by Dan Swanson
Starman’s force-bubble protected him from a fierce blast of brilliant emerald radiation, and then he was battered by a barrage of large boulders, smaller rocks, and even pebbles, hurled from the explosion at incredibly high speed. Ted Knight was shaken violently and knocked wildly across the sky, almost instantly losing sight of Green Lantern as he was enveloped in the violent tsunami of shattered stone. Still, as designed, the force-bubble absorbed most of the impacts, and the force-cushions lining the interior protected him from major damage. He managed to change the shape of his bubble from a sphere to a wedge, with the point aimed upstream, allowing the field to deflect most of the impacts rather than taking them broadside. He wasn’t going to be able to take any useful action until he was out of the flying debris field, so he waited impatiently, enduring the battering, and tried to figure out what had happened.
The cosmic rod showed that the original explosion had emitted massive amounts of kryptonite radiation, not power ring energy as he had originally thought. Apparently, whoever had set Damocles into collision orbit with Earth had set other traps as well, including one for Superman and Power Girl, and that trap had been turned on him. Ted needed to stop underestimating his unknown foe now.
His first priority was to find Green Lantern. The cosmic rod immediately located a powerful energy source approaching him with the speed of a missile. But it wasn’t emitting power ring energy.
A house-sized boulder in that direction exploded, as the humanoid figure that was radiating so much energy decided to go through it rather than around it. Ted saw the arms move, and then two fist-sized chunks of rock slammed into his shield, moving so fast that he barely even saw them coming. He was knocked backward and started tumbling. This newcomer was dangerous, having already displayed some Superman-like powers.
Still, Starman had some dangerous powers as well. A golden cylinder flashed out and caught the invader in the chest, knocking him tumbling backward. Two can play at that game, Ted thought with grim satisfaction. Let’s see what you got, buddy!
He launched a barrage of exploding energy spheres, and the villain was knocked around for a short time. But the explosions were relatively minor, and the stranger quickly recovered. He ignored more blasts, and again rocketed toward Starman.
At the last instant, Starman zoomed aside, and the villain flashed by him. Ted got a better look; the villain appeared to be human, wearing a silvery skintight costume topped by a transparent spherical helmet, except that his skin was green. But he wasn’t human, and Ted had once again underestimated him.
The villain’s right arm stretched until he could reach Starman, and then his fingers elongated to snare Starman inside his force-field bubble. The stranger squeezed, and his strength was such that Ted could feel the pressure build up. It wasn’t critical yet, but Starman was being dragged along with his foe, and the stranger was turning to engage in close combat. Starman quickly commanded as much energy as the cosmic rod could channel and expanded his shield. Realizing that his grip was about to be broken, the stranger whipped his arm around and threw Starman, force-field and all, at the closest giant boulder, which shattered when Ted struck with stunning force.
Ted needed a few moments to recover. He used the gravity-control powers of the cosmic rod to exponentially increase the gravitational attraction of the stranger’s body, and suddenly, all the nearby debris started slamming into the villain with battering force, and then burying him in a ball of rock. Starman hoped his foe would be rendered helpless; he couldn’t channel this much power for very long. He held out as long as he could, until several thousand more tons of rock had slammed into the growing ball, then blasted the ball with a heat beam, hoping to melt the surface rocks and more firmly bind it together.
For a few seconds, he thought he had won, but then the ball of rock exploded. Once again Starman was bombarded with fragments of the shattered asteroid, and once again his force-shield protected him. He was surprised when the cosmic rod reproduced the sound of his opponent’s voice.
“Earthman, surrender. You are strong, but no match for Quork, ‘the Mangler from Mars’!” Ted could hear the quotes around the arrogant title the Martian gave himself. “And my allies approach even as we battle.”
