The gorgeous Nordic beauty Gudra reclined on the dais, displaying her long, bare legs. An armor-wearing blonde Valkyrie with a winged helmet was an odd sight, especially in a Roman temple. She smiled seductively at the large, red-bearded male who towered above her posing form. “Mars, what else would you ask of this shield-maiden?”
“I like you, Gudra!” roared Mars, the god of war. “You are a woman after my own heart. You are beautiful, passionate… and deadly!”
Gudra looked up at him demurely through her long, fair eyelashes as she re-laced her sandals. And you, with your scheming, posturing, and bellowing, would make a pathetic showing alongside of my Asgardian nobility like Odin, Thor, and Tyr, she thought. “You need me. That much is clear, O warlord!”
“Yes, I admit it. Zeus has bound me with threats, with magic, with everything at his disposal. I am forbidden to interfere with Earth’s fate. After my glorious effort in the last war, after those costumed mystery-men — including the accursed daughter of the Amazon queen — thwarted my plans, Zeus placed me on a type of restriction. I dare not risk his ire. But I do want to pay back the American heroes who worked against me in the World War. I offer you the power to create agents from my magic as wielded by you with that impressive spear. Make the mortals do my bidding and create chaos.”
“You speak of the Hitlerian war that ended but two years ago. I see your desire for revenge, but what will these… minions we shall create and empower hope to accomplish?”
“They shall bring chaos, destruction, pain, and perhaps death to Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, and the rest of that ilk who will rise up to reign, in their random violence and terror.”
“I should like to test myself against them again as well, for they caused me no little dismay in my past ventures from Valhalla,” said Gudra.
Mars touched her spear, and it glowed bright red with his magic power. “Go, my maiden, and though we come from different pantheons, together we shall achieve much divine retribution!”
And you shall be safe from your fearsome father and the perilous mortal mystery-men whom you have reason to fear, thought Gudra. “I’ll do it,” she said with a bow. But I’ll do it as I choose, she thought wickedly to herself.
Paula von Gunther was a woman of the modern world, a gifted scientist who had worked wonders for both sides during World War II. She had at first fought, then become friends with Princess Diana of Paradise Island, better known to the outside world as Wonder Woman. She even lived and worked her scientific marvels on the offshoot of Paradise Island called Transformation Island.
The former villainess had, indeed, found her entire life transformed by the Amazons. She embraced the ways of Aphrodite and the Amazonian world as they showed her mercy and forgiveness, enabling her to work with life-altering devices like the purple healing ray, the Magic Sphere, their fleet of flying vehicles, and even the beautiful kangas. She now looked liked an Amazon with her rare beauty and muscled body, dressing in their skimpy tunics with total ease and comfort. If her hate-filled Führer could have seen her now, how he would have raged and dismissed the life she now led. It was full of hope, love, and the joy of helping others.
Her work was stopped by a pink glow that filled the room. A tall blonde woman with impossibly lovely features appeared. She wore a long filmy gown that covered very little of her perfect form. “What are you?” asked a stunned Paula while the glow was still too bright. Then she recognized who it was; she had only glimpsed the goddess once before. “Aphrodite!”
“Yes, my daughter,” said the goddess of love and beauty, “and I bring you, your chosen queen, and her lovely daughter warnings of dark omens, sinister portents that speak in the shrill war-torn scream of my past lover, Mars. They echo with his hate and promise ill for the Amazon nation and Princess Diana’s allies. Warn her and be strong in love and mercy, for that is what we live by.” Then she was gone.
Paula hurried to the throne room, where Queen Hippolyta sat in daily judgment of her immortal sisters. She would need to contact Diana. If Mars was at large, if his forces were again at work, then the world needed Princess Diana. The world needed Wonder Woman.
Gudra soared over the African plains, oblivious to all the wildlife and foliage she passed. Her winged stallion carried her at magical speeds and never tired. She arrived as if by whim, but actually by magical instinct, at a campground. Gesturing casually with the spear, she swept the sleeping occupants into a deep, deathlike sleep. “You shall awaken once more ‘ere long, but you are not worthy to ride to Valhalla upon my back.”
The Valkyrie walked with a seductive grace, her sandals never making a sound, and no leaf, stick, or animal made any noise as she passed like a blonde Grim Reaper through the tent. She touched a sleeping man, and he stirred and stiffened. “Rest, Paul Kirk. You are not this huntress’ prey tonight.”
