by Martin Maenza
It was about a half-hour ago that Mike Mauser was down at the warehouse district. No, he wasn’t doing his usual business of digging for information in criminal investigations. The short private investigator, whose face reminded most of a rat, was seeing off his two good friends as they were about to leave on their honeymoon.
“You sure you guys don’t want to just go to Vegas?” Mike asked. “I know a guy who knows a guy who can get you a good deal on the trip.”
“I don’t think so, Mike,” the blond-haired male said. He was dressed in an orange costume with a white belt and yellow gloves, boots, and trunks. Einstein’s formula for relativity was scrawled across his broad chest in yellow. This world knew him as the action-hero E-Man.
Snuggling in E-Man’s arms was a voluptuous red-haired woman. Her costume, which resembled a one-piece bathing suit, was also in orange with a similar color combination in accessories. A yellow star burst was the logo on her chest. “Alec really has his heart set on a slow exploration of the solar system,” Nova replied.
“Maybe you should take a break yourself, Mike,” E-Man suggested. “Didn’t you say there was an annual detective convention coming up soon?”
The private eye shrugged his shoulders. “Yeah, I think there is. Maybe I will do just that.”
“That’s the spirit,” E-Man said. Nova nuzzled him once more and whispered in his ear. The blond hero smiled and said, “We’d better be off!” The couple stepped back and used their unique powers to convert themselves from matter to pure energy. Then, in a brilliant burst, the newlyweds shot off into the evening sky and were gone with a twinkle.
Mauser decided to head back to his apartment.
The cab barely pulled away from the curb out front of Mike’s dwelling when the private eye heard a loud explosion. He turned toward midtown Manhattan where the sound had come, only to see the New York City skyline light up in a brilliant burst. “What the hell is going on?” he wondered.
Many of the millions of inhabitants of the Big Apple were wondering the same thing. And they wouldn’t like the answer.
In the Sentinel Building, the Manhattan headquarters of the Sentinels of Justice, the alert board was lit up like a Christmas tree. A faceless man wearing a light blue business suit and fedora approached it. “What’s happening out there, Peacemaker?” asked the Question.
The brown-and-white-uniformed hero with a round white helmet glanced back and forth at the readouts. “This is unreal!” said the Peacemaker, who had come out of retirement when the red skies appeared on Earth-Four six days earlier. “According to the reports we’re getting in from Sarge Steel, the city is under attack!”
“By who or what?” the faceless crime-fighter asked.
“That’s the interesting part. According to this, dozens of costumed super-beings are attacking the city and causing massive destruction. The thing is, except for a few like Doctor Spectro and the Madmen, most of these people are unknown entities. Steel is scrambling, but his files are turning up zilch.”
“I’ll call in Captain Atom, Blue Beetle, and Nightshade,” said the Question.
“Better call the other reservists, too,” said the Peacemaker.
“We should find anyone we can,” the Question agreed. “E-Man, Liberty Belle, the Phantom, and any other active heroes and heroines would be useful.”
“Yes,” said the Peacemaker. “And I’ll use my contacts at the U.N. to try to convince the super-agents of THUNDER to come out of retirement.”
The two heroes quickly scrambled to the communications net to call out the troops. But they both had a feeling that their heroic allies were already aware of the situation.
As part of the attack forces began to tear through the Wall Street district, Major Force started to lag behind. He watched as two of the villains tore into the landscape with reckless abandon.
“All this raw material!” Cosmic King crowed. “This makes it so much easier!” Using his incredible powers, the man in purple and black made the foundations of these structures quake with the mere wave of his hands. This native of the planet Venus in the thirtieth century could easily change the elemental structures of the buildings’ materials. In no time at all, he was clearing blocks of buildings.
Meanwhile, his fellow future ally preferred the more direct approach. Sun Emperor was burning red hot, discharging destructive fireballs in all directions. Anything that could catch fire did so thanks to his fiery rampage. “Luthor wanted this city to burn, so it’s gonna burn!” He laughed wickedly as the flames ignited natural gas lines, causing explosions.
Major Force watched the pair fly off to join the others in destruction. The native of this Earth had been having second thoughts about all this since the moment he was recruited. With all his own personal health problems, Emil Forsa’s heart just wasn’t into it. He ducked back to the shadows, hoping he could return home unseen.
