by Goose Gansler
It was Sunday morning, and the Kent family was gathered around the kitchen table as usual. They had already attended an early church service and were sitting down for their traditional family brunch. That is, everyone but Clark Kent was sitting. This week, he was in charge of frying up the eggs in bacon grease.
The family had been enraptured by C.J.’s tale of his battle as Superboy against R-Ban, the claimed son of the Clark’s old foe, U-Ban. (*) “Ceej left naughty boy on the planet,” two-year-old Mary Kent proclaimed through a layer of cornbread crumbs on her mouth.
[(*) Editor’s note: See Superboy: The Wisdom of Youth.]
“Yep, he was a naughty boy,” C.J. Kent said, smiling. He had not been looking forward to going to school on Monday. Because of R-Ban, everyone had blamed C.J. for the injury to Smallville star quarterback Pete Ross and the subsequent loss to county rival Midvale. However, he had devised a plan to reclaim his good name at Smallville High. A quick trip to Keystone City was all that was needed.
“But he’s not on the planet anymore,” Clark said from his spot hovering over the stove. His gaze had been focused with super-vision on that far-off world. Now the eggs were in danger of being singed.
“What’re you saying, Pa?” C.J. asked. “It’s a red sun world. No Kryptonian from this universe could have gotten off that world. I know you guys would still be somewhat suped-up, but he couldn’t have jumped out of that star system.”
“A spaceship would be the most reasonable explanation,” Alex said with a wry smile. The boy, who to the world was Lois’ orphaned nephew Alexander Lane, was taking a break from his responsibilities as the Monitor of this universe. Aunt Lois had convinced him to join them at church for the past few weeks, and there wasn’t much she couldn’t convince him to do when she put her mind to it.
“That makes sense.” Clark scooped up the eggs from the griddle and onto a waiting serving plate. “His father U-Ban, or his uncles Mala or Kizo, could have been watching the entire time from wherever this Krypton-Beta they established is. They could’ve sent a ship to rescue him.”
“Darn,” C.J. sighed. “I should’ve locked him up or something there.”
“If R-Ban’s elders have interstellar spacecraft, then they presumably would have the weaponry to deal with any type of makeshift prison that you may have fashioned on that uninhabited planet.”
“Don’t worry about it.” Lois Lane Kent tousled C.J.’s hair. “The important thing is that you’re OK, and that you got the best of him.” Sometimes she worried that C.J. tried too hard. He was a lot like his adoptive father in that regard.
“Ma’s right,” Clark agreed. He put down the plate of eggs next to the one piled with bacon. “Now he knows, and U-Ban as well, that you’re no pushover. Plus, they now realize that there’s three of us — you, Cousin Kara and me — here on Earth. I haven’t seen them for over thirty years. I don’t think there’ll be a follow-up anytime soon.” Clark sat down and looked grim. “Still, I’m concerned about this Krypton-Beta that the Triumvirate rules. Knowing the brothers’ megalomania, I can’t imagine that they’re reigning over a lifeless planet. And that poor Thoronian woman that U-Ban took to be R-Ban’s mother. Maybe I ought to check in with my old friend Halk Kar on Thoron. Maybe he knows something about it, maybe others were taken as well.”
“Now wait just a minute there, Mr. Kent,” Lois said firmly. “Don’t you be thinking about starting some intergalactic wild goose chase for U-Ban and his brothers. You don’t even have a clue where this Krypton-Beta might be.”
Clark had to nod his head. “That’s true. The universe is a big place. Even I’ve only explored a small fraction.”
Alex, for his part, wondered if there was any information in Uncle Clark’s memory that wasn’t already in the Monitor’s files. It was a possibility, since the original Monitor had focused so much of his attention on the Earths of the Multiverse. That could be a discussion for another day.
“C’mon everybody, eat up,” Clark exhorted. “Don’t tell me my eggs are no good today. My super-senses tell me they’re just the way my Ma made them.”
C.J. was eating up his brunch ravenously. “Pretty good, Pa. Now can we go out on patrol?”
Clark shook his head. “Don’t you have an American literature and a chemistry quiz tomorrow?”
“Aw, c’mon, Pa,” C.J. sighed in disagreement. “What good are those?”
