Steel and the Martian Manhunter found themselves standing before a huge round boulder. The massive rock rested within a cleared area inside a stone circle. But it was not the size nor placement of the stone that drew their interest; rather, the words carved crudely but clearly on the stone were what caught J’onn Jonzz’s eye as soon as the heroes found themselves in the middle of the odd village. “Daily Planet!” he said. “The name of Superman’s favorite newspaper is inscribed on this rock!”
“How bizarre!” said Steel. “Let’s see what’s under it. Maybe it’s covering the site of the original building. Could this be where Metropolis was located?” The red-and-blue-costumed hero placed his hands on the smooth stone and strained as he carefully rolled the massive rock forward, inch by inch. He found nothing under the rock, but before he could do anything else, he heard loud guttural tones from all sides.
“The Daily Planet has been moved!” they cried. “There can be no denying the truth of this omen! The Mighty One has returned! The legends said he would return one day, and now he has! He has changed his costume, but the colors remain the same! All hail the Man of Steel!”
Steel frowned and looked around, but he saw no sign of J’onn. He only saw a group of talking gorillas in simple clothing. They bowed to him in reverence as he stared at them with surprise.
“I’ve turned invisible in order to reduce their shock. It appears that we have found ourselves in a futuristic culture in which talking primates worship Superman’s memory!”
The mental voice echoed in Steel’s mind, and he realized that J’onn was still by his side. He also marveled at how calmly the Martian could assess such a unlikely situation. “Planet of the Apes! This is just like that movie! Where’s Roddy McDowall when you need him?” muttered Steel. He could not get over how odd it felt to hear and see animals talk. The whole situation made him feel like he was in a dream, but the reality was plain to see, hear, and touch.
A burly gorilla came forward and said, “Mighty One, welcome to Nashnil! What shall you do first? Will you change the course of rivers or bend steel in your bare hands?”
Steel smiled ruefully and said, “I’m not Sup–!”
Before he could finish his statement, J’onn’s telepathy sent words of warning to his mind. “Do not tell them about your true identity! Let them believe that you are their hero. We need time to find out the nature of this world and our role in it.”
Steel gulped and said, “Well, actually, I’d kind of like to hear more about you… good citizens!”
“Good citizens? Superman never talks like that!” warned J’onn silently.
The gorilla said, “I am Paire. We welcome you back, Mighty One. You are in time for the ritual!”
“What ritual?” said Steel.
“We were about to hold the great ritual in which those who feel they have been touched by your power demonstrate their worth by flying or bouncing bullets off their bodies,” said Paire. “We would be honored to have you do so for all to see!”
Another gorilla rushed up and aimed a pistol at Steel without any warning or word. He fired the gun, and Steel stood his ground as his altered body and his heavy costume deflected the bullet. “Excellent! He has shown himself to be bulletproof!” cried Paire. “Now fly for us!”
“Maybe I could just jump something in a single bound?” suggested Steel. “I ran into some bad kryptonite, and I’m not feeling up to snuff!”
J’onn said, “Allow me.” He lifted Steel into the air and invisibly carried him over the ape village.
“Do I extend one arm like that guy in the movie?” whispered Steel.
“Stop struggling,” said J’onn. “You need to relax.”
“This is totally unlike you,” said Steel. “Why are you so keen on fooling these hairy losers?”
“Because all the while I have been coaching you,” explained J’onn, “I have also detected a keen mind full of thoughts of distress. The thoughts of someone nearby indicate he is in peril and possesses a heightened mental acuity that separates him from all those we’ve seen. I’ve been trying to locate that mind all this time.”
Steel allowed J’onn to land him in a less-than-graceful manner, and he said, “My friends, I would like to see more of this great city!”
The gorillas cheered wildly and led Steel down the lane through the village, while J’onn tried to pinpoint the mind he had detected.
