Carter Hall gently handled a yellow cloth mask. He glanced over at a lovely woman with auburn curls who tapped one high-heeled foot impatiently.
“Come on, Carter!” said Shiera Sanders. “You’ve been wearing this one for the past few weeks, and your world hasn’t come to an end, has it? (*) I mean, those ornate helmets are so gaudy, and they really cut into your peripheral vision. I did make this mask myself. Last time I slave over a sewing machine!”
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Crime in Costume,” Flash Comics #98 (August, 1948).]
Carter grinned. “As I recall, that was the last time you slaved over a sewing machine, and that was back in ’42 or so! (*) Seriously, I did eventually mean to use this one ever since. You know how I love the pageantry of the past. It’s hard to give up those more ornately crafted helms. I guess the fact that I’m finally wearing this cloth mask means I’m about ready to retire.”
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Star-Smasher’s Secret,” All-Star Squadron #11 (July, 1982).]
“I’m never sure if you’re joking around or not when you say that, Carter,” Shiera said with a smile. “Anyway, if I didn’t put a stop to it, the next thing you’d want is for me to run around in some ancient breastplate and winged helmet, like a Valkyrie! Don’t even think about it!”
“Well, this does help me to see quite a bit better,” Carter said as he slipped on the yellow cowl. “I’m going to need my costume. The security light is blinking. We’ve got uninvited guests in the east wing!”
Shiera nodded. “I’ll slip into mine!”
Carter shook his head. “No need to make it obvious that, when one of us is gone, a Hawk shows up. As it is, I’ve pushed the old Hawkman is Hall’s pal routine to the limit. Stay put.”
As he flew off down the hall, she sighed and said, “I broke a nail polishing that gaudy helmet, and he’s going to switch permanently to my mask or else!”
Hawkman soon emerged to see a shadowy figure in red. The man’s costume was red in color and avian in motif. Wings emerged from beneath his billowing cloak. Hawkman noticed with the keen eye of a collector that his intruder was pilfering through his extensive files. “Hold it, fella! I may be an invited guest, but this is not a hotel,” he said. “The welcome mat doesn’t apply to burglars.”
The Red Bird, as Hawkman would later learn he was called, whirled and screeched as his talons gleamed in the dim light. He raked one across his foe’s brawny chest and received a swift right hook to the jaw. Staggering back, he knocked over a table as he also took flight.
Got to make the close quarters work to my benefit, since I know the place and he doesn’t! mused Hawkman. Swooping forward, he found himself grunting in irritation as his winged enemy dodged his grasp. This guy moves as naturally as the Black Condor, as if flight is literally second nature to him, he thought. As his foe kicked out, Hawkman grabbed him by the leg. Red Bird said nothing but kicked both legs to break free.
The aerial duel continued as Hawkman realized his enemy could see in the dark. He brought out a mace and caught Red Bird across the wing, causing him to screech in pain and fall down hard. Hawkman dropped a net across him as he rose in pain and tried to free himself. A swift right hook dropped him to the polished floor, and Hawkman bent down low to examine his captive.
“Great Scott! He’s more bird than man,” gasped Hawkman. “He’s not in a costume except for the adornments of cape and trunks. He’s a hybrid of man and bird!” He glanced at the fallen papers. “What was he after?”
Alan Scott rushed down the hall of station WXYZ and smiled. “The shows are doing wonderful. We’ve attracted many new advertisers. I’m delighted with our early returns!”
His secretary nodded as she adoringly gazed up at the handsome blond man. “Yes, Mr. Scott!” said Molly Maynne. “You’ve made real progress with the place!”
Alan glanced outside the window and frowned. “But a guy can’t rest on his laurels. Got to be out and about and meet some potential clients.” He rushed past her as she sputtered a final word of praise.
Molly sighed. “How can a girl get anyplace when her guy is always rushing away?”
Alan Scott switched to the colorful garb of the Green Lantern as he passed through the wall and exited his station. Hated to rush off like that. Poor Molly’ll think her boss is a real loon. Still, better Alan Scott’s stability be questioned than Gotham City suffer because Green Lantern was caught in red tape! he thought, smiling.
Green Lantern soared over the city he loved, taking an appraising look at the stylish and unique oversized props that served as odd but admittedly eye-catching tourist attractions, even as they advertised various Gotham City businesses. Hmmm… Wonder if a big microphone would look good on top of the station? he thought.
The hero zoomed toward the trouble he had spotted from the office window. The Gotham Museum is being robbed, he thought. That scaly joker below is leaving a path full of injured guards! “A dragon motif!” he noted. “Not one of the lingering sects from the old Black Dragon Society, I hope!”
