by Martin Maenza
In orbit 22,300 miles above the Earth’s surface, a young man in a red, white, and blue costume sat at the main console of the planetary surveillance systems and watched carefully for any signs of crisis. So far it had been a fairly quiet night. Hank Heywood III, better known as Steel, hoped it would continue to be that way.
He thought about the past year or so and what changes it had brought him. J’onn J’onzz had rallied the team back together and convinced many of the older members to return once more — Superman, Batman, Green Arrow, Black Canary, Hawkman, and all the others. The team had moved out of the bunker his grandfather had built in Detroit and back into this rebuilt satellite. The Justice League of America was home once more and stronger than ever before. They truly were the world’s greatest super-heroes. And Steel was happy to be counted among them.
Still, Hank couldn’t help but miss his old friends, especially around this holiday time of the year. He hadn’t known Vixen, Gypsy, and Vibe very long, but the short time they had together had still left a strong impression with him. Together they were all rookies in the team during a time when the League was going through severe changes.
Hank sighed slightly. And now they were all dead or stuck on the parallel world of Earth-Two behind an impenetrable barrier that had been erected to keep the five Earths from merging together as they had done during the Crisis on Infinite Earths. What Hank wouldn’t give to see them once more, even Paco.
“Enough of that,” Steel said aloud as he checked the time display on the console. “Time to perk up some.” He glanced to a table nearby that had lights and other decorations stacked upon it. “I wonder if I should…?”
Suddenly, the transporter tube across the way began to hum and glow. Steel was familiar with the sound; it meant one or more of the members of the League was teleporting up. A form began to appear in the tube, an outline of a single figure. As the machine completed its task, Steel could tell who had just arrived from the planet below.
A figure dressed in a scarlet red costume with yellow lightning bolt trim stepped from the tube. “West! It’s about time!” Steel said. “You do realize the party starts in an another half-hour.” He glanced over to the table. “And you had volunteered to help decorate.”
The young man who now carried the mantle of the Flash with pride simply smiled. “Relax, Steel,” he said. “You’re talking to the fastest man alive. It’ll take me no time at all to have this place looking like Christmas.” He glanced around. “Didn’t you get the tree out of storage?”
“Uh, no,” Steel admitted. “I kind of forgot.”
“No problem,” the speedster said. “Be back in a flash!” And with a quick blur and a small breeze, the Flash was heading for the storage area three decks below.
Steel was rather impressed with how quickly the main console area and adjacent meeting room were instantly transformed. Moving at super-speed, the Flash strung up various strings of colored lights, assembled and decorated a ten-foot-tall artificial tree, and made the place all set for the League’s holiday gathering.
Soon, the Flash was done and sitting in the other chair by the console, drinking a canned beverage. “Well?” he asked. “That good enough or what?”
Steel looked around as lights of green and red blinked. “I’m impressed,” he had to admit. He noticed what his friend was drinking. “Wally, you could have brought me…” Before he could finish, a can appeared in Steel’s hand. “…one.” He glanced down. “Oh, thanks.”
“No problem.” The Flash leaned back in his chair. “I sure hope we don’t have any interruptions tonight. After the party here, I have another out on the West Coast. I could use a night to relax.”
“We can only hope,” said a voice from across the room.
Steel and the Flash both turned to see a familiar figure in a long, dark blue cape and cowl step from the shadows. “Batman!” the two exclaimed in unison.
“We didn’t see you arrive,” Steel said.
“He likes to do that every now and again,” the Flash said. “Nightwing does it, too. You get used to it.”
Batman merely smiled. Suddenly, the transporter tube sprang to life once more, and a trio stepped from the tube. Two wore similar costumes of yellow, green, and red with large wings attached, while the other woman was dressed in a tuxedo jacket with tails and fishnet stockings. “Zatanna, Katar, Shayera,” Batman said as he greeted them. “Glad you could all make it.”
“I had an afternoon show in Midway City,” the young brunette replied. “I figured I’d hitch a ride with the Hawks here.”
