Times Past, 1944
Crisis at the Cotillion
When the Cheetah, Catwoman, and Nightshade team up to rob the Debutantes for Dollars Charity Ball, they don’t realize their dance cards will include Liberty Belle, Mister Terrific, Hawkgirl, Firebrand, and Green Arrow! Guest starring Dinah Drake, the future Black Canary!
The Grand Royale Hotel’s ballroom, 1944:
“Lana Lang, Wendi Davis, Daphne Blake, Stephanie Vanderkellen…” announced the bored but oh-so-proper doorman.
Libby Lawrence Chambers, a vision in pink, made her way down the elegantly decorated grand staircase. These heels are killing me, but I guess they’d take away my debutante status if I showed up at the USO dance with the Debutantes for Dollars Charity Ball with a designer gown over my Liberty Belle costume. I wish Johnny would have joined me, but for a guy who keeps a second career out of fancy footwork, he hates formal dances.
“Silver St. Cloud, Blondie Bumstead, Ann Warbucks, Doris Lee…” continued the doorman as more debutantes continued to prance by.
Libby saw the packed ballroom full of soldiers on leave and other eager customers buying bonds to support the war effort and get a chance to flirt with and dance with the bluest blue bloods on the East Coast. She noticed actress Portia Storme being swarmed by admiring fans, while socialites like Leslie Vanderkellen, Vicki Vale, and Priscilla Rich mingled and posed for the cameras. The sounds of the Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra filled the room as the debutantes swirled to the music. She also spotted her All-Star Squadron pal Danette Reilly in a corner. “What’s a hot number like you acting like a wallflower?” she teased.
The red-haired beauty who was also known as the second Firebrand quipped, “We can’t all be the Belle of the ball, Libby. Still, I have a friend with me. You remember Terry Sloane from… work?”
At that point, a handsome man came over from the bandstand. “Hello, Libby. Nice to see you again. I was just talking over a new arrangement with Mr. Dorsey. I guess music is a hobby of mine.” This comment was an understatement, since Libby knew that Terry Sloane, as the masked champion of fair play called Mister Terrific, had around one thousand talents, which he modestly called hobbies.
“Good to see you, Terry,” she whispered. “I see our friend Shiera ‘Hawkgirl’ Sanders has a crowd, or should I say ‘flock’ of fans around her.”
In the center of a crowd of soldiers, a beautiful woman in a revealing and very costly gown flirted happily. She was Shiera Sanders, secretly the heroine called Hawkgirl. She was also bored, since her true love Carter Hall, alias Hawkman, was away with his Justice Society pals on a case.
“Veronica Lodge, Marguerite Tone, Pamela Isley, Mary James…” continued the doorman.
A gorgeous redhead posed for effect near the huge floral display in the center of the ballroom. “Lana, dahling!” shrilled Janet Van Dyne. “Be careful. I just bet that big old plant is crawling with nasty bugs.”
Lana Lang eased away nervously. “You are so right, Jan! Don’t you just hate insects? They make me shiver.”
Silver St. Cloud drank a deep glass of punch and yawned. She saw actress Portia Storme, the stage name for Julie Madison, gabbing with photographer and socialite Vicki Vale, and considered introducing herself. “No, we couldn’t possibly have a thing in common,” she decided.
In the lobby of the hotel, the staff raced from one duty to another with one exception. A dark-haired girl paused from her maid’s duties to rest. “This job may support me while I go to police academy in the day, but this whole French motif is too much,” she sighed. “I mean, a maid in high heels, fishnet stockings, and a low-cut top is so silly. I feel foolish running around dressed like this.”
“Get back to work, Dinah Drake!” snapped the hotel manager at the young temporary maid.
Danette smiled impishly. “Libby, that sultry blonde with the Veronica Lake hairdo could be your twin.”
“That’s Priscilla Rich, heiress, who lives up to her name,” replied Libby. “She’s loaded… but I have better legs.”
“Priscilla Rich!” said a frowning Terry. “I recall that name from a meeting I had with Wond–”
Suddenly, the plant in the center of the room sprouted blossoms of a sickly yellow hue. Then a gang of costumed women came from all sides. Doris Lee noticed that her date Ted Knight had begun to back away into the crowd. He was so timid. Before Ted could move any farther, the blossoms sprayed an odd pollen in the air. Ted and every male there stiffened and froze, as if in a narcotic stupor. Even a sturdy-looking man named Oliver Queen found himself dazed and inactive.
