Princess Nubia of Paradise Island, known around the world as the current Wonder Woman, laughed with pleasure as she helped decorate a Christmas tree in the home she’d recently purchased with her husband J’onn J’onzz, the Martian Manhunter. Of course, the quaint old home located deep within the French Quarter of New Orleans not far from Vieux Carré, the old square, was technically owned by the heroic couple under their alter egos of N’bila Milayi and Jean St. Jean. The two had become well-known in the historic section of the city as patrons and supporters of the local arts, cuisine, and architecture. This was appropriate, since the Amazon princess came from a culture that had changed little in centuries, and the Martian detective was fond of history and the study of all things past.
Celebrating Christmas was new to Nubia, since her only real contact with the holiday had occurred during time she had spent in her youth with the South African hero Impala, alias M’bulaze, and during a Christmas spent with some of her sister’s friends. She had to admit that she was enjoying it in many ways, and found herself laughing more readily than ever before. It wasn’t just her happy marriage via the Martian Ceremony of Unity to J’onn that had brought so much pleasure into the life of the formerly serious and somber warrior. She also had gained a new group of subjects to guide and protect in the form of the yellow Martians, who had made her their monarch. This group had abandoned most of the technological trappings of Martian society following a great disaster, and their embrace of a more primitive culture was something she was working to correct. (*) Even the open approval she had received from her mother and their gods, after an adventure earlier this year in which she had been granted winged sandals and indestructible bracelets by Zeus himself, was not the main reason the lovely woman was feeling so happy this December. (*) Rather, Nubia was smiling because of the obvious joy and innocent glee displayed by the cherished guest who was helping the couple decorate in his own special way.
[(*) Editor’s note: See The Brave and the Bold: Wonder Woman and Martian Manhunter: The Queen of Mars and Wonder Woman: The Forgotten, both soon-to-be published.]
A small, childlike alien named Zook was giggling with pleasure as he tossed a handful of shiny tinsel across their tree. Looking up at the brightly colored decorations, he clapped his small hands together with delight. The small orange-hued alien had been a loyal friend to J’onn for years, and normally he lived on New Mars with J’onn’s parents due to an allergy he had developed to Earth’s more polluted air. He was visiting the couple for a few days and would soon return to his happy home on New Mars, the colony settled by J’onn’s parents and other Martian refugees on the planet Vonn following the same disaster that had ruined much of the planet. The fact that J’onn’s brother T’omm had recently managed to repair much of the damage via remarkable powers of his own made the holiday even more festive. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See Justice League of America: The Martian Chronicles.]
“Zook like colors better than clear lights!” declared the impish alien as he thoughtfully studied the looming tree. He grinned as he glanced over at a tall, handsome man with dark hair and a beard. J’onn was in his guise as Jean St. Jean at the moment, since the household was expecting a visit from local carolers at any moment.
J’onn smiled broadly and said, “Whatever you like, Zook! This is your tree!” The Martian hero felt as contented as his wife. He cared for Zook and had missed seeing the bright little fellow during their years apart. J’onn was much more familiar with the meaning and customs of Christmas than Nubia, since he’d celebrated it for years during his time as a police detective and later on again with his young allies in what had occasionally been derisively called Justice League Detroit by the media.
Just as he started to hand Zook another ornament, the doorbell rang. “Sorry, Zook, but you’d better step into another room,” said J’onn. “We don’t want the local carolers to know there are aliens in their midst, after all!”
“Wait, Zook,” interrupted Nubia. “Go into the kitchen — I put some of those chocolate treats you like so much on the tray on the table!”
Zook grinned and said, “Zook thanks you! Yum!” Transforming his body into a thin sheet, he slid under the closed kitchen door.
Nubia smiled. “Odd… I don’t see or hear a group at all. I don’t think this visit has anything to do with the neighborhood carolers. I only see a young man!”
Opening the door, she looked down on a thin, young man with slightly shaggy brown hair who wore a leather jacket with brown slacks. He looked as if he could be anywhere from fifteen to twenty years old, though he had a maturity about his eyes that belied his rather small stature.
“Merry Christmas!” said Nubia. “May I help you?”
He nodded and said, “Yes, thank you. While I am loathe to disrupt your celebration of the holidays, I have, in fact, come here to request your help!”
Nubia stepped aside and ushered the odd youth into the house. He looked at J’onn, who had assumed his role of Jean St. Jean, an art agent from the Dominican Republic.
“I would actually appreciate the assistance that both of you could provide,” said the young man.
“I don’t understand,” said Nubia. “Are you an artist? My studio will not be open again until the second of January. Perhaps if you leave me your name and number, I could contact you then.”
