by Doc Quantum, adapted from Superman #19 by Jerry Siegel and John Sikela, and All-Star Squadron #64 by Roy Thomas and Wayne Boring
Atop a freight car precariously rumbling across a high trestle, two fighting figures desperately wage a grim battle, with death the loser’s penalty…
“You’ve trailed me across a continent, Craig! But now that you’ve found me, you die!”
“It’s too early to forecast this struggle’s outcome, Machine-Gun Mike!”
“In stories, the detective always wins out over the crook! But this is real life!”
Down off the high trestle plummets a shrieking body — down toward the turbulent river far below! Someone is going to die — but who — Detective Craig, or Machine-Gun Mike?!
To be continued!
The Perisphere, March 9, 1942:
“Well, well!” said Liberty Belle, catching her lover reading the comic-strip page in the latest issue of the Daily Star. The two were alone in the All-Star Squadron’s headquarters that morning after a harrowing night. “All these months — and I’d never realized Johnny Quick read the funny pages!”
“Not all of ’em, Lib,” said Johnny. “But I will admit to being a sucker for Detective Craig! How about you, my love?”
“Not really,” said Libby Lawrence, taking the newspaper and looking at the various comic-strips printed within as she sat down. “Still, I could use something to ease my brooding about Tom Revere’s death. (*) Hmmm… Wonder if Prince Peril’s ever tracked down that evil giant he was trailing…”
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Give Me Liberty, Give Me Death,” All-Star Squadron #45 (May, 1985) and “Philadelphia, It Tolls for Thee,” All-Star Squadron #46 (June, 1985).]
“So you’re a closet comic-strip reader, too, huh? Well, when you come right down to it–” began Johnny Quick, “–who isn’t? Heck, when I really get engrossed I even see ’em in color.”
The Daily Star offices, Metropolis:
“I didn’t realize you were a comic-strip fan!” said Lois Lane as she took a peek at what Clark Kent was reading in the Daily Star.
“Avid is the word for it!” confessed Clark with all the enthusiasm of his small-town upbringing. “Gosh, take this Detective Craig strip, for example. I won’t be able to sleep tonight, worrying whether or not Craig or Machine-Gun Mike is the one who will die.”
“Mind if I look at the comic page?” asked Lois. “I want to see how Prince Peril is doing!”
“So you like the funnies too, eh?” said Clark with amusement in his voice. “Well, when you come down to it, who doesn’t?”
Together they perused the comic-strip page of the Daily Star. Besides the latest Detective Craig strip, four others shared the same page: Prince Peril, about to battle his foe, the gigantic ogre called Torgo; The Solitary Rider, who was treacherously shot in the back by his enemy, Black Raider; Streak Dugan, who fought a ray-gun duel with a Martian villain they knew was named Goola; and Happy Daze, who fought to save an innocent girl from a dastardly, blunderbuss-wielding villain with a curly mustache and a top hat known as Viper.
“Odd how those impossible characters get a grip on you,” said Clark as Lois handed him back the paper. “Take Torgo, for instance — the menacing giant in Prince Peril. You know and I know that it’s impossible for such creatures to exist — yet we enjoy reading about them.”
“Torgo, huh?” said Johnny Quick. “Yeah, it’s funny, but more people are probably worried about whether Machine-Gun Mike’s gonna polish off Detective Craig than know we just had a tussle with the real-life Baron Blitzkrieg. He–”
“Johnny — maybe I’m just feeling like I’ve been orphaned all over again,” interrupted Liberty Belle, “but I sure could use hearing you say you love me again.”
“Oh, you could, huh?” said Johnny, reaching out to embrace her. “Well, I can do a whole lot better than that. How about this: Libby Lawrence, I love you. Will you marry me?” As if anticipating resistance, he quickly continued, “I know you’re an educated society girl, and I’m just a news cameraman on a salary, but–”
“All I know, Mr. Q, is that I wish you’d stop talking–” Libby pulled him closer. “–long enough for me to say yes!”
“Y-you mean it?! Hey, that’s really gr–” Johnny began, but his words were suddenly cut off as Libby kissed him passionately.
Even as the two separate couples conversed, on the streets of Metropolis, one of the three most populous American cities, most people were going about their business without much thought of either comic-strips or the All-Star Squadron, when suddenly, just outside the National Bank in that city’s financial district, a colossal giant appeared.
“Look!” shouted one man in a brown business suit.
“Up there!” yelled another man.
“It’s frightful!” cried a nearly swooning blonde woman.
The crowds on the teeming streets of Metropolis began to notice the club-wielding, fur-wearing, bald giant towering over the bank, and the shouts of panic became more frequent.