She also touched his sleeping companion. Energy spread over the dazed and waking Paula Brooks, who had once been known as the Tigress. “I touched you before, child, back in your 1942. Now, arise as my tool and hunt my chosen targets. I give you either these war hounds from the wild hunt, Garm’s offspring, or Cerberus’ litter. Take your pick of pantheons, but lead my hounds to victory! I name thee Diana of the Hunt for this mission, anon!”
Paula Brooks changed into a wilder, long-tressed huntress with gleaming eyes and a savage face. She looked back once at the man in the bed and at the sleeping baby in a nearby crib, the merest glimmer of affection marking her now-cruel face.
“Leave your mate and the heir of the Manhunter!” commanded the Valkyrie.
The former Paula Brooks, who was now the incarnation of the goddess of the hunt, rose up into the night and did not look back a second time. Her old life was gone forever, and only the huntress now remained.
Joan Williams was bright, willful, and beautiful. She saw that the actress Donna Reed was talented and almost achingly lovely, but Joan just could not bring herself to identify with the young starlet. This was sad, since she readily saw a resemblance between Miss Reed’s latest leading man, Jimmy Stewart, and Joan’s own fiancé Jay Garrick, the hero known as the Flash.
The couple had just seen Stewart and Reed in It’s a Wonderful Life. The Capra film had opened months ago in January, but it had only reached sleepy little Keystone City just recently. Jay had loved it, and no wonder; he possessed the same boyish enthusiasm, Midwest idealism, and solid value system as Stewart’s heroic George Bailey.
As they walked along, Jay could not stop talking about it in his own slow Midwestern drawl. “I tell you, Joanie, it’s a classic! Why, when George faced down old Potter, it just… just inspired me! You know, old Potter had the same look in his eyes that I’ve seen in the Ultra-Humanite’s. You don’t suppose…? Naw. Say, do you think every time a Liberty Belle rings, Jim Corrigan gets his wings? Just kidding. Why, I…”
At that moment, screams filled the air. “Wait, here, honey,” he said in a much more serious tone. “Got to get my working clothes ready!”
With that phrase Jay was gone, and the wind from his takeoff blew Joan’s white sun dress up around her knees, in spite of her best effort to hold it down. “Go lasso the moon, George!” she called out playfully.
Jay Garrick was a blur as he raced through the Keystone City streets in the colorful red and blue garb of the Flash. He wondered to himself who was behind it this time — the Shade, the Rag Doll, the Thinker, or perhaps old Sieur Satan of the Faultless Four back from death for the third time now?
No, it was a new one. Dragon Man? Reptar? Scaly Lizard Guy? he pondered jokingly as he approached the costumed figure whose green costume clearly had a reptilian or dragon motif. Well, I’m just the knight to joust with this joker, thought the Flash.
The man had been shooting fire out of his gloved hands, while people were racing away from what seemed to be a purposeless rampage. The Flash zoomed up and announced himself, since it wouldn’t be fair to just hit him before he could even see the Flash coming. His pal, Terry “Fair Play” Sloane, who was secretly the hero known as Mister Terrific, would agree. “OK, pal! We frown on property damage and endangerment of lives after six! You’ll get a ticket or be towed away for sure!”
The man, whose name was Hydra, turned and exulted at the sight of the red and blue comet careening toward him. “Ahh, you are all the excuse I need to be here!” He gestured toward the Flash, and flames gutted the pavement briefly before one quick pass by the super-speedster extinguished them.
The Flash did not like the man’s comment. It implied that the hero’s mere presence in Keystone City attracted weirdos and danger. Still, he had to live somewhere, and Keystone already had the home of the Flash signs proudly displayed everywhere.
The speedster landed quick three punches on Hydra’s chin. The villain swayed, and then replicated. There were now three Hydras, each laughing and aiming fire at a different direction.
The Flash hit a higher speed. Catching a waving car lot banner, he snuffed out some flames that threatened a school, then chopped down a fire hydrant with a deadly precise vibrating blow. Thus the water hit one Hydra like a bullet, duplicating him again as he fell. The Flash also pushed an elderly couple two miles to safety and unloaded their groceries for them with a smile before returning to the Hydras so quickly that none had even blinked yet.
He decided to drop them all with lightning-fast blows so they would be out cold before they could split apart. Jay fully understood what they were doing, and he knew the legend of the many-headed Hydra. Hercules had slain him by burning each head off as he maimed the creature. Well, the Flash could not see himself doing exactly that, so he landed multiple knockout blows at all four. Even Ted Grant would envy his skill.
Or perhaps not. All four fell down, yes, but all four replicated just as easily. They laughed in unison and said, “Give up, scion of Mercury. Quit now, Hermes’ son! You tire, and I increase with every blow.”
