by Starsky Hutch 76, Libbylawrence, Immortalwildcat and Frank G. Murdock
“K… Kal-El?” Jor-El gasped, raising up, shocking Superman. “A-are we back in my lab?”
Superman suddenly remembered that fateful trip back in time when he’d visited Krypton and taken work as Jor-El’s lab assistant, even attending his parents’ wedding. (*) That was where Jor-El had recognized him from. He stumbled as he tried to climb out of the cryogenic coffin, and Superman rushed to catch him.
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Superman’s Return to Krypton,” Superman #141 (November, 1960).]
“‘Back in my lab’?! Did he just ask if he was back in his lab?” Brainiac hooted with laughter. “This is too rich!”
“Shut up!” Superman yelled to the overhead sound system in a grief choked voice. “Shut your damn mouth!”
“Wh-who are you talking to?” Jor-El said weakly.
A feminine groan suddenly came from the other side of the coffin, and Superman could feel his heart breaking. As Superman turned toward the sound of his mother’s cry, he could only stare at her in silent horror while his mind raced with images from his past.
He remembered feeling this exact feeling of helpless horror from a time he truly could never forget. He had been a Superboy with limitless potential and a bright future full of possibilities ahead of him. His future success had been grounded on more than merely a remarkable record of victories over criminals and menaces from multiple planets and times. His confidence had rested on the fact that he had been raised on a firm and loving foundation of parental support by his adoptive parents, Jonathan and Martha Kent. However, that sacred certainty had crumbled before his eyes during the final illness and death of the beloved Kents.
It was supposed to be a vacation for them! It was meant to be a time for pleasure! he had thought.
During a vacation, Martha and Jonathan had been exposed to a rare illness that overwhelmed them and robbed them of their lives, in spite of every effort their grief-stricken son had made to save them.
Time travel, super-science — nothing saved them! he thought as he relived that sickening feeling of sorrow and guilt when the young man stood by their bedsides and later by their graves. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Last Days of Ma and Pa Kent,” Superman #161 (May, 1963).]
Now he looked at the sight of his birth parents as they suffered from an eerie approximation of the certain death that had already robbed him of one set of parents and had turned a Superboy into a Superman. That was the major difference between now and then — he was a Superman now.
I was young then, he thought. I’ve seen and done so much more since then! I won’t lose another set of parents! Brainiac may see this as a sick joke, but I’ll turn it into a second chance! That’s what I’ve always done — I’ve always turned defeats into victories! I already know of several possible options that were beyond my knowledge when I was a boy. I just need to find some way to escape Brainiac’s clutches!
Through a blinding rainstorm over Metropolis, a red and blue figure streaked between the skyscrapers, homing in on the klaxon of a loud alarm. Slowing down as it approached the source of the sound, a female figure came into view. Under a blue cowl, her green eyes darted, peering through the walls of the Metropolis Mint with vision far beyond most humans’ imagining.
This storm makes good cover for a getaway, thought the young woman dressed in the colors of Metropolis’ famed champion. With Kal off taking Jasma to Rokyn, this looks like a job for Superwoman.
She dived down and through the hole that had been blasted in the side of the fortress-like building, knocking two men in black and violet battle-suits out with light taps to the top of their heads as she passed. Inside, five men were busy loading bundles of uncut bills into the back of an armored vehicle.
“Heads up, guys. Looks like Superma — what the hell, it’s a Super-Chick?” The one speaking was standing to the side, holding a heavy blaster rifle as the others loaded their loot. He raised the rifle and fired, and Superwoman instinctively flinched as the coherent light beam shot forth. The beam passed by, striking the ceiling above her. Stonework and metal reinforcing rods exploded under the assault of the energy beam.
“Nice try, buster,” called Superwoman as her eyes narrowed. Almost instantly, the barrel of the rifle started to droop. Trying to get one last shot off, its wielder aimed again and pulled the trigger. The resulting explosion threw him into a wall, where he dropped limply to the floor. “After all the time I’ve been here, I still can’t believe there are people who haven’t heard of Superwoman before!” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Last Secret Identity,” DC Comics Annual #2 (1983).]