“What is it?”
“My gosh! It’s–”
“Torgo — the monster-giant in the Prince Peril comic strip!” realized someone in the crowd.
Galvanized into action, the horrendous titan used his giant wooden club to smash and rip the roof off the bank building, then scooped up handfuls of loot from within the vaults. As he raced off down the streets, loaded with booty, he swung his club at an armored car making a delivery to the bank, overturning it, and left several other smashed and wrecked cars in his wake.
At the Perisphere, the young couple was eagerly discussing their wedding plans.
“Sure, honey,” said Johnny Quick. “All we gotta do is line up a J.P., maybe a bridesmaid if you want one, and I’m ready to–”
“Shhh…” said Liberty Belle, her keen ears picking up a news alert on the radio. “Listen!”
“–sudden appearance in Metropolis’ Telegram Square of a giant, whom several eyewitnesses have described as looking identical to such a character in the current Prince Peril comic-strip!”
“Who’re they trying to kid?” said Johnny skeptically. “There hasn’t been a guy that size around since Goliath got a headache!”
“Just the same, we’d better check it out,” said Libby, rising from her seat.
“Isn’t that Superman’s beat?” said Johnny.
“Sure, but even the Man of Steel can’t be everywhere at once,” insisted Libby.
Johnny shrugged and said, “You’re the chairwoman of this little coffee clatch, doll. Me, I’m just on standby duty — but I can still fly you over there faster than you can say, ‘I do’ — after I spout my usual 3X2(9YZ)4A!”
At that, Johnny Quick picked up Liberty Belle in his arms and sped out of the Perisphere and into the air toward Metropolis.
“I think we’d better table all the wedding talk till we see what’s going on in Metropolis, Johnny,” she replied.
“Why?” he said, still airborne and rocketing at a high rate of speed toward the nearby city. “Getting cold feet already?”
“No, we just may be busy, that’s all,” shouted Libby over the din; although Johnny’s aura protected them both from the worst friction of the air they passed through, it was still quite noisy and somewhat windy. “Maybe my feet aren’t cold — but the rest of me is sure getting windburn traveling at this speed!”
A moment later, Johnny Quick was settling down toward a destroyed bank in Metropolis’ financial district.
“Hey — we are there already!” said Libby, still astonished at her new fiancé’s speed.
Spotting a dazed-looking armored car driver next to a smoking wreck, Johnny called out to him, “Hey, fella — was it really Torgo the giant who trashed the bank and your armored car?”
“He didn’t exactly give us his name, mister,” said the guard. “He just came out of nowhere, smashed open the National Bank, then he walked over us and struck the side of the car with some kind of club — and took off at a fast clip, headed west!”
“Sure he did,” Johnny said, still skeptical about the whole idea despite the destruction all around. “Probably had to meet up with the Dragon Lady for lunch.”
“Johnny Quick — this is serious!” scolded Libby.
“I’ll get serious, lady–” Johnny picked her up and took to the air once more. “–when I meet up with this clown for myself!”
She called him Johnny Quick, thought the armored car driver. And here I thought I’d finally got to meet the Flash!
“Sounds like he should be in Metro Park, if he’s anywhere,” said Johnny, streaking through the sky. “What do you think it really is, Belle?”
“Torgo!” cried Libby.
“Huh? Aw, c’mon — quit jokin’ around! How do you expect me to get serious, when you–?”
“I wasn’t answering your question, Johnny,” continued Libby, pointing at the giant on the horizon. “Look!”
“Holy cow!” cried Johnny. “It’s him, all right!”
“And not just him, Johnny,” continued Liberty Belle, watching as a prehistoric, green-scaled monster suddenly materialized out of the empty air next to Torgo. “Look at that!”
“Whoa,” he said, slowing down suddenly.
“What are you doing?” said Libby, turning to him. “We’ve got to fight that thing!”
“I — I think it’s already covered, Belle,” he replied and nodded toward the two monsters.
“What in the world do you–?” began Libby, looking back and spotting a very familiar figure dressed in blue and red, a hero not at all unexpected in the city of Metropolis. “Oh…” They landed nearby, watching the fabled Man of Tomorrow do what he did best.
“Two against one!” said Superman, standing his ground before Torgo and the dinosaur-like creature. “Here’s where I prove the mathematicians are wrong, and that one is greater than two — especially when the one happens to be me!”
At that, Superman took a flying leap directly at Torgo’s head, planning to deliver one of his legendary knockout punches, but to Superman’s amazement, as he reached the giant at full-force, there was nothing to hit.
“Whizzed right through!” he gasped. “But next time…” he continued, turning in midair to make another pass, only to be surprised again. “They’re — gone!”
