Shanghalla. The name alone evoked a sense of solemnity, dignity, and loss, since this large section of the Asteroid Archipelago served as a cemetery planet. The rows of shrines, tombs, and monuments that covered the sacred spot paid silent testimony to heroism and loss of life. However, on one particular night, Shanghalla was visited by two very different but equally bizarre beings.
“The ambiance here is palpably delicious!” cried a gaunt being with ash-gray skin and a costume of rags and scraps of cloth. He stared around the cemetery with sunken eyes that lacked lids but glowed dimly.
“I prefer the roar of the crowd and the gentle hum of a credit voucher being transferred to my account, but to each his own, my good man!” said his companion. “That is what Farnum Zef, showman extraordinaire, finds sustenance in, along with the love of a good woman or three and the thrill of giving the masses what they want! Still, never let it be said that Farnum Zef fails to share in the simple pleasures of the common man — or the uncommon man in your case!”
Farnum Zef was a striking figure with a tall hat perched crookedly on his head, a thin but curled mustache, and a shiny coat of a translucent substance. If he maintained a polite distance from his inhuman companion, it was with good reason. The gaunt figure eyed the graves with an expression of pleasure that would give pause to a less-polished actor than the man called Zef. The showman extraordinaire delicately rubbed his gloved hands together and draped the hook of a cane over one arm.
Karrion smiled, and in doing so revealed a row of jagged and often-missing teeth. “Ambrosia!” he said. “This place satisfies me entirely!”
“All well and good, my friend, all well and good,” said Zef, “but time is money, and time waits for no sentient being, so let me leave you to your stimulation, and I shall be off!”
Karrion snaked out one arm and grabbed Zef by his coat. “Deliver her as promised!” he hissed. “You have been paid well. Your reputation for such missions is a notable one. Do not fail us, for if you do, we will both find you, and you would not enjoy the results… although I must say that I would!”
Farnum Zef sighed and gently pried the Ghul’s moist hands off of his coat. “Never fear, Karrion! I shall succeed!” he said, rubbing at his coat in dismay and clucking his tongue against the roof of his mouth as he departed in haste. “Well, I’ll simply have to have that coat cleaned, or perhaps burnt!” he said.
On Montauk Point outside Metropolis, a remarkable school housed some amazing pupils. The school in question was the Legion Academy created by the famous Legion of Super-Heroes in order to offer training in the use of super-powers to worthy applicants. Lessons at the academy consisted of a variety of exercises conducted by different Legionnaires.
Timber Wolf customarily conducted combat training, while Wildfire served as permanent chairman of the Committee on Membership and unofficially viewed himself as a type of recruiting scout for the Legion. The brash Wildfire looked upon the academy pupils as potential new members for the real heroic team. However, the day-to-day operation of the academy was ably handled by the married team of former Legionnaires called Bouncing Boy and Duo Damsel.
On such a typical day, Bouncing Boy smiled with his characteristic good humor as he watched some of his pupils go through their paces. “Steady, Jed! That’s the way to do it, ” said Chuck Taine of Earth as a purple-hued boy with orange-colored hair stood firmly in place as two other colorful female figures swooped around the air and came at him from each side.
The student flashed a broad grin of pleasure at the praise from his teacher. “Thanks! I’m trying!” said Jed Rikane, alias Power Boy. “You girls will never move me!”
The two teenage girls exchanged sly grins as they split up and veered off around their fellow pupil Power Boy with a sudden burst of speed. The first girl had pale green skin and a luxurious mane of flowing green hair. She was known as Lamprey, but her real name was Tayla Skott. She moved with grace and agility, and her eyes flashed brightly as she nimbly avoided the cumbersome Power Boy.
The second girl was equally attractive. Nightwind, alias Berta Skye Haris, wore a brief purple costume that left her silvery white hair and pale yellowish arms and legs bare. She smiled mischievously as her own flight path enabled her to avoid Power Boy as well. “All that density won’t help you if we choose to go around you, Jed!” she said with a mocking laugh.
