When Batman and Doctor Mid-Nite reached the radio-signal finder in the Batplane, the signal was very weak. The intruders had gone a long distance away, which probably meant they, too, were travelling by plane. The heroes took to the air and followed the beam, and it grew stronger as the distance between them closed. After a while, the signal locked direction and grew steadily stronger and stronger, which probably meant that their quarry had arrived at their destination. Doctor Mid-Nite calculated the distance and direction, concluding that the men were somewhere in Rhode Island.
Batman was grimly silent the entire trip. Mid-Nite understood why. It had been the murder of Bruce Wayne’s parents that had driven him to become the Batman. To learn that his father’s grave had been violated was understandably enraging to him. Mid-Nite realized that his own father’s grave had probably been vandalized also, but somehow it did not inspire the same rage in him that it did in Batman. Probably because his father had died peacefully of natural causes. But, of course, Mid-Nite still wanted to see the criminals punished.
The signal led the heroes to an old house in Rhode Island, seemingly deserted from the outside. Batman put the plane down five miles away in an empty field, and he and Mid-Nite went the rest of the way on foot. The house was dark, but of course this presented no problem to Doctor Mid-Nite.
“I don’t see anything through the windows,” he whispered to Batman. “Of course, they’re so dirty my night-vision isn’t much help. The place doesn’t look like anyone’s lived in it in years.”
“This is where the radio tracker is,” Batman whispered back. “Either our men are in there, or it’s a trap. Or both. Come on.”
The two heroes moved around to the back of the house. As they cautiously approached the back door, however, it suddenly swung wide open, and they found themselves staring into the barrels of three rifles.
“Do come in,” someone said in a strong German accent.
The captive heroes were ushered into a small room, where a blond man in a Luftwaffe uniform awaited them. He smiled with unconcealed glee at the sight of his captives.
“Ah, Herr Fledermaus!” he cackled. “So good to see you again! It has been too long! And you, Herr Doktor Mitternacht, is it not? We have not had the pleasure. I am Helmut Streicher!”
“Batman, you know this nutsy Nazi?” Doctor Mid-Nite asked.
“We’ve met,” Batman said. “Flash, Green Lantern, and I fought him in Scotland in the case that gave birth to the Justice Society.” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Untold Origin of the Justice Society,” DC Special #29 (August-September, 1977).]
“And you were defeated in that battle,” Streicher added. “Had the thrice-damned Doktor Schicksel not rescued you — but that is another matter for another day. So good of you to drop in on my newest endeavor for the Thousand-Year Reich.”
“Robbing graves?” Doctor Mid-Nite asked. “Killing innocent doctors?”
“Hardly that, Herr Doktor,” Streicher said. “Come and meet the Third Reich’s newest ally. I’m certain he, a fellow medical man, can explain it better than I can.”
At gunpoint, the heroes were led down a flight of stairs to the basement. It had been converted into a medical laboratory, and Doctor Mid-Nite marveled at the expanse of equipment. Near the center of the room was a strange-looking device, a large sphere of glass that housed a glowing filament of energy that bathed the room in an eerie purple light. Batman noticed their five opponents from Ohio standing against one wall. A small, frail-looking man in a laboratory coat labored over a body on a metal table, presumably the body they had stolen from the morgue in Ohio.
“Herr Doktor West,” Streicher said, “we have company. Please come and greet them.”
“Streicher,” the little man said wearily, “I have told you time and again that I am not a doctor. The narrow-minded fools in my country who control the licensing procedure for medical practitioners–”
“Yes, Herr West, I know,” Streicher cut him off. “But come and meet our distinguished guests.”
Doctor Mid-Nite suppressed a gasp. West? His father had mentioned to him a couple of times about a student in his medical school class named West. He hadn’t graduated; he had been expelled from the school. When young Charles had asked his father why, the elder McNider had awkwardly changed the subject.
The little man strode up to the captive heroes and peered at them through thick glasses like he was examining specimens.
“Are these the genuine Batman and Doctor Mid-Nite?” he asked Streicher. “I have, of course, heard of them.”
