by T Campbell
“ROOOVAAA-AAA-AAA-AAA!” the communicator bellowed.
Rova Barkitt was in her full Yankee Poodle costume and riding one of her stripe-slides down Follywood Boulevard. A high-visibility patrol was good for public safety and for her personal brand. She almost lost her balance because of the Captain’s volume, but she took the tone in stride.
“Dahling, did you mix up another bad batch of carrots? Are we having a steroid moment?”
“Did you just sell the comic-book rights to the Zoo Crew to BC Comics? Without even mentioning it to the rest of us?”
“Well, I told Byrd, dearie, but we have a non-disclosure agreement. For you, it was a surprise present! I even put in a good word for Rodney! There’s no need to thank me, though I suppose if gratitude really moves you, you could describe me in your next interview as ‘wise beyond her years’ and ‘practically the deputy leader.’ You know, just find a way to work it into the convahsation–”
“Gratitude? You just made a truckload of money off the team–“
“From the comic-book rights? Don’t ovahstate things, now! Video games and movies are where the real cashola is, and I’m still negotiating there. This is no truckload. It’s more of a suitcase-full of money.”
“Rova, we’re heroes! We can’t put ourselves up for auction like this! And anyway, our secret identities–“
“Dahling! Honey! Snugglebun! I have been nothing if not forthright about this! When I joined, Byrd and I negotiated full media rights to the Zoo Crew. Now, I do the job. I’ll stop bank robbers, fight super-villains, get cats out from under fallen trees, and unlike a police-dog, I won’t ask for a cent. But journalism, even celebrity journalism, is not always the most lucrative profession — shocking, I know! — and even a heroine needs to pay for her chow! Have you seen the price of caviar these days?”
Rodney Rabbit sighed. Growling about this clearly wasn’t getting him anywhere, and she was trying to be generous. In her way. “All right, Rova, I… appreciate that you thought about my career here. But it’s going to be a challenge to maintain my secret identity if I’m the one who’s drawing the adventures of–“
“Hey, Super-Squirrel gets away with reporting on himself, right? And Spider-Ham does, too. Besides, sweetcarrots, you’re a comic-book artist; it’s not like you have that much of an identity to lose in the first place.”
“Some of us like privacy, Rova! Not everybody wants to be famous!”
Rova gaped at the communicator, no longer paying attention to where she was going. Then she fell off her stripe-slide and onto a beach, where she rolled to a stop, then continued to roll over and over, laughing and laughing and laughing.
Just when Rodney was about to hang up, the sound of thunder cracked through the cloudless sky. And both on the beach and in Rodney’s studio, the Zoo Crew communicators emitted the familiar nine-tone chime of a distress signal. Rodney glanced at the communicator. It was Rubberduck, calling from Byrd Rentals’ movie set. Pig-Iron was already on the scene, so if Byrd was requesting additional backup…
“We’ll talk about this later,” said Rodney. If Rova heard his teeth grinding through the comm channel, she gave no sign.
“Of course we will, dahling,” said Rova, already building another stripe-slide and blasting off in the direction of the call. “And if you need any creative input on that first issue, just remember: Rova’s a giver!”
It was just as well that a second peal of thunder drowned out Rodney’s reply.
The second peal of thunder echoed through the roof of the Z-Building. Timmy Joe Terrapin woke with a start, realizing the comm in his wrist was sounding the distress signal.
So was Alley-Kat-Abra’s, but as he got up, it seemed to him that she hadn’t heard it, or even the thunder. She was focused on something Timmy Joe couldn’t see or hear. “Oh, by the nine lives of Maur’iss… Zeu?” she whispered.
“Zeu?” she said again, louder. “Zeu?”
Timmy Joe could only think of one thing to say to that.
The second peal of thunder rattled the windows of Rodney Rabbit’s studio as he finished eating the carrot, his chest muscles reaching diamond hardness as he pulled down his top. His trunks had already been on under his clothes, and he kicked his pants into a surprisingly neat pile in the corner where his shirt and glasses already lay. Rodney was master of the quick-change.
Chester Cheese was not. The Super-Squirrel costume clung like underwear, so he just put his suit on over it. Pity the poor S-S costume: Chester had just sealed its doom. “I’m not sure I get why you’re upset with Rova,” Chester murmured.
“What’s to get?”
“Well, you love super-heroes, dude. All the Crew members love ’em enough to be them, of course, but you love ’em like most rabbits love…”
Don’t say “breeding,” Chester thought. Don’t say “carrots.” Wait, is there any way I can finish this sentence that doesn’t sound a little bit racist?
“…dental hygiene!” Chester was happy with his solution for a few seconds. Then he realized it actually sucked, and the self-loathing began anew.
“I’m still not following.”
“It just seems like being your own super-hero and also drawing your own adventures would be, you know, living the dream.”
Captain Carrot picked up Little Cheese gently and let him grab hold of his cape before answering. He walked out into the Z-Building hallway and started to get a running start, heading for a window that was opening automatically. “The thing about pulling your dreams into reality is that reality pushes back. The Zoo Crew doesn’t like it when I measure them by the Just’a Lotta Animals’ yardstick as it is.
“Yeah, writing and drawing super-heroes is fun, but there’s deadlines and editorial demands, and sometimes the story just comes out all wrong, and I’m not lookin’ forward to explaining to Fastback that I didn’t mean to make him sound that dumb, but we needed a joke on page five to break the tension, or for Felina to critique how I draw her figure.”
