by Starsky Hutch 76, Gamma Xmen and Drivtaan
“Are you all right?” the Huntress asked Red Robin as they rode through the streets of Gotham City, sharing their usual nightly patrol.
“What do you mean?” he asked.
“What do I mean?” she said, aghast. “The Spectre turned you into a kid!”
“I’ve experienced stranger things in my time,” he said with a shrug. “He wanted to put me in my place — it backfired on him. I’ve fought for years to win the respect of those men back there. The Spectre, on the other hand, lost it a long time ago when he set himself apart from us mere mortals. They don’t fully trust him anymore. Stunts like that certainly don’t help his case any.” He looked away from the road toward her, giving a half-smile. “I’m fine, really. I’m more concerned about Jason. I’m sure you’ve got a lot on your mind, too.”
“You mean between trying to get my place ready for a visit from Social Services so they can decide whether or not I’ll be a fit parent for Sonia while trying to help the JSA nab some nightmare demon?” the Huntress asked. “Yeah, I’m a little on edge.”
“I thought so,” said Red Robin as he tapped the keyboard of the Red Racer‘s computer console. “Well, this should give you something else to think about.” A long list of addresses came onscreen. “Take a look at that — all of Bruce’s old safe houses. Looks like we’ve got our work cut out for us.”
“Wow,” the Huntress said, whistling. “With Dad paying rent on all those places, it’s amazing there was anything left for either the Wayne Foundation or you and I to inherit.”
“Yeah,” Red Robin said with a wry grin. “Thank God for rent control.”
Back at the JSA Brownstone, the Spectre and Doctor Fate floated in midair, their legs crossed and the Sandman’s body between them. Both of them called upon their individual sources of power as they focused on Wesley Dodds’ slumbering body.
“Concentrate, Fate,” the Spectre growled. “We must concentrate. We must not fail! Innocent children depend on us entering the dreamscape.” Fate didn’t answer, instead concentrating on chanting his spells.
Suddenly, the Sandman’s eyes snapped open, and the supernatural JSAers transformed into mist, thereafter entering Dodds’ eyes.
Both the Spectre and Fate found themselves in a place of endless darkness. “I sense… much evil here, Spectre.” Fate looked around warily.
“Indeed, Fate. I sense that it is… beyond redemption,” he replied.
Suddenly a voice boomed, nearly throwing both the grim ghost and the sorcerer off-guard. “So! You would dare enter this realm which is mine for all eternity! For that penalty you shall pay — with your lives!” At that, shadow creatures emerged from the darkness with the intent of attacking the JSAers.
Both the Spectre and Doctor Fate fought with all their might, but for every hideous creature they blasted, a hundred more seemed to take its place. They became overwhelmed by the sheer numbers and knew that this could be their deaths.
An explosion of shadows scattered the creatures.
The two turned to see the Shade standing there. “It would seem that I have arrived in time, gentlemen. Consider yourself fortunate that the shadowlands and realm of dreams are linked, so that I was able to cross without too much difficulty from one realm to another.”
“Here to investigate the events that have occurred, I gather?” Fate asked.
With a nod, the Shade replied, “Indeed. I had intended to visit Morpheus’ realm to see what had been going on, but suddenly I found myself here in this place of eternal shadows.”
“We have come as well to this place,” the Spectre replied, “with the same intention.”
A frightening thought suddenly struck Doctor Fate. “If we were each going to Morpheus’ realm, but we ended up in this realm, instead…”
The Shade’s eyes widened. “Then this place must be–”
“Morpheus’ realm — the Dreaming,” the Spectre finished, his skull pupils becoming clearer. “The Boogeyman has thus somehow bested Morpheus and conquered the realm of dreams.”
They all fell silent.
“Why can’t we stay here?” Damage asked.
“Because,” Batwing told him, “if I know Red Robin, he’s probably already begun checking Batman’s old safe houses trying to find out where we’ve disappeared to.”
“But what makes you so sure?”
Batwing rolled his eyes, the answer almost too obvious to state. “Because he was trained by the best.”
Damage thought about his friend’s answer for a few seconds. “OK, I understand.”
“Where do we go from here?” Whiz Kid asked.
Batwing let his shoulders droop. “I’m not sure. It’s not easy trying to outguess a man who was trained by Batman to look at things logically. Wherever I think might be good, I’m sure he’s already thought about looking there.”
Superboy spoke up. “It’s pretty much going to be the same problem wherever we decide to go. I’m guessing that if Red Robin doesn’t find us at one of the safe houses, he’s going to have the other JSAers start checking the rest of our haunts.”
