On Earth, a small group of alien soldiers had become separated from their squad. Their communications system was broken, and all they could do was make a desperate stand in a rundown neighborhood in one of America’s great urban centers called Dallas, Texas. Although they came from different worlds, their translator devices enabled them to understand one another.
One of the lizard-like aliens called Gordanians turned to his four allies and said, “We need to find shelter. The living structures in this proximity are abandoned due to age and poor conditions. I suggest we rest within the nearest empty one!”
The second alien came from Kral and clutched a heavy weapon in his hands as he shook his head. “Cower like craven dogs? I say we go down in glory. I say we send as many of the humans to their afterlife as possible!” he said.
The third soldier was a burly Khund warrior. He nodded in approval. “If we do not fight, then how will we survive? We cannot exist among the Earthers nor may we easily conceal our origin. We will be caught and executed if we do not fight!”
The final green-skinned but more humanoid alien frowned. “I agree that we cannot hide for long, but we are tired. Zanak is injured. Let us find shelter for now and plan our future.” They entered a tenement and made their way to a basement.
“Bah! The humans are a decadent lot to leave a structure as sound as this one!” said the Gordanian named Zanak. “They are soft and their very weakness will enable us to triumph!”
Railk the Khund agreed. “I want to make them pay. I want to teach them pain.”
Callis of Kral disagreed. “As do I, but I say we must bide our time. Would you face the champion we have seen on our scanners? Would you pit the four of us against the likes of Superman, Captain Comet, or the Martian Manhunter? While the Green Lanterns are helpless, their allies are assuredly not! Earth has many heroes, and some are famous throughout known space!”
“What of their villains?” suggested Railk. “Earth criminals might be of help to us. Could we promise them wealth when victory is ours in exchange for their help?”
The fourth alien had listened quietly. “Batman. He is the most capable of all.”
Callis scowled. “Batman? I have not heard of this Batman. What is a bat?”
The fourth alien said, “A bat is a nocturnal Earth predator. Batman is a warrior who uses such a creature as his battle crest. He is cunning. He is resourceful. He knows no fear!”
“What are his powers?” asked Railk. “Can he fly? Does this Batman feed upon his victims?”
The fourth alien said, “He possesses nothing more than a keen mind and a superb body. He cannot be defeated by any foe. He will always triumph in any crisis… or so I have heard!”
Zanek raised his gun and said, “I would gladly test my weapon against this Batman’s mind!”
Callis said, “I do not care about Batman or Superman or any of the oddly named heroes. I want nothing more than a warrior’s death or a warrior’s victory.”
“I am hungry,” said Railk. “I want food and rest. I regret ever coming here.”
The fourth alien said, “I agree. We need to rest.”
“You are not known to me,” said Zanek. “You joined us in the heat of battle. You joined us as we fled the destruction of our skimmer. Who are you?”
The fourth alien said, “I am called Dorn. I was separated from my own squad as well.”
Railk remained silent. He was weary, but he was a Khund, and thus he craved combat. He had thought enlisting the Earth criminals was a good plan, and he still did. “I know these heroes must have opposition,” he said. “Some of their own kind must be powerful in order for there to be a need for heroes at all. We could enlist Earth criminals to help us!”
“No!” said Dorn. “They hate the heroes, but they love their world. They will fight us, and they can’t be trusted. We are on our own!”
“We can still win,” said Zanek. “Most of the humans are weak and lack power. In truth, what can a frail mortal do against our alien might?”
They stiffened as they heard voices coming from above.
“We are discovered!” cried Railk. “Use the blaster!”
Dorn grabbed his arm. “Wait. We do not know if they mean us harm. Perhaps they are our allies. The translators make it hard for one to judge merely by sound alone.”
The voices came from four children who had wandered into the building after slipping out of one of the many shelters the Red Cross had established for the refugees of war. A black youth named Harold said, “Superman can kick the aliens’ tails! Just wait!”
A heavyset blond boy named Roger said, “Yeah? He’s cool, but I like Starman. Nobody can mess with that dude! He can blast them right out of the sky!”
Their friend Roy said, “I like Captain Comet. I saw him on the news the other day. He reminds me of the old-fashioned heroes from my dad’s old comics, like the JSA.”
“You and those old comics!” said the first boy. “Nothin’ that old can be any good. Still, Captain Comet’s tough. I like super-heroes, not the kind who just wear costumes and fight well!”
