Commissioner James W. Gordon of the Gotham City Police Department had not acquired his exalted rank without developing considerable skills in the area of detection. Although it was safe to say that Gordon could solve a mystery better than the average detective, his friend Bruce Wayne remained a true enigma to him.
Bruce Wayne came from a good family. His father, Dr. Thomas Wayne, had been something of a crusading doctor who had been prepared to help those in need, even if that meant working in some of Gotham’s worst neighborhoods. While Bruce certainly made more than his share of charitable contributions, he lacked a certain drive or ambition that had separated his father from the typical society doctor. He did not seem to want to do anything with his life. It was true that Bruce had a very sharp mind, although he concealed it behind a bored playboy façade for some reason. Gordon knew the young man had an interest in crime, and he often shared the latest police news with him during their regular informal meetings. Still, nothing really drew Bruce out of his shallow shell.
The two friends presently sat in a luxurious study in stately Wayne Manor, discussing the latest news that was rapidly making its way out of the police grapevine and into common circulation.
“This series of animal crimes is a real puzzler,” said the police commissioner. “Reliable witnesses are claiming that beast-men have been disrupting things around the city at night. Yet we’ve been unable to find anything conclusive. What’s more, these sightings just started a day or two ago, and have spread across Gotham quickly.”
“Come now, Jim. Surely you don’t believe in werewolves and vampires,” drawled Bruce, stifling a yawn. “Must be an urban myth. It’s bad enough that we’ve got these maniacs like the Penguin and the Joker running loose all the time. No offense.”
Gordon headed for the heavy wooden doors of the study and called back, “Well, I’d better go now. Perhaps one of those maniacs is ‘running loose,’ as you say, even as we speak.”
By the time the older man had exited the mansion, Wayne had made his way down a concealed staircase, hidden behind a large clock, to a huge cave filled with amazing devices and bizarre props. “How’s the lab work going, Dick?” he asked with a smile, as he approached his costumed ward Dick Grayson, alias Robin, the former Boy Wonder.
The young man looked up and smiled ruefully. “Neither hide nor hair of the beast-men is turning up in the samples of fiber you gathered from the last sighting. Looks like slightly coarse human hair.”
“If we rule out escaped exotic animals, then mutated humans are all that are left,” mused Bruce Wayne, alias the Batman.
“Gosh! Do you think Hugo Strange is back at work making monsters?” asked Robin. “We never did track him down after he escaped custody following that Justice Society case back in ’44.” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See Justice Society of America: Times Past, 1944: The Evil Plot.]
“Stranger things have happened, if you’ll allow me the pun this time,” said Batman.
The next night brought the Dynamic Duo all too close to Gotham City’s latest mystery. They were driving through the city streets, scanning the dark corners and the garishly lit giant props that served as ads for various businesses, when a police report blared out of the Batmobile’s radio.
“Police paddy wagon down on Sprang Avenue. Officers under attack from mysterious creatures and a costumed woman.”
“Catwoman again!” shouted Robin. “Maybe all those sightings were just her trained pets all along.”
“Not likely, chum. Selina Kyle is safely behind bars, as you know. Could be a new foe this time.”
The Batmobile raced through the night and soon reached the carnage on Sprang Avenue. An overturned police transport vehicle was on its side, was surrounded by what could only be called beast-men.
“Holy Lon Chaney, Jr.! They really are beast-men,” said Robin. “Those sure aren’t costumes.”
The bizarre creatures walked erect like men and had human features, but they also had animal-like claws and fangs. Batman sent them skidding to one side as he maneuvered the car skillfully between the creatures and their prey. One lone policeman stood watchfully over the body of another, keeping a close eye on the crowd of creatures.
Robin stooped down to tend the fallen policeman. “He’s just stunned. I think he’ll be OK. Are you all right?” he asked the other officer.
“That madwoman just stepped in front of our wagon,” the officer replied. “I swerved to avoid her, and it flipped. Joe hit his head. She brought those eight monsters with her, and they surrounded us. Some went with her to free our prisoners. They seem as scared of her as we are!”
