by Goose Gansler
Before heading out, Superman made a quick call back to Smallville on the family’s untraceable number. He let Lois know that he wouldn’t be home for supper. The patrol of the Kaw River Sioux Reservation wouldn’t start in earnest until nightfall. Once darkness descended, the Indian avengers — Chief Man-of-the-Bats and Raven — would be able to move more freely in search of the Black Elk Lodge.
When night did fall, Chief Man-of-the-Bats and Raven stalked the housetops of the homes on the reservation while Superman surveyed from above. The Man of Steel was looking for any suspicious activities, while the Indian dynamic duo was looking for some suspicious characters.
After an hour of reconnaissance while sitting perched on a rooftop, Chief Man-of-the-Bats pointed out to Raven a man walking quickly through the streets. “See him? That’s Tommy Flying Horse. What’s he in such a hurry for?”
Raven nodded. “And why is he carrying that wood? His house is in the other direction.”
Chief Man-of-the-Bats pulled out a pair of mini-binoculars from his utility belt and peered at Tommy’s nervous form. “That looks like a chopped-up saca tree. That’s no good for heating a house, but is good for…”
“A ceremonial fire for a ghost dance,” Raven continued. “We’ll have to follow him.”
Chief Man-of-the-Bats nodded and replaced the binoculars. He now took out a flashlight, with which he signaled Superman above. The Morse code message let the Man of Tomorrow know that there was a source to be followed. Chief Man-of-the-Bats indicated the quarry by directing the beam momentarily at Tommy Flying Horse.
Oblivious to the pursuit behind him, Tommy reached an old dilapidated house on the northernmost branch of the riverbank. He knocked on the door, and it swung open. He stepped inside, and the door was quickly closed behind him.
Not too far away, Superman dropped softly from the sky next to the hidden Chief Man-of-the-Bats and Raven. The house before them looked as if it had been built in the early days of the reservation. Its architecture, at least what was left of it, was definitely before the turn of the century.
“I was expecting something a little more impressive,” Superman noted.
“Looks can be deceiving, especially when dark magic is involved,” Chief Man-of-the-Bats replied. “As I’m sure you must know.”
“Speaking of looks, how about I take an x-ray one?” He focused in on the home, but he couldn’t get past the outer wall. Everything appeared to be a phantasmagoric blur when he tried to peer inside. “That’s rather peculiar.”
“Let me guess,” Raven said. “No luck getting inside?” He pointed to the dirt around the house. There was a white circle that wrapped all the way around it. “A magic circle.”
“Of course,” Chief Man-of-the-Bats noted proudly at his son’s observation. He played his flashlight quickly over the line. “See how all the footprints do not intersect it. Everyone was very careful not to break the circle. Hard to say how many, though.” He turned off the flashlight. “I’d guess at least fifteen people have gone inside recently.”
“So probably all the members are there,” Raven said. “They’ll probably start soon.”
At that moment, the air was filled with a low rumble. There were vibrations coming from the house, and dark, sinister smoke began floating up from the chimney.
“They’ve started the ghost dance. We have to go in now,” Chief Man-of-the-Bats said determinedly.
The trio of heroes moved quickly, with Superman in the lead. Superman felt something like a small electric shock as he stepped over the magic circle’s edge. He tried the door, but it was locked. He exerted a slight amount of superhuman force, but the doorknob would not turn. “Magic,” he sighed.
“Let me try,” Chief Man-of-the-Bats said. He turned back to Raven. “Break the circle. Perhaps some good spirits will be able to come to our aid.”
Chief Man-of-the-Bats took hold of the doorknob and twisted, but to no avail. “It’s enchanted, but I can deal with this parlor trick.” He pulled out a tube from his utility belt and poured it on the lock. “Pure water from the Kaw. It can wash away minor magic.” It did. When he turned the knob, the door opened.
Raven now rejoined them, having messed up a sizeable portion of the circle’s circumference. “The air smells better already,” he said, smiling.
Superman couldn’t feel the electric tingle from the circle anymore, but there was a sense of evil coming from inside that didn’t take a Doctor Fate to notice. “OK, let’s go in.”
Chief Man-of-the-Bats opened the door fully to see the sinister scene inside. There were a dozen men in loincloths covered with ghastly painted design on their skin. They all surrounded the makeshift campfire that was where the original coal stove must have been. The smoke from the fire went up what was left of the stove’s piping up to the chimney.
There were three men standing on the opposite side of the room from the front door. They were similarly dressed and painted, but their heads were covered by masks made from horned elk heads.
The middle elk-masked man pointed at the entering heroes. “You’re too late, Chief Man-of-the-Bats. This Ghost Dance began long ago. We only had to add the last of the saca wood to the fire. Behold, he who will be the savior of the Sioux is reborn!”
