Superboy: 1967: Through the Looking Glass, Chapter 7: For Want of a Nail

by ManOMight1974

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Alex Luthor’s secret laboratory, Earth-33, 7:19 P.M.:

Superboy and Dav-Im both sat slumped on the small couch in the basement. During the last six hours, Superboy had been giving the crusader from Krypton a super-fast training session in combat tactics, boxing, and judo. The training session itself had been severely condensed, so Superboy had not been able to accurately assess whether or not Dav-Im was actually getting anything out of it. Unfortunately, this was about the best that the Boy of Steel could do. If he’d had more time, he could make certain that the hero was becoming proficient, not in the combat itself, but in how to handle himself under the pressures of hand-to-hand combat with an equally powerful foe, and that was the key to it all. Dav-Im’s problem wasn’t really knowing how to fight or using his powers in a fight, as any super-powered Kryptonian could do that, but rather it was using those abilities and his head so that his opponent wouldn’t be able to get the upper hand.

Many times during the training session, Superboy had been reminded of when Jonathan Kent had taught him the basics of boxing so that he could handle Pulsar. Pulsar had appeared to be more powerful than Superboy, due in part to the effects of satellites that Pulsar’s father had launched into orbit secretly that were bombarding Earth with red sun rays, thus temporarily weakening the Boy of Steel. (*) Jonathan had said to his son, “Clark, this is one time where having all those powers is not helping you win the day. You need to outthink your opponent. If he seems to match you power for power, then deal with him in another way. Use his strengths against him. Roll with the punches. That’s the key.”

[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Main Event: Smallville, U.S.A.,” The New Adventures of Superboy #31 (July, 1982).]

Several times that day, Superboy had found himself quoting his father, and it made him smile.

As the two heroes sat there, worn out and sore — which was saying a lot for two beings who could survive indefinitely without eating, breathing, or sleeping — Dav-Im turned to face the Boy of Steel, a serious look on his face. “I know what you are planning,” he said after a moment’s hesitation, “and I think it is a very bad idea.”

“Really? And what would you rather I do, Dav-Im?”

“I don’t know, Superboy. I don’t know. But causing a mass exodus of the Phantom Zone is not going to help us.”

“Why do you say that?”

“Have you thought things through? In your universe the Phantom Zone was obviously a method of incarceration that the Kryptonian Science Council of your Krypton used for the worst of criminals. But in this universe, Jur-Ll was a criminal mastermind, and he never shared the technology with the Science Council, of which he was a member. He used the projector in this universe as a method of disposing of his enemies, on both sides of the law.”

“I figured as much.”

“If you knew, then why would you still be planning on releasing them? Ultraboy is bad enough, but some of the cutthroats in the Zone are ten times worse.”

“I know Dav-Im, but between you and me, we are going to need all the help that we can get. Ultraboy knows what we are up to.”

“He was here, wasn’t he?”

Superboy slowly breathed out several times before answering, his breaths measured and controlled. “Yes, yes, he was.”

“That’s why you were so intent on making certain that I was properly trained to handle combat situations.”

“Yes.”

Dav-Im stood up and walked over to a wooden armoire in one of the corners and slowly removed a neatly folded pile of clothes from it. In a blur of super-speeded motion he changed out of his dirty, sweat-stained costume and into a slightly different, clean and fresh uniform. As he stood there in his new clothes, he cut quite the dashing and heroic figure. The uniform was in the same deep purple color as the previous one, but it had some subtle differences to it. Whereas the dirty one was of a rather plain and subdued Kryptonian design, this one was more exciting. The shirt was a skintight turtleneck that gave definition to the teen’s upper body musculature, and was emblazoned with an eight-pointed yellow and white star on the chest. Attached to the front of the shirt with a shiny golden disk was a flowing white cape with a yellow trim at the bottom that hung down over the right shoulder. The pants were a simple, deep purple affair with one thin, yellow stripe down the side of each leg, white trunks, and a shiny golden belt. The boots were extremely simple, jet black and made of some leather-like Kryptonian material. The final touch was a pair of gleaming golden wristbands that came halfway up his forearms. The suit certainly gave Dav-Im a heroic flair and reminded Superboy of a cross between the original costume worn by Star Boy of the Legion of Super-Heroes and Superboy’s good friend and fellow Legionnaire, Mon-El. The Boy of Steel was certainly impressed.

“What do you think?” Dav-Im asked as he turned to face the Boy of Steel with his hands at his hips.

“Impressive, Dav-Im.”

“I figured that I needed a change if we are going to be going into combat. I still think that letting the Zoners out is a foolish idea. Some of them will fight at our side, but the others will turn on us rather quickly after Ultraboy is defeated. You should keep that in mind.”

“I intend to, but my Phantom Zone grenade is designed only as a decoy. I really have no intention of using it unless as last resort.”

“I’m sure that that is not going to sit well with the Zoners you talked to.”

“You know about that?”

