Batman: 1979: Lights Out, Chapter 2: In the Dark

by Martin Maenza

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At one of the power substations, two night technicians congregated outside near the back door for a smoking break. “I tell you, Larry, if we don’t figure out what’s going on, the boss will have our hides!” one of the guys said.

“I know, Danny!” replied the other. “He’s getting a lot of pressure from the mayor’s office due to so many complaints. Then he goes and chews us out and makes us stay on site until the problem is located and fixed.”

“Perhaps I can be of assistance,” a voice called from above.

The two men turned as a figure dropped down from the trees above the yard, a cape flowing in the midnight air. The startled men relaxed as the figure stepped into light, revealing a costume with a yellow oval and bat-emblem that was easy to recognize. “It’s him!” Larry exclaimed. “The Batman!”

“Doesn’t he usually do his thing in Gotham City?” asked Danny.

“I do,” Batman said, “but sometimes I’m needed in other places. I might have a lead on who is behind the recent rashes of power losses. My analysis indicated that this substation is the likely source of the sabotage.”

“Yeah?” said Larry.

“But first I need to check your systems inside, if that’s all right with you,” the hero said.

The two men considered for a moment, talking amongst themselves. After going back and forth, they concluded that it couldn’t hurt to let the man take a look. After all, this was Batman, a man known for saving the world a number of times both alone and with the Justice League of America. Besides, if he was able to solve the problem, that meant they’d get to go home a lot quicker. It was a win-win situation all around. They escorted the guest inside.

Batman took about an hour or so, checking out every aspect of the transformers and generators. He had familiarized himself a bit with their workings before arriving on the scene, yet he wanted to ensure he had covered all possible angles. Finally, he let out an exclamation of sorts. “Aha!”

“You got something?” asked Danny.

“Indeed,” he said, stepping back a bit. With a thin penlight on his utility belt, Batman shone a beam up along one of the units. “See that tiny mechanism up there in the corner?”

The two men strained, getting the right angle, and then said, “Yeah!”

“That appears to be the cause of your little problem,” Batman said. “It’s a disrupter that’s causing a rerouting of the output electricity.”

“Huh?” Larry said. “So, if it’s there, how come everything’s running fine right now?

“It must have some kind of remote activation system,” Batman explained. “Triggered by a signal that enables its functioning. A second signal then disables it. While it is disabled, everything runs just fine.”

“But when it’s enabled…” Danny said, getting the idea.

“Exactly. Instant blackout!” said Batman, completing the thought.

“So, if we remove it, then the problem’s solved?” Larry beamed.

“Yes,” Batman said, “but the person behind all this gets away scot-free.” He put away his tools and started to cross the room to leave. “I need you gentlemen to sit tight until I contact you. I believe that, in a few hours, our criminal will activate the device once more. And when he does, I’ll track him down.”

“How can you be so sure?” Danny asked.

“This man is greedy and overconfident,” Batman said. “That and he has continued his actions for the last nine nights. I can’t see any reason why he would quit now, especially when he thinks that so far no one is on to him. Please keep this to yourselves until I contact you later. If all goes well, you’ll be out of here in time for breakfast.” And with that, the hero turned and hurried out of the plant.

Larry turned to Danny. “I guess we’re stuck here,” he said. “Got any cards in your locker?”

***

At 4:52 AM exactly, Manhattan was hit with yet another power failure.

And in a hidden lab within the city, a tall man with a wisp of a black beard, dressed in a white costume with black highlights, gloated as the machine in the center of the room began to hum once more. “Excellent!” His grin was wide, and his eyes danced with excitement.

He walked over to the control panel, his white cape trailing behind him. “Just a few more adjustments on the coordinates,” he said aloud to no one in particular as his white gloves worked the knobs, “and then we’ll see if tonight’s power-up cycle can get me all the way to the Vegan system and back!”

The machine in the center of the room was a more advanced model of the one he had developed a number of years ago. Back then, the scientist was trying to find a device that could use light waves to warp through space. In one of his test runs, he was able to open a portal to a planet he would later learn was called Thanagar. Once there, the Earth man discovered other light-based devices. Fascinated by them, he stole them, only to be pursued on Earth later by one of that world’s winged law enforcement officers. (*) This first interstellar theft changed the scientist’s view of the world. No longer was he content in exploring the principals of tachyons, holograms, and other light constructs for the good of mankind. No, from that moment on, the world would know him only as Doctor Light, lord and master of all things luminescent.

[(*) Editor’s note: See “Let There Be Doctor Light,” DC Super-Stars #14 (May-June, 1977).]

