Dead men tell no tales!
I’ve always believed there was a great deal of truth in such bits of proverbial wisdom. However, I was once a dead man, and as you can see, I’m telling this tale!
While I was born William Hand, my more infamous nom du crime of the Black Hand made me notorious. I fought Green Lantern a handful of times, and then one day a jealous Lex Luthor had me killed! (*) I hate to bore you with the same old story, but essentially I came back to life, went a bit mad with power and tried to take over the universe, and eventually ended up a captive of some rather nasty aliens who drained me of my power, until some of Earth’s heroes rescued me! (*) It all sounds rather grim, but I assure you I’m as fit as a fiddle now!
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Half a Green Lantern is Better Than None,” Green Lantern v2 #29 (June, 1964), Justice League of America: Pawns of the Power Pirate, Chapter 2: Battle of Wills, Batman: Future Imperfect, Green Lantern: Enter Parallax, DC Universe: Invasion, Book 1, Prologue: Plans, and DC Universe: Invasion, Book 2, Chapter 9: Stalag.]
You can’t go home again!
That’s what everyone says. Of course, most ignorant people don’t realize that the exact quote concludes with the addition that you can’t go home again… back home to the escapes of Time and Memory! They probably don’t even realize that Thomas Wolfe wrote that bit, or if they ever did read his work, they forgot about it. I remember, because I don’t forget anything! I have a photographic memory. I wish I could forget some of the memories that haunt me. I’d like to start by forgetting that Gothic monstrosity of a house that loomed up in front of me as our car made its way up the winding driveway a few hours ago.
I looked at it. I didn’t close my eyes. I didn’t try to avoid the sight of my childhood home. Like I said, I don’t forget a thing! I remember all too well what it was like growing up in the old place. I can still hear my father’s booming voice and my mother’s desperate whine. I can see the smug looks of self-satisfaction that seemed to be the perpetual expression shared regularly by my three brothers, Joe, David, and Peter.
The other Hand brothers shared everything, including a dislike for their youngest sibling. I’m the youngest, although I look older. I don’t have the plastic surgery-enhanced good looks of David the actor, or the self-righteous nobility of financier-turned-politician Peter, or even scientist Joe’s scholarly eyes. Still, as they say, handsome is as handsome does, and it was never a question of outer appearance that truly separated me from my family.
You see, what made me different from the rest was on the inside, where the eye of the beholder couldn’t penetrate. What made yours truly, William Hand, the proverbial black sheep of the highly respected Hand family of Coastville was the fact that I had a sense of humor!
You frown at that! You whisper and gaze at me with disbelief as you struggle to come to terms with that I just told you. No doubt you think I speak with a forked tongue! You might even say that I’ve got bats in my belfry, or that I’m off my rocker! You’re wrong. You only know me from the papers or from what Tawny Young — the face that launched a thousand sweeps months — said about me on the local news. You think what made me different from Coastville’s answer to the Jordans of Coast City was my criminal ways.
But that’s simply not seeing the forest for the trees! That’s missing the whole point of what makes William Hand tick! I am a criminal, and they are honest men, but you see what really separated me from the others was that while they viewed life as a series of oh-so-earnest endeavors for the public good, I saw them as hypocrites who pretended to serve the greater good while truly seeking nothing more or less than a way to glorify their inflated egos! They hated me because I mocked them and saw them for what they truly were. I held the mirror of truth up to their disguises, and they didn’t like what they saw reflected in my mocking stare! They weren’t selfless heroes, but petty children looking for the fawning approval of the masses!
As the car stopped in front of my home sweet home, I was carefully escorted out of the vehicle by my guards, and they glanced carefully down to see that the electronic band on my leg was intact.
“Don’t try anything funny, Hand!” said the guard nearest me. “If you make one wrong move, I’ll activate the explosive charge in that band, and you’ll lose that leg!”
I nodded contritely. Why torment the idiot? He was nothing but a puppet on a string. He probably saw himself as a man among men who lives for duty and the American way. I’m just glad that he and his companion used their own right to remain silent on the drive over. I would have loathed making small talk with such small minds!
As we walked toward the house, I saw the servants peeping out from behind the heavy curtains, and I smiled a bit. I smiled knowingly, like the cat that swallowed the canary, because I remembered how they all stared at me the last time I was there. I was dressed differently, of course. I was wearing the ebony costume and hood of my nom du crime the Black Hand, and… well… clothes do make the man!
They ushered me into the lion’s den, where I was greeted by brother Peter himself. He looked like the boy who stood on the burning bridge. I could imagine him shouting excelsior at any moment! He was still so noble and selfless, but then appearances can be deceiving.
He nodded to an aide, and the bland youngster led my guards out of the room. No doubt they were confident that even a super-villain like me wouldn’t dare try anything funny while under the searching gaze of the great Peter Hand! I chuckled and made no effort to mask my glee.
We were within father’s old study. Unread books lined the walls, and an unchanged air of stifling morality was thick in the atmosphere. As the door closed behind the guards, the aide wafted toward one corner of the room like a phantom. He must have majored in such gentile subservience at an Ivy League school. He learned his lessons well. He fawned over Peter without saying a word!
