A meeting in a special room at the Smithsonian Institution was held the next day, with Hawkman serving as chairman of the Justice Battalion of America, the wartime version of the Justice Society. His lovely fiancée Hawkgirl sat by his side as a guest, while the costumed Lorna Dawn sat next to Green Lantern, one of the JSA reservists invited to this meeting.
The powerfully built Green Lantern, alias Alan Scott, looked every inch the hero in his costume, except for the fact that his ring was worn by Lorna. They had attempted to return it the night before, when Hawkman had brought the anxious Alan to the rooms at the Smithsonian Institution that the Justice Brigade of America used as its wartime headquarters. However, for some reason the magic ring refused to work for its normal user.
“It’s like my willpower has been sapped!” said Green Lantern. “I can’t get the ring to work for me.”
Lorna nodded. “It’s just the opposite for me. It works, and I admit I love it!”
Hawkman looked over at the rather listless Starman, who stared off into space while Doris Lee sat nearby. “Starman!” he said. “Pull yourself together, man!”
“He seems to be getting more and more mentally challenged,” said Doris. “Something is robbing him of his mind and his physical skills.”
“The… same thing is happening here,” said Batman with deliberate effort. Robin, sitting next to him, looked worried at his friend and mentor, who had been invited here as an honorary JSA member.
Superman glanced toward Lois Lane, who was thrilled to be inside the JSA Headquarters. “What a scoop!” she had gasped before he asked her to wait in the reception room. Lorna and Doris also joined her outside. Joan stayed behind, since she had proven her attachments to her respective partner and knew his secrets.
Behind closed doors Superman, an honorary JSA member and reservist, said, “I lost my powers, and Miss Lane seems to have gained them. We’ve all lost what made us capable heroes. It appears that perhaps our losses were other people’s gains.”
Joan Williams sat near Jay Garrick, who as the Flash was also a reservist and had been the team’s first chairman. He wore his Flash costume and smiled. “I have my wits, but I’m at their end, so to speak, trying to figure out how Joan here gained my speed,” he said. “Seems to fit a pattern, what with Doris having picked up some of Starman’s fighting skills and — pardon my bluntness — mental gifts, too.”
“Holy human sponge!” exclaimed Robin. “Linda Page gained some amazing abilities of body and mind last night, just like the other girls. Did anyone else experience something like that?”
Hawkgirl smirked. “I already had my brains, beauty, and talent!” Hawkman shushed her joke before she could continue.
“Look,” said the Atom, “Johnny, Doc Mid-Nite, and Doctor Fate, here, are OK, as are Hawkman and Wonder Woman. Why would some plague, of the man-made kind, no doubt, only hit some of us?”
Wonder Woman stood up. “True. We all have friends that might have benefited, as did Joan and the rest. Yet they did not gain powers, and we did not lose them. I suspect the pattern of who was changed and who wasn’t should tell us something.”
“Yeah, like why wasn’t Robin, here, given more of Batman’s gifts instead of this Page woman?” said Johnny Thunder, still wearing his white U.S. Navy sailor’s uniform.
Doctor Mid-Nite frowned. “I’d say it has to do with…”
Before the ebon avenger could finish his speech, Batman slowly said, “Duke of Deception!”
Superman frowned. “What’s that, old chum? You think the Duke is behind this power switch?”
“Of course!” said Wonder Woman. “Only those empowered were abducted by the Duke when he posed as Paula von Gunther and sent her girls to replace Linda, Joan, and Doris, for example, with duplicates.” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See Justice Society of America: Times Past, 1943: Woman Trouble.]
“That’s not Doctor Fate!” cried Doctor Mid-Nite suddenly.
The JSAers’ chairs fell down as they jumped up in shock, and the false Doctor Fate giggled girlishly and removed his helmet to reveal the beautiful face of Deeceit, daughter of the Duke of Deception.
“Finally!” she laughed. “It took a blind man to see the truth. The real Fate is off with that horrid ghost friend of his. I took his role to listen and enjoy the fun my little stunt has created.” The girl wore a gossamer tunic and sandals. She hopped on the table and tossed back her long black hair. “As you deduced… by what? Some infrared pattern or other? No, I am not Fate. I am Deeceit. My father, whom I hate, was the one who switched your lady friends while posing as that leggy Austrian. It was a nice little double deception. Doubles took their places while wrongly believing they served their mistress, who was, in fact, an impostor!”
