by Dan Swanson and Christine Nightstar
It was unseasonably warm for early spring — just perfect for driving with the top down. Lonny Ziffelheim whistled as he drove home from the press conference of the year. He had all but given up hope of ever becoming a true reporter, and become resigned to being a copy editor all his life, when suddenly — for no reason he could see — his boss had called him into the office and sent him out to cover the press conference of the decade. He had even helped him out with a list of questions and topics he should discuss. Heck, he had always thought the boss had hated him, and now he was helping Lonny become a star reporter. He thought smugly back on the press conference of the century.
“Mr. Garrick!” he’d spoken right up, just like they said in his correspondence course, and it worked. Garrick’s press agent looked right at him. The pinhead didn’t recognize him now, but that would change soon.
Lonny jumped to his feet. “Lonny Ziffelheim, Weekly Star Enquirer News!” Some of the nearby reporters tittered, but he didn’t care. The WSE News might only come out once a week, but none of the puny dailies had anywhere near the circulation. A daily might be sold at a few thousand locations, but the WSE News was sold at every convenience store, newsstand, and supermarket throughout the country. He would definitely have the last laugh after today.
“Mr. Garrick, you’re the college record holder for rushin’ and scorin’ in a single game. Wit’ over five-hundred yards and eight touchdowns in da last game a’ your career. And ya done it all in da fourth quarter. You was a tacklin’ dummy fer four years, never played a minute. Dat must’a been when ya got yer powers, right? Don’t you think it’s cheatin’? Did you do any scorin’ after the game?” He would have leered at Joan Garrick, but a half-dozen of his erstwhile comrades were trying to drag him from the room. Well, he wasn’t through yet. He yelled even louder.
“Hey, Garrick! Freedom of da Press, huh?! Whatcha gonna do when somebody asks you da tough questions, huh?” The security squad assigned to guard Jay Garrick was descending on the fray. Ziffelheim didn’t actually try to resist. He knew his story would be even better if he got beat up a little by Garrick’s boys while diligently attempting to uncover the truth.
Jay Garrick knew it, too. He stood up straight and tall and took the microphone. “Gentlemen, please release Mr. Ziffelheim. He’s only asking questions somebody else would ask, sooner or later. I might as well answer them now.” He was clearly angry, and his anger added power to his voice.
“I did get my powers shortly before that game, and it was cheating for me to use my powers. I was young and excited, and my judgment was somewhat faulty that day. However, you are misinformed — the NCAA expunged that game from the record books in 1941, when someone sent them information that showed that Jay Garrick’s college eligibility had expired several days before the game. So you will find that game listed among the oddest college games ever played, but I don’t hold any college records just because I’m the Flash.
“And after the game?” Jay continued. “I took my girl to the dance, and had her home before curfew, didn’t I, dear?” Joan blushed as she nodded. Jay turned to look for other questions, but Ziffelheim yelled again.
“You said your judgment was bad ’cause you were young, way back then? Well, why should we think your judgment is any better now — you’re still young. How do we know you’re the real Jay Garrick? You don’t look seventy, man! What are you, anyway, some kinda alien what took his place? Or maybe ya done a deal wit da Devil?”
Jay’s anger swelled, and the assembled press corps could see him taking a deep breath to calm down. “Mr. Ziffelheim, you can ask me any questions you like, and I will do my best to answer them truthfully. But your right to ask questions does not give you the right to be downright rude. You will be civil, or I will revoke your press pass and ask you to leave.”
Ziffelheim said nothing. Jay took another deep breath and continued. “Thank you for asking these difficult questions. I’m actually glad to answer them this early in the campaign. I don’t want to be surprising anyone later on.
“It’s another aspect of my powers that manifested years after I acquired super-speed. One day I realized I wasn’t getting any older — in fact, I got younger for a few years, then stabilized. I’m now aging again, but more slowly than before. I don’t know much more about it — I don’t know if I’ll live a long time or if, all of a sudden at eighty, my age will catch up to me all in a second, or something in between. I’ve done tests. I’ve consulted some of the best doctors and scientists in the world, and the best wizards, too. And in case you are wondering, my wife has been with me for fifty years, and we think she finally caught whatever it was after riding along with me on so many super-speed trips.” He turned to look at her and whistled, and she blushed. He turned back.
“And my son is aging normally. So whatever it was seems to have finally worn off. Thank you again, Mr. Ziffelheim. Next question, please!”
His editor had given him a few more questions, but looking around, he had decided not to push his luck. Garrick and his men wouldn’t hurt him, but some of the other reporters were looking very unfriendly. That didn’t matter; he had his story already. He thought he would go with the alien imposter angle. He turned and made his way out the door. On the way, he deliberately made a point of accidentally dropping his notes. Maybe someone else would check them out and ask Garrick a few of the other tough questions his boss had prepared him with.
Lonny Ziffelheim heard an unusual noise on the road behind him, like a wave roaring down on him or something. He saw nothing but a blur in his rearview mirror, and then a mighty wind overtook the speeding car, and he was deafened by an incredibly loud boom like nearby thunder.
His hair was blown in his eyes. He shook his head to clear his eyes and screamed in panic at the giant boulder that had appeared from out of nowhere in the middle of the road. He jammed on his brakes and swerved, managing to skid sideways into that deadly boulder rather than ramming it head on. The world went black.
He didn’t know it then, of course, but he would remain unconscious for six weeks.
The chairman of the Republican National Committee wasn’t exactly happy about what had happened. And he was even unhappier that the president had to make a statement about it.
“I want to know who is responsible for this fiasco. We currently have eight hopeful candidates for president, all of which were doing much better in the polls than Garrick, and then this happens. Not only does it give Garrick the chance to stand in the spotlight and defend himself, but it forced the president to comment about it as well. I want to know who is behind this Committee to Re-energize American Politics.”
