by Martin Maenza
A couple moments prior, aboard the 757 aircraft, a young blonde woman in a white blouse and blue jumper had just begun to act out the instructions that played over the plane’s speakers. She pointed out the exits — two at the front, two over the wings, two in back — and she also indicated how the oxygen masks would drop down in case of loss of cabin pressure, and how the seat cushions could be used as flotation devices.
Dr. Jenet Klyburn, like many of the passengers who had flown dozens of times before, didn’t pay close attention to the woman. Heck, she could probably do the routine herself, given how often she jetted back and forth between labs.
Suddenly, just above the spot where the flight attendant in First Class had been standing, a loud thud could be heard on the roof of the plane. “What was that?” the young woman said aloud, echoing the thoughts of the passengers who had heard the sound.
Just then, the ceiling portion of the cabin began to glow, first only slightly, then it became somewhat pink until it finally turned into a red-hot glow. The pattern was circular and grew out wider, sending the smell of melting metal into the cabin. The people in the cabin began to murmur more loudly as panic swept over them. “Remain calm,” the flight attendant said as she backed away from the spot. “Remain in your seats, please!” Her body language, however, betrayed her words.
The melting gave way to an opening that let the afternoon light shine into the plane. Immediately, a figure of a man dropped in as he said, “Knock knock!“
As he landed in the aisle, everyone with a clear view could get a good look at him. He wore a form-fitting yellow costume with black stripes on the inside of the arms and the outside of the legs. Upon his chest, also in black, was a stylized M and W logo. On his face he wore a yellow mask, also with black trim. His brown hair and his mouth and chin were still visible.
He glanced around the cabin quickly, eyeing his prey. “Nobody move!” he threatened. “If everyone stays put, you’ll all get out of this without a scratch! I’m only here for one person and one person only!“
He lunged toward the red-headed scientist, plunging his hand into her lap. “Time to go, doctor!” he said as his hand grabbed the seatbelt. In a second, his touch burned through the strap and released her from the seat. “Your trip has been canceled!” He grabbed her by the wrist and hoisted her out of the seat.
“Who are you?” Jenet Klyburn asked. The face looked a bit familiar, but at the moment she couldn’t place it. “Why do you want me?“
“Later!” he snapped. He was fairly strong, and he squeezed her wrist hard, sending a shooting pain up her arm.
She tried to lash out at him, using her foot to kick him as she’d learned in her women’s self-defense classes. The high-heeled shoe stopped inches from the man, where it hit a resistance. “What the–?” It was like some kind of personal force-field.
Microwave Man smiled as he dragged her toward the opening. “Naughty, naughty! Don’t make me punish you here, doctor! It’s time to go!” he said. The two began to rise in the air toward the opening in the roof. “Enjoy the land of a thousand lakes, folks!” And with that, the two were out into the air above the tarmac.
Trying to stall him, Jenet asked again. “Who are you? You obviously know who I am!”
“Quiet, doctor!” the villain ordered as they rose into the air. “All will be revealed in due time!”
“I can’t wait that long!” another female voice called out from the sky. “I’ve got a plane of my own to catch, so let’s make this quick!“
The villain and the doctor both turned, seeing a costumed woman streaking toward them. The costume she wore was a red body-suit with blue boots and gloves. Her blue cape and cowled mask attached to the blue accent that ran down the center of the torso. On her chest she wore a familiar logo of the letter S in red and yellow.
“Superwoman!” Jenet Klyburn exclaimed. While she had passing encounters with the Man of Steel, at this moment she’d take a rescue in any form.
Microwave Man sneered at the approaching heroine. “This is none of your business, sweetheart! Why don’t you go do something useful, like saving a cat from a tree?“
“I think I’ll save a kidnap victim first!” Superwoman countered. She swooped in and punched at the man’s face. Having been advised by Superman about pulling first punches against adversaries she was unfamiliar with, she went a bit easy on him. She certainly didn’t want her great strength to pop the man’s head like a melon. She was, however, surprised when her punch failed to connect, stopped short by a resistive force. “Hey!”
Microwave Man’s force-field again kept him safe. “Back off, honey, before you get hurt!” He increased the power of the field, pushing outward rather fast.
The force caught Superwoman off-guard and knocked her back into the air. “Hmmph,” the red-haired heroine said. “If I can’t lay a hand on you, perhaps something else can!” She inhaled deeply, filling her lungs with air. She then exhaled, directing a concentrated blast of air at the villain’s force-bubble.
