by Doc Quantum
Captain Thunder continued his patrol of the city. West Baltimore had grown quiet enough that he was able to expand his patrol over most of the city, which — as Detective Bill Parker explained — made the police chiefs happier with what he was trying to do there. As for Detective Parker, he had gone to bat for the Captain, explaining in terms the police chiefs could understand why the hero wasn’t going after drug dealers unless they were committing acts of violence.
But when the newspapers got wind of it, Captain Thunder suddenly found himself at the center of the public debate on drugs. The official policy of the Reagan administration was to “Just Say No,” and the police departments had long interpreted that to mean taking down both drug dealers and junkies alike, one bust at a time. Captain Thunder’s fresh approach — some would call it naïve — raised quite a few eyebrows in the halls of Washington, D.C. And Captain Thunder became politicized despite having absolutely no use for politics.
Groups who wanted to legalize drugs began using Captain Thunder’s name as a justification for their stance, while some right-wing groups began demanding the hero answer their questions about his own stance on drugs. The fact that he was a black super-hero brought up the issue of racism, making all but the most extreme sides careful of what they publicly said about him. What they said about him privately was another matter.
At the JSA Brownstone in Gotham City, the legendary Justice Society of America had their own discussion on the new hero. The Baltimore Police Department had first contacted them several weeks ago, but the team had so many other pressing matters to deal with at the moment that it had been put off until now. Finally, it was time for one of their own to look into the matter.
Since Opal City, Maryland, was fairly close to Baltimore, the team decided that the best man for the job was that city’s protector — Starman, alias David Knight.
The young hero had only been at this job for two and a half years, but had spent a year and a half of that time with the JSA, and he had continued his role as Starman with his father’s blessing even after Ted Knight had returned from his travels sliding through alternate timelines to resume being a Starman himself. (*) David believed he was ready to take on the responsibility of vetting a new super-hero for court testimony. The only thing was that all the news about this new hero marked him as a controversial figure who seemed to be soft on drugs.
[(*) Editor’s note: See Infinity Inc: Ancient Prophecies and Malcontents, Epilogue: Altered Destiny, DC Universe: The Race, Book 2, Chapter 1: Big Shoes to Fill, and Starman: Stars Be My Destiny, Book 4, Epilogue: Father and Sons.]
David Knight had been raised as a millionaire’s son and had attended private schools and an Ivy League university. He knew that he still had little idea of what really went on in the poorer neighborhoods of Opal City, let alone the slums of Baltimore, but he wanted to see for himself what this Captain Thunder was all about, and why he so resembled Captain Marvel and the Marvel Family of Earth-S.
If he could establish that Captain Thunder was a possible new ally of the JSA, then that would be great. If he discovered that Captain Thunder represented a threat that the JSA would have to deal with soon, that was even better.
One Saturday morning, Starman soared into the skies above Opal City and headed for Baltimore, a determined look on his face.
Willie Fawcett awoke in his new room that Saturday morning, having slept peacefully for the first time since arriving in this world. Grandma MacMurray was a truly a force to be reckoned with. Once she learned that Willie was an orphan and living on the streets, she determined to become his new legal guardian, and she wouldn’t take no for an answer, clearing things with Social Services with all the clout she could muster. Although the Social Services people were concerned that Willie had no documented background, lacking even a birth certificate, Grandma insisted on taking the boy as her foster child immediately. The paperwork could wait.
He was given his own small bedroom, which had been Bernice’s daughter’s room before she grew up and left home to get married, and Willie soon settled in as the newest resident of the MacMurray home. Although he wasn’t biologically related to Grandma or Uncle Rufus, as he came to be known, they became true family to him.
As the summer heat began to die down at the end of August, Grandma MacMurray signed Willie up at the local public school, which Willie wasn’t too sure about. He’d wanted to find a job at a local radio station like the one he’d had back home, but Grandma would hear none of it, insisting that he enjoy living the life of a child for as long as he could. After all, he’d grow up and be forced to work for the rest of his life soon enough. Willie just smiled and accepted his situation. If they wanted him to go to school like every other kid, then so be it. It would be a big change after being taught by a tutor hired by his guardian, but not necessarily a worse one.
That day, as Willie walked down the street to school, he looked up to see a man flying through the sky. It was a startling sight to him, since Captain Thunder had been the only super-hero on his world. Back home he’d always been the only one with his kind of power and had gotten used to the idea. Here on this Earth, there were many super-heroes around, and Captain Thunder recognized this one belonging to neighboring Opal City.
Running into a nearby alleyway, after making sure it wasn’t occupied, Willie rubbed his belt buckle and shouted, “Thunder!”
