by Martin Maenza
The old factory that had once housed Drexel Motors came alive again as the group returned home from their latest mission. The facility, located in the inner city of Detroit, had closed up during the energy crisis of the early ’80s. A well-to-do multimillionaire in the defense business had bought the property and hired Dale Gunn to renovate it into a fortress called the Bunker.
For the last four months or so, the Justice League of America had been calling the place home.
“That’s right, we bad!” the black-haired youth with the angular face said. He wore a pair of green shades, a red, yellow, and black top, and black pants with red stripes. “Uh-huh, uh-huh, uh-huh!” With his rhythmic chant, he launched into the center of the room, spun around on his heels a few times and ended up in a propped-up position on the floor with his legs out and his upper body supported by his right arm.
“Can you give us a break, Paco?” asked a young girl with voluminous black hair tied back with a green scarf. She wore a white peasant blouse with bangle earrings, necklaces, and bracelets. Her skirt was green with patches, and her feet were bare. She crossed the floor, heading toward the mini-refrigerator in the lounge. “Don’t you ever chill out?”
“Forget chu, Gypsy!” Vibe said as he jump-snapped to his feet. “Can’t a guy savor a vict’ry withou’ chu bringin’ the whole room down?”
A well-built young man entered the room. He wore a skintight costume of blue and red with white stripes and a star insignia on his chest. “Aren’t you taking this just a bit too far, Vibe?” Steel asked.
“Aw, man, Hank, not chu, too!” Vibe shook his head. “Here I thought I could count on mi amigo to have my back! What kind of friend are chu, man?”
“I’ve got your back,” Steel said. “I just don’t see what the big deal is.”
Vibe stared at him with his mouth gaping open, exaggerating it for effect. “Don’t see what the big deal is?” he repeated. “Don’t see what the big deal is?” He rushed over to his teammate and placed both hands firmly on the solid shoulders of Steel. “We just beat Amazo, ey! (*) That’s a reason to celebrate! Amazo! One-man Justice League! Hello? The big time!“
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Storm Cloud,” Justice League of America #243 (October, 1985).]
Dale Gunn had quietly slipped past the group as they talked, heading over to the monitoring equipment. “Kids,” he muttered, smiling to himself.
A head came peering around the corner. It was brown-haired and attached to a stretching neck that belonged to a body still heading down the hallway. “As much as I love the youthful enthusiasm,” the Elongated Man said, “I should remind you that it was Aquaman and the Martian Manhunter who ended up taking Amazo out.”
Vibe frowned. “Well, Ralphie, if chu want to get all technical and stuff, yeah,” the Hispanic hero said, “but we wore his android butt down first. It was a team effort, and that’s what counts.”
Since the two aforementioned founding JLAers were still off securing the android to prevent its escape again, Ralph Dibny was willing to let Vibe’s comment slide. “Sure, Paco,” he said, “why not?” The stretchable hero glanced back down his neck to where his body had stopped. A dark-haired woman was waiting with it. “Listen, kids, hold down the fort for a few minutes. I need to go cuddle with my Susie Q.” And with that, the Elongated Man relaxed, allowing his neck to return his head back to the rest of his body.
Vibe gave a quick wave off to the hero as he vanished. “There goes Stretch Armstrong to make lovey-dovey with the wifey,” he said, starting toward the lounge. “I’m gettin’ a pop or somethin’.”
Steel glanced over to the consoles. “Dale, if you need us…”
“I know, Hank,” the bald man said, keeping his eyes on the systems as he worked, “you’ll be in the lounge watching RTV or something.”
Steel smiled. The man was practically like a father to him, having helped raise him after he lost his mom. Hank Heywood III felt much closer to the man than he did the few relatives he could call his own, especially closer than he was to his grandfather, Hank Heywood. It was said grandfather who had made Steel the young man he was today, a superhuman with bones encased in hardened steel supports and supplemented musculature with hydraulic motors that increased his strength and stamina. To his grandfather, Hank was a project, nothing more.
To Dale Gunn, Hank was a young man to be proud of. That meant a lot to the young hero, and he worked hard to make the black man proud.
Steel joined the two in the lounge. Naturally, Gypsy and Vibe were quarreling once more. “She ain’t cool!” Vibe insisted.
“Sure she is!” Gypsy replied. “She’s got style, she’s got pizzazz!”
“She’s got freak wrestlers in her videos! How uncool is that?”
“Chu shut up!”
Steel stepped before the television and between the two. “Why don’t both of you shut up!” he said. “I’m so tired of your bickering! I’m so glad I’m an only child. What I wouldn’t give for some piece and quiet.”
“He started it!” Gypsy said while Vibe said simultaneously, “She started it!”