This time, he and Dr. Klyburn tumbled backward in the safety of the energy field. “Hey!” Microwave Man said as he used his abilities to right them again. “If that’s the way you want to play…” He thrust his free arm outward, firing a beam of energy toward the Minneapolis flight on the tarmac. “Let’s see if you’re as fast as a speeding bullet!“
Superwoman realized the blast was targeting the plane’s fuel tanks. “Oh, no!” She moved at blurring speed to throw her own body in the path of the blast. She reached the plane in the nick of time, and the energy shattered across her invulnerable chest. Yet it still kicked her backward. She slammed into the side of the plane with a loud thud.
This guy packs quite a punch, she thought to herself. OK, Kristin, time to take the kid gloves off!
Superwoman took to the air once more, glancing around. “Now where did he get to?” She spotted the villain and his hostage soaring away from the airport to the south. “Not so fast, mister!” She rocketed off after them.
“You might as well give it up,” Jenet Klyburn said as she tried to wriggle free from her captor’s grasp. “She’s going to catch up with you sooner or later!”
Microwave Man realized the heroine was coming back for more. “Then we shall have to make it later, won’t we?” He saw a plane approaching the airport in the sky and darted toward it. With a concentrated blast of energy from his free hand, he shot at one of the engines. The burst of energy ripped through the mechanisms under the wing, making it inoperative. “There! That should keep her busy while we make our escape!” He took off as the plane started to drop uncontrollably.
Superwoman was about to reach the villain when she saw dark black smoke billowing from the plane’s engine as it fell. Without another word, she knew where her primary duties fell. She launched herself toward the plane in need.
From the cockpit of Air Metro Flight 1015, the captain announced the engine failure and instructed the crew and passengers to prepare for an emergency landing. There was panic in the plane as it lurched from right to left. The pilot was trying his best to level the craft on this sudden descent.
Then, just as quickly as the plane lurched, it began to level off. The pilot was relieved and signaled the tower that they needed to land immediately.
Sitting in a window seat near the right wing section of the plane, little Billy Walker grinned from ear to ear. “Look, granny,” the six-year-old said as he pressed his fingers to the glass. “We got saved by Supergirl!“
The elderly black woman he had been traveling with from Raleigh peered out over her thick glasses, catching sight of a blue-caped woman in red tights holding up the one wing of the plane. “Oh, hush now, child,” Mildred Walker said. “That ain’t Supergirl. She had pretty yella hair.” She pushed her grandson’s hand down. “Stop gettin’ your prints all over that glass, hear.”
Billy continued to peer out at the red-haired heroine. Superwoman saw the boy looking and gave him a little reassuring wink. “Granny, she likes me!” Billy squealed.
Mildred Walker just shook her head. Twice now they’d been on flights rescued over Metropolis. (*) It wasn’t safe to fly into this city. Next year, they were taking the bus to visit her cousin Bernice. No more flying Air Metro for them.
[(*) Editor’s note: See DC Comics Presents: Superman and Ray Palmer: Hardly a Small Problem, Chapter 1: The Super-Mite.]
“Over here, Superwoman!” one of the ground crew called out. Using glowing, green plastic sticks, he directed her toward the open gateway on the tarmac.
“Thanks!” the Woman of Steel said as she continued to hold up the right wing and helped guide Flight 1015 safely out of the way of other planes. “I appreciate the assist.” As the plane came to a stop, she let go of the wing and began to look around.
“Lose something?” the ground crewman asked.
“Sort of.” Superwoman bit her lip a second as she scanned the sky, and her eyes narrowed. “Ah-ha!” she said, and turned to the inquiring man. “No, I think I still have a chance! I have to run. Bye.” And with that, she took off into the air, her blue cape trailing behind her.
Another of the ground crew came running up. “Say, was that Superwoman?“
“Yep,” said the first guy, watching her go. “I think I’m in love.”
“Yeah, right!” the second guy said, slugging his co-worker in the right shoulder. “Like she’d have the time of day for an average Joe like you! She probably dates Superman or something!”
Though she had already gotten hundreds of yards away, Superwoman’s super-hearing managed to pick up that last bit of the men’s conversation. She had to smile slightly at the thought of dating a certain hero. They had become close friends over the past year and a half, true, but so far they remained friends. Who knows? she mused to herself. Right now, though, she had a villain to catch.
Not too long after, in a wooded, less-populated area miles from Metropolis, a pair of figures dropped down out of the sky. The full foliage of Spring provided a good cover from anyone passing overhead. “There!” Microwave Man said. “This should be a nice, private spot for us to complete our business!” He let the woman fall to the ground the last few feet.
“What business would I have with you?” the red-headed scientist said, keeping up a brave front despite being overpowered by this mystery man.
“Oh, we go back a long way, doctor!”
“You still have me at a disadvantage,” Jenet Klyburn said. “You have a mask to hide behind. All I have is the M.W. on your chest as a lead. What does that stand for — Moronic Whacko?“
The man in yellow lunged forward, slapping her on the cheek. She fell back to the ground, her face red from the hit. “Don’t mock me, Jenet! In this costume, I am Microwave Man, master of the micro-matic energy forms!”