“But, sir, our candidates are still doing better in polls than Garrick,” said an aide.
“For how long? This is an election year, not a circus. Whoever did this made us look like a bunch of clowns and Garrick the star. They’ll listen to him because that broadcast attacked him and his friends in the Justice Society. They won’t listen to our issues or our candidates because we weren’t implicated, and if we do nothing, we look like we approve of or at worst endorse Garrick. It turned a has-been super-hero into the perfect candidate.”
“But, sir, we can’t run attack ads against him. We’ll only be doing what that Committee did and playing to his being the hero — a part he plays too well for us to tarnish.”
“I know that, but we have to get Garrick on something. Set up a debate. Show the public that Mister Hero isn’t the candidate for them.”
“A debate this soon? That’s unheard of.”
“I know that, but this Committee to Re-energize American Politics has forced our hand. We have to do something to deal with this disaster.”
Just then, the telephone rang. The aide said that it was the Chairman of the Democratic National Committee.
“I figured I’d hear from you. Yes, we are having the same problems. This Committee to Re-energize American Politics fiasco is giving Garrick a chance to prove that he’s a viable candidate, in my opinion. Yes, I agree we can’t attack him. It’d only make him more popular. I’ve been telling my staff that. You, too? Figures. We were going to try and debate him — make him show how poorly qualified he is for the position.
“I realize that we usually don’t start the debates until the candidates are thinned out a bit more, but if we don’t knock Garrick out soon, he may well become our next president because of this stunt. I don’t want that, either. It’d show the public that a third party can win the Presidency.
“You lost two of your candidates because of that stunt? They pulled out because they decided they respected Garrick? You’re lucky. We lost long-time supporters, money families, after this stunt. You only lost a few candidates. If his popularity keeps going like this, we’ll have to do something neither of us wants to do to beat him — team up.” The Chairman of the RNC said his goodbye to the Chairman of the DNC and hung up.
“Bipartisan cooperation in an election year because one group of nincompoops turns an also-ran into a viable candidate… God Almighty.”
The Weekly Star Enquirer News was published a day early that week. That issue turned into an instant collectors’ item and sold out almost immediately — five times.
It seemed like no matter how many copies were printed, as soon as the distribution truck reached the stores, there was a line of people clamoring — and in some cases fighting — for the new issue. Stores had to limit their customers to one copy per customer. Finally, WSE News printed a final run and moved on to the next issue. They sold individual copies of the final run as Limited Edition Collector’s Items at ten times the cover price — and these, too, sold out. The lead article promised that a portion of the cover price would go to Lonny Ziffelheim’s medical assistance, and in fact two cents per issue did. Lonny wouldn’t need insurance for a long time.
The cover headlines screamed, “Super Powered Revenge?” in giant type. Underneath was a gory color photo of Lonny’s wrecked car. Under that, in slightly smaller type, read: “WSE News Reporter Near Death After Suspicious Accident,” and a photo of Lonny in a hospital bed. Under that was, “Did he ask the wrong questions once too often?” Across the bottom of the front page were photographs of a dozen super-heroes, including the Flash, and the final caption read: “Star Reporter Contributed to Stories on All these Heroes (and MORE). Will it cost him his life?”
The lead story, of course, described Jay Garrick’s press conference and the accident that followed. Police records showed that, earlier in the day, there had been an avalance on the road Ziffelheim was using to return home. It had only been reported to police about ten minutes before Lonny’s accident, and police cars were already speeding to the scene when the accident occurred. Their timely arrival had been a lucky break for the otherwise hapless reporter. One of the police investigators had found a miniature tape recorder; apparently Ziffelheim, diligent reporter that he was, had been dictating his story as he drove. The police listened to the tape once, and it immediately disappeared as evidence. They wouldn’t say evidence for what unless they planned to charge Ziffelheim with unsafe vehicle operation, because there was no official criminal investigation underway.
The whole story was hugely sensationalized, and Garrick’s anger at the tough questions Ziffelheim had asked him was thoroughly played up. The final paragraph asked if Lonny had finally asked one question too many and referred the reader to other controversial stories in the issue. While Ziffelheim was not the primary author on any of these stories, he was a major contributor to each of them. Without going into detail, here was a sample from the table of contents of that issue:
Wonder Woman — Dom Queen?
by William Marston
Unbreakable rope, wrist manacles, high-heeled boots and hot pants. Does the Arresting Amazon send the right message to our daughters?
Red Robin and Batwing — The new symbols of NAMBLA?
by Fredric Wertham
The sidekick has become a man — and found a sidekick of his own.
Superman and Power Girl — Cousins Cuisine?
by Mick Potluck
Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of… ALIENS!
Starman — Masculine Icon
by Sven Downer
Of course the cosmic rod is phallic!
There were a half-dozen other stories about various heroes and heroic teams, none of them flattering, to say the least. The subjects included articles about several heroes of the past such as why there were no all-women teams, what Speedy was named for, the inappropriateness of the child Star-Spangled Kid having an adult sidekick, and whether Black Canary was really blonde and what fishnet stockings said about a woman’s morality.
Of course, Lonny Ziffelheim was not a reporter, but as a copy editor he had indeed contributed something to each of these stories. And while the lead story was written to imply that all of the other stories had previously been published, in fact it was the first time that WSE News had published any of them. Always before, the editorial board had been cautious of the backlash; this time, a directive from a higher and less visible authority left them no choice.
The lead article never stated that there might be any connection between Garrick’s anger, the dismay the rest of the heroic community had felt when each of these articles had been originally published, and Ziffelheim’s accident. The readers were encouraged to draw their own conclusions. But the deck was stacked against the heroes, at least in the Weekly Star Enquirer News.