As he reached the scene, Green Lantern said in a loud voice, “Listen, I hate to alarm you, buddy, but there’s a knight in armor looking for you about a block from here!” The Green Dragon looked up, and his red eyes glowed as his scaly form approached the emerald crusader. “Silent type, huh? Well, I doubt you’re Gary Cooper under that hood,” he joked as his ring created a shield to protect him from a clawed hand that struck swiftly toward him.
The hero frowned as Green Dragon connected with his blow. Broke through my shield! Magic or… wood! he mused as his savage foe charged him. Swiftly sidestepping, he brought his own fist around to deliver a left hook. Green Dragon ignored the strong blow and brought both arms around his foe’s chest in a crushing impact.
Green Lantern dropped down and twisted free, even as the Green Dragon swept a tail around to knock him down the steps of the museum. He rose again and grimly brought his powerful will to play as green hands lurched out to bring down the museum’s flagpole so that it landed squarely across the Dragon’s back. The wooden pole’s metal brace was easy prey for Green Lantern’s powerful will, and it made a perfectly aimed weapon. Smiling, he said, “In a way, that was like a lance. Maybe my knight joke wasn’t so far off.”
As he reached down to lift off the hood, he shook his head in surprise. “It’s all wood. This guy is living wood!”
Steve Trevor whistled the Bunny Berigan tune I Can’t Get Started as he slouched against the wall of an elegant reception hall in the Lodge manor. “I’ve flown around the world in a plane… I’ve settled revolutions in Spain… The North Pole I have charted… But I can’t get started with you!” he sang.
The handsome war hero knew of what he sang. He had literally saved the world once or twice, yet he could not get any romantic success with his angel, Wonder Woman. She had vowed never to settle down until she had rid the world of crime. Thus, even though Steve was justly celebrated for his heroism and was invited to elite parties like this Lodge Charity Ball, he could not get what he really wanted: Wonder Woman. He made small talk with a stuffy diplomat and wished for the hundredth time that the night was over. He frowned as he thought, I’d almost prefer to go one-on-one with the Cheetah or Giganta than spend one more boring minute with these snobs!
As he imagined the two villainesses finely attired and making inane conversation with Mrs. Lodge’s bridge club, he smiled. Then a crash reached his ears, and he ran down the hall to see a black-clad figure exiting the Lodge galleries. “Hold it! Black tie and tails doesn’t mean black-plated armor and a sword!” he said.
The warrior in black raised his sword and swung for Steve, who rolled aside and connected with a right hook. Ow! That’ll teach me to play Ted Grant with a guy wearing metal armor! he mused.
Steve felt a stinging left hook and fell, only to doggedly tackle his foe. He gasped as he passed right through the armored figure and choked as water cascaded over him. “What the–?! He’s gone all Esther Williams on me!” he burbled.
Then a leggy figure jumped into the hall, and he smiled with relief. “Angel!” he said. “Help me take a can-opener to this mug!”
Wonder Woman smiled. “My plans exactly!” She had been a surprise addition to the guest list at the last minute and had arrived just in time to see Steve’s battle. Facing the black-armored warrior, she said, “Now, suppose we see the expiration date on this can!”
She gripped the armored figure and lifted him skyward, only to blink in dismay as he engulfed her in water. Dropping his now-liquid form, she said, “By Hera! He’s made of water!”
“He was solid enough a minute ago!” said Steve.
Wonder Woman spun her magic lasso in the midst of the watery figure and scattered him across the room. “Odd! He’s not re-forming!” she mused.
“Look, he dropped this piece of parchment,” said Steve. “Something from one of Lodge’s collection. Who the heck is Fierabres?”
“A knight, or a reformed robber who battled good knights,” said Wonder Woman. “This is very strange!”
A weary Hawkman addressed the Justice Society of America at the team’s brownstone headquarters in Gotham City. He had spent a difficult past few hours since his battle with the avian intruder. Seconds after defeating the Red Bird, he had gasped as the being literally burst into flames and vanished. Shiera Sanders had rushed into the hall to help smother the flames, and, hours later, she had discovered the shocking method behind the mad robbery attempt.
“While we fought the flames that winged inferno started, someone robbed you of something from the glass case in the East wing collection,” she had told him. “Something the file cabinet index directed him to!”
Now Hawkman faced his friends and said, “I appreciate this turnout. As you know, I just fought a creature of avian characteristics who apparently was made of flames! He distracted me while an ally robbed Carter Hall of one of his collection of antiquities.”
Doctor Mid-Nite frowned. “A living flame being! Like the Egyptian Phoenix! Too bad Doctor Fate has traded in his cape and amulet for a surgical mask and gloves.”
