? she thought. Isn’t ruling all of Zamaron enough for me?
At that moment, she spotted dozens of other Bizarro-Supermen emerge from the prison in pursuit of a red-haired man wearing a green and yellow costume and a jet-pack. They’re drawn to that man, and he’s leading them away from the prison — and right toward me! she thought, and flew away as fast as she could, even as Klax-Ar drew closer.
The exiled Kryptonian was following Genia’s plan. His energy-harness somehow attracted the Bizarros, causing them to give up their attack on the prison.
Now Commander Praydar, Garrock, Genia, and several guards rushed outside to see the newcomers and to watch as the attackers flew off the planet itself to chase Klax-Ar.
“It isn’t working!” said Praydar. “They have been drawn to him, but he isn’t draining their powers! He can only fly because of the jet-pack we gave him!”
“We’re here to help!” called Lady Lunar. “What can we do?”
Genia flounced forward and said, “You may watch and marvel at my superior mind!”
“We welcome any help any of you can give,” said Praydar. “Genia, your plan seems to be failing!”
Genia tossed back her long, flowing blonde locks and said, “Observe!”
Klax-Ar suddenly stiffened as a surge of energy erupted from the harness and covered him in a nimbus of blue energy.
“He’s hurting them!” said Garrock. “They’re starting to fall from the sky like human comets!”
Indeed, as Klax-Ar glowed a brilliant shade of blue, all of the Bizarros withered, stiffened, and finally collapsed to remain inert. They rained down on the prison compound as unliving, helpless humanoid meteors.
Finally, Klax-Ar himself plunged out of the sky to crash below. He was stiff and glowed a bright blue.
“What happened?” demanded Praydar.
“Simple,” said Genia. “I lied to him. My harness could not give him super-powers. It merely tapped into the matter that those things were composed of and drew them closer to him. Then it used the unstable energies within his altered metabolism to transform him from a powerless native of Krypton to a humanoid form of a type of kryptonite that could destroy the invaders. I turned him into a being of blue kryptonite, and that specific radiation proves deadly to the creatures, just as green kryptonite would have killed a normal native of that world!”
“You killed him!” cried an outraged Johnny Kirk.
Genia shook her head. “No, he is alive. He is just entirely composed of blue kryptonite. He’ll eventually regain the ability to move and speak. Now, since I saved your prison, I claim the same reward you promised him. I want a full pardon and my freedom!”
“Done!” said Warden Sargoes. “You did save this world!”
“You are one cold-blooded female!” said Praydar.
“I am merely logical,” said Genia. “To a warrior of the Hakawees, that kind of emotionless reasoning would seem cold!”
Pulsar rolled one of the Bizarro-Supermen over and lifted his cape. “Look: a Starro fragment is attached to its neck, just like what we found with the J’ai warriors. Starro has taken a few beings and controlled them, then replicated them again and again. He’s creating an instant army. No doubt that’s what he wanted with the prison — new pawns or recruits!”
Landing nearby, Star Sapphire listened intently. Starro could be a useful partner. Maybe I should stay with the others, after all. When we get closer to him, I could switch sides! she thought with a smile.
Commander Praydar started to ask who the newcomers were when Pulsar staggered forward and then collapsed.
Moonman rushed to his fallen friend and then looked up with worried eyes. “I think Bob may be dying!” he said.
Later, as Stacy Macklin, Brice Rogers, and Johnny Kirk waited anxiously outside the prison hospital, Commander Praydar listened to several of his staffers make reports.
“We’ve secured the compound once more,” said a burly, purple-skinned guard. “Skyman, here, used his super-powers to help us repair the damage. The supply ship radioed that it will bring us the psi-screens needed to secure the planet from telepaths like Molnur in the future. All prisoners are now accounted for and appropriately secured. Klax-Ar is stable and alive, but still immobile.”
“Though several guards were injured by the Bizarros, none have died,” added another guard. “All should recover in time. We’ve scanned, but haven’t been able to find any traces of Prisoner Z. We also haven’t found even trace fragments of any other bodies. Astra and Psyche remain missing.”
Praydar listened silently, even as he mourned once more for Psyche and Astra. Could they still be alive, but trapped on some other planet or in another dimension? he wondered. They may as well have died in the explosion for all the good I can do! Turning to the arrivals from Earth, he said, “I can’t thank you all enough for everything you’ve done.”
