by Farmer Sackett and Doc Quantum
Pensacola, Florida, December 31, 1988:
Ben looked up as a young couple roared up in their matching Yamahas. They let the big machines idle noisily as Willie and Lorraine took off their helmets, and Willie shook out his long hair. Finally, the motorcycles were shut off, and the sound of kids yelling in the backyard while playing in the sprinkler returned.
“Are we late?” Lorraine called out, stepping off from her bike.
“Steaks were just put on the grill, and the weather couldn’t have been nicer for New Year’s Eve,” Ben called back. “Beer?”
“Sure!” Willie exclaimed eagerly.
A deep growl grew closer as Willie unscrewed the cap from his sweating bottle, then saluted as Dave rolled in on his Harley. Coming to a stop, Dave gunned his engine loudly, his head cocked to one side. Idling down, he removed his helmet and ran his fingers through his shaggy black beard. Looking concerned, he gunned the engine again, listening attentively.
“Hey, guys, does this sound right to you?” he called out, revving the engine again.
“I thought maybe you’re running a bit rich, myself,” Willie replied. Dave and Ben shared a look; Willie made a much better accountant than a motorcycle mechanic.
Opening a bottle for Dave, Ben handed him the beer and listened as the computer engineer revved his engine once more.
“I don’t know… doesn’t sound quite right,” he said, agreeing with Dave. “Try it again.”
“Ben! The neighbors!” Debbie screamed out over the howl of the motorcycle, moving closer to her husband and friends. She waved frantically, trying to attract their attention toward the old man making a beeline toward them determinedly.
Dave shut off the cycle, and the group finally heard the old man’s reedy voice. “Villains! You won’t take over this neighborhood! I won’t allow it! No drugs — no drugs! I protect these people!” His thin, white hair was in disarray, food stained the front of his shirt, and his fly was undone. Yet there was pride in his step, determination despite the slight unsteadiness on his feet. His eyes were clear and strong, and his shoulders square; despite his somewhat-frail appearance, there was still something intimidating about him.
“We’re sorry, sir,” Ben started to say. “We’re new to the neighborhood. I’m Ben–”
“I don’t care who you are. I’ve seen your sort before,” the old man stated. “I want you out of here. I won’t have trouble.”
“We’re having a New Year’s Eve dinner, an open house for our friends,” Debbie told him. “You’re Mr. Dunbar, aren’t you? Won’t you join us? Can we get you something to drink? Please?”
The old man’s eyes widened in astonishment as he spotted a Gunderson/Schuster in ’88 button pinned to the woman’s denim jacket. “Never! Drink with the enemy? I’m here to put you in jail!”
Dave snickered, while Willie rolled his eyes. Lorraine hit Dave with the palm of her hand to keep him quiet.
Just then, their son Randy came around the corner of the house, crying. “Mo-o-o-om! Carrie splashed water–”
“Did not!” said Carrie, who was following him.
“What have you done?!” the old man shrieked, staring at the youngsters in their bathing suits. “Perverts! Get back, kids — I’ll save you!” The old man lurched forward, bumping into the parked Yamaha and tipping it over. Dave tried to catch it before it hit the cement, and didn’t quite succeed.
“You idiot!” Willie cried, throwing his hands over his head in shock.
“Hold on there, old-timer — that’s my son,” Ben said sternly, grabbing the old man by the biceps to keep him away from the child, as well as to keep him from falling on the bike he’d just knocked over.
“Unhand me! Let me go!” the old man squealed. “Get back, boy — get back!”
Randy just stared, his young eyes wide, then turned and ran away, far down the block. Carrie ran after him. The old man shrugged out of Ben’s grip with surprising ease.
“Damn you!” he howled, the veins in his neck bulging.
The last thing Ben saw was the old man swinging his arms wide, then knocking his fists together as hard as he could. As the identical rings on each of his ring fingers made contact, there was a flash of light and a wave of heat, and then he, his wife, and their three friends, along with the old man, were disintegrated in a huge, fiery blast that broke windows three blocks away and knocked the house from its foundation.