The skies began to turn crimson as if they were bleeding. Below, the streets of this once-proud city indeed resembled that of a gaping wound. Members of the villain teams known as the Masters of Disaster and the Demolition Team tore into the city with reckless abandon, causing tens of thousands to flee for their lives.
“Wheee-eeeee hhh-aaaaaa!” Jackhammer exclaimed as he worked on another supporting beam with an over-sized jackhammer. His clothes looked like that of a construction worker — blue pants and brown boots, complete with gold construction helmet — with the only thing out of place the black mask he wore over his eyes and the large red letters DT on his light blue T-shirt. “T-t-this here b-b-building’s b-b-been c-c-condemned!”
“Save some for the rest of us, amigo!” Scoopshovel said as he raised his weapon hand. He was dressed similarly to Jackhammer, but on his left hand was attached a golden scoop. The hydraulic motors kicked in as he hurled debris into the air at high speed and shattered large department store windows with ease. “Bueno! Just like my days of playing Jai Alai!”
A bald man in green plunged his fists toward the ground, letting loose a strong vibration wave. The ground began to tremble and quake as a result. Street lights fell and hydrants along the cracked pavement popped. “We’re free and clear,” Shakedown said, “S’ long as no heroes show up to spoil our fun.”
“Quit your worrying!” a shrill female voice said. From the flowing water along the street sprang up a water burst that formed a blue-costumed woman with white skin and a blue Mohawk. “Ain’t no heroes going to oppose us! We’ve got free reign to ransack this city and any others!”
A golden machine with heavy wheels rolled past, crushing its way over abandoned vehicles. “New-Wave’s right!” Steamroller said. “I’m betting the local do-gooders have already been taken out by our friends!”
“Don’t count on it!” a voice cried from above. A figure leaping from the rooftops came into view, his red and yellow martial arts-inspired costume sporting a yellow Japanese-style sun symbol in the center of his chest and a blond knot-top over his red cowl. He moved with great speed and nailed Steamroller in the side of the head with a flying kick. “As long as one man stands in opposition, the battle isn’t over!” With a spin side kick, he took out Jackhammer’s legs, sending the man crashing to the ground.
“That’s telling him, Judomaster!” a second voice called. It was another costumed hero, this one a blond masked man wearing a legless costume split red on one side and blue on the other. Peter Cannon, known in his masked identity as Thunderbolt, was able to take down Shakedown using the complete control he held over his body and mind.
Thunderbolt had been driven to the point of suicide when the Psycho-Pirate caused the whole world to experience terror four days earlier. At the same time, the time-tossed hero known as Judomaster had suddenly appeared in the year 1985, fully forty years since his disappearance in 1945. He had even mistaken the Earth-One heroine Katana for a World War II-era Imperial Japanese soldier. Ever since then, the Sentinels of Justice had been helping him adjust to living in a world that was not his own. Peter Cannon had even made it a personal mission of his to help Judomaster, since the two men had much in common, both being Americans grounded in the traditions of the Far East.
Judomaster struck toward New-Wave, but she slipped past him by turning into a mist. “You’re fast — but not fast enough, fool!” she taunted. “And that will cost you!”
Thunderbolt spun around just as a man with short white hair and dressed in blue and white shot an icy blast toward Judomaster. “No!” he cried out, but the warning to the man who had helped inspire the generation of heroes who came after him was in vain. Coldsnap encased the hero in a solid block of ice. “You bastards!” he yelled.
Suddenly, Thunderbolt felt something sting his left shoulder, followed by another shot that would have gone through his head had he not spun out of place. As it was, it grazed his skull, and the reluctant hero blacked out.
“You’re no match for hot rivets, are ya, honey?” laughed the female member of the Demolition Team. The red-haired Rosie blew the steam off of her golden rivet gun weapon. “Anyone messes wit’ us, and we take ’em out hard!”
Thunderbolt and the time-tossed Judomaster were thus the first action-heroes to be captured.
The silver-white-haired hero with the silver sheen over his blue and red costume struggled as he was locked in battle with his foe. In all his years as an action-hero, Captain Atom had encountered very few who could take the full brunt of his nuclear blasts. “Yield, evil one!”
The man he fought stood firm, his golden armor hiding the determined face of the opposition. “You don’t get it, do you?” the villain laughed. “My power comes from radioactive sources! The more you give off, the more I can absorb and then turn back on you!” Flames ignited on the surface of the armor. “Like so!” And with that, Doctor Regulus released a powerful surge of energy.
