Justice Society of America: 1941: Thunder at Sunset, Chapter 1: The Return of Johnny Thunder

by HarveyKent

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“Tune in next week for another thrilling adventure of the Lone Ranger! Brought to you by–“

The announcer’s voice clicked off as the young nurse switched off the radio. “Dinnertime, everyone! Time to head for the dining room. Anyone need any assistance?”

The elderly men and women struggled to rise from their chairs and hobble to the dining room of the Harbor Vista Home for the Aged. Some leaned on canes or walkers; one or two rolled along in wheelchairs. A very few walked with no assistance at all, carrying themselves with nearly as much strength and confidence as they must have possessed in younger days. The young nurse approached one of these with a smile — a silver-haired man with a faraway look in his eyes.

“It’s good to have you back with us, Mr. Tane,” she said warmly. “You gave us quite a fright, you know!”

“Sorry about that, Jane,” Mr. Tane said. “It was never my intention to put anyone to trouble.”

Jane giggled. “You make it sound like your heart attack was your own fault! Silly, Mr. Tane!”

“Yes, I suppose it is,” Tane said as he made his way to the dining room.

At dinner, Tane sat between two men a few years younger than his own ninety years. Unlike Tane, these men were avid followers of the news. They derived great pleasure from complaining about the way the world was run nowadays, and how much better it was before such things as radio, the motorcar, and electricity.

“Did you see what those youngsters in the circus costumes are up to now, Tane?” asked one of them named Jameson.

“Do you mean the Justice Association, or whatever they call themselves?” Tane asked. “No, I hadn’t heard.”

Society. Justice Society,” Jameson corrected. “Says in the papers they busted up a foreign spy ring last year. What drivel!

“Then you believe the story is false?”

Sure, it’s false!” commented Arturo, the other man. “A spy ring, operating here in the good old USA, like we were one of those uppity European countries or something? Ridiculous!”

“And the outfits those Justice Society whippersnappers run around in,” Jameson snorted. “Bunch of fancy-boys, if you ask me.”

“One of ’em even has the audacity to call himself Johnny Thunder,” Arturo added. “The nerve! I’ll bet you the young folks of today don’t even remember who the real Johnny Thunder was!”

“I saw him, once,” Jameson said. “I wasn’t more’n fourteen. My pappy took all us young’uns to the county fair in Mesa City. Some owlhoots tried to rob it, and Johnny Thunder stopped ’em all cold in their tracks. Now that was a true hero!”

“I wonder whatever happened to him,” Arturo wondered. “Just sorta dropped outta sight around ’90 or ’91, didn’t he?”

“Johnny Thunder is dead,” Tane said, concentrating on his Salisbury steak. “May he rest in peace.”

“Speakin’ of Mesa City,” Arturo said, “there was a story in the paper about it. You see it, Jameson?”

“I did,” Jameson acknowledged. “Say, Tane, ain’t you from around there?”

“Around there,” Tane agreed. “What was the story?”

“Oh, seems some old mine out there is being reopened after fifty years,” Arturo said. “Part of the defense effort, they said. Dunno why we’re makin’ such a hoop-te-doodle about defense. No way in hell the U.S. will ever get in this–”

What mine?” Tane asked, suddenly animated. The urgency in his voice made Arturo start.

“Why, I dunno,” Arturo said. “I didn’t pay that much attention. Funny name. Wall-key, Walky-mama, something like that?”

Walakima?” Tane asked in a horrified voice. His old eyes were wide open.

“Yeah, I think that was it,” Arturo said. “Tane, you all right? I haven’t seen you this excited since… dang, I never seen you this excited.”

But Tane wasn’t listening. He pushed his chair away from the table, stood up, and strode purposely out of the dining room.

“Mr. Tane!” Jane the nurse called after him. “You’re going to miss dessert! We — we have rice pudding tonight!”

But John Tane had more than rice pudding on his mind.

***

“What are you doing, Green Lantern?” Hawkman asked as he entered the Justice Society meeting room. Green Lantern, the newly elected chairman of the Justice Society of America, was looking at a group of photographs spread out on the table before him.

“Just doing some background reading on some of the new mystery-men who’ve popped up recently,” Green Lantern said. “It’s amazing how many there are now. When I got started a year ago, there were hardly any.”

“Considering possible additions to the JSA?” Hawkman asked, looking over Green Lantern’s shoulder at the photographs. He recognized a few of them as Starman, Doctor Mid-Nite, and the Ray. Others were unfamiliar to him.

“You never know,” Green Lantern said. “If this European war escalates to include America, we’ll need all the help we can get.”

“I like this guy,” Hawkman said, tapping a photograph with his finger. “The flying motif and all. Who is he?”

“Calls himself the Black Condor,” Green Lantern said. “Rumored to have been raised from infancy by a flock of intelligent condors in Mongolia.”

“Do you believe that?”

“A year ago, I would have said no. Now, after several months of hobnobbing with a sorcerer, a ghost, and — pardon me — a reincarnated Egyptian prince, I’m slower to dismiss the idea.”

Hawkman chuckled. “Point taken. Anyway, you said you had a favor to ask me before the regular meeting began. What is it?”

“Well, basically I want you to chair the meeting in my absence. My old engineering firm — you know, the one I used to work for as an engineer before I moved into radio — is sending me down to Arizona as a consultant on the job of reopening an old copper mine. They’re putting me on a train tonight. With my ring I could be there in minutes, but I don’t want to arouse suspicion. I was hoping I could simply turn the meeting over to you so I could make the train on time. OK with you?”

“Sure, Alan, sure,” Hawkman said. “I’ll be glad to. Arizona, you say?”

“Uh-huh. Some old copper mine that caved in about fifty years ago, hasn’t been worked since. With the defense effort, copper is needed. It’s going to be reopened next week.”

