by Doc Quantum
Darkness surrounded the boy on all sides. There was no light, no air, nothing solid at all — nothing except the boy himself.
Time was meaningless in the void, but the boy knew that he did not belong to this darkness, this limbo that lacked anything real. No, he had come from somewhere. He was sure of that much.
Madness might well have overcome him long ago had it not been for his certainty that he still existed, despite all evidence to the contrary. In order to remain sane, he held on to the belief that he was a physical being in this immaterial world.
Unfortunately, he had nearly given in to despair, thinking that nothing would ever change, that he would be stuck here in this void for an eternity, not needing to breathe or eat, or do anything else that might prove he was still a living being. None of that was needed to exist in this place of nonexistence. He just was.
And then a miracle occurred that changed everything.
There was light.
It took a while before the boy realized that his eyes had been open this whole time; he seemed to have nearly gone blind through his eyes’ lack of use.
The boy looked at the light and saw the vague shape of a man with glowing eyes. Then, upon a closer look, he noticed that there were actually two men there, whom he could describe only as a magician and a scientist. The scientist was standing behind the magician, staring at some kind of TV screen. Somehow the boy knew that only the magician with glowing eyes could reach him.
There was a sudden tug, and the boy felt himself being pulled at high speed out of the void and toward the light, and then…
A world of substance sprang into being around him. The boy blinked in shock as he realized he had crumpled to the ground, that he had fallen down to a solid wooden floor, his legs weakened by lack of nutrition or use in the void. The magician and the scientist spoke to each other, mentioned something about a barrier, but the boy barely noticed, so overcome with emotion now that he’d found himself in these new circumstances. Despair had given way to hope.
Instinctively, the boy knew what he needed to do now, while the men were still distracted with their science experiment. Still on the floor, the boy casually reached down to his belt buckle and slowly rubbed it, even as he breathed a word, which was barely more than a whisper.
A bolt of lightning exploded in his midst with the sound of thunder, and the boy suddenly disappeared, immediately replaced by a tall, muscular, bronze-skinned man. Inwardly, the man thanked the spirit of the old Indian mystic that the magic that had first granted him his ability to transform into a being of power had not vanished along with his world. He had become a legendary hero once more.
It was a moment before the hero realized that one of the two now-confused-looking men had asked him a question, one that he declined to answer. Instead, the sense of cosmic awareness within him informed him of the truth, that he had been pulled into a parallel universe that was not his own. He also became aware that his own world — and everyone that he had ever known and loved — was gone, destroyed in the Great Cataclysm that he had sought to forestall by reaching the void that existed between the dimensions and seeking help elsewhere. Instead, he had become trapped there, stuck in a barrier that had prevented him from reentering reality — any reality.
After a brief discussion with the magician and the scientist, in which he learned a few strange things about this world, the hero promised to repay them for saving his life, then flew off before the two men could do anything to stop him. He could not guess the true intentions of the man of magic or the man of science in plucking him from the void and bringing him to this dimension, but there was something about them that the hero could not trust.
This stranger in a strange land had many questions about this world, and he needed to gather the lay of the land. And that could take a while.
The hero, now wearing a long jacket and a hat, strolled through the streets of West Baltimore in Maryland. The poverty here was staggering. He watched as a patrol car passed by, slowing down long enough for the two officers inside to get a good look at him before speeding up again and turning around a corner, completing ignoring the drug transaction between two thirteen-year-old black boys.
Drugs were everywhere in this city. Baltimore’s economy had never been great, but after the last downturn in the stock market, more people were out of work than ever before. Drugs were an easy escape from that life.
The tall man walked for hours through the streets, passing by gang members, prostitutes, and little hoppers everywhere acting as lookouts and street-level dealers.
This city, this world, was so different from his own.
The hero with dark brown skin and short black hair looked around, wondering for the thousandth time that day why Binderbeck City did not exist on this world. In its place was this city of Baltimore.
While Binderbeck City had always been a bright, shining city of hope, bustling with commerce, Baltimore was a place where children’s dreams were routinely dashed against the harsh concrete wall of reality.
Although everything looked familiar, almost like a bad photocopy of the streets of Binderbeck, nearly everything that was great about Binderbeck was missing here in Baltimore. The art deco buildings and giant props made famous in Binderbeck were completely missing from Baltimore, replaced by drab, uninspired architecture and standard billboards.
But the most drastic difference, the man had noted, was the racism. It was rampant and everywhere in this city and throughout the nation. Back in his own world’s America, racism was a quaint, old concept that had been largely stamped out before the beginning of the twentieth century, in all but the most backward of small rural towns.
There were several major historical differences between this world and his own, the man noted after a visit to a library in a somewhat nicer part of town.
The most major difference was the historical slavery of Africans.
Such a thing was nearly unheard of on his world, but apparently it had been a major trade for centuries here.
Whereas here the large African-American population in America were the descendants of slaves for the most part, on the tall man’s world, the equally large African-American population had come about through ordinary immigration.
Sure, there was a lot of corruption in those immigration practices, which often left African families torn apart, and indentured servitude was a fact of life for poor people of all races in those early colonial days. But the kind of widespread race-based slavery that existed in this world’s America never existed on his own. Instead, African men were recruited to work overseas in the growing American colony, and many of them chose to bring their families and settle down.
By the early nineteenth century, men of African descent had gained the right to vote. By the twentieth century, the black vote was so important that the nation’s first black president was elected in 1908. President George Washington Carver was an unusual candidate for president by any definition, but his background as a scientist helped usher the nation into a century of new innovation and prosperity even through two World Wars and the Korean War, the last war that America ever fought on his world.
On this world, the closest any African-American had come to the presidency was a man named Jesse Jackson, who had run for president in 1984 and was again in the running for the 1988 election, though trailing far behind the more popular candidates, which included one of this world’s mystery-men, Jay Garrick — the Flash. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See DC Universe: The Race, Book 1: Candidacy.]
In the world the hero had come from, Jesse Jackson actually was the current president, having served an important role under a previous administration, when President Martin Luther King had run the country. On this world, MLK had been a Civil Rights leader who was assassinated twenty years ago.
The tall man shook his head. It was as if he had fallen from Heaven into Hell. This world was a nightmare, and he didn’t know how he could possibly fit in here.
On the other hand, he realized, perhaps this world needed him more than his own world ever really did.
With that thought, as the sun began to set in Baltimore, the hero rubbed his belt buckle and shouted, “Thunder!”
Lightning exploded where he stood, accompanied by a rumbling sound like thunder. In the midst of it, Captain Thunder disappeared, only to be replaced by young Willie Fawcett. The boy walked into the abandoned building and made his way to a room he had secured earlier. Laying his head down on some blankets he had picked up, he did his best not to cry as he fell asleep.