From the journal of the Shade:
November 25, 1948:
I had received an invitation to attend a gathering of my colleagues in a small town with the promising sobriquet of Rising Sun, Maryland. When I saw the name, I wondered how the town had gotten through the high anti-Japanese feelings of the war years with a name like that. This afforded me a few moments’ amusement, nothing more. I did not stop to wonder how the sender had obtained my address; recreational criminals like myself, and others — the Icicle is one — keep our current addresses circulating among the costumed underworld, so that we can be available if an adventure in the planning requires our special touch.
I liked the Icicle; I had worked with him once before, on a plan he had to steal several million dollars’ worth of uncut diamonds and joust with Mister Terrific at the same time. The scheme had gang aft a-gley, as such schemes will, but a grand time was had by all, Mister Terrific included.
I noticed the invitation did specify “Serious Inquiries Only.” There was no one in the underworld who did not know what that meant. It meant that, if you attended this meeting, you were in on the caper, whatever it may be, or you were out, for good and all. I smiled at that.
Now I sat in a room on the third floor of a five-floor office building, in a small office obviously rented for the occasion (probably under an alias). I will not waste time describing the furnishings of the room, as they were so sparse as not to merit mention. Suffice to say that four long tables were arranged in a square. Each table had two chairs in front of it, thus making room for eight super-felons. I was the second one to arrive; I saw the Sky Pirate seated at one table as I entered, recognizing him as a foe of the Green Lantern who’d first fought him the previous year. (*) He looked up at me as I opened the office door.
[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Freedom of the Skies,” Green Lantern #27 (August-September, 1947).]
“Are you the lubber who sent the invitations?” he asked me, without any other sort of greeting.
“I am not,” I returned, as politely as necessary. I took a seat at the table across from his. “Like yourself, I gather, I was invited. You are, I presume, the Sky Pirate?”
“That’s me,” he admitted, his tone softening somewhat. “I’ve seen your picture in the papers; you fight the Flash. The Shadow, isn’t it?”
“The Shade. The other name was taken.”
“Pleased t’meetcher,” he said. “Wonder what all this is about?”
“I gather we’ll soon know,” I said.
We sat there in relative silence and waited. Six other super-criminals joined us, mostly one at a time, but the Fiddler and the Thinker entered together. The Icicle and I exchanged pleasantries as he entered, and he sat down next to me. Finally, we were all present. Indeed, all of us, though we hadn’t known it at the time.
“Well, every chair’s filled,” snarled Mister Ghool about five minutes after the last arrival had seated himself; I knew nothing about this rather large fellow except that he had fought the Star-Spangled Kid and Stripesy on a couple of occasions. (*) “So who called this meeting?”
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Mr. Ghool,” Star Spangled Comics #4 (January, 1942).]
“None of us did,” replied Alexander the Great, a foe of the Hawkman. (*) “We all received invitations same as you, Ghool.”
[(*) Editor’s note: See The Hawkman, Flash Comics #2 (February, 1940).]
“Then who sent them?” asked Doctor Clever, who had fought that second-rate Flash, Johnny Quick. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Adventure of the Human Streak,” More Fun Comics #76 (February, 1942).]
“I sent them, gentlemen,” a new voice intoned. Most of my colleagues started in surprise at that; I had seen too much, in over a century as the Shade, to be surprised that easily. The voice seemed to come from the space in the center of our square of tables.
“Who’s there?” the Sky Pirate demanded. “Who is it?”
“I am your host,” the voice said plainly. “Who I am is not important right now; merely that I wish to hire your services.”
“An invisible man?” Mister Ghool snorted. “Or just a trick voice on a loudspeaker?”
In answer to Ghool’s inquiry, an apple rose from the fruit bowl on the table where Ghool and Clever sat. With a noisy crunch, a bite was torn from the apple. We watched the fruit being ground to pulp by teeth we could not see; then the chewed apple faded from view entirely, accompanied by the sound of a man swallowing. The apple with the bite taken out bobbed up and down in air, as if a man were tossing it up and catching it.
“Convinced, Ghool?” the voice asked. “All of you?”
Seven heads nodded assent. I merely sat back and smiled.
“Very well. As I stated before, I wish to hire your services. My price is one-hundred-thousand dollars apiece, plus expenses, and whatever money or other valuables you happen to acquire in the course of completing your tasks.”
“These tasks you speak of — what do they entail?” the Fiddler asked.
“I am coming to that,” the voice said. “They entail what you all do best: robbery, mayhem, and battle with the law. Specifically, costumed crime-fighters. More specifically, Hourman.”
“Hourman?” Thinker echoed. “He’s retired; no one’s seen him in years.”
“Except at the All-Star Squadron reunion dinners,” the voice went on. “Which are held on the anniversary of Pearl Harbor: December the 7th.”
“You don’t mean for us to attack the All-Star Squadron?” Alexander gasped. “That’d be suicide! The eight of us, against Hawkman and all the others–!”
