by Dan Swanson
As soon as the battle was over, the Huntress tried to contact Starman. Years ago, Vic Valor had set up residence in Opal City after Starman had retired, and she reasoned that Ted Knight must know him better than anyone. Ted’s status indicator showed that he was presently far below the plane of the ecliptic, somewhere beyond the orbit of Saturn, making some delicate astronomical observations on Barnard’s Star. It would take several hours for a radio message to reach him, and that much longer to get an answer. To Helena, this situation required a more urgent resolution.
Once again she examined the tremendous damage that had been caused by the fight. If they couldn’t get Ted to deal with Valor quietly, the next best choice was Superman. She thought quickly about contacting Power Girl instead, but Karen Starr and Dick Grayson were working out some personal issues related to Dick’s past right now, and though Karen might welcome the chance to let off a little steam, Helena had a feeling that this situation was going to require some subtlety that she felt her best friend had not yet developed. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See Batman Family: The Wedding March.]
It was early evening in Smallville, Kansas, and the Kents had just finished dinner. Lois Lane Kent wasn’t quite the domestic diva that Ma Kent had been, but she did beef bourguignon very well. C.J. had just left for a pep rally, Mary had gone to sleep early, Alex was on a fact-finding mission as the Monitor halfway across the world, and the Olsen kids visiting from nearby Midvale were going to spend the night at a neighbor’s. Lois and Clark were on the couch in the living room, enjoying some rare time alone, when one of the floor lamps started flashing.
“Damn! Clark, it never fails. We finally arrange some time alone together, and suddenly there’s a crisis that only Superman can handle!” Lois’ tone was weary and resigned rather than angry.
“Darling, it only seems that way. You know they usually contact Kara. If they need me, it must be something important.”
Lois sighed. One of the things she loved in her husband, in either identity, was his selfless devotion to justice. And with Kara and C.J. on the job, she did get a lot more time with Clark than she used to. Still, she had had big plans for the evening. “OK, Mr. Hero — but for every hour you’re away tonight, I want a day in Kandala!” Kandala was a resort on another planet in a red sun system where guests were pampered beyond belief. As Superman clicked the secret combination on the remote that turned the TV into a two-way communicator, she tied her fuzzy bathrobe more tightly around her. This evening’s outfit was for her husband’s eyes only.
“Yes, dear! I promise! Are you sure one day for each hour is enough?” Clark Kent winked at her. One of the things she liked best about Kandala was that Clark would lose his powers there. He always enjoyed their vacations there, too.
The TV screen cleared and split three ways. In the middle was the Huntress. On the left was a constantly repeating video of the fight, hastily assembled from the many video security cameras spread throughout the JSA Brownstone, and the third panel displayed everything the Justice Society knew about Vic Valor. It wasn’t much. Lois couldn’t follow all three panels at once, so she concentrated on watching the fight while listening to what the Huntress had to say, but she knew her husband would have no trouble assimilating all the information on all three screens.
“Clark, Lois…” Helena Wayne said, acknowledging the two of them with a quick nod. “I’m sorry to bother you, but I think Superman is needed tonight. No, I haven’t tried Kara yet, but I did try Starman. I think Superman is the most appropriate hero for this instance.”
Superman had already recognized Vic Valor, and he agreed. Lois, on the other hand, had implicit faith in Helena’s judgment, so Helena didn’t need to convince either of them.
“Before you ask, Clark, I can’t reach Ted. He’s out near Saturn on that Barnard’s Star kick of his.” Superman nodded. Barnard’s Star was very unusual, but he wasn’t quite sure why Ted didn’t just ask Doctor Fate to take him there for a close-up view. Well, it wasn’t his business.
Most of the JSA, and the world at large, thought that Vic Valor had been an alien who had died in early 1949 after a very short career as a super-hero in Opal City. At the time, Doctor Mid-Nite and Green Lantern had determined that a side-effect of the chronal energy Ted Knight had absorbed from Ian Karkull had caused Ted to have a mental breakdown, and he had created the heroic identity of Vic Valor so that he could continue his career as a super-hero without breaking his promise to his wife Doris to give up his Starman identity. They kept this story secret, as Ted seemed to be cured.
However, not long after Vic Valor had died, Batman had deduced that Valor must have been Ted Knight in an exotic costume. He and Superman had confronted Ted about it, and Ted gave the two the whole story, including his new theory that he had been possessed by a spirit or energy being, which had created the Valor identity for its own purposes. Superman had never been able to detect any traces of this energy being, and Batman’s deductions supported either theory equally. In any case, Ted had never told anyone that he had kept the Valor armor intact.
Superman leaped into action. “Helena, please ask Doctor Fate to verify that Ted is really in his observatory. I’m on my way!” He kissed Lois goodbye and was out the secret tunnel in the basement before she sighed and turned back to the TV. In a moment he was rocketing for a spot in the sky, ten miles above Gotham City.
Vic Valor used his telescopic vision to investigate the approaching missile, and he immediately recognized Superman. He had investigated the Man of Steel before he landed on Earth, and he would have liked to have had the Kryptonian under his command in the Xadam Invincibles. With a little Invincible discipline, there was no telling what Superman might achieve. Between the two of them, they should have Valor’s troubles straightened out in a jiffy.
Ultimate Valor was completely unprepared, however, when Superman attacked him. He was even more stunned by the mode of the attack. Superman generated a super-lightning bolt and blasted Valor from miles away.
When he had first confronted Xenon in the Opal City Power Station back in 1949, the villain had managed to blast him with bolts of electricity much less powerful than this super-bolt. These bolts had blasted Valor off his feet, all but knocking him unconscious. This bolt could probably kill him, but it didn’t. It splashed harmlessly off his chest. Somehow, in his long sleep, he had lost his vulnerability to electricity. He found this both pleasing and disturbing.
