In the hidden undersea lair called Styx, Black Manta addressed his Crime Champions. He wore his customary black costume, and his helmet gleamed in the light from the base’s artificial illumination.
“I want you all to understand exactly what we’re going to do. I gathered you all to attack the city called Poseidonis. It is the home of my most hated enemy, Aquaman. It is also the source of fabled wealth. Magical relics are there as well as beautiful women. All any of you could want may be found there. It is devoid of super-heroes except for Aquaman and his pregnant wife, Mera. Oh, he has his hangers-on, too, including Aqualad, Mermaid, and Dolphin. They all come and go, but I fear none of them, and neither should you.”
The Terra-Man from a magic-based dimension grinned and rubbed one rough hand across his unshaven face. “I reckon a fella could get mighty content down there without lawmen ta tussle with!”
Black Manta nodded toward the extra-dimensional outlaw. “That is exactly my point. If we remove the king of the seas and his mermaid bride, then we shall assuredly dominate the world below the waves!” he said.
Zond, a bearded man with dirty hair, long fingernails, and a weird robe, clutched at a woman in front of him. She was a brown-haired beauty in a tight, animal-print body-suit. “Cheetah, my pet, I shall use the lost arts of Atlantis for my own empowerment, and you shall be my mate!” he whispered.
The Cheetah resisted the urge to claw the dirty wizard’s robe in half and smiled. “What more could a girl want? I’m in this for the thrills!” she said.
Debbi Domaine was playing a role of her own. She had joined the Crime Champions only to try to stop them at their secret base. Now, however, she was in too deep, both literally and figuratively. She hoped her ally Mayflower, who had first involved her with the team of rogues, could get help and would still believe in her in spite of the fact that in the battle between Mayflower’s Force of July and the Champions, Cheetah had been forced to get rough with the British beauty in order to fool the Champions.
It’s a good thing I have the proverbial agility of a cat, since for days now, I’ve been dodging Zond’s hands and Terra-Man’s hands and Shadow-Thief’s hands! she mused. I’ve been the object of larcenous affection for all three of the creeps, and it has been more than I could stand at times. I’ve had to flirt with them all, when all I really want to do is tear into them like a wildcat!
Next to her stood Shadow-Thief, the gaunt, solemn Carl Sands. He had the ability to turn into a living shadow and enjoyed using his abilities in a variety of ways. He loved frightening his allies, and he enjoyed women. He also had a dislike for Zond.
Lady Lunar was an ex-astronaut-turned-super-powered-fanatic who vowed to use her cosmic energies to bring glory to the moon, which gave her the power to turn people into lunatics, and which could weaken Superman himself. The alter ego of Stacy Macklin was a cool blonde in a green and gold costume. She relished action for its own sake.
Naiad could use water to create anything she wanted. Diana Lyon was a platinum blonde with a rough side and a craving for power. She wore a white costume and heavy makeup.
Next to her stood their newest ally, Aqua-Queen, a blonde woman in a gold bikini. (*) Her name was Dale Conroy, and she could survive beneath the waves without the use of the Serum X, which allowed all the others to breathe water. She was also stronger than a normal human. Her powers came to her when Black Manta capriciously merged her genes with those of an alien aquatic woman called Romana from the planet Angor. Now Dale was superhuman, and thanks to Zond’s magic, the former one-time heroine was as evil as any of her captors turned partners.
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Aqua-Queen,” Adventure Comics #274 (July, 1960).]
Black Manta enjoyed this irony since she had once been friendly to Aquaman. He hated Aquaman far more than he could admit. This was not just a power play. It was bloody revenge. Manta had killed Aquaman’s son. He would gladly slay anyone Aquaman loved. He hoped to slay Mera, Aquaman’s pregnant wife. He hoped he could do so while Aquaman watched helplessly. He also wanted to rub it in Aquaman’s anguished face when he revealed that he had earlier captured Vulko as well. Vulko was Aquaman’s old friend, and it was his knowledge of the sunken city that had been forced out of him by Manta in order that the villain could more easily make his grand attack. Now, however, he was no longer useful to the undersea scourge.
“Vulko has served his usefulness. Kill him!” he commanded some of his uniformed troops.
“Aye, sir!” they replied.
Black Manta clutched his fist and said, “Now, if all is in order, prepare to attack!”
In the city of Poseidonis, unsuspecting of the attack to come, a happy hero reclined in a huge, ornate shell bed with a lovely woman in his strong arms.
Aquaman was content. He had his new role as champion of Poseidonis and New Venice, and he had his wife and a daughter soon to be born. He caressed Mera’s long red hair, and she gently stroked his bare chest.
“My love, would you not enjoy returning to your rightful throne?” she cooed. “Vulko is dead, and Arion is still away!”