“Yeah, K.K. filled me in after he read your mind while he was showing off his new look to you.”

“Impressive. I didn’t even know he did that.”

“Heh. You get used to that. He often tells me that any talented and powerful telepath can ply his trade without you even being the wiser.”

“Indeed. Now that you are as fully trained as you are going to get in such a brief period of time, I have a task for you — a very important task.”

“Name it.”

“Dav-Im, I need you to contact any of the other heroes around, either on Earth or off, and convince them that we need their help.”

“Why do I have to do it? Why don’t you come with me? You could convince them to help.”

“Not with this face I can’t.”

Dav-Im chuckled. “Too true. All right. But what are you going to be doing while I’m off-world?”

“I’m going to be attempting to accomplish the hardest task in this universe. I’m going to try and convince Alex to take an active role in battling Ultraboy.”

“Good luck.”

“Thanks,” Superboy said back, his tone very unsure, “I’m gonna need it.”

***

The Kent house, Smallville, Earth-33, 7:24 P.M.:

“He’s been in the house,” Ultraboy said as he sat in the dark, brooding. He was dressed in his Clark Kent clothes and was sitting in the huge easy chair in the Kent living room with his hands steepled in front of him. He was not happy. “Superboy had the gall to sneak into the house through the secret tunnel entrance in the basement, and Lord knows what he had done while he and that stinking mongrel of his had done while they were here.”

“Son, isn’t that what you wanted him to do?” Jonathan Kent asked from behind. He stood there, his glasses lowered to the tip of his nose as he held his chin and scratched his goatee with the fingers of his left hand.

“Yes, Pa,” the young man replied, a hint of frustration evident in his tone.

“Then what’s the problem, young man?”

“I wasn’t ready for him to do that.”

“Haven’t your mother and I always told you to expect the unexpected?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Well, obviously,” Jonathan said, smirking, “he’s doing just that. You wanted a challenge… well, now you’ve got it.”

Young Clark sat there in the chair, his father’s words bringing first resignation, then a measure of acceptance to his look. He was no longer brooding. “I just thought that he would be just as incompetent as those other idiots I’ve had to deal with over the last few years.”

“Again, son, you are not expecting the unexpected. You should have expected him to be just as resourceful and cunning as you are.”

“I thought that I had, Pa. Again, obviously I hadn’t.”

“Did he touch anything while he was here, son?”

“Nothing is missing from the lab, if that is what you mean, but the Phantom Zone view screen portal had been activated. He has obviously made some kind of deal with Jur-Ll’s enemies; what that deal is I can only guess at. The only thing that I know for certain is that he is planning something — something very big — which leads me to the conclusion that I am going to have to assemble an army against him.”

“You mean Lana and Pete won’t be enough?” the elder Kent said, his words dripping with sarcasm.

“No, Pa. Lana as the Insect Empress and Pete as the Brute just won’t cut it. When Lana is in her super-identity, she is too focused on seducing virtually any man in front of her with her… ahem, ample assets. Pete is a mindless hulking monster; he only knows how to take orders and break things. If Superboy is going to be doing what I think he is, then I am going to need more muscle and more brain power than currently available. I’m going to have to contact some of the other villains I know to assist me.”

“You sure that they will be enough, son?”

“I don’t know, Pa,” Clark said, shaking his head, “I just don’t know. But I am praying that they will be enough, otherwise Superboy and his incompetents will get the better of me, and I will suffer a crushing defeat.”

“Well,” Jonathan Kent said as he started walking out of the darkened room, “you wanted a challenge, and now you’ve got one.”

As Clark again sat there in the darkness, he began to smile. His adoptive father was right; he did want a challenge. And he certainly had one. This was the most fun he’d had in a very, very long time. “I just hope that Superboy doesn’t disappoint me in regards to the other situation.”

***

Alex Luthor’s secret laboratory, Earth-33, Tuesday, April 24, 1967, 10:37 A.M.:

Superboy stood in the crowded basement, looking at each of the colorfully clad people that Dav-Im had brought back with a severe combination of awe, wonder, and immense apprehension. Each of these people were heroic counterparts of some of his greatest enemies, and it sent a chill down his spine as he stood with them. The funny part was that each of them was giving him the same look that he was giving them. Not that that wasn’t unexpected, but still, it was indeed an odd sensation. It reminded the Boy of Steel of an old proverbial rhyme from back home:

“For want of a nail, the shoe was lost.
 For want of a shoe, the horse was lost.
 For want of a horse, the rider was lost.
 For want of a rider, the message was lost.
 For want of a message, the battle was lost.
 For want of a battle, the kingdom was lost.
 And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.”

