“Aquaman, I think I found something,” Changeling said, looking up from the computer console at the Secret Sanctuary.
“What is it, Garfield?” Aquaman asked, walking over to the console.
“I’ve been searching the old computers for cases that might relate to the current situation,” said Changeling, alias Garfield Logan. “Harder than hell with this old equipment. This stuff predates Windows! But anyway, look what I found: exposure to an alien gas once turned Perry White and James Gordon evil, and they became super-crooks called Anti-Superman and Anti-Batman.” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Cape and Cowl Crooks,” World’s Finest Comics #159 (August, 1966).]
“You’re not suggesting our foes are White and Gordon?” Aquaman asked. “Because they–“
“Naw, not them,” Changeling interrupted. “What if some of that gas got to Superman, Batman, and Nightwing?”
Aquaman considered this for a moment. “All three of them? Not likely.”
“Well, Superman could have accidentally got a snootful of the gas in the Fortress, then when he turned evil, exposed Batman and Nightwing to it on purpose.”
“Hmm. Just barely possible. Thanks, Garfield. I’ll keep it in mind as a possibility.” The sea king then turned away from the console. The others could tell he was worried; J’onn J’onzz’ team had been gone for hours.
Aquaman looked over the company of heroes assembled there. If J’onn’s team did not return or call in within the next hour, he was going to assemble a second team to investigate. Who would he choose for it? Wonder Girl’s strength would be needed; Firestorm’s powers would be useful also. Hawkwoman had the spirit of a fighter, but also of a leader; perhaps Aquaman would leave her in charge.
“Attention, Justice League!” a voice crackled over their communication system, interrupting his train of thought. It was Superman’s. Everyone was silent to listen.
“The pathetic team you sent against us has been defeated! Up to now we have let you stay alive and free, in the hopes you would see the error of your ways and join us. Now we realize you never will. You must be eliminated!”
The heroes looked at one another in silence. Superman continued.
“Meet us in the Grand Canyon in one hour. Bring whomever you like; the three of us will fight you all — to the death!”
The voice clicked off. Aquaman stood there, grim and silent. J’onn’s team was defeated, possibly dead. A challenge to the death had been issued by the most powerful man alive. And he was left to lead the team to face it.
One hour later, an army of costumed men and women stood in the Grand Canyon. Not only the remaining members of the Justice League of America and the New Titans, but others. The Outsiders had joined the fight, as had the Conglomerate, the Forgotten Heroes, and a few solo operators like Ragman, the new Batwoman, and Blue Devil. All knew what they were facing. While many felt fear, none swerved from their duty.
Green Arrow and Arsenal watched the skies, waiting for some sign of their quarry. “They did say an hour, right?” Green Arrow asked.
“Maybe their clock is on Kryptonian time,” Arsenal suggested, trying to lighten the situation with humor.
“Not at all,” boomed a voice from above. “We’re right on time!” As the heroes looked skyward, a brilliant white light flashed down and washed over them. Superman, Batman, and Nightwing suddenly appeared, hovering in midair. Superman held the Phantom Zone projector and was bathing the heroes in its ray. But something was wrong — the heroes remained where they were. The white beam clicked off, and still the heroes remained.
“I’ll take that, thanks,” came a voice from seemingly nowhere. An emerald arrow with a magnetic head attached itself to the Zone projector, and a cable trailed from its shaft yanked the projector out of Superman’s startled hands. The Man of Steel watched as the assemblage of heroes seemed to vanish and reappear a hundred yards away.
“Gotta hand it to ya, fishy,” Green Arrow said. “Your guess that they were trying to get us all together to finish us off was a good one!”
“Lucky thing Halo’s distortion aura made them see us where we weren’t,” Arsenal said, “or else we’d be in the Phantom Zone right now!”
“Hopefully that’s where J’onn’s team is,” Aquaman said grimly. “All right, heroes — hit them!“
And the battle was engaged. The heroes showed momentary surprise that Batman and Nightwing demonstrated super-powers similar to Superman’s, but that was quickly chalked up to Jor-El’s super-capsules, which the heroes had used against Korge not long ago. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See Justice League of America: Between Sea and Sky.]
In the middle of the battle, Raven suddenly cried out, clutching her temples.
“Raven!” Aquaman cried, running to her side. “What is it? What’s wrong?”
“Someone — in my mind! Trying to reach me!” Raven gasped. “But it’s too faint… like a ghost, whispering in my mind. Can’t read his thoughts!”