As Nightwind drew upon her control of wind currents to lift her lithe form higher, and Lamprey allowed her stored electrical energies to add a bit of speed to her own flight, a final teenage girl with bright orange skin and an alien form rocketed into Power Boy with a high-pitched giggle.
“Like, totally nebulae unfolding!” screeched Comet Queen, alias Grava, as her flight path created a noxious cloud of gas that blinded all of them and left Power Boy coughing below.
“Tone down your cloud!” warned Bouncing Boy as he saw how Comet Queen’s powers had succeeded in blinding Jed and now threatened to obscure the entire training field.
Nightwind rolled her eyes and said, “Let me blow the cloud out to sea!” She gestured, and a whirlwind forced the dark cloud away, revealing the prone form of Power Boy with Comet Queen perched awkwardly on his chest.
“Sorry! Your super-density rocked my world!” said Comet Queen.
Jed sat up and shrugged ruefully. “Sorry,” he sighed.
A pretty, dark-haired woman in a skimpy black costume emerged from the academy building and helped him to his feet. “You’re always sorry, P.B.! I can just see you trying to apologize to Mordru in a big battle! ‘I’m really sorry, Mordru! Please excuse me!'” she said with a laugh.
“Sorry, Laurel,” said a sheepish Power Boy as Laurel Kent smiled and put one arm around his shoulders.
A boy in a costume of white and black helped Comet Queen up, and she kissed him loudly in appreciation. “Crystal Kid, you are stellar!” she said.
Bobb Kohan, the Crystal Kid, ran a hand across his closely cropped hair and said, “Whew! Queenie, you are a real sweetheart, but that cloud of yours leaves something to be desired!”
Bouncing Boy approached and said, “That’s exactly why, when Grava learns to exercise a tighter control over her noxious trail, it will become a useful weapon against her foes and not a problem for her allies as well.”
Comet Queen jumped forward and squealed excitedly. “You are so totally right!”
Lamprey nudged Nightwind and whispered, “Grava’s crush on Bouncing Boy is still going strong.”
“And Wildfire is still hung up on Dawnstar, I’m sorry to say,” said Nightwind.
Lamprey nodded regretfully. “She is such a frost maiden!”
The two roommates shared an attraction to Wildfire that was born out of the fact that he had shared the details of his tragic past with the two girls once before. (*) A final female watched from inside the academy. She was a pretty blonde in a green and gold costume with green slippers. Her name was Delya Castil of Titan, but she used the name Mentalla for her heroic aspirations. She was new to the Legion Academy, and she was more than a little resentful about failing to make the true Legion when she had auditioned for membership. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Startling Secret of Wildfire,” Legion of Super-Heroes v2 #283 (January, 1982) and “Unto the New Generation,” Legion of Super-Heroes v2 #14 (September, 1985).]
A lovely woman in an orange and purple costume silently approached her and spoke softly. “Delya, you need to join the others,” said Duo Damsel, alias Luornu Durgo of Cargg. “Chuck and I understand that you have had a bit of trouble adjusting to being here, and of course we know how disappointed you were when you did not get to join the Legion, but you’ve had enough time to overcome both issues!”
Delya frowned and turned abruptly. She started to reply in anger when something in Luornu’s expression stopped her. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I guess you think I am spoiled and petulant.”
Duo Damsel concealed a smile and said, “Not at all. I’ve worked with heroes of all types. Legionnaires have included shy types, amorous types, open-hearted types, and the occasional jerk. You can find your place here in the same manner some of them adjusted to life on a team.”
Mentalla nodded and said, “Thank you. I know you’ve had to live with some rather difficult adjustments, too.” She nodded in the direction of a hovering vid-cam, which moved around the academy but failed to penetrate the security shields.
