Superman: The Unkindest Cut, Chapter 4: Debt of Honor

by Starsky Hutch 76, with Frank G. Murdock

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The Supermobile poured on the speed as Lobo rapped at the blue metal hull, and Lobo tightened his grip on the chain even tighter.

In the distance, Brainiac clutched his pet monkey Koko tightly in anxiety as he struggled to keep pace. “This Lobo seems more unpredictable than Superman. Once we cork his bottle, I hope the seal to our new Velorpian city holds better than Kandor’s has. I think we’ll call it New Czarnia, after the planet’s old capital city.”

“You ain’t losing the main man that easily, you namby-pamby bastich!” Lobo growled.

“Not trying to,” Superman grunted as the g-forces made his face contort. He fought the weight of the velocity to turn toward his parents in concern. The speed of the flight had caused them to pass out under the inertia. “You… want a fight…? I will give you a fight such as you have never… seen… before!”

“Promises, promises,” Lobo said with relish. “Ready to put up yer dukes, are you?”

“Not… my dukes,” Superman replied wearily. “Bigger… dukes.”

“Huh?”

The Supermobile passed through a nearby wormhole, leaving the Milky Way Galaxy itself for a star system in a neighboring galaxy whose distance was so great that even Superman, flying at his fastest speed, would not be able to reach in centuries without the help of wormholes that connected various parts of the universe. Superman just happened to know that one such wormhole existed here, connecting Rokyn’s star system to an other-galactic star system.

Moments later, the Supermobile entered the blue-green atmosphere of a large planet orbiting a red sun. As soon as the Supermobile skidded to a stop, an emergency medical team rushed to retrieve the prone forms of Superman, Jor-El, and Lara Jor-El.

A battered Lobo rose to his feet. He unhooked himself from the Supermobile and began slapping the dust from his leather jacket. He turned and was alarmed to find himself greeted by the largest, most muscular individual he had ever encountered outside of a holovid.

The green-skinned behemoth dressed in regal attire extended his hand and said, “Greetings… Lobo, is it? I am Hun’ya, ruler of the Scrubb Empire. I attained my title after deposing our disgraced ruler Rat’lar for failing to honor his pact with Earth during my fight with Muhammad Ali. (*) While not besting him, I did very nearly bring him to his knees, and he, in turn, did beat this very universe’s most vaunted warrior, Superman himself, whom you apparently have some sort of ridiculous debt of honor you feel a need to resolve. This, of course, is where I come in.

[(*) Editor’s note: See “Superman Vs. Muhammad Ali,” All-New Collectors’ Edition C-56 (1978).]

“Since the red sun puts him at a disadvantage, Superman has appointed me to act in his stead. If it is a fight you are looking for, I am here now to give you a fight unlike any you have ever experienced before. So, Lobo, it is time you prepare yourself for suffering unlike any you have ever experienced before. And I promise you, generations of your progeny will weep when they describe the pain you were forced to endure in this unfortunate battle. Then again, judging from your attire, I suspect you just might be the type who enjoys this sort of thing anyway.” Hun’ya winked. “Let us be off. The arena awaits.”

The words of the warrior before him repeated in his head. Fraggin’ bastich! thought Lobo as he gave a quick upper palm strike toward Hun’ya’s nose.

But he was surprised when the Scrubb emperor grasped the Czarnian’s wrist just before contact and flipped Lobo into the air.

“Frag me! Frag me! Frag me!” yelled Lobo as he flew upward into the air. Super-Pansy got someone else to fight his battle for him, did he? I should have oughtta figgered! When I get my hands on that sonuva–

But before Lobo could finish his thought, he felt something grab him, veering him from out of his upward trajectory, and thrust him downward even faster, driving his form hard into the alien pavement, causing a glass-shattering boom.

When the dust cleared, a large hole could be seen, several cracks emanating from its center, as silence hung in the air.

And then, the sound of several pebbles could be heard rolling downward from the hole. A few grunts, accompanied by a few choice words not often allowed within the pages of a Comics Code-approved comic, and then a pale hand clad in a black leather, fingerless glove grasping at the crater’s edge.

“OK…” came the gravelly voice of Lobo as he pulled himself up and over the pit’s depths, then got to his feet. As the last Velorpian dusted himself off before pulling out a thick cigar and lighting it up, he looked at Hun’ya and said, “When does the fight begin?”

***

Although the trip to Rokyn was not Dan Cassidy’s first ride in a spacecraft, his career as the super-hero known as Blue Devil was still brief enough for him to be thrilled by the experience. His excitement was even more palpable as the craft began to touch down in the city of New Kandor, and he found himself surrounded by Kryptonian architecture.