“I mean nothing of the kind, Alexander,” the voice said. “I have no grudge against any other hero, only Hourman. I have merely planned this strike to occur when the rest of them will be at that dinner, so that no one comes to Hourman’s aid.”
“How do you know he won’t be at the dinner?” Icicle inquired.
“I have arranged for that. Several years ago, Hourman had an adventure in Baltimore, not far from here. I have arranged for the chamber of commerce of that city to celebrate Hourman Day, in remembrance of what that stalwart champion did for their city. The publicity will bring in many tourists, and their wallets; it wasn’t hard to convince Baltimore’s merchants of my good intentions. And they have scheduled it to coincide with the reunion dinner. Hourman will not refuse the request of his admirers to appear in person and accept his plaque; he will miss the dinner, and be in Baltimore alone.”
“And we attack him?” Doctor Clever asked, his maniacal eyes glittering underneath the ridiculous papier-mâché devil’s horns he kept glued to his bald head.
“No!” the voice shouted, and we heard an invisible fist bang on one of the tables. “No, you will not attack Hourman. The honor of killing him, the glory of his death, must be mine! I alone have earned it!”
“Then, precisely what is our role in this glorious scheme of yours?” I asked, adding my voice to the melee for the first time.
“You, gentlemen, will be the gauntlet Hourman will run before he gets to me,” the voice said. “In teams of two, you will attack certain points in Baltimore, robbing and plundering. Your attacks will be timed, spaced out, so that stopping you will exhaust Hourman’s time-limited strength. Then, when he is exhausted from fighting eight super-criminals and his hour of power is gone, I will step in and slay him, as I deserve to!”
The voice was quiet for a moment, letting that sink in. I looked around the room; seven faces wore mixed emotions of greed, anticipation, and sheer, undiluted evil.
“It is up to you gentlemen to pair yourselves off into teams,” the voice continued. “I do not presume to tell you your business there; you know it better than I do. You may select your own targets in Baltimore, as well, provided they are reasonably spaced apart geographically. The jobs will be spaced fifteen minutes apart. Obviously, the team with the last job will have an advantage over the team with the first; thus, lots will be drawn to indicate the order of the attacks. Are there any questions?”
There were none.
“Excellent! Less than two weeks away, gentlemen, and this year, December 7th will mean a day of infamy for Hourman!”
Some of my colleagues laughed politely at our mysterious host’s joke. I did not.
The pairings were quickly decided upon. The Sky Pirate and Alexander the Great elected to work together, because their methods of operation complemented one another. Mister Ghool and Doctor Clever also became a team, and would probably spend most of their time comparing their ugliness and its effect on their victims. The Fiddler and the Thinker, old rivals for the honor of killing the Flash (though the likelihood of either of them succeeding was dubious at best), worked together. The Icicle and I renewed our association for this endeavor. He was positively gleeful at the prospect; at one point, as we discussed our crime for the evening, he actually rubbed his hands together, like the villain in a Republic Pictures movie serial.
Something about the situation, though, did not sit well with me. I had never met Hourman, and had no particular reason to wish him either well or ill. I did not know who our mysterious employer might be, although his madness was clear in every one of his words. The success or failure of his project did not impact on me in the slightest. And yet, something about it bothered me. I could not define it at that time; looking back, I wondered if my brief encounter with Mister Terrific had not rubbed off on me somehow. It was the inequality, the unfairness of the thing, that galled me. Hourman didn’t have a chance. It wasn’t sporting. And though it was true that I had seldom passed up an opportunity to gain ground in my ongoing struggle with the Ludlow family through sporting means or otherwise, my association with the mystery-men community, a mere six years old at that time, had made me see this game we played differently. (*) For that was what it was, and make no mistake: a game. Cowboys and Indians, played by grown men in outlandish costumes.
[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Man Who Commanded the Night,” Flash Comics #33 (September, 1942).]
Dr. Joar Makent was a fine example. Before becoming the Icicle, he was a respected scientist and was considered an odds-on favorite for the Nobel Prize. (*) With his talents, he could make far more money legitimately than he could ever steal. He chose to joust with Green Lantern and the Justice Society for the sheer thrill of it, and the only thing that made him different from criminals like the Sportsmaster and the Gambler in that respect was that he admitted it, even to himself.
[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Icicle,” All-American Comics #90 (October, 1947).]
Our mysterious employer seemed to genuinely hate Hourman, and perhaps he had good reason to. As I said before, I had never met the man. But whatever his reason, he wasn’t playing by the understood rules of the game. Somehow, I couldn’t allow that.
Of course, I could not openly aid Hourman in his struggle against our merrie band. My fellow super-criminals were (with a very few exceptions, like Joar) boorish and incompetent, but they had their uses. I did not want to alienate myself from their society, at least not yet. I thought of warning Hourman away somehow, in some way that would not reveal to him who his guardian angel was. But I realized that would not work; if Hourman were anything like my own jousting partner, the Flash, he would still charge into Baltimore to protect life and property, even against such ridiculous odds. I realized the only viable solution was to see that the odds were not so ridiculous after all.