An elegant-looking man with a posture of irritation sat across the table from an elderly woman, a deck of cards spread between them. Madame Olga gazed at the cards and clucked softly. The man sitting across from the plump fortune-teller scoffed at her expressions of concern.
“I’m paying you enough to insist that at the very least you dispense with the cheap theatrics,” he snapped. “Tell me what your precious cards say.”
Olga frowned. “I assure, you the cards never lie. I see trouble in your future. You have grand schemes, and yet a woman shall be your ruin!”
The man smoothed his designer suit and tossed down a few bills. “Yes, certainly,” he said. “A fraud who charges ridiculous prices for insipid fortune-telling shall indeed be my ruin… my financial ruin, that is! Good day, Madame!” And the man stalked out.
She shrugged and grabbed the money. “He’ll be sorry. The cards never lie.”
Outside the shop, the man whipped out a large cellular phone and said, “Reynolds, I visited your pet fortune-teller, and she was no more impressive than I anticipated. Still, I went along with your little idea. Never let it be said that the Schemer fails to take even the most absurd precautions before beginning a plan for conquest and personal enrichment!” He broke off the connection as he climbed into a waiting limousine.
The Schemer was an elegant man of refined tastes. However, he had his flaws. One of his weaknesses was a large ego. Vanity was certainly part of the master planner’s character.
He sat in the back of the fancy car, feeling little real pleasure from the trappings of wealth his uncanny talent for anticipating probabilities had attained for him. He wanted more than economic gain. He demanded power, and his past encounter with Batman and Robin had left him bitterly without that taste of victory so necessary for a man to feel superior. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Operation: Blindfold,” Batman #204 (August, 1968).]
He spoke to another lackey via his phone as the car raced through the night. “Jacobs, how goes the fear projector?” he said, nearly shouting as he spoke. “Mobile? Good. Range test successful? Excellent. Target area ascertained? My instructions regarding that are crucial. No deviation. Hear me, man? None!”
Rubbing his hands together, he smiled coldly. “Soon, I’ll have all of Gotham City quaking in fright… including Batman and Robin!”
A flash of light caught his eye.
“Great Groffrey! Pull over, man!” he said. “That was a humanoid figure that blazed across the sky like some comet! This may have potential for me!”
The Schemer watched with impatience as his driver led him toward the crater in which a handsome youth rose from the charred earth.
The man is unhurt! he mused. Atmospheric reentry and impact combined failed to even leave a burn mark on his cape! He’s a regular Superman!
“Where am I? I can’t remember where I am!” said the young man, who had light brown hair and wore a colorful purple and white costume.
“Easy, lad! You are on planet Earth,” said the elegant Schemer as he dusted casually at his suit. “You came from space. Don’t you recall your journey?”
“No,” he said slowly. “I know I’m a crime-fighter. My name is Volar. I come from Torma. How I left my world to get here, I cannot recall.”
“A crime-fighter, indeed?” said the crafty man. “Well, well, my boy, you’ve been extremely fortunate to arrive in proximity to one such as I. I, too, fight the… never-ending fight… for truth, justice, and… what is it? the American way!”
“Will you help me find my way here?” said Volar.
The Schemer rubbed his well-manicured hands together. “Volar, it would be my personal pleasure and my duty as a good citizen,” said the wealthy man, smiling. “Place your noble self in my care!”
The Coyote Gang made animal hoods their uniform during their short career as Gotham City mobsters. Like their animal counterparts, they prided themselves on being skilled stalkers, but sadly they came to share another unpleasant trait with their more savage namesakes. They became road kill of sorts when the Gotham Police found their corpses along the alley behind Maroni’s Diner.
“This is sheer slaughter!” said Officer Malone. “Ten men — punks, true, but still living humans.”
His partner nodded. “Looks like meta-humans did them.”
“How so?” asked Malone.
His younger partner jumped at the test and answered eagerly. “Some seem to have been hit by lightning. Some are sliced up as if by a skilled swordsman. Others were pounded to death, as if from some powerful impact. Remember the strong winds and blinding lights our solitary witness spoke of when he rushed into headquarters?”
“Plus, that taint of pure acid on the building near the last bodies,” said the older man. “The M.O. spells one particular combo: the Outsiders! They’ve crossed the line this time. Killing hoods won’t wash, even for Batman’s pals. Gordon won’t allow anybody to get by with this brutality. I’d say the Outsiders have just become public enemies!”