Kristin Wells was less excited, however. The greeting party was somewhat bigger than she had expected. She had expected to see Zor-El, Allura In-Ze, Gerta Gim-Ze, and Jasma. She did not expect to see Ro-Van, the elderly head of the Science Council. With him were Rokyn’s Green Lantern Valura Tur-Thol, and Primus and Tigorr of the Omega Men.

“Mommy Kristin!” Jasma squealed, running up to Superwoman. “Oops,” she said, noticing the uniform. “I mean Superwoman.”

Thank God we’re not on Earth, Kristin thought to herself. They would have to have the secret identity talk again once they got home.

“It’s a miniature Supergirl!” Blue Devil exclaimed, seeing Jasma and the uniform she was wearing.”

“I’m not a minotaur,” Jasma said, pointing to his horns. “You are.”

“Precocious tyke you got there,” Blue Devil said, blushing.

The laughter helped to diffuse what was an otherwise stressful situation. “There have been some developments since your message regarding the signal,” Zor-El told her.

“I assume you have something to do with the latest info,” Kristin said to Primus and Tigorr.

“One of our members, Shlagen, picked up Lobo hot on the trail of Superman’s SOS,” Primus said.

“Shlagen?” muttered Blue Devil, remembering how he’d met Shlagen, Doc, and a few of the other Omega Men during the Crisis on Infinite Earths almost three years earlier, when he was pulled through a portal into the Vegan star system. (*) He’d also met a few other members of the Omega Men during the alien invasion last summer, and he hoped that his meeting them a third time didn’t herald yet another blockbuster-type crisis that would endanger the universe. (*)

[(*) Editor’s note: See “A Flash of the Lightning,” Crisis on Infinite Earths #8 (November, 1985), “The Last Parallel World Story,” Blue Devil #18 (November, 1985), and DC Universe: Invasion, Book 2, Chapter 14: Rally.]

“Did you say Lobo?!” Kristin exclaimed. “Superman barely survived his last encounter with that psycho!”

“That’s not the worst of it,” Ro-Van said. “Apparently, this Lobo person did catch up with him.”

The color drained from Kristin’s face. “Clark… he’s not…”

“No,” Ro-Van said. “Superman led him on quite the merry chase, and that is where our diplomatic problems begin.”

“Diplomatic?” Blue Devil said, squinting and trying to pretend that he hadn’t just heard Superman’s secret identity. “This just sounds like the usual bad guys versus good guys stuff to me.”

“Not quite,” Ro-Van said. “In fleeing Lobo, Superman and his parents entered a wormhole and left the galaxy for Scrubb territory. The Supermobile landed somewhat roughly on their planet, Bodace. Now, due to Superman’s current state of powerlessness, Emperor Hun’ya wishes to fulfill a debt of honor by acting as Superman’s champion in the grievance with Lobo.”

“It’s not a duel. Lobo just wants to kill him!” Blue Devil groaned.

“Well, in a sense, it’s pretty close,” Primus said. “Lobo is trying to regain his good name.”

“Yeah,” Tigorr said. “Defeating Hun’ya could be an even bigger coup for him than Superman, since he’d be beating the guy who nearly beat the guy who beat Superman. And he nearly won that one. I saw it. Those matches were fraggin’ brutal.”

Ro-Van rubbed his temples in stress. “The Scrubb Empire is one of our newer allies, thanks to the wormhole granting us the ability to trade with one another despite the vast distances between our galaxies. Their power and wealth will be a strong asset to Rokyn in the years to come. Rao help us, if Emperor Hun’ya is killed over a debt of honor to one of the most prominent Kryptonian families, it will be a diplomatic nightmare. That blasted commercial advertising the upcoming match has been filling the airwaves of the entire sector and beyond. There’s no escaping the cursed thing.”

“Lobo must be giddy,” Tigorr said. “If a Velorpian could squeal like a schoolgirl, he probably would.”

“From what I’ve heard about Velorpians, I don’t think even Velorpian schoolgirls squealed like a schoolgirl,” Valura Tur-Thol said. “And as a schoolgirl, I kinda resent that remark.” She gave Tigorr a wink to let him know she was joking. Inwardly, though, she was nervous. She’d first become a Green Lantern when her predecessor, Todra Than-Ol, had been killed when Brainiac attacked Rokyn. (*) The young Green Lantern had proven herself many times since then, but the stature of Brainiac in a Rokynian’s mind was enough to give even one born without fear pause. Valura lit her power ring and held up her fist. “So do we have a match to interrupt, or what?”

[(*) Editor’s note: See Superman: Rokyn Attacked.]

“Yes we do,” Kristin said. “And quickly. I’m eager to meet the in-laws.”

“Plus, it’s not like Brainiac isn’t still waiting in the wings,” Blue Devil said.

“I really wish you hadn’t reminded me of that,” Superwoman groaned.