***

“Mr. Renwick?” Alan Scott said, approaching the tall man carrying a clipboard and a box of dynamite caps. “I’m Alan Scott.”

“Scott! We were expecting you. Glad to have you aboard!” Renwick stuck out a hand that was out of proportion to the rest of his body. As large as Renwick was, his hand was even larger; it would barely have fit in a quart pail. Alan shook it firmly. “Maybe you can help me iron out some of the problems we’ve been having!”

“Problems?” Alan asked. “What problems?”

“Sabotage, from the looks of things,” Renwick said. “Three nights ago, someone stole all our dynamite sticks. We found ’em the next morning, chopped into bits and thrown in the creek not far from here. Night before last, someone cut the fuel lines on our big earth-movers. And last night, someone poured sugar in the gas tanks of all our trucks.”

Alan was astonished. “Haven’t you posted guards?”

“Sure. Just one, after the first attack. He was clubbed from behind. We put three men on guard last night, but they all got bushwhacked, too. Whoever’s doing this is mighty good at it.”

“Someone doesn’t want Walakima Copper Mine reopened,” Alan mused.

“I got that impression, too,” Renwick said, wryly. “I’m thinking it’s fifth columnists, like the ring those Justice Society boys busted up several months back. (*) I mean, who else?”

[(*) Editor’s note: See “For America and Democracy,” All-Star Comics #4 (March-April, 1941).]

“Don’t rule out any possibilities,” Alan suggested. “Could be a rival copper magnate, trying to keep his own prices high by eliminating any competition.”

“No offense, Mr. Scott, but that sounds like a Green Hornet plot.”

Alan chuckled. “So did the foreign spy ring you mentioned. Don’t be too quick to dismiss anything, Mr. Renwick.”

“Point taken. Anyway, their efforts have been in vain. We’re blasting the mine open this afternoon. Got some fresh dynamite from Flagstaff, and it hasn’t been out of our sight since it arrived. Come hell or high water, Walakima Copper Mine is reopening today.”

Not far away, a pair of aged ears heard Renwick’s voice. A pair of steel-blue eyes narrowed in concentration. This must not happen!

***

“Got everything set?” Renwick’s mighty voice bellowed.

“All set, chief!” Renwick’s foreman called. “Dynamite all placed, caps all wired. All down to this little plunger here.” The foreman indicated the dynamite plunger at his feet. “When I push this bar down, the tons of rock and dirt plugging up the mine entrance will all go boom!

“OK, let’s quit talking about it and do it,” Renwick said. “Places, everyone! Fire in the hole! Everyone get to cover! On three, Luczek! One — two–”

Suddenly, a gunshot rang out. Luczek, the man on the dynamite plunger, jumped back with a yelp as the handle of the plunger snapped in two, splintered by a perfectly placed bullet.

“Somebody find that sniper!” Renwick bellowed. “What is this, a sewing circle? Get moving! Cover this area! I don’t want a mouse to get out of here without my knowing about it! Move!

In all the confusion, no one noticed Alan Scott slip away behind a tree. In a shimmer of emerald light, his working clothes changed to the fighting uniform of the Green Lantern. Silently, the Lantern used his ring to find the trail of cordite, invisible to the naked eye, left by the bullet. He tracked that to its source. The gunman had fled, but the power ring trailed his heat-signature to a nearby creek. The signal vanished in the creek. Lantern was momentarily puzzled until he noticed a small reed sticking out of the water. He smiled to himself. The gunman was clever.

With a mental command, Green Lantern created a power-energy hand that scooped into the creek and came up with a man. To the Lantern’s surprise, the man was old. His hair was white as snow. There was a look of grim determination on the man’s face as he stared into the Green Lantern’s eyes; no fear, no remorse, nothing but a firm sense of purpose.

“Who are you?” Green Lantern asked, too taken aback by the man’s age and obvious determination to indulge in his usual banter.

“I am Johnny Thunder,” the old man said. “And Walakima Mine must not reopen!”

“Johnny Thunder?” Green Lantern repeated. “Nice try, Pops, but Johnny is a friend of mine, and you…” But then, Green Lantern remembered something — stories his father had told him in his youth in the Midwest, stories of a mysterious gunfighter who kept the peace in a town called Mesa City. Mesa City? Wasn’t that the town not far from here?

“You mean, you–?” Lantern began.

“Figured it out, have you?” Thunder asked. “Yes, I’m the original Johnny Thunder! And I repeat, Walakima Mine must not reopen!”

Green Lantern gently set the man down on the creek bank and landed there himself. “Suppose you tell me why,” he said.

“There isn’t time for that!” Thunder said angrily. “If those fools manage to fix that plunger–!”

“Sir, I believe you are who you say you are,” Lantern said. “My ring determined that you’re telling the truth, or at least that you think you are. But even so, I can’t stop the men without a reason. As a fellow fighter for justice, I ask you to trust me and tell me why you don’t want the mine reopened.”

Johnny Thunder hesitated tensely, then let out a deep sigh. “All right. I suppose I have to tell you the story. It’s a painful story to tell, though, and one I haven’t told anyone since it happened fifty years ago.

“I’d better begin at the beginning. My real name is John Tane. My father was sheriff of Mesa City, my mother the schoolteacher. My father wanted me to follow in his footsteps, but on her deathbed I promised my mother that I would teach children the ways of truth and justice, and fight crime by preventing them from becoming criminals. My father desperately wanted me to become a lawman like him, but I couldn’t break my promise to my mother. The only way to honor both parents was to become two people. And so I adopted the guise of Johnny Thunder.” (*)

[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Origin of Johnny Thunder,” All-Star Western #108 (August-September, 1959).]

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