January 1, 1989:
Dr. Charles McNider sat alone in a dark room at the Dunbar estate. Though it was after midnight, and there were no lights on, he was sitting in the easy chair he’d sat in so many times before during his frequent visits over the last couple of years, sifting through old magazine articles and newspaper clippings. Time and time again, he read tales about Tex Thomas and Danny Dunbar, alias TNT and Dan the Dyna-Mite, Danny’s time in the Young All-Stars, and finally his short-lived career as Dyna-Man before he hung up his costume and rings for good to go into a life of public service.
Daniel Dunbar had become a well-respected U.S. ambassador like his father before him by the time he helped found the All-Star Party in 1986 along with Senator Neptune Perkins, recruiting Jay Garrick to run for president. (*) But Danny had to bow out a few months later after receiving a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s. It must’ve broken his heart to see the All-Stars lose to the Humanist Party on Election Day earlier this month. Not only had his dreams of political reform come to nothing, but a third party worse than the Republicans and the Democrats combined had taken the White House.
[(*) Editor’s note: See DC Universe: The Race, Book 1, Chapter 1: The All-Star Party.]
Hearing the front door open, Charles McNider turned his head and saw a noble figure standing there, his wings folded back. McNider, alias Doctor Mid-Night, had always envied the way Hawkman could just walk into the room and dominate it with his presence. Only Superman could do any better.
“Doc,” Carter Hall said, glancing around the room. “What are you still doing here?”
“Did you talk to Doctor Fate?”
“Yeah. He said that Danny was wearing both the rings. Apparently, a couple had just moved in and were having a barbecue for New Year’s Eve. A couple of the guests arrived on motorcycles. In his… confusion, Danny assumed they were Hell’s Angels, or something even worse.”
McNider sighed. “Yes, he’d been experiencing a lot of paranoia over the past year, which only intensified after the election. I should’ve seen something like this coming.”
“Well, according to the information Fate uncovered in his seance, when two of the little kids came around the corner of the house in bathing suits, Danny thought he’d uncovered an Illuminati child molestation ring! Things quickly got out of hand.”
“Apparently, negative energy had been building in Danny over the past few decades, since he hadn’t used the rings to dispel it for so long,” explained Hawkman. “A combination of his confusion, his age, the adrenaline of the moment, even watching that pirate broadcast on TV just after the election — all allowed a volcano to erupt from within. Danny never knew that was going to happen, of course. He just thought he’d mop the floor with those bikers as Dyna-Man, just like he used to, before calling the police to arrest them. He didn’t intend for anyone to get hurt.”
“Has anyone told Jay yet?” asked McNider.
“Not yet,” said Hawkman. “He’ll find out soon enough — the media is about to have a field day with this supposed ‘murder-suicide’ story, given Danny’s connection with the All-Star Party — but knowing Jay, he’s likely to burden himself with this senseless death, as if he or any of us could have done anything about it.” Carter repeated his question. “Why are you still here, Doc?”
McNider was about to reply, something about locking up the place, then sighed without saying a word. He knew what Hawkman was asking; they’d battled too long together, for nearly half a century, to play silly games.
“This is all my fault.”
“Is that right?” Hawkman glided through the dark house without leaving the floor. McNider wondered how he was able to keep from knocking everything over with those huge wings of his. “How do you figure that?”
“I was his doctor, dammit.” The words were harsh, but delivered without heat. “I’ve been thinking a lot about my duty of care. I knew Danny was losing the last of his faculties, and I’d been delaying for months putting him into a home, since he’d insisted he was better off at his Florida estate with his nurse. He’d begun wandering around the neighborhood on a regular basis, telling her he was going out ‘on patrol’. But he was always within walking distance of his home, and he always returned. It’s no wonder poor Jennifer wasn’t too concerned about his absence today.” Softly, he added in a sorrowful whisper, “If only he hadn’t gone downhill so fast.”
