On the beautiful campus commons of Vandermeer University in Pittsburgh, a young man with brown hair hurried through a crowd of students and teachers until he caught up with a pretty blonde girl in a pink dress.
“Doreen?” said Ronnie Raymond, touching the girl on her shoulder. As she turned to face him, he said, “I thought I was seeing things! Why didn’t you tell me you were back?”
Looking up at him with wide blue eyes, Doreen Day lowered her gaze slightly as she nervously adjusted a bracelet on her left arm. “Ronnie, I meant to call, but my flight got in late, and I didn’t want to wake you up,” she said. “After all, you’ll be taking finals soon enough, and that will mean a lot of late night cramming sessions.”
Ronnie Raymond nodded and said, “I can’t believe we’ll have finished our third year of college next month! I also can’t believe you’ve only been away for one semester. It’s felt like a lot longer. I know studying in England was cool and all, but I’ve really missed you!”
Doreen leaned forward and kissed him on the cheek. “I’ve missed you, too. England was wonderful,” she said. “Oh, I got your letters — they were really sweet. I’m sorry I wrote so little! I don’t have an excuse! I’ve been a bad friend!”
Ronnie frowned as he listened to her words and noticed her body language. Man, she’s still giving me the cold shoulder, he thought. We’d barely got back together after our split before she left for England on that whole Spring Scholars program. Now she’s almost as cold as Killer Frost!
Smiling sheepishly, he replied, “No sweat! We can make up for lost time tonight. How about getting together? We have a lot to catch up on! I’m really enjoying student teaching. The weird thing is, I’m actually good with the kids. Double majoring as a chemistry and gym teacher has worked out better than I ever thought!”
Ronnie Raymond stopped abruptly as he heard the distinctive buzz of his Justice League signal device. He had, of course, one device built into the costume that materialized when he merged with Professor Martin Stein to become the collective entity known as Firestorm. But he and Stein had both also started wearing smaller copies so that they could be contacted in the event of an emergency when they were in their civilian identities.
“Whoops! That’s my pager!” he sputtered. “I’m late! I promised to tutor a friend. He just can’t get the hang of dodge ball! You’ve got to have that skill when you’re working with kids. One wrong throw, and somebody’s crying! I’ll call you later! And welcome back!” Hurrying away, Ronnie narrowly missed running into a stern-looking professor.
As he turned behind a row of shrubs, he concentrated, and an amazing transformation occurred as the athletic college boy became the red-and-gold-costumed nuclear man, complete with a flaming nimbus rising from the top of his skull.
“Ronald, I heard the summons as well! I hope this crisis won’t be something that will take us away from our private lives for long. While I always relish discussing science with Dr. Palmer and his young protégé, I cannot afford to miss another faculty meeting!”
Those words in the form of telepathic thoughts came from Professor Martin Stein, whose consciousness was able to communicate with Ronnie while the two were in their Firestorm form. A brilliant man with a genuine affection for Ronnie and a desire to serve the world, Stein had never developed the passion for super-heroics that still thrilled his younger partner so much.
The part of Firestorm that was Ronnie Raymond agreed readily as they soared toward a concealed JLA teleportation station. “I’m sorry, Professor!” he said. “I’d rather be sorting things out with Doreen, too. She’s back, and she’s still acting strangely. I bet she picked up some British boyfriend or something!”
“I know how deeply distressful young emotions may be,” replied Stein. “I’m only sorry that I’m not able to advise you with any certainty. My own love life is a bit disconcerting at the moment, too.”
As the hero reached the concealed device and stepped inside, he found himself teleported to the JLA’s orbiting satellite headquarters. The teleportation stations were dotted around the globe, and a vibrational pattern kept them unseen and untouched by anyone who could not locate and activate them via means of the special signal devices worn by each member.
Seconds later, Firestorm stepped out into the satellite and smiled as he saw his friends. Superman, Batman, the Flash, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, Red Tornado, Elongated Man, and Zatanna were all gathered around the large meeting room table.
Superman rather sternly said, “Firestorm, we are assembled here for an urgent mission. I am glad you were not tardy.”
Firestorm approached the Man of Steel with an eager smile on his face. “Sure. I wouldn’t want to be kept in detention!” he quipped.
