The next morning, the Justice League of America met Colonel Wilcox at New York Harbor. The area was cordoned off and closed to the public. Armed military guards lined the docks.
“Thank you for your promptness, Batman,” Wilcox said, greeting the super-heroes. “I’m glad you managed to solve your problem. I knew you would.”
“A little ingenuity is all it took, Colonel. When will King Anton’s ship arrive?”
“It’s just twenty minutes out of port. You can just about see it now.”
“If this King Anton is such an important guy,” Jim Jordan whispered to Hawkman, “why didn’t he fly?”
“I understand he has a fear of airplanes,” Hawkman explained. “Perhaps fear is too strong a word; mistrust may be better.”
“Don’t knock ocean travel,” John Blake said. “It’s got air travel beat a million ways to Sunday.”
“Nervous, Clark?” Green Arrow asked.
“Only a little,” the actor said. “Don’t worry, I always get a few butterflies before a performance. It never affects me once I’m on stage and the show has begun. I was nominated for a Tony last year, you know.”
“Yeah? How’d you do?”
He thought a moment before answering. “It’s an honor just to be nominated.”
“The place is crawling with soldiers,” Mad Hatter observed from their hiding place in the top floor of a dockside warehouse. “I can’t even see the Justice League. Are you sure they’re here?”
“They are, or they’re going to be,” the Key said. “Half of them, anyway.”
“Won’t the soldiers try to blacken our prospects once we attack?” Rainbow Archer asked.
“I have a squadron of my Key-Men positioned nearby,” the Key announced. “They’ll keep the soldiers busy.”
“I just wish the damn thing would start,” Captain Cold complained. “I hate cooling my heels in here!”
“Patience, my icy friend,” the Key said. “Look — the ship is docking now!”
The villains crowded to the window and watched as the gangplank was lowered. An advance bodyguard for the king was first to come down; he spoke to Colonel Wilcox, making preparations, getting assurance that all was in order. Then, finally it was the man himself.
“Here he comes!” the Key said in a hissed whisper. “The king is coming down! Any second now the heroes will step out to meet him! Get ready to attack!”
The anxious villains fingered their weapons, preparing to strike.
“King Anton, on behalf of the United States of America, I welcome you to our country,” Colonel Wilcox said, shaking the king’s hand. Anton was a comparatively young monarch, barely forty, with a thinning head of blond hair. He smiled warmly.
“The pleasure is all mine,” King Anton said. “Long have I wanted to visit your glorious country and meet some of your legendary figures!”
“No time like the present, Your Highness,” Colonel Wilcox said. “King Anton, I present the Justice League of America!”
At Colonel Wilcox’s words, the heroes began walking out of the port terminal building. In single file they strolled up to greet the visiting king.
“Key, what the devil is this?” Captain Cold demanded. “That’s the whole Justice League!”
“It — it can’t be!” the Key stammered. “It just can’t!”
“Well, it is,” Plant Master snarled. “I should have known you were delusional! You took out the League’s most powerful members all by yourself. Ha!”
“But I did!” the Key protested. “I swear I did!”
“Then who’s that shaking hands with King Anton now?” Mr. I.Q. asked. “From here it sure looks like Superman!”
“You key-headed clown,” Captain Cold grimaced. “You’re asking us to take on the whole Justice League! I was in a group that tried that once, and all it got us was bruises and jail!” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “When Gravity Went Wild,” Justice League of America #5 (June-July 1961).]
“Far be it from me to turn yellow,” Rainbow Archer said, “but this is a fool’s errand, and I want no part of it!”
With that, the Archer turned and stalked toward the stairs. The other villains followed him, turning their backs on the Key.
“Come back!” the Key protested. “I swear, it’s some kind of trick! They — they’re impostors, or robots, or — or something! Come back!”
But the villains did not return. They did not even answer the Key. The only sound was Plant Master asking the Mad Hatter if he could catch a ride with him.
“Bah!” the Key snarled. “I don’t need them! If they don’t want to share in the glory, fine! This has to be some kind of trick — but the League won’t fool me!” The Key took out a keyhole-shaped device, pressed a button on the side of it, and spoke into it. “Attention all Key-Men! Change in plans! Repeat, change in plans! My colleagues have had a change of heart. Attack the Justice League at will! Repeat, attack the Justice League at will! Now!”
“–was once fortunate enough to see you in person,” King Anton said to John Blake. “You rescued a small fishing boat from a hurricane and took the fishermen to the nearest island for help. This was about two years ago. That island was Vulnavia! Unfortunately, you left just as I arrived on the scene, so I did not get to meet you then.”
“I’m sorry to have missed the opportunity, Your Highness,” Blake said, well into his role of Aquaman. “I’m glad I had another chance to meet–”
Blake’s speech was drowned out by gunfire. All heads turned to see a couple dozen men in gray costumes charging the dock, guns blazing.
“Those costumes look familiar, Batman?” the Flash asked.
“Key-Men!” Batman hissed. “I guess that explains who’s behind our friends’ malady!”
“Oh, my!” Diana Prince gasped. “Y-you said there wouldn’t be any danger!”
“Try to keep clear, Nurse White,” Hawkman said, taking to the sky. “We’ll protect you.”