“Enough!” Steel snapped. “Dale was right. Kids!“
Gypsy sidled up to him. “Oh, c’mon, Hankie-wankie,” she said in a baby-talk voice. “You know you’d miss us if we were gone.”
Steel tried his best not to break a smile. “Yeah, right,” he said, but his eyes betrayed the sarcastic tone of his words. Like it or not, he cared about his two friends.
“Hey, play make up somewhere else!” Vibe said. “Run DMC’s up next! Bom-bom-bom didi-didi-didi-bom!” He made a record-scratching motion in the air before him.
A few minutes later, Dale’s urgent voice called the kids into the monitoring room. “What’s the big deal, Mr. Gunn?” Gypsy asked.
“I was monitoring some of the local broadcasts when this came in,” the man said. Dale punched a few buttons, bringing something onto the larger screen. “I taped the feed to play back for you guys. It’s something the League should see!”
On the screen was a shot of a factory, much like the other industrial complexes scattered throughout the city. As the image started, people could be seen rushing from the facility. The camera panned over to a young reporter. “This is Tina Ingles, reporting to you live from outside the Plasticorp facility in downtown Detroit. Police have just been alerted to a hostage situation that has developed here.”
“Ooh, check out the reporter honey,” Vibe growled.
“Shhh!” Steel said.
“And according to sources who have been making their way out of the factory,” the reported continued to say, “the taker of the hostages is a costumed man calling himself the Molder!”
“The Molder?!” the Elongated Man exclaimed as he entered the room. “No way! That’s impossible!“
“Why chu say that, Ralphie?” Vibe asked.
“Because I was the Molder!” the stretchable hero replied.
“What?” Gypsy, Vibe, and Steel all said in unison.
“A few years back, my special gingold elixir got altered, causing me to take on a second personality,” the Elongated Man explained. “This other me had a criminal intent and started to commit crimes in Central City. Only with the help of the Flash was I able to realize what was happening and reverse the condition.” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Double Dose of Danger,” The Flash #252 (August, 1977) and “Don’t Mess With the Molder,” The Flash #253 (September, 1977).]
“Well,” Dale said, “obviously the person holding Plasticorp hostage is not you.”
“Obviously,” Steel said. “So what say we head over there and find out who this creep is?”
“I’m all for that,” Elongated Man agreed. “Dale, see if you can raise any of the others. Not knowing who this guy is or what he’s capable of, we might need some backup.”
“You got it, Ralph,” the black man nodded.
“What we need backup for?” Vibe said as they departed the room in an urgent fashion. “We’re the Justice League, ey!”
“Why are you doing this?” said Henry Frawley, a bespectacled man in his early fifties. He was bound to a wooden chair by a hard-setting substance that held his hands to the back and his feet to the floor. Despite his struggling, he was held fast.
“Don’t be coy with me, Frawley!” said a man with wavy brown hair dressed in a green and yellow costume. “After I got out of jail where Batman and Plastic Man put me over seven years back, I needed some help getting back on my feet. (*) I called up an old friend of mine who’s a stock trader on Wall Street. While he couldn’t put me up, he did give me a little insider information.”
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Doom, What Is Thy Shape?” The Brave and the Bold #76 (February-March, 1968).]
The villain called the Molder leaned forward so that his blue eyes met those of his captive. “See, I know all about Plasticorp! The automotive industry is turning away from heavy steel and looking for cheaper alternatives for their parts. The little birdies told me that Plasticorp is going to be supplying a number of the big name plants with the materials they need. As the company’s owner and major shareholder, you stand to make millions! I figure you can cut me in for a hefty chunk of the profits in exchange for sparing your life!”
“You’re crazy!” Frawley said. “The police will be here any minute to stop you!”
“Hah!” the Molder scoffed. “I don’t think so! You see, if they do show up, they’ll have their hands full with my army of Plastoids!”
“Plastoids?” Frawley asked.
“Yes!” the Molder replied. “While I traded in my old green costume with orange cape and cowl for these new threads, I decided to stick with some of my old creations that worked. Naturally, I improved some on their design. The Plastoids are lifelike beings made from a special batch of polymer plastic, conditioned with DNA and bio-genetic plasma. They obey my every command.” Suddenly, there was a shimmering near the doorway to the barricaded office door. One of the coat racks changed shape into a featureless, blank-faced orange being. “Oh, and they can disguise themselves as well!”
“Remarkable!” Frawley exclaimed. His mind began to work. “But if you have something as wondrous as that, you could make millions yourself selling them for public use!”
“No can do!” the Molder said. “These little babies are specially designed and only obey the commands of one person — me! And they’ll do just fine fending off any would-be rescuers while we conduct our business!” The villain went over to the desk and grabbed a piece of paper. “Now, I took the liberty of drawing up a little contract…”