by Drivtaan and Starsky Hutch 76
Kiku sat upon the floor, her arms around her legs and her chin resting on her knees. Every time she looked up at the comatose Ralphie Tyler, her tears began flowing anew. Coral had knelt down beside her, trying to console her.
Whiz Kid was a blur, zipping back and forth from one side of the lab to the other. As he ran, a low hum seemed to follow in his wake. Superboy was the only one who could understand the hum, which was his friend speaking.
“–we gotta tell somebody we gotta tell somebody we gotta tell somebody–”
As Arrowette went to stand beside Batwing, who for all the world looked as though he were standing guard, Star Sapphire went in search of Damage. She found him in an adjoining room, where he had a can raised to his lips.
There had been enough light from the lab that Damage had not bothered to flip the switch on in here.
“Hey, Grant, how are you…?” Star Sapphire began as she flipped on the lights. In shock at what she saw, she screamed, “What do you think you’re doing?”
“I… I just needed something to help me relax,” the boy stammered as he tried to hide the half-empty beer can behind his back, “especially after everything that’s happened.”
Noticing the slight slur in his speech, Star Sapphire put her hands on her hips. “Just how much ‘relaxation’ have you had?”
Grant thought for a second. “Three,” he replied as he held up four fingers.
“Next question — where did you get the beer?”
“Jashon got it,” he said, his words slurred.
Star Sapphire was not prepared for that answer. She spun around, angrier than she had ever been in her life, and smacked the light switch off, leaving Damage standing ashamed in the shadows.
The young man glanced up and saw the angry Star Sappire stalking toward him. As she drew nearer, she held up the empty cans she had found in the garbage.
“What were you thinking?” she demanded. “No, scratch that — you weren’t thinking.”
“What’s wrong?” Batwing asked her.
Star Sapphire’s outburst had drawn everyone’s attention, and they began gathering around the two. Even Kiku wiped away her tears and looked up at her new friends.
“How many of these have you had?” Sapphire asked.
“None,” Batwing responded, “why?”
The girl ignored the question. “What about the rest of you? Have any of you had any?” No one else had. She turned her attention back to Batwing.
“What is your problem?” he asked.
The look she gave Batwing was one of raw anger. “Right now, you are!” Before he could speak, she continued. “I knew they hadn’t had any,” she said as she motioned to her teammates, “just as I knew you hadn’t had any.”
Superboy put his hand on her shoulder. “Calm down and tell us what’s going on.”
“This… this idiot went out and got a case of beer.”
Everyone looked at Batwing. “What?” he asked, suddenly going on the defensive.
“We’re not old enough to have this,” Superboy said plainly.
“What’s the big deal?” Batwing asked. “Before I hooked up with Red Robin, I did this all the time.”
Star Sapphire pushed past Superboy and got nose-to-nose with Batwing. “Big deal? Big deal? Damage is drunk! That’s the big deal.”
Batwing fixed Star Sapphire with a stare that cut her off. “And what gives you the right to tell me what I can and can’t do around here?”
Star Sapphire quickly regained her composure. “I’ll tell you what gives you the right. Th–”
“Were you about to say ‘this’?” Batwing said darkly, holding up her Star Sapphire gem.
“You… you…” Star Sapphire sputtered, so shocked and angry she was at a loss for words.
“We don’t pick and choose which laws we want to obey,” Superboy said. “We’re here to uphold them.”
“Maybe you are,” Batwing said. “If I wanted to be a cop, I would’ve joined the Explorer Scouts instead. I got into this to protect the innocent.”
Whiz Kid stopped his super-speed pacing and said, “Cops protect the innocent.”
“Funny,” Batwing said with a snort. “I didn’t get that impression when they used to beat the crap out of me and my friends for kicks when we were living on the street.”
“You had bad experiences with bad cops,” Superboy said. “They broke the law, same as anybody. And their badges would’ve just gotten them into even bigger trouble if they’d been caught.”
“Yeah, right,” Batwing said. “You have your reasons for doing this, and I have mine. If that ever puts me on the wrong side of the law, then so be it.”
“Yeah, you did a real nice job of protecting the innocent with Grant,” Star Sapphire said.
“If you want me to talk to Grant, I will,” Batwing said, tossing her gem back to her as he stormed out of the room. “But don’t get in my face, cheerleader. I am not someone you want to mess with.” The door slammed behind him.
After an uncomfortable pause, Star Sapphire asked, “Did anyone ever see him grab my gem?”
“Heck, even I didn’t see it,” Whiz Kid said. “Man, I’m glad he’s on our side.”
“Me, too,” Superboy said. “But there are times when I think — if Red Robin hadn’t found him when he did, we’d probably be facing him as an enemy.”
Ralphie Tyler stood before yet another door in the endless hallway. For just the briefest of moments, he wondered what he would find on the other side. So far in his search, he had found himself both in dreams he would never want to leave, and in nightmares that would haunt him until his dying day. Through it all he remembered the babies, and that alone gave him the strength to carry on.
As he opened the door, Ralph’s eyes widened in surprise. Standing before him was a large, cartoon moose dressed in a costume almost identical to his.
