The man in the blue and white costume and hood lay on the rooftop of the STAR Labs building and groaned in pain. He had just quickly and decisively lost a struggle with the winged wonder from Thanagar.
“You should have asked your friend the Weather Wizard about me, Captain Cold,” Hawkman said, slapping his mace into the palm of his left hand with a loud smack. “He’d have told you I’m no pushover.”
Cold merely groaned again.
“Canary!” Zatanna said, walking out the front door. “Let me tell you another idea for –Great Merlin!” Zatanna stopped dead, just outside the front door. Black Canary stood there as well, watching what appeared to be a battle between two clouds of gas. One cloud was green, one orange. As the heroines watched, the gas clouds changed to liquid, roiling and swirling around together like a whirlpool in midair. Then they changed again into an amorphous mass of stone attacking a similar chunk of steel. Zatanna peered into the rapidly changing elements; human faces were just barely visible.
“What the heck is going on?” Zatanna asked.
“Metamorpho showed up to pay his respects,” Canary explained. “And no sooner did he show up, than Mister 104 attacked. The two of them have been going at it for about ten minutes now.”
“Should we help?” Zatanna asked.
Canary shrugged. “I don’t know which one is which. Once we figure that out, maybe we’ll do something.”
As the heroines watched, the stone mass suddenly changed to some kind of metal, white and shiny. It stretched itself into a thin sheet, then covered the steel mass completely, imprisoning it within a sphere. Then the white metal began to glow, first yellow, then bright red; Zatanna and Canary felt the heat from where they stood.
“I-I think that must be Mister 104,” Zatanna said. “He’s trying to cook the other one; Rex wouldn’t do that! We should–”
Before the mistress of magic could complete her thought, the street was rocked by a sudden explosion. The metal sphere was scattered into a million fragments. As the dust cleared, a familiar multicolored form staggered out of the center of the blast.
“Whew!” said Metamorpho, alias Rex Mason. “Wouldn’t want to go through that again!”
“Rex!” Black Canary cried. “Are you OK?”
“I’m good,” Metamorpho assured his friend. “Old weird-beard tried to turn me into a soft-boiled egg. Should have known better; I just turned into hydrogen gas. He’ll be OK, but it should take him a while to pull himself back together.”
“He’ll probably come after you when he does get himself reconstituted,” Zatanna pointed out. “He’ll remember this defeat!”
“Probably,” Metamorpho agreed. “An element never forgets.”
“Ooh!” Canary scowled. “Has Green Arrow been writing your material?”
“You’ll pay for this,” the bearded man snarled. “I promise you, I’ll make you — uff!” The villain’s threats ceased as the gloved fists at the ends of the rubbery arms wound tightly around his body began to pummel his chin again.
“Give it a rest, light-snack,” Elongated Man sneered at the black-and-white-costumed villain known as Doctor Light. “I guess it was just my turn; I’m one of the few JLAers who hadn’t whupped your butt one-on-one before today. Well, give my regards to the next guy!”
A skull-faced man in a dark blue cloak crept through the trash-littered alleyway behind the STAR building. Revenge was on his mind.
“Enjoy your brief rest, Superman,” Doctor Destiny whispered, fingering the ruby clasp of his cloak. “Soon it shall become your most tortured nightmare!”
“So dreams are your weapon, skull-faced thing?” a voice from the shadows snarled.
“What?” Doctor Destiny cried, whirling on his heel. “Who’s there?”
“Let me, a darker dream to you bring!”
Destiny’s head whipped around in the direction of the voice; he saw two reddish points of light in the shadows, like eyes. From beneath these eyes came a jet of flame that engulfed Destiny’s body. The villain screamed in agony. The flames did not burn his body physically, but his very soul felt as though it were being incinerated. The flame jet ceased as quickly as it had started, and Destiny fell to the alley floor, twitching and convulsing in pain. A yellow-skinned monstrosity stalked out of the shadows to stand over the defeated villain.
“Superman did help me, ‘gainst Blackbriar Thorn,” the Demon intoned. “And on that day, a debt was born. The Man of Steel, I did owe for his aid. Now thanks to this fool, the debt has been paid.” The Demon raised his head to stare at the side of the STAR building. “I owe you no more, Superman! The slate’s been cleaned by Etrigan!” In a peal of throaty laughter and a stench of brimstone, the Demon was gone.
A thin, skeletal figure dressed in brown rags crept along the shadows of the STAR building rooftop. As he slunk along the darkened surface, the Scarecrow could barely contain his excitement.
“Soon, the grand experiment shall begin!” he chuckled to himself. “We shall see if a Kryptonian in a weakened state can be frightened to death! What a boon to science that will be! Pity there’s a Republican in the White House, else I could probably get a grant to pay for–”
Suddenly, a peal of ghoulish laughter rang out across the rooftop. “What?” Scarecrow gasped, his head snapping up in the direction from which the laughter came. He caught a glimpse of a figure darting behind a large air-conditioning unit; saw a shock of bright green hair vanishing around the corner.
