Pleasant conversation and friendly laughter echoed through a modest suburban home just outside of Midway City one cold February evening as a beautiful woman with long, reddish-blonde hair, wearing a brown silk blouse with a short beige skirt and high heels, pursed her lips in a look of supreme distaste.
“Don’t look at me, folks,” insisted a tall, handsome man with dark hair and intelligent eyes. “My blushing — or should I say — blanching bride made that soup herself!” He crossed the kitchen swiftly as his wife wiped her mouth and playfully swung at him with a large wooden spoon.
“Don’t rub it in, Carter,” she replied. “Our friends already know you’re the expert cook in this marriage.”
Carter Hall nodded and clasped her hands in his own as he added, “I’m sorry, Shay. I just couldn’t resist after seeing that look on your face!”
His wife smiled good-naturedly and turned to face the trio who sat nearby. “I thought I could contribute something to the dinner, but I really overdid it with the seasoning,” she explained apologetically. Shayera Hol, the Thanagarian known on Earth under the identity of Shiera Hall, was the high-flying Hawkwoman. Her husband Carter, known as Katar Hol on Thanagar, was Hawkman.
Jean Loring, a strikingly attractive woman in a pale yellow dress, said, “Don’t feel bad, Shiera. Ray’s nearly as dangerous in the kitchen! All those years living as a bachelor gave the poor dear delusions of gastronomic skill that I had to bring to an abrupt end after our marriage.”
“She’s right,” said Ray Palmer, shrugging. “She’s right. I could burn water — hard water, that is.” The brilliant physicist glanced away from his partner to look at a young man who stood a few feet away, staring at various items hanging on the walls of the Hall home.
Shiera walked over and gently placed one hand on the young man’s back. “Adam, we’re so happy you decided to join us. I’m sorry your special friend Juliet couldn’t join you. We could have maintained a strictly civilian manner for the night if you had brought her.”
Adam Cray was the successor to Ray Palmer’s role as the heroic Atom. The young man smiled at Shiera and said, “Thank you, Mrs. Hall. Julie knows my secret, and I trust her fully, but I’d feel funny about doing anything that might tip her off to your own secrets. I mean, she already knows almost all my friends are in the JLA, but she doesn’t know which members they are. She met Hank and Will, but Hank wears a mask as Steel, and Will had altered his features via that weird power of his.”
Shiera bit her lip as she noticed Adam’s hesitant manner around her. In spite of his courage and skill in his heroic role, she suspected the young man had a bit of a crush on her, not that he would ever reveal it, since she was happily married, and he was otherwise pleasantly occupied with Juliet Thayer. Still, she was flattered, and she gently led him away from their rare art collection to steer him over to the table where Ray and Jean watched Carter prepare their evening meal.
“It’s nice to get together like this without some cosmic crisis looming over us,” said Ray.
Carter laughed and said, “Ray, I think you’ve had nearly as much action since you gave up the costume as you used to have when you were the tiny titan!”
Ray nodded sheepishly and said, “Who would have imagined that being a plain old ordinary man of science could lead me into so many odd adventures?”
Carter frowned and said, “And from the look on Shay’s face, another one is starting!” He pointed to where Shiera was staring at a blinking light.
“The silent alarm at the museum just went off!” she said. “We might need to put dinner on simmer.”
“Ray, Adam, do you want to join us?” asked Carter.
“Hold it, Carter,” said Shiera. “What kind of hosts would we be if we ran out on our friends? You stay here with Jean and Ray. Adam and I can handle things.”
Adam nodded eagerly and said, “Sure! I would be happy to help!”
“OK, Ray,” said Carter. “If you think I can trust my wife with a younger man, then we’ll sit this one out. Be careful, honey.”
“Always,” said Shiera.
After a quick and often-practiced costume change, Shiera Hall emerged as the pinioned princess Hawkwoman, while Adam Cray shrank down via the size-and-weight controls on his hidden costume to become the dark-clad champion known as the second Atom.
Hawkwoman flew off into the night with the six-inch Atom perched on her shoulder. “The Midway City Museum is close by. While we have a reliable security team, Hawkman and I have always tried to look in when trouble threatens the museum, since we have encountered a large number of super-foes there over the years. For a while, it seemed as if the Shadow-Thief had his own key!” She laughed.
