Back inside the city of Poseidonis, Aqua-Queen laughed as she kicked down a guard and led the Terra-Man, the Shadow-Thief, Zond, and the Cheetah inside.
Shadow-Thief exulted in his power as he sprang from the walls to attack one man after another. This is living! If I could bring down the Hawks to see me now, I’d almost do so! mused Carl Sands as he recalled his hated foes.
The other-dimensional Terra-Man fired his six-shooters, and laser beams sliced through armor to leave troops dead in his wake. “This heah one-seahorse town ain’t a’gonna last much longer! I gotta hand it ta Manta. He’s a smart hombre!” He laughed.
Zond dodged troops as his illusionary form tricked them into attacking each other. I sense a magical relic in this place. Perhaps it shall make me ruler and not Manta! he thought.
The Cheetah kicked down troops with precise agility. Her catlike grace served her well as her curvy form rolled and jumped and leaped from one point to another — dodging weapon fire and striking down men with as little force as she could exert and still fool her criminal allies. Debbi Domaine thought, How can I stop them? For each one I merely stun, they kill two more! I am in over my head — literally!
Aqua-Queen shared no qualms about force. Her blonde locks swayed as her bikini-clad form charged into guards and broke bones with brutal force. Gone was any hint of the lawful and loving Dale Conroy.
Aquaman bound Naiad tightly and blindfolded her. “Near as I can tell, she can’t work her powers if she can’t see or move her hands,” he explained.
Mera smiled. “The witch thought to best me with my own skills!”
“She learned not to cross a redhead!” He swam on as Mera followed, and they entered the city. Our men have regained their reason since I removed the green-glowing blonde woman, he thought. The monsters are gone, too. All we now need to do is take care of some human troops and the costumed leaders.
He frowned as he heard chaos within the palace. Tackling three men, he delivered several swift but effective blows to fell them. “Who is your leader? Tell me!” he barked.
One battered trooper replied, “The Black Manta and his Crime Champions lead us!”
Aquaman released him and said, “Not that fiend! Mera, stay back! I demand it! Manta robbed us of one child, and I won’t risk another!”
Mera started to argue, then nodded mildly. He little knows the child I carry is Ocean Master’s, she thought. Let him never learn the truth about me!
Aquaman swam onward and heard laughter from within the palace reception hall.
Within, Terra-Man blasted away wildly at ornate sculptures while Shadow-Thief caressed a captive woman, and Aqua-Queen and Zond searched the room for treasures.
“I know the relic called the Reptile Helm is in this building!” said Zond.
Shadow-Thief eyed the oily wizard and thought, Last thing we need is for that reprobate to gain more power.
The Cheetah had crawled through a narrow shaft to the higher levels of the building. Normally a woman of action, Debbi Domaine now curled up in a ball within the shaft and tried to form some plan. I have to find help! Even if I don’t, I must take a stand against them! They are too dangerous to go free! she mused, and then slowly crawled toward their current location.
The other-dimensional Terra-Man sneered as Shadow-Thief’s frightened prisoner screamed. “Cry for help, darlin’! Nobody’s gonna stop us!” he said.
Aquaman kicked open the huge double doors and said, “That’s where you’re wrong, cowboy! I’m going to stop all of you!”
Terra-Man grinned broadly, “Wall, I reckon this heah town ain’t big enough for two o’ us!” He aimed his six-shooter, and Aquaman hurled a vase in his face. As the laser blast went wild, Aquaman was upon him. He punched him across the face and twisted his futuristic gun out of one hand with a viselike grip on the space outlaw’s wrist.
Shadow-Thief shoved the girl he had been holding aside and prepared to choke Aquaman from behind. Aquaman spun around, and Terra-Man’s second gun went off directly in Shadow-Thief’s chest. Sands gasped and fell backward in shock.
Aquaman struggled with Terra-Man for another minute before connecting with three rapid blows and leaving him stunned on the floor.
