Later, as Lois Lane and Lana Lang sat across from the burly man in a hospital waiting room, he ran a hand across his face and gathered his thoughts. Lois now wore a skirt, heels, and a blouse, since she had changed out of the red and black costume earlier, while Lana waited for the ambulance to pick up the wounded Tawny Young. “You said your world died, yet you seem so human. What planet are you from?” asked Lois.
“That’s just it, lady,” began the balding man, “I come from good ol’ mama Earth! Or should I say I’m from one of a couple dozen Earths. Parallel Earths, as my egghead buddies call them, used to exist before most of ’em died!”
“You come from an Earth that was destroyed in the Crisis!” said Lana.
“Crisis?” he said. “I guess you could call it that. I call it murder, ’cause plain and simple-like, Earth was murdered by a group of madmen!”
“Who are you?” asked Lois. “Start from the beginning.”
“OK, lady, you got it,” he said. “My name is Len Rothko. During my days with a certain biker gang, I acquired the nickname Big Daddy. I guess you don’t have to be so formal, though. You can just call me the only survivor of planet Earth.”
“Are you some type of super-hero?” asked Lana.
He grinned and said, “Me? Oh, yeah! I’m a real Doc Strong! Too bad I was not a cape and mask type. Maybe I could have done more than watch my friends and my world die! On my Earth I belonged to a law enforcement agency called the WEB. We fought the good fight with armored battle-suits and certain modifications to our bodies. Those little tricks didn’t help any when what you so deftly called the Crisis hit! You see, first the skies turned red. They were as bright red as what is left of my hair. Then we started having weird time-warp moments. Dinosaurs roamed through the cities, and spacemen fired blasters at bewildered cowboys. It was a real trip, as my pal the Sunshine Kid might have said. Then, while we good-guy types were trying to find the reason for the chaos, a group of killers banded together and very neatly wiped out every hero on my world before finishing the job by destroying Earth!
“You got to understand that while the WEB tried to find solutions to the weirdness, a band of punks broke out of jail,” he continued. “The strongest prison on our world was run by a guy named Weatherbee, yet his technology spelled his doom. You see, that’s how it really started. Some inhuman creeps with more of the machine than the man about them got together and took over the jail. They freed the inmates and organized them with military precision. That’s ’cause their leader was an ex-soldier! A power-mad renegade with a hatred for one good guy recruited a bunch of cyborg killers and used them and other super-creeps to hunt down all the heroes!”
Big Daddy sighed and said, “You ever heard of a place called Los Arenas, Nevada? On our Earth it is… it was the gambling center of the USA. Well, there’s a real irony in the fact that in that place a hero called Blackjack finally ran clear out of luck! He was a strong, agile, cocky do-gooder in a colorful costume and a mask. We never did figure out who was behind that mask, but we knew he was one of us in spirit. Well, he suited up like we all did when the red skies started. He figured he could punch a few heads, kick in some teeth, make wise, and save the planet. That was the way those missions had always gone before. Why was this one so unlike anything we ever faced before? Maybe it was ’cause this time we were being hunted down by an evil group who didn’t care none about ending the world if they could take us down first!
“Blackjack darted across the neon signs over Los Arenas, and he figured he could solve the mess and still catch Dino at the Sands by midnight. Well, he was wrong. He was dead wrong. Blackjack didn’t go out in a blaze of glory. Blackjack didn’t throw one punch or make one quip. He just stepped out on a roof, and a gold-costumed freak named Volt came up behind him and electrocuted him right there on the stop. Yeah, Blackjack’s corpse lit up the night sky, and then he was dead.”
“I’m sorry,” said Lois. “I’m so sorry.”
Big Daddy looked at the female reporter with world-weary eyes, and he said, “Honey, the story gets worse from that point on.”
Meanwhile, a young man waited anxiously outside a huge, T-shaped building on the Hudson River. He hovered in the air and watched as several costumed figures emerged from the odd structure. That’s the one I’m supposed to stop! he thought. With that one gleaming eye, he looks as bad as those jerks Mann-X, Inferno, and Maxx-13. When I think about how those monsters killed Mom and Gramps, I want to just die myself, but I guess, like it or not, I have a job to do here. He noticed the silvery metallic black man laughing as he shoved a green-skinned boy, while a pretty girl in a leg-revealing white gown and high heels smiled rather demurely.