“Well, William, it has been a long time. You look well!” said old Peter. Butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth!
I grinned as I thought, It is good to have my own face again! I wore someone else’s for a time! It was part of an evil scheme to discredit Green Lantern and steal all the power his comrades possessed! Oddly enough, best laid plan that it was, it failed! I lost face, you might say!
I joked about my last little venture, but I truly was laughing to keep from crying. I could laugh sincerely about some of my old schemes, like the time I made everyone else see Green Lantern as if he was me! I can’t truly joke about what happened to me since Lex Luthor killed me. I won’t smile about my time as Parallax. I won’t jest about being trapped by aliens during the invasion! My memories of that time are hazy and confused. A cruel, fearful yellow alternates with a blinding green that obscures my memories. I think something robbed me of some of the details of that time. Perhaps I learned something I shouldn’t have during that weird adventure!
“We heard that you’d been killed in prison,” said Peter. “You can imagine how relieved we were when you turned up alive after the invasion!”
“Thank you,” I replied. “I do hope my greatly exaggerated demise didn’t cause you and the others any inconvenience! The same emerald energy that prevents the Lantern from suffering lethal harm enabled me to survive in a deathlike state. Actually, Peter, I wasn’t myself at the time. I was a prisoner in my own body. I honestly think some alien force attracted by the emerald energy within my cells took over my mind for a time. In any case, I recovered after being brought back to Earth after the invasion!”
Peter shook his head, and anger gleamed in his eyes. I noticed that vein in his head seemed to flare a bit. I always could make him mad! Again I realized that practice does make perfect.
“William, I suppose there’s no need for pleasantries. When you started stealing, it was bad enough, but when you actually became an infamous super-criminal, when you started wearing that absurd costume and calling yourself Black Hand, you placed yourself beyond the bounds of brotherly forgiveness!”
“To err is human, to forgive divine,” I replied.
Peter clenched his fists, and his lackey rushed forward, only to be dismissed with one wave of his master’s hand.
Inhaling sharply, Peter almost whispered as he said, “The clichés again! You almost drove father to despair with those insipid sayings of yours!”
I shrugged as I answered, “He would have preferred me to have been as silent as the grave.”
Peter paced back and forth, then turned to say, “He loved you. He just couldn’t stand to see how you rebelled against all the Hand family stood for by becoming a common criminal!”
“Not so common! I compiled a compendium of crime that provided me with answers to almost any situation. I based my crimes around the clichés I loved. I invented a device that absorbed and stored the residual energy left behind from each use of Green Lantern’s power ring! I used that device to turn his own amazing power to my own ends! I battled him — and the Flash as well!” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Day Flash Ran His Last Mile,” The Flash #258 (February, 1978) and “Black Hand, the Kill-Proof Criminal,” The Flash #259 (March, 1978).]
The guards opened the study door. I started to shout, then sat down and regained my composure.
“It is fine. Just a family discussion!” said Peter.
“I’m tired,” I said to him. “Being brought here from prison was enough to make me curious, but I’ve been through a great deal in the last few months. What do you want with me? Surely you don’t wish to have me in the next family portrait!”
I glanced over to the wall of photos that depicted my happily smiling siblings and their picture-perfect families. I had never met David’s wife or children, nor did I know Joe’s wife, but I did know Peter’s wife Ann and their daughter Mary. I’d doted on Mary when she was a little girl. She had been a lovely child, and I had some regret that my criminal career had necessitated a separation from her. No one wants a super-villain uncle to babysit!
I wasn’t joking about the sensation that an outside force briefly took control of me after Luthor’s minion stabbed me. I felt as if something about my near-death state made me vulnerable to whatever it was that took over me. I didn’t really return to normal until all the energy was drained out of me by the alien invaders I mentioned. When I lost the residual ring energy, I woke up from whatever force had long clouded my mind!
Peter leaned over and said, “It’s Mary! She’s been kidnapped. I want you to find her. I don’t want to go to the police, because I can’t risk her being harmed if they should err.”
“Mary? I’m sorry, Peter! I really am. I don’t really have that many connections in the underworld. I worked alone most of the time. I don’t see how I could help you! Surely Green Lantern could help. He still works out of nearby Coast City!”
“Green Lantern is a hero, but you are family,” said Peter. “You have experience with superhumans. You always were brilliant. I’m asking you for help. I pulled some strings with the authorities. If you succeed in bringing her back home safely, I’ll get your sentence reduced. I can’t risk trusting the police or super-heroes, but I am willing to trust you. I know you loved her!”
I nodded and stammered. The cat had my tongue. I was at a loss for words. I could still see Mary as a cute child and not as a young woman in her twenties. I realized that Peter wasn’t telling me everything. If he could use his connections to free me for such a mission, he could certainly use them to get superhuman help. Perhaps he also feared the news could harm his political ambitions, since the investigation of one crime often led to the uncovering of nasty truths about other areas in the victim’s life.
Recalling that Wolfe line about the escape of time and memory, I made a decision. In for a penny, in for a pound, as they say. Blood is thicker than water.
“Tell me what you want. I’ll help… for Mary’s sake.”