“You could always ask her to model.”
The Captain seemed to go into sort of a fugue state at that suggestion. His communicator chirped with a fresh signal.
“Captain, this is Abra!”
“It would be purely professional!” Rodney shouted.
Abra was calling — Abra. And he was Captain, because they were on duty. They were being professional. “Go ahead, Abra.”
“I’m en route to Rubberduck’s distress call. Tell everyone else to fall back. That includes Pig-Iron and Rubberduck, if possible, but believe me when I say that you must not charge in there and give them backup! The consequences would be dire!”
“Break that down for me fast, Abra. It sounds like you’ve got an idea what we’re up against.”
“I do. And if I’m right, then this has to be defused peacefully. If this is Zeu, and if he’s provoked into a fight… then believe me, it won’t matter how many of us are there.”
How many was that, again?
Doctor Hoot knew the answer, of course. He was a genius; it followed logically that he knew how to count. But he enjoyed pretending he didn’t, just for a moment, just long enough to review the beauty of that number all over again.
He did not count himself among his own gang of Crew Cutters. He had no need to engage the Zoo Crew directly, and would be busy enough coordinating his real plan. So Randall Boggs was one, Emoticat and Marmadoge, two and three, King Kone, four.
Xiao Liwu, a deceptively cute female panda in ninja clothes and the deadliest martial artist in the Northern Hemisphere, had made five. The money had seemed almost incidental to her: she only wanted to prove herself against Alley-Kat-Abra. That was fine by Hoot. But to challenge Abra, you needed some way to disrupt her infernal magic.
The walking, winged unicorn known as Unisys the White (or Force Horse, if you really had to go there) could fly and claimed attunement to the mystic forces that make up the world. He also claimed his bridle was a symbol of the power of darkness to which he had pledged himself in exchange for knowledge of the worlds — all worlds. That made six.
Keeping the Captain’s attention for those critical first few minutes of the battle required a villain with as grand pretensions as the Captain’s own pretensions to heroism. The stagey, Irish shepherd would-be master conqueror, Rex Imperium, fit the bill. Emoticat would target the Captain from there. Seven.
The super-fast Cheshire Cheetah was ridiculous and oh so very Brutish (as in someone from Great Brutin, not someone like a brute), but he was still the best single piece of insurance against Fastback, and he’d do just about anything for $70 million, so that was eight.
Just to guarantee victory there, Hoot had let in Whirlybird as well. She was a new face to super-villainy, without much crime on her resume except some action during the Crisis of Infinite Animals, but her tornado-making powers could counter Fastback’s long enough for Cheshire Cheetah to finish the job. Nine.
Baxter Barker was positioned close to Pig-Iron already and had some intriguing gadgets — not at Hoot’s level of tech or even Cold Turkey’s, but showing enough low animal cunning that he could distract Pig-Iron long enough for Kone to move in. That was ten.
Then there were the regulars: Digger O’Doom, the Squawker, Armordillo, and Solar Bear — sad, revenge-obsessed creatures without vision, but their base desires could serve him well. They were dependable for these types of operations, even if the track record of super-villain teams in his experience was quite poor. (*) Hoot had added an extra condition to their employment, though: they had to engage certain opponents first, and not generally the opponents they would naturally prefer. Yankee Poodle had too much experience against the Squawker, and so on. This basically took care of the rest of the Crew. Abra and Fastback were the biggest concerns, as they could use their powers to remove other members to safety, and the group, always a bit contentious, would be helpless to strategize without its leader.
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Crisis on Earth-C,” Captain Carrot and His Amazing Zoo Crew #14 (April, 1983), “Crisis on Earth-C-Minus,” Captain Carrot and His Amazing Zoo Crew #15 (May, 1983), Captain Carrot and His Amazing Zoo Crew: Times Past: The Return of A.C.R.O.S.T.I.C., Captain Carrot and the Zoo Crew: Storm Warning, and Captain Carrot and the Zoo Crew: The Big Breakout.]
Hoot had reluctantly passed over the giants, Jailhouse Roc, Kongaroo, and Frogzilla, and stayed away from newer monstrosities like Cujo Crackskull and Neo-Frankenswine. (*) A little part of him mulled over the intellectual challenge of bringing back the Bunny from Beyond, but that would have been a complete disaster for the same reason. (*) Too much potential collateral damage. He wanted to rule this world, not end it. So it appeared he was more or less topped out at fourteen.
[(*) Editor’s note: See “And Now… A.C.R.O.S.T.I.C.,” Captain Carrot and His Amazing Zoo Crew #3 (May, 1982) and “The Bunny from Beyond,” Captain Carrot and His Amazing Zoo Crew #6 (August, 1982).]
“Sigh,” he said aloud in his lab, which was spotless after an inspired spring cleaning. “I suppose it will have to do. I would prefer three-to-one odds instead of merely two-to-one, but I suppose there are no guarantees in this life–”
He slapped his forehead. “Oh! Of course. How hoo-hoo-hoo-hoo-hoo-hoo forgetful of me!”
He pressed his remote.
In the lab’s basement, seven Salamandroids’ eyes blinked on and off, steadily, twelve times each, and then began to glow with artificial life.