by Starsky Hutch 76
Professor Matthew Bolden’s life had not been a happy one since the day of his most famous experiment. True, it had made his name a widely spoken one in the scientific community. And his face and name had been spread across newspapers across the world. But not for the reasons he had intended. He was now widely regarded as a failure.
His experiment was supposed to have changed the world. His kryptonite reactor would have provided cheap and plentiful energy for the entire planet. The lives of all people would suddenly have become a lot easier. Instead, it had only made the life of one man easier — Superman.
For a brief time, all the kryptonite in the world had been changed to common iron, giving Superman freedom from the one element that could harm him until more eventually drifted to Earth. (*) And there lay the reason for his disgrace. If the incident had not been tied to so public a figure, his failure might not have continued to haunt him. It would simply have been another unsuccessful experiment, even if it had nearly ended with disastrous results, except for the intervention of Superman.
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Superman Breaks Loose,” Superman #233 (January, 1971).]
Because Superman was tied to it, though, the whole world had been talking about his failure, keeping it from being just a footnote in a scientific journal. True, they were mostly talking about the bizarre side-effect of kryptonite turning into iron, but the fact that they were talking was damaging enough to his career.
Government contracts and university positions became harder to come by. No one reputable wanted him working for them. He became the butt of jokes — usually explosion-related ones.
He began to drink more. He was also turning into something of a chain-smoker. People who knew him couldn’t believe how he seemed to have aged years overnight.
Professor Bolden rose from his bed when he realized it was going to be yet another sleepless night. He walked over to his liquor cabinet and poured half a glass of bourbon. He was about to take a sip when a shadow fell across him, and he realized someone had landed on his balcony. He was startled to see Superman, of all people, standing there.
Superman gave a look as if to say, “Can I come in?” Professor Bolden nodded, and he entered.
“What do you want?” Bolden asked.
Supermen appeared momentarily startled by his brusqueness, but quickly dismissed it. “I need your help,” he said, “to save my city — maybe even the world.”
Bolden downed the bourbon in one gulp as Superman began his explanation.
“It’s no use!” Professor Bolden growled several minutes later, tugging at his hair in frustration. “We’ve been over it a hundred times! Recreating the accident that turned all the kryptonite into iron would keep Kobra from transforming Metropolis into kryptonite, but there’s still a good chance everything would get turned into iron. You’re just trading one death-sentence for another.” He gave the papers covered in equations spread out across the floor a kick in frustration, sending them flying into the air.
Superman watched the scientist in shock as he made his way to the bar. Like most people who came into contact with Professor Bolden these days, he was shocked by his transformation.
“Drink?” he said, looking over his shoulder at Superman.
“No, thanks,” Superman said.
“I didn’t think so,” Bolden muttered, lifting the glass up to his mouth for a shot of whiskey. He set the glass down and lit another cigarette.
“Isn’t there some way to control the blast?” Superman said in dismay. “To focus it?”
Professor Bolden stepped away from the bar and stared down at the papers on the floor thoughtfully, rubbing his head with the hand that held the cigarette between the index and middle fingers. Watching the smoke, Superman imagined that he could almost see the mind at work. “Come to think of it, there might be,” Bolden said. “But we’ll need the help of a friend of yours.”
Firestorm had joined Maxwell Lord’s new Conglomerate team last month, which was keeping him busy. (*) But helping out the world’s greatest hero in Metropolis had been a higher priority for him than making public appearances at shopping malls. Now the nuclear man waited anxiously, staring at the sky. Like Professor Bolden, Superman, and many others, he was awaiting the arrival of Kobra’s armada.
[(*) Editor’s note: See Justice League of America: The Final Chapter, Chapter 3: The Conglomerate.]
“Calm down, Ronald,” the voice of Professor Stein said inwardly. “Just do as you were instructed, and everything will be fine.”
“Easier said than done,” Ronnie Raymond replied. “Millions are counting on us.”
“What’s that?” Professor Bolden said from nearby, standing with Superman.
“Nothing,” Firestorm said.