“Victor, we are being watched!” she cried as she looked directly up and spotted the boy. “I feel a palpable wave of emotions!”
He sighed and then dived down with surprising speed to scatter the three youths and drive the pretty girl to her knees with the vibrations from his wings. “Hate to buzz-bomb a babe, but I can’t let you two humans stop me from trashing your robotic pal!” he cried. He slammed into Cyborg, alias Vic Stone, as Raven cried out in pain and Changeling, alias Garfield Logan, shifted his form from a green boy to a soaring green hawk.
“Don’t worry, shiny! I’ll run interference for you!” said Gar. His hawk form dived at the attacker in green and gold, but he was far too slow, and the more agile flying youth evaded him and smacked him with a stinging blow.
Cyborg frowned and raised his own arm as his white sound blaster roared into effect, and the swooping boy yelped in pain and tried to counter the attack with his own vibrating wings. “Don’t know why you got it in for me, but I’m not about to let you hurt my friends!” said Cyborg.
The Fly, for this was the attacker’s name, said, “Loyalty to your friends makes you a cut above the cold metal killer I was told to expect, but not by much!”
Raven reeled as she tried to stand up. She knew the sonic attack had left her equilibrium off, but she was strong-willed, and she had powers beyond easy definition. She frowned as her empathic nature allowed her to feel the Fly’s pain. He was clearly attacking them out of some sense of justice. He was not evil, but he thought they were. Before she could react, Cyborg had received a right hook that knocked him flat.
“You know, for a guy who dresses like something that that should be afraid of a can of Raid, you’re pretty tough!” quipped Changeling. He became a green gorilla and grappled with the Fly, but even his sudden increase in power couldn’t hold the battling youth. Gar thought, Man, for a scrawny guy, this bozo is strong! He kind of reminds me of that Spider-Man character from the comics!
The Fly broke free and started to close in on Cyborg, when his world went dark, and Raven’s soul-self enveloped him. He cried out and then fell to his knees as the beautiful girl released him, and she sat up nearby. He had been overcome by her power and her sensitivity.
“We mean you no harm!” she said. “You have been hurt, and you have suffered great loss, but we are not your enemies unless you make us so!”
The Fly shook his head and then rubbed his hand across a gleaming amber orb that comprised part of his costume. He whispered something and then transformed into a blond boy of around fourteen years old. “I guess I was wrong!” he said. “I don’t know if I can trust you or not, but I sure don’t want to fight anymore. Won’t bring back my mom.”
“You’re just a punk kid!” said Cyborg. “You aren’t even as old as green genes, here!”
“If my Earth was still around, I’d care about keeping my secret, but what does it matter here?” the boy said. “I’m Jason. I call myself the Fly. I tried to be a hero back home, and I failed. I messed up and lost my family and my whole world. I don’t know how I ended up here. I think it had to have been some kind of mistake, but I was told that if I didn’t stop the Cyborg, then this Earth would die like mine did!”
“Who told you this?” asked Raven. “Who directed you here?”
The boy ran a hand through his unruly blond hair and said, “I don’t know! It was just some kinda feeling, or… what do you call it? Compulsion! It directed me here and let me see Cyborg in my mind. I guess some foe of yours wanted me to hurt you. I’m sorry! I guess I don’t know what I’m doing anymore! I can take you to where I first arrived on this world.”
Raven stepped forward and gently hugged the boy as he began to weep. “Let us help you,” she said. “We are called the New Titans. If you came from another alternate Earth, then it must have been lost in what we call the Crisis. If someone has tried to use you against us, then we’ll need help in finding them and making things right.”
“Yeah, I can see you guys aren’t bad guys,” said Jason. “I’d like to help. My life isn’t worth much now, anyway.”
“Look, kid, turn back into that crazy Fly form, and we’ll fix things up,” said Cyborg. “Nobody likes being played for a fool. If you need friends, then we’ll stick by you.”
Jason nodded, and as he touched the amber amulet he said, “I wish I was the Fly!” He then transformed into the powerful, green-and-gold-costumed, winged form of the Fly and listened as the three Titans told him about themselves and their Earth.
Elsewhere, in Cincinnati’s Ault Park, Blossom and Cliff Steele strolled along with three women. All of them wore coats, or in Cliff’s case, a coat and a hat. Cliff was pleased to be with his old friend Celsius, alias Arani Caulder, and he was equally intrigued by her allies from the Outsiders, Halo and Windfall.