And with a clap of lightning he was changed into the heroic Captain Thunder.
Grinning, Captain Thunder eagerly soared into the air in pursuit of the flying JSAer, who seemed to be heading straight for the high-rise buildings downtown. Although he knew he should play it more carefully, Captain Thunder nevertheless poured on speed to quickly catch up to Starman.
Flying next to the young hero, Captain Thunder shouted, “Hey, Starman!”
It was the worst thing he could’ve done. Starman, heading into downtown Baltimore to talk to the police department about the new hero, was startled by the hero’s shout and reacted immediately, firing off a blast of power with his cosmic rod.
Captain Thunder was thunderstruck, shocked by the sudden, unexpected attack, and his diamond-tough body reeled through the air until he smashed into the pavement below, just barely missing the edge of a building.
David Knight was breathing heavily as he felt a rush of adrenaline after the attack. He’d been startled, sure, but he knew his attack on the hero was still unwarranted. “Hey!” he shouted as he soared down to meet the new hero. “Sorry about that! Just–”
But Captain Thunder flew back into the air to strike back before he could be blasted again.
“Oof!” groaned Starman as Captain Thunder struck him back. David had been able to erect a protective force-field with his cosmic rod, but the sheer force of the blast was too much for him, and he was struck into the air so fast that he nearly swooned.
“So you want to play that game, huh?” Starman muttered as he recovered and flew back toward Captain Thunder, firing off several blasts with his cosmic rod.
Captain Thunder dodged all the blasts and flew off to Druid Hill Park in Northern Baltimore, stopping just above Druid Lake. Starman pursued him and was able to fire off some more shots when he realized what he was doing.
“I’m… I’m sorry about all this, man!” shouted Starman.
Captain Thunder just stood there in midair, tapping into his inner resources to cool himself down. “It’s… all right,” he finally said, flying forward and reaching out his hand in a peaceful gesture.
Starman tentatively took the other hero’s hand and shook it.
“What made you stop fighting?” asked Captain Thunder.
“I noticed what you were doing — drawing me to a less-populated area,” explained Starman, “so our battle wouldn’t cause any more property damage or endanger anyone. Smart move, by the way.”
“Thanks,” Captain Thunder said, his guard still up but willing to hear what this man had to say. “My friend in the police department told me one of you JSA boys would be dropping by sometime.”
“Yes, well, sorry it took so long,” said Starman. “We get these kinds of requests far more often than you might think. It takes a while to schedule.”
“So, do you want to go somewhere and talk?” suggested the Captain.
“Sure,” said Starman. “Have anywhere in mind?”
Captain Thunder nodded. “Follow me.”
A few moments later, Captain Thunder and Starman were perched in the belfry of an old church in West Baltimore.
“I’d like to keep an eye out on my ‘hood while we talk, if you don’t mind,” explained Captain Thunder.
“Sure. That’s not a problem,” said Starman. “When I’m on patrol over in Opal, I can’t think about anything else, either.”
“So what do you need to know?” asked Captain Thunder, peering out over the city streets below.
“Well, the vetting process is relatively informal,” explained David Knight. “It involves an interview, as well as watching how you do things on your home territory. I’ve also got a few personal questions I’d like to ask, to satisfy my own curiosity, if you don’t mind.”
“First, have you ever heard of Captain Marvel?”
Captain Thunder shook his head. “Nope.”
“What about the Marvel Family, or Shazam?”
“Haven’t heard of those, either,” said the Captain.
“The reason I ask,” continued Starman, “is that you closely resemble the hero of a parallel world called Earth-S.”
Captain Thunder turned to look at Starman. “‘Parallel Earth’?”
“Yes,” said Starman. “Earth-S, as I said. This hero’s name is Captain Marvel, and he has a costume almost identical to yours, except for a slightly different emblem and a few other minor differences. Oh, and he’s also not black like you — I mean, African-American — er, he’s a white guy — caucasian… uh… well, you know what I mean.”
Captain Thunder raised one eyebrow. Starman looked away in embarrassment.
“Anyway, this Captain Marvel got his powers from an old wizard named Shazam,” continued Starman. “And there are a few others with the same powers as he has, named Mary Marvel, Captain Marvel Junior, and three Lieutenants Marvel. Together, they’re called the Marvel Family.”
“Wow,” said Captain Thunder. “Quite a collection. No, I don’t recognize any of those names, though I did receive my own powers from an old wizard — an Indian guru, actually. And the bit about parallel Earths rings true. I don’t know whether my own universe was ever given a name like Earth-S, but I originated from a completely different Earth that was similar in many respects but vastly different in some critical ways. There, I was its one and only hero.”