“Take off, guys. Meet at checkpoint B!” One of the remaining men leaped into the open cab of the vehicle as the others scattered around the room and lifted similar rifles from scabbards slung over their backs. “Take her out if you can — otherwise, scatter!“
Quickly, Superwoman weighed her options. The vehicle should be easy enough to track and find in the city, she figured. So as the modified truck rolled off, she remained behind to battle the three remaining criminals. Two shots struck her, sending her tumbling through the air. She smelled scorched cloth, but didn’t feel any immediate pain. Good, she thought. They can’t break my skin. Reassured, she charged forward and, within two minutes, had all of the criminals wrapped up in the remains of their rifles. She turned to see several Metropolis police officers coming through the shattered wall.
“I didn’t get all of them,” Superwoman told them. “I’m going after the remaining one, and I’ll fill you in on the details when I bring him back.”
“Not to worry, ma’am,” replied a tall, broad-shouldered officer with dark-hued skin. “Your back-up nabbed him.”
“Back-up?” replied the masked heroine. “But I didn’t have anybody with me.”
“No, but you weren’t the only one who heard the alarm,” said a new voice through the opening in the wall. “I was in the area and heard it.” There was the sound of stone scraping on stone, and then a tall, imposing figure stepped inside. Well over eight feet in height, with skin the color of the Caribbean sea, Superwoman was at first startled by the unusual sight before her, until she quickly recalled meeting him during last year’s alien invasion. In fact, she had personally recruited him to fight the Alien Alliance. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See The Brave and the Bold: The Flash and Superwoman: The Communications Race.]
“Well, if it isn’t Blue Devil!” Superwoman said, stepping forward to greet him.
“Guilty as charged. Can’t pop home to see the cousins without a fight breaking out. Good to see you again, Superwoman!” Blue Devil transferred the gleaming golden trident that he carried to his left hand and offered his right. Superwoman was amused that, rather than shake her hand, the demonic-looking man bent over it instead. “I remember thinking, back when I met you last summer, that although I’d heard of you by then, I had no idea you were so…”
The blue-skinned hero grinned and gave her a wink. “So Irish.”
Before she could respond, Superwoman heard a high-pitched tone in her left ear. She reached up to press the earring that she wore, and a mechanical voice started rattling off information that only she could hear. “If you’ll excuse me, officers, I’m needed elsewhere.” Looking up at Blue Devil, she cocked her head. “You might prove useful — would you mind coming with me?”
Dan Cassidy gave the red-haired beauty a smile before stepping aside to let her pass back onto the street. “Sure. As long as I’m back for dinner, I don’t see any problems.” Pointing over at the armored thugs, he added, “Do you have a lead on those guys and where they got that armor from?”
“I have a few ideas on where those battle-suits came from, but that’s not our big concern right now.” Superwoman dropped down onto the roof of the Daily Planet Building and pressed a hidden stud on her belt buckle. A large plexiglass cylinder shimmered into view, which Blue Devil recognized as one of the JLA’s transporter devices.
Blue Devil grinned and nodded. “Justice League business? Yeah, I can help out with that.”
“Not exactly.” Superwoman pressed a few keys on the control console as they stepped into the booth. The Metropolis skyline faded from view, replaced by a large chamber carved from rock. All around, Blue Devil saw devices that made the stunt technician in him drool with envy. “Welcome to the Fortress of Solitude. I need to pick up a couple of items before we get going.”
“And just where are we going?”
Superwoman paused before answering, “Another star system. The system where a planet populated by Krypton’s survivors are living. Superman has been captured by someone out there.”
“Wait a second. I heard about this New Krypton, or whatever they call it. It’s in a system with a red sun, like Superman’s home planet. He doesn’t have powers there.” The azure-skinned faux-demon stroked his beard. “If that’s the case, you’ll be powerless there, too, won’t you?”
“That’s why we’re here. My body mimics a Kryptonian pretty closely, so I doubt I will still retain my powers while there. And if not, well, that’s where these come in.” She walked to a cabinet and took out a few items. “Flight belt, opal amulet, time-warp generator, space-retention generator.”
“I’m not a Kryptonian. Or, at least, I wasn’t born one. I came here from the future and formerly used these to make it appear that I had powers. They’re still functional, and they’ll be our ace in the hole. Plus…” She held up the amulet. “This will get us to Superman’s location.”