What else did Doog do to me while I was his captive? And why did he actually improve my powers? Maybe he thought his mind-control would work on me. Well, he has a surprise coming!
Valor reassured himself that he was not now under Doog’s mental control, and that his training as an Invincible would easily allow him to resist any attempts, by anyone, to influence his mind. His thoughts quickly turned to his approaching opponent.
This can’t be the real Superman! A hero like Superman would never attack without warning! And the Superman I know doesn’t have the power of super-lightning. This must be an imitation of some sort! Doctor Doog, he reasoned, must have created an army of imitation heroes to help him maintain his control over the populace.
Well, he thought grimly to himself, whoever this really is, he won’t find Ultimate Victorious Valor of the Invincibles to be an easy victim! He initiated his own attack.
Holding his arms out, palms away from himself, Vic Valor unleashed an energy blast. Superman slammed into the blast front as if it were a wall, and suddenly he was falling, all of his upward momentum lost. Valor dived to follow his fall.
There must be red sun energy in the spectrum of that blast! Superman thought to himself. It will only take a couple of seconds to recover. I’ll need to be sure he doesn’t hit me with it again, though!
Superman realized that he had fallen into the jet-stream, which carried him to the northeast of Gotham City. Good, he certainly didn’t want to fall into the tri-city area from ten miles in the sky. He estimated that he would crash somewhere near Pound Ridge, New York, so he angled his body to try to ensure that he landed in the hilly woods of the area rather than in one of the towns scattered along the northern border of the Connecticut panhandle.
It was a race — would Superman’s power of flight return before he smashed to Earth? It looked like it would, and then things changed. Valor increased the pull of gravity on the Man of Tomorrow, and he plummeted faster than ever. At least Valor had selected an unpopulated area. Pulled downward with a gravity he estimated as being four times that of Earth, Superman smashed into the rocky ground. Valor hovered over the smash site. Kal-L was down and appeared to be pinned to the ground by the Valor-enhanced ultra-gravity. But appearances were deceiving.
“I guess an alien body-snatcher wouldn’t know it, but stronger gravity just doesn’t cut it with me — even without yellow solar rays!” Superman rose easily to his feet, quickly aimed, and made a tremendous leap. His shoulder smashed into Valor’s stomach, and the Ultimate folded around him. Kal-L’s powers had finally returned, so he accelerated upward.
As Valor folded around Superman’s shoulder, he slammed both clenched fists down on the back of the man from Krypton. Driven downward by the blow, Superman had to release Valor in order to recover. The fighters moved apart.
Superman turned his x-ray vision on Valor, expecting to see through the mask and find out if the being inside was really Ted Knight or someone else possessed by the Valor entity. To his surprise, Valor’s body and costume were permeated with a unique force-field that blocked x-rays. There was something else strange about that force-field, but he didn’t have time to analyze it right now.
He had earlier done a super-hearing analysis of Vic Valor’s voice and determined that it was not Ted’s voice, though Ted’s advanced technology was certainly capable of altering a voice to make it proof against just such an analysis. He searched for any other traces that Valor might be Ted Knight. He couldn’t hear a heartbeat or breathing. And then he was out of time, as Valor closed with him, and smashed a powerful right to his jaw. An enraged Man of Steel swung back, and the fight was on.
The two titans traded punches for a short time, and Superman was beginning to wonder if his invulnerability had deserted him. The Man of Steel was hitting Valor hard and often, but the big man seemed to feel that if he absorbed four or five blows to get in a single good punch of his own, it was a victory. And Kal-L was beginning to think Valor was right. As far as he could tell, his best punches had no effect on Valor, while some of Valor’s blows had raised welts, left bruises, and even broken his skin — something that rarely happened to him, particularly under a yellow sun.
What made it worse was the villain’s fighting style. He must have learned to fight from watching old boxing movies. That last combination resembled something Kid Galahad had thrown back in 1937. But he kept pressing forward, throwing wild punches, and Superman kept swinging back. He was determined that this alien punk was going down.
Vic Valor was similarly stunned by the course of the fight, although Superman couldn’t tell. He was the best fighter the Invincibles had ever produced, and this apparent impostor was giving him the thrashing of his life. He didn’t understand why the pile-driver blows that the Man of Steel was raining on him were not producing more pain and bodily damage. Xadamites were extremely durable, but he had never been quite this invulnerable before. Yet, even though his body was holding up well under this terrific pounding, he could feel his mind starting to succumb to the terrific battering it was taking, almost like it was going numb around the edges. Yet an Invincible never gave up.
Miles away, the Huntress was watching the battle on a monitor in the JSA Brownstone. She couldn’t believe that Superman was fighting like a common street brawler. Heck, she could have called in Power Girl to get the same results, and maybe even better, because she had taught Kara Zor-L to fight dirty when the situation required it. Superman was supposed to be more mature than his cousin — she knew he was. So why was he acting like a gang-banger defending his turf?
So far, most of the battle had taken place in the air, mostly above the woods. Well, they were clearings now, with the trees shattered and battered by the amazing concussions produced by super-powered punches landing on invulnerable bodies. But that luck couldn’t continue — their battle was inching south toward Stamford, Connecticut.
The Huntress had alerted the New York and Connecticut State Police at the beginning of the fight, and they were already on the scene, beginning the impossible task of evacuating civilians, but there wasn’t enough time. In seconds, thousands of civilians would be in deadly danger. Superman should have known better, but he didn’t seem to care.
She had waited as long as she possibly could for the Man of Steel to regain his senses, but a few seconds ago, she had broadcast an emergency request for Doctor Fate. He probably hadn’t even returned to his Salem tower yet after his earlier appearance in Gotham City, and she hated to bother him again, but it seemed to her that only magic could save Stamford.