Through the debris surrounding them, the cosmic rod was able to identify moving power sources that appeared to be spaceships, surrounding the two foes. He turned his attention back to Quork, but his opponent had vanished. An instant later, his now-invisible foe slammed into his force-bubble, wrapped it in the elongated fingers of one hand, and started pounding on it with the other. Ted could feel the power in those awesome blows through feedback from the cosmic rod, and he quickly realized that his shield wouldn’t last for long — this guy had strength in Hourman’s class, at least.
Any one of those blows would kill him instantly, if his shield failed. Starman unleashed a torrent of high-amperage electricity on the surface of his shield, but Quork seemed to be unaffected. Still, the sparkling, glowing current had done its part, outlining the invisible figure for just an instant. Hoping his next action wouldn’t be fatal to his foe, Starman slammed Quork’s helmet with two solid beams of energy striking from opposite sites, and the material of the helmet shattered.
Quork instantly became visible, and his body snapped back to its normal form — and then his head withdrew into his spacesuit, and he clamped his hand over the hole at the neck. The hand grew to become a patch, and Quork managed to survive brief exposure to vacuum. Ted heard a sort of humming noise coming from Quork and transmitted to him by touch, and then the villain disappeared. At the same time, one of the spaceships blasted toward him at high velocity, seemingly intent on ramming. Starman was much more maneuverable, and easily slipped aside, but once more he had underestimated his enemy. When the speeding spaceship was only yards away from the hero, it exploded violently. And finally, this explosion was enough to knock Starman unconscious.
When Green Lantern awoke, he was in pain, as if three or four thugs armed with wooden baseball bats had thrashed him soundly in a fight. Alan Scott ordered the power ring to assess his injuries, and came instantly to full awareness, pain forgotten, when he realized he was no longer wearing the ring. His most recent memories came rushing back.
Damocles had exploded with no warning. There had been a brilliant emerald flash the same color as his ring energy, and then he had been battered by rocks, pebbles, and giant boulders and blasted through space at high speeds by the incredibly powerful explosion. His force-field had been idling, with enough power to protect him from micro-meteors, but he hadn’t been expecting millions of tons of high-velocity meteors at the same time. He barely had time to will full power to his force-field before he was knocked unconscious by the battering. It was good to know that he had been in time.
The adrenaline rush cleared his mind, and he started thinking clearly again. Where was he? He was lying on his back, restrained. The situation cried out alien abduction, and he was already certain that, when he opened his eyes, he would be surrounded by aliens with unknown-but-scary instruments in their hands.
He was only partially correct; there was only one alien, and he was empty-handed. And Alan recognized him.
“How ironic that, once again, you are my captive!” the Martian said, smirking. “Only this time, you don’t have that meddler, Superman, to rescue you.”
Martler was humanoid, short, and skinny with pale purple skin and an oversized bald head, wearing a uniform that reminded Alan unpleasantly of a Nazi SS general, which was the intended effect. He was a Martian, and he had once been a dictator with plans to conquer the Earth, leading a group called the Solazis, named such after the Nazis. Martler openly admired Adolf Hitler, even taking a name that essentially denoted that he was the Führer, or Leader, of Mars. In 1949 he had assembled an invasion fleet of mighty spaceships, planning to conquer the solar system through a blitzkrieg campaign, but his invasion plans had been foiled by none other than Superman and Orson Welles. (*) After Superman had imprisoned the Martian dictator on an asteroid, Martler spent years constructing a device to absorb and channel energy, and in 1964 he managed to use that energy siphon to capture an unsuspecting Green Lantern, then turned to stealing power directly from the power ring to use against Earth. Superman had stopped him, destroying his device with a super-speed projectile — a wooden nickel. (*) Green Lantern had since taken precautions to prevent anyone else from stealing power directly from the power ring.
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Black Magic on Mars,” Superman #62 (January-February, 1950) and Justice Society of America: Times Past, 1964: Missing in Action, Chapter 2: Mystery in Space.]
Without his ring, and restrained as he was, there wasn’t much Green Lantern could do except stall and try to learn more about his situation and his foe’s plans. Could he expect Starman to come to the rescue?