“True,” Batwing agreed.
“I know a place.”
Everyone turned to see Ralphie Tyler standing in the kitchen doorway, eating a peanut butter sandwich.
It had not taken long for those who had been directly involved in Ralph’s abduction to realize that he was more observant than given credit for. His mind seemed to bypass the variants and just see the solution.
“Where, Ralph?” Batwing asked. “Where can we go?”
“Dad never goes to his old lab anymore. Since they built the new building, he spends all of his time there. He used to take me to the old lab when I was little — I miss the old lab. Can I have some milk?”
Before anyone could blink, Whiz Kid stood beside Ralph with a glass of chocolate milk. “How’s this?” Unfazed, Ralph took the glass of milk and thanked his friend.
“What are we waiting for?” Batwing asked. “Let’s go.”
“Can I bring my milk?” Ralph asked.
“You sure can,” Coral told him as she took him by the arm and led him to the door.
As everyone began to file out, Batwing put his hand on Whiz Kid’s shoulder. “John, I want you to make a sweep through the apartment and make sure we leave no traces behind.”
“Not a problem.”
“Oh, and one more thing,” Batwing said as he reached into one of his belt pouches, “make sure this is back the way you found it.”
John Garrick grinned as he looked down and saw that his friend had handed him the remains of the security system.
As Doctor Fate, the Spectre, and the Shade continued to walk through the transformed Dreaming, they came upon what looked like a small brick house.
“I believe, gentlemen,” said the Shade, “that this is what would be known as a clue.” He walked up to the doorstep, followed by the two heroes. “I believe the polite thing to do would be to call upon whoever is inside, since we are already in the neighborhood.”
He tapped the doorbell with the end of his cane and rang the bell. There was no answer. Raising his knuckles, he was about to tap on the door when it creaked open. “Hello? Is there anybody in there?” he asked. He stepped inside, followed by Doctor Fate and the Spectre.
The interior of the house looked like any suburban home from the late 1920s. “We entered the Dreaming through the Sandman,” the Spectre said as they looked around the house. “Could this be his childhood home?”
The Shade laughed. “You truly are out of touch with your teammates. Wesley Dodds has always been quite wealthy. I seriously doubt he grew up in a home like this.”
They walked up the steps and into one of the bedrooms. In the four-post single bed, a small blond boy slept. Over him stood the pink form of Johnny Thunder’s Thunderbolt — he held a finger up to his lips, motioning the newcomers to remain quiet.
“Cei-U, what’s the meaning of this?” the Spectre demanded.
“Isn’t it obvious?” Doctor Fate said. “Johnny Thunder has somehow been transformed into a child. Through him, the Boogeyman now controls the Thunderbolt — that’s how he had the power to take over the Dreaming!”
“Cei-U,” said the young Johnny, who had awoken from his slumber, “think you could be a sport and take care of these three?”
The Thunderbolt suddenly wore a baseball uniform and held a large bat. “Yerrr-rrr outta here!” the Thunderbolt said, racing for them with the large bat. With one swing, the three intruders were knocked out of the Dreaming and landed, with a thud, in the realm of Limbo.
“Well,” the Shade sniffed as he stood to his feet and dusted himself off. “I’ll say one thing — his abilities as a host leave something to be desired. What now? We wait for your comrades-in-arms in the JSA to rescue us?”
“No,” said Doctor Fate, waving his hands to create a portal. “We contact someone who has a vested interest in the Thunderbolt’s servitude to that monster.”
“And who might that be?” the Shade asked.
“His son. Formerly known as Shocko, he is now bonded to a Native American young man by the name of William Twotrees and is known as the heroic Will Power.” (*) The three stepped through the portal and found themselves at the entrance to an Indian reservation in the Southwestern United States.
[(*) Editor’s note: See Johnny Thunder: Hectic Honeymoon.]
The Thunderbolt was upset. He did not really want to have done what he did to his master’s friends.
“You have done well, Cei-U,” the Boogeyman said, appearing from the shadows, “but we must make certain they do not leave this dreamscape alive.” He walked over to the young Johnny Thunder and caressed a claw on his cheek. “If you wish to protect this little fool, you will obey my every command. And as long as I have tapped into the bond you two share, you shall do my every bidding. Now, go — seek the intruders out and kill them!”
The Thunderbolt’s otherwise-emotionless eyes widened slightly, then he made a bow before the Boogeyman. “Your wish is my command, master.” With that, the Thunderbolt vanished in a flash of pink lightning.