Clearing his throat, Johnny Kirk said, “I would like to stay here and help you, Commander. I may have regained my powers, but I’m no Superman. I’m not even a Superman Junior as I once was. Still, I’d love to stay here, at least for a little while, to make sure Bob’s all right. And while I’m here, I might as well help keep the prisoners secure, too. Every inmate that you keep locked up is one less problem for Superman to have to deal with. It would be as if I was still his helper, in a manner of speaking!”
Commander Praydar shook Johnny’s hand. “I’d be delighted to have you join my staff here,” he said, “especially since we just lost two of our best officers.”
Johnny smiled broadly and said, “I can’t promise I’ll be here forever, but I can sign on for a temporary post. Heck, being here on an alien world is kind of a homecoming for me, since I grew up in space!”
Stacy impulsively planted a kiss on him. “Johnny, I’ll miss you, but I know you’ll do a lot of good here,” she said. “Superman would be proud. If I return to Earth, I’ll make a point of telling him what you’ve done!”
“Thanks! I’d like that a lot!” said Johnny. “I may even pay him a visit myself, since there’s nothing keeping me from returning home for a visit with these powers!”
As a doctor came out of the room where Pulsar was resting, the group looked at him expectantly.
“He’ll live,” said the doctor, “but as a normal man. Whatever gave him his powers has left him. He’s trying to come to terms with the change.”
“I’d like to see him,” said Brice. “We all would!”
The doctor nodded and stepped aside.
As they entered the hospital room, they saw their friend standing by a window. “He told you? I’m just plain Bob Altus, Jr. now. No Pulsar. No hero.”
“You lost the powers, that’s true,” said Brice. “Still, you already proved you are a hero. You saved my life. You saved everyone with Johnny’s help back on Thronn. You still have your mind!”
Bob nodded and said, “Always the optimist, eh, Brice? Still, you’re right. I’m not dead. The only thing that died here today was my father’s heroic dream for me. Pulsar is dead, but Bob Altus, Jr. is just fine.”
“We’ll track down the mystery behind Starro’s actions,” said Brice. “Your mind will help us get to the bottom of it all.”
“Sure, I suppose so,” Bob said without any enthusiasm. “For now, I’d better get some sleep.”
Brice hesitated for a moment, then left his friend to his rest.
Moments later, a woman stepped out of the shadows near the adjacent room.
“Genia?” asked a startled Bob. “That’s your name, right?”
Genia smiled and moved closer, walking with a sultry grace that belied her clinical mind. “That is my name,” she said. “Bob, I heard what your friend said. You know he was trying to soothe your concerns. He feels he owes you that much, since he admired your father so much!”
Bob nodded and said, “I suppose so. What do you want?”
“Direct and to the point,” said Genia. “I like your lack of sentimentality. I’ll be equally blunt: I am your intellectual superior. I can offer your friends things you cannot. You would, in truth, be a liability to them. I want you to stay here with your friend Johnny. You can rest, recover, and be of help to the prison. A man of your scientific curiosity could learn much from the aliens who live here. Let me take your place and lead your friends into space. I will do what you can no longer do. I will help them, and I will solve the riddle of the cosmic energy-wave that triggered your quest!”
Bob nodded slowly. “I don’t trust you. I don’t like you. However, I know that you are smarter than I am. Take the ship. I’ll speak to the others. I’ll vouch for you. I’m sure Praydar would be glad to be rid of you.”
Genia smiled and started to walk away when he called her back.
“But if you betray my friends, I’ll find a way to hunt you down and make you sorry!”
Genia’s smile never faded as she said, “I do believe you would!”
Days later, after the group had recovered from their battles and said their goodbyes, Genia piloted the red saucer into space with Stacy Macklin, Remoni-Notra, Alyssa, and Brice Rogers aboard.
“You will miss Kirk and Altus, but I assure you they will thrive there,” said Genia. “Praydar is a good man. He is a hero. He’ll make them better than they were before. He has that kind of charismatic influence.”
“Sounds like you have a crush on the stoic commander!” said Stacy.
Genia frowned as she replied, “That is nonsense! Now, we should focus on the task at hand. I’ve studied the energy-wave that started this affair. That burst of cosmic energy has a pattern. I think it is a pattern I’ve seen before on some level, but I fail thus far to precisely determine where or what that pattern was.”
“And where are we headed? In search of Starro?” asked Star Sapphire.
“Exactly,” said Genia. “I’ve created a modification of Bob’s scanner. It should lead us directly to Starro himself!”
Star Sapphire held herself tightly as she listened. And when we find him, I’ll prove to that green-skinned witch exactly who is the smartest one here! she vowed.