The girl who followed behind said, “I think Black Canary is pretty. I want to be like her!”
Roger said, “Yeah, she’s a babe, but what good can anybody who just kicks high do in a war?”
Before they could continue their discussion, the aliens closed in on them. Zanek said, “Bah! Earth striplings! Kill them!” Railk grunted and raised his battle-ax. Callis moved slowly forward with a razor-sharp throwing weapon. Dorn held back and cursed under his breath.
“I reckon you sidewinders done moved close enough!” said a commanding voice as a new figure dropped down between the kids and the aliens. He wore jeans and a blue shirt with a cowboy hat and boots. His red bandanna covered his lower face. “Don’t be scared none, young’uns. Just ease out of the way, and I’ll hold them off!” The children started to move back, but they watched the cowboy and the aliens as they retreated.
Railk the Khund rushed forward with a bellow as the hero called the Vigilante darted aside and tripped the heavier being with an expert fighting move. As the Khund fell, the Vigilante knocked the ax out of his hand and brought the flat of the weapon down on his head. He rolled across the room as Zanek’s blaster exploded red energy in his path. The flaming beams caught him from the side, and he fell hard, only to fire the guns he carried in an expert barrage of marksmanship.
Zanek grunted and staggered backward as the primitive six-shooters struck precisely through his eyes. He died on the spot as Railk the Khund struggled to his feet and charged the Vigilante again. Callis raised his own throwing weapon and released it just as Dorn slammed into him from behind and wrestled him to the ground. The green humanoid fought the Kralian, although he lacked the other alien’s sheer strength.
The Vigilante saw the unexpected skirmish and tackled the Khund as the brute wrapped his powerful arms around him and strained furiously. The Vigilante felt his bones crack, and the room began to spin before his eyes. He recalled his heroic life as Greg Sanders, singer turned hero. He dropped his now-empty six-shooters and thought for a moment about his heroic grandfather, who had passed the weapons on to the boy when he was merely an admiring youth not much older than the kids who cowered at the foot of the steps.
Can’t let the kids get hurt. Got to play the cavalry one last time, the Vigilante vowed. He slammed his elbow into the Khund’s head and twisted the heavy helmet the Khund wore until it shifted and blinded the alien. The Vigilante felt the pain from the blaster fire that hit his side, but he fought onward and broke free from the brute’s hold. He saw Dorn knock the Kralian out, and he smiled slightly as he tossed himself across the room, grabbed the fallen blaster, and aimed the alien weapon with his unerring accuracy. The laser struck the Khund in the face, and he fell with a thud.
Dorn ran to his side, as did the children. “You saved us! You were awesome!” cried Roy.
“Yeah!” said Roger. “I never saw anybody fight or shoot like that!” The little girl began to cry as Harold held her hand.
“Don’t cry, missy. Y’all will be safe now. That alien’s on our side!” said the Vigilante as he lay at their feet.
Dorn changed form and became a thin human with brown hair and a mustache. “I’m Dr. Dorn, and I’m from Gotham City. (*) Don’t let my alien alter ego frighten you. I took that monster form to help our heroes. I never thought it would be a blessing for me. I fooled them by getting a fallen translator and making them think I was an alien and not just a scientist who turns into a big green monster.”
[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Strange Experiment of Dr. Dorn,” Batman #154 (March, 1963).]
The Vigilante smiled and said, “Thanks, pard. A hero comes in many forms. I sure met some real fine ones in my time. Never was more than a singing cowboy with a desire to help folks out. Guess I did some good in my time.” He touched the little girl’s hand and closed his eyes silently. In a moment, he was gone.
Dr. Dorn said, “I’m afraid he’s dead.”
The children gazed on his body and remained quiet. Tears filled some eyes, and Roger said, “I was wrong about heroes. That dude had nothing more than courage and his own skill, but he saved us all. Roy, you know all about heroes. Who was he?”
Roy shook his head sadly. “I don’t know who he was. I guess he was a forgotten hero, but I’ll never forget what he did today.”
Dr. Dorn, a scientist who had once encountered Batman, knew a few things about heroism, and he said, “None of us will ever forget him. His name may not matter. He was one of the many heroes out there who do good in this world and never ask for thanks or fame. In my opinion, that makes a man like that one of the greatest of them all!”