“Joker?” Scarecrow whispered harshly, cautiously advancing toward the unit. “Joker, are you here? I realize it’s open season on Superman, but I was here first! Please observe some etiquette–”
“Joker couldn’t make it,” a mocking voice from above called. “Will I do?”
Scarecrow looked up to see a green-haired man crouching atop the air-conditioning unit — a man with sickly yellow skin and a bright red sheepskin rug across his shoulders. The Scarecrow had never met this man, but he knew who he was.
“The Creeper!” Scarecrow gasped.
“Oh, I’m sorry, you didn’t phrase your answer in the form of a question,” Creeper scolded as he leaped down to the rooftop.
“Meddler!” Scarecrow hissed, getting over his momentary surprise. “This is how I respond to nosy do-gooders!” The master of fear hurled a glass sphere from his pocket to the rooftop. It shattered at the Creeper’s feet and engulfed him in a cloud of fumes that dissipated quickly. The Scarecrow stood back, a smug smile beneath his mask, to watch the Creeper’s reaction. The bizarre crime-fighter hesitated a moment, an uncertain expression on his face, then burst into mocking laughter. The Scarecrow goggled in amazement.
“Nice try, Ray Bolger,” Creeper cackled, “but I can’t think of anything more frightening than me! Except maybe a sequel to Krush Groove!” With that, the Creeper lunged. The Scarecrow, master of fear, screamed in terror as the crimson-gloved fists rained down on him.
“Your prediction is not proving true, DeSaad,” Darkseid said matter-of-factly. The absolute absence of malice from his master’s tone was more frightening to DeSaad than any expression of anger would have been.
“P-please, have patience, O great Darkseid!” DeSaad begged. “Th-the villains on Earth greatly outnumber the heroes! True, the heroes have been victorious so far, but they cannot hold out much longer!”
“You should hope that they do not,” Darkseid said simply. DeSaad gulped loudly.
“Back, you blue-coated minions of the law!” the Matter Master bellowed. “Back, or be crushed beneath my might!” The green-garbed villain pointed his mentachem wand, and the palm trees lining the Los Angeles street bent to bowl the police over like tenpins. In the wake of the numerous super-villain assaults in the last thirty-six hours, the Los Angeles police had added their forces to those guarding the STAR building. They might have known better.
“Witless fools,” Matter Master snarled with contempt. “Ordinarily I would create a tornado to sweep them all away! However, my powers only affect matter in its natural state, and the air in Los Angeles is hardly that! Still, there is enough for me to work with that I–”
“Hey!” a voice from above shouted. “Where’s the beef?”
“Huh?” Matter Master responded, and instinctively looked up in time to catch a glimpse of the spinning metal disk hurtling toward his head. The disk struck his forehead and bounced off; the goateed villain swayed on his feet for a second, then crumpled to the street.
“I don’t think there’s anybody back there,” Nightwing chuckled as he caught the returning disk in his hand. He looked down from the rooftop where he stood, watching the battered but unbowed police swarm to the unconscious villain to take him into custody. The young hero then got back on his way to visit his longtime friend.
While Dick Grayson was growing up, Superman had been a strong influence in his life, perhaps second only to the Batman himself. When the time had come to lay aside his Robin mantle, Dick had taken inspiration for his new nom de guerre from Superman’s Kandorian identity. Now, nothing could keep him from Superman’s beside. With one hand he patted the pouch at his hip to be certain that his gift — a first edition of Philip Wylie’s novel, Gladiator — was still there. Satisfied that it was, Nightwing was on his way.
“Look out! Here he comes again!”
“I-I th-think he’s g-g-going to–”
The battle raged on the rooftop across the street from the STAR building. The night before, Firestorm had defeated Felix Faust on this very rooftop. But this battle was going quite a different way. The Metal Men had arrived to visit their friend Superman and wish him a speedy recovery. They had noticed a costumed man lurking on the rooftop and had gone down to investigate. They discovered the skulking figure to be Doctor Polaris, master of magnetism, and the villain was using his power to swing Iron like a wrecking ball, using him as a weapon against his fellow Metal Men.
“Foolish robots!” Polaris cried out, taking another wide swing with Iron. “As if a collection of anthropomorphic tinker-toys could stop Doctor Polaris! You’re providing me amusement before I strike against Superman, and nothing more!”
“F-f-f-fellas,” Tin stammered, “m-m-maybe we’d b-b-b-better–” Tin’s idea was cut short as Iron’s body collided with his own, knocking the robot’s head clean off his neck.
“Tin’s down!” Gold cried. “Enough is enough! Mercury! Tina! Maneuver thirty-seven!”