As the flamed-headed youth drew closer to Superman, the hero drew back slightly.
Superman’s diction is oddly formal today, thought Red Tornado. As a journalist, he always uses proper English, but he has refrained from even using a common contraction. There is no warmth in his manner, either. While human conduct can be bewildering at times, I fear something is wrong!
Elongated Man frowned as his rubbery features contorted, and his nose began to twitch. Something’s wrong! thought Ralph Dibny. Supes is acting like Firestorm just finished off a kryptonite hoagy! For that matter, all of the JLAers who were here first have been acting strangely. When you consider that Hawkman sent out a routine alert about the Martian situation, it gives this mystery-loving V.I.P. a definite sense of trouble!
“Where’s Steel?” Ralph asked aloud. “I thought he was on monitor duty. I’m due to relieve him in another three hours.”
“Steel has taken ill,” explained Batman. “I traded shifts with him.”
“The poor dear!” said Zatanna. “Maybe I should check on him. I feel sorry for him being alone and sick.” But the raven-haired magician frowned as she adjusted her own signal device. “Strange,” she said. “It’s not working, though it was fine when I received the summons to come here.”
As she spoke, Green Lantern, the Flash, and Wonder Woman stepped back from the table and began to spread out around the room.
“The signal devices have been deliberately disabled!” said Red Tornado. “I can tell that much from my own internal connection to the communication system! In fact, a scan of the satellite monitors reveals Steel’s prone form two levels below!”
As the red, yellow, and blue-costumed android jumped to his feet, Elongated Man suddenly shifted wildly out of his seat and yelled, “Superman’s a Martian! Firestorm’s flames startled him!”
A blast of freezing-cold super-breath narrowly failed to coat the stretchable sleuth and trap him to his chair as he avoided Superman’s sudden attack.
“Get them!” cried Batman, elongating his own arms to choke Zatanna, who fell backward and kicked wildly. The fake Batman retracted his hands for a moment, before choking her once more. Unable to speak any of her spells, she felt the room begin to blur before her eyes.
Attacked by Wonder Woman and the Flash, Firestorm gasped as the duo closed in on him with super-strength. Flash was never that strong! he thought. Martians? Ralph said Superman was a Martian! I guess Hawkman’s bulletin was dead on the money! I’m glad Thanagarians are so methodical. Mars is up to no good again!
Phasing directly through the floor by altering his molecular density, Firestorm reached the lower level and desperately began to plan his next move.
“Martians are weakened by fire,” said Stein. “The fake Superman recoiled from our nimbus as though he thought it was really capable of burning him!”
“Yeah, he sure did,” agreed Firestorm. “Do you think they’ve already captured Hawkman, Atom, and the rest?”
“I don’t know,” said Stein. “It occurred to me that they deliberately summoned specific members to do away with. You’ll notice they didn’t summon anyone whom they impersonated!”
Above Firestorm, the battle raged on as Green Lantern and Superman flew after Elongated Man who was bouncing wildly off the upper-level walls in a spheroid shape. No yellow weakness and no real power ring, mused Ralph. That Martian is just using G.L.’s image, not that it helps me any! Any Martian could rip me in several world-famous sections!
“Surrender!” cried the fake Green Lantern as he hurled a table at Elongated Man.
The false Superman stopped as he changed form and revealed himself to be a green-skinned humanoid. “Since your thoughts reveal you have deduced our exact plans, there is no longer need for deception!” he said.
Red Tornado had used his cyclonic force to knock the alien Batman away from Zatanna. Scooping up the fallen girl in his arms, he whirled away from a punch that shattered that nearby computer console and sent shards flying like shrapnel. Her vital signs are weak, but she lives! he thought. If I can revive her, perhaps one of her spells will prove useful to us!
The fake Batman flew after him. “When I get my hands on you, you will be scrap metal!”
Red Tornado shifted direction, narrowly avoiding his foe. My calculations indicate that the odds of my escaping from him are exceedingly narrow! I must take offensive action!
Forming a remote link with the satellite’s security system, the android activated a narrow laser that sliced through the air to strike the faux Batman, who laughed derisively but did not slow down.