Luornu sighed in disgust. “Yes, I have had my share of problems. The way the vultures from the less-reputable media groups of my homeworld of Cargg have stalked me since the Computo incident has been one of the worst. They won’t leave me alone, even after all these years. I’m a source of real and prurient curiosity to them as the ‘living dead woman’ who survived the loss of one of her bodies. Still, Chuck’s vibrant good humor keeps me happy and helps me cope.”
Mentalla nodded and started to follow Luornu Taine outside when the academy came under sudden attack.
The attackers were a strange and colorful group with nothing in common except for an apparent desire to inflict as much damage as possible on the young academy pupils. They materialized on the shores of Montauk Point and began to attack everyone in sight.
The largest of them was a giant creature with a shaggy golden coat of fur and the ursine features of one of Earth’s long-lost species. However, this monster was far bigger than any Terran grizzly bear, even though it took its name from said species. Grizzly towered above his allies and raised his head as he growled menacingly.
A dainty woman with black hair and a red costume with puffy sleeves and pants that tucked into white boots, smiled encouragingly as she sent the creature into battle. “That’s it, my pet!” she cooed. “Dismember the little heroes for Beautee!”
Grizzly charged forward and smashed through the hastily created shield of crystal raised by the Crystal Kid. “Grife!” gasped Bobb. “That thing broke through my shield like it was made of–!” But one swipe of the creature’s paw sent him crashing to the sands mid-sentence.
Laurel Kent threw her invulnerable body on top of the Crystal Kid and tried to protect him from the angry creature, but it was all she could do to remain near him as the heavier monster charged closer.
Bouncing Boy sprang into action, using his years of experience to careen off of the side of the academy building and aim his expanding form directly at the hostile group. “Watch out for each other!” he cried. “We don’t know anything about this bunch, so be ready for anything!” He scattered the group of invaders and prepared to rebound into them again when his round form received a painful attack. He fell to the ground in pain as something tore at his body from inside. “Feels like I’m on fire!” he gasped.
Comet Queen abandoned the fight to rush to his side. “Lean on me, handsome! I’ll make you maximum good vibes!” she said, lifting him to his feet and gently steering their flight toward the building.
A man with red hair that stretched down to his waist jumped forward and waved his arms in the air. The front façade of the Legion Academy sign crashed down in front of Comet Queen and Bouncing Boy, blocking their escape.
“Grava, that creep is a Braalian like Magnetic Kid or Cosmic Boy!” gasped Bouncing Boy. “He’s using magnetism against us. He did something to the iron in my blood before!”
The Braalian laughed and said, “You’re not as dumb as you look, jumbo! Too bad for you that won’t give you a chance against my power! I was a magno-ball champ myself!”
Bouncing Boy gritted his teeth and soared forward with sheer determination. He may have gained his powers from an accident during his days as a delivery boy, but he was a hero by action and intent. He crashed into the surprised Braalian, and his sheer bulk knocked the cocky man flat.
Comet Queen cheered wildly and flew closer to help him up. “Prism glow maximum!” she cried. “You did it!”
Bouncing Boy nodded grimly as he rose up again. “Yes, but it was a close thing,” he said. “He almost made me pass out with that manipulation of my body!”
Meanwhile, on the sands below, Power Boy exchanged blows with a powerfully built Khundish woman with long blonde hair pulled back in a coiled braid laced with metal. She laughed with pleasure as the hapless Jed tried to match her battle prowess but failed miserably. “By the bones of my ancestors!” she cried. “You have a good right arm, but you fight as if you were a mewing stripling still bound to his nursemaid!”
Power Boy gasped as she spun around and connected with a sweep of her shining axe. She had flipped it seconds before impact, so the flat side struck his skull and not the razor-sharp edge. He fell to the sands, and she kicked him aside with a look of amusement.