“Ahhh,” Hawkman said in acknowledgement. “I didn’t know you were an expert in negative-energy-powered super-heroes. Besides, I’m sure this would have been all so much better had it happened in a retirement village.”
“No, it wouldn’t have been.” Changing the subject, McNider asked, “Do you remember them… during the war?”
“TNT and Dyna-Mite? Vaguely. There were just a handful of full-roster meetings of the All-Star Squadron in its first year, and the two of them hardly made much of an impression compared with, say, Batman and Robin, or Sandman and the Golden Boy. But they fought the good fight. They were good men.”
“I took care of Danny for a while, before his parents returned from overseas, tutoring him a bit after Tex’s untimely death. (*) He was a bright kid, very sensitive. The pedestal he put Tex on wasn’t any shorter than the one Dick gave Batman.” McNider glanced over at Hawkman. “That’s why Danny was able to retire later on, you know. While Batman impressed upon Dick a lifelong mission, a war on crime, TNT had merely offered Danny a life of adventure.”
[(*) Editor’s note: See Operation Liberty: Times Past, 1942: Homefront.]
The two men were quiet for a moment, thinking about that.
“You know, Danny was just sixty years old at the time of his death,” said McNider. “Just barely out of his fifties, and still a spring chicken compared with us, though you’d never have guessed it if you didn’t already know our true ages. Danny had really aged quite a bit over the last couple of years, and could’ve passed for seventy, or even eighty, by the end. Do you realize that Danny was ten to fifteen years younger than most of us during the war? Yet, when he died, he was physically twenty to thirty years older than either of us right now?”
Hawkman grunted. “Since my first confrontation with Anton Hastor, and discovering who I really am, my sense of time and history has always been a bit skewed. But, yes, I see what you mean.”
“This is going to happen more and more.” McNider waved his hand before Hawkman could deny it. “No, no, not the explosion, and the… deaths, but this kind of thing. Look at Will Everett, who died from cancer a few years ago, or Chuck Grayson, who just had a triple bypass. (*) Not everyone is fortunate enough to luck into perpetual youth like us, or get a miraculous rejuvenation treatment like Wesley or Jonathan, or merely skip through time like Sylvester and the other Seven Soldiers did.” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See All-Star Squadron: The World on Fire Again, Chapter 1: All-Star Reunion, The Sandman: Season of Mists, The Suicide Squad: Path of the Immortal, Chapter 2: Don’t Look at the Fnords, and “The Unknown Soldier of Victory,” Justice League of America #100 (August, 1972).]
“Amazing-Man’s surviving family and the former Robotman are being taken care of,” Carter Hall interrupted. “Dick and Helena have made sure of that.”
“But we still failed Vance Corlin,” said McNider.
“You mean that old creep who tried to force Kara to marry him?” said Hawkman. (*) “Wasn’t he sent to jail?”
[(*) Editor’s note: World’s Finest: Power Girl and the Huntress: Survivor.]
“Yes, and he did receive some help while incarcerated, but not until many years after it would’ve really done him some good,” replied McNider. “Not many people remember him now, but he’d been an active adventurer back in the mid-1930s until he retired in mid-1941. Even led his own team of adventurers during that time. This was actually a few years before he first met Superman in the early ’50s when he was at the height of his powers. (*) And with the potential Superman-like power he had at his fingertips, his mental illness could’ve resulted in something much more disastrous than trying to force a Kryptonian woman to marry him.”
[(*) Editor’s note: Although a version of this story takes place on Earth-Two, the original story takes place on Earth-One, as seen in “The Artificial Superman,” World’s Finest Comics #57 (March-April, 1952).]
“Where is Corlin now?”
“He was released from Belle Reve after a few months of therapy, during which time he lost all vestiges of his artificial super-powers,” said McNider. “Last I heard, he was a bit more lucid and spending his remaining years in a monastery, and by all reports he finds it quite comfortable.”