Starman was fascinated. Like his father, Ted Knight, David had a scientifically minded mind and completely ate up anything to do with parallel worlds. “You don’t say. What happened to your Earth?”
“I was its hero for many years, fighting the good fight, until I came across a menace that — despite all my powers — I could not stop. We called it the Great Cataclysm, but his world calls it the ‘Crisis on Infinite Earths,’ though it affected universes, not just this planet. It destroyed my Earth and my very universe, and despite all my power I was unable to save them. I would have been killed along with everyone else had I not fled into the Multiverse at the last possible moment in a futile effort to find an answer in another universe. But the other Earth that I had sought to visit — a world where a double of your Superman exists, only he’s a seven-foot-tall black man from Vathlo Island on Krypton — was just gone. It had vanished, and by the time I realized that it was gone, my own world was gone as well, and my powers along with them. I was a mortal once again, and completely unable to save myself, let alone my universe.
“I remained there, utterly powerless in the void for nearly three years, until I was finally rescued by two men on your world, a magician and a scientist. They freed me from the void, but I sensed that I needed to leave their company. So I returned to the city I called home — Binderbeck City, Maryland. Only, Binderbeck doesn’t exist on your world. In its place is this city of Baltimore. Here I’ve made my home, and I’ve determined to become its protector.”
“Fascinating,” said Starman. “I’ve always wondered what my own counterparts on other Earths were like. Can I ask you a more personal question, Captain?”
“You’re free to ask,” said Captain Thunder.
“Your counterpart on Earth-S, Captain Marvel, had a secret identity that was a bit unusual for super-heroes. Whenever he shouted the name of Shazam, a thunderbolt would fall from the heavens and transform him into his Captain Marvel form or back into his civilian form — that of a young boy named Billy Batson. Does any of that sound familiar to you?”
Captain Thunder merely stared at Starman, trying to use his judgment before speaking once more. “Yes. Except for the different names, that’s very similar to what happens with me.”
“So you are–?”
“Yes,” said Captain Thunder.
“And you change back into–?”
Captain Thunder nodded. A moment later, he vanished in a split-second. Starman looked around, then saw the hero down on the streets below, stopping a vehicle from veering off into the sidewalk and hitting pedestrians. David Knight watched as Captain Thunder pulled the man out of his car and spoke with him, then flew him away at a somewhat slower pace.
A few moments later, Captain Thunder returned. “The man was having a heart attack, causing him to lose control of the car,” he explained. “So I took him to the hospital. Sorry for the interruption.”
“Not a problem,” said Starman. “Work always comes first.”
“I’m glad we can agree on that,” said Captain Thunder with a smile.
Starman followed Captain Thunder on his patrol for the rest of that Saturday, getting to know the new hero a bit better. He soon realized that Captain Thunder’s rather practical approach to crime in West Baltimore had indeed been fairly effective, though he had his doubts that it would last. The Captain’s supposedly soft stance on drugs was mostly a politicized idea, far removed from the reality that the hero was dealing with on a daily basis in order to keep the citizens of Baltimore out of harm’s way.
Captain Thunder and Starman, as champions of neighboring cities, pledged to help each other out if they ever needed such help. Thankfully, those occasions were rare, but emergencies were usually unplanned, so the pledge of assistance was welcomed by both heroes.
As the afternoon rolled into the early evening, Captain Thunder told Starman he needed to get back home for dinner, so the two young heroes shook hands and parted ways.
Back at the JSA Brownstone, David Knight typed up a report on Captain Thunder for the team’s database and signed his authorization for Captain Thunder to testify in court trials. There was still a little more bureaucracy to go through before it was finalized, but the new hero of Baltimore was finally set to testify in a string of trials for all the criminals he had captured or assisted the police in capturing over the past few weeks.
Before leaving Baltimore, Starman had left Captain Thunder with a warning to watch out for real criminals, since the hero had only ever dealt with street-level thugs involved in relatively petty crimes so far. When dealing with the higher-level crooks that dealt primarily with large sums of money, the rules all changed. There were some very evil people out there, and Captain Thunder needed to be prepared when he finally met them.
Captain Thunder assured him that he’d fought his share of super-villains before, and if they were anything like the would-be world conquerors he’d defeated many times in the past, he had nothing to worry about. That only worried Starman more, but Captain Thunder didn’t seem to understand what he was trying to tell him. David Knight felt bad about leaving it that way, but he realized the Captain had the power, if not the experience, to deal with hardened criminals. He just hoped that such a situation wouldn’t change the Captain. He truly had a heart of gold.