Odd language, thought the Flash. This guy may look like a super-powered Joe, but he must have magic going for him. I guess I could try to round up Doctor Fate, Sargon the Sorcerer, or even Doctor Occult, but by the time I track one of them down, this fella could hurt someone. I can’t take that kind of chance, since I’m not even sure where to find those occult types these days.
Joan Williams arrived at that moment. Her hair was a mess, and she had broken a high heel, but to Jay Garrick she was as adorable as she had been as homecoming queen back at Midwestern University, where he had gained his speed powers in a freak accident. As Joan approached one of the Hydras, the Flash had flashbacks of beautiful, sassy Joan playing girl hostage and taunting thugs yet again.
It would not be the same with this madman; he was no loser like the Turtle, with a silly gimmick like being the slowest man alive. “Keep back!” shouted the Flash as he carried the breathless Joan Williams to safety. Was anywhere safe? The replicating Hydras now numbered twenty or more. Keystone City could be an inferno soon.
Jay thought about how quickly things could change. Just a few minutes earlier, he had been gleefully teasing Joan about reenacting the Donna Reed bathrobe scene or lassoing the moon. He frowned suddenly as the thought hit him. That was it — the airless moon. His foes needed air. Any force applied against them caused them to duplicate, but they still needed to breathe.
The Flash rocketed around the group as they multiplied to forty, sixty, and eighty. He did not touch them, but drew all the air away from them until a vacuum effect was created. They blurred and fell, and when he finally stopped, only one lone, middle-aged man was left there, motionless. Don’t know him, but he is now safe to touch, since the replication effect and even his costume are gone.
Depositing him in a prison cell, the Flash raced back to Joan. With a courtly bow and his best Jimmy Stewart impression, he quipped, “Your chariot awaits, milady!”
In the darkest section of New York City’s Bowery district, the people lived bleak lives with little hope. The optimism of the Dead End Kids films were Hollywood’s soft-coated, candy-flavored depiction of life as it could be in fantasy, not life in the grim reality of the slums.
Into this area moved a figure straight out of the wildest cinematic fantasy or man’s darkest dreams. She moved with a sultry grace, making her way purposefully to one almost-deserted alleyway. Gudra, for she was the silent predator, approached a sleeping bum dozing next to an empty bottle of gin. “Ah, how these mortals deaden their paltry lives with narcotics and opiates,” she sighed, then touched his form with her now-glowing spear.
“Arise, ‘Fairy-Tales’ Fenton! You may be of use this night. Although not as a mortal Thor, but as an instrument of a different kind.”
Wonder Woman’s flawless features reflected her all-too-human concern as she thought about the conversation she’d just had with her mother. While most daughters had their own irritations following maternal dialogues, their problems usually involved nagging matrimonial or parental demands, and their calls were taken on the telephone in the new suburban track houses that were springing up in these postwar years.
In Princess Diana’s case, the call came via her mental radio, an Amazonian device that allowed instant telepathic communication, and concerned a supernatural threat to the free world. The call reached the beautiful Amazon princess at a military base in Virginia, where she was working as Lieutenant Diana Prince, accompanying Major Steve Trevor in an official capacity.
Diana ran her hand through her thick, black hair. She was alone in her temporary quarters. Her privacy was rare, but ensured due to Trevor’s importance. He had been a hero’s hero during the war that had ended two years ago, and rank still carried some benefits. Diana’s own rank as princess of the immortal race of warrior women known as Amazons crossed her mind only in terms of the demands of service to her home and her adopted home of America. She was no spoiled noble, but a dedicated servant of freedom, love, and other Amazonian ideals.
Wonder Woman was sorry to learn that dark magic now threatened her home and friends, and she had little doubt that she would soon be facing it. “Great Hera, give me strength,” she prayed, sighing as she thought of her friends back on Paradise Island like blonde Mala, who had been by her side on that day when Trevor’s plane had crashed onto her magic island, or wise Paula von Gunther, who had once been an enemy. “Athena, protect them,” she murmured.
But the princess of Amazon isle had been too late. At that moment, Gudra’s powerful hands were closing around Paula von Gunther’s shapely throat. As the startled German-aristocrat-turned-Amazon-scientist fell to the ground, Gudra smiled a cold smile and gathered her up in one mighty arm.
The Valkyrie flew away from the dangerous isle on her winged horse, with Paula and the gorgeous Mala as her prisoners. They and one other would prove welcome amusements for her, and perhaps causes of heartache for the Amazon known to the world as Wonder Woman.