A blazing bolt of electricity sent her ax spinning out of her grip as Lamprey swooped in low and tried to drive her away from the fallen Power Boy. “Leave him alone, you battle-happy Amazon!” she cried. Tayla frowned, as her efforts had minimal effect on the larger woman. She started to retreat as the big warrior woman smiled broadly and grabbed her leg. Tayla tried to kick free, but she fell to the ground stunned as the other woman swung her body down with a thud.
Nightwind cried out in concern as her friend fell, but that moment of distraction proved to be hazardous for the agile beauty. She had been using her powers to create a whirlwind that pushed the rampaging Grizzly back with a slow certainty. So when she saw Tayla fall, Berta lost her focus, and the Grizzly managed to slap her across the sand.
“We’d better get the real Legion in here fast!” cried Laurel, who started to run into the building when she tripped and fell into a smothering cocoon that wrapped itself around her from head to toe. She struggled briefly, then lost consciousness.
“Now, that beauty would make a fine trophy for over my mantle!” said the man who had trapped the young descendant of Superman. He was bald and had pointed ears and arched eyebrows. His skin was slightly green, and he wore a heavy weapon’s pouch around his hips. He smirked as he raised a long, thin pipe and blew through it with precise aim.
A dart struck Bouncing Boy from behind, and he fell to the sand. Comet Queen streaked forward and was hit by a second dart as she failed to shield herself due to her anger at the assault on her hero.
“Well done, Nimbar!” said the blonde Khund.
“My thanks, Battalia. If we can teach you table manners, you’ll be a right fine lady!” he said with a mocking bow.
The woman called Beautee caressed the hulking Grizzly and turned to the others. “We’ve beaten them. Now let’s hope our ‘fearless leader’ can bag the main target!” she said. Grizzly nuzzled against her and seemed to almost purr in contentment.
Inside the Legion Academy moments earlier, Duo Damsel and Mentalla had witnessed the arrival of the villains, and Luornu had been ready to rush out to aid her spouse and their charges when a new figure had appeared in the room. He was dressed in a gaudy coat with a pattern of stars that rotated holographically. He straightened his thin tie and stroked his curled mustache as he faced the women. “My, what beauty delights me!” he said as he bowed to Duo Damsel. “It’s enough to dazzle the senses of this old showman! You, my dear, would look wonderful clad only in the iridescent feathers of the Venturian myhie bird!”
Duo Damsel split into her dual forms and said, “You, in turn, would look simply marvelous in a stasis tube at Labyrinth!”
Mentalla blocked her path and placed both hands on her hips with a look of supreme self-confidence. “Allow me to teach this brightly dressed intruder some class!” she said, and used her unique powers to take partial control of his motor skills, forcing him to twist around wildly and fall to the floor at her feet.
The Titanian teenager turned to face Duo Damsel with a cocky grin when a pellet broke open at her feet, and a gas filled the room. Duo Damsel had already tried to move the unheeding girl back against a wall, but she had stubbornly blocked the more experienced heroine’s movements in her own efforts to show off. “Delya, I tried to tell you — he’s Carggian!” gasped Luornu as the two woman passed out from the noxious fumes.
Indeed, from out of the shadows stepped two additional figures that matched the showman completely, just as they should, since they were merely two of the Carggian’s three bodies. They — or he — moved through the gas with ease, since he had taken precautions that had rendered him immune to the substance long ago.
He unified into one body and dragged Duo Damsel away from Mentalla. “My team is beating the others. Ah, how it pains me that such a performance of thrilling skill and pulse pounding excitement has occurred without benefit of paying customers!” he groaned.
Lifting Duo Damsel into his arms, he gripped her chin and spoke to her in the tones of a parent soothing a child. “We’ll put on a better show with you, won’t we? Oh, yes, we will!” he said as he forced her head to nod up and down in mock agreement. He touched a gem on his tie and activated the transportation system that had allowed him to invade the base so easily. In a flash of light, Farnum Zef, his stunned captive, and his team escaped.