“Let me check those calibrations again,” Professor Bolden said, stepping forward to look at the devices over the hands, feet, and shoulders of Firestorm. These devices were hooked to larger machines nearby.
“Everything seems to be in order,” Bolden said through the speaker of his insulated radiation suit.
“That’s good,” Superman said through the speaker of his own lead-lined suit. “Because we’ve got company.” He pointed to the horizon of the city, over which could be seen the approaching ships of the Kobra armada.
“Be ready to detonate,” Bolden said into his communicator.
The Kobra airships emptied their cargo holds, dropping kryptonite into streets already pockmarked with the deadly metal. Superman and Professor Bolden knew that any second, the Kobra Cult would be activating their horrific device.
“Now!” Bolden shouted into his communicator. Superman held his breath anxiously, turning to the professor. Timing was crucial.
The Professor’s hunch was right, because the second the kryptonite reactor was activated, Kobra/Luthor ordered his men to activate his own conversion device. As the wave began to cascade out of the lead airship, the K-reactor exploded, sending out a wave of its own.
The engines of the machinery Firestorm was hooked up to hummed to life. Firestorm held out his arms and attempted to draw the radiation of both waves into him.
Firestorm’s body went rigid as his cells were flooded with energy. He began to grow bright, like a minature sun.
“Uh… too much… too much…” Firestorm groaned. Suddenly, there was a flash, and he disappeared as another wave cascaded across the city, transforming all the kryptonite in Metropolis to iron but leaving the rest of the city unharmed.
Superman and Professor Bolden stared in dismay at the empty spot where Firestorm had once been. Please don’t let him be dead, Professor Bolden thought. At least last time, no one died.
Suddenly, there was another flash of light toward the empty spot. Superman and Bolden were stunned to see Ronnie Raymond and Martin Stein laying on the ground before them.
“Martin?” Professor Bolden said in shock.
“Uh… yes, Matthew,” Martin Stein said to his colleague sheepishly. “It’s a long story.”
“Don’t worry. Your secret’s safe with me,” Bolden said. “But you might want to change back to your other identity, if you can.” He pointed to the approaching army caravan that had been keeping a safe distance for the duration of their task.
“Oh, yeah!” Ronnie Raymond exclaimed. With another, smaller flash, the two were united again as Firestorm.
“No! Damn it all!” Kobra/Luthor screamed, pounding the console of of the arm of his command chair. “I will not be cheated out of my revenge!”
The Kobra soldiers around him turned and looked in alarm. Not simply at his rage but at his ranting about revenge. If anything, Superman had more of a right to desire payback than Kobra did. Especially when you considered their actions in the past, such as burying Metropolis in sand and even plucking his foster parents from the time shortly before their deaths and threatening to kill them in the present. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Sandstorm that Swallowed Metropolis,” Superman #327 (September, 1978).]
“If I can’t turn the city into kryptonite, then I shall turn it into a smoldering ruin,” Kobra/Luthor growled menacingly. Prepare to drop everything we have on the city.”
“I don’t think Kobra is happy,” Superman said.
“I’d say that’s an accurate observation,” Bolden said. “It looks like they’re moving into attack formation. You know, you can take that radiation suit off now. Our readings show that there is no kryptonite left in Metropolis. You can intercept them without fear of poisoning.”
“I would have done it anyway,” Superman said. He took to the air and, with a mighty rip, the radiation suit fell to the ground, no longer needed.
Superman flew in a direct path toward the command ship of Kobra’s fleet. A barrage of cannon fire roared at him, striking him in the chest. It barely slowed him down. Then a warhead erupted from its surface and struck him with explosive force, sending him flying into an office building and halfway through its tenth floor. The cubicle city inside crumpled beneath his impact like a house of cards.
“Uh, sorry,” Superman said, rising to his feet. “Is everyone OK?”
“Y-yeah,” one of the office workers stammered, visibly shaken.
“Good. Don’t worry, people,” he said to the crowd of workers staring at him. “I’ll have this handled shortly.” Superman took back to the air to face the armada again.
