Ten minutes later, the heroes stood over their defeated foes. The Monster had shifted back to his humanoid form of Dan Sulley. Corona had donned one of the anaerobic coverall suits Mister Triumph had made for him, which allowed him to move about without bursting into flame. The Martian Manhunter had brought the defeated villains up from the subbasement; Firestorm had made an airtight plexiglass cell to contain Silikonn, and was using his powers to constantly recycle the oxygen within it, keeping the villain alive until a more permanent way of confining him could be found.
“And now,” Sulley said, striding up to the Buzzard, “yer gonna tell us where yer holdin’ Richard an’ the others!”
“Brave man, threatening an old man,” the Buzzard snarled. His eyes glanced disgustedly at the charred remains of his wings, burned off by Corona.
“Yeah, well, we have to keep Doctor Decapod unconscious, or else he can make his energy-tendrils again,” Corona reminded him. “And you’re the next smartest in the group, so you’re elected.”
“You’ve got till the count of ten to tell us,” Sulley said, holding up his human fist in front of the Buzzard’s face. “One… two… nine.” On the last word, Sulley morphed back into his Monster form. The Buzzard gulped.
“Superman,” Doctor Gene’s voice sounded in the Man of Steel’s mind. “I have been contacted by J’onn. They have learned the whereabouts of the villains’ prisoners. I am ‘pathing the location to you and your team now.”
“Excellent,” Superman thought back. Superman, Amazing Man, and Basilisk had been waiting for this news. They were a three-man strike force prepared to free the villains’ hostages once the location was learned. Superman flew the two Angorian heroes there at super-speed. His cape protected the mutant Basilisk from air friction; the invulnerable Amazing Man needed no such protection.
“Freedom Island,” Basilisk said as they approached the island off the coast of Megopolis. The island was home to a gigantic statue symbolizing freedom, similar to the Statue of Liberty on Earth. “Ironic place for hostages!”
“Typical of the Sorcerer’s sense of humor,” Amazing Man said.
The three heroes touched down on the island before the entrance to the statue. They stood looking up at the monolith of metal.
“Where are our friends being held?” Amazing Man asked.
“I don’t know,” Superman said. “I’m scanning the statue with my x-ray vision, but I don’t see them. There’s no lead in the walls; I can see in just fine. I just don’t–”
Superman was cut off in mid-sentence by a massive impact to his shoulder blades that drove him to the ground. Even Superman was powerless to resist the crushing force. Amazing Man and Basilisk stared in horror at the gigantic, purple-skinned hulk that stood on Superman’s immobile back, snarling at them in rage.
“Brute crush!” the monster snarled.
“Sweet,” Behemoth said, bending Green Arrow’s bow by drawing the bowstring. He had assumed his normal height, and the two archers were comparing notes. “What have you got here, two hundred pounds of pull?”
“Two fifty,” Green Arrow said.
“Should have known. Is this a Henneson?”
“Naw, I made it myself.”
“Get out! Man, this would have been something to have, when I was an archer!”
“Why’d you give it up?” Green Arrow asked.
“Eye injury,” Behemoth explained. “Roentgen fried my retinas with a light-blast. I can still see mostly OK, but my vision’s not sharp enough for archery anymore. Thought I was through as a super-hero, ’til Jay fixed me up with a growth serum.”
“Man, that bites,” Green Arrow said. “My bow is like an extension of my arm; if I couldn’t shoot arrows, I don’t know what–”
“When you two are finished with your social session,” Hawkman said icily, “Batman and Tin Man are reviewing the plan for our assault on Assemblers Estate. If you’re interested.”
“Aw, pipe down, feather-face,” Green Arrow snarled. “We’re as serious as anybody about this! But there’s no sense getting all keyed up. Why can’t you relax like us?”
“That’s a good idea — relax,” Hawkman said. “All we’re trying to do is free a world from the control of an army of super-villains. Maybe I should have a beer.”
“Maybe I should feed one to you,” Green Arrow grumbled. “Can and all.”
“Maybe you should try,” Hawkman said.
Both Justice Leaguers stopped their argument when they heard Behemoth’s rumbling laughter.
“What is so all-fired funny?” Green Arrow asked.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” Behemoth said, wiping a tear from his eye. “You guys remind me of me and the Crow, that’s all!”
“The Crow?” Hawkman asked.
