Justice League of America: 1983: Trial by Hellfire, Chapter 1: Witness for the Defense

by Martin Maenza

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“I still can’t believe they’re going through with this!” exclaimed a very attractive woman dressed in a red designer suit. She stood up in a huff and began to pace around the small room.

“Sabrina, you could settle,” said a man with brown hair, dressed in a dark suit with a matching tie. “I’ve advised you all along that you have that option.”

As the woman whirled around on her heel, her ebony dark hair streaked with white spun sharply. “No, Byron!” she snapped. “It’s bad enough having all the negative publicity this case is giving me! Already I’ve lost a couple of shoots because the clients wanted to distance themselves from me for a while. I’m one of the highest-paid fashion models in all the industry, for Christ’s sake! To simply settle this ridiculous claim would come off as if I were admitting I’m guilty. I’m not guilty!”

She reached for a silver cigarette case she had left on the table. Ignoring the no smoking sign in the room, Sabrina fumbled with her lighter, lit up a long, thin cigarette, and took a number of heavy drags. It seemed to calm her some. “I’m not guilty, Byron.”

“I know you’re not,” Byron Davis started to say. “We’ll just have to show everyone the real side of Sabrina Sultress — the woman behind all those glamor shots and magazine ads. What has been printed in the gossip rags about you since the incident is not the real you. Then it will be up to the jury to decide what damages, if any, should be awarded.”

The thought of those negative stories and the case started her blood to boil again. “So if we lose, not only would my reputation be trashed, but I’d also be bled dry as well. No!” She bent forward, thrusting her perfectly made-up face into his. Her auburn eyes had a serious blaze to them, and her full, crimson lips were in a full scowl. “No! That won’t happen! We’re going into that courtroom today, and you’re going to make the jury believe it’s not my fault! You’re one of the best lawyers around, and I’m paying you good money to convince them that I’m not some hell-spawned demon!” She slammed her fist on the table.

Byron Davis merely nodded silently to his client. Inside, he was thinking, Boy, I’m going to have my work cut out for me if she keeps up this attitude!

***

The young flame-haired hero in the yellow and red costume paced back and forth around the room nervously. Another powerfully built figure in blue with a red cape and black hair watched patiently from the corner. Finally, Superman spoke up. “Relax, Firestorm. This is no big deal.”

“Easy for you to say,” the nuclear hero replied. “You’re Mister Truth, Justice, and the American Way. Testifying in court is old hat to you. Me, this is my first time.”

Superman smiled. “Relax. You’ll do just fine. I know you have what it takes. Didn’t I sponsor you for membership in the JLA, and didn’t the others agree with my nomination? We don’t let just anyone in the League, you know.” He put his arm about the young hero’s shoulder. “Just relax and answer the questions truthfully and to the best of your ability.”

Inside his head, Firestorm heard another voice whose counsel he also had grown to trust. “Superman is right, Ronald,” said the voice of Professor Martin Stein, the other half of the fused persona of Firestorm. “It’s your civic duty, and you should do it proudly, even if it does take both of us away from our daily lives.”

Firestorm couldn’t reply to the professor, not without giving away his secret to Superman. Though the JLA had accepted him into the fold, he wasn’t quite ready yet to reveal that both Ronnie Raymond and a prize-winning physicist made up the heroic nuclear man. Then a thought of panic hit him, one he voiced aloud. “But what if the court wants me to reveal who I am, Superman?”

“Relax, kid,” a voice from the doorway called as a pair entered the room. “There are laws in place to protect us costumed crime-fighters, thanks to the landmark case Snart Versus Central City. Our secrets are safe.” One was a man with blonde hair and beard, dressed in a green costume. By his side was a blonde woman in a black costume with fishnet stockings.

“Green Arrow! Black Canary!” Firestorm said.

Superman crossed the room and shook the archer’s hand. “Good to see you again, G.A.,” the Man of Steel said. “Have you reconsidered your resignation?

“No way, Supes,” Green Arrow stated firmly. “When I told you guys I was quitting the League, I meant it! (*) Just here to wrap up loose ends is all.”

[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Stellar Crimes of the Star-Tsar,” Justice League of America #181 (August, 1980).]

Black Canary nodded. “I’ve been trying to convince him for days to change his mind,” she told Superman, “but you know how stubborn he can be.”

