Wonder Woman’s ordeal had been briefly ended by unconsciousness. However, when a badly battered Nubia opened her eyes, she found herself bound in the confines of her own magic lasso, which was gripped tightly by the smirking and balding form of the man dressed in a Green Lantern costume. He grinned as he used his power ring to create an elongated giant hand of emerald energy that reached down to lift Nubia’s chin until she could see the whole room.
“She’s awake,” he said. “The fun can start all over again!”
“Loomis, you kill me!” cackled the man in the Flash costume as he slapped this Green Lantern on the back.
Nubia noticed that between the gleaming confines of her lasso, she was now wearing her Wonder Woman costume. “We wanted you dressed for partying, babe!” said the Green Lantern of the Lawless League.
Nubia scowled and said, “Pig! I would erase your smirk along with your entire face if I could but free myself!”
“You’ll do nothing except kiss my ring!” he replied.
Nubia fought the magical compulsion, but even she could not resist the power of the magic lasso, which forced anyone bound by it to obey its wielder’s commands. Thus she lowered her head and kissed his ring, although she trembled with suppressed rage as she did so.
“You deserve some answers,” said the man in the Batman costume. “After all, you weren’t the Wonder Woman who belonged to the team that robbed us of our lives.”
“All of us were ex-cons,” said the man dressed as Superman. “We’d served our time after being caught pulling a bank job. Well, we all found menial jobs and tried to put the past behind us. You see, we didn’t know we had ever been more than petty thugs.”
“We started having wild dreams in which we saw ourselves as something more,” continued the faux Batman. “I, Bill Gore, was Batman. Ripper Jones, there, was Superman. Monk Loomis was Green Lantern. Barney Judson was the Atom. Eddie Orsen was the Martian Manhunter. And Race Morrison was the fastest man alive, the Flash!”
“Right,” said Morrison, the faux Flash. “Those dreams made us react differently. I thought I was cracking up. Ripper started reading the books about the only Superman he and the world knew about — the big blue Boy Scout with the spit curl. Well, seeing those Kryptonian words stirred something in him. The dreams grew more vivid!”
“As for me, I started dreaming that not only was I the Atom,” said Judson, “but I had gained my shrinking power through a very specific process that involved white dwarf matter.”
“I saw the power ring,” said Loomis, “and I recalled all about its use. I started willing myself to be G.L. in my waking life, too.”
“The dreams grew more vivid,” said Jones, the faux Superman. “Finally, we remembered the truth! We truly had been the costumed figures we were in our night visions. We were a League dedicated to our own enrichment until others defeated us and used magic to make us forget that we had ever been anything more than small-time crooks!” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Earth Without a Justice League,” Justice League of America #37 (August, 1965) and “Crisis on Earth-A,” Justice League of America #38 (September, 1965).]
Orson, the faux Martian Manhunter, slapped Nubia across the face and roared in anger. “Not only did they make us forget our true natures, but they replaced us with impostors!” he said. “Your allies became the only beings of the names Flash, Batman, et cetera, known or recalled by the world. It was as if we had never existed!”
Gore, the faux Batman, placed a calming hand on the bigger man and said, “We only found ourselves and regained our respective skills or powers because the conditioning or the magic that made us forget faded, and the dreams helped us remember.”
“You all are mad!” said Wonder Woman. “I know none of you have ever existed before, except in your mad delusions!”
Barney Judson used his power as the Atom to shrink down to an inch in size and leaped in her ear. She cried out as he brought his fist down on her eardrum.
“He could grow on you,” said Bill Gore, the faux Batman.
As they laughed, and Race Morrison vibrated his hands at super-speed until they, in turn, caused the lasso to constrict tighter around the helpless Amazon, Orson used his Martian powers to blast her mind with his own invasive thoughts.
She fainted, and Ripper Jones the Superman said, “After we kill her, we’ll hunt the others down one by one!” They laughed in agreement as the heroine was lost in pain and darkness.
However, even as Nubia’s eyes blinked open in a painful new awakening, she saw something odd. A newcomer was forming out of thin air, or out of an opening in the air. He wore a gold and red costume, and he bounded by the startled villains to carry her away as the portal closed behind them, before even the false Flash could react.
“Wonder Woman, you don’t know me, but I loved your sister,” he explained. “I was alerted to the manipulation of the dream stream by Doctor Destiny’s Materioptikon, and I traced the results to your place. You see, it was Destiny’s gem that altered their dreams and returned those thugs to the beings they once were, before all of their timelines were altered.”
Nubia gasped in pain as he freed her from her lasso and tried to treat her injuries. “Who are you?” she said.
He smiled and said, “I am the Sandman! Let me help you right the wrongs that have been done through violation of my proper sphere.”
She smiled bitterly and said, “If it means taking down those craven cowards, then I am in agreement.”