“Yes, you poor, helpless, and bewildered ex-Superman… gone!”
Superman spun around in the direction of the voice and saw only something very strange hovering in the air above him — a yellow globe with a cartoonish-looking, smiling face upon it.
“And who in blazes are you?” demanded the hero.
“Now wouldn’t you like to know!” said the grinning yellow face.
“Tell me… or I’ll sock that silly grin clear down to your toes!”
“You may call me Funnyface!”
Superman took to the sky once more to capture this new threat, but before he could reach the apparition, it vanished.
“First a giant out of a comic-strip… next a prehistoric monster… then a silly-faced galoot named Funnyface… and they all vanished!”
Nearby, Johnny Quick and Liberty Belle watched as Superman turned and headed back into the city before they could even say hello.
“Belle, should we–?” began Johnny.
“No, this is Superman’s fight,” said Libby. “We may as well head back to New York — and the Perisphere. If he needs our help, though I can’t imagine why, I’m sure he’ll ask for it.”
Johnny Quick took her in his arms again and flew back toward the Perisphere. “No sooner said than done, milady. Me for a cup of java, and going back to making wedding plans.”
“Wish we could!” said Libby. “But there’s something I’ve got to do first…”
Entering the Perisphere, Johnny and Libby landed in the meeting room. “What’s that?” he asked. “Send out an APB to the rest of the Squadron?”
“Hey, you might just be chairman material yourself one of these days, lover… ’cause that’s precisely what I’m going to do!” Sitting down at the two-way radio, always kept running for emergencies, Liberty Belle spoke into the microphone. “Liberty Belle at HQ, calling any of the All-Star Squadron who read my signal — standby for possible emergency in Metropolis!”
Soon, all the All-Stars that were available began radioing in back to the Perisphere with various messages:
“Tarantula here, Liberty Belle,” said Jonathan Law, sitting before his typewriter. “I was working on my latest mystery — but what gives?”
“A giant, you say?” said Robotman, standing in his laboratory with his assistant, Chuck Grayson. “Sounds like a good match for a Robotman!”
“You can count on Starman, Belle!” said Ted Knight at the desk in his private study in his primary residence in New York City. He could put off his visit to his other home in Opal City for at least another day or two.
“Yeah, Danette and I were here playing with the Kurtzberger baby,” said Al Pratt as Danette Reilly held little Terri Kurtzberger, daughter of Cyclotron, in her arms, “but Firebrand and the Atom won’t let you down.”
“Sorry, Belle,” said a regretful-sounding Hawkman, about to head out in costume. “Got to fly down to Washington on the double… but I’ll leave a note for Shiera, for when she gets back from the hairdressers’.”
“When you bark, they jump, Lib,” said Johnny Quick.
“They’re pros, Johnny,” said Liberty Belle. “Now, just one more New York call — to the guy whose newspaper syndicates the Prince Peril strip.” She picked up the telephone and dialed the number of the New York Globe-Leader. “Hello, may I speak to Mr. Lee Travis, please?”
A few moments later, after the alter ego of the Crimson Avenger tuned in his own All-Star radio receiver to the specified frequency, they continued their conversation in private. The All-Star chairwoman explained the situation as it stood, telling the alter ego of the Crimson Avenger that, although Superman seemed to have the situation well in hand, she had placed the All-Star Squadron on alert in case he needed back-up. But more importantly, she hoped to figure out more about this Funnyface character.
“Yeah, Belle, I’ve already heard the police reports… sure, I’m concerned, but it’s got to be somebody just imitating Torgo, right?” said Lee over the two-way radio. “I mean, how many hundred-foot giants do you know? I suppose next you’ll be telling me that the whole comics page is running wild!”
“Look, Lee, I didn’t–” She stopped as something reached her ear. “Hold it! Police radio alert coming in from Metropolis…”
The police scanner blared out, “Calling all cars! Dead-ringer for Machine-Gun Mike in the Detective Craig comic strip is robbing the Minton Museum!”
“Huh?” said Lee Travis, overhearing the alert over the radio.
“Face it, Lee — you’re psychic!”
“I’m not kidding, Chief!” said Clark Kent. “That bank robbery was pulled by none other than Torgo, the funny paper menace in Prince Peril!”
“Impossible — absurd!” cried George Taylor, editor of the Daily Star. “I suppose next you’ll be telling me that Detective Craig’s foe, Machine-Gun Mike, is running wild.”
“Calling all cars!” blared a police radio scanner on Taylor’s desk. “Machine-Gun Mike robbing Minton Museum!”
“Huh?!” gasped George.
“Only one explanation, boss!” said Clark. “You’re psychic!”