Justice League of America: Earth Once Removed, Chapter 1: The Justice League Five

by HarveyKent

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Batman had taken the call on the mobile phone in the Batmobile. A silent alarm had been tripped at the Gotham Ornithological Society Museum. The Darknight Detective wasn’t sure what items in this museum were valuable enough to steal, but he was fairly certain whom he would find trying to steal them.

Sure enough, as the Batman’s shadowy form crept across the museum skylight, he beheld a short, pudgy figure in a cutaway coat and striped trousers, an umbrella hooked over one arm, endeavoring to open a glass case.

“That’s enough, Penguin!” Batman cried, dropping in through the skylight and landing expertly on his feet.

“Not quite, Batman,” the pudgy figure snarled, raising an empty hand. Batman barely had time to register the fact that this was not the Penguin’s voice, before a brilliant flash of light exploded into his retinas, followed by cool, deep darkness.

That same night, across the county, this scene was repeated in four other locations. The players varied, but the basic elements remained the same.

In Central City, the Flash interrupted the Trickster at a robbery at a small jewelry store; or so he thought.

In Coast City, Green Lantern engaged Sonar in battle at an electronics warehouse; or did he?

In Pleasant Valley, the Atom found the Calculator in the process of breaking into an insurance company vault; at least, it looked like the Calculator.

Off the coast of New England, Aquaman came to the rescue of a cargo ship being raided by the Marine Marauder; or so it appeared.

In each case, the hero was felled by a sudden burst of light from the villain’s outstretched hand, a burst of light that shot right through their optic nerves and directly into their brains, rendering them instantly unconscious.

***

Batman was the last to awaken. He found himself paralyzed, unable to move. He could move his eyes from left to right, and saw that he was imprisoned in a glowing field of golden light, his arms rigidly at his sides. He saw that he was not alone, either; he was in the center of a row of five Justice League members, the Flash and Green Lantern on his left, Aquaman and the Atom on his right.

“Ah, awake at last,” a voice Batman recognized cut through the shadows outside the field of light. Batman narrowed his eyes, peering through the glow to the caped form beyond. “I’m so glad. I wouldn’t want you to depart this world without knowing why.”

Batman’s keen eyes brought the face above the cape into focus. Doctor Light was grinning in malevolent triumph.

“I can tell you’re all bursting with curiosity,” Light said. “Here, let me adjust the para-light field enough that you can speak.” The ingenious villain twisted a dial on a control panel, and the heroes felt their jaw muscles relax, no longer held by the paralyzing effects of the light field. The field, of course, was golden yellow, proof against Green Lantern’s power ring.

“Still trying to destroy the League, Light?” Batman asked. “Some people don’t know when to give up. I could almost admire your tenacity, if you weren’t such a bumbling fool.”

“Sticks and stones, Batman, sticks and stones,” Light said dismissively. “I’m on the right side of that field, you know.”

“The last thing I remember,” the Flash said, almost thinking out loud, “was chasing down the Trickster… and then…”

“That wasn’t the Trickster,” Batman said. “Any more than it was the Penguin I fought. Was it, Light?”

“Astute, Batman, very astute,” Light said. “No, it was myself in all cases. I got the idea from the Weather Wizard and a trick he used against two of you on Halloween.”

“I get it,” Green Lantern grumbled. “You disguised yourself as other villains, so we’d be prepared for their powers, not yours!”

“And with my holographic technology, it was easy,” Light said. “For years I’ve been trying to eliminate you; and now, I’ve finally succeeded!”

“You just may have, Light,” Aquaman said, “but even if you kill us, the rest of the League will hunt you down!”

“Two points to consider, Aquaman,” Light said. “Point one: I have no intention of killing you. Point two: the rest of the League cannot hurt me. I’ve seen the future, you see.”

“Come again?” Batman asked.

“Let me explain,” Light said. “Years ago, when I began my criminal career, I attempted to create a device that would let me see into the future, so I could plunder the technology of the future and use it to rob. On my first attempt I instead created a space-warp to another planet; I suppose your feathery teammate has told you about that. (*) On my second attempt, however, I succeeded. I saw the future, and what I saw was my own death. My death at your hands!”