Pulling down a wall unit, Batman buried the Tornado beneath it even as the heroic robot shifted his own body until he could act as a shield for the still-stunned Zatanna.
Elongated Man considered using a ploy that had once worked when he fought Ultraman, but there was no time to slip into the satellite’s network of connecting electrical shafts. (*) Still, the same basic idea might work again if he could get to the weapons stored in the JLA trophy room.
[(*) Editor’s note: See Justice League of America: Times Past, 1984: Crisis of the Kryptonite Criminals.]
A super-strong punch connected with his back, and he groaned in agony, but his flexible body was resilient enough to absorb much of the impact. Extending his body, he then contracted and managed to slip by the speeding Martian before he could react. Tumbling down a stairwell, he linked one huge hand to a railing as he thought, The trophy room is straight ahead!
As he entered the room, Ralph’s smile faded into a grimace of pain. The Martian stood in front of him, clutching him with both hands in a painful grip.
“Dolt! I read your mind and merely phased into this room ahead of you. You will not turn any weapon here to your advantage!”
As pain clouded Ralph’s vision, he struggled to break free. Sue and Debbie are counting on me! I can’t fail now! He focused his thoughts on his beloved wife and daughter, even as one hand grew narrow and extended itself slowly to spread across the room.
Gripping a strange gun, he fired it at his attacker.
The faux Superman gasped in pain, recoiling from the fire-blast the small gun emitted. “I am unable to withstand it!” he cried, shrinking backward as Elongated Man continued his onslaught.
“Thank goodness Flash stored one of Heat Wave’s old guns here!” he said. “The Flash Museum’s loss is decidedly my gain!” While keeping the Martian at bay by regular fire-blasts, he realized he was going to have to find another solution in order to defeat the invaders.
Having phased back through the roof, Firestorm was containing a shape-shifting Wonder Woman and Flash in a series of quickly-made cages, but they smashed or phased through his constructs with alarming speed.
He struck the fake Nubia with a nuclear bolt, but she merely staggered for a moment before connecting with a punch that knocked him through a wall.
Concentrating through the pain, Firestorm transmuted the air until it became a blend of magnesium and oxygen, When the angry Nubia phased through it, he ignited the fiery substance with his flame.
Firestorm stared expectantly. Fire weakens Martians — doesn’t it? But the female Martian, ignoring the heat, brought both fists down on his head.
With a groan, Firestorm tried to rise, but the rogue Flash and Green Lantern had found him and knocked him cold before he could respond, having approached him invisibly, only returning to visible forms seconds before their attack.
The fake Flash laughed and said, “The fools were easy to defeat. Our powers were simply too much for them!”
The Green Lantern double sneered as he added, “And yet, had we not silenced the witch, her supernatural spells might have given us pause.”
“He thought fire would harm me!” laughed Nubia’s twin. “The poor primitive!”
Elsewhere in the JLA Satellite, the teleporter flashed and a newcomer emerged. “Suffering Shad! It looks like a war zone in here!” said Aquaman, staring in dismay at the rubble. Moving warily into the room, he frowned as he saw a prone figure trapped beneath a huge console unit.
“Red Tornado!” Aquaman cried, hurrying forward to carefully lift the rubble off his fallen friend, before shoving the shattered equipment aside with his ocean-born strength. “Reddy, what happened? Can you speak?”
The android’s eyes flickered. “I am damaged but functional,” he said. “I should be able to complete self-repair shortly. I am connected with the satellite and have been working to repair our damaged communications system and summon help. A scan of vital signs indicates all present members are still alive, but Zatanna, Firestorm, and Steel remain stunned. Elongated Man is in the trophy room, and I fear four of our attackers are closing in on him!”
Having already gently moved Zatanna, Aquaman tried to revive her. “Who are the attackers? I was delayed after receiving the summons!” he explained. “The Spook was trying to rob the New Venice Bank!”
“I have had time to complete a diagnostic scan,” said Red Tornado, “and have learned some surprising things about our foes. I have scanned our data files and have found their weaknesses!”
As Aquaman listened to his friend, a broad grin crossed his face. “Really?” he said. “Are they ever going to be mighty sorry I showed up!”