“Well, I may not be the detective that some of my JSA colleagues are,” Clark replied in turn, “but I can tell you that having a well-rounded education is worthwhile to the crime-fighting life. Knowing chemistry can help defuse a super-villain’s weapon, and knowing literature can help decipher a madman’s clues.” Clark put on his most genial smile. “Furthermore, my Pa made me finish high school and go to college, even though every hour I spent in class and study was one less hour to spend working on the farm. And let me tell you, the Great Depression was no picnic when you’re trying to eke out a life on a farm.”
C.J. folded his hands and admitted defeat. “OK, OK. I get it. Just don’t get to the point of how you had to plow uphill both ways through the snow.”
“Is you use your heat-vision, Daddy?” Mary spoke up, her words slurred by all of the food stuffed into her mouth. “Heat-vision makes snow go bye-bye.”
“Your daddy was telling a joke, Mary,” Alex reached over and gave her a little tickle.
“Oh, OK,” Mary said, smiling. “Ha-ha-ha!” Then a confused look came over her face. “Why was it funny, Daddy?”
After the boys had helped clear the table and wash the dishes, Clark put down the Smallville Gazette’s sports page and headed from the kitchen to the living room. Lois was there holding Mary on her lap. She was trying to teach their daughter how to play cat’s cradle. Mary was a little frustrated trying to learn it at normal speed.
“Well, I’m off,” Clark announced. “I think I’m going to head east today. Maybe extend the patrol as far as St. Louis.”
“Be careful,” Lois said coyly.
Clark feigned indignation. “Be careful?! I’m Superman. What could hurt me?”
Lois extricated her fingers from the yarn and gave it back to Mary. “Hmm, let me see.” She started counting on her fingers. “There’s kryptonite, magic, another Kryptonian, a sharply worded newspaper column…”
“Point taken.” Clark gave Lois and Mary each a kiss. “Just don’t tell the bad guys I’m so vulnerable.”
Moments later, the barrel-chested Man of Tomorrow cut a familiar figure through the Smallville sky. He flew at a leisurely pace so any onlookers could clearly tell that it was the Man and not the Boy of Steel. The local talk was full of how both heroes had seemed to set up shop here after the time of the red skies, but so far the City Council had resisted efforts to add to the Welcome to Smallville signs anything about it being the official home of those two heroes.
Superman’s flight path took him over countless acres of farmland, areas that were very similar to his own property. Even after having spent all of those decades in Metropolis, he was still a small-town farm kid at heart. “Granted, one that can bend the course of mighty rivers. Speaking of which…” Superman was now over the Kaw River, which wound a long path from Junction City to Kansas City.
His super-vision picked up the expected river traffic, fishers, swimmers, and wildlife. What did garner his attention was some smoke coming from a bend about five miles from his current position. The smoke was black, not something someone would associate with a campfire. It was also coming up only periodically, not in a steady stream. But what was most remarkable was that the smoke puffs had a definite shape. They were in the form of a bat.
Leaning slightly, Superman adjusted his course and headed toward the bend. With his super-vision, he could see two shawl-covered figures huddling over the fire. They were using a specially cut blanket to create the shape and adding something to the flames to produce the color.
Superman came to a landing about thirty yards behind the pair. “Hello,” he called out. “Looks like you’re sending up some kind of bat-signal.”
“Indeed we are,” said the larger of the two men, who stood up, pulling his shawl, which was covered by Sioux patterns, close to him. His dark hair was matched in color by the bat-shaped mask he wore. His associate was draped in a similar shawl, but his head, except for his hair, was covered by a green cowl.
“If you’re trying to contact Batman, I’m afraid that my friend passed away a few years ago,” Superman noted.
“We know that he has reached the Happy Hunting Grounds,” the larger man answered. “He is there with the intended recipient of our message. Your presence here would appear to be my father’s answer.” He let the shawl fall from his body, revealing a gray bodysuit accented by blue boots, trunks, and gloves, as well as a scalloped yellow cape. Emblazoned on his chest was a bat symbol fronted by a red circle with a yellow B inside. “I am the second Chief Man-of-the-Bats, and this…” He pointed to the younger man, outfitted in a yellow, green, and red costume almost identical to the one the Robin had worn when the ex-Boy Wonder became a full-time member of the Justice Society. “He is my son, the new Raven.”
Superman recalled the tale that Batman had told him of these Native American homage heroes. Apparently, the mantle of the Bat had continued in the Plains as well.
“There is bad magic about,” Raven explained. “And we were praying for a sign from Grandfather for help.”
“He has led you this way.” Chief Man-of-the-Bats took up the yellow shield with a bat symbol in the center that had been resting at his feet. “Our entreaty has been answered.”
