by HarveyKent, JSA Jim, JSAGL and GernotCarl
“Thank you for coming, Charlie,” Ted Knight said as he grasped the hand of his old friend and wrung it heartily. “I’m glad you could come so quickly.”
“You sounded urgent on the phone, Ted,” Charles McNider said. “We blind men have a way of reading people’s voices… even those of us whose sight isn’t entirely limited. What’s up?”
“Do you remember that adventure we had back during the war, when Hitler’s chief scientist launched us all into space?” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Shanghaied Into Space,” All-Star Comics #13 (October-November, 1942).]
“And we ended up on different planets? Sure,” Charles said. “One of us on each of the other planets in this system. You were on Jupiter, weren’t you?”
“I thought I was, at the time,” Ted replied. “Since then I’ve heard some theories that we weren’t actually on the other planets in this system at all — that we went through what we now know as a dimensional ‘wormhole.’ (*) What do you think of that?”
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Crisis Point,” All-Star Squadron #50 (October, 1985).]
“I’m not sure I have an opinion,” Charles said. “Medical science is my forte, not astronomy or astrophysics. You’re far better equipped than I to answer that question, although I do recall doubting that I was on the real Neptune.”
“OK, fair enough. Here’s a question you’re more qualified than any other Earthman to answer: what did you think of the Neptunians?”
“The race of plant-men I met on Neptune, if indeed that was Neptune? Primitive social structure. Monarchy, nearly despotism. Still used slave labor. Technologically not very advanced, though some strides they seemed to have made in the chemical sciences were fascinating.”
“They had no means of space travel?”
“None. But they were amazingly clever. When I landed there, I and the first representative I met worked out a universal language based on mathematics so we could communicate. And although they had never seen a spacecraft before, they were able to grasp its technology enough to repair mine and allow me to return home.”
“Would you say they were aggressive?”
“I would. I would have ended up a slave in their mines had I not solved a medical problem that had been plaguing them for generations. Their entire planet seemed under one rule, which could only have come from conquest.”
“I see.” Ted Knight seemed suddenly pensive.
“What is it?” Charles asked, sensing the disturbance in his friend’s thoughts.
“I’ll show you,” Ted said, turning off the overhead lights in his observatory. He pointed to large monitor screens high above the floor. “I use computers to maintain constant surveillance of the heavens; they record all astrological anomalies, for later perusal. This was taken last week; I haven’t been able to check the findings any sooner than that, because of our recent problems with the Secret Society of Super-Villains and the recent JSA-JLA team-up involving the Lord of Time on Earth-One.” (*) Ted used a laser-pointer to indicate a large body in the corner of the screen.
[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Wizard’s War of the Worlds,” Secret Society of Super-Villains #15 (July, 1978), “Murder Times Seven,” Cancelled Comics Cavalcade #2 (Fall, 1978), Justice Society of America: Times Past, 1978: The Redundant Rogues, “Crisis from Yesterday,” Justice League of America #159 (October, 1978), and “Crisis from Tomorrow,” Justice League of America #160 (November, 1978).]
“That’s Neptune, there. And look here.” The pointer indicated a much smaller body near the planet.
“One of its moons?” Charles asked.
“Much too small for that. And look here. This was taken three days ago.” Another screen lit up with much the same picture, only the smaller body was much farther out than it had been. “And this, last night.” Another picture, indicating the body passing close to Jupiter.
“A ship?” Charles asked.
“That seems to be the best hypothesis at present,” Ted said. “That small body traveling away from Neptune is quite probably a spacecraft of some kind. And computer projections say it’s on a direct course with Earth.”
A chill ran down Charles McNider’s spine, as he remembered the inhuman plant-men of Neptune.
“A week at the most.”
“A little radiation?” asked Al Pratt. “Sure, I suppose I could stand up to a little radiation, Ted.”
Standing in his observatory, Ted Knight gazed at the telescope absentmindedly. His guest noticed a closet door open and a loud red and green uniform hanging within.
Ted sprang around suddenly. “Would you then say you could withstand… a lot of radiation?” He moved his chair closer to the man. “Because if that is close to the truth, then you may be able to help me immensely. In fact, what would be even more copacetic would be your… er… size.”
Al smiled. “Hey, don’t sweat it, Ted. My size is what put me where I’m at! The Atom is at your service!”
“Good, Al. Great. Here’s my plan…”
In the chambers of Judge Judith Sheindlin, the judge looked sternly at the woman and her client. In all her years on the bench, she thought she had heard everything, but this absolutely took the cake.