Conferring with Red Tornado for a moment, Aquaman gently touched Zatanna’s cheek. Zee will be okay! he thought. She’s starting to come around! Turning to the android, he said, “Keep trying to summon the others! I’ll put our plan into execution!”
“Good fortune to you, Aquaman!” said Red Tornado.
Racing through the satellite, Aquaman smiled as he heard tell-tale clicks where Tornado was remotely adjusting certain controls.
“Ralph has secured the Martian within the null-power brig,” Tornado’s voice said through Aquaman’s belt receiver.
Aquaman nodded, giving thanks that the satellite’s internal communications system was still working. He stopped when he saw what appeared to be Wonder Woman, Flash, and Green Lantern carrying a still Firestorm.
“Another puny Earthman dares challenge us!” said the evil Flash.
“He is the final one we summoned,” said Nubia’s double. “He will be an easy fish to fry, as humans phrase such things!”
Standing defiantly before them with his arms akimbo, Aquaman said, “You don’t scare me. You have super-strength, can change shape, turn invisible, and fly, but you don’t frighten me. My telepathic power is strong enough to keep you out of my mind, and that gives me an advantage — as does one other thing!”
“We can kill you with one blow!” cried the false Green Lantern. “What advantage do you have?”
Aquaman smiled. “I know you’re not really Martians. You’re an offshoot of the Martian race from Jupiter, and you aren’t harmed by fire — but you can’t stand water!” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “John Jones’ Farewell to Earth,” Detective Comics #267 (May, 1959).]
At that, ceiling devices turned on at Red Tornado’s prearranged signal, and sprinklers rained down on them. The three false heroes changed complexion to a brilliant scarlet pink, then gasped in shock as the water covered them and they lost their powers.
Wading into them, Aquaman knocked all three out within moments. “That felt good! Now to secure them and find the other two!”
As Zatanna sat up wearily, Red Tornado nodded in approval. “You are uninjured except for some bruising,” he explained. “Aquaman has defeated the Jovians! The Martian was subdued by Ralph. The remaining invader, posing as Batman, is from Saturn.”
“Please allow me to handle him!” said Zatanna. Raising her chin, she spoke clearly in her magical backwards diction. “ekaF namtaB raeppa erofeb su! sdneirF eviver dna raeppa!”
Instantly, Firestorm, Elongated Man, Aquaman, and Steel appeared along with the startled alien disguised as Batman. After a word from Red Tornado, the Saturnian gasped in shock as Zatanna spoke another spell.
“liO revoc eht neila!”
Crying out as oil coated his body, the alien lost his Batman disguise to stand before them as a helpless Saturnian with bright orange skin.
“Oil weakens Saturnians, just as water harms Jovians and fire hurts Martians!” explained Red Tornado. (*) J’onn battled aliens from those planets in the past, and recorded their weaknesses in our computerized case files. It was only later on that he realized these aliens were genetically transformed descendants of ancient Martian colonists, explaining why Saturnians and Jovians were similar to Martians but also uniquely different.”
[(*) Editor’s note: See “John Jones Vs. J’onn J’onzz,” Detective Comics #314 (April, 1963).]
Aquaman collared the now-helpless Saturnian and said, “Reddy told me Martians are plotting something, according to J’onn, but I didn’t know other alien races were involved as well!”
Looking over at the silent Steel, Zatanna said, “Don’t feel bad, Hank. You couldn’t be expected to handle five aliens with that kind of power, but at least we’ve put an end to the threat!”
Hank Heywood III began to laugh as the exposed skin beneath Steel’s cowl turned bright green.
“You helpless fools!” he said in a emotionless tone of voice. “You were all summoned here so we could deal with you at once, while long-formed plans came to fruition to deal with your peers. You stopped our direct assault, but we prepared for a second fight.”
As he pressed a button on a device hidden in his palm, a blast of concussive force shook the room, leaving the stunned heroes dazed at his feet.
“We never expected abducting one as inconsequential as Steel would enable us to defeat his more established allies,” he said, “but it appears as if my ruse was well-played! By pretending to be a fallen Hank Heywood, I was able to lull them off-guard and use the incapacitator on them all! Now to free my allies in the Brotherhood and make proper use of these so-called heroes!”