Wonder Woman touched his arm. “Actually, Doc, it sounds like the foe I battled at the Lodge Charity Ball. He was made of water!”
Black Canary crossed her legs and said, “I wasn’t present, of course, but I read about a weird creature of wind or air that nearly destroyed the Empire City Public Library as well!”
The Atom grinned. “Must have had an overdue book fine!”
The blonde bombshell smiled. “You’re terrible! But it’s nice to be able to see that smile now,” she said, speaking of the Atom’s relatively new half-mask, which had replaced his old full face mask last month. His teammates were still getting used to it and the new costume he wore. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Terror Rides the Rails,” Flash Comics #98 (August, 1948).]
Doctor Mid-Nite grinned as he looked over to his diminutive teammate. “And, more to the point, it’s nice to be able to hear what he says clearly!”
The Atom shrugged. “Yes, I see the many benefits of my recent costume change.”
“If we can stop playing Hedda Hopper for a minute,” interrupted the Flash, “I’d suggest we forget the costume changes our fellow teammates have made and move on to this new development.”
“Right!” said Green Lantern. “Personally, I can’t imagine changing my costume, even though I’ve been criticized for not wearing enough green. I also fought a thief made of something other than flesh. Mine was wood, as bad luck would have it.”
“Bad luck or design?” said the Flash. “Still, I’d wager it was bad luck for the thief that he ran into you.”
Hawkman interjected, “So all four cases involved beings made out of the four classical elements. That would fit in with what the Red Bird took from me. He took a scroll that spoke of Prince Ahmed.”
“The theft from Empire City concerned rare papers, too,” said the Black Canary. “Greek, in fact.”
Wonder Woman added, “My warrior in black dropped a parchment about the legendary foe of Oliver — Fierabres.”
“Sounds like it’s all coming together,” said the Atom. “Let me make a quick call and — Flash, how about playing delivery service for me, too?”
Minutes later, the Flash returned with the red-and-green-costumed Mister Terrific. “Person-to-person service with the man of a thousand talents,” said the Flash with a grin.
Black Canary extended her hand. “Surely, that’s an overly modest honorific. Nice to see you again, Mister Terrific. Excuse the rhyme.”
Mister Terrific smiled. “And you’re as lovely as ever. As Emerson wrote, ‘a beautiful woman is a practical poet’!”
“I knew Mister Terrific would have an idea about these goons,” said the Atom, “so I gave him a call and had Flash pick him up.”
Hawkman shook hands with Mister Terrific. “You know our story. Any ideas?” he asked.
“In Chinese philosophy there are also four elements of nature — fire, water, earth, and air, although the last one is sometimes called metal,” explained Mister Terrific. “They are represented in some legends as Red Bird, Black Warrior, Green Dragon, and White Tiger. I’d say also that these elementals, as we more commonly call them, were sent by an alchemist to get leads to locating four other items from alchemical lore.”
Hawkman nodded. “An alchemist? More likely the Alchemist: Professor Zodiac!”
“We thought he died last month!” said Wonder Woman. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Man Who Hated Science,” All-Star Comics #42 (August-September, 1948).]
The Atom shrugged. “They never die. They just come back with new henchmen — or perhaps make their own! I thought Mister Terrific had once mentioned avatars like the ones you all encountered. Looks like my hunch was right!”
Mister Terrific smiled. “You were listening to me after all! I figured I’d bored you to death!”
Doctor Mid-Nite spoke up. “If Zodiac is behind this, then he’s traded his pseudo-science in for real magic. Just what are the items of alchemical lore he’s after?”
“Doc, in the tales of Charlemagne, one of his peers named Oliver fought a large warrior called Fierabres,” said Wonder Woman. “The scrap from the Lodge gallery named him. He figures in alchemical lore because of his unique aura of invulnerability. It was a balsam or perfume of power.”
Mid-Nite nodded. “Why don’t we go to France and seek this mythic balm?”
“Agreed!” said Hawkman. “You and Wonder Woman do that, while Atom and I head east for Prince Ahmed’s legendary apple. Ahmed was the central figure in my scrolls, which this Red Bird and his master took.”
“Sure, I’m up for a harem tour!” said the Atom.
“The ring scan I did of the Gotham Museum indicated that the wooden man I fought was after another Arabic item: Aladdin’s ring!” explained Green Lantern.
“You and I’ll take that one,” said the Flash. “You can offer each other tips on ring care!”
“That leaves the Black Canary and I to investigate what my rough translation of the missing library item revealed to be Medea’s kettle,” said Mister Terrific. “I recall seeing that item once during a visit to the Empire City Library.”
The Black Canary smiled. “Good memory. Sounds like a plan — divide and conquer!”
The Atom nodded. “Why mess with a proven formula?”