by Doc Quantum, based on Super Friends #12 by E. Nelson Bridwell and Ramona Fradon
Dan Dunbar continued telling his tale. “More than a decade later, we came out of our government-imposed exile when…”
Jimmy Olsen and Nadir the Master of Magic leaned forward as Dan paused.
“I’m sorry again,” said Dan. “My life has taken such drastic turns over the last twenty-five years. There are a few moments I recall proudly, but this isn’t one of them. Without intending to, TNT and I went from heroes to villains. Please take that into account before we go on. I wouldn’t want to be portrayed in your story as some kind of maniac or something. Tex and I already went through that the first time it happened, when we were lambasted in the media.”
“Not at all,” said Jimmy. “Rest assured, Mr. Dunbar, I fully intend to give your side of the story. I’ve never been one of those so-called journalists who promise one thing and write another. Whatever you tell me, I promise to get the story straight.”
“Thank you,” said Dan. “Now, as I was saying…”
Early one morning on that fateful day in 1982, as I was just beginning to awake from a deep sleep in my bunker — in which I’d spent the last thirteen years of my life — a mysterious shock shattered the thick concrete all around me. Debris began falling upon me before I was really aware of what was happening.
And then I felt a change within myself. During those thirteen years in the bunkers, Tex and I’d had to wear special clothes like the ones we had back in the early ’60s — no others would stand up to the radiation we emitted. So when I looked down through the mask I wore, felt gloves on my hands, and saw the colorful blue and green costume I’d worn as Dynamite, I knew that my powers had been activated, changing my ordinary clothing into my old costume. I guess that power activation saved my life. Instead of killing me, the debris merely glanced off my energized body.
Then I saw it — the thing that had caused the shock. It was too dark to make out much detail, since almost all the lights had shattered, but it was huge and hairy, and looked for the life of me like a giant mole, but incredibly different. It was going through the ground between the bunkers, just passing through. After it passed, I could see through the crumbled walls into Tex’s bunker, and I saw my old mentor face-to-face for the first time in thirteen years. He was in costume, too.
We realized that our proximity, caused by the giant mole’s path of destruction, had unleashed our atomic powers just as they had back in the old days when we’d strike our rings together. The only difference was, of course, that those powers were greater than ever.
Looking at my mentor and oldest friend, I called through the gap to him, “Tex, what happened? I’m confused!”
Before I could move any closer, Tex quickly told me to back off, saying, “If we come into actual contact now, we might blow half the continent off the map! We have to get isolated again — far apart. I’ll try the mountains.”
I nodded and told him, “And since large volumes of water stop radiation, I’m for the sea.”
So, after we used our atomic strength to dig our way out of the ruins of the bunker, we went on our separate ways, Tex heading north toward the Rocky Mountains, while I headed south toward the Gulf of California. Our atomic powers gave us the energy we needed to make such a journey on foot at faster-than-normal speeds.
Unknown to us then, but which we found out about later, the men stationed above the bunkers had been thrown out of bed by what seemed at first to be an earthquake. After they looked around at the damage to the surface buildings, they went outside and saw that a hole leading into the bunkers deep below had been formed. And they realized that we were loose. Moreover, they thought that we might have caused it. That was the story later leaked to the media, which forever smeared the names of TNT and Dynamite.
The men alerted their superiors, who then alerted the Justice League of America, describing us as two of the most dangerous men on Earth. I wish I could deny that, but at the time it may very well have been true. Their reasoning was that, if we were not stopped, we could cause a terrible disaster.
At the time, Wonder Woman — the original version, of course — was performing monitor duty at the JLA’s satellite headquarters, and she issued a general alert to all JLA members. Only three were able to immediately respond — Superman, Batman, and Aquaman — and, along with Wonder Woman, they split into two teams of two to handle the apparent threat. Wonder Woman and Aquaman left to intercept me at the Gulf of California, while Superman and Batman headed for the Rockies to find TNT.
While I was running at super-speed down south, easily ramming through the electrified fence at the Mexican border, TNT had made his way to the lower slopes of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. There, he was discovered by Superman, flying under his own power, and Batman, flying in his Batplane, after a quick search.
As TNT scaled the sheer cliffs of the mountain in an effort to expend the powerful energies within him, Superman called out at him to stop. TNT must have recognized his costume, of course, since he was our contemporary when he was Superboy, but none of that mattered now. As I understand it, after Tex called out a warning, he unintentionally shot a powerful bolt of atomic energy at Batman, nearly incinerating him. If not for Superman’s quick action in shielding his friend, he would have.
Superman decided to take direct action and flew at TNT, who shot off another burst of atomic energy. It didn’t harm him, of course, and Superman quickly realized that TNT was relieved by that fact. Rather than fight him, Superman did a remarkable thing by stopping to listen to TNT’s story. Tex explained to him that he had been trying to reach a remote peak where he’d be isolated and couldn’t accidentally kill someone. He told Superman what had happened at the bunker, setting him straight that we hadn’t been trying to break out at all, and that we had no choice but to flee in opposite directions. Armed with this information, Batman left for the Gulf of California, while Superman took TNT with him to the most scientifically advanced city on Earth — the bottle city of Kandor.
As for me, I’d been doing my best to avoid people during my journey south, but even in the most desolate desert there were people around. And without meaning to, whenever I was startled by an approaching vehicle, I shot off an atomic blast that destroyed it. Thankfully none of those blasts killed anyone, but I came close.
When I’d reached the Mexican border, the guards on both sides shot at me, having already been warned of my impending approach. I was unharmed, thanks to the invulnerability the energy field around me provided, but I can’t say the same for those guards. By the time I burst through the border, my out-of-control powers had hurt and injured several brave men. I’ll always regret that.