The Boogeyman laughed cruelly as he walked into another room. “I must say that your comrades-in-arms are fools. They sought to converse with Morpheus, but all they did was inadvertently allow me the chance to capture the one mortal whose dreams must hold the key to my defeat.”
He looked first at the tube holding Morpheus — he looked comatose. Then the Boogeyman’s eyes drifted to the second tube, which held Wesley Dodds, the Sandman, also comatose.
The Boogeyman threw his head back and laughed within the eternal darkness.
When Doctor Fate, the Spectre, and the Shade found William Twotrees, he was chopping firewood into kindling outside his cabin. The days were warm in that part of the country, but the nights could be chilly. He eyed the three strangely dressed men as they came toward him. “I assume this is about my father,” he said.
“The one called Johnny Thunder and his mystical servant are in trouble,” stated the Spectre.
“Ah,” replied William Twotrees. His Native American heritage made the idea of servitude reprehensible to him. When the white man had tried to enslave his ancestors as they had the black man, they had wasted away and died. Their free spirits could not thrive in captivity. If he was actually Shocko rather than the Native American child he had bonded with, then he felt it was fortunate that he had been spared the genie’s fate.
“An evil being has captured Johnny Thunder,” the Shade explained. “Now the Thunderbolt is under his control.”
“This is very bad,” said William Twotrees. “I’ve seen what my father can do. How can I help?”
“You’re a being like him, are you not?” the Spectre said. “We could use you on our side.”
“I was a being like him, or so I have been told,” William Twotrees explained. “Now I’m mortal… but I still have some power.” With a flash, he transformed into what looked like a humanoid form made out of pure electricity. “I’ll help you however I can to free him.”
Just then, a lightning bolt landed in front of the three men, creating a small burning crater. “Why?” a despondent voice said. “Why did you have to come here of all places and put my boy in danger?”
The heroes looked up to see the Thunderbolt, who had come after them in pursuit as ordered by the Boogeyman. A look of sorrow was etched across his face.
“Father,” William said, moving to face the Thunderbolt, “why do you follow this evil creature’s bidding? Surely you are still sworn to follow Johnny Thunder’s wishes.”
A look of anguish came upon the Thunderbolt’s face, and the being screamed, charging at the three heroes.
The Spectre stepped forward, growing to gigantic size. “Hold, Thunderbolt — you must break free of the Boogeyman’s control! You must not allow him to cross over to the mortal world. Johnny Thunder would not wish that. Break free!”
The Thunderbolt’s only reply was to match the Spectre’s enlarged size and grab him by the throat, effectively electrocuting him.
The Spectre screamed in agony, as even he — an undead grim ghost — was subject to the unleashing of such great power. “Fate!” he rasped. “Shade! Take William Twotrees to the Boogeyman. His power may be the key to freeing Thunder and regaining his control over the Thunderbolt. I will hold him at bay, but I cannot do so for long. Go!”
With that, the Shade engulfed himself, Doctor Fate, and William Twotrees in darkness, and that soon disappeared until only the Spectre and the Thunderbolt were left.
“Now, Thunderbolt,” the Spectre said, grabbing the pink genie’s arms, “as much as I once regarded you as a comrade-in-arms, I cannot allow you to do the evil creature’s bidding and cause untold damage to innocent mortals! Until we break you free of his control, you must be stopped and defeated… here and now!”
As the battle raged on, power began crackling between both opponents. The Spectre was still struggling with the Thunderbolt, when one of the lightning bolts that sparked off from both opponents inadvertently hit a nearby populated area, scattering people as the two giants fought on.
The Spectre saw this and said determinedly, “No innocent mortal must suffer from our combat. Cease, Thunderbolt, before our battle causes mortals to die!”
Cei-U seemed to struggle within himself just as he struggled with the Spectre, but he gave no indication that he would stop, or that he even heard the Spectre’s warning.
“So be it!” The Spectre pushed back the Thunderbolt. “It is decided — if we must battle each other, we will do it elsewhere!” In a flash of light, the Spectre teleported them both to Limbo, where the murdered dead resided. “And now, Thunderbolt, do you agree to surrender, or must I call upon all my power to stop you?”
The Thunderbolt’s only answer was a charge at the Spectre.
“Very well, then!” The Spectre grasped the Thunderbolt’s hands. “It is only fitting that you must face the full wrath of the Spectre, for I am an undead spirit murdered by gangsters thrice and called to deliver harsh judgment to murderers, and to avenge other spirits who were murdered before their time!”
Throughout Limbo, the power of both combatants crackled with increasing degrees as the wrathful ghost of Jim Corrigan continued to battle the servant of Johnny Thunder.