Aquaman frowned and kissed her. “No, I’ve told you. No. I want Arion to rule. I am going to raise our child and be with you and help my cities. That’s plenty for the son of a lighthouse keeper. Why, I’ve even found new family since I rescued the Sargasso Sea victims from the nightmarish dimensional trap. I freed Captain Strong and the rest. My own aunt, my mother’s sister, is free now. She is happy, and I find something in her that reminds me of the way I thought my mother was.”
“She is lovely,” mused Mera. “Odd how she and the rest of the Sargasso victims did not age over the years in which they were locked in that phantom realm.”
Mera wanted her husband to regain his kingly role. She had killed men and plotted with one of his worst enemies, his half-brother the Ocean Master himself, in order to make the city need him. She was also the one who had engineered the removal of Vulko from the throne. She had left Vulko’s body beneath countless piles of rubble, and no one knew that he had in fact been abducted by Manta. Mera had seduced Ocean Master in order to get him to attack his noble sibling at the right moment. All had been done to glorify Aquaman and make his people give him back the throne he no longer craved. Even the child within her had come from Ocean Master and certain dark magicks she had embraced of late, which had also had the side effect of causing her to carry the child for an unusually long term. She had found a relic of lost Atlantis called the Reptile Helm, and she had hidden it in her room for future use. Perhaps, she thought, it could control her stubborn mate and help the redheaded beauty become queen once more.
Aquaman sat up suddenly. “The secret of their ageless state is simple. They were wraiths for all the time of their imprisonment. I suppose it was Orm’s madness that led me indirectly to free them. I suppose I could say his death was partially responsible for their freedom.”
Mera cooed, “You do see the good in all!”
Aquaman shrugged. “I’ve stared into the abyss too long. I’m a changed man.”
Mera smiled. “And I’d have you no other way!”
Meanwhile, even as the seductive sea queen worked her charms upon Aquaman, a figure watched them, flickering in and out of sight like some will-o’-the-wisp of the sea. The being’s purpose was unknown, yet it seemed to radiate a strong passion of some type, and this feeling came from the scene of seduction it witnessed.
Another unlikely pair traveled beneath the sea in a magical sphere created by the one and marveled at by the other. The creator was a handsome man with long, auburn hair and a red and blue costume and cape. His name was Arion, and his legend was awe-inspiring to all who lived beneath the sea. He had been the hero of heroes to those who once lived in the City of the Golden Gate before its destruction eons ago. He hoped to save the city called Poseidonis once more from a newer evil he had detected. His ally was a young woman named Kole Weathers. She wore a short costume and had reddish hair. She was a New Titan, and she knew the work of heroes well. Now she clung to Arion and tried to listen as he spoke in musical tones of magicks wonderful to comprehend.
“Kole, all Atlantean magic is based upon one of two principles. Magic either comes from crystals or is spun of fibers or threads that weave unseen through the cosmos. You, fair maid, combine the twain within your mutated form. You can conjure crystal constructs and weave them as you will. Thus I need you to help me stop a mad force from ruining all that survives of my long-lost home!”
Kole nodded and hoped she was up to the test.
Meanwhile, the uniformed troops led a struggling Vulko toward a portal on one level of the Styx base.
“The sharks out there will feast on this fat old man!” laughed one guard.
“Have you no mercy?” cried the weakened Vulko. “I have wronged no one!”
“Their kind has changed little since the Golden Gates stood fast!” said a voice as a star-shaped glyph blazed across the wall, and Arion, High Mage of Atlantis, entered the base.
Kole stood close to him, and at his command she generated a crystal slide that enabled her to bowl over the two startled troopers as Arion freed Vulko.
“I sensed your peril as I passed this foul place. What transpires here?” he asked the old king.
Vulko smiled. “Thank Neptune you arrived, Arion! This is the base of Black Manta — a scourge to our people for years on end! He abducted me after Mera herself attacked me! I fear our former queen is mad!”
Arion frowned. “She carries a child with much promise for Atlantis. I would have known if any mental illness lurked within her seemingly flawless form and keen mind. My own sibling once used her as a host, but he is trapped and far from her. I’d best hurry and restore the order if it may yet be saved.”
“What of this place?” asked Kole. “Troops are everywhere!”
Arion nodded. “Aye! Perhaps I should seal it so they cannot leave. Are any others imprisoned here, friend Vulko?”
Vulko shook his head. “No! They are all villains!”
Arion nodded. “Then, by Deedra’s Chain, let this structure lose all portals of access!”
In a flash of magic they vanished, leaving the huge complex of troops trapped within their own base.
“We shall attend to them at a more opportune time,” vowed Arion as he and Kole led Vulko toward Poseidonis.
That city was under attack as Naiad used her powers to turn the very water itself into a horde of monsters who rampaged through the barriers of the underwater realm. “Hurry! My concentration is required to sustain them,” said the platinum blonde in white. “I can do nothing else while I control my watery beasts!”