[(*) Editor’s note: See “Let There Be Dr. Light,” DC Super-Stars #14 (May-June, 1977).]

“What?” the Atom cried. “You saw the League kill you?”

“I saw my own lifeless body, and five members of the League — you five — standing over it,” Light elaborated. “I decided then and there that the only way to preserve my own life would be by eliminating you!

“You mean,” Green Lantern said, “all these years, you’ve been trying to wipe out the League in some bizarre self-defense effort? Kill us to keep us from killing you? You’re crazy!

“Does it sound any crazier than a magic ring that can do anything except spread butter?” Light shot back. “Oh, I’ve tried to get past the prophecy. At times I’ve used hypno-light on myself to make myself forget it and carried on with my criminal career in other ways — the Fearsome Five, that business with the turncoat Terra-Man. But the nightmares always come back. And now, thanks to a casual remark by the Weather Wizard, I can finally save myself from the fate predicted for me!”

Batman narrowed his eyes in contempt.

“OK, let’s assume the ridiculous,” the Flash said. “Let’s assume that you did see a future prediction of the five of us killing you, and you’re going to save yourself by eliminating us. One point I don’t get. Didn’t you say a minute ago that you’re not gonna kill us?”

“Yes, how about that?” Aquaman asked. “If you’re so certain that we’ll be the cause of your death, how can you prevent that without killing us?”

“By removing you,” Light explained. “Do you remember our first encounter all those years ago? Seems like yesterday, doesn’t it? I used my light-technology to open space-warps that sent the entire League out of this world, into worlds where your powers would be useless.” (*)

[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Last Case of the Justice League,” Justice League of America #12 (June, 1962).]

“I remember,” Aquaman said, recalling the desert world to which Light had sent him.

“I was so sure I’d defeated you that time,” Light said. “Please, as old adversaries, do me the courtesy of telling me how you escaped those prison-worlds! I worked so hard to locate worlds that negated each of your abilities! The puzzle has been plaguing me ever since!”

All was silent for a moment, and then Batman spoke. Anything to keep Light talking long enough to figure a way out of this. “Superman and I switched costumes,” the Darknight Detective explained. “So you sent him to the world you had intended for me.”

Doctor Light’s face lit up with revelation. “And Superman’s powers easily escaped that world, and freed the rest of you!” he exclaimed. “Bravo, Batman! Not at all dissimilar to the way I just trapped the five of you, is it? What goes around comes around, I suppose.”

“So that’s your plan?” Green Lantern said. “Blast us off to some handpicked prison worlds again?”

“Not quite,” Light explained. “This time, my photo-warp device opens a gate not just to another planet, but to another dimension, another plane of reality. And I have not handpicked it; I have no idea where you’ll end up. But one thing is assured — you’ll never find your way back.” Again the heroes were silent. “Oh, and just to make sure…” Light’s hand quickly stabbed out, and a pencil-thin beam of light shot from his index fingertip, striking Green Lantern’s power ring where it sat on his immobile finger.

“My ring!” the emerald crusader cried, watching in horror as the power ring changed its very color, from brilliant green to dull, lusterless yellow.

“There now,” Doctor Light said. “With a yellow power ring, you won’t be able to do much. No chance of you bringing your friends back home with your little magic ring. And now the time has come, my old friends. The light-field which holds you powerless will convert to the dimensional warp as soon as I throw this switch. I’ve enjoyed the dance we’ve done these many years; really I have. But now it must come to an end.”

Doctor Light reached out a white-gloved hand, slowly wrapping his fingers around a lever, savoring the moment. Then, abruptly, he threw the lever into its reverse position. The light-field holding the five JLAers captive began to brighten in intensity, until soon it hid the heroes entirely from view.

Light–!” One of them cried out from within its glow; Doctor Light couldn’t tell which one. In moments, the glow would fade away, and the heroes would be gone forever.

Doctor Light recoiled in shock and horror as the brilliant glow suddenly winked out. The five heroes were not gone at all. They all stood where they had been, now free of the light-field prison. The villain moved quickly to recapture them, but an emerald beam shot out from Green Lantern’s power ring, boring right through the sunburst design on Doctor Light’s chest and out through the back. The master villain barely had time to register surprise before he collapsed onto the laboratory floor.