At the first sign of the blossoms, Terry Sloane had pulled the ladies back out of sight and shouted, “Those blossoms are exotic poisons. Don’t breathe them!”
“Odd, they only seem to be freezing the males,” said Danette as she raced to her room upstairs.
Terry charged forward a few seconds later, now dressed as Mister Terrific. His mask, hastily improvised as a gag, protected him from the pollen. The gang of curiously dressed robbers, for that’s what they were, had three leaders. Libby recognized the first one as a Batman foe called the Catwoman. She was lithe and deadly, and worked quickly to empty several pockets as well as grab the collected bond money. Her ally was known to Mister Terrific. “That’s the Cheetah, alias Priscilla Rich! I knew her name was known to me from talking to Wonder Woman.”
The Cheetah smiled and purred in contentment. “These men are real stiffs!” she giggled.
“Thanks to my pollen, no male can move,” cooed the pretty woman in a leafy green bikini. “My babies do their botanical work so well.”
“Nightshade, stop posing and get the jewels we came here for,” snapped the serious Catwoman.
“Can’t a girl have a little fun?” asked Nightshade, who had taken her name from her mentor, a male villain now known as Ramulus. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Adventure of the Magic Forest,” World’s Finest Comics #6 (Summer, 1942) and “Monster Society of Evil,” All-Star Squadron #51 (November, 1985).]
Mister Terrific grabbed the nearest fire extinguisher and blasted the huge plant with the frigid foam. Firebrand entered fully costumed and surrounded by a nimbus of fire. She arose on this heat to the top of the ballroom. With a good deal of concentration, she radiated an intense heat at all the windows, melting them instantly so no glass shards could fall to the milling women and helpless men below.
“This cold air plus the foam should put an end to this deadly plant,” called Mister Terrific as Firebrand gave him a thumbs-up sign.
Meanwhile, Libby draped her hair down over one eye, kicked off her heels, tore her dress to thigh level, and rubbed the bell-shaped buckle pinned to her gown’s sash. Got to hope no noticed me here earlier, or my Liberty Belle career could be in danger. She vaulted the nearest table and brought two robbing women to the floor with practiced ease.
From the upper balcony, Shiera Sanders had a typical socialite problem. What to wear? She had a Nth-metal gravity-defying belt in her purse, but she’d left her costume at home. She sighed, and with a quickly rigged mask she dropped over the rail wearing only her underwear and the powerful belt. She could not steer well without the wings she normally wore as Hawkgirl, but her years of experience enabled her to aim herself exactly as she landed on another female thug.
Catwoman turned to face the Olympic-level grace that was Liberty Belle. “What’s wrong, dear? Alan Ladd leave you?”
“I’ve heard all the Veronica Lake jokes, but now it’s time to put the cat out,” replied Libby as she ducked under Catwoman’s wickedly aimed cat-o’-nine tails.
Catwoman snapped back with her whip before Libby could respond, and suddenly Belle found her foot pulled out from under her. She aimed her hands at the purple-dressed felon, and waves of sound exploded the nearest table so that pieces of it rained down on Catwoman.
Meanwhile, the Cheetah clawed furiously at Hawkgirl, who found herself hard pressed to protect herself from the raking talons. “Pretty bird!” purred the Cheetah as she sent Hawkgirl spinning. “Too bad you’ve lost your feathers.”
Shiera gasped as the feline fury pounced upon her and rained many blows on her nearly bare form. With a strength born of desperation, Shiera kicked upward and sent Cheetah reeling backward.
Meanwhile, Mister Terrific raced toward the frozen Ted Knight with a purposeful gleam in his eye.
While Firebrand flew down to aid Hawkgirl, the agile Cheetah disappeared into the crowd. Her remaining hench-women seemed at a loss, since their three leaders had assured them that the society dolls would pose no threat to their crime.
Mister Terrific spotted Ted Knight and grinned as he noticed something concealed in Knight’s dinner jacket. Using his childhood-mastered skill of sleight of hand, he removed the metal rod without letting a now-frantic Doris Lee from seeing where it had been found. “Don’t worry, miss. All will be well with your escort in a few more minutes. Probably fifteen or so.” Using the scientific marvel that was Starman’s gravity rod, Mister Terrific enveloped the five remaining girl crooks in a glowing ring of stellar energy.