“Then he won’t be a danger to anybody,” said Hawkman.
“That’s not what I mean.”
“What do you mean, Doc?” Hawkman’s said, his voice becoming steely. “We’re taking care of our old comrades, both for their own sake and society’s. What more do you want — an official old super-heroes home? Should we take dues and provide a retirement plan?”
“I don’t know, dammit!” Now there was passion in McNider’s voice. “But Danny died… and took others with him! I can’t help but also be reminded of Albert Elwood.” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See Justice Society of America: Black Sunset.]
“Now, now, Doc. Elwood was a maniac who was never really one of us to begin with, and killed people deliberately, unlike Danny, whose heart was always in the right place, and had never intended to kill anyone with those rings. But yes, Danny slipped by us,” Hawkman said, ceding the point. “We’ll have to be more vigilant. Still, that’s not your real problem, is it?”
McNider said nothing.
“You’re feeling guilty, Charles, because you should be as old as Danny right now… older. Yet you’re about as powerful, and as vital, as you were back in the war. You watched Danny, and so many others, grow old and die, and you didn’t.”
“Yes.” There was silence for a few moment before McNider continued. “Why, Carter? Karkull’s energy expenditure over you and the other JSAers at the time, and my own accident with the cryotuber a few years later I can understand, however improbable those incidents may have been. (*) But everything that’s occurred since the Crisis? It boggles the mind how some of us have gotten a second — or third or fourth — lease on life, while others aren’t so lucky.”
[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Justice Society Adventure the World’s Not Ready to Learn About Yet,” All-Star Squadron Annual #3 (1984) and The Brave and the Bold: Doctor Mid-Nite and the Guardian: Times Past, 1947: Shedding Some Light.]
“I don’t know, Charles. I don’t know why we get third and fourth chances, while others don’t.”
“I’m also reminded of Terry Sloane,” said McNider. “It’s been nearly ten years now, so I don’t think he’d mind me telling you this, but poor Terry had been quietly suffering in the months leading up to his death. Although he’d never had any kind of rejuvenation treatment like the rest of us, he still kept in top physical shape through athleticism. But he was unable to do anything to save his mind.”
Hawkman nodded. “I suspected as much, from the last few times I saw him. I noticed that he was starting to forget things, to repeat himself, though he covered well, trying to pretend that nothing was wrong. He also seemed angry under the surface, as if he was mad at his mind for betraying him. He almost seemed to be a different person during our visit with the JLA on Earth-One just before he was killed. (*) I wasn’t the only one to notice that, either.”
[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Murderer Among Us: Crisis Above Earth-One,” Justice League of America #171 (October, 1979).]
“Terry’s brilliant mind was everything to him, but when he started showing the effects of dementia, it was the hardest thing for the man with a thousand talents to deal with,” said McNider. “Sure, his wealth would have provided him with the best care, but there’s still no cure for it. I hate to say this, but if Terry had not been murdered as he was, he would have survived only to lose everything that had made him who he was — his talents, his skills. Even his family would have become unrecognizable to him in time.”
“We’ve all faced certain death I don’t know how many times. But what’s the alternative? You ready to hang up the cape? Join a monastery in Tibet? Contemplate your navel? Hum yama-lama-lama-lama twenty hours a day?”
“No.” The answer came quickly.
“Neither am I. C’mon, Doc. In almost fifty years of crime-fighting, you know we don’t win ’em all. All we can do is try harder. And let’s face it — nobody can beat our experience.”
McNider could see Carter’s wry smile in the darkness, and felt himself returning it. He had tried — he knew he had — to give Danny the respect and dignity that a hero deserved in his old age. He’d know better next time.
“I’m done here,” Doctor Mid-Night announced, getting out of the chair with a surge. “Share a cab with me to the airport?”
Hawkman almost declined, preferring to fly under his own power, then thought about old Dyna-Mite. “Sure, you bet,” he agreed.