“Well, I suppose.” Superman rubbed his head sheepishly. He had never been a big fan of magic, but after years of experience with Doctor Fate, the Spectre, and the accursed Spear of Destiny, he knew better than to discount it. Still, he had felt no compulsion about coming this way today. Was it coincidence, or was it something else? “Anyways, I’ll be glad to help. What’s the problem you’re facing?”
Raven slid his bow over his shoulder and strapped a quiver to his leg. “There is a group who take after a longtime foe of Chief Man-of-the-Bats. We think they plan a ghost dance in order to bring him back.”
“They are called,” Chief Man-of-the-Bats said grimly, “the Black Elk Lodge.”
After that revelation, Superman joined Chief Man-of-the-Bats and Raven as they walked back to their headquarters. Their Batcave was a massive cavern about two miles from where the duo had been sending up their smoke signal. As they walked, Superman noticed with his super-vision that there was an Indian reservation not too far off.
“I’m assuming that the members of this Black Elk Lodge live on the reservation?” Superman asked.
“Yes, Chief Man-of-the-Bats replied. “That is the Kaw River Sioux Reservation. Black Elk, when he was among the living, plagued the reservation for many moons. My father, the original Chief Man-of-the-Bats, stopped him at every turn. (*) Eventually, Black Elk’s schemes led to his own death. But that has not stopped others from following his dark path. They formed the lodge to honor his infamy and continue his… work.”
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Batman, Indian Chief,” Batman #86 (September, 1954).]
“Are you members of this tribe as well?” Superman wondered.
“That would be a reasonable assumption,” Chief Man-of-the-Bats answered noncommittally. “But our secret identities are very precious to us.”
“Of course,” Superman with a nod and continued to walk. “By the looks of your costumes, it would seem that you’re a big fan of Robin’s fashion sense.”
“He is a good friend, and we have received his blessings to wear costumes based on what he wore,” Chief Man-of-the-Bats explained. “When my father died, I did not want to be chief, but meditation revealed to me that there must be a Chief Man-of-the-Bats. However, I am not my father. I could not aspire to be the chief he was. So I donned this costume, one that paid tribute to him but shows that I am not him, but the original Little Raven.”
“When Grandfather died,” Raven suddenly added, and Father would not be chief, I set out to make my own mark. I became the Flying Fox. (*) But when Father accepted his responsibility, I put the Flying Fox garb aside. Chief Man-of-the-Bats needs a Raven at his side.” He smiled. “But I’m a little too old to run around barelegged in green shorts. Hence, this later costume of Robin’s.”
[(*) Editor’s note: See Law’s Legionnaires: Syonide Returns.]
They finally reached the cavern entrance. Raven reached out and pulled down a seemingly innocuous vine hanging along the outside of the cave. Superman traced it with his x-ray vision and saw an elaborate mechanism that unsealed a previously unseen opening in the cave. The three heroes headed inside.
Once they were past the secret door, the cave opened up into a wide space. It was very reminiscent of the Batcave with which he was well-acquainted. There were trophies such as a gigantic stuffed bison and a huge Indian-head penny. There wasn’t much in terms of machinery, but the place was electrically lit. He could hear the faint hum of a generator with his super-hearing. There were stacks of books and oversized local maps along the walls.
“Impressive operation you have here,” Superman noted.
“It can’t compare to the real Batcave, I’m sure,” Raven replied as he handed over to the Man of Steel some notes on the Black Elk Lodge.
“It’s enough for the job we have to do,” Chief Man-of-the-Bats added. “And right now, our job is to squash this lodge.”
Superman rifled through the notes and got up to speed on what Chief Man-of-the-Bats and Raven had discovered and deduced about the lodge. “Do they really think that they can raise Black Elk with a ghost dance?”
“They may be maniacal,” Chief Man-of-the-Bats said dryly, “but their magic is strong. Otherwise, we would have put an end to them by now.”
Raven smacked one green-gloved hand into the other. “They’ve got the entire reservation cowed. But with your help, we’ll find where their lodge house is and put an end to this ghost dance.”
“Well, if their magic is genuinely real,” Superman said, biting his lip, “I may not be as much help as you might think. Magic and I don’t go well together.”
Chief Man-of-the-Bats slapped Superman on the shoulder. “It will be our spirit that will carry the day for us. We are all men, after all, but a strong spirit can defeat any evil.”
“When you put it that way,” Superman smiled. “I guess I have nothing to fear.”