Firebrand gasped as a thorny vine suddenly appeared from a seed tossed by the bikini-clad Nightshade. The massive plant wrapped itself around Hawkgirl and began to crush her. Danette nervously aimed her flames at the leafy tendrils, to no avail.
“Take out the plant woman — she’s controlling the creature!” called Mister Terrific as he looked over his shoulder.
Catwoman and Liberty Belle wrestled around the empty alcove on the right of the ballroom until Libby landed a terrific right. Catwoman tumbled over and desperately pulled a gun on the blonde bombshell. “Keep back!” she cried.
Liberty Belle was a writer who knew human nature, and she realized that Catwoman was bluffing. Whatever else she was, she was no killer. As Belle prepared to face down the criminal, a silver tray dropped on Catwoman’s head from above and sent her into a stunned sleep. The raven-haired maid Dinah Drake smiled as she retrieved the tray. “Glad I could help,” she said with a smile, and hummed a lovely tune while Belle raced back into the ballroom.
Nightshade ran a hand through her thick, wavy auburn locks and gazed at the sight of an angry Firebrand closing in on her. “Don’t harm my baby!” she cried. Firebrand kicked out at the leafy woman, and to her satisfaction, Nightshade fell to the floor submissively.
“She is no fighter, but from the look of her she is quite the lover, I’d guess,” replied Ted Knight as he and the other men began to wake up from their pollen-induced dreams. Doris Lee elbowed Ted at this comment.
True to Mister Terrific’s educated guess, the plant released Hawkgirl as Nightshade’s concentration faded. “I’ll bet that little witch picked up those plant powers from Sandman’s old foe, Ramulus. Didn’t he used to call himself Nightshade?” asked a sore but unharmed Shiera.
As the last gang member tried a futile escape effort, the brown-haired Oliver Queen quietly tossed a piece of wood from a broken table at the fleeing felon. With perfect aim, it brought her down to the arms of the now-arrived authorities.
Meanwhile, Liberty Belle chased the Cheetah down the hallway until her vision suddenly blurred, and she fainted at the Cheetah’s feet. “Must have been Catwoman’s claws,” pondered Priscilla Rich as she looked at Belle’s lovely features. She recoiled at first, then smiled and carried the stunned All-Star into the night.
Libby Lawrence woke up sometime later to find herself elaborately coiffed and dressed in the stunning red gown she had seen Priscilla Rich wear earlier that evening. Her Liberty Belle buckle was not in sight, nor was the torn dress she had been wearing before. Her head ached greatly.
She heard the Cheetah talking to someone. “Now I have the chance to be rid of you at last, Priscilla, you simpering weakling! I have you here now physically, and I’ll end your whining, nagging voice for good.”
Before Liberty Belle stood the Cheetah, and she realized that the maddened villainess was Priscilla Rich and now had dressed up her look-alike Libby to be a closer copy of her own second identity. Hadn’t Terry said something about Rich being the Cheetah all along? Belle couldn’t think clearly, due to the drug she had received from Catwoman’s sharp nails. As she stalled for time she replied, “You need help, Priscilla. You are the real Priscilla, not me.”
The Cheetah prowled up and down, tossing her own stylish blonde hair as she talked. “You can’t fool me. Your words always haunt me. I’ll end them now.”
At that moment, Mister Terrific kicked in the door, followed by a fully dressed Hawkgirl and a concerned Firebrand. The Cheetah whirled to either attack or flee, only to find herself unable to decide what to do.
“Priscilla, your dad never had time for you,” said Mister Terrific. “Your older lover saw you as a pretty toy. I know you are much more, but let us talk it over. Give us a chance to help you find yourself.”
While the Cheetah hesitated, the other members of the All-Star Squadron surrounded her, and before she could move, a bolo arrow fired by the suddenly appearing Green Arrow tied her arms to her side. “That wraps up this kitty!” he said with a smile.
Mister Terrific soothed the confused Cheetah, and Hawkgirl helped a dazed Liberty Belle to her feet and restored her precious belt buckle. “Look at that dress and your hair! Leave it to you to really be the Belle of the ball!” said Firebrand as Belle smiled with relief.