The Atom smiled and said, “Plus, as the head curators, you Halls have the ultimate responsibility for everything there.”
Hawkwoman nodded and said, “I see a typically furtive figure skulking in the east wing.”
“Your vision is incredible!” remarked the Atom.
“Actually, that section is where the alarm was triggered, so it’s not that much of a feat,” she said.
The Atom jumped forward and adjusted his size and weight so that his own momentum carried him forward. He passed between the molecules of the window and, after growing to normal size, swiftly opened it.
As Hawkwoman swooped inside gracefully, they confronted a man in a white leotard decorated with the markings of a playing card. “Ace! What brings the Royal Flush Gang out after so long a time?” she said in a mocking tone.
The huge man in the white face mask said nothing as he lifted a display case and hurled it at her with stunning force. She dodged with impressive grace, and the Atom moved closer in an effort to block the bigger man.
I don’t see any other members of the gang, he thought. I know that there’s usually one member for several other playing card suits. He crashed into Ace of Spades with his full weight, and the big man staggered backward but did not fall. Ace brought both hands together, and shockwaves from the blow knocked the Atom down. “That took super-strength!” the hero gasped as he fought to regain his footing.
Ace of Spades kicked out with one foot as Hawkwoman darted forward to catch it and tip him off-balance before he could crush her small ally. She blocked his punch with her wings and brought both knees up to ram him in the face. Two kicks from her suddenly outstretched legs toppled him, and he fell hard, only to leap up seconds later.
“He’s not even dazed!” she said. “I also don’t notice any breathing. I think we’re dealing with a robot!”
“Allow me to take a closer look,” said the Atom, activating his controls to shrink down to the size of a molecule to pass inside the hulking man’s body. Sure enough, instead of blood and organs, he found circuits and gears. She’s right as usual, he thought. The Atom removed one of his miniaturized tools from his vest and sliced around with a laser, trying to cause as much damage as possible.
Ace of Spades lurched forward and grabbed for Hawkwoman’s legs as she circled in an ever more rapid series of swoops and dives. Within the robot, the damage caused by the Atom began to add up, and as Hawkwoman’s incredible aerial ballet occupied the robot, the Atom broke his operating system and swiftly emerged. A moment later, Ace collapsed with a crash.
Hawkwoman landed and said, “Good work, Atom! Now, let’s search the museum for the rest of his gang.”
Minutes later, she turned to the Atom and said, “No sign of any other intruders. It looks like Ace was solitaire, so to speak.”
The Atom nodded and said, “What was he after?”
“A rare set of ancient Roman gaming items,” she said. “It looks like one of those ever-popular motif crimes — living playing cards stealing game-related items, et cetera.”
Outside the Midway City Museum, two separate figures hid in the shadows, reacting to the events within in different ways. A gaunt man in blue with a burnoose that concealed his cunning eyes smiled smugly as he clutched an ancient tome to his chest.
“Dolts! They never even realized that I was in the west wing, or that my magic enabled me to create a fake tome to leave behind in place of the precious work!” he said. Perhaps this union of evil will be rewarding in the end after all, thought Felix Faust.
On the other side of the building, a man in green and gold frowned in disappointment. I never even had time to jump in and help, he thought ruefully. They were simply too effective on their own. Oh, well. I guess the odds can even be against a hero called Chance.
Hawkwoman and Hawkman needed very little in terms of verbal communication in order to achieve total mutual understanding. They knew each other well and played to each other’s individual strengths. The happy couple had become celebrated heroes on planet Earth after accepting a prolonged assignment to study the planet’s law-enforcement tactics. The uniforms they wore as alien police officers appeared to be colorful super-hero costumes to the people of Earth. Plus, the cybernetic helmets that allowed them to control their gravity-defying belts and steering wings added to a dramatic and unforgettable image.
On their home planet of Thanagar, Katar and Shayera Hol had been highly capable law-enforcement officers in the winged police force that had, in fact, been a creation of Katar’s father. Katar’s slightly more ornate helmet was in fact decorated with honor wings that proclaimed exactly how much he was esteemed by his peers. Shayera had also recently been granted her own honor wings after the couple liberated Thanagar from the tyranny of Hyathis, but she had not yet decided whether to implement her own honor wings into her helmet. (*) Katar was a skilled and resourceful hero, even without the added knowledge he had gained along with his spouse upon their arrival on Earth years before.