“None other,” Streicher said proudly. “Gentlemen, I present to you Mr. Herbert West, the man who will win the war for the Third Reich.” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Herbert West — Reanimator,” by H.P. Lovecraft.]
“You’re an American,” Batman said to West. “How can you aid the Nazis? Where is your loyalty?”
“Loyalty?” West spat the word. “In medical school, I wanted to bring new hope to the ill. I wanted to wipe out the fear of death forever. What was my repayment? Ridicule, scorn, and finally dismissal. I was denied a license to practice medicine, simply because I refused to parrot what my instructors said and preferred to explore new paths. So what loyalty do I owe America, or anyone?”
“Wipe out the fear of death?” Mid-Nite repeated. “What do you mean?”
“Simply that,” West said. “I discovered a way to reverse the effects of death itself. To reanimate a dead body. It was this kind of experimentation that led to my dismissal from medical school. I continued my research in private for years after my break with the medical community. Finally, I succeeded.”
Batman and Doctor Mid-Nite both felt a cold horror creeping up their spines. Those men they fought in Ohio that seemed to feel no pain, that dropped a ring.
“By the time I had successfully completed my experiments,” West continued, “my funds were depleted. And I had not solved every problem. In every case but one, the reanimated corpses were mindless hulks, capable of following simple instructions but no independent thought, no personality. I can solve this problem with further experimentation, but that will be costly. Herr Streicher has promised to supply me with everything I need.”
“Think of it, gentlemen,” Streicher said. “An army of soldiers who cannot die! As we all know, wars are won or lost because one side is able to kill the other side’s soldiers more quickly and efficiently. With an army of soldiers who cannot be killed, Germany’s victory is assured!”
“Of course, to secure funding and an ample supply of corpses for my experiments, we must convince Field Marshal Goering of its success,” West added. “It amused me to use my old classmates from medical school — the ones who laughed at me — as test subjects. Two or three of them had already been many years dead, so they proved a bit difficult to animate; but plastic surgery does wonders these days, does it not?”
Doctor Mid-Nite could feel Batman’s rage growing, standing next to him. His own outrage at the violation of his father’s remains was mounting as well.
“But now, we will have more than doddering old doctors to present to the Field Marshal as examples of Herr West’s work,” Streicher said evocatively. “Think how impressed he will be when we present him with two mighty members of the Justice Society of America as reanimated slaves!”
Batman almost lost control of his rage then, coiling himself to spring at Streicher. Doctor Mid-Nite restrained him with a warning hand on his arm; Batman regained his composure then.
“Tell me, West,” Doctor Mid-Nite said. “Your experiments fascinate me. How were you able to do it? To reanimate the dead?”
“There are two components to my process,” West said. Doctor Mid-Nite had correctly guessed that he would seize the chance to brag after having been ridiculed so long. “First, my re-agent formula, which I inject directly into the heart. Second, the revita-rays, a discovery of my own; a combination of wavelengths of the electromagnetic spectrum, similar to those that first created life on this planet. The device you see there generates the waves.”
“Interesting,” Mid-Nite said sincerely. “And merely bathing in those rays does the trick?”
“At first, yes,” West said. “Unfortunately, a constant supply of the revita-rays is needed to maintain animation. This isn’t much of a problem, however; the rays seem to have no distance limits.”
“You mean, the rays traveled from this laboratory to empower your reanimated men all the way in Ohio and Washington?” Mid-Nite asked, genuinely astonished.
“Why not?” West said, shrugging. “The rays of the sun travel millions of miles. I do not know the range limits of the revita-rays, if any; that is something we will test in the field.”
“Enough!” Streicher snapped. “This is not a medical symposium! It is time Herr Fledermaus and Doktor Mitternacht joined the ranks of the reanimated!”
Then, without warning, Batman struck with the speed of a cobra. In one fluid motion, he drew a batarang and hurled it, with all his might, at the glass sphere of the revita-ray projector.
Every breath in the room held as the batarang struck the glass… and bounced harmlessly off.