Firestorm joined the fight and, as one fighter took aim at him and fired, a quick blast changed the missile into shaving cream. With another blast, Firestorm transformed the fighter into a giant inflated cartoon swan. The two Kobra foot-soldiers screamed as they found themselves sitting on the back of the parade float. He fired at three more fighters, creating a duck, a bunny, and Dumbo.
Superman and Firestorm were joined by members of the Green Lantern Corps: John Stewart, Katma Tui, Kilowog, Arisia, and Salaak. Superman gave Kilowog a two-fingered salute as way of greeting as they flew in to join the battle. Kobra’s ships quickly found themselves on the defensive.
As the Green Lantern Corps hammered into the armada and Firestorm transformed fighters and disarmed warheads, Superman made another charge toward the command ship of the Kobra armada.
Superman found himself repelled, bouncing off a quickly thrown-up force-field. He quickly flew off in the opposite direction from the ship.
“That’s right, Superman,” Kobra/Luthor said, watching him on the monitor from his command chair. “I’ve beefed up the weapons of this this ship. You’re hopelessly outclassed, so you might as well give up.”
Suddenly, the monitor showed Superman turning around and flying full throttle, building up speed as he headed toward the ship.
“No!” Kobra/Luthor cried.
The aircraft shook as Superman pounded through the force-shield with the added momentum of his flight. Seconds later, he tore through the hull of the ship as if it were tissue.
“Where’s your leader?!” Superman yelled, crashing through the door of the control room. One of the frightened foot-soldiers pointed to another door on the other side of the room.
“Traitor!” another soldier screamed, diving for the other soldier and grabbing for his throat.
“Break it up, you two,” Superman said, prying them apart. He ripped metal from one of the computer consoles and bent it around them to hold them still.
“Good work, Agent Renwald,” Superman said to one of the foot-soldiers his x-ray vision revealed to be his foster brother, Cory.
“Thanks, Superman,” he said, removing his cowl. The other soldiers stared at him in shock and dismay.
Superman went to the door the first foot-soldier had pointed to. It was locked. “Did they really think this would keep me out?” he said, smirking. The steel door crumpled beneath his hand, revealing the figure hidden behind it.
Inside was a bound Lex Luthor. His infamous armor was nowhere in sight. “Help me, Superman!” Lex Luthor cried. “These scaly bastards kidnapped me and forced me to work for them! I have witnesses!”
“How the heck did he get here?” Agent Renwald said, looking over Superman’s shoulder.
Agent Renwald, joined by two dark-suited men, showed up at the cell of Plato and Pluto Statler, the Siamese twin henchmen of Lex Luthor.
“What do you want?” Plato and Pluto said simultaneously.
“My superiors still have a few more questions regarding the incident over Metropolis.”
“We’ve already given you our statement,” Plato said.
“We have nothing more to say,” Pluto said.
“Which corroborates the statements made by Lex Luthor and Louto, as I’m sure you’re aware,” Agent Renwald said, “but manages to contradict that of every single member of the Kobra Cult we apprehended — who all, by the way, seemed very surprised to see your boss there.”
“So?” Plato and Pluto said.
“So somebody’s not telling the truth. Maybe four somebodies.”
Plato and Pluto remained impassive.
“Perhaps it’s time I introduced you to these two gentlemen. These are Dr. Richards and Dr. Pym of STAR Labs.”
“So if someone were to start telling the truth, the authorities would be greatly appreciative,” Agent Renwald said.
“Grateful how?” Plato asked.
“STAR Labs is doing some pretty innovative work in cloning technologies. Specifically for replacement parts — arms, legs, lungs, liver, heart, kidney, et cetera. You know, for someone like you, it could be a chance at a normal life.”
“A… normal life?” Pluto said, his voice cracking.
“What would we have to do?” Plato said.
“In exchange for your testimony against your boss, you’ll be placed in the custody of Dr. Richards and Dr. Pym, here, and allowed to volunteer to be the first human subject of their cloning transplant research program.”
“I feel I’ve got to warn you it’s not without its risks,” Dr. Richards said.
“I don’t care,” Plato said. “It’s worth the risks,” Pluto said.
“Then, gentleman, I think we have ourselves a deal,” Agent Renwald said, extending his hand.