“Aye-aye, cap’n!” Mercury cried out. The liquid Metal Man formed himself into a fine mist, spraying across Doctor Polaris. The magnetic villain raised his arms to cover his eyes, momentarily dropping his guard. Iron crashed to the rooftop, the magnetic field temporarily broken. When Polaris opened his eyes again, he was inside a cage, a six-walled structure of living bars formed by Tina, the platinum robot.
“Fools!” Polaris growled. “I’ll teach you to attack your superiors! I’ll… awfully hot all of a sudden… I’ll — I’ll–” The villain gestured, attempting to use his magnetic powers to break free of his prison. Nothing happened.
“Nice try, Polaris,” Gold said. “But I’m afraid we’ve pulled the plug on your magnetic attraction.”
“Tina’s got one toe stuck in a light socket through an open window in the top floor of this building,” Mercury explained, with a professorial tone in his voice. “The electrical current is making her heat up, and heat decays a magnetic field!”
“Yeah, Polar-face!” Lead sneered, cradling Tin’s severed head in the crook of his arm. “Sorry if that burns you up!”
Tina burst out laughing, high, shrill laughter ringing over the rooftop.
“It wasn’t that funny, Tina,” Mercury said.
“It’s not thah-hah-hat!” Tina giggled. “Th-the electricity tickles! Ha-ha-ha-ha!”
“Defeated by a collection of clanking clowns,” Polaris groaned.
“I’m very pleased with your progress, Superman,” Dr. Martin said, checking his readouts. “Your cells are absorbing the solar radiation even faster than I had hoped.”
“Does that mean I can get out of here, Doc?” Superman asked. “I mean, I appreciate the care, but–”
“But you’d rather be doing what Superman does,” Dr. Martin said, smiling. “I know, but I’m not quite confident yet that you’re fully up to speed. I do feel comfortable increasing the intensity of the solar feed, though. Perhaps another twelve or fifteen hours.”
“Twelve or fif–? Oh, well, if I must,” Superman sighed.
“Yahtzee, anyone?” Ralph called.
“Look, if you want Chinese, you get Chinese,” the Flash said. “The rest of us want Italian.”
“Not all of you,” Steel countered. “Black Canary voted for Chinese, too.”
“She said Italian,” the Flash countered.
“Aw, she was just going with the majority,” Steel said. The two Justice League champions were walking down the street to get food for the others.
“Look, if you want Chinese, go somewhere else and get it,” the Flash said. “I’m not stopping you.”
“Yeah, well, I’ve never been to L.A. before,” Steel said. “I don’t know the neighborhood.”
“What, you afraid you’ll get lost?” the Flash said, grinning. In the setting California sun, neither hero noticed the air around them begin to glow slightly red.
“Afraid? You calling me afraid?” Steel snarled, suddenly belligerent. “I’ve got more courage in my little finger than you have in your whole body!”
“Is that so?” the Flash sneered. “And where did you get this courage? Fighting losers like the Cadre?”
“Oh, big talk, from someone who used to fight Ding-Dong Daddy and the Mad Mod!” Steel countered. “What happened, your play-clothes in the wash?”
“That’s right, I was a Teen Titan!” the Flash growled with pride. “I was fighting the good fight while you were still watching the Krofft Super Show! So don’t lecture me on being a hero!”
“Why, you egotistical, swell-headed, loudmouthed, undereducated blowhard! I ought to–”
“Who are you calling undereducated? Take that back, or so help me–”
Above them, a gaudily costumed man rode a multicolored band of solid light as he cackled at their argument. “My red anger beam has got them fighting among themselves! I can slip right by them now,” the Rainbow Raider gloated. Unwisely, the confident villain threw a salute to the bickering heroes and called out, “Ta-ta, boys! Give my best to your elders!”
As one, the Flash and Steel looked up and saw the villain.
“The Rainbow Raider!” the Flash snarled.
“That costumed creep!” Steel growled. “Lemme at him!”
“You?” the Flash sneered. “He’s a Flash foe, newbie! Get your own Rogues Gallery!”
“Sure he is, the real Flash,” Steel countered. “Not some kid in his uncle’s best suit!”
“Why you snot-nosed — forget it, I’ll finish with you after I take care of him!”
“Ha! Only if you beat me there, Speedy Gonzales!” And Steel’s motor-enhanced legs propelled him up toward the Rainbow Raider in a mighty leap.
“Start-jumper!” the Flash cried, and took off at top speed.
Moments later, a defeated and severely pummeled Rainbow Raider hung limply between the two young heroes, each of whom had him by one arm.
“And another thing,” the Flash snapped, “you’re a fine one to talk about wearing someone else’s costume!”
“Yeah, well, at least I never had a crush on my own teammates!”
“That’s not what Vibe told me!”
“Why, you miserable–”