Blue Devil shook his head. “Never fails. Start out busting some heads, and before I know it, the weirdness starts to gather around me.” A wide grin split his face. “OK, lady. Let’s do this!”
Superman worked to remove the bedding from the dual coffin-ship and create a makeshift bed for his parents in the cargo hold of Brainiac’s skull ship. The coffin-ship itself might have made a better sickbed, but to leave them in there would have been tantamount to admitting that they were going to die, and he wasn’t ready to do that. Thankfully, his mother had passed out once again after her initial cry of pain, and she seemed to be sleeping a bit better. His father, however, was determined to remain awake, and he was doing everything he could to hide the fact that he was in constant pain.
Jor-El, in a sitting position with his head resting against the hard wall of the cargo hold, stared at Superman with a studying gaze. “You know, I’ve never noticed it before, Kal-El, but you bear a striking resemblance to my father.”
“It’s funny you would say that,” Superman said. “I had always heard that it was you and Nim-El who were dead ringers for Jor-El I. Then again, Jor-El I was also said to bear a striking resemblance to his father.”
“How would you know that…?” Jor-El started. Then a knowing look came into his eyes, and he frowned in thought, weighing his words before he finally spoke. “Kal… are you the same Kal-El that Lara and I sent into space? Are… are you my son?”
Superman looked at his father with glistening eyes for a long moment before he finally nodded his head once. “Yes,” he said, looking downward. “Yes, I am.”
“So when you showed up at my doorstep looking for lab work, you were actually there as a time traveler, seeking knowledge of your origins?”
“That’s right,” Superman admitted.
A half-smirk came onto Jor-El’s face. “And you don’t think maybe just a little bit of warning about… oh… everything might’ve been the polite thing to do?”
“You’re a scientist, father,” Superman said. “You know why I couldn’t do that.”
“I know, I know,” Jor-El said, smiling sadly. “Doesn’t make it any easier.” He suddenly laughed and said, “You realize this means you were basically named after yourself, don’t you?”
Superman grinned. “I know. Talk about your paradoxes.”
“So, then, I guess we really aren’t back in my lab.”
“No, we aren’t,” said Superman. “We’re prisoners of Brainiac.”
“Brainiac,” Jor-El spat. “So that drang is still around to plague the people of Krypton, is he?”
“Unfortunately, yes,” Superman said. “Every time it looks like he’s gone for good, he has a way of resurfacing.”
Jor-El looked over lovingly at his sleeping wife, then turned to Superman and said, “Just one more question.”
Pointing to the Supermobile, Jor-El said, “What, by the rings of Wegthor, is that ridiculous-looking contraption? Your spacecraft has… has fists!“
Superman laughed and said, “That’s the Supermobile. It helps me to mimic my powers in areas where I can’t generate them on my own. (*) Unfortunately, Brainiac has full control over it right now, so we can’t use it to escape.”
[(*) Editor’s note: See “It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s Supermobile,” Action Comics #481 (March, 1978).]
“Oh, I’m sure he hasn’t taken over all its functions,” Jor-El said.
“What do you mean?” Superman asked.
“Well, wouldn’t a little bit of music be nice right about know?” Jor-El said with a knowing look.
A short while later, the cargo bay was filled with the sound of one of Great Frog’s greatest hits. “So this is what passes for music on Earth?!” Jor-El exclaimed.
“Sure is,” Superman said, grinning.
“And you actually like it?” Jor-El asked incredulously.
“Sure,” Superman said. “It has a really good beat to it.”
“By Rao, what have your mother and I done to you, son?!” Jor-El exclaimed in mock horror.
From the nearby command post of the skull ship, Brainiac stared with a puzzled expression at the view-screen. “He seeks to sooth their suffering with music, and this is what he chooses? Oh, well, if he wishes to fill their dying moments with that dreadful earthling rock and roll, so be it. My cybertronic ears will still be able to make out their death throes over that barbaric dreck.”
In his overconfidence, one thing that Brainiac’s cybertronic ears could not make out were the high-pitched tones that Jor-El had set at a pitch beyond the scale of his hearing. Hidden beneath the broadcast was a continuous tone relaying the letters in the Kryptonian alphabet for S.O.S.