Johnny Thunder had faced many challenges in his young life, and he was more than ready to take on the latest one: a third slice of his mother’s pumpkin pie with whipped cream. He glanced around the cozy kitchen he had spent so much time in while growing up. The same blue-and-white-patterned plates, bright tablecloth, and cheerful banter from his proud mother still filled his senses.
“Eat, Johnny, eat!” said Mildred Thunder as she placed a piece of the hot pie before the finicky little girl her son had adopted. “Show Peachy Pet, here, how it is good for you!”
“I’ll eat!” replied the little blonde girl named Peachy Pet Thunder. “I just like to take my time with it!”
“You do that!” said the plump Mrs. Thunder. “I guess I’m just so used to seeing my Johnny gulp down his food and rush off to some new adventure!”
“Ma, you know you are the best cook in all of Appleville!” said the smiling Johnny. “Maybe even in all the good ol’ USA!”
“I can’t claim that title, though hearing you say I deserve it makes the time I spent over that oven worth it!” said Mrs. Thunder.
“Say, you just name a better cook!” said Johnny with mock indignation.
“He’s not coming, you know,” piped up Peachy between bites of pie. “There’s no need to say it all the time.”
“Gosh, don’t I know it,” said a suddenly grim Johnny. “I just said it by accident. That happens a lot.”
“John, the best cook, cleaner, caterer, and homemaker in all Appleville — heck, all of Long Island — is Martha Brewer, the radio home tips girl and catering queen!” explained Mrs. Thunder.
“I didn’t know she lived here! I guess that means I won’t get a billboard saying, ‘Welcome to Appleville — Home of Johnny Thunder’! She rates higher than a JSAer would around here, even if I am thinking about quitting the Justice Society to let Black Canary take my place, after she did so well in our last Justice Society case!” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “History’s Crime Wave,” All-Star Comics #38 (December, 1947-January, 1948).]
“Martha Brewer moved into the old Darling estate after Daisy… well, you know,” said Ma Thunder.
“It’s OK to say she moved away, Ma. I’m over her by now,” said Johnny.
“I think you are more of a big-shot than any ol’ housewife-turned-caterpillar!” said Peachy.
“Thanks!” said Johnny with a grin. “I think you mean caterer, though of course she could be a social butterfly!”
“The ‘diva of domesticity’ is what they call her in the papers,” said Ma Thunder.
“Sounds like a super-crook!” said Johnny. “But let me tell you about my new job. A pal of mine named Bruce Wayne gave me a job in Gotham City a few months ago, but I mostly just did some work here and there for his companies. (*) I wasn’t sure exactly what he wanted me to do until now — he’s named me his official troubleshooter for all his holdings. I get free travel and everything!” Johnny was outwardly beaming, even while he was inwardly trying to hide his disappointment over the fact that he had lost both Daisy and his power over the magical Thunderbolt that had earned him his prized spot in the Justice Society.
[(*) Editor’s note: See Justice Society of America: Times Past, 1947: The New Olympians, Chapter 2: When Giants Walked the Earth.]
“Mr. Wayne — he’s a more famous person than even Martha!” said a smiling Mildred Thunder.
“I betcha he’s a mystery-man pal of Johnny’s, like Mister Midnight!” said Peachy conspiratorially.
“That’s Doc Mid-Nite, and don’t say stuff like that!” warned Johnny. “You could cause a lot of trouble. He is a swell guy.”
As the doorbell began to ring, Johnny stopped his bantering with his family to answer door. Swinging it open, he saw a lovely blonde woman dressed in an expensive dress that stopped below her knees, a pearl necklace with matching heels, earrings, and assorted bows.
“I’m Martha Brewer, Mr. Thunder. May I come in?” she said with a smile, pushing past him to walk into the small but pleasant Thunder family living room. “I hate to impose upon you, but I need your services rather desperately!”
“Sure!” he said. “What can I do for you? We were just talking about you. I didn’t know you had moved here, and I hear your radio show all the time.”
“Oh, how deevy!” she said. “Are you a fan?”
“‘Deevy’? Divine? Oh, uh, sure,” he said. “I mean, I guess I prefer something like I Love a Mystery, but hey, you are right up there, too.”
“Let me get right to the point,” said Martha. “Johnny — I may call you Johnny, right? — Johnny, I am being persecuted by a costumed criminal,” she began, suddenly tearing up. She carefully blotted her eyes without smearing her blue mascara. “She is robbing many of the weddings I cater. They call her the Runaway Bride. Have you heard of her? She always appears before the service starts and robs the guests. She wears a formal bridal gown, and her gang dress like guests, too! She’s struck at four weddings that I have catered and two I did not, but I fear she is targeting me. Oh, Mr. Thunder, may I confide in you?”