“Member of our team,” Behemoth explained. “A bird-guy, kind of like you. He and I used to go at it hammer and tongs, just like you two were doing now! That’s what was so funny; it was kind of like looking in a mirror!”
“You used to, huh?” Green Arrow said. “What happened, you guys call a truce or something?”
“Naw, he’s dead,” Behemoth explained. “Died when the super-villains blew up the Crypt. He was one of the heroes who turned himself in voluntarily, when Captain Liberty did. He idolized Cap. Heck, so did I; I almost turned myself in, too, but Tin Man convinced me I could be more help on the outside.” Behemoth was silent, letting a beat pass. “It’s funny. As much as we razzed each other, deep down I respected him as a hero. I mean, he always got the job done, no matter the odds. You had to admire that. I like to think he felt the same way about me. But we never got a chance to tell each other.” Behemoth shrugged. “Ah, well. Let’s go hear the plan.” The costumed man stalked off into the corner where the heroes were conferring.
Hawkman and Green Arrow glanced at each other. They held silence for long moments.
“Oliver–” Hawkman began.
“I know, I know!” Green Arrow cut him off. “I know, OK? Me, too. Let’s just not get mushy about it.”
“Right,” Hawkman said. Without another word, they joined the others.
“Brute crush!” the purple-skinned monster snarled, swinging a punch that Amazing Man narrowly avoided. Beneath the giant’s feet, Superman did not move.
“I don’t get it!” Basilisk said. “What’s the Brute doing here?”
“Who knows?” Amazing Man asked. “He’s here, that’s all that counts now!”
“Is Superman knocked out, or — or worse?” Basilisk asked.
“I don’t know,” Amazing Man said. “Either way, it’s up to us. You know, I’ve always wondered how I’d do in a fight with the Brute!” Balling up his fists, Amazing Man charged forward. The purple-skinned monster delivered a mighty blow to the hero’s chest, which sent him flying backward into the base of the statue.
“Not too well,” Basilisk quipped. He then turned on the Brute, blasting the creature full in the face with the force-blasts from his eyes.
“RAAARGH! Bright light hurt Brute’s eyes!” the monster snarled. Which was just what Basilisk counted on.
The Brute was never exactly a hero, Basilisk thought to himself, but he wasn’t a villain, either! He just wanted to be left alone. What’s going on here?
“Brute hate bright light!” the creature roared. “Turn off light, shiny man, or Brute crush!”
Suddenly, the Brute found himself lifted six feet into the air. Beneath him, Superman had come to.
“Blue man put Brute down!” the creature demanded, flailing his ultra-muscular arms.
“If you insist,” Superman said, flinging the monster far out into the sea. The Brute’s deafening roar could be heard all the way out.
“What was that all about?” Superman asked. “I didn’t recognize him; Doctor Gene’s visual triggers must not be working!”
“No, he probably didn’t implant one for the Brute,” Basilisk explained. “He’s not a villain! He’s even worked with the Protectors on occasion. Most of the time, he just wants to be left alone! I don’t understand wha–” The field leader of Gene Factor was cut off as Amazing Man’s powerful forearm slammed into his back from behind. Superman was caught by surprise by a similar blow; both heroes went down.
“Amazing Man!” Superman cried. “What are you doing?”
“Killing you!” Amazing Man declared, and rushed in for another blow. Superman grabbed his fists, and the two mighty men stood their ground, pushing hard against each other, neither giving an inch of ground.
“Now I get it!” Basilisk cried, snapping his fingers. “It’s Playtime! It’s got to be!”
“What?” Superman asked, not taking his eyes from Amazing Man’s face.
“Never mind,” Basilisk said. “Superman, forget Amazing Man! Search the island! You’ll know him when you find him! You’re our only hope!”
Superman used a leverage trick Batman had taught him and suddenly released his pressure on Amazing Man. The hero’s own strength carried him sailing over Superman’s head, to land in a heap at the base of the statue. In a blue blur Superman vanished into the statue; he returned a few seconds later, a scrawny little man in tow.
“I found him,” Superman said. “And, thanks to Doctor Gene’s visual triggers, I know him!”
“Yep, that’s him,” Basilisk said. “Playtime. He creates action-figures in the image of real people, and uses them to control their minds. That has to be what he did to the Brute, and then to Amazing Man. I figured you were our best bet to stop him; he wasn’t likely to have an action-figure of you.”
“Oh, my head,” Amazing Man said, walking up. “What hit — Hey! Is that Playtime?”
