“I welcome you, James B. Olsen,” she said. “I am Madame Xanadu, and I sense you need succor of a kind I may offer freely this day.”
Jimmy gulped and said, “Yes. I mean, I have been feeling kind of down lately. I seem to lack my normal will to carry on. Everything seems empty,” he said all at once.
She touched his sleeve and led him to a table where she sat down, crossed one bare leg, and gazed directly into his soul.
Haunting eyes with heavy eyeshadow and luminous appeal bore into Jimmy. “You must let the cards reveal what troubles you,” she said, and spread out an odd assortment of colorful cards before him. She frowned and said, “This problem can best be overcome at the source. We must be strong and fight the negativity that hovers about you like some parasitic fiend. James, we need to journey to the heart of the darkness that radiates from the Daily Planet itself!”
Even as Jimmy’s dilemma was made known to the exotic beauty called Madame Xanadu, the Daily Planet Building was the site of terrible turmoil. The entire staff suffered in silent agony from troubles of mind and soul. And all the while, a being grew ever stronger from their fears and guilts. Lois Lane was the first to see the creature.
Lois was been hit hard with worries about a woman’s role in modern society. She wondered if she had surrendered her femininity for success and began to uncharacteristically doubt her very purpose in life.
“I’m single, and I’m not getting younger,” she whined. “I have no romance in my life. Superman and I never quite connected, due to the demands of our lifestyles. Other men feel unworthy or are scared off by my ambition and strength. Am I ruining my life by this relentless drive for greater success?”
This was not the typical response of a woman who had brought down crime-lords, super-villains, aliens, and wizards. Something was stimulating the small nagging doubts that Lois normally suppressed, ignored, or dismissed out of hand.
That something wore a black and red uniform with a weird crimson scarf that left it apparently devoid of facial features. She gasped and sank to her knees as the figure drew closer. It seemed to radiate the crippling emotions that were even now surging through her own mind.
“You are less woman than genderless drone,” he hissed in a tone that seemed very persuasive to Lois. “What good will achievement be if you have no one to share life with?”
If the beautiful woman could only have peered like her sometime-lover Superman through the walls of the Planet, she would have seen the same type of scene being played out in every corner and office of the skyscraper.
The same man in red and black, or his counterparts, stood over suffering employees everywhere in the complex. They seemed to grow more solid and brighter with every moment and every tear that fell from their victims.
Madame Xanadu and Jimmy gazed within a mirror that seemed to link her shop with the world far beyond the confines of the small store.
“See the Planet where an ancient bane lives or seeks to live anew!” she said as her elegant fingers with their long purple nails caressed the mirror.
Jimmy nodded. Having this woman touch him seemed to dispel his doubts. “The place is haunted,” replied Jimmy. I mean, that’s the story. A printer or apprentice died there back in the nineteenth century, and his ghost supposedly guards the building yet. His name was Josiah Odets or something.”
“It is not poor benign Jeremiah Odets who troubles the very spirit of the building,” she said in a soothing tone. “It is one who was born at the dawn of time — a being of darkness and despair who embodies these emotions. He feeds upon the doubts and sorrows of humans, and he has chosen to use the anniversary of Odet’s own death to stake a claim upon the Planet. It is the fact that it was the site of a death and holds a spirit still that enabled him to do so. Your fears come from him. He touched you all when you were in the Planet, and his icy touch lingers upon your soul even as you wander. It was fortunate that you were brought to me.”
“This monster, this demon feeds on the bad vibes he has given us? How can we stop him? We’d better call in Superman!” said Jimmy. “I can handle punks like King Cougar, but only the real deal can fix this kind of trouble,” he said as his signal watch began to sound.
Zee! Zee! Zee! echoed the signal as Superman stopped his flood-relief work in Asia and flew off toward his pal’s distress signal at super-speed.
Jim’s in trouble! he mused. That means I’d better head back to the Planet for the first time this week. My vacation abroad better end quickly.
“Hold it! Why is Superman coming toward the Planet instead of coming here?” asked Jimmy as he gazed into Madame Xanadu’s mirror.