Elsewhere, the Schemer sat behind an antique desk and smiled. “You have the details for the front page. I trust there will be no more unfortunate grammatical errors?” he scolded.
Reporter Dave Johnson grinned. “No, sir. Spell-check. Got it.”
The Schemer waved the reporter out of his office. “Miss Anderson, please send in the Bouncer,” he said. “I have his new crime prepared for him. Oh, and no checks. The last one bounced!” He grinned slyly.
He turned to another figure. “Windsor, have you told your little team of faux Outsiders to remain inside for the next few nights? No need to prematurely begin the requisite brawl.”
“Aye-aye, sir,” drawled the Wind Pirate.
The Dragon Book Shop housed many a quaint and curious volume, but none of the tomes were quite as special as the women gathered within the small store. One pretty blonde with long hair wore a pink sweater and skirt. She sat on the counter of the closed shop and idly swung her legs.
“Tatsu! Could I get a car?” asked Gaby Doe.
The Asian woman studying the accounts said, “No,” without glancing up.
“But all the other girls have them — at least some do!” said Gaby.
Wendy Doe grinned. She was also blonde and lovely and about the same age as her friend. “Tatsu won’t give in. If the whole team of New Olympians couldn’t cause her to yield, neither can a pouting girl!” she joked.
Gaby punched her gently on the arm. “I was not pouting. I was merely weighing my options!”
A handsome man entered from the rear. “Weighing your options with a lower lip trembling under all the weight!”
“Not funny, Jeff,” said Gaby as Jefferson Pierce entered.
“Welcome, Jefferson,” said Tatsu Yamashiro.
“Thanks,” said the heroic teacher also known as Black Lightning. “But I bring bad news. Look: the Gotham press claims the Outsiders killed a gang last night.”
Gaby jumped down and in unison with Wendy said, “We weren’t even in the city last night!”
Tatsu frowned as she closed the account book. “We are being framed. We must clear our names and our honor.”
Jeff nodded. “My sentiments exactly. Too bad Batman, Geo-Force, and Looker are still taking Vee-Raa back home. (*) You know, I hate that her powers failed her due to that problem with the sun and Aquarius. (*) She was catching on as a new member nicely.”
[(*) Editor’s note: See The Outsiders: Outsiders and Insiders and Starman and Superman: The Final Night, Chapter 1: Age of Aquarius.]
Wendy grinned. “Looker was sooo jealous of her!”
The Schemer watched silently as Volar calmly withstood a barrage of automatic weapon fire, and he smiled as dust cleared.
“No, sir. My powers are as strong as ever. It appears as if only my memory is impaired,” Volar said in an anguished tone. “I know my costumed name is Volar, and I come from Torma, but I can’t even tell you my real name or if Volar is my birth name. My past is a mist to me. Torma might even be a city name and not a planet’s name. My parents, my past… all are lost to me!”
The Schemer stood up and approached the super-powered alien youth. “Not to fret, lad,” he said. “I’m on the case. My employees will learn your origins and cure your little memory difficulty, all in good time… if only…
“If only they weren’t so preoccupied by the terrible news,” he continued, adopting a false emotional tone. “A group of vigilantes called the Outsiders has gone bad. They murdered a few thugs. My staff is concerned… working with the media and citizen’s groups to help the families and stop the carnage. I do regret that these actions take time away from your pressing matter.”
“Let me help you,” said the caped youth. “I’ll bring in these Outsiders. I am appalled that former crime-fighters could turn killers. Let me use my gifts to help!”
The Schemer shook his head slowly. “Well… if you insist.”
Sapphire Stagg-Mason sat on her husband’s lap and kissed him passionately. “Oh, Rex, it’s so nice to just be together without any strife from Daddy or Java or any nasty crimes,” cooed the blonde.
Rex Mason, alias Metamorpho, nodded and ran a hand through her blonde hair. “Yeah, baby! We got it good. Too bad some crumb always crawls outta the woodwork to cause me to have to rush off.”
She pouted. “Rex! You don’t mean it.”
He shrugged. “Sapph, doll! I gotta help the team. Seems the goons who framed us include an elemental type like me. That sounds like someone I’ve fought before. I mean, there were other mooks who encountered the Orb of Ra.”
She jumped up and stalked out of the room, high heels clicking as she went.
“Sapph!” he pleaded.