“You know, it is kind of nice the way super-teams are springing up these days,” said Cliff. “Back in my misguided youth, if you couldn’t get the JLA or the Doom Patrol to help you, all you could do was fall back on guys like the Challengers of the Unknown!”
Halo smiled winningly and said, “Who? Weren’t they on that old TV show Incredible People?“
Windfall, another cute blonde teen, nudged her friend playfully and said, “I think we’re a bit behind on our super-human history. Tatsu will have us scanning data when we get back to base!”
Blossom watched the two girls with a look of curiosity on her pretty features. “Windfall, you control air, and that is one of the four primal elements,” she said. “Blossom is in touch with plants and the earth. However, you seem oddly grounded, if Blossom may use that word.”
Windfall smiled and said, “Blossom, I am into my element, too. Nothing makes me feel so safe or so free as drawing upon the winds to carry me above the troubled world below. You know The Wizard of Oz? I was always excited but never scared by the cyclone. To me it was a liberating thing taking Dorothy to adventure and a land of love. I guess I was unhappy in my own home back then and wanted to escape over the rainbow, too.”
Celsius, an attractive Indian woman, said, “Cliff, I wish Valentina could have been here as well. She was called away on some personal errand. She does keep her secrets, even now.”
“Well, you know what they say,” said Cliff Steele, “you can take the girl out of the KGB, but you can’t take–“
His words were interrupted as a snarling female form leaped out of the trees to rake at his metallic form with razor-sharp claws. He staggered backward as the woman’s sheer strength and savagery forced him to lose ground.
She was tall with a flowing mane of midnight black hair, dark eyes, and a pretty if feral expression. She wore a costume of dark red and orange that left her feet bare. “You are a man of metal like Maxx-13, but while he was a good man with a human heart forced to do evil, you choose to harm others!” she hissed. “You are heartless, and I will stop you!”
“Somebody put the cat out!” said Cliff Steele, hurling her through the air, then glancing down to see the damage she had done to his body. Deep gashes marred his chest where her claws had torn into his metal.
The others had reacted instantly as well. Windfall gestured, and her control of wind currents swept the feline woman into a tree. If she had not used that control to move her foe, the amazingly agile woman would have twisted in midair and landed in perfect safety.
The woman snarled, revealing animalistic teeth. “Blossom will not let you hurt Robotman!” said Blossom. Concentrating, she caused the green grass to suddenly erupt into a binding net that constricted the woman’s movements and held her tightly for a few seconds before she tore free in a blinding, quick display of savage skill. Her feet and nails ripped through the grass, and she pounced at the startled Blossom until a flash of fiery energy drove her to the side.
“Celsius, keep her moving until I can get the right range!” called Halo as her friend’s heat or cold blasts did exactly that.
The catlike woman said, “You defend this monster, but his kind destroyed my world. Why do you help him do the same here? It is madness!”
“Look here, Miss Kitty, I’m no monster, although I admit I look the part!” said Cliff. “What do you mean by my kind? See, around these parts, I’m one of a kind!”
The young woman hesitated for a moment, then gasped as Halo’s green stasis aura enveloped her. “You can’t move!” said Celsius. “Now calm down and tell us who you are.”
“She is called the Jaguar! Her real name is Maria de Guzman. She has a primal link to the natural world, and it is expressed by her transformation into the were-beast named Jaguar. She wrongly thinks Robotman is a bad guy. I was sent here to try to stop her from making a mistake. You see, Captain Comet has been told of a great deception being practiced upon this girl and others like her.”
The words came from the Enchantress as she appeared before the heroes and explained her mission. They listened as the pretty blonde in the brief pink tunic tried to calm the still-angry Jaguar. “Maria, I know your name,” she said. “I know this because the spirit of the late Black Witch from your world has told me and my friends of your plight. The one who brought you here and ordered to you to attack Cliff Steele is using you. This man of metal has no connection to the cyborgs and robots who cost you a world.”
Slowly, the Jaguar lowered her head and shuddered as if in pain. “Forgive me!” she said. “I do not understand myself! I do not know what drove me to hunt you down! I can’t even say why I was chosen to survive the end of my Earth!”
The Enchantress helped her to her feet and said, “We will help you find the answers, and if they do not please us, we will bring you justice.”
“You gals with us?” asked Cliff Steele.
“Of course!” said Celsius. “We will see this through to the end.”