Meanwhile, Superman relaxed slightly as his flight and speed remained normal. Strangely enough, that alteration seems to have been nothing more than a temporary lapse, he mused as he started to switch back to Clark Kent. However, with enemies like the Revenge Squad and Luthor in the galaxy, anything is possible.
Before he could complete the change, he heard screams from the studio set. “I don’t need super-hearing to detect those shouts!” he said.
As Superman, he leaped upward and then frowned as he soared into the upper atmosphere. My jump turned into a true flight. Luckily, I can return with just as much speed! he thought as he carefully turned in mid-flight.
He soon reached the Solarman set and watched in concern as the crew and cast raced away from an inferno. Hammond spotted him and said, “Superman, it’s really you! Thank goodness! Solarman’s trying to burn down the studio!”
Superman saw the red and gold figure through the smoke and realized the actor had turned the armored costume’s pyrotechnical powers against the studio. As Superman tried to leap at the new Solarman, he felt a sudden surge in his powers, and he overshot the man and crashed through the stage below. He returned to action without a delay and managed to smother the flames with his cape before blowing others out with super-breath. Some of my powers are still reliable, he thought. I have to finish this before someone is hurt!
Solarman himself shouted in Japanese as he followed Superman and slammed into him with crushing impact. Superman noticed the man’s wild eyes and manic demeanor as he wrestled the now-flaming villain to the ground.
He’s out of his mind! thought Superman. I can’t believe the studio would equip an unstable man with a suit like that! He tried to calm his foe down with placating words in perfect Japanese, but the other man struggled madly and increased the heat of his fiery nimbus.
Last time I defeated Hammond when he was wearing a version of that armor, I did so by overheating it! This new Solarman must have the same weakness, since the armor is the same in construction, if not in appearance.
Superman punched the deranged man across the room and then blasted him with icy super-breath. A near-hurricane-force gust of air sent Solarman crashing through the studio walls as icy sheaths covered the area. For now I don’t dare rely on my heat-vision. I might incinerate him completely without meaning to do more than overload his armor’s systems!
Moving forward carefully, Superman struggled to adjust to his surging levels of power. He nodded in approval as he saw the now-frozen form of Solarman. He shattered the icy prison with a tap that broke the ice into fragments and then gently lifted the stunned Solarman. His eyes were wild. It’s as if he was under some kind of hypnotic spell! The National Police Agency will be able to remove the armor from his stunned form and hold him until I can get some answers. That’s not Hammond’s M.O., but then again I don’t think the former Solarman had anything to do with his replacement’s rampage! In fact, a scan of the area shows an odd energy frequency that is beyond the visual rage of a normal man, but not of a Superman!
Superman waited for a moment until the authorities and certain studio employees, including James Hammond, had reached the scene. “Superman, I had nothing to do with it! I promise you!” yelled Hammond.
“I believe you,” said Superman. “I’m about to get to the bottom of this. You see, I’ve experienced this sensation before, and I know exactly what’s causing it, if not who is behind it!” He flew off, managing to control his speed and direction. His experience and intellect allowed him to adjust to things far faster than any ordinary person. This was only fitting, since he was a champion of the first rank, and under any peril he would eventually triumph.
Doctor Light had reached the source of the energy pattern that she had detected. The scene was one of combat and death as several members of the Justice League of America stood over a body. She recognized the heroes as Green Lantern, the Flash, Batman, Aquaman, and the Atom.
The dead man on the floor wore a costume much like her own. She knew him to be the late Dr. Arthur Light. He had been a persistent enemy to the League for years before his recent death under circumstances much like the ones she was witnessing. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See Justice League of America: Earth Once Removed.]
To her amazement, the heroes and the villain flickered out of view as a scene replayed before her eyes. This time she saw the heroes step forward and confront the startled villain as he tried to reach for a strange machine.
Before he could do so, an emerald beam shot out of Green Lantern’s ring and bored directly though the sunburst emblem on the criminal Doctor Light’s chest. His body fell to the floor as the scene began to replay again.
The heroic Doctor Light’s eyes narrowed slightly, and she flew directly through the heroes and stared at what appeared to be empty space. “Your light-based holograms do not fool me for a second,” she cried. “I also am able to see through your light-distortion field. You are not invisible to me, although you are one I had wished never to see again!”