Aqua-Queen shrieked and jumped on his back. “Aquaman, I hate you more than ever!” cried the powerful blonde.
Flipping her to the ground, Aquaman said, “Dale?! What madness has possessed you?” They collapsed to the ground, and the wizard’s hastily muttered spell failed to work. She clawed for his face, and he reluctantly lifted her off the ground to hurl her into Zond’s arms.
Completely ignored now, Sands moaned on the floor and gasped, “That crazy cowboy shot me!”
Aquaman gripped Zond and said, “Where’s Manta?” Zond tried to escape via an illusion but whined as Aquaman slapped him across the face. “My mind is too strong for your tricks. You can’t hide from me. Now where is Black Manta?!” he demanded.
Aqua-Queen rose to her feet and gasped, “Your room!”
Aquaman shoved Zond into her again and rushed upstairs to confront the Black Manta. “It’s over! I’ve defeated your Crime Champions, and you’re next!” he shouted.
Black Manta turned and lifted a shining helm from Mera’s trunk. “This little ancient relic makes me the winner! I planned on using the Champions to occupy you while I found this, or something like it. Vulko spilled his fat guts about such treasures and the legends of lost Atlantis. Oh, yes, I killed him. He never died in the last battle you had with your brother.”
“You lying scoundrel!” cried an enraged Aquaman. “I’ll stop you even with that fancy helmet!”
“You never did study up on your little home beneath the waves, did you?” said Manta reproachfully. “Too busy playing good guy and bad guy with your JLA buddies? Well, this Reptile Helm is from the era predating Atlantis itself. It gives the user unlimited power!”
Mera burst in then, dragging a battered Aqua-Queen by her long blonde hair. “I found this tramp sneaking up the stairs!” she began as her green eyes widened with fear.
“She knew about the helm. She had it hidden here without your awareness, I see! Trouble at home since I killed your brat?” laughed Black Manta as Aquaman stared at his wife in dismay.
Aquaman said, “Mera, is this true? Why did you hide that foul thing?”
Mera pleaded tearfully, “My love, I only sought your fame to grow!”
Black Manta said, “And she has needs, too, blah, blah, blah… Now shall we continue, or do you want more soap opera beneath the sea?”
Vulko entered with Arion and Kole Weathers, and Vulko cried, “Aquaman, beware of him! That helm may rob men of their very souls! Mera is a traitor, too!”
Aquaman greeted his friend with shock. “Vulko, alive? Thank goodness. But how can you say Mera is disloyal?” he muttered.
Kole gasped, “Look out!”
Black Manta took that moment to strike. His red eye-beams lashed out toward Aquaman, only to strike Mera as she flung herself in his path. She glowed brightly, then vanished with the words, “Forgive me, my love!” ringing in the empty air.
Aquaman screamed in anger and pain. “Mera! You murdering savage! Can you never leave me in peace?” he gasped.
“Arthur, perhaps it was the helm that controlled Mera all along,” suggested Vulko.
Arion stepped forward. “I shall remove the helm now! You remove Manta!”
Black Manta sneered at them all. “Kill me if you dare! I just achieved all I could have dreamt of! Aquaman, you lost another loved one to me! Remember that all the days left to you… before I finally return to kill you!”
Aquaman charged him as Kole hastily blocked Manta’s eye-beams with a crystal shield.
“To me, helm!” cried Arion, and the Reptile Helm floated from Manta’s hand to Arion’s, glowing green and lurid in the room. Arion said, “It is as I feared. Manta has freed the spirit within the helm by the blood he just shed. If we do not act now, a far more deadly evil than this mortal plotter shall be our ruination!” He turned and said, “Kole, spin your crystalline creations now as I mentally instruct you! I shall channel that fiendish eldritch fire from within the helm along your crystals. Do not fail me, girl or all is lost!”
The spunky New Titan nodded and concentrated to spin or weave the crystals she shaped as Arion channeled a dark and deadly magical force that poured from the helm. Vulko watched wide-eyed and shocked by all that had occurred.