A spectral shape began forming in the fire and the smoke. Slowly, it congealed into human form, although its naked skin was darker than obsidian. Antlers could be seen coming from the side of his head. As he turned, one could see that they were not a part of some headdress — they were a part of him. His eyes opened, and they burned with a hellish red light.
“Is that…?” Superman asked, although he knew what the answer would be.
“It is Black Elk.” Chief Man-of-the-Bats gripped his shield tightly as Raven fitted an arrow to his bow.
The ghost dancers of the Black Elk Lodge looked up from their frenetic dancing to see that they had been successful. The spirit of Black Elk was in their midst. The dilapidated house was filled with whooping and yelling in celebration. The three heroes — Superman, Chief Man-of-the-Bats, and Raven — were grimly silent.
The lodge members now arranged themselves in front of the fire, positioning themselves between Black Elk and the heroes. The three elk-masked members came and stood beside Black Elk and the flames.
“Ah, the real world,” Black Elk hissed. His voice sounded otherworldly. “I have missed it.” His eyes focused on Chief Man-of-the-Bats and Raven. “And my first sight is this?” he exclaimed with disdain. “My nemeses are here?”
“They came too late, O Great One,” answered the leader of the lodge. “We of the Black Elk Lodge had already pierced the veil and brought you back from the Happy Hunting Grounds.”
“Where I was,” Black Elk snickered, “was anything but happy.”
“Return to your punishment,” Chief Man-of-the-Bats declared firmly. “This world is no longer for you.”
A wry smile formed on Black Elk’s face. “So the brave has finally become Chief, eh, Little Raven? Your words are strong, but is your spirit?”
“You’ll find our spirits are strong enough,” Raven said. He took close aim, intent on driving an arrow through Black Elk’s heart.
“Ho,” Black Elk laughed fiendishly. “And who is this pup who has become a raven? Yet another son of Great Eagle? Yes, I now know what I thought to be true all those years. Secrets of this world are laid bare in the next.” His attention now turned to Superman. “And we have a guest — the Man of Steel.”
“I may not fully understand what’s going on here,” Superman replied, “but I know that your presence here is an abomination.”
“Such harsh words of greeting,” Black Elk mocked. “I have come in answer to the entreaty of these brave Sioux. I come to establish justice for the Sioux nation, to take back what was ours. And you call me an abomination.”
“That day is past.” Chief Man-of-the-Bats flipped his cape back. “Your days are past.” He pulled out a feathered war-stick and let out a yell.
At the sound, Raven let his arrow fly. His aim was true, but the result was ineffective. The missile passed through Black Elk’s ectoplasmic form.
Superman stomped forward toward the ghost dancers, bracing himself for what he presumed to be a painful magical encounter.
Black Elk looked down to where the arrow had pierced his chest. The ectoplasm that comprised his body had, in fact, been torn by the arrow, but it quickly re-formed. “Your eye is sharp, little Raven,” he mocked. “Your arrow — not enough.” He raised his hands. “Forward, my lodge. Destroy those who stand against us, who stand against the true destiny of the Sioux!”
“You’re insane,” Superman said as he stepped toward Black Elk. “You’re going back to whatever nether realm that death held for you.” The determination in his eyes gave pause to the dancers who stood between him and Black Elk. He clapped his hands, and the resulting sound wave sent most of the dancers tumbling. “My code is not to kill. You’re already dead. Don’t expect any quarter!”
“None is expected — none will be given, alien,” Black Elk said snidely. “You, who pretend to be a white man, but are more different from them than we, the rightful rulers of this land!”
Superman stepped past the downed dancers. “We don’t have rulers. Everybody rules this country. It’s a democracy.”
Chief Man-of-the-Bats and Raven quickly followed behind Superman as the dancers were beginning to stir. They took up a defensive position behind the Man of Steel. “While you confront Black Elk, we will make sure the ghost dancers do not interfere,” Chief Man-of-the-Bats proclaimed. He swatted with his war-stick at a dancer who was trying to rise to his feet. Chief Man-of-the-Bat’s shield then put the dancer down on the floor again.
Superman scanned Black Elk with his super-vision. He couldn’t make sense out of what the ectoplasm that composed the fiend’s body. There wasn’t anything beneath the ectoplasmic skin. Black Elk’s body was pure ectoplasm.
After winding up, Superman delivered a devastating right cross that sent Black Elk flying across the room. The villain smashed into a wall and melted into a phosphorescent green puddle on the floor. Superman looked at his fist in mild amusement. I wasn’t sure I’d even be able to touch him, much less finish him off so easily, he thought, then walked toward the remains. He was only partially surprised when the puddle began to bubble and re-form into Black Elk.
“A mighty blow,” Black Elk hissed with disdain, “but not enough to destroy me!”
Superman rubbed his knuckles. “There’s more where that came from.”