“Hey, Ralph,” it said, “about time you got here.”
“Who… who are you?” Ralph asked.
“I’m Hourmoose,” the cartoon animal said, smiling. “We got word that you needed help and have been given permission to help you.”
“How did you know I needed help?”
The moose grinned. “Morpheus sent us a message.”
Ralph shrugged, not really sure who this Morpheus was. “I’m glad you’re gonna help me. I just wish we had some more helpers.”
Hourmoose laughed. “Ralph, it’s not just me — you’re getting help from the entire Superb Squad.”
As his teammates began to gather, Hourmoose introduced them to Ralph. The man recognized most of the costumes, although a couple were unfamiliar.
“Let’s see,” Hourmoose said. “This is Batom and Wildrat.” He pointed to the two shortest members of the group. “Over here we have Power Gorilla, Wonder Wombat, Superram, and Commander Seal. They’re our powerhouses.”
A large, winged shadow passed overhead, and Ralph turned in time to see another member of the Superb Squad land.
“Ralph, let me introduce Hawkmule.”
The winged mule raised his hawk-head mask and extended his hoof to the human. “Pleased to meet you.”
“We’ve got a couple more members — Harewave and Blue Beagle,” Hourmoose told Ralph, “but they’ve already started searching for the missing children.”
Almost as soon as he got the words out, a long-eared rabbit clad in a green jumpsuit, tights, and a yellow cape zipped through the door on a pair of roller skates. He gave Ralph a nod of greeting and turned to Hourmoose. “We found the kids,” he reported.
“Where’s Beagle?” Superram asked.
“He’s keeping an eye on things,” Harewave replied. “Ol’ Teg has one heck of a monster guarding them.”
Hawkmule asked, “What are our chances?”
“Whaddaya mean, Hawkmule?” Wildrat interrupted. “We’re da Superb Squad — our chances are always good.”
“Then what are we waiting for?” Ralph asked.
“He’s right,” Hourmoose said, grinning.
Hawkmule took to the air as Harewave led his companions out the door. Their cry of “Superb Squad away!” echoed up and down the hall.
Harewave led his Superb Squad pals and Ralph past several doors. Eventually, he began to drag the toe of the left skate behind him until he came to a stop in front of a rather large door. “Well, gang,” he said. “Here we are.”
Without hesitation, Ralph stepped forward and opened the door. The Superb Squad followed him into the awaiting nightmare.
The first thing they saw was Teggarimor’s jailer, a fifteen-foot-tall monster birthed in the most vile regions of the netherworld. The creature was covered with knobby, sickly, greenish-gray skin. A large, bony fin started in the center of its forehead and ran across its skull to the base — it was flanked on each side by two large, ram-like horns protruding from the sides of the creature’s head. Two fiery red eyes darted back and forth beneath a heavy brow. A couple of slits where the nose should have been were positioned just above a large gaping mouth with an overextended bottom jaw. Dagger-sharp tusks jutted from the corners and were covered in an acidic drool. Every few seconds a large black tongue sporting a bloodshot third eye in the tip would dart forth and look around. Completing the monstrosity was a large pair of raven’s wings growing from its back.
The heroes watched in horror as the creature turned its attention to the hundreds of crying children bound to the rock by ankle chains. As it leaned in, the air around its head suddenly exploded in a blinding light, and the sound of baying hounds echoed in its ears.
“Beagle bombs!” Wonder Wombat said triumphantly.
“Let’s give our buddy some help,” Hourmoose said. “Those who can fly, hit it high. The rest of us will work on knocking it off its feet.”
Hawkmule, Superram, Power Gorilla, Wonder Wombat, and Batom took to the air while their teammates began making their way toward the Blue Beagle. Seconds before the airborne heroes reached their foe, a second beagle bomb exploded in front of them. Glancing down, Superram spotted his friend frantically motioning for him and the others to land.
Both groups reached Beagle at the same moment.
“What was that for, B.B.?” Power Gorilla asked.
“Am I ever glad to see you guys,” Blue Beagle said. He glanced at Ralph. “So you’re the one Morpheus wants us to help. It’s nice to meet a hero from the waking world.”
“Oh, I’m not a hero,” Ralph said. “I just like to play pretend ’cause I’m not smart enough to do anything else.”
Commander Seal reached up and put a mesh-covered flipper on Ralph’s arm. “Now hold on there just a squid-loving minute, Ralph.” He honked. “It doesn’t matter what you wear, or what you do, on the outside — or what you think up here.” He touched Ralph’s forehead for emphasis, honking again. “In here–” He moved his flipper over Ralph’s heart. “–where your courage grows, and your conscience guides you, is what makes you a hero.” He honked once more.
“Yeah, pal,” Wildrat added. “The fact that you’re standing here ready to face that monster to save those kids proves that you’re one of the best.”
Power Gorilla began to get impatient. “Can we please go pound big ugly now?”
Blue Beagle put his paw on her shoulder. “You need to watch out for its breath.”
“So it’s got bad breath — big deal.”
