by T Campbell, Doc Quantum and Comickook
It was raining in Los Antelopes that morning, hard, driving rain that turned hills to mudslides, ricocheted off city streets, and put directors on their cell phones to cancel shootings for the day.
Alley-Kat-Abra walked the streets, drawing her cape and hood around herself. Her powers could keep her warm in the stratosphere, even deep space. But today she was cold.
Something was wrong. Something had been wrong all day.
Overhead, the thunderboomer cracked and rumbled, setting Magic Wanda’s nerves on edge and even making Abra twitch. Abra was walking, not levitating, out of respect for the Queen of the Sky, who was spraying to mark her territory. The Queen was usually kind to Abra, rubbing gently against her and purring encouragement as she and Magic Wanda practiced their martial aerobatics. But today, even the Queen’s friends would know to steer clear of her.
The thunder screamed again. Odd. The Queen sounded… afraid.
Something was coming.
The time off had been a good idea, Roger Rodney Rabbit reflected.
The Zoo Crew had been almost completely exhausted after their last adventure, which had been more like a war than their usual police actions. (*) And Rodney hadn’t exactly improved their mood when he’d passed on the victory feast to get back to his comic-book deadline. When he’d asked for their help inking panel borders, they’d been about ready to skin him with a rock.
[(*) Editor’s note: See The Oz-Wonderland War #1-3 (1986).]
Where had that image come from? They liked him. He knew that. And the next day, they had known that when he said, “I know we need to rest and recover a bit, guys. Take the next three days off from patrols and meetings,” he really meant, “Sorry I’m such a complete putz sometimes.”
Rodney flexed his own stiff shoulders and plopped back onto his carrot-shaped bed. He wasn’t hating this downtime, either. The deadline was behind him, the cosmic carrot garden was tended, and the week’s worth of groceries were in the refrigerator and the pantry. There was nothing to do but relax and let his mind drift… over to the next few plots of Just’a Lotta Animals, of course. Work was play to Rodney. He closed his eyes, letting his brain bunny-hop from scene to scene, traveling between worlds.
The Crash trying to find an enchanted chocolate in a land where everything was brown, with his underdeveloped sense of smell…
Batmouse and Elongator swinging their way through the city, the world-famous Elongator asking Bats for a special favor…
Wonder Wabbit tying up an ogre, her back muscles rippl–
Rodney cut that one off rather sharply, pushing himself to think about Felina Furr instead. He couldn’t be sure, but it seemed like she’d been avoiding him after the war, after they’d discovered their feelings ran a little deeper than the professional. They needed to talk, he decided, and soon.
Super-Squirrel and Firestork examining a portal to the magical land of Nod. The younger, less experienced Firestork was the one who had found it, and Super-Squirrel was over him, browbeating him, making sure this jumped-up little firedrake understood that just because he knew things that Super-Squirrel didn’t, he’d better not start getting any ideas about who was in charge here.
Rodney opened his eyes, frowning. What was with his imagination today? Sure, Super-Squirrel was a blowhard, he knew that, but he wasn’t some bullying, paranoid…
Can’t trust a single stinking one of them. They’d stew me alive if they–
Rodney leaped to his feet. He hadn’t thought those words. But he’d imagined himself thinking them. Was he having some kind of nervous breakdown? Was he a few dirt clods shy of a warren?
For a heavy moment, he had nothing to do but think about that. When Abra — Felina — interrupted his thoughts with a signal alert, it was a relief.
“Be on guard, Captain.”
“On guard against what?“
“I have… a feeling.”
“A strong feeling? Strong enough to call off our vacations for? Because I will. If you feel it is. I trust you, you know.” Was he babbling? He was babbling.
“Yes… no… yes. Call them in. If nothing happens in the next hour… I’ll apologize.”
“I appreciate that, Felina. Over and out.”
He started signaling the Crew, relieved to burrow back into his other work. Everything was simple there, and the only problems were criminals with colorful costumes and severe anger management problems. He was so relieved, in fact, that he almost didn’t notice that she still wasn’t calling him Rodney.
“It was awfully nice of you fellows to put me and my friends up for the last few nights,” said a tall, gawky-looking figure dressed in a purple jester’s outfit.
“Aw, shucks, Myron,” said Fastback, “’twas nothin’! An’ Byrd’s off shootin’ Duck to the Future right now, so he don’t really need his room. Plus, y’all’re the first humans ah ever met who seem to fit in here on Earth-C, ‘cept’n your height an’ all, o’ course.”
“I’m afraid the rest of the world doesn’t agree with you, Timmy Joe,” replied Myron. “Why, just last night Athena and I stepped out to the local McDonwald’s — er, MacDarnold’s — for a bite to eat, and everyone just stared at us. Some of the older women seemed to be shocked to see Athena’s furless skin under those bunny ears, while others were trying to figure out just what the heck I was. I just kept on telling them I was a hairless primate from Walla Walla, Washington, but that only seemed to raise more questions.”