“Hah!” Streicher roared with laughter. “Stupid American! Did you think something so vital would be housed in ordinary glass? That is special, shatter-resistant glass! It would take an explosion great enough to wreck this entire room to break it! But I must salute you for a valiant try. And now–”
Just then, the room was plunged into darkness. Doctor Mid-Nite had taken advantage of Streicher’s gloating to palm a blackout bomb and hurl it to the floor. Batman was wearing a set of infrared lenses Doctor Mid-Nite had given him, so the two heroes were equally efficient in the dark. They waded into the guards, throwing punches. One guard fired his rifle, and Streicher’s voice barked out of the gloom.
“You fool! Do you want to destroy the equipment? Or worse, hit West? No gunfire until the lights come back on!”
But before Streicher even finished his rant, all the guards were unconscious. In the dark, Streicher felt Batman’s mighty arms grasping his own and forcing them behind his back.
“West!” Streicher screamed in terror. “Help me! Your reanimations — make them save me!”
Doctor Mid-Nite and Batman watched as the mindless monsters moved toward them through the darkness.
Batman tensed as the reanimated men approached. Their faces were masked, presumably to hide their death-twisted features from Streicher and his soldiers, but Batman knew that his father was among them — Doctor Mid-Nite’s, too.
“Mid-Nite,” Batman hissed. “There’s one way out of this. Can you dispel your blackout bomb?”
“I can,” Mid-Nite said. He tossed a yellowish capsule to the floor. It dispelled a chemical spray that congealed the dark, inky cloud into a sticky black film that coated much of everything in the room, but cleared the air and let light shine again.
Batman strode up to the advancing reanimations and threw back his cowl. One of the mindless monster-men halted in mid-stride.
Doctor Mid-Nite mimicked Batman’s action, exposing his face to the reanimations. Another stopped, staring at his features. Their fellows halted, too, questioning their actions for the first time.
“What are you doing?” West demanded. “Get them! Kill them!”
The reanimations turned their heads to stare at West. Only their eyes showed through their masks, but pure hatred burned in them. They advanced on West, moving more rapidly than before.
“No!” West cried out in horror. “Stay back!”
Batman and Doctor Mid-Nite quickly replaced their masks. Two of the reanimations attacked Streicher and West, and the other three started wrecking the lab. Streicher, fearfully trying to escape his assailant, watched as one of them pulled a lever on the wall.
“No!” Streicher screamed. “The detonation switch!”
“Detonation?” Doctor Mid-Nite gasped.
“Sure. He’s probably got the whole place wired,” Batman said, “in case of discovery, so as not to leave any trace. Come on — we’ve got to get out of here!”
West had managed to escape his assailant and was fleeing for the door. Batman grabbed him and raced out of the room with him. Doctor Mid-Nite tried to pry Streicher away from the reanimation, but the dead man’s grip was too strong. The monster-man waved Doctor Mid-Nite away, urging him to save himself. Mid-Nite decided to do so and left a screaming Streicher to his fate. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: Helmut Streicher survives to becomes the Red Panzer as seen in “Retreat to Tomorrow,” Wonder Woman #228 (February, 1977) and “Tomorrow Belongs to Me,” Wonder Woman #229 (March, 1977).]
Batman, carrying West, and Doctor Mid-Nite did not stop running until they heard the explosion. The entire house was vaporized in the blast.
“Wow, that must have been some charge he had wired in there!” Mid-Nite said, impressed. “I guess you’re right; he really didn’t want to leave a trace.”
“And the reanimated men have been put to rest,” Batman said. “With the revita-ray generator destroyed, they’ll die again; their bodies have probably been vaporized, as well.”
“Batman… look at West!” Mid-Nite said in a trembling voice.
Batman looked down. West was sprawled on the ground, his eyes open and glazed over. Batman checked his pulse, his heartbeat.
“He’s dead,” Batman said.
“What happened to him?” Mid-Nite asked. “Fear?”
“I don’t think so,” Batman said. “His body is cold, much colder than it could already get.”
“Wait a minute,” Mid-Nite said. “He did say that his reanimations were mindless hulks… in every case but one.”
“You don’t think–?” Batman began. He and Mid-Nite stared at West’s body, then back at the burning ruin that once was a house, and a laboratory of madness.
Neither of them said a word on the long walk back to the Batplane.