Batman saw a fiery redhead dressed in an ancient Roman tunic leading out two thugs from the back of the wagon. “That’s ‘Wolf’ Brando — a real killer I put away weeks ago. His pal is ‘Fox’ Landon. The Green Lantern ended his last crime spree. They are both little better than their animal namesakes,” said Batman, grimacing as he watched the thugs, the woman, and her milling creatures.
But as they saw the woman mutter odd incantations and make weird gestures, the two thugs were suddenly changed into a lupine man and a vulpine man.
“They are their namesakes!” yelled Robin.
“Some type of magic, like Circe from Homer!” said Batman.
“Well done, Batman!” laughed the woman. “I am Circe reborn, and you’d do well to avoid the fate of those who face me.” As she gestured and muttered once more, suddenly, the officer leaped in front of Batman, taking the bolt she’d intended for the hero. The police officer, too, was altered in seconds. His ears grew huge, and his arms narrowed into expanding bat-wings. “I meant that for you, Batman, but this… Officer Langstrom makes as fine a ‘Man-Bat’ as would you.”
Joe Langstrom cried out a shrill noise and flew upward, while the remaining ten beast-men rushed forward. Batman and Robin tossed more flares, then followed up with a few perfectly timed actions. Batman delivered stunning blows to two creatures and spun out of the path of a clawing third, while Robin leaped up and kicked a huge bear-man while punning, “This could get grizzly!” He then used his momentum to shove the bear over and into two lurking creatures.
Circle merely laughed while the Man-Bat hovered indecisively. Wolf Brando howled his rage to the moon and pounced at Batman. They wrestled furiously, but the savage wolf’s fierce intensity was well matched by the Caped Crusader’s skills. With a sudden rapid thrust, Batman sent Wolf reeling until he could whip his rope around the desperately flailing thug.
Fox Landon tried to sneak up on the former Boy Wonder, but his own reflexes saved him, allowing him to dodge backward. He followed his mentor’s lead and dropped a gassy capsule, which sent the three nearby beasts and Fox to sleep.
Batman called to Langstrom, “Officer, don’t panic. We’ll fix this — just resist her commands!”
Robin moved warily toward Circe and called out, “Careful, lady! Someone will drop a Kansas house on you!” He whipped his own line around her wildly gesturing hands and gagged her. She put her a fierce fight, but her powers were all magical; she was not as strong as the agile boy. With her mouth silenced and her hands bound, Circe could only fume helplessly while the duo dealt with her pets.
Man-Bat sailed into Batman and raked his arms with sharp claws as he pulled upward. Batman tried to reason with the creature, but it was simply too late. They whirled through the sky, and Batman received several rough blows from cornices and edges of rooftops. He knew he had one surefire device to stop Langstrom, but he hesitated to use it until he could get Langstrom a little lower. His mighty muscles struggled to pin the Man-Bat’s delicate but firm wings. They did drop rapidly, and he opened a small device. It activated a siren in the Batmobile that blared out in the night. The noise hurt the Man-Bat’s sensitive ears, and he fell down in pain.
Finally, dawn brought changes that restored the cons and the gang of Circe, leaving the witch herself a dazed, mousy clerk. Joe Langstrom changed back, too, as did Wolf and Fox. They were returned to jail, and Joe received medical help from the cops who had arrived during the middle of the fight. The Dynamic Duo left after making sure all was well.
Alan Scott was being crushed. He felt the viselike grip close ever tighter as the huge black fist increased the pressure on his body. He thought of the many times that he had used his power ring to create just such a fist to snare some costumed thug like the Fool. How ironic.
Green Lantern concentrated, and the emerald energy that surrounded him snaked out from below to land a telling slap across the deathly white face on the enraged woman who was trying to kill him. As she flinched, her ebony fist vanished. He flew back to where Nox, mistress of darkness, crouched. Her angry features were contorted with rage and hate.
But he could only remember her kiss as she tried to kill him once more. He thought back to how it had all started that night. She had appeared in front of his radio station, the one at which he worked as Alan Scott, and she had issued a demand that he come forth. He did so in his Green Lantern identity, since her obvious superhuman powers and weird features had marked her as trouble. Their combat had started immediately, and to his dismay, it became all too clear that she actually wanted to kill Alan Scott, not just the Green Lantern. She did not know he was one and the same. It did not matter, since he also recognized her features through the black and white contrasts that oddly colored her face. She was Irene Miller, the woman whom he had loved so much in the early 1940s.