“We know the story, Deeceit,” said Wonder Woman. “What happened next?”
“My, my, my!” she said. “You Amazon girls do lack any sense of timing. I foiled my parent’s scheme with my own deception, and did so to ruin him with our leader Mars. However, unknown to you all, I pulled one final deception. I altered his female captives, like the cheap blonde, there, to make them ‘human sponges,’ as the boy put it. They slowly sapped your unique gifts of mind, body, and willpower.” She cackled at the idea.
“You won’t get away with this!” cried the Atom.
“Dear little man, I already did. Ta-ta!” she laughed, and vanished, along with the afflicted heroes.
“Great Hera!” cried Diana. “She took the boys!”
Hawkman frowned. “In their weakened state, she could do anything to them.”
“I suggest we use the T-bolt to track them down,” said Doctor Mid-Nite.
“I’m coming, too!” insisted Robin. “Batman needs me!”
Wonder Woman kissed his cheek and said, “Of course you may come. Hawkgirl can wait here in case we need more help from the All-Stars!”
Shiera Sanders sputtered, and Hawkman gently but firmly pushed her back into her chair. “You are an experienced heroine,” he whispered. “The other girls will need your strength in this uncertain time.”
“Hmmph!” snorted Shiera.
“Say, you,” said Johnny, “take us to Batman and the others!”
A flash of light, and they were gone.
On Mars, the angry red planet, the captive heroes materialized. They gasped at the ornate Romanesque architecture and columns of legionnaire-styled guards.
“It’s not much, but I call it home!” laughed Deeceit as she gestured to a burly guard. “Take them to the dungeon to await the games tomorrow!” she snapped. “Alert Conquest that I have brought his victims!”
Alan Scott slammed his fist into a trooper’s jaw as the thug shoved the disoriented Starman. “Leave him alone, you human relic!” he said.
Superman nodded. “Powerless or not, I’m not letting these tinfoil soldiers shove my pals around!” He tackled the biggest guard and brought him crashing to the ground. Batman and Starman hesitated, meanwhile, weighted down by the loss of their normal talents and mental gifts.
The Flash knew that this Mars was really one of the many weird hyperspace dimensions, like those his buddies had once visited after he had become an honorary member of the team. (*) These worlds all have air and odd cultures, he mused as he tripped a soldier. Mars, Duke of Deception, and their ilk make this Mars their base. Diana’s told me all about the creeps who run this place.
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Shanghaied into Space,” All-Star Comics #13 (October-November, 1942) and “Crisis Point,” All-Star Squadron #50 (October, 1985).]
Sheer numbers soon brought the heroes down, despite the courage and fighting skills still possessed by Superman, Green Lantern, and the Flash. They soon found themselves in a dungeon with a dank atmosphere, chains, rats, and odd sounds in the dark.
“I could sure use my super-vision right about now… or at least Doctor Mid-Nite,” said Superman, smiling ruefully.
Green Lantern nodded. “If only I could have summoned enough willpower to work my ring. But it’s still back on Earth with Lorna.”
The Flash reached over to Batman. “Listen, chum, let me borrow that belt a minute.” Batman nodded and handed him his utility belt. “We can use some of the devices herein to get out,” he said. Nearby, Starman continued to stare into the darkness, saying nothing.
“If you do escape, you’ll die on the fields of Mars,” said a chilling voice from the shadows. “You can’t defeat the magic of Conquest without your powers.”
“Come out!” said Green Lantern. “Quit making with the Boris Karloff impersonation!”
The Duke of Deception shambled forward, draped in chains.
Deeceit was led through an ornate palace by a hulking figure in gold armor. His curly hair framed a broad face that was the size of a ham.
“My dear, you make a deadly enemy!” sneered Lord Conquest. “I’m glad you are on my side. After you discredited your father the Duke of Deception, I gained much prestige by default. Mars is sure to favor me, and I shall remember who it was who brought the mortals to me as helpless sheep! When my forces defeat them tomorrow in the arena at the games, Mars will surely grant me the sole right to be his second-in-command!”
Deeceit smiled demurely. “Oh, it is my pleasure to serve.” To serve myself, you brick-headed dolt! she thought inwardly.