She turned abruptly and ran back to kiss him. “Sorry, Rex. Be careful,” she said. “Catch the bad guys, and come home soon. I slipped into that whole spoiled little rich girl thing again! But I’m getting better!”
“You’re the best!” he said, grinning as he scooped her up into his arms.
Later, Metamorpho listened as Black Lightning spoke to the assembled Outsiders.
“I suspect the group who killed the Coyotes did so for no reason except to implicate us,” he said. “They want us out of the way for some other reason — maybe for a future crime wave of their own.”
“Could it be some old enemy of ours?” asked Halo.
Katana shook her head. “Doubtful. The teams we have engaged in battle do not match our specific powers in this manner. I’d suggest they were individuals either recruited for the manner in which their abilities mimic ours or given matching powers for this reason.”
Windfall frowned. “Someone with wind-control like mine? Any likely suspects? I’ve heard of one from Central City called the Weather Master.”
“That’s Weather Wizard, kid,” corrected Metamorpho.
“Still, he’s in jail following a run-in with another group,” said Black Lighting. “I checked on him. However, another rogue could be doing the Halo bit — the Rainbow Raider. He’s not accounted for as yet.”
“Humph! He has his nerve!” said Halo.
“The one I’m concerned about is the one with the blade,” said Katana. “He is very, very skilled.”
“Nobody’s as good as Tatsu!” piped up Halo.
“Thank you, Gabrielle,” said Katana. “That is loyal of you, but incorrect. This person may well surpass my own prowess with a blade.”
“The Cavalier is out of the city, so it’s not him,” said Black Lightning.
“Just as well,” said Metamorpho, grinning. “I’d hate to see the poor fop after Tatsu sliced his feathered hat into ribbons!”
Commissioner James W. Gordon paced his office. “I won’t allow the Outsiders to get away with such actions. However, I believe in Batman, totally. Until I can summon him, I won’t put an all-points out on his team.”
His associate, Harvey Bullock, crammed a ham sandwich in his stubble-covered mouth and said, “Yeah, I believe it’s a frame, but any group that has that kinda power needs special care.”
Gordon nodded. “Glad you agree. Keep the signal going. Batman will respond when he gets back from whatever has kept him away.”
At that moment, Batman was piloting a skimmer as Geo-Force read, and Looker reclined in a chair.
“Dahling!” she said. “Be a dear, and pass me that issue of Vogue?”
Geo-Force smiled. “Vogue? You should study the history of this great nation as I do.”
Looker crossed her legs and batted her eyes. “Brion, I prefer to make history as the single most attractive crime-fighter ever to hit Gotham!” she joked.
“Oh, I don’t know,” said Batman. “Man-Bat has nice eyes.”
Silence met the comment as Looker and Geo-Force exchanged glances. Had Batman made a joke? The caped crusader said nothing, but a very slight smile played across his face.
“Next stop, Gotham,” said Batman. “I hope Vee-Raa will adjust to life below ground again. She did enjoy her time with us, but her health is more important. The potion was failing due to Aquarius’ solar tampering, and for all we know, not even the comet that lights her realm will enable her to leave again and retain her powers.”
Looker stretched and said dismissively, “Yes, poor thing. I’ll miss her. Brion, pass the Cosmo, too. There’s a quiz I want to take.”
The Schemer’s men activated their fear-projector, and the occupants of Gotham City Police Headquarters felt the effects with shattering intensity.
“Crippled by fear. They won’t oppose us. Send the crews out to their assigned targets. The material wealth we acquire won’t be nearly as satisfying as the look on Batman’s face when I make my demands, and he has to surrender his city to me. When I show that police, firemen, ambulance crews, and the like may all be paralyzed with fear by my device, the city fathers will beg for mercy, and my price for such a quality will be high, indeed. Batman’s head, perhaps?”
The ray was powerful. His science squad had based the design upon the works of Achilles Milo and Jonathan Crane, and the poor law-enforcement officials within the structure felt the powerful phobias rising up within them.
“Agoraphobia, acrophobia, and all the rest should combine to leave them powerless,” he said. “Why, buffoons like the Bouncer and the Cluemaster could triumph under these conditions. Their checks did clear?”
A blonde secretary nodded. “Yes, sir. All fees have been verified, and the money is in your Swiss account.”
The Schemer grinned. “Excellent. Wait a few hours, and then aim it at the hospital.”