Aquaman struggled with Black Manta as he released the agony of loss he had experienced once more. “Manta, I’ll kill you here and now!” he said as he shattered the ominous helmet Manta wore.
Meanwhile, Zond staggered to his feet and met the Cheetah as she bounded down from above. “Kitty! Good. All is lost! Let’s flee this scene of defeat!” he cried.
Terra-Man was still out cold, and Shadow-Thief pleaded for help. “I’ve been shot! Can’t any of you help me?” he gasped.
Zond turned to his enemy and said, “You wanted to rid this team of me! You called me a loser! Now who is the winner? Sands, I leave you alone to die!”
The Cheetah snarled low in her throat. Zond turned and gasped as she pounced on him and raked him with claws gleaming. “You sick monster! This is for every caress! You really thought I could stomach the sight of any of you?” said Cheetah as she tore into the wizard. He staggered free and struggled to conjure any illusion. She kicked him in the face and said, “I know your foul scent. Your incense betrays you!” He fell over Sands, who was trying to turn into a shadow.
At that moment, Lady Lunar zoomed into the room. “I was knocked out and swept out to sea. None of you came to my aid, but I shall save you now that you may better serve the moon!” said the blonde. She blasted at Cheetah, who danced aside and watched as Lady Lunar carried off Zond, Sands, and Terra-Man. Cheetah started to charge her, but fell short as green-hued energy lanced out to envelope her. “Feel my madness! I give you sweet lunacy! Now, come, my dear!” said Lady Lunar as the Cheetah’s eyes widened, and she knew no more. She fell into the glowing field and vanished with the rest.
Meanwhile, Arion gasped as his energy left him and he said, “‘Tis done! I’ve banished the spirit of the Reptile Helm back to the realm of the ancients who once ruled the world beneath the waves before Atlantis sank. Are you all right, Kole?” He held her as she fell into his arms.
“I’ve never tried to create so much… so fast! Did we win?” she sighed.
Arion held her. “Indeed we did, but now we fight a more pressing battle. The battle for one good man’s soul!”
Aquaman pummeled Manta senseless and cried, “You took my son! Now you’ve taken my wife! Why do you hate me so?”
Vulko touched his arm. “Arthur, let him go. You’ll kill him. Without his helm and his Champions, he is no menace.”
Aquaman shook off the old man’s hand. “Vulko, he killed Mera! I can’t live with more loss!” he said.
“Control yourself, hero!” commanded Arion. “I told you once that Mera would bear you a noble child, a daughter who promised much good for Atlantis. Did you think me wrong?”
Aquaman dropped Manta and turned to gaze at the Mage. “How can this be? What do you mean?” he said.
“While the helm’s threat, which I predicted long before, blinded me to much around me, I can now tell you that the woman Black Manta killed was not your wife and not the mother of the child I spoke of!”
“She tried to kill me,” said Vulko. “She allied herself with Ocean Master! She wanted you back on the throne! Perhaps she was under the helm’s influence even then?”
“Nay!” said Arion. “She only found it recently. I know when it was first unearthed from its coral resting place. She was mad and wanted you as king with her by your side as queen, but I tell you she was not Mera!”
“By Neptune!” cried Aquaman. “How could we be so blind! She was Mera’s twin sister Hila! She had to be. It had been years since we last saw her, but how else could she fool me so completely? She was twin to Mera and bride of Kandor. Kandor was her warrior husband, and they remained behind in the realm from which they originated when Mera came here to live with us.” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Trap of the Sinister Sea Nymphs,” Aquaman #22 (July-August, 1965).]
“Of course!” said Arion. “That explains it. Mera’s twin took her place after I first detected your unborn child. Mera and the child still live, and we shall rescue them!”
Aquaman nodded. “Take Black Manta and his band of killers away. I’ll not rest until Mera and our unborn baby are safely home again!”