***

Superman sat between the twin hospital beds in a hospital room on Bodace. He held one of his parents’ hands in each of his, so overcome with emotion that even tears were beyond him at this point. He had cured himself of both green kryptonite poisoning and red kryptonite poisoning in the past, but the chemicals he instructed the Scrubb doctors to use on his parents had no effect on them except to slow down the progress of the poisoning, keeping them alive longer but also prolonging their agony. Of course, the treatments Superman had developed for himself had been used while under a yellow sun. Under this red sun, there was no added energy to help produce enough antibodies to heal their bodies from radiation poisoning of any kind. And there was no guarantee that his cure would work under a yellow sun, either. He had seen other Kryptonians succumb to fatal kryptonite poisoning even under a yellow sun; the Kryptonian man-turned-ape known as King Krypton was one of the first. (*)

[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Super-Gorilla from Krypton,” Action Comics #238 (March, 1958).]

He wanted to grab them and fly them to Rao only knew how many places where they might be miraculously healed. He had been to countless worlds and witnessed countless such miracles. Heck, one such miracle, the Sword of Superman — which had once nearly elevated him to godhood and had even once healed him from kryptonite poisoning — lay in his very own Fortress of Solitude. (*)

[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Day the Cheering Stopped,” Superman Annual #10 (1984) and Superman Family: Recovery.]

Of course, he couldn’t take his parents and simply leave. If he were to attempt to do so, Lobo would start tracking him again, and all three would simply die on the run before they reached a yellow sun system. The only way they could possibly have any chance of getting help was to allow this ridiculous match to take place. Even then, Brainiac stood waiting at the edge of Scrubb space, held at bay by the Scrubb Armada. The Scrubb emperor had offered the armada as an escort, but even when Superman was at full power in a yellow solar system, Brainiac would remain a threat, and not one he could afford to waste time on while his parents were in their present condition.

Looking up miserably, he saw a technician enter to adjust the stasis monitors. She gave him a sympathetic look before going back to her work.

Superman looked back down at his hands, which held the hands of the parents he once thought long dead. The Scrubb technician might feel sorry for him, but Superman didn’t want to allow himself the luxury of self-pity. There was a part of him that couldn’t help but consider that, after all the foes he had defeated, and all the people he had helped, the one thing he had always wanted for himself was about to be taken from him.

***

These Scrubb schlubbs sure know how to live, Lobo thought, smiling to himself. To his left, a shapely, green-skinned servant girl fed him pleasure fruit, while another to his right fanned him with a fan made of large plumed feathers. Perhaps, he thought, he should consider leaving the bounty-hunter/assassin biz altogether and go full-time with this professional fighter thing. Nah, he thought a moment later. I’m just too damn good at killin’.

A much less visually pleasing Scrubb suddenly entered his dressing room, uninvited. “Mister… ah… Lobo… sir? I… I… wonder if I might have a word?”

“What’s the fraggin’ meaning of this?” Lobo growled menacingly. “Can’t you see I’m in trainin’ here for my big match?”

“Training?” the short, chubby Scrubb said, looking around at the opulent room filled with gorgeous, scantily clad servant girls.

“Yeah — trainin’,” Lobo said, rising up from the chaise lounge and reaching toward a golden platter for his lit cigar. “Now, I believe I asked you a question, short stuff.”

“I… ah… I represent a certain contingent of gentlemen loyal to the former emperor, Rat’lar, who feel his being deposed by a common brawler was… unjust… and needs to be… ah… remedied.”

“Sounds like a personal problem,” Lobo said, leaning back, taking a drag off his cigar, and then opening his mouth so a servant girl could toss in another piece of pleasure fruit.

“Personal,” the short Scrubb said, sweating, “but maybe a profitable one for you, too, if Hun’ya were to not survive the match.”

“Hun’ya paid me to fight him. Not kill him. Killin’ is extra,” Lobo said, puffing on his cigar.

“I — I’m pretty sure the people I represent would be willing to make up the difference,” the short Scrubb said, grinning nervously.

“I only represent one client at a time,” Lobo said, gesturing with his cigar. “If Hun’ya decides he wants me to kill him, then he can cough up the dough. Otherwise, I’m just gonna kick his big green butt all over the place. Yer bosses are just gonna have to either kill him on their own or wait till my schedule frees up. Now get out!” He reached for the nearest giggling servant girl. “I’ve got a lot more sparring to do to get ready.”

The short Scrubb exited the building and entered the back seat of an elegantly gilded hover-car that was basically a Scrubb version of a limousine. “So what did he say?” the shadowy figure said.

“The… the only one who could pay him to kill Emperor Hun’ya is Hun’ya himself,” the short Scrubb gulped, “since, for the time being, the emperor is his client.”

“The question is, then, how do we make him think the money is coming from the emperor?” the shadowy figure mused.

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