The name was familiar to the scientist. She recalled a number of years back that Superman had battled someone with that name. In fact, that’s why the costume looked familiar. It wasn’t the same, but it was close. Supposedly, that villain was in fact a man named Lewis Padgett who had originally adopted the costumed identity in the late 1930s. He used microwave receivers to commit crimes. The villain disappeared for many decades, only to show up again both youthful and more powerful about five years ago. Superman put an end to his schemes, and the villain was never heard from again. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Super-Origin of Microwave Man,” Action Comics #487 (September, 1978) and “Superman Battles Microwave Man,” Action Comics #488 (October, 1978).]
Jenet looked at her kidnapper again — the chin, the brown hair, the voice, his familiarity with her. Of course.
“Eli Walston!” Jenet exclaimed. “That’s you behind that mask, isn’t it?” Her fear was subsiding, only to be replaced by anger and indignation toward the man.
“Give the lady a kewpie doll!” Microwave Man sneered. “Yes, it is me! Took you long enough! And here I thought the head of STAR Labs was supposed to be a brilliant person!“
“What is this all about, Walston?” she demanded.
“Why, simple, my dear,” the villain said. “For your continued diversionary tactics and attempts to squelch my brilliant discoveries, I plan to kill you! Using, of course, the very technological advances you refused to take a look at to begin with. You’ll get an up-close, personal look at them.” His hands began to glow with crimson energy. “How’s that for irony, eh, Jenet?”
“I don’t think so!” a voice cried out. Before either of the two could realize where it came from, the red-headed Superwoman streaked through the trees and slammed into the surprised villain. Her velocity knocked the villain along with her.
“Superwoman!” Jenet exclaimed. “Thank God!”
The villain expanded his force-field and managed to push himself away from the heroine. “You again? How’d you manage to catch up to us? That falling plane should have kept you busy enough!”
Superwoman straightened, placing herself between the villain and his intended victim. “My enhanced vision powers were capable of tracing the slight radiation trail left by your flight,” she said. “With my super-speed, it was easy enough to catch up to you! You had best surrender!”
“Surrender?” Microwave Man mocked. “I don’t think so, sweetie! We’re just getting warmed up!” He hands flashed red as he shot a pair of twin beams at the heroine.
Superwoman managed to avoid them, barely, and they struck some nearby pines. Instantly, the needles began to combust, starting the evergreens ablaze. “Whoa!” she said, realizing that the whole forest area could go up in flames if she let that spread. She rushed to them to put them out.
“That’s right, chippy, go on and play Smokey the Bear!” Microwave Man said as he advanced back on Dr. Klyburn. “Meanwhile, I’m going to take care of business!” He rushed upon the fleeing scientist, knocking her down. He then grabbed the sides of her skull with both hands, staring her right in the face. “I’m going to pretend your head is microwave popcorn! Let’s see how long it takes to pop, shall we?” He started to laugh.
“Laugh this off!” Superwoman exclaimed. Using part of the trunk of one of the fallen trees, she swung at the man. Like a bat hitting a ball, the villain was swatted across the field. The heroine then rushed to Dr. Klyburn’s side. “Are you all right, ma’am?”
“I will be,” Jenet said, “after you’ve taken that creep out!”
“I’m on it!” Superwoman said. She rocketed toward the man who was about to rise from the ground.
“Ugggh!” Microwave Man groaned, his vision still blurred. “This needs more work. Have to be able to use the force-field as well as the disruptor beams at the same time.”
“Nice to see you can learn from your mistakes!” Superwoman said as she struck him from behind. She knocked him to the ground. “Who said old dogs can’t learn new tricks?”
Dr. Klyburn came running up, curious to see how the battle played out. “Is it over?“
“I would say so,” Superwoman said as she glanced down at the fallen villain. “All we need to do is get this one to jail.”
“What about me?” Jenet Klyburn asked.
“Excuse me?” Superwoman said.
“Thanks to this psycho, I’ve missed my flight to Minneapolis,” she said. “I have a very important meeting to get attend there in a few hours.”
“Uh,” Superwoman said as she gave it some thought. “I suppose, maybe I could help by giving you a lift there, after we drop this guy off at jail first.”
Jenet dusted off her skirt. “Well, I suppose that will just have to do, then.”
Superwoman nodded, tossed the unconscious Microwave Man over her shoulder, and wrapped her other arm around the scientist. Might as well fly her to Minneapolis, the heroine thought, and then after that get myself off to Arizona, since now I’ve missed my flight, too.
And with that, the heroine carried them off into the sky.