Aboard the JLA Satellite, Hawkwoman, Hawkman, Black Canary, Green Arrow, Steel, Red Tornado, Firestorm, and Zatanna found themselves facing the eerie quartet of elementals as the rocky female smashed through a hull portal and led her allies inside.
“Fascinating! The oxygen is not leaving due to the apparent mental control of one of these odd beings,” said Martin Stein as the professor telepathically communed with young Ronnie Raymond, who formed part of the composite being known as Firestorm along with the older man’s mental presence.
“Yeah, but we’d better reseal that hole, just to be safe!” said Firestorm as his amazing powers of matter transmutation covered the hole with reinforced metal.
Steel rushed forward even as Zatanna began to chant in the odd backward diction that helped her work magic. “Niatnoc ruo seof!” she said in that peculiar manner her friends had grown to expect.
As a containment sphere solidified over the elementals, the fiery woman generated a surge of heat that expanded the molecules and allowed the others to escape.
“T.O. Morrow!” cried Hawkman. “We thought Ivo was our robot maker, but you’ve got the skills for that area of science as well. I’d say this little visit proves your guilt!”
Morrow smiled coldly and said, “I used my time-viewer to pluck Ivo’s little toys from his own future. It was a paltry use of my machine. A greater show of my brilliance may be seen and felt as my elementals destroy you all!”
Red Tornado stepped forward and said, “When last we parted, you had vowed to turn over a new leaf, and we parted without animosity.”
Morrow scowled and said, “I was nearly murdered merely because one of your foes wished to incriminate you for the attack. My painful recovery gave me time to ponder my life, and I realized that, had your kind not occupied me with futile battles and schemes, I might very well have become the greatest scientist alive today! Thus I decided to eliminate you all! I’ll wipe the slate clean and start anew, without any distractions from your costumed ilk!”
“Watch who you’re calling ilk, pal!” said Steel as he charged at the older man, only to slip and fall as the blue-hued bald man turned into a pool of water and swept the hero across the satellite.
The Elongated Man stretched one arm out to help the younger man, but his efforts were thwarted as the transparent being gestured in his direction, and the oxygen in his lungs was suddenly cut off. He started to choke until he extended his legs and stepped high over ahead to inhale the air above. With his cheeks swollen out like a manic chipmunk, the Elongated Men returned to pull Steel away from the waters that threatened to crush him.
“Thanks, E.M.! You make a good lifeguard,” said Steel.
Zatanna had fallen as well, as the fiery blasts of the flame-haired woman had driven her directly into a crushing embrace from the rocky woman. She hurled Zatanna’s prone body at Hawkman, who caught it gently at the cost of his own pain. He grunted as the younger woman struck him, but he did not allow her to fall to the ground.
Green Arrow tried to fire an explosive arrow, but the wind power of the transparent being swept his every shaft back in his face. The resultant blast rocked him to the ground, where he groaned as Black Canary raced to his side.
“Arrow!” she cried in alarm. She leaped over a flaming blast that nearly caught her by surprise. “I’m not that easy!” she said in a mocking tone before opening her mouth to release her canary cry.
But before the blonde bombshell could speak, the suddenly liquid form of the blue elemental became a narrow stream that filled her mouth and left her thrashing around in pain.
“She’s going to drown right here in space!” yelled Steel.
Hawkwoman swooped down and used her wings to blow the flowing elemental aside, but even her actions failed to completely free the stricken Canary.
Red Tornado flew forward and created a whirlwind that scattered the water elemental long enough for Hawkwoman to carry the Black Canary to safety. “You do not have to be his slaves!” shouted the android. “You could resist his orders and form lives of you own, as I did!”
The earth elemental leaped at the hero and missed his agile form. She crashed to the ground and staggered backward as Elongated Man’s rubbery body sent Steel crashing into her like a projectile from a living slingshot.
“Always wanted to try that since I saw it in an old comic!” joked the Elongated Man. He followed up on this tactic by enveloping the air elemental and keeping him trapped within his own now-rounded body. “I can’t hold him for long, but then again, I don’t really need to!” he said as he bounced wildly off the walls and entered a circular portal on one wall.
He escaped as suddenly as he had entered the airlock, and a flick of a switch from his elongated fingers sealed the artificial being within the satellite airlock. That did the trick! he thought. Luckily I was able to reach it before he could break free. My only other option would have been to try to trap him in Aquaman’s decompression chamber below this level.
Meanwhile, Red Tornado had managed to trick the less-experienced fire and water elementals into striking one another as he raced between them. They countered one another’s powers so perfectly that Firestorm had time to use his unique powers to crack their bodies so that their respective elemental spirits rushed out into one another and erupted in a cascade of steam.
“They’ll re-form in time, unless we trap them like so,” said the Elongated Man as he used one of his incredibly long arms to freeze the beings solid via a cold gun taken from the armory.
“Captain Cold finally did something good — indirectly speaking,” said Steel.
“Well, either Cold or Minister Blizzard donated this gun, so to speak,” said the Elongated Man.