“Sure! What is it? Do you think this Runaway Bride gal has a vendetta against you? Did you scorch her muffins or somethin’?” joked Johnny in a deliberate effort to cheer the crying blonde who had flung herself into his arms.
“Johnny, my sister and I had a falling-out many years ago. She hates me, and she once vowed to ruin me over a property settlement from our late pater’s estate. She was quite the athlete in college, and I fear that Marcia is also the Runaway Bride. She strikes where I am not involved just to throw off suspicion, but she hits my weddings most in order to ruin my business!”
“She was an athlete. I take it that this Runaway Bride doll is a good fighter?” questioned Johnny.
“Yes! She broke a policeman’s jaw at the last robbery. She also runs like a track star, even in heels!” explained Martha as she idly picked at lint on Johnny’s green jacket.
“It’s, uh, getting a bit worn,” he explained as she rubbed at a patch.
“Will you stop this Bride fiend?” pleaded Martha. “She may not be Marcia, but I’m so afraid it is. I knew a Justice Society member like you could stop her, if anyone can! That’s why I asked the police not to interfere at my next wedding. I assured them that Johnny Thunder could handle it all!”
“You did?” gulped Johnny. “Well, I can. I’ll try. Just leave it all to me. But first, I need some info. Can’t rush into anything. Batman himself told me that.”
“Oh, my! Batman! You are the man for the job!” said Martha as she planted a kiss on Johnny’s cheek.
“Mush!” cried a disgusted Peachy Pet from beneath the sofa.
Johnny Thunder spent the next few hours looking over a place he had hoped never to visit again: the former Darling estate, which now housed Martha Brewer’s catering empire. He moped a bit as he walked there, because the place held so many memories of his old flame, Daisy Darling. Daisy and her new beau had cruised to Europe, while her bossy dad had remarried and moved as well.
“Too bad this Runaway Bride didn’t hit Mr. D’s wedding!” he said with a smile. “I bet she’d be sorry for sure!”
He noticed the skilled staffers who rushed around, making every detail perfect for their demanding boss. The diva of domesticity wasn’t called that for nothing. Martha made sure that every nuance was superior to that of ordinary catering services. She made a lot of money, and she was a natural target for any crook, especially one with a personal grudge.
She’s phony, but I like her, mused Johnny. He had seen through her teary performance. He was an experienced hero who had saved the world quite a few times, and he had spent years alongside of legendary mystery-men like Superman, Hawkman, and Doctor Mid-Nite. He knew his business very well, though his down-to-earth ordinary guy mannerisms sometimes belied that impression. It didn’t matter to Johnny if the queen of catering had been a bit fake in her plea to gain his services. He would help her even if she had tried to soft soap him. He was that kind of guy.
Boy, wait ’til Dinah hears about this one! he thought as he noticed the hurrying maids, cooks, butlers, and ushers. She worked as a maid once at a fancy hotel, so she’d really be impressed with an operation like this one. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See All-Star Squadron: Times Past, 1944: Crisis at the Cotillion.]
Dinah Drake was the Black Canary. She was also one of the reasons Johnny had survived as well as he had after losing any chance of getting back together with Daisy again. Dinah was his friend, and he was well aware of the fact that he had begun to have a bit of a crush upon the fishnet-wearing beauty. She had become his new partner since he had lost control of the Thunderbolt.
“Ah, who needs that glow-worm with his snooty attitude when I got a pal like the Canary?” he said again to reassure himself.
“May I help you?” sneered a smug-looking butler who looked down at Johnny as if he really wanted to help him over a cliff.
“No, I’m just looking around. I work for Martha!” said Johnny.
“Yeth, thir!” lisped the butler with contempt.
Guy’s got a speech problem — guess that’s why he’s so bitter, mused Johnny as he exited the estate.
He had tracked down the paper trail of Marcia Brewer as well. The older sister of Martha had indeed been a star athlete in college, and was now working as a gym teacher in Riverdale, another Long Island town that wasn’t far away. “Better head over there and check her out!” he decided.
Johnny drove over to Riverdale in the Wayne company car he had been given and pulled up at the school. He stopped a fat and balding principal with a weird little toupee and asked for directions to Marcia’s office.
“Do you have a hall pass?” he asked with lofty assurance of an academic.
“No, I’m not a student,” he said. “I’m Johnny Thunder — of the JSA!”
“Go to the right, and you’ll find her,” said the principal, Waldo Weatherbee, with a doubtful look in his eye.
Johnny entered though the door, which was ajar, and gasped as he looked right at a veiled woman in a white wedding gown. It was the Runaway Bride.