Elsewhere, Johnny Thunder, Wonder Woman, Robin, the Atom, Doctor Mid-Nite, and Hawkman materialized on Mars.
“Gosh, this is the Mars, isn’t it?” said Johnny as he gazed up and down at the impressive structures.
“Yeah, and me without my toga,” joked the Atom. “This doesn’t look anything like the Mars that I visited last year. For one thing, that Mars was full of green-skinned men. (*) This place looks like something out of Edith Hamilton’s book.”
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Kaleidoscope,” All-Star Squadron #57 (May, 1986).]
“Truly a vivid recreation of ancient Rome!” said Hawkman. “Makes me wonder how they could combine the glory of the old with the magic and science of the alien so effectively.”
“Do not let the cold beauty of the place dim your vision to the evil that corrupts this grand façade like a worm in a rotting apple!” warned Wonder Woman.
“The real Rome was a place of horror and cruelty, too!” said Doctor Mid-Nite in agreement.
“I see something that I’m going to make decline and fall right now!” vowed Johnny as he rushed toward the scene of a woman being slapped by her master. “Say, you should leave her alone, you rat!”
The trooper turned into a rat and scurried off, leaving his startled slave girl to look up adoringly at the white-clad Johnny. “Are you hurt, miss?” he said as he helped her up. “That bully should have known better!”
“I am Julia,” she cooed. “You saved me from Detrius. Now I am yours.”
Johnny gulped and said, “I already have a kid, and she’s enough to keep me jumping!”
“Miss, you are free now,” said Doctor Mid-Nite. “Just tell us if you know where we could find others with odd costumes like these we wear. One would be wearing the emblem of a bat.”
Julia nodded. “He was taken by the soldiers of Conquest into the dungeons. He will perform tomorrow at the Great Games.”
“Aphrodite’s girdle!” exclaimed Diana. “The games are gladiatorial spectacles. I can see that the reason our friends were diminished was to make them lose easily to Conquest, so that he will look better for Mars. It will also reflect badly on the Duke for his past defeat at our hands!”
“I’d like to get my hands on these big apes,” said the Atom. “Bullies irk me, no matter if they wear togas, swastikas, or letter sweaters!”
They hurried to the scene of the prison. “Below the streets you will find the dungeons,” said Julia as she clung to Johnny Thunder.
“After dark we’ll attack,” said Doctor Mid-Nite.
“Remember, despite the ancient look of this city, they use weapons of magic and advanced science,” said Diana. The others listened as Wonder Woman explained the world around them. “Mars rules absolutely here, and violence is the dominant method of reaction. His seconds are Deception, Conquest, and Greed. They vie constantly for his favor, and usually use Earth as their playing field. I have fought them all, but only Deception has met other Earth heroes. As his name implies, he prefers trickery to force, while Conquest is a brutal bully, and Greed a selfish schemer.”
“Now, is that any way to talk, Princess?” said an oily man.
“Greed!” shouted Wonder Woman as she jumped to block his approach.
“I am the Earl of Greed!” he leered. “You know what I want — more! Always more and more again! Thus I offer you a deal, Princess. I help you free your friends and make Conquest look like a blundering brute, and in exchange…”
“In exchange what?” asked the Atom suspiciously.
“In exchange, you agree to leave all the power at stake here to me!” he said grinning.
“On our Earth, a fellow named Chamberlain learned the price of appeasement,” said Doctor Mid-Nite. “We don’t make deals with tyrants or their pet vultures!”
“No deal, Greed,” said Hawkman. “You either help us, and possibly make your rival look bad as a consequence, or you don’t.”
Diana smiled. My friends prove once again to be refreshingly free of the vices so commonly found in Man’s World! she thought. What heroes the JSAers are!
“Now take us to your leader!” said the Atom.
Johnny grinned. “You always wanted to say that, huh?”
They laughed, and the Earl of Greed led them to the secret entrance to the dungeon. “Free your allies quickly,” he said. “If you can bring down Conquest, so much the better for me!”
“I see the path within,” said Doctor Mid-Nite. “It is the cells he described. This must be the place.”
Hawkman flew ahead. “Let me scout out the place!”
Diana frowned. “Guard him, Hera!”