And indeed this had been true here. A simple twist of fate had made villains of them in one universe, paragons of virtue in another. Two of them, the Kryptonite Kid and Solar Boy, used the exact same code-names as their counterparts in his own universe; the other three, however, used totally different code-names, and Superboy had to venture a guess as to who each of them was in this reality. Using a combination of his super-speed and super-intelligence to look each of them over, Superboy was quickly able to discern that the Golden Genie, Mega-Mind, and Professor Order were this reality’s equivalents of the Yellow Peri, Dyna-Mind, and Doctor Chaos, respectively. A very thin smile crossed his lips as he realized that Dav-Im had certainly spared no expense at gathering some of the most powerful of this universe’s heroes. Superboy was starting to believe that this just might work.

“Gentleman, lady, and canines,” Superboy began as he glanced around the room, “each of you has had experience at dealing with my counterpart, his dog, and his henchmen. Each of you have been defeated on multiple occasions, but that is the past. From this moment on, you people are going to work as a team. Divided you all failed, but united as one, you will triumph.”

“Excuse me, young man,” Professor Order interjected, his deep baritone voice echoing beneath the gleaming golden helmet he wore upon his head, “but why should we listen to you? Why should we follow you? What can you do that will turn the tide?”

“Professor Order,” Superboy said, taking a slow and measured deep breath, “I know how he thinks. Every nasty thought he acts upon, I’ve had. On more than one occasion, I’ve had the temptation to do some of the things that he’s done outright. I can anticipate how he’s going to react in any given situation. I think that it is only logical that I take point in this endeavor, but I won’t overstep my place here. I won’t assume that I should be the leader. I will leave that up to you to decide, and either way, I will accede to the group’s wishes.”

“You see,” Dav-Im said, elbowing Professor Order in the side, “what I tell you? He’s that good.”

“I see that you have been speaking the truth, Dav-Im,” Professor Order replied as he shot the youth in the purple costume a steely gaze. “Were you a villain, like your counterpart, you would have forced us to follow you. You gave us the opportunity to decide. These are the markings of not just a hero, but an honest young man as well. I think I can speak for the rest of us when I say that we will follow you.”

“You can speak for all those assembled but my son, Professor Order.” As one, the group turned their heads toward the foot of the cellar stairs where they found Chief Jules Luthor standing, his arms folded across his chest and a look of grim determination on his face. “Alex is not going with you.”

“But, Dad…” Alex began, but was cut off mid-sentence by a look from his father.

“Superboy,” Chief Luthor said as he entered the room, “believe me, I do appreciate all that you are doing for us, but my son is off-limits. I am not going to lose him like I lost his mother or his older sister. He’s not going.”

“I can do this, Dad.”

“Enough, Alex. I have spoken. You are not going with them.”

“Everyone,” Superboy said as he looked around the room to each of the assembled, “can you please go upstairs and wait for me. I’d like to have a word alone with the chief and Alex. I’ll be along in a few minutes. I promise.”

Superboy stood silently with his arms clasped behind his back as he watched all of his new friends file up the stairs and away from earshot. This was the moment that he had been dreading. The last thing he wanted to do was to go against the wishes of a father, a man who had opened up his home to the young hero, but he felt that he had no choice in the matter. He needed Alex there, and not just because it was what Ultraboy wanted, but in some way it was because he was trying to make amends for what had happened to Lex.

“I’m listening, Superboy.”

“Chief, why did you become a police officer?”

“Because I wanted to help people, Superboy.”

“When you first became a policeman, you knew that there was always a possibility that you could die, yes?”

“Yeah, I knew.”

“Well, then, knowing that, why did you get married? Surely you knew that if you died on the job, then it would crush your wife. I understand what it must be like for you. You’re still grieving for the loss of your family. And you don’t want to lose Alex, too. I really do understand all that. Every day I get up in the morning back on my world, and I have to make choices. I have to choose whether or not I should go into action against villain A, knowing full well that there is always a chance I may not come back, and how it would devastate my family. So I understand the reasons why you think the way you do, and why you are always so hard on Alex, not wanting him to get involved.”

Superboy paused for a second to let that all sink in.

“Superboy, I appreciate that you understand my feelings on this. But it’s not that I don’t want him to get involved. And it’s not that I like the way that things are going on in this town — I hate them — but there is really nothing that we can do. Every one of the heroes that you just saw has tried and failed. If people with those kinds of power levels were useless against that brat, then what can normal humans like myself or my son do?”

“Chief, to a certain extent, you’ve given up. You don’t even want to try to do your job anymore. What happened to the young man who just wanted to help people?”

“His oldest daughter was kidnapped and lost to him, and his pregnant wife was murdered as an object lesson. I have lost so much over the years, and I don’t want to lose what little I have left in this world, as a result, I can and will do nothing!

“You know, Chief, where I come from, there is a statement that has been attributed over many centuries to many men, but it follows a simple, homespun logic that I try to apply to my life each and every day. It goes like this: ‘The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.’ Guess what, Chief? You are a good man who is doing nothing, and evil is triumphant.”

With that, Superboy climbed the stairs and exited the basement, leaving father and son to ponder his words. He only hoped that they were enough.

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