Shaking his head, he said, “You’ve made a natural error. I do not need help from fixtures of the local art scene. I need help from members of the superhuman community, namely Wonder Woman and the Martian Manhunter!”
J’onn frowned and projected his thoughts to his bride. “There is no need for alarm or evasiveness. He knows the truth, but may be trusted, from what a routine scan of his thoughts has revealed to me!
“Telepathic communication?” said the young man. “Please feel free to read my own thoughts. I have no secrets that I wish to conceal. My name is Mark Desmond. Your sister knew me when I was trapped in the rather misshapen form of my own alter ego, the Blockbuster. I have come to you not because of your propinquity to Diana, but because of your proximity to the Honey Island swamps near the outskirts of the city.”
“Sit down,” said Nubia. “You have us at a disadvantage. Exactly who are you?”
With a shrug, he replied, “I did not realize there were so many Blockbusters. Let me begin again. My name is Mark Desmond. As a boy, I sought to enhance my decidedly frail physique through chemical manipulation of my pituitary gland. My results were inconclusive. I became an impressive physical specimen, but lost most of my intellect. As the Blockbuster, I existed in a near-mindless and apparently ageless state. I encountered various super-heroes such as Batman, the Elongated Man, and your sister the original Wonder Woman, and I was used as an adversarial pawn by other more lucid villains. (*) At last, during enslavement by a criminal via a video game with the unfortunate name of Commander Video, something penetrated the nebulous veil that had clouded my thoughts for so long. (*) The game did more than control me; it stimulated my brain and began a slow process of mental restoration that finally resulted in my regaining enough intellect to cure myself of my condition. I have since sought to make up for my lost years, and as part of this process, I have determined to assist others who suffer from a plight not unlike my own!”
[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Blockbuster Invasion of Gotham City,” Detective Comics #345 (November, 1965), The Elongated Man: The Ghost of Piney Woods, and “Rampage,” Wonder Woman #294 (August, 1982).]
Peering out from behind the kitchen door, Zook said, “He wants to help other monsters! Zook knows, I betcha!”
Desmond nodded and said, “Very perceptive for an other-dimensional being. I want to help other individuals who are viewed as monsters by society as a whole. I have reason to suspect that the swamp creature known by the fairy-tale appellation of Solomon Grundy is currently within the vicinity of Henry Island. I wish your help in locating and placating him. Oddly enough, during one of my more bizarre periods of time as the Blockbuster, Grundy and I formed a type of rapport. I view him as both a victim to be aided and as a friend of sorts!” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Crisis Between Earth-One and Earth-Two,” Justice League of America #46 (August, 1966) and “The Bridge Between Earths,” Justice League of America #47 (September, 1966).]
“We will help you,” J’onn J’onzz said reassuringly. “Perhaps my own mental powers might be useful in communicating with him. I understand he is something of a mindless force of nature.”
“We will help you,” agreed Nubia, “but how did you learn who we are?”
Mark smiled and said, “All it required was an elementary study of sightings of Wonder Woman and the Martian Manhunter in the area compared to a survey of those who arrived here at the same period of time. Plus, I took into account reports of unexplained rescues or miraculously averted accidents that defied natural law. I realized that you have been active doing good while in your invisible guise. I speculate that you operated in such a manner during the years prior to your being exposed to the world media during the initial adventure of many who would later form the Justice League!”
Zook bit down on a chocolate bar and said, “He’s got you there, Manhunter. Uh-huh!”
“Very well,” said Nubia. “We shall set out for the swamp at once. I do caution you not to reveal what you know to anyone else. You are clearly smart enough to know the potential perils such actions might produce!”
Desmond stared deliberately at her and said, “Of course! Although you should realize, from your husband’s mind-scans, that I pose no threat and have no malice toward you.”
Soon, Wonder Woman, the Martian Manhunter, Zook, and Mark Desmond found themselves in the Honey Island swampland. Tall trees seemed to form a canopy overhead as they made their way deeper into the muddy area.
“I detect no thoughts in the area,” said J’onn J’onzz. “Solomon Grundy is savage, but not entirely mindless. I would have expected to have picked up something if he was really nearby!”
Zook moved closer to the others as he adjusted a small backpack that he had brought along on the mission. “If Zook had seen him, Zook could find him!” he announced.
“Yes, Zook,” said Nubia. “We know what a good tracker you are, but none of us has ever met Grundy!”
Mark stopped suddenly and said, “My own instinct, for lack of a proper scientific term, tells me he is here, and yet I admit to basing this on nothing I can quantify!”
At that moment, the nearby waters erupted as a massive being emerged to place itself before their path, almost blocking out all view ahead.
“Bigfoot?” gasped Zook.
J’onn shook his head. “No,” he replied, “and that’s not Grundy, either! It’s called the Shaggy Man!”