“He goes where the need is greatest,” she explained. “It is through your connection to the source of the evil that he is led to where I feel he is most needed.”
Jimmy wondered just what type of powers or magic this mysterious beauty exercised.
Superman approached the Daily Planet, and a quick x-ray vision scan revealed the peril within. A spoiled co-worker named Percy Bratton suddenly jumped out his window high above the street.
“Great Krypton!” the Man of Steel muttered as he swooped in and positioned himself to catch the falling man. “Easy there, Percy. Don’t fight me. I’m here to help you, to make things right,” he said calmly.
Percy blinked, and even in the grip of despair, comfort from the greatest hero of the JLA itself brought him hope. “Can you really make me feel better? Can you stop the pain? No one likes me!” he whined.
Superman placed him safely below and said, “You have a friend in me. Remember that.” He shook his head. Poor Percy usually goes through life oblivious to doubt because of his family ties to the board. Odd that he could be so shaken up — not that he’s alone.
The Man of Tomorrow entered the Daily Planet and gasped as he felt the pain radiating from his closest friends. “A physical barrier of emotion hitting me!” he gasped and struggled forward. No heartbeat from those creatures, and no true features beneath those scarves, except those of the very victims each one is hurting, he realized.
Superman said, “Leave these people alone. If you want to hurt anyone, try hurting me!”
The red and black beings flickered into one and turned toward the hero. “I am Retribution — the soldier of my brothers Despair and Guilt!” he hissed. “I gladly face you on their behalf, for your mere existence is a constant source of pain to them! You fight their works with every beat of your heart and each breath you draw.”
Superman stepped closer, eager to keep the creature’s attention away from the recovering staffers. He used his heat-vision to activate the sprinklers, and the spray of water worked as he had hoped. The staffers fled the building as they would have done under the circumstances of a normal fire.
The being called Retribution struck Superman, and even though he carried little mass, the pain was great.
Superman winced. He’s attacking on more than a merely physical level. Pain is not something I’m used to. So many poor people suffer, and yet I’m immune to so many pains and diseases. It’s not fair. He moved back. “Why am I special? Why should I have lived when my parents… my world died?”
Retribution laughed and gripped Superman’s throat. He hissed again in a dead tongue, “Die! You and few others carry your world’s culture, and yet you choose to hide it benath a mortal facade!”
The words were in Kryptonese, and Jimmy Olsen understood them as he watched from afar via the mirror. “We’re both here in the shop and there, too, somehow. Can’t we help him?” he pleaded.
Madame Xanadu stood before the mirror. “I must lend him aid as best I can, but the fight is his alone to ultimately win or lose,” she said. “Superman, you do not need this survivor’s guilt. You are not just the last son of Krypton, but also Earth’s greatest champion! Embrace your past, but do not let it cripple you. You should feel no guilt about surviving your people and your world. Rather, know that your doing so has made a difference in the lives of countless beings across space and time,” whispered Madame Xanadu as waves of power crossed through her mirror and threatened to sweep the beauty aside. She stood firm, however, and lent strength of self and renewal of hope to Superman.
They watched as Superman stood up. “This ends here! I don’t know what name to give you — Retribution, Despair, Guilt — but I know that I am stronger than you. We all are. The inner resources of humanity may be tested by your ilk, but ultimately hope triumphs. Life always beats death!”
He struck at the red and black being, who withered under the assault. With every blow, he shrank, and Superman found more power to fight. Madame Xanadu held the mirror and watched as her psychic or spiritual gifts supported what was already a rock-hard foundation of hope and faith within Superman’s heart.
The figure of Retribution screamed and vanished, even as relief swept across the Daily Planet.
Jimmy Olsen turned to embrace Madame Xanadu in her store. “You did it! You freed us all of the bad feelings. Superman did it in person, but I know you helped him,” he said.
Madame Xanadu led him toward the door. “That is what I do. Always.”
Jimmy smiled and walked toward a flight home as Superman received the thanks of Lois, Perry, Meg, and other suddenly restored Planet staffers.