“It is,” Superman said. “But our friends aren’t here!”
“The Buzzard lied, then!” Amazing Man declared.
“No, he didn’t,” Superman said. “J’onn probed his mind telepathically. He told the truth.”
“Or he thought he did,” Basilisk said. “Blast it! The Sorcerer tricked us! He gave his lieutenants false information about our friends’ whereabouts, knowing we’d try to rescue them! This was a trap!”
“And the Sorcerer probably knows we walked into it,” Amazing Man said. “He’s probably killing our friends right now!”
“Would you look at all this stuff?” Spin Doctor said, walking around the huge kitchen of Assemblers Estate. “How come the Plunder Lords never had a clubhouse this cool?”
“Don’t have a rich dude like Tony Starr bankrollin’ us,” Sunburn said, without looking up from his labors. He was seated at a massive butcher-block table. Dozens of meats, cheeses, and condiments were set out before him, and he was making a sandwich that would put Dagwood to shame.
“Too right,” the Elephant said, his voice echoing from inside his massive headpiece. “Man, I almost wish the heroes would try something! I’m itchin’ for some action!”
“Aren’t you sick of getting beaten up by super-heroes, Elly?” the Dissembler asked. “I know I am. I like being in control of things, not having to worry about getting caught.”
“Don’t you believe that,” Blacktop said. “Not until every last super-hero on Angor is dead, don’t you dare believe that!”
“Aw, you’re a wet blanket, Blacktop!” Dissembler said. “They’re all in hiding, too terrified to do anything! We’re holding three of their nearest and dearest. They can’t make a move without–” The former industrialist turned super-villain stopped in mid-sentence when the telephone rang.
“Who the heck could that be?” Dissembler asked.
“Dunno,” Elephant said. “Everybody knows we’ve taken over here!”
“Maybe it’s the Sorcerer or one of the generals, then!” Sunburn offered.
“Why wouldn’t they use the fancy communicator doohickeys the Sorcerer gave us all?” Spin Doctor wanted to know.
“Who knows? Maybe they’re down for repairs or something,” Sunburn said. “Better answer it.”
Dissembler shrugged and lifted the receiver. “Hello-oof!” he cried, as something unseen but very strong slammed into his jaw.
“Grogan!” Blacktop cried, as the Dissembler sank to the floor. “What happened?”
“Look!” Sunburn cried, pointing.
“Look at what?” the Elephant asked. “I don’t see nothin’!”
“It’s Blue Jay!” Spin Doctor snarled, catching sight of the tiny man leaping around the kitchen. “I didn’t know he could get as small as that, but–”
“No, it ain’t him!” Sunburn declared. “Don’tcha remember? He’s from that other bunch of heroes, from the other planet! Atom Man, or something!”
“Geez, you’re right!” Spin Doctor snapped. “What’s he doing here?”
“Who cares?” Elephant rumbled. “Stomp ‘im!”
Sunburn shot a sizzling beam of heat energy at the leaping Atom, but the beam missed the mighty mite and struck the floor instead, melting the linoleum into a puddle.
“I’ll get him!” Blacktop cried, lunging with his right hand. He missed the Atom, and the momentum of his lunge carried him stumbling toward the table where Sunburn still sat. With a cry of fear, the solar-powered criminal leaped away from his comrade. Blacktop’s hand struck the sandwich he had just finished making, transforming it into a black, stone-like substance.
“My sandwich!” Sunburn cried. “Look what yo-ungh!” Sunburn’s complaint was cut off as the Atom slammed into his temple, sending him to the floor.
“We need help up here!” Elephant declared. “Blacktop, you figger out the Assemblers’ P.A. system yet?”
Without answering, the grim-faced villain touched a switch on the wall. “Everyone to the kitchen!” he cried. “We have an intruder! Repeat, we have an intruder! Everyone to the kitchen! This is not a drill!”
“Cripes!” Down in the subbasement of the estate, Green Mamba and the Zombie were in the submarine bay, a small underground lagoon that connected to the nearby river by a narrow tunnel, which the Assemblers used to access the ocean via submarine. “Come on, Zombie!” The super-agile serpentine villain scrambled up the stairs. The Zombie, not able to move as fast, took much longer, but eventually boarded the high-speed elevator to the upper floors.
No sooner was the submarine bay chamber empty, than a blond head broke the surface of the dark water.