The Flash rushed over and extended his hands to help with the large covered dish that the winged man held. “Can I take that for you, Hawkman?”
“Why, yes, Wally,” he said. “Thank you.” The speedster rushed it back to the meeting room and returned.
“What’d you bring?” the Flash then asked.
“Oh, just something I whipped up in the kitchen,” Hawkman said.
“Katar, please!” Hawkwoman said. “He tries to act so nonchalant about it, but he spent hours meticulously preparing his famous Thanagarian goulash.” Hawkman shot his wife a slight look, but she gave him a reassuring hug of his arm.
“It smells great,” the Flash said. “Can’t wait until we eat.”
The transporter tube began to hum again. “You shouldn’t have to wait too long, son,” Hawkman said. “Looks like our party is about to get into full swing.”
Before long, the JLA Satellite was buzzing with conversation and music. A majority of the members had already arrived and were taking a few moments to get caught up with one another. Holiday classics played in the background on the satellite’s intercom system.
Glancing around, Nubia felt good to be surrounded by so many of her allies. A year ago they had welcomed the new Wonder Woman into the fold as if she were an old friend; they made her feel comfortable both in times of crisis and celebration. She turned back to J’onn J’onzz, the one member she had become extremely close to over the past year. The green-skinned Martian was smiling and laughing as he talked to his old friend Superman.
The Man of Steel turned to the warrior woman. “So, Nubia, what’d you bring to our little festive holiday table?” he asked.
The dark-skinned woman in the red, white, blue, and gold costume pointed toward the food nearby. “I made a dish native to the island where I was raised,” Nubia explained. “Though I had to substitute a bit, not having access to wild boar and some rare spices here in the States.”
Superman nodded. “I’m sure it’ll be delicious.” The Kryptonian then turned to his fellow alien. “And how about you, J’onn?”
“Crushed Oreo pies,” the Martian Manhunter stated plainly. “I found the recipe in a magazine recently. It is very tasty.”
Superman smiled. “I’m sure it is, my friend. I’m sure it is.”
Suddenly, the transporter sprang to life once more. A blonde-haired woman wearing a flowing white gown stepped from the tube. In her hands, she held a small child with dark curly hair.
Superman noticed their arrival first. “Hippolyta! So glad you and Diana could make it.” The Man of Steel hurried over to the Amazon queen’s side. “I was worried the invitation wouldn’t make it to you on time.” He smiled as he looked down at the young girl, their former comrade Diana and the first Wonder Woman. The toddler Diana smiled and giggled as she saw Superman’s face.
“It did, Superman,” Hippolyta said. “We thank you for having us.” She was pleased to see Diana’s positive reaction. The young child reached out to him.
“May I?” Superman asked. The queen nodded and handed Diana to him.
J’onn glanced over to Nubia. Even without his telepathy, he could often tell what his lover was thinking. “What a pleasant surprise,” he said. “I did not know they were coming.”
Nubia nodded. “Nor did I, J’onn. But it is good to see them.” She then glanced up and realized where they were standing. She tapped J’onn on the shoulder and pointed up to the small green sprig hanging above them. “Mistletoe. Is there not a tradition involving this plant?”
J’onn smiled. “There is indeed,” he said. “We must follow custom, after all.” He then took Nubia in his arms and gave her a passionate kiss.
“Snapper!” Black Canary embraced the brown-haired young man who was dressed in a dark sports coat and gray shirt. “So glad you could make it.”
“Thanks for inviting me, B.C.,” said Lucas “Snapper” Carr.
Green Arrow gave the young man a light punch in the arm. “Hey, kiddo, how’s life been treating you?”
“Good — real good. I’m a research assistant now at STAR Labs in California.”
“Really? I’m impressed, kid!” Green Arrow said. “Who knew our little Snapper would finally make it to the big time?”
“Oh, don’t listen to him,” Black Canary said. “You were very helpful to us during that whole Aquarius incident last month.” (*) She took the young man by the arm. “Say, I’m sure there are others who’d like to say hello to you. Then we can get you something to eat.” She started to lead him off.