The five heroes walked up to Doctor Light’s body, forming a ring around it, with the Atom perched on the Flash’s shoulder and staring down.

“Is that–?” the Flash began.

“It’s Doctor Light,” Green Lantern acknowledged. “Looks like I killed him again.”

***

“Where the heck are we?” the Atom asked, looking around.

The five Justice League members were on a city street, an almost-deserted city street. Buildings rose high into the sky all around them. It was night, but not long into the night; Batman could tell from the stars. It was perhaps two hours after nightfall, no longer. And yet the streets were empty of people. Street lights burned, but no buildings were lit; there were no neon signs beckoning customers to places of business.

“New York,” Green Lantern said, looking around. “This is New York City. See, look, there’s the Twin Towers, and over there the Empire State Building.”

“Light’s machine goofed!” the Flash said. “Instead of chucking us into another dimension, he just sent us across the country to the Big Apple! What a maroon!”

“I doubt it,” Aquaman said. “Doctor Light can be a bit monomaniacal, I grant you, but he’s no fool. His devices have always worked. You weren’t a member then, Wally, but what he said about sending the League to handpicked prison planets was entirely true.”

“He’s also managed to make us all forget our own secret identities and think we were each other,” Green Lantern added, “and infiltrate the Justice League with his own agent, among other things. His lethal light bulb trap for Ray notwithstanding, I’m willing to bet that his machine did just what he said it would do.”

“So this isn’t New York?” the Flash asked.

“It apparently is,” Batman said, “but probably not the New York we know. For instance, where are all the people?”

“Batman is right,” the Atom said. “The city is deserted!”

“So, what? Light found a way to pierce the barrier between alternate worlds? This could be Earth-Two, or something like that?” Aquaman postulated.

“I’m not making any guesses until we get more information,” Batman said, beginning to walk north, looking this way and that. The other Leaguers followed him. “We need data, to learn about this — look!” Batman cried out, his finger stabbing in the direction of a shadowy alleyway behind a small convenience store. Someone had run down that alley.

“I’ll get–” Green Lantern cried, throwing out his right fist. “Blast,” he muttered, lowering his arm, remembering that Doctor Light had neutralized his power ring.

“Hang on,” the Flash said. In a scarlet blur and a rush of air, the young speedster was gone. Before the dust had settled from the first displacement of air, there was a second, and the Flash was back. He carried in his arms a young boy, barely in his teens. The boy was of Hispanic descent, wearing torn jeans and a dirty white T-shirt — and the most terrified expression the Justice Leaguers had ever seen. He clutched a plastic bag emblazoned with a popular bakery company logo, holding ten hamburger buns.

“Please!” the boy begged, as the Flash set him down. “I-I didn’t mean nothin’! I-I know I’m out after curfew, b-but my baby sister! She’s starvin’! I-I had to get food! Please, please don’t take me away!”

“Calm down, son,” Batman said soothingly. “Nobody’s going to take you away. We just want to talk to you.”

“Talk!” the boy cried in horror. “That’s what they say at first, sure! Like you wanted to talk to my dad! We ain’t never seen him again!”

“What’s that?” Aquaman asked, astonished.

“You recognize us?” Batman asked the terrified boy.

Sure I do!” the boy cried in fear. “You’re the Justice League, man! You’re the super-guys! Please, please don’t hurt me!”

“Um… guys…” the Flash said, his voice shaking a little. The other Leaguers turned their heads and saw that the scarlet speedster was looking not down at the boy, but behind them. They all turned to see what he was looking at and gasped in astonishment.

On the side of a building, as tall as the building itself, was a sign. It showed the colossal face of Superman. The features were identical to the Superman the Leaguers knew, and yet there was something different. The eyes gazed out with an expression the Leaguers had never beheld on their Superman. The mouth was a grim line, the jaw firmly set. But the eyes, most of all, seemed to bore right through when beholding the monstrous sign. Across the very bottom, in letters ten feet high, was written the warning:

SUPERMAN IS WATCHING YOU

“Oh, yeah,” the Atom said finally, after a long silence. “Definitely not our own New York. Unh-uh.”

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