“Ain’t that the place where they got a ton o’ washing ta do?” said Timmy Joe Terrapin.
“For the last time, Timmy Joe, no!” The jester-like figure paced on the floor as he thought about the time he had spent on this world so far. “I mean, I’ve always felt a bit out of place back home in Megalopolis, but I’ve never really felt like an oversized freak anywhere until now.”
“Walll, I hope we kin help you find your way home soon,” said the half-shell hero. “But meanwhiles, as my maw always says, ‘Our nest is yore nest.'”
The Inferior Five had been transported away from Earth-Twelve many months ago now to the world known as Earth-One back during some big, otherwise pointless event involving an unnamed alien and time travel, and they’d been trying to get back home ever since. (*) Unfortunately for them, as a side effect of the original, small-c crisis that had taken them away from Earth-Twelve in the first place, they had been bouncing back and forth between various fictional worlds like a misfired cue-ball ever since. It wasn’t until they landed on Earth-C in Rodney Rabbit’s studio a few days ago that Alley-Kat-Abra could drain away the excess chronal energy that was at the root of the problem. (*) Abra had tried to send them back to the proper world, but she was forced to give up after several mis-tries. Now Myron Victor, the leader of the Inferior Five known as Merryman, had to wait until a way could be found to bring himself and his teammates home.
[(*) Editor’s note: See “There Shall Come a Gathering,” Showcase #100 (May, 1978) and “Oz Well That Ends Well,” The Oz-Wonderland War #3 (March, 1986).]
The strange thing, though, about their sudden appearance on Earth-C, was that they were only the latest in a string of cross-dimensional visitors, including Starro the Conqueror, Superman, Bow-Zar the Barkbarian, Just’a Lotta Animals, Gorilla Grodd, Changeling, and the citizens of Oz and Wonderland, not to mention all the time travel that went on because of the Time-Keeper. For some reason, Captain Carrot and his amazing Zoo Crew had come to realize in their attempts to send the Inferior Five back home, the dimensional walls had been weakened in recent times. They had been fairly lucky in that their visitors were either allies or were defeated through teamwork, but it was growing apparent that something much, much more dangerous could very well cross over at any time.
A beeping in Fastback’s shell suddenly alerted him to the fact that the Zoo Crew was being paged. “Aw, shucks! There goes my vacation in Grizzlyland.”
“Can the Inferior Five be of any assistance?” asked Merryman.
“Naw, you folks enjoy the hospitality of Earth-C while you’re here,” replied Fastback as he began to leave. “Maybe we kin show you around a bit better when I get back!” At that, he disappeared in a blue streak as he raced toward the meeting room.
Merryman’s own beeper went off suddenly, and he realized that Dumb Bunny and the others were impatiently calling him to join them in the undersized tour bus parked outside where they’d been waiting.
The Menagerie Cage, Earth-Reverse-C:
Ultra-Rabbit and Fantastidrake had been joined in the Nasty Menagerie meeting room by five other oddly attired animals. One was a black-furred female tabby cat carrying an ominously glowing wand in her right front paw and garbed in a gold-colored, ancient Egyptian-style tunic, toga, and battle helmet, as well a blood-red cape along with a matching belt, which had a golden lariat attached to it. Another was a large male pig with metallic purple skin garbed in a navy blue pinstripe suit. Still another was a short male mouse garbed in a dark blue, double-breasted, long-sleeved shirt, light-blue dress pants, and a pair of black boots. Next to him was a male turtle garbed in a dark green bodysuit and black gloves with large, nasty silver blades attached to them, much like the blades covering the turtle’s back shell. Finally, there was a white-furred, female poodle garbed in black dominatrix-style bra, panties, gloves, and boots, as well as a bright green ring on her right index finger.
The female poodle was the one who broke the silence, shouting, “Why the (censored) did you (censored) feel you had to (censored) drag me away from all of my male slaves? All I can (censored) say is that it had (censored) better be (censored) top-priority (censored) important.”
“You shall not address almighty Ra in that disrespectful manner, Swanky Poodle,” the female tabby replied in a dangerously angry voice, her green eyes glowing in threat.
“Oh, really? And just what are you going to (censored) do about it, Katastrophe?” Swanky Poodle said in a smug tone. “You know I know all of your (censored) weaknesses and (censored) have enough (censored) evidence on each and every (censored) last one of you to put you all away for the rest of your (censored) lives. In the (censored) event of my death, that weakness knowledge and that evidence will (censored) appear in (censored) hands you wouldn’t want getting ahold of that (censored) information!”
“Why do you insist on calling me Katastrophe?” she shouted angrily. “The name is–“
“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” the large metallic pig said as he stepped in between Swanky Poodle and Katastrophe. “I like a good cat and dog fight as much as the next wise guy, but I think we should get back to why the boss rabbit and the bird-brain called the meeting!”
