In the crowded hallways of Rutherford B. Hayes High School in Cincinnati, Ohio, one pretty blonde girl felt completely alone. She started to bite a nail, then put her hand down and idly adjusted a colorful bracelet above her wrist.
She glanced around the hall and caught sight of the wall clock. Nearly 4:30, mused Wendy Doe. Gaby should be done with band practice by now. Maybe I should just ask her what she thinks before I make a fool of myself.
The teenaged Outsider wasn’t really named Wendy Doe, nor was her colorful heroic name Windfall any closer to her birth name. However, she had embraced the name of Doe out of kinship with her best friend Gaby Doe, alias Halo, and she had always used Windfall as her name when in costume, because it both reflected her power over air currents and had been chosen for her.
She shivered as she thought of her older sister Becky. Becky was a psychotic criminal named New-Wave, and she hated Wendy because their mother had died giving birth to the younger girl. That hatred was only made stronger when Wendy chose to help the Outsiders and especially Halo against Becky’s team of villains, the Masters of Disaster.
Wendy gasped in surprise as someone placed one hand on her arm.
“Hey, you! I’m sorry I was late,” babbled Gaby Doe as she greeted her friend. “That hunky Tod Martin was teasing me after practice! I almost dropped my flute, like a total geek!”
Wendy nodded with relief as she mentally reminded herself once again that she was safe now. She had friendship and a family of sorts in the Outsiders, and her old life was well behind her. Now she had other, less life-threatening but still troubling concerns on her mind.
Gaby frowned as she saw her friend’s expression. “What’s wrong? Was one of those stuck-up Student Council girls giving you trouble?” she said with an almost fierce edge of protectiveness.
Wendy laughed and said, “No, nothing like that. I… well… I was thinking about signing up for cheerleader tryouts!”
The words had poured out of her girl in an almost incoherent stream, but Gaby understood her, and her eyes widened in surprise. “Well, that’s cool!” she said. “I mean, I think you’d be an awesome pom-pom girl! Best of all, we’ll be at the games together, or at least at the same time! I’d be playing flute with the band, and you’d be cheering!”
Wendy grinned shyly. “Really? Do you really think I could make the squad? I mean, I’m just a loser.”
Gaby stamped one foot impatiently and said, “There you go again! Stop putting yourself down! You’re a lot prettier than most of the cheerleaders, and with your special talents, you could really do some crazy moves.”
Wendy nodded and said, “Stunts. That is what they call some of the tricks. Like the liberty and the arabesque and stuff the fliers do!”
“C’mon,” said Gaby. “You already know the language and everything. Let’s sign you up!” She pulled her friend across the hall and urged her on as she hesitantly signed her name on a paper pinned to a bulletin board.
Gaby hugged her impulsively and said, “Cool! Now, let’s go home and tell Tatsu. Maybe she and Arani can help us put your routine together… although I can’t really imagine either of them as cheerleaders!”
The girls hurried down the hall and talked excitedly as pupils rushed out to their own activities with that heady sense of freedom that could only come from a Friday afternoon when school had ended for the week.
Meanwhile, in the spacious interior of Krohn’s Observatory in Eden Park, two boys were engaged in some questionable after-school activities.
“Aw, Ron, I don’t think we should be here!” whined a freckled-faced boy of around twelve. “I mean, the signs say the place is closed for novations!”
A bigger boy in a baseball cap said, “Don’t be such a baby, Kenny. Getting in here while nobody else is around is the whole idea, and the word is ‘renovations.’ The observatory is closed for renovations!”
They moved forward into the darkened chamber, and every footstep seemed to echo ominously as they hurried along.
Ron gulped as he caught a glimpse of a shadowy figure to the left. He placed one hand on his little brother’s shoulder and held him in place.
“What is it?” began Ken, until Ron shushed him. The boys froze in place as the shadow stepped off the wall to loom over them.
Before the suddenly solid figure could emerge from the shadows, a second man dropped down to face the startled boys. His face was a mass of scar tissue, and his flesh seemed to droop from his face to reveal abnormally large teeth behind oddly stretched and nearly transparent lips.
“Benny Kruton! Outta that movie!” shrieked Ron as they raced out of the room as fast as they could go.
Laughter filled the room as other costumed figures joined the first two, and “Kruton” shimmered briefly before assuming the appearance of a man in a hooded green costume. “Did you see that? I scared those brats to death!” he roared.
A strange woman with almost crystalline skin shook her head with scorn. “You can’t get past the thwarted actor in you, can you? What a childish stunt!” she said.
An agile man in gold and black seemed to blur as he moved from spot to spot. “They are gone,” he announced. “They won’t come back. We’re safe here.”
The walking shadow suddenly changed into a strikingly lovely woman with pale white skin and elaborately upswept black hair that was pulled back from her face, except for two dangling curls that framed her narrow cheeks. “We’d better be. The boss won’t be amused if our hiding place has been exposed. He worked hard to engineer the factors that led to its availability.”
“Sorry, Carrie,” said the green-clad man.
She nodded and smiled briefly. “It was rather amusing, at that,” she added.