Captain Atom was thrown backward by his own power multiplied tenfold. “Ughh!” the hero groaned as he hit the pavement hard. The longtime leader of the Sentinels tried to rise on his own, but he had already depleted too much energy during the battle.
A pair of gray boots stepped into his line of sight. “Well, now it’s my turn!” The man, wearing a blue costume with a dark blue cowl and cape, sneered, his face shrouded by a dark mask with two red eyes. He started to bend down toward the hero. “One touch, and I’ll disintegrate his body into nothing but molecules!”
A golden-gloved hand grabbed the villain by the shoulder and held him back. “No, Eradicator!” Doctor Regulus said. “Not here, not now! Remember the plan. We’re to defeat the champions of this world and then execute them for all the world to see! That will show them that resistance is futile.”
The Eradicator pulled back his hand. “Right. Sorry.” Together, the two villains grabbed the beaten form of Captain Atom and hauled him through the streets.
From the rooftops nearby, the Cheetah of Earth-One sat crouched, watching as the residents of the city fled their homes. Her long brown hair cascaded about her shoulders, and she licked her lips. “Do you smell that?” she said. “That’s the smell of fear! They’re hopeless and dejected.”
A blond man in a domino mask and colorful costume with a blue cape stood by her. “You’re right, Cheetah,” agreed the Trickster. “Who knew world domination could be so much fun?”
A large hulking figure of a man stood next to them, his dark suit ragged and frayed over the years since he first died in the swamps. Solomon Grundy let out a deep grunt in agreement.
The Blue Beetle wrestled with the controls of the Bug, his scarab-shaped flying ship. “Damn!” he cursed. “They nailed the left engine.” The gold-goggled hero dressed in blue checked the readouts to make sure nothing else was gone. It wasn’t looking good. The stabilizers were losing power as well.
A woman with long dark hair in a blue costume with orange trim came up behind his seat. “Anything I can do?” Nightshade asked.
“Yeah,” replied the Beetle to his teammate in the Sentinels of Justice. “Save yourself.”
Double flaming attacks from Heatstroke and the Firebug further rocked the lower hull. The ship was jolted to one side.
“I can’t just leave you–” Nightshade started to protest.
“Nightshade, go!” the azure avenger snapped. “No sense in both of us going down with the ship!” He turned back to his teammate. “Sorry. Sorry. I just think it’s best I stay with the Bug. Make sure it doesn’t go down in a populated area of the city, you know?”
Nodding, Nightshade said, “I understand.” Leaning forward, she gave him a kiss on the cheek and said, “See you soon.” She stepped back and began to fade into the shadows of the ship. In a moment, she was gone.
“Thanks, lady,” he said to himself. “You too.” Suddenly, the craft jerked once more as Lady Lunar latched onto it with her gravitational powers and pulled it into a nose dive. “Oh, boy!”
Nightshade materialized in the shadows of the waterfront below. As she became fully solid once more, she glanced skyward. There she saw the Bug dive nose first into the harbor, its tale end aflame. “Beetle, no!” In the distance, she could see a towering form moving on Liberty Island.
Suddenly, an energy burst nailed Nightshade from behind. A man in purple with a blue cape and a red star symbol on his mask nailed her with a shot from the starband he wore on his right wrist. “Need to watch your back, my pretty!” Evil Star said.
“Don’t know who you are,” Nightshade replied as she recovered from the first shot, “but you’ll learn how dangerous a shadow can be!” She struck fast and hard at the man who attacked her with a martial arts move and then readied to take to the shadows once more.
“Ah-ah, my dear!” another male voice said, and suddenly Nightshade was bathed in an intense series of light beams, enough to dispel the shadows around her to cut off her escape. “Can’t have you slipping away on us, can we?”
“Right,” Evil Star countered, wiping blood from his face, where she had struck him. Another shot from his starband was enough to knock the heroine out. “You have a date — with your executioner!”
Doctor Spectro laughed, very pleased to see how quickly his enemies in the Sentinels of Justice were falling. He glanced around at the city’s skyline, glorying in the chaos as the buildings burned out of control. It felt good to finally get some revenge. And the icing on the cake would be when his enemies were permanently put out of the picture. He scooped the unconscious Nightshade up in his arms and headed for the rendezvous point.