“Iron Pig is right. If you two are going to fight, let’s at least wait until we can get a tub of jello prepared,” the male mouse said with a lustful leer aimed at both females. He had grown to twenty feet tall to help Iron Pig break up the fight between Katastrophe and Swanky Poodle, his suit growing just as he did due to its having been coated in special chemicals designed to make his attire more elastic.
“OK, now that Iron Pig and Big Cheese kept our two lovely but lethal ladies from killing each other, let’s get back to the purpose of the meeting. All yours, boss,” Fantastidrake said with a bow aimed toward Ultra-Rabbit.
Ultra-Rabbit finished eating a carrot following the two-hour warning timer on the watch he was wearing; the timer warned him when he had just two hours left on his previous cosmic carrot charge, since he liked to give himself some margin of error so that he could maintain the facade that the carrot diet was merely a quirk of his. “We called the rest of you here because we uncovered the existence of another universe — one with animals similar to ourselves, in ability if not in goals,” he said to the group. “This alternate universe has also had, in recent history, a rather significant number of comings and goings from other universes. With this number of otherworldly comings and goings, it is clear that these animals may very well pose a serious threat to us unless we end the threat early.”
“Hey, alternate universe visits have actually been kinda beneficial to us, Ultra-Rabbit,” the turtle said thoughtfully. “I mean, the powers we all got from the super-charged asteroid chunks produced by Ultraman and that energy barrier made us a force to be truly feared, and the power we stole from the Crime Critters the first time we fought them made us even more formidable than we were before. Admittedly, we didn’t have that sort of luck with them when they returned for a rematch just three days ago after Ultra-Squirrel, Superbunny, Owlrat, Johnny Quickshell, and Power Ram all found ways to duplicate the powers they lost fighting us the first time. On top of that, they recruited Chaos Canard, Birdeye, Sundown Salamander, Rubber Worm, and the Martian Aardvark to assist them. Even with Big Cheese joining us just before that rematch, we were still outnumbered ten-to-seven. If it weren’t for the power we stole off the Crime Critters the first time we fought them, we wouldn’t have had the power to prevail against them in the rematch, and even then the rematch was noticeably closer than the original battle.”
“Precisely my point, Slashback,” Ultra-Rabbit said simply. “We’ve been lucky on the other-dimensional visitors score so far, but our luck can’t last forever. We have to eliminate our counterparts quickly to ensure our luck doesn’t run out this time.”
The Z-Building, Earth-C:
The Zoo Crew had also fully assembled, with Captain Carrot beginning truthfully but regretfully, “Sorry for calling you all back here so soon after our last adventure, but Abra detected a major menace coming this way — major enough that she has assured me it is worth ending our vacations prematurely.”
“Awww, don’t sweat it, Captain,” Little Cheese said simply, with the rest of the Zoo Crew nodding agreeably. “We know you wouldn’t have called us all in unless it were an extreme emergency.”
“‘Sides, as nice as Myron ‘n’ his bunch are, their presence does shore ’nuff suggest the dimensional barrier is gittin’ weaker ‘n’ weaker still, so she’s not the only one who’s been gittin’ a bad feelin’ that sum’thin’ truly wicked is coming this here way,” Fastback added.
Suddenly, in a flash of light, a familiar figure appeared in front of the assembled heroes. “Excuse me, but I presume you are the Zoo Crew,” stated the familiar-looking owl, garbed in an unfamiliar but powerful-looking green suit of high-tech battle armor. If there was one thing they could always count on, it was the inevitable return of the self-proclaimed greatest inventive genius of all time.
“Of course we’re the Zoo Crew, but you should know that by now, Doctor Hoot. After all, we put you away enough times,” Rubberduck retorted. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: Beginning in “The Secret of Easter Bunny Island,” Captain Carrot and His Amazing Zoo Crew #5 (July, 1982).]
“Yeah, and don’t think that green metal playsuit is gonna save your hide, either, Hootie,” Pig-Iron said as he charged the armored owl.
Casually, Doctor Hoot blocked Pig-Iron’s punch and lifted him high up into the air, then replied matter-of-factly, “I half-anticipated some skepticism on your part, but this measure of hostility was not expected. I assure you, while I may look exactly like the Doctor Hoot of your world, I am not him. Rather, I am from an alternate universe and am, as you would say, one of the good guys.” And he gently put Pig-Iron back onto the ground.
“A quick mind scan has verified this Doctor Hoot’s story. He is from an alternate universe, and he is on our side,” Alley-Kat-Abra stated simply. “He has come here to enlist our aid in defeating a group called the Nasty Menagerie, which is basically an evil version of our own Zoo Crew.”
“Indeed, I am speaking the truth, madam,” the Earth-Reverse-C Doctor Hoot replied truthfully. “I think that we could all help each other in this case. Be warned, however. The Nasty Menagerie has also become aware of your existence and will stop at nothing to stop you before you stop them.”