“It could be J’onn!” Aquaman reasoned. “He’s the most powerful telepath of us all; he could be trying to reach us from the Phantom Zone! You being the most sensitive one here to empathic thoughts would be the one to pick it up! Hang on; I’m going to try to link my own telepathic powers to yours. Maybe we can tune him in!”
Aquaman bent his head to Raven’s and concentrated, letting his thoughts flow into hers. Soon he could feel it, too — the faint broadcast of thoughts, like a radio station hovering on the edge of reception. His brow furrowed, and sweat streamed down his forehead as he tried desperately to bring the thoughts into focus. Around them the carnage continued; most of the other heroes saw what was going on and, although they were unaware just what Aquaman and Raven were doing, they fought to give them the breathing space to do it.
Finally, Aquaman’s head snapped up, his blue eyes wide open in astonishment. “Neptune’s beard!” he exclaimed. “Everyone — listen! I know who our enemy is!”
Superman, Batman, and Nightwing heard this, too. As one, they swarmed in toward Aquaman, intent on stopping him from talking. The Flash got there first, however, and spirited Aquaman away from them just in time.
“Thanks for the save,” Aquaman said. “The Zone projector! Who’s guarding that?”
“I ran that back to the cave and came back before the real fighting began,” the Flash said.
“Go get it, quickly! We’ll need it!”
“Roger,” the Flash said, depositing Aquaman on the ground and taking off in a scarlet blur.
Aquaman strained to use his telepathy. Communication with sea creatures was effortless, as natural as breathing. Using his mental skills on human beings was difficult, but it could be done. This time, it had to be done. Aquaman concentrated, focused on sending a message to three of his friends.
Halo, Starfire, and Firestorm looked at one another and nodded. Each of them had heard the message. They tensed, preparing to follow the instructions. Now they each heard a single word in their minds: “Now!”
At the same time, Starfire launched a stellar bolt at Superman, Halo fired a force-beam at Batman, and Firestorm directed a nuclear blast at Nightwing. The three blasts struck their targets simultaneously. The heroes kept up the barrage, bombarding all three rogues together. The dark heroes writhed under the attack; it soon became evident that all three were writhing in sync.
“Enough!” Aquaman called, and the heroes stopped their attack. All watched in fascination as Superman, Batman, and Nightwing shimmered like heat-images on a hot day. They drew closer together, closer, almost touching. Then the unbelievable happened. The three men joined, combined into one man — one man wearing a bizarre costume, half-Superman, half-Batman.
The Flash returned with the Zone projector at just that moment. “What’d I miss?” he asked as he handed the device to Aquaman.
“Not much,” Aquaman said, training the device on the disoriented villain, once known as the second Composite Superman and now called Amalgamax. “Just the end.”
In a burst of white light, the villainous Amalgamax vanished into the Phantom Zone. Aquaman adjusted the dials on the device and fired again. This time the beam brought prisoners out of the Phantom Zone. J’onn’s team returned to the real world, and with them the real Superman, Batman, and Nightwing.
“So that Amalgamax guy was the son of a space pirate the three of you sent to prison?” Green Arrow asked later, in the repaired satellite.
“Yes,” Superman said, nodding. “And this Xan managed to acquire all the powers of the Legion of Super-Heroes, like another villain we had battled, the original Composite Superman.” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Prologue,” World’s Finest Comics #283 (September, 1982) and “I, Amalgamax,” World’s Finest Comics #284 (October, 1982).]
“His plan this time was diabolical,” Batman commented. “He wanted to get us out of the way, then impersonate us and commit heinous crimes in our name. Then he would set us free to a world where we would be hated and hunted.”
“He got the drop on me in the Fortress,” Superman admitted, “using the powers of Phantom Girl and Invisible Kid. Got the Zone projector and used it on me. Then he found Batman and Nightwing and did the same to them.”
“The powers of Triplicate Girl and Chameleon Boy let him impersonate all three of us at once,” Nightwing added. “Mon-El’s powers let him mimic those of Superman.”
“But when we attacked all three of his bodies at once,” Aquaman said, “he became too disoriented to maintain his triplicate selves. Then we were able to turn the tables on him with the Zone projector.”
“He may have gotten what he wanted, after all,” J’onn grimly pointed out. “He did a lot of damage while impersonating you. He has tainted the public’s image of all heroes. It will take a lot of undoing.”
“It won’t be that different from when we started out as heroes,” Superman pointed out. “The public didn’t know what to think of us, then. We had to earn their trust. And we can do it again.”
Those confident words inspired all present. No matter how close they came to defeat, the Justice League of America had triumphed again, and always would.