Black Manta nodded. “It should suffice. Lady Lunar, turn the city’s defenders into madmen, if you will!”
Lady Lunar smiled, and her energy-field glowed as she soared higher, while waves of pulsing light bathed the hastily assembled city militia. They began to fight with each other as chaos broke out, and the watery monsters charged past their very midst.
Black Manta grinned and said, “Excellent! Now, Aqua-Queen, lead the others as I instructed. I have business with the champion!”
Mera, who wore a filmy green dressing gown, frowned as a sounds of war reached their chamber. “My love, what new peril threatens?” she said as they rose in haste.
Aquaman drew on his famous orange shirt and said, “Whatever it is, it must be serious! Sounds like World War III out there!”
The hero rushed forward and soon learned of the city’s peril. He sent troops out to man the breached walls as he took command.
“Mera, stay here,” he said as he touched her gently. “It’s bad. Monsters and costumed thugs are attacking the city. Our own men are fighting one another. I’ve got to restore order somehow. Take care of little Nautica.”
“If you are in danger, then surely my place is at your side!” she said. Mera had done nothing to engineer this attack, unlike the one by Ocean Master, yet she hoped that his sheer heroism might lead her beloved husband back to the throne she craved so desperately. Kandor, if you could see how high I’ve climbed and how far I’ve fallen! she thought.
Aquaman charged through his loyal men as they attacked one another furiously. A mental call summoned scores of fish to separate the madmen as he accessed the situation. Thanks to Neptune, my fish obey me more loyally than these madmen! he thought.
He was attacked by a looming creature made out of solid water. He reeled from one blow and rose again to slam his fists through the creature’s altering form. “It’s semi-solid. Watery when it wants to be, then solid as a rock,” he said.
The sea king frowned as four more circled him, and he mentally communicated with the aquatic life around him. “So they are being controlled by a woman! I’ll have to take her down to stop her pets,” he vowed. “Another woman is creating the madness in our men. They hover above in such a way that it’s clear they are doing something from afar.”
Aquaman moved with the speed and grace of a proven warrior. Effortlessly, the king of the seas dodged the creatures and swam with furiously speed toward the gleaming form of Lady Lunar. Can’t say I know her, he mused. But that greenish glow looks oddly like kryptonite! He spotted Naiad as well as she perched atop a coral reef. She’s in pain. Must take all her energy to control those liquid nightmares, he thought.
“OK, ladies, let’s see how you do against a Justice Leaguer!” he said grimly.
Aquaman drew closer to the women. One was a platinum blonde and wore a white body-suit that exposed her legs and arms. The other, a golden blonde, wore green and gold, and also revealed bare legs, but her face was masked by a helmet.
“Look — the hero arrives to save the day!” laughed Lady Lunar. “Or is he going to embrace the joys of lunacy?” She gestured, and her energies expanded toward him.
Aquaman gasped as thoughts of violence reached his aware mind. He saw death, felt hate, and recalled the losses he had experienced. His mother had deserted him and returned only to threaten his very life. His father had died of a broken heart because of their family troubles. His sibling Orm had embraced a life of madness and crime out of jealousy of his own abilities. He had lost his beloved son and alienated his partner. His wife had vanished more than once and had left him on occasion. His team had fallen due to his neglect. It was all too much. Aquaman finally fell on his face as it contorted with rage and pain. Lady Lunar placed one hand on a shapely hip and laughed at his plight.
But he rose to his knees and then to his feet. His trembling hands closed into fists, and his keen mind probed the ocean’s depths. He resumed an expression of calm and valor. He was no maniac. He was not beaten. He was a hero, and he would always triumph.
He forced his way toward her grinning, mocking form. “I am in control here! Witness my power!” he said. A whale slammed into Lady Lunar from behind as a wave crested and swept her away. “Good. Distance broke her spell. My men are free! That whale should sweep her miles from here.”
Naiad cursed the loss of her friend and said, “Die, wet-head!” Her hands shaped the waves like a sculptor creating from clay. Horrid snakes erupted from the waters to surround the hero. As he gripped one and tossed it away from his muscled form, another drew nearer. Naiad laughed, “I can keep this up all day!”
Mera swam up, and with one gesture from her elegantly poised hand, the snakes burst apart. “What you make from solid water, I can unmake!” she said regally as her red tresses blew in the watery sweep of tide and wave.
Aquaman smiled. “That’s my wife. I’d be afraid if I was you!” He moved with the speed that was his alone beneath the sea and tackled Naiad. Two quick blows left her knocked out. “Thanks, Mera! You saved me some time!” he said, grinning.
Mera kissed him. “As ever I serve you with my life itself.”
Aquaman embraced her and said, “Now for the rest of their team!”