Red Tornado cornered Morrow and said, “You have failed once again. What is worse is that you’ve tried to turn other helpless beings into your murderers! When will a man of such obvious brilliance learn the most basic lessons of what it means to be human?”
“Do not lecture me, you freakish machine!” yelled T.O. Morrow. “I have learned that I may not rely upon any of your kind, even with Faust’s magic to help control them!”
As Hawkman and the others closed in on the mad genius, the winged wonder said, “Canary, Zee, and Arrow will recover. They just need some rest. Now that we have Morrow, and he has, in turn, incriminated the Key and Faust, we know we’re on to something serious.”
“We’ve also got company,” said Firestorm.
The teleporter activated as Aquaman materialized. “I was detained by Felix Faust and some uninvited undead guests,” he said.
“No doubt you took Faust down?” said Hawkman.
Aquaman nodded and said, “Yes, with some help. He mentioned that he was working with the Key.”
“Now we need to check on Nubia and try to find Superman and the rest before this conspiracy of villainy kills someone,” said Hawkwoman.
“That won’t be necessary,” said a shadowy figure.
“The Phantom Stranger!” said a startled Steel as the man in the dark hat and cloak suddenly stood beside him.
“Call me not a mere stranger but a friend who comes at time of need, as ever a friend should do,” he said.
“Welcome aboard, Stranger,” said Hawkman. “You’ve come because of the current plot against the League, I suppose?”
The mysterious man nodded and said, “I am here to offer my help before the situation grows too grim for any intervention.”
Superman, Batman, the Atom, Green Lantern, the Flash, and the Martian Manhunter had no idea that, in their absence, their forgotten evil counterparts from a now-nonexistent moment in past history had returned. For that matter, the missing heroes didn’t truly know where they had been taken or how their teleportation had occurred.
Green Lantern resolutely leaped into action and used his power ring to scan their alien environment. “The ring identifies this place as Narcos 7,” he said, facing Superman. “The world has an Earth-like atmosphere and gravity, and a sun that clearly allows you to retain your super-powers.”
Superman nodded and said, “Strange. I’ve never been here before, but we certainly know the neighborhood, so to speak. This planet is in the same system as Kalanor, the homeworld of our old foe, Despero.”
Batman nodded and said, “That would explain the way our friends were used and controlled. Despero once enslaved an entire world through use of his bizarrely mutated third eye. He also loved playing games. Using our allies as pawns to bring us together and then trigger some latent teleportational system would appeal to him.”
“Yeah, it would appeal to the old Despero,” the Flash said. “The one I met back when I first joined the Justice League was more like some brutal, sorcerous powerhouse than a schemer.” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See Justice League of America: Pyre.]
The Atom nodded and said, “I’ve read all about him. Even when his mutated third eye of power was removed on Kalanor, it re-formed. Each time it has re-formed following removal after his defeats, it has gained some slightly new power.”
“True enough,” added Batman. “As deadly as he was as some power-intoxicated hulk, he’s equally dangerous as a non-athletic, intellectual, plotting type.”
“How utterly kind of you to say so, masked manhunter!”
The words echoed in their minds as they glanced around the golden sands to see an arena appear around them. Despero sat high above them across from an unseen figure, while an ornate but alien chess board rested between them.
The Martian Manhunter frowned and said, “Not only has he regained his original appearance, but he’s at large again, as you suspected.”
Green Lantern nodded grimly. “The invasion again! He must have escaped from Oa during the chaos of the Alien Alliance invasion. How many more tragedies will we learn originated during that crisis?”
“I know that alien with Despero,” said Superman. “He comes from a world we called Planet X.”
“Of course!” said Batman. “I recall that case. You and I had to deal with the artificial threats he created because he wanted to learn how to handle various potential dangers. He had no true survival skills, since his planet’s race had lost all natural instincts for combat or self-defense.” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Super-Foes From Planet X,” World’s Finest Comics #96 (September, 1958).]
The humanoid, purple-skinned alien with a slight build and a long nose nodded sadly and said, “And it is because of that alteration in my people that I play this game.”
Despero smiled and said, “Silence, my opponent. Remember the rules of the game!” The other alien nodded and looked at the heroes through slightly oversized, luminous eyes.
“He shields his mind and that of his companion from me,” said the Martian Manhunter. “Still, I understand this all too well. Once more Despero wishes to use us in one of his infernal games of cosmic chance.”
Despero smiled broadly and said, “The rules are simple, Terrans — beat your foes and earn the spoils of victory. Lose and, well, why dwell on the negative side of things?”
“And if we refuse to play your game?” said Green Lantern.
“He’ll counter that ploy by threatening this system,” replied Superman. “This location was not selected by chance. He holds old grudges against his former subjects from when he ruled this system with an iron fist, and they ousted him from power!”
“And now, if you’ll pardon the cliché, let the games begin!”