A big man in black cleared his throat and said, “I want to do something! I’m tired of waiting! When are we going to see some action?”
Blinding light filled the room for a second as all of the costumed figures cowered at the arrival of a newcomer.
“You’ll see action when I decide it is time to act,” he said. “Remember, all of you, I am the leader! None of you are anything without me! I can make you all pathetic nobodies at the slightest sign of disobedience!”
They readily answered in unison, practically groveling at his feet. He smiled and stroked his goatee as he thought, Excellent! I’ve had too many underlings rebel against my leadership. That won’t be the case with this group!
Later, as the sound of Betty Gilson’s latest hit single rang out within a room of stately Markov House, Wendy and Gaby danced around before stifling their excited giggles and attempting a series of cheerleading motions.
“It is harder than it looks, but I guess these movements make sense. T, half-T, touchdown, low touchdown, right K, left K…” said Wendy as she executed each of the popular moves.
A handsome black man sat nearby and said, “She’s doing great. As both an athlete and a teacher, I’ve seen more than my share of routines, and I’d say Wendy has the right stuff!”
Brion Markov, alias Geo-Force, a bigger man with a regal manner, nodded and said, “Perhaps, Jefferson. I admit that Markovia lacks such opportunities for expressions of scholastic enthusiasm, but I have noticed skilled performances at U. of O. games.”
Jeff Pierce, alias Black Lightning, grinned at Brion Markov and said, “You better not let Denise hear about you watching the college cheer squad too closely! A long-distance romance is tough enough to maintain!”
Brion nodded in obvious discomfort and changed the subject abruptly. “You look as if you also approve, Tatsu,” he said.
Tatsu Yamashiro, alias Katana, was a Japanese woman whose rather severe demeanor was softened by an almost maternal affection in her eyes. She nodded and whispered, “As in the martial arts, a certain amount of physical discipline is necessary for excellence in this sport. I was inclined to view it as frivolous, but it could help Wendy develop noble qualities of teamwork, confidence, and self-esteem.”
Arani Caulder, alias Celsius, smiled at her friend and said, “I enjoy seeing them have such fun. I fear we seldom laughed so much during our time with the second Doom Patrol!” The lovely Indian woman referred to the fact that, as a mutant with the superhuman power to generate intense temperature extremes, she had initially used her gifts in service to humanity and in memory of her late husband Dr. Niles Caulder as part of a team known as the Doom Patrol. The team had parted as members followed their separate needs. However, one of her former allies from the ill-fated assembly had joined her as an Outsider. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See DC Universe: Invasion Homecomings, Chapter 1: A Place to Belong.]
The term outsider truly fit Lieutenant Colonel Valentina Vostok. The blonde cosmonaut had defected from the Soviet Union and rejected its oppressive form of government, only to find herself a reject of sorts from the human race due to a freak accident that had eventually caused her to wrap her flawless features and the rest of her body beneath specially treated bandages. These wrappings were necessary to prevent her body from emitting a strange form of radioactive energy that she could control, as it allowed her to release a humanoid being of awesome power.
She sat apart from the others and brooded for a time before shaking her head as if to clear her troubled thoughts. She was a fiercely independent woman, and she refused to allow self-pity to cloud her mind for long. I must not give in to such thoughts, she mused. I will not be a Negative Woman in more than my heroic name. I did not escape from behind one Iron Curtain to exchange it for a more confining prison of my own self-pity.
Valentina stood up and joined the two blonde teens by saying, “Wendy, you should be careful to extend your back more when you do that movement. You could damage your back without more deliberate extension.”
Wendy nodded and said, “Thanks, Val! I didn’t know they had pom-pom girls in Russia!” Gaby elbowed her as if to warn her to be more tactful, and she shrugged sheepishly. “Sorry, but I didn’t know. I didn’t mean to bring up your old homeland.”
Val nodded and said, “Do not concern yourself. I am not upset. When I was a small girl, I aspired to become a ballerina, but I was too chubby. I took up ice skating as a means of losing weight. I grew to love it, and it was in my days as a young skater that I learned such athletic tricks. I soon put that passion behind me when other more serious passions began to dominate my life.”
“I bet you were great at it!” said Wendy.
“Thank you, dear,” said Val. “I was adequate.”
“Tryouts are Wednesday,” said Gaby. “I think she’ll be the best one there!”
Wendy sighed and said, “I sure hope I don’t throw up or something!”
Jeff laughed and said, “Honey, I used to get pretty shaky myself before a track meet. Don’t let it get you down. It’s normal.”
As the heroes enjoyed some family time, little did they suspect that sinister forces were mustering against them.
A dark-haired man in a long brown coat stood outside the estate grounds and watched the mansion for a moment.
“The energy signature is unmistakable. My target is within that structure. Well, the time to strike will come soon enough. Let them enjoy themselves now. Let this peace be as the benighted slumber of a dull mind or that of a helpless victim before the hunter closes in for the kill! They’ll wake up to reality soon. They’ll see the light, so to speak!” he said with a chuckle.