“This is marvelous!” King Anton cried, clapping his hands. “Not only do I meet the wondrous Justice League, I get to see them in action!”
The Atom shook his head at Anton’s comment and charged into battle.
The five true Justice Leaguers leaped into the fray, fists flying, to meet the onslaught of the Key-Men head-on. The five impostors held back, wanting to bolt for cover but frozen in their tracks.
Why do those Justice Leaguers not do something? Anton wondered to himself. Ah, they must be protecting me while their comrades press the attack! Excellent!
One key-man broke away from the fight and aimed his gun straight at John Blake.
“I don’t know how you recovered from that virus I shot into you,” he snarled, “but let’s see you shake this off!”
But before the disgruntled key-man could fire, a dolphin leaped out of the sea behind Blake, sailed over his head, and struck the key-man down before plunging back into the sea on the other side of the dock.
“Marvelous!” King Anton cried. “Excellent counter-attack, Aquaman!”
Batman smiled as his manipulated a control device in his utility belt. He remarked to himself how fortunate it was that he had kept that robot dolphin as a trophy after the Terrible Trio used it against him. He hadn’t thought it would be useful for more than show today.
“Eat lead, heroes!” another key-man growled, spraying the dock with gunfire. The bullets were aimed right at Nurse Diana White. Instinctively, she threw up her arms to protect her face. Miraculously, when the gunfire ceased, she was not harmed.
“Ha!” King Anton jeered. “Stupid gunman! Have you not heard of Wonder Woman’s great bullet-deflecting bracelets?”
The Flash grinned as he dumped the bullets he had plucked out of the air at invisible super-speed into the sea.
“Get the King!” one key-man cried. “If we can’t take out the heroes, we can at least get him!”
Got to stop them! Jim Jordan thought. But what can I do? I’m not Green Lantern, no matter what Sue thinks! Hey — maybe I can blind them with this phony ring!
Jordan aimed his fist at two Key-Men who were leveling their guns at the King. Suddenly, the pavement at their feet exploded, and they were thrown backward.
“Phenomenal, Green Lantern!” King Anton shouted. “That will show them, eh?”
Green Arrow winked at Jordan. The bright green light had prevented King Anton — as well as the Key-Men — from seeing the green exploding arrow he had fired.
“That’s it, I’m out of here!” one key-man shouted, throwing down his gun. “The Key ain’t paying me enough for this!”
Time for an improvisational performance, Hawkman thought, and he concentrated. Barry Clark suddenly lifted into the air, flying after the fleeing key-man. Hawkman had outfitted him with a belt of anti-gravity metal similar to his own for short flights to impress King Anton. Clark, used to impersonating the Martian Manhunter, grabbed the fleeing felon as Hawkman mentally steered him right into the crook’s path.
“Enough of this foolishness!” a new voice suddenly snarled. The Leaguers looked and saw The Key himself, standing next to King Anton, aiming a key-shaped pistol at his temple.
“Very good, Justice League, excellent performance,” he jeered. “You may have fooled King Anton and everyone else, but I am not fooled! Before I kill King Anton, I will execute every one of your impostors — beginning with this one!” The Key aimed his pistol at Prince Mark, the nearest one to him. The young royal did not flinch but met the Key’s gaze evenly.
“Go ahead and fire, Key,” he said in a voice untinted by fear. “You know your gun can’t hurt me.”
The Key laughed shortly. “Oh, that’s rich, it is! Your fake Superman believes his own press! I’ll tell you what, fake; I’ll give you a free shot at me!” The Key lowered his pistol and thrust out his chin. “Go ahead, take your best shot! Then I’ll take mine!”
“As you wish,” Prince Mark said. “I’ll pull my punch, so I don’t seriously injure you.”
“Much obliged,” the Key sneered.
Prince Mark drew back his fist and threw the punch. The Key took it on the chin and was lifted off his feet and thrown back off the dock to plunge into the water below.
“The man was mad!” King Anton said. “To give the mighty Superman a free punch at him! What could he have been thinking?”
“Search me,” Prince Mark said. “I’ll ask him when he wakes up.” Out of the corner of his eye, Prince Mark watched the half-inch high Atom land on his shoulder. Mercifully, the Atom had adjusted his weight down to a fraction of an ounce from the full one-hundred and eighty pounds he had used when he collided with the Key’s chin.
“–and landed right in the drink!” the Atom recounted. The five heroes in the sickbay beds laughed at the account.
“I wish I could have seen his face,” Wonder Woman giggled.
“That was brilliant, getting all those imposters together,” Superman commented. “Everything worked out for the best, then?”
“Vulnavia has given America permission to build the base,” Batman said. “America wins another undeclared battle in the Cold War.”
“And the Key had better hope they put him in solitary confinement in Leavenworth,” Green Arrow said. “I don’t think there’s anyplace else he’ll be safe from his former employers.”
“I’ll have to look Lieutenant Blake up when I get out of this sick bed,” Aquaman said.
“To thank him?” Hawkman asked.
“No… to ask him to step in for me again the next time Green Arrow tries out a new chili recipe on us!”
And the headquarters of the world’s greatest heroes rang with laughter.