“We stopped your killer asteroid, and we’ll stop you, too!” Alan said, trying to project confidence into his voice.
“Hah! You stopped one diversionary attack on Earth, and got caught in our trap instead. Your power ring will be a welcome addition to our mighty arsenal!”
Probably not, Green Lantern thought to himself. Even if someone can figure out how to use it, the ring is going to run out of power in less than an hour. And only I can open the pocket universe. He didn’t say anything, hoping that his silence would goad his captor into more boasting. Martler didn’t disappoint.
“It took me years to rebuild my power siphon after Superman destroyed it. Rather than attacking Earth by myself once again, I traveled to Phobos, where Superman had trapped my original invasion fleet in 1949. I would use the technology of the fleet to build a new flagship, a mighty space battleship powered by the energy siphon! Yet I gained even greater advantage from Phobos than I had imagined. It was there I met my new partner!”
“Yeah, right,” Green Lantern said, trying to sound bored. “What kind of loser would work with you?”
“There are three races on Mars,” Martler began, changing the subject. “The greens, the whites, and the chromans. I am a chroman. My people have long been slaves of the warlike whites, who have a skin tone that is very similar to that of your own. In the name of their war god, the whites have waged a war of extinction on the greens for millennia, though in more recent years their plans have often been derailed by your ally, Wonder Woman. (*) Greens and chromans are natural allies. On Phobos, I discovered Quork. In 1953, Quork had planned to use weapons stolen from Earth to conquer the greens, and then lead the united green nation to exterminate the whites, only to be stopped by Batman and Roh Kar, first Lawman of Mars, and imprisoned on Phobos. (*) We found a common cause, Quork and I, and created a new plan — the destruction of the Earth!”
[(*) Editor’s note: See Wonder Woman #2 (September, 1942) and “The Manhunter from Mars,” Batman #78 (August, 1953).]
“If you are allies against the whites, what can you possibly gain by destroying Earth?” Green Lantern asked.
“Earth’s gravity is too strong for Martians to be comfortable there, and the atmos–” Martler interrupted himself. “We calculated the exact power needed to break the Earth into two smaller chunks. Then we will use our advanced technology to transform these new planets. The greens will inhabit one, and the chromans the other. The whites can have Mars — it is dying, and they and their demigods can die with it!”
Green Lantern was stunned by the audacity and sheer evil of the plan. These two villains were planning to wipe out over five billion people and completely destroy an inhabited planet. Their plan seemed too horrible to succeed, but if it hadn’t been for a lucky coincidence, Damocles might not have been noticed until it was too late to stop it. And Martler had implied that there were more stealth asteroids on the way.
A light on a control panel began flashing, and Martler read some words on a screen. “Ah. Your accomplice, Starman, escaped the explosion, but Quork has captured him. We will add the cosmic rod to our arsenal as well, and we will be invincible!” He left the room.
Green Lantern knew that Ted Knight had built in some safeguards against someone else gaining control of the cosmic rod. As Martler left the room, he hoped these safeguards would prove adequate to the task.
Now that he was alone, Green Lantern turned his head to study the room, and he continued to strain against his bonds. Suddenly, his spirits rose. Clamped in some kind of instrument not fifteen feet away was the power ring. The ring floated at the center of a transparent hollow sphere the size of a basketball, spinning slowly. Surrounding the sphere were dozens of what looked like lasers, each of them projecting a beam of a different color at the power ring. As far as Green Lantern could tell, the various beams were having no effect.
Martler must not know, Green Lantern realized, that he didn’t have to be touching the ring to control it. Alan concentrated, commanded the ring to break free — but nothing happened. He tried again, concentrating much more intently. Still nothing. Instead of concentrating, he closed his eyes and tried to relax, and let his awareness fill the room. This close to the ring, he should be able to sense it, at least. But still nothing. Something was blocking his connection to the ring.
Time to go to Plan B, Alan Scott thought wryly to himself. I guess I need to come up with Plan B in a hurry!