“Indeed I do,” Superman nodded. “With Batman tied up on other business, I’m glad you were able to bring Arrow along. After all, the attorneys wanted as many of us that were involved in the case to be present for testimony.”

“It’s my first time,” Firestorm admitted to the newcomers.

Green Arrow looked him over. “Don’t get your panties in a bunch over it, kid. The legal system is one of the things that makes this country of ours so great. We just give the facts as best we can, then it’s up to the jury to decide. You’ll be an old pro at this before you know it.”

Firestorm nodded. His first impression when he joined the team was that Green Arrow didn’t like him much. He had read in the team’s archives that just before Superman had nominated him for membership, Green Arrow had tried to get Black Lightning to join the team. While Lightning had passed the initiation test, the man had turned down the membership offer. (*) Maybe that was bothering Green Arrow some. Maybe that was part of the reason the archer had left the team so soon after Firestorm’s joining. The flame-haired hero decided that maybe this was something best left to think about for another time.

[(*) Editor’s note: See “Testing of a Hero,” Justice League of America #173 (December, 1979) and “A Plague of Monsters,” Justice League of America #174 (January, 1980).]

A knock came on the door, and a uniformed bailiff stuck his head into the room. He was a very tall man with a shaved head. “The court is ready for you,” he said plainly, treating the legendary heroes as he would any other visitors to the court.

Showtime, people,” Green Arrow said. The other three heroes followed him out of the small room.

***

In the New York City courtroom, Judge William Herstworth and the jury had already heard the opening arguments for the trial of the so-called Satin Satan from the attorneys for the plaintiffs and the defendant.

The plaintiffs, a group of five males ranging in age from twenty-one to thirty-six, then gave testimony to support their case against the fashion model. Each story detailed a similar pattern: how Miss Sultress made contact with each man at a local dance club, entranced the man, and proceeded to lead him to her nearby penthouse where she then used further sorcery to imprison them as steel statues. (*) Each of the men then claimed emotional and physical hardships since the incident, citing that the merest hint of intimacy with another causes them severe anguish and illness.

[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Siren Song of the Satin Satan,” Justice League of America #179 (June, 1980) and “A Beautiful Evil,” Justice League of America #180 (July, 1980).]

“Oh, this is ridiculous!” Sabrina said more than under her breath. “I can’t be to blame for their sexual inadequacies.”

“Sabrina, control yourself,” Byron Davis whispered firmly as he leaned across the table. “We’ll have our chance soon enough.”

Sabrina gritted her teeth and began to drum her long, red-painted fingernails on the table before her. She glared angrily as the last of the young men stepped down from the stand.

Byron Davis then stood and began to present his case. He started with some photographers and others who knew Sabrina Sultress both on a professional and personal level. His goal was to establish a basis for her character. He then went for his star witnesses, the Justice League members who were seated in the courtroom.

“For my next witness,” Byron Davis said, “I call Firestorm, the nuclear man.”

The hero rose from the bench where the others were seated. In his head, Professor Martin Stein assured the young man once more that he would do just fine. Firestorm took the stand, swore an oath on the Bible, and prepared for the questioning.

“Firestorm, were you at the penthouse of Miss Sultress on the night she was apprehended?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Why had you gone there?”

“I was investigating the disappearance of Rosco Remington.” Firestorm specifically did not mention that this was a friend of a friend to avoid links to his own secret identity.

“And you believed Miss Sultress was connected to the disappearance?”

“Yes, sir. He was last seen by his friends leaving the club with Miss Sultress.”

“What happened when you arrived at her penthouse?”

“I was looking around the place when Miss Sultress appeared. She asked me to come to her, and I felt compelled against my will to do so. She then kissed me, and I was overpowered by some unexplainable force.” There was a giggle or two from the gallery, but the hero continued as if he didn’t notice. “I barely had time to signal my teammates.”

“And the nature of this force, if you can explain it now?”

“Magic.”

Byron Davis nodded. “Thank you, Firestorm. No further questions.” He sat down.

Judge Herstworth looked to the other table. “Your witness, counsel.”

The other attorney, a female lawyer with brown hair in a sharply cut navy suit, stood. “No questions of this witness, your honor.”

Judge Herstworth turned to the flame-haired hero. “You may step down.” Firestorm breathed a sigh of relief.

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