“No, I’m serious, P.G. It breathes a cloud of acidic gas.”
“Is there anything else we should know?” Hourmoose asked.
“That just about does it,” Beagle replied. “It does seem to become easily confused, so if you can keep it off-balance, we should be able to make short work of the monster.”
“All right, Superb Squad,” Wildrat said with a grim smile, “this one’s for the kiddies.”
Sometime later, the group of heroes faced their enemy. The Superb Squad knew that they had to hit Teggarimor’s guardian with everything they had — the lives of the children were at stake.
Blue Beagle kept up a steady barrage of of beagle bombs centered on the monster’s head. The airborne members of the team used Beagle’s distraction to fly in unnoticed. Just as they struck, he turned his attention to his remaining teammates, telling them, “Well, those were the last of my bombs.”
Ralph cocked his head and looked at the costumed dog. “Are you sure?”
“Pretty much,” Beagle replied.
“But — you’re a cartoon,” Ralph told him.
“Right,” Beagle agreed. “But I’m a cartoon without beagle bombs.”
Hourmoose could see the confusion on the man’s face. “What is it, Ralph?”
“On cartoons, the good guys never run out of stuff.”
“So, you think Beagle really shouldn’t be out of bombs,” Hourmoose stated. Ralph shook his head. “B.B.”
“Don’t think about it,” said Hourmoose, “just reach into your belt pouch and pull out a bomb.”
Blue Beagle did as he was told. “OK, but I don’t think…” His mouth dropped open as he pulled out more beagle bombs with his paw.
“This is all fine and dandy,” Wildrat said, “but our buddies could use a little help.”
Ralph was fascinated at how the Superb Squad seemed to work together. Led by Harewave, those on the ground started off toward the battle. Within seconds, they were engaging the fiend as well. Hawkmule, brandishing a large studded mace like his namesake, let his wings grab the air and launch him straight up into the sky until he was almost out of sight. Power Gorilla and Superram flew away from the monster, going to the right and left, respectively. Batom took his cue and flew away somewhere behind his foe. That just left Wonder Wombat hanging motionless in the air in the creature’s blind spot, waiting. Thinking his flying foes had fled, the monster turned its attention to those on the ground.
Commander Seal honked and said, “Hey, ugly — down here!”
The fiend raised a massive foot and brought it down on the patriotic-clad hero with the intention of grinding him to a pulp. Unknown to the creature, however, was the fact that the Commander’s bones were encased in steel — this, combined with his mesh costume, made him virtually indestructible. Craning his neck, Commander Seal kept his foe’s foot balanced on the end of his nose.
Blue Beagle launched another beagle bomb to keep the confused monster distracted. Wildrat and Harewave took advantage of the distraction to begin freeing the children from their prisons.
Hourmoose and Ralph, who seemed instinctively to know where he should go, moved unnoticed to either side of the creature.
Unable to crush his opponent beneath his foot, the monster became frustrated and tilted its head back to roar, and that was its undoing.
With the skill of a rodeo cowboy, Wonder Wombat threw her magic lasso and dropped the loop neatly around her target’s tongue, just behind its third eye. With a flick of her wrist, she tightened the rope, causing the eye to bulge.
At that moment, Hawkmule streaked down in a power dive, his mace poised to strike, while Superram and Power Gorilla arched their bodies and began to circle around. Their paths brought them together nearly a mile away, directly in front of the monster. Arching their bodies a second time, they altered their course and flew straight toward their target. Batom, too, altered his course and — his fists glowing with atomic power — made straight for the monster.
Everyone reached the creature at the same moment. Hawkmule struck from above, driving his mace down with bone-crushing force. At the same time, Power Gorilla and Superram hit the creature with twin uppercuts. As they struck, Batom slammed into the thing’s back, his atomic punch shattering its spine. In that same instant, Ralph and Hourmoose drove their fists into the sides of the monster’s knees — they were rewarded with the sound of splintering bone.
The creature roared in pain, and a beagle bomb went flying down its gullet. With a few flips of her rope, Wonder Wombat looped it around the monster’s mouth, trapping her teammate’s bomb inside their foe. Teggarimor’s guardian dropped defeated — and headless — to the ground.
Despite the fairly horrible scene he had just witnessed, Ralph was grinning from ear to ear. He knew the children were safe.
The Superb Squad wasted no time in getting the remaining children back to their headquarters, where they would not be found by the Boogeyman.
“You’d better get back to the real world, Ralph,” Hourmoose said as they carried the last child safely from Teggarimor’s prison.
Ralphie turned to go.
“Hey, Ralph.” He turned back at the sound of his name. Wildrat now stood beside him and continued, “Ya done good. Yer a true hero.”
“Thanks,” said Ralph.
When he turned back around, he found himself back in the hallway. One door, in particular, drew his attention. Stepping forward, he reached out and turned the knob.
The Junior JSA were still staring at the door that Batwing had just slammed when they heard a sound behind them. The anger and outrage was momentarily forgotten when they saw Ralphie Tyler sit up.
He gave them a smile. “The children are safe.”