When I finally reached the beachhead of the gulf, I was intercepted there by a hostile Wonder Woman and Aquaman, who commanded me to stop.
I shouted, “No! Don’t come any closer! I warn you!”
But instead Wonder Woman rushed at me using her Amazonian speed, and she was in my direct path when a burst of atomic energy erupted from my hands. Wonder Woman and Aquaman both dropped to the ground, then Wonder Woman deflected a second atomic blast using her steel bracelets. Then the two quickly backed away, realizing that the hard radiation my body was emitting could kill them both if they were too close. We were at a standstill, since anything that felt like a threat set off my atomic powers automatically.
That was why Aquaman used his telepathic control over all sea life to summon a nearby elephant seal to strike me from behind, knocking me unconscious as it intentionally beached itself upon me. Since I was stunned, I did not see when Batman approached and landed nearby with his Batplane, but he quickly told Wonder Woman and Aquaman what he and Superman had learned from TNT.
By the time I began to awake, those three super-heroes had already decided on this old mystery-man’s fate. It was decided — without any input from me — that I would be brought to a special isolation chamber in one of the labs in Poseidonis, Aquaman’s home city of Atlantis. The only question in their minds was how to get me there safely. So Wonder Woman offered to use her invisible plane and rig something together to carry me and keep me from getting too close to them.
Batman explained everything to me using a megaphone, and I had no choice but to agree. It seemed that my days as an exile from the upper world weren’t over, after all. But at least I wouldn’t harm anyone with my uncontrollable powers ever again, with any luck. Wonder Woman quickly used her magic lasso — supposedly made, I understand, of links from the enchanted belt made by none other than the goddess Aphrodite herself — to create a makeshift sling, which I sat upon and was slowly raised into the air by her invisible plane.
I’ve got to mention how utterly strange it was to see Wonder Woman and Aquaman floating in midair above me in a sitting position. When I say that Wonder Woman had an invisible plane, I really mean it — it was utterly invisible, not merely transparent as many people believe. As for the ride itself, I barely remember it. I’d become resigned to my fate once more. Instead of being the hero I’d once been as Dynamite, I was now a menace to the entire world and would be sent away from civilization once more. Oh, well, at least Atlantis would be a change of pace from that old bunker.
When the invisible plan reached a certain point in the Mid-Atlantic, it slowed down and hovered in place just above a lone buoy. There, leaning back against the buoy, was a man in a radiation suit — or so it appeared. Actually, it was just an empty radiation suit with an exo-skeleton and a built-in oxygen tank. Aquaman called down to me, instructing me to put it on. Its exo-skeleton would protect me from the pressure of the deep sea, while its lead-lining would protect others from my radiation.
After I donned the suit, Aquaman approached me and said, “All right, Dan, get set to dive to the bottom of the Atlantic.” I told him I just hoped his scientists would have the answer to my problem.
As Aquaman led me beneath the surface of the Atlantic Ocean, he explained how Atlantis had survived beneath vast, pressure-proof domes when the continent sank thousands of years ago. But I remember how haggard he looked, like he’d lost someone very close to him, and I later learned that to be true. After we reached the Atlantean city of Poseidonis, we were quickly rushed inside to a laboratory that contained an air-filled, lead-lined chamber, something long ago prepared for surface-world visitors, as Aquaman told me.
The city of Atlantis was rather tense when I was brought there, and I soon learned why. It seemed that, not long before, Aquaman’s young son Arthur Junior, fondly known as Aquababy — a mere child not yet five years old — had been murdered by the super-villain known as Black Manta. (*) Since the boy had been heir to the throne of Atlantis itself, the entire city was in mourning at the time. It explained why Aquaman seemed to be so distant at first. But he visited me from time to time after that, and I’d like to think that we became friends of sorts.
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Dark Destiny, Deadly Dreams,” Adventure Comics #452 (July-August, 1977).]
In Atlantis, under my new circumstances, I was able to continue my science work — something I’d studied in earnest during those thirteen years in the government bunker — with the added bonus of being able to add ancient Atlantean science to my repertoire. But while I was less isolated than I had been in the bunker, I was still kept separate from the general population, since I was unable to come into physical contact with anyone. Oh, I was occasionally allowed to don my radiation suit and stroll around the city, but I don’t think the Atlanteans ever fully trusted me. I was always accompanied by at least two armed guards whenever I was outside the air chamber. And with the exception of Aquaman and a few members of the royal family, such as Garth and Tula, as well as old Vulko, no one made much of an effort to befriend me. I was a nuisance from the surface world, and my fate was tied to the former king of Atlantis.
I’d like to think that Tex got a better deal than me in Kandor, a scientific Kryptonian city which was like a veritable toy store for his inquiring mind. There, TNT was also forced to wear a radiation suit, but Kandor openly accepted his presence, probably because there was less enmity between Kryptonians and humans than between water-breathers and air-breathers. TNT was taken under the wing of Van-Zee and Ak-Var, two brilliant scientists who devoted themselves to finding a cure for TNT’s radiation. And he made a good friend in Van-Zee — who happens to be Superman’s cousin and his identical twin — and Van’s wife, Sylvia DeWitt, who was originally from Earth and looks exactly like your Lois Lane.
There was just one unexplained mystery, of course. Where had that giant mole come from, and why had it smashed our underground bunkers? I never did learn whether the Justice League or anyone else ever found out anything more about it. I suppose I’ll never know. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Mindless Immortal,” Super Friends #13 (August-September, 1978).]