[(*) Editor’s note: See Hawkman and Hawkwoman: Liberty or Death.]
Their artificially implanted knowledge came from use of the wonderful electronic brain or Absorbascon. The electronic brain enabled the user to acquire all known data available from the very minds of a planet’s natives, but the volumes of data could not automatically be accessed. No user literally knew everything. It took deliberate effort to tap into the massive amounts of stored information, and seldom could the Hols take such time, since they dealt with life and death issues on a daily basis. Still, by any means, they were both well-equipped for the roles of Carter and Shiera Hall, curators of the Midway City Museum. They both loved Earth’s rich and storied history, and Katar favored making use of various long-forgotten or obsolete weapons in his crime-fighting duties. They also possessed an advanced spacecraft of Thanagarian design that orbited high above the planet beneath amazingly powerful cloaking devices.
It was aboard this spaceship that the couple examined the fallen robot costumed as Ace of Spades, a member of the Royal Flush Gang. It lay on a table with its chest plate open and a potent magnification device in place across the opening.
Ray Palmer looked up at the Hawks and then glanced down at Adam Cray. The younger man had assumed the role of the JLA’s tiny titan after Palmer relinquished the name and costume in order to establish a bit of order and domestic happiness in his personal life. (*) As a respected member of the scientific community at Ivy Town University, Palmer thrived in an academic setting that had been a part of his life since long before he, as a new professor, discovered a method by which white dwarf star radiation and ultraviolet light could be used to briefly shrink people or objects. The latter effect resulted in an explosion of the object until, with the benefit of years of experimentation and the input of a new assistant named Ira Quimby, Palmer had learned to counter the side-effect. He had put this new development to good use and had equipped the younger science student Adam Cray with various miniature weapons that aided him in his fledging career as the second Atom. Dr. Palmer was happy to step out of the blinding glare of the spotlight, since he had lost almost all privacy when a biography by a friend named Norman Brawler exposed his true identity after Ray Palmer decided to leave civilization behind for a couple of years after he and his wife Jean were divorced. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See The Atom: The Ivy Town Project and “The Atom’s Farewell,” Sword of the Atom Special #1 (1984).]
Now, with a renewed sense of purpose, he had reconciled with his estranged wife Jean Loring, taken in a ward named Melanie Larvan, and had found a true working harmony with the reformed super-villain Ira Quimby, alias I.Q., who actually enjoyed acting as another mentor to the young second Atom. (*) Ray smiled as he noticed how intently Adam was watching him. The young man had a good mind and a willingness to learn that had already made him a worthy successor to the heroic legacy of the Atom.
[(*) Editor’s note: See DC Comics Presents: Superman and the Atom: Bugged and The Atom: The Adventures of Ray Palmer, Theoretical Physicist.]
Adam lived with Dr. Ed Thayer and his niece Juliet in nearby Pleasant Valley. The rural community was not far from Ivy Town, and Cray enjoyed living with the lovely Juliet and the avuncular Ed while working for and studying under Palmer.
“What is it?” asked Adam. “I can tell something is familiar to you.”
Ray and the Hawks responded in unison: “Ivo!”
“Professor Anthony Ivo?” asked Adam. “Wasn’t he the genius who gained immortality at the cost of his humanity?”
“Right,” said Hawkwoman. “His own formulas caused genetic deformity.”
“Exactly, and he is also known under the alias of Dr. Ives,” said Hawkman. “He fought the League time and again with a variety of artificial humanoids, much like the one on the table. The same process that enabled him to tap into our powers and gain multi-generational vitality helped him empower a renegade machine-man named Amazo who possessed all of our powers in one deadly synthetic package.”
“He knows, Carter,” said Ray. “Adam’s studied every case.”
“I have read about him,” said Adam. “I didn’t know this type of robot was based on his designs, though.”
“I can confirm that much,” said Ray. “I’ve toured the interior of more than one of his warped creations. This Ace is an Ivo creation.”
“Ivo and the Royal Flush Gang together is a disturbing concept,” said Hawkman.
“I agree,” said Ray. “This may necessitate the involvement of the rest of the Justice League.”