Back then Irene had been a constant damsel in distress, and eventually she had become so much more to him. How times had changed their feelings for each other. She resented his brand-new secretary, Molly, she had hated his odd disappearances to save the world as Green Lantern, and she had even resisted his driving will to succeed. He had discussed possibly leaving radio behind, as a fading dinosaur, and to risk all with a TV station. Perhaps that was the final straw that had changed sweet, lovely Irene Miller into this hate-filled demon. He had broken up with her before so gently that he had never known she harbored any resentment. They had drifted apart socially, but she had remained a worker, a partner at the radio station until yesterday, when he had announced his plan to someday leave the radio game and venture into TV broadcasting. Irene had rushed out of the impromptu party. He had every intention to follow her, to soothe her, but the masked Domino Gang had hit Gotham City, along with weird beast-men sightings, and he had been forced against his desire, against his powerful will, to let Irene work out her pain on her own. That had been a big mistake.
Where she had gained these weird, night-manifesting powers that so duplicated his ring’s energy constructions was a mystery. He had vague memories of someone else with powers like that from 1942 — a mere boy, a shadowy young man… with a green girl? (*) He must be punchy, as Ted Grant would say. The memories would not come, but the fight raged on.
[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Infinity Syndrome,” All-Star Squadron #25 (September, 1983).]
“I am Nox!” Irene had cried, and her hands had brought forth shadow men to combat him. Like a green knight of old, he had conjured up a lance to skewer them. She had drawn closer, and he had seen her true identity. Then she had tried to crush him with the fist. What was next?
Nox yelled in pain as the Green Lantern tried to close a hand of his own around her. But then darkness like oil oozed around the fingers, decaying them. He tried a new tactic. “Irene, calm yourself! I saved your brother before! I helped you when the Rag Doll kidnapped you. You don’t want this. You would not hurt me or anyone else.”
Irene shuddered at his kind words. She flinched away from his outstretched hand, and Nox lashed out with a cone of razor-sharp night aimed at his chest. He deflected it, but just barely. A grim look of determination spread over his features. If he did not end this, someone else could die — Molly, the other staff, policemen, and even Irene herself.
As darkness clouded his vision and seeped over him, he struggled. “And I shall shed my light over the dark things, for they cannot stand the light… the light of the Green Lantern!” he cried, with a passion rarely equalled by any mystery-man. He spread that light over Nox. She shrank back until all she could see was green — green with life, green with hope, green with his power, power that surpassed every mystery-man alive, except for maybe three superhuman beings. His will, which was certainly stronger than any evil, surged, and Nox reverted to Irene, a frightened Irene Miller who had no hate left within her.
Scooping her up, he flew off to the roof. In an instant, he had changed back to Alan Scott out of sight of all. He returned to the still-dazed Irene and soothed her, held her, and they talked long into the Gotham morning, a morning whose light promised hope for them both and for the days to come. He had won the fight against Nox. He would now fight the more tenuous and more important battle as Alan Scott. He would fight the battle to salvage a woman’s heart and heal a relationship hurt by the shadows of dark emotions.
That morning, Batman and Robin returned to their home in time for Bruce Wayne to answer a telephone call from his friend, Clark Kent. “Sure, Clark! I’ll be glad to find some grant to fund Johnny and keep him provided for and out of trouble. How are you doing?”
“I’m doing OK,” said Clark. “I just had a run-in with a giant called Antaeus.”
“You mean the mythical Earth Titan?” said Bruce.
“That seems to be a myth everyone knows but me!” laughed Clark.
Bruce told him about Circe, and they soon followed up that phone conversation with calls to other members of the Justice Society. Dick Grayson chimed in with the news from Keystone City about the Flash beating a Hydra, and Gotham’s other mystery-man Green Lantern’s fight with a mythic woman named Nox had made the early morning news. The calls from Rex Tyler, added to Doctor Mid-Nite’s call to Wonder Woman, made the pattern all too clear.
“Sorry, chum, this looks like JSA business, and you’ve got school soon enough,” said Bruce to an eager Dick.
Dick Grayson reluctantly accepted his fate and wondered about poor Officer Langstrom — would he ever turn into that Man-Bat again?