The Martian Manhunter stopped near a rickety old building that sat on a slope above the ape community. He shook his head in bemusement as he saw the crudely painted sign over the door. Fort Solitude! he thought. This must be some approximation of Superman’s own Fortress of Solitude. Apparently its existence became common knowledge at some point between our era and this one. Like much else about his legend, the Fortress has become a confused muddle of half-truth and misconceptions to these apes.
He returned to his visible status, since he could only maintain invisibility for a short period of time without becoming fatigued. He used his Martian strength to smash through the doorway, because he now sensed the mind he had been seeking directly beyond the Fort’s door.
There he saw two odd canines with humanoid size and clothing. They had been locked within the crude fort, and he blanched as he saw the odd manner in which the first dog resembled a canine Sherlock Holmes. His companion was shorter and stout and could have only been the Dr. Watson counterpart for the dog detective.
“I am Mylock Bloodstalker, and this is my loyal friend Doile,” said the canine Sherlock as he bit down on a long pipe. “We are appreciative of your timely aid, sir. These ruffians have held us captive ever since we arrived outside their village.”
“Your mind is strong,” said J’onn J’onzz. “I have little doubt that you would have soon found a way to trick them and bring about your own escape.”
Bloodstalker nodded in an absent way and said, “Indeed, that is merely logical when one considers their primitive mentality and obsessive behavior, and my own superior system of observation and deduction. I knew what weakness to use against them. I was merely biding my time.”
The fat bulldog named Doile said, “I say, Bloodstalker, what is this chap? He doesn’t look a dashed bit like any animal or human I’ve ever seen!”
“Elementary, my dear Doile,” said Bloodstalker. “If he does not appear to be anything of this world, then obviously he comes from beyond it! Perhaps he’s a Martian, like those chaps in the book old Aitch Jee wrote.”
“I need to find out just how I arrived here as well,” said J’onn. “I was plucked from the past and brought here.”
“Ever since I took on the Adventure of the Last Boy, I have met the most interesting people, don’cha know!” said Mylock Bloodstalker.
J’onn J’onzz led them out of the fort and frowned as he saw Steel engaged in a brawl with a gorilla.
“Zuma is the heir of the Mighty One!” roared the gorilla as he battered Steel with two large hands. “Zuma will show you!”
“You’re acting more Donkey than Kong, but I’m going to have to go ape on you!” said Steel, ducking a swinging punch and following this up by delivering three rapid blows of his own, which left the angry Zuma flat at his feet as the other apes cheered.
They gasped as the Martian Manhunter, Mylock Bloodstalker, and Doile appeared. J’onn had changed shape and now looked exactly like the real Superman.
“The Mighty One!” cried one old ape as he glanced back and forth between Steel and Superman. “Truly this is the real Mighty One! What manner of fraud has this infidel committed?”
“He’s not the Mighty One, but he is my pal,” said J’onn. “I have returned to give you my blessing and to leave you with orders. I order you to fight for truth and justice and to treat all animals and humans with care and respect. Do not enslave animals. That is my wish. I will return in time to see how you have obeyed me.” He flew off and lifted the other three skyward with his carefully directed telekinesis.
When they were far from the village of Nashnil, he resumed his normal form and asked the two dogs a question. “Do you have any idea what could have brought us here? It appears as if we were sent to that village to save you two. Have you some vital case that requires our help?”
“We were helping an animal named Kamandi in his efforts to tap into the energy of the Great Vortex beyond the Western Wall,” explained Mylock Bloodstalker. “When he did it, we were flooded with energy, and the next thing we knew, we found ourselves in the village of Nashnil. You must understand — this Kamandi is a good lad, but he is an animal. Sadly, he thinks of himself as a human. Bright little fellow, too.”
“This world is nuts!” said Steel. “The animals think they are humans, and the humans are treated like animals!”
“Can you take us to the Western Wall?” asked J’onn. “I suspect it may be the way home we need.”
Bloodstalker smiled and said, “Leading you there will be a pleasure, old boy. The game is afoot!”