Meanwhile, Chief Man-of-the-Bats and Raven were engaged in an acrobatic battle with the ghost dancers. The duo was a flurry of motion as they put down their opponents with stick and bow. Raven, for his part, was careful not to hit anything vital when he let his arrows fly, not that he had much opportunity in the chaos of the battle to fit an arrow. More often than not, he was swatting at the dancers with his bow.
The ghost dancers were by no means amateurs when it came to fighting, but Chief Man-of-the-Bats and Raven were experts. As knives came flying at Chief Man-of-the-Bats, his shield deflected them all.
Superman began to grapple with Black Elk. The evil spirit seemed the Man of Steel’s match when it came to strength. The pair strained against each other like two sumo wrestlers, neither moving as tremendous force was being applied by each of them.
“I’ve only just been revived,” Black Elk mocked. “And already I can go toe-to-toe with you. Once I master this new form, I will be unstoppable.”
Superman gritted his teeth and increased his efforts. “There’s more to a battle than pure strength.” After Black Elk matched his efforts, the Man of Steel let up and moved to the side. Without his resistance, Black Elk stumbled forward. Superman quickly took advantage and put Black Elk into a full-nelson hold.
Black Elk strained against Superman. The fiend’s face began to run with ectoplasmic sweat. Then he realized that he did not need to break Superman’s hold in order to escape it. He chided himself for thinking in terms of his now-buried-and-rotted physical body. His new ectoplasmic form didn’t have the old physical limitations of the flesh. Accordingly, he let himself dissolve slightly and slid out of Superman’s grasp.
He re-formed out of Superman’s reach and laughed. “You’re right. It’s not about strength, it’s about power.” He extended his hands, and ectoplasmic energy erupted from them. The jagged bolts smashed against Superman and sent him reeling.
The stuff burns! Superman thought as he stumbled to regain his footing. Not pleasant at all. He filled his lungs deeply and buffeted Black Elk with a blast of super-breath. Ectoplasm tore away from Black Elk’s body, but once Superman’s gale ended, the bits re-formed with the evil spirit.
“Superman!” Chief Man-of-the-Bats called out amidst his won struggles. He was using his shield to pin one of the dancers against a wall. “I fear even you can’t overcome an evil with physical might.”
Raven leapfrogged over one dancer, which allowed him to kick two others with either foot. He then whirled around to clobber his unwitting assistant with his bow. “Evil can be washed away. Like we did outside.”
Superman understood the reference and smiled. It certainly was worth a try. He was only tiring himself in this battle, and Black Elk seemed no worse for wear. He launched himself forward and rocketed toward Black Elk at super-speed. Instead of striking the spirit, he simply grabbed Black Elk as he passed. He paid no mind to the wall that he smashed through with his unwilling passenger.
Black Elk tried striking out at Superman, but in a matter of seconds, the Man of Steel had already arrived at his destination — the banks of the Kaw River, more commonly known as the Kansas River. Superman unceremoniously dropped Black Elk into the rushing water. The spirit plunged through the water’s surface, creating a hideous cloud of vapor upon impact. Hovering over the river, Superman watched as Black Elk’s form struggled to the surface.
As Black Elk’s ectoplasmic body was being dissolved in the water of the river, his face was contorted in rage while he searched the sky for Superman. When he finally spotted the Man of Tomorrow, he unleashed a blast of supernatural energy. This time, Superman had plenty of time to avoid the assault.
Chief Man-of-the-Bats was right, Superman thought. Now to finish the job. Exerting his super-breath, he generated a massive wave in the river. The water rushed toward Black Elk, and the crest smashed into the spirit with thunderous impact. His ectoplasmic body was torn apart into millions of pieces, which quickly dissolved into the river.
Superman returned to the house to find Chief Man-of-the-Bats and Raven ensuring that the ghost dancers were firmly secure in rope bindings. The unholy fire had also been quenched.
“Black Elk?” Chief Man-of-the-Bats asked as he noted Superman’s return.
“The Kaw River destroyed him. Even my super-vision couldn’t find even the slightest trace of his body. I didn’t know ectoplasm was so water-soluble,” Superman replied with a smile.
Raven chuckled. “It wasn’t a scientific principle that did Black Elk in, it was a sacred principle. The Kaw is sacred to our tribe. Its purity will wash away any evil.”
Superman nodded. “I’ve seen enough in this world to not doubt it, even if I don’t understand it.” He looked around at the ghost dancers. “What will you do with them?”
“We’ll contact the reservation’s authorities,” Chief Man-of-the-Bats answered. “They may not have committed any crime in the white man’s eyes, but the tribe put a prohibition on the ghost dance a long time ago. They will face Sioux justice.”
With that, Superman took to the air. He waved to Chief Man-of-the-Bats and Raven. “It was a pleasure to work with you. I hope our paths cross again soon.”