Unfortunately, the man had a number of encounters with the Justice League of America; each time the group of do-gooders managed to foil his plots. (*) Just thinking about it upset the man greatly.

[(*) Editor’s note: Beginning with “The Last Case of the Justice League,” Justice League of America #12 (June, 1962).]

“Not this time,” he grumbled to himself. “This time, no one suspects what I’m up to. And by tapping into the electrical grid of one of the largest cities in the country, I can get all the juice I need to power my device. My interstellar crime wave can continue unnoticed by any of this world’s authorities.” He started to chuckle to himself as he entered the sequence.

“The joke’s on you, Light!” a commanding voice called from the doorway.

Just as the archway on the platform attached to the device began to surge with energy, the villain spun around. “Batman!” he spat as he reached for the holster on his hip. “What are you doing here?”

“As my sidekick might be inclined to say, I’m here to pull the plug on your little scheme! Now, surrender.”

“In your dreams, Bats!” Doctor Light said as he fired his gun-like weapon at the hero. A beam of energy seared through the air. Batman dived out of the way with acrobatic skill, barely avoiding the fast-moving blast.

Doctor Light continued to fire away with the weapon at the moving target. “You’re just delaying the inevitable!” the villain said. “Not even your buddy the Flash with all his super-speed can outrun the speed of light forever.”

“I have other tricks in lieu of super-speed,” Batman said as he rolled across the room in a tumble. As he did so, one gloved hand reached into his utility belt. Extracting something small, he then tossed it into the center of the room.

A cloud of darkness enveloped the main portion of the lab, including the weapon-wielding villain and his machine.

“Got the formula for those little blackout pellets from a friend of mine on another Earth,” Batman said, rising to his feet. “That should keep you in the dark long enough for me to stop you!” As he moved, he slipped two infrared lens into the eye slits of his cowl; they would allow him an advantage in the darkness. He wouldn’t get the chance to use them.

The cloud of darkness exploded outward and dissipated in a blinding flash of light.

Batman was caught off-guard by it, and the combination of the flash and the lens left him with spots in his eyes. He tried to steady himself.

Doctor Light stood in the center of the room, a brilliance emitting from his costume. “Ha-ha-ha!” he laughed heartily. “Light dispels your little smokescreen!” He took aim at his quarry. “And it looks like I got an added bonus.” He watched for a second as the hero was hesitant. “What do you know? You’re blind as a bat — literally!”

Light’s finger started to squeeze the trigger. “Is that poetic justice, or what?”

Batman’s hand moved underneath his cape and then flicked outward. A metal object whizzed through the air and embedded into the barrel of the weapon.

“Gaaah!” Light exclaimed, realizing that the energy discharge was building.

Batman was on the move, his eyes still blurry. “Did anyone ever tell you that you talk too much, Light?” he said as he charged up. He swung back his fist, having relied on his hearing to target the villain. The punch was good, but not good enough.

Light managed to dodge, but just barely. An indicator on his weapon illuminated, warning of an overload. “What? No!” The surprise caused him to falter, his foot slipped out from under him, and the jammed weapon went flying through the air.

Batman’s vision was nearly restored. “Looks like you’re through, Light!” He started to reach for the villain.

Light managed to slip out of his grasp. “Nooo!” With no weapon and Batman almost back to normal sight, the scientist-turned-villain realized he was running out of options. He needed to get away, and fast.

The platform!

The villain darted for the platform, where a shimmering portal had opened. As he dived for it, there was a sound. The discarded blaster had hit the floor and skidded to a stop at the base of the control panel for the device at the side of the room.

Batman heard the clicks and realized what would happen next. He dived for cover as the weapon exploded.

There was a chain reaction, and the gun’s explosion caused the space warp device to be damaged as well. Batman was about to rise up from cover when a second explosion — a louder one — happened.

When he rose up, the whole lab was ablaze.

He glanced to the platform, the last place he’d seen Doctor Light before the explosions occurred. The portal faded out of view, its power supply cut. Light was gone.

Even a guy like Light didn’t deserve to go out like that, the Caped Crusader thought to himself as he tended to the flames. But even if he managed to transport himself away somehow at the last second, there’s no way to trail him right now. He somehow knew, in the back of his mind, that when you least expected it, an old enemy would turn up alive again. Such was the nature of the business.

Batman at least had to be satisfied with the fact that he had gotten to the bottom of New York’s chain of power outages. That and he had foiled Doctor Light’s plans.

And, as to what happened to Doctor Light, that was a tale for another day.

Continued in Showcase: Doctor Light: Times Past, 1979: Twenty-Six Light Years from Home

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