[(*) Editor’s note: See Super-Team Family: Starman and Superman: The Final Night.]
“Hey!” Green Arrow called to them. “Have Snapper try my chili! See if he’s got what it takes to stomach the good stuff.” The emerald archer laughed.
Nearby, Adam Cray watched the exchange. “Say, Steel,” he whispered to his nearby colleague. “Did I hear right? Is that Snapper Carr?”
“That’s what I heard,” Steel said.
“Hmm,” Adam said.
Steel looked at him curiously. “What hmm?“
Adam looked puzzled. “I ran across his name a lot in reading the old team casebooks. He was the team mascot when the JLA first formed, and he authored many of the first casebooks. All that came to an end, though, when he betrayed the JLA’s Secret Sanctuary to the Joker. (*) It was that reason that the League moved to a satellite headquarters. He kind of disappeared after that, but the group crossed paths with him again a few years later. He was going by the name Star-Tsar and had been tricked by the Key to attack the League for him.” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Snapper Carr, Super-Traitor,” Justice League of America #77 (December, 1969) and “The Face of Star-Tsar,” Justice League of America #149 (December, 1977).]
“Really?” Steel said. “I guess I never took the time to read up on all that. You’ve really gotten into this whole history stuff, haven’t you?”
Adam took a sip of his drink. “Hey, you never know when it might come in handy.” He glanced about the room and located Black Canary and Snapper talking with Batman. “Sometimes history has a habit of repeating itself.”
Forty minutes later, Ray Palmer worked his way through the group to where two of the newer members of the team had been standing for a while. “So, boys,” the physicist said, “how we doing tonight?”
“Just fine, sir,” said Adam Cray, the successor to Palmer’s Atom identity. He stopped his surveillance of Snapper and faced Palmer.
Steel nodded in agreement. “It’s a good party.”
“Pretty good turnout,” Ray Palmer said as he fished a beverage out of the cooler. “Green Lantern’s off on a mission in space, while Aquaman’s been rather busy down in Atlantis what with his and Mera’s daughter being born and all. (*) Other than that, the gang’s all here. I haven’t seen a turnout this big since my wedding.”
[(*) Editor’s note: See Aquaman: Bride’s Head Revisited.]
“Firestorm couldn’t make it, either,” Steel corrected the former tiny titan. “When we switched between monitor duty cycles, he told me he had a hot date that he couldn’t get out of.”
Ray Palmer laughed. “Ah, the options of the single young man.” He took a sip of his new drink and noticed his wife crossing the room to join some of the other women. “Uh-oh, this can’t be good.”
“What’s that, Professor Palmer?” the Atom asked.
Ray Palmer motioned to the center of the crowd. “The baby.”
Jean Loring Palmer smiled at Sue Dibny as she approached. “Ooh, she’s a cutie,” Jean said. “Can I hold her?”
“Of course,” Sue said. She handed little Debbie to the dark-haired lawyer. “Ralph just finished giving her a bottle and changing her, so she should be fine for a few minutes at least.” The four-month-old child cooed softly. Jean’s eyes sparkled as she held the child in her arms.
Standing nearby, Hawkwoman and Black Canary were chatting. “She is such a sweet baby,” the blonde heroine remarked. “Makes you almost want one, you know?”
The winged red-haired woman nodded. “True,” Hawkwoman replied. “Though half the fun is just trying.”
“Shayera!” Black Canary laughed.
“Oh, come on, Dinah. Just because you and Ollie haven’t tied the knot yet doesn’t mean you can’t have some fun.”
Black Canary nodded. She looked across the way and saw Green Arrow talking with Hawkman and Elongated Man. “I wouldn’t deny that,” the heroine said. “But Ollie hasn’t yet proposed to me. If he doesn’t do it one of these years, I may just have to reverse the tables and propose to him.”
“Good for you, girl,” Hawkwoman said. “Take charge.”