The holograms of heroes and the villain flickered away as empty air suddenly parted to reveal a rather smug-looking man with a dark goatee and a costume of white and black that matched her own. “Dr. Arthur Light! It is no pleasure to meet you again,” she said.
The American super-villain bowed low and replied, “And yet I am charmed to see you again, my dear Dr. Hoshi. You don’t mind if I use your real name? After all, you so impudently helped yourself to my own legitimate title.”
“My light-based powers allowed me to track you down,” she said. “I can see what you are doing to the light. I can deduce it is for no purpose that would benefit mankind.”
“All that I do serves a higher cause than benefiting mankind,” said Dr. Arthur Light. “All I do is for the enrichment and empowerment of the one, true Doctor Light! I have many old scores to settle, and I have chosen your homeland as the site of my rise to power!”
“Why did you create the light images of your last defeat by the JLA?” asked Dr. Hoshi.
“I did so to commemorate the occasion,” said the villain. “It was a significant moment in my life. You see, in addition to liberating me from certain personal demons that had dominated my life for years, it set the stage for my ascension!”
Dr. Hoshi scowled and said, “You speak as if you were some divinity instead of merely a criminal who has fallen at the hands of every hero he has ever faced!”
Dr. Arthur Light frowned, and he said, “You are wrong. My defeats were the product of my desperation. I once believed myself to be predestined for defeat or death at the hands of my enemies in the American JLA! Early in my career, I used a machine that gave the user a glimpse into his future to discover scientific secrets that would benefit me in my career. I witnessed what appeared to be my own death at the hands of five Justice League members. From that moment on, I was desperate to destroy them before they could bring about my own death. That need plagued me and limited my potential, since part of me always felt that, in spite of my best efforts, I would eventually suffer the fate that my future held for me.”
He smiled and flexed his gloved hands in order to generate a burst of solid light that shoved Dr. Hoshi backward. “Ah-ah-ah! Do not attempt to goad me into a state of inattention,” he said. “I know your kind always tries to stall or distract. My power can counter your own easily.”
The villain cleared his throat and stroked his goatee as he continued. “However, those days are behind me. You see, I’ve overcome death itself, because the death-vision that once haunted me has been revealed to be false! The JLA did not slay me when we last met. They killed a near-perfect light-based construct of my creation. I was present but concealed by a light-distortion effect. The construct was designed to mirror my own expression. Thus, when Green Lantern attacked me after my device failed to remove the captive heroes, my construct fell and displayed the same shock that registered on my own unseen face!
“That shock turned to elation after they left bent on uncharacteristic bloodshed. Such was their haste and their desire for blood that they failed to realize their error until it was too late! By the time they returned, I had destroyed that lab so completely that no body — real or artificial — could be found!”
Dr. Hoshi spoke rapidly and attempted to goad him into making a careless mistake, but he remained calm. “The League informed me of your demise,” she said. “Since you once used my very body as your weapon of revenge, they deemed it a necessary courtesy. They told me you had died at the hands of certain evil doubles brought to your base by an error.”
Dr. Arthur Light smiled and said, “Details do not matter. The end result is that I was liberated from the stigma of defeat and doom that once tormented me. I know now that the death-image that I once feared would be my eventual fate was nothing more than a mistake. I have gained the future. I may act as I wish with no fear of an impending doom! That is why I have decided to take care of some old scores. That is why, dear lady, I orchestrated stage one of my little opus here in your charming land. You see, I want to punish you for your audacity in usurping my good bad name! To you it was a title; to me it is my very identity!”
Dr. Kimiyo Hoshi shimmered into a beam of light but found herself scattered across the room by a defensive lens the evil Doctor Light had activated. As she re-formed, she heard his harsh laughter.
“Very droll, but futile,” he said. “I am not the man I used to be. I am the new and improved Doctor Light, as those Madison Avenue types might put it. Now, to conclude this delightful dialogue, I plan on killing Superman. My reason for choosing this time and place for the execution was to make certain that you would also be on the scene. I knew the Man of Steel was scheduled to attend a press conference tomorrow for the Imperial Studio production now being filmed. That is why I waited until now to achieve my sweet revenge.”