“Now let me get this straight, counselor. You’re telling me that this man is actually some sort of super-hero? I mean, look at him! Blond buzz-cut, bow-tie… and that green suit? Those clothes went out of style back in the ’50s! I suppose next thing you’re gonna tell me is that you’re a super-hero, too… maybe the Huntress?”
The lawyer looked into the judge’s eyes for a split second, wondering if she could have somehow guessed the truth. But no, the judge was just trying to make a point. Helena Wayne spoke up.
“With all due respect, Your Honor, I am not the Huntress, but yes, this man is indeed who I said he is — Johnny Thunder, a member of the Justice Society.”
Johnny looked at the judge, a woman in her fifties, who was small, wiry, and full of more fire than any super-villain he had ever encountered. He adjusted his bow-tie. “Y-Y-Your Honor, I swear I was only trying to help that woman. I saw her trip and went to keep her from falling. I wasn’t trying to do anything, honest!”
The judge considered the two for a moment. Helena Wayne she knew. Her father was Gotham’s police commissioner, Bruce Wayne. He was also one of the city’s most respected citizens and owner of WayneTech, a multi-billion-dollar corporation. Wayne’s mother was the late Selina Kyle, the notorious Catwoman. How ironic that the daughter should grow up to defend the law her mother so casually broke.
But this man — how could he possibly be a super-hero? The word super-hero brought to mind visions of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, and Starman, not some bumbling idiot in outdated clothing.
“I’m sorry, Miss Wayne, but unless your client can offer some proof that he is the JSA’s Johnny Thunder, I’m going to have to lock him up,” said the judge. “I remember seeing the JSA in the newspapers when I was growing up, and the only Thunder I remember was a big pink Thunderbolt.”
Helena thought to herself, OK, she asked for it. “Johnny, the lady wants to see a big pink Thunderbolt. Can you help her out?”
Johnny looked at Helena with wonder on his face. She’s so smart! I never would have thought of that! “Say, you think I should call him right now, Helena?”
Helena looked at Johnny. Johnny looked at Helena. But nothing happened.
Johnny’s face turned into a grimace. “Cei-U! Cei-U!” But nothing happened.
“Miss Wayne, you’ve obviously been duped. This man is definitely not a super-hero. He’s some kind of raving loon!”
“Your Honor, please! I’ll accept full responsibility for him! You have my word on it!”
The judge looked at Helena Wayne.
Fifteen minutes later, outside the courtroom:
“Well, Helena, I don’t know how you convinced the old warhorse to let you have custody of your client, but you are definitely gonna lose this case,” said Harry Sims, Gotham City’s district attorney, using the brusque manner he usually reserved for the courtroom while grilling hostile witnesses.
Helena just looked at Harry and grinned. “He’s innocent, Harry. That’s all I need to know.”
“Sure, Helena, that’s what they all say. But as long as I’m D.A., perverts like him are going away for a long time,” Sims said as he walked off.
Helena frowned, wondering if her friend had simply woken on the wrong side of the bed this morning, or if there was something else behind his uncharacteristic rudeness. He was usually quite kind toward her, at least outside of the courtroom. She walked over to Johnny and guided him out of the courthouse. “It’ll be OK, Johnny. Don’t worry. But what happened to your Thunderbolt?”
Johnny looked over at Helena, a tear forming in his eye. “I don’t know, Helena. It’s not like him to just not answer. Maybe Doc Fate can give me an answer.”
Helena smiled at Johnny. “I’m sure he can. Don’t worry about this case, either. I think the judge will be awfully surprised when I call Superman to the stand as a character witness.”
Back at the district attorney’s office, the woman who accused Johnny Thunder was meeting with Harry Sims.
“You did well in there today. I think we have Mr. Thunder just where we want him.”
Harry simply stared at the woman, his eyes glazed over. “Yes, master…”
As Harry Sims left the room, the beautiful, still-youthful woman once known as Dolores Winters slid back a panel on the wall revealing a view screen. “How goes the advance scouting mission, X-51?” she asked.
“All goes well, Earthling,” replied the strange alien creature on the view screen. “We should be in your planet’s orbit within days. Are you certain this world’s defenders will not stop our enslavement of your peoples?”
“Quite certain,” replied Winters. “This so-called Justice Society of America will never stop your invasion, as long as you keep your promise to make me ruler of this planet’s survivors!”
But Winters’ thoughts belied her words. Blast! These creatures must be stopped! I want to rule a healthy, vibrant Earth, and these alien oafs will leave me naught but a burnt-out husk! But if I allow them to find the clues I left the JSA, I’m as good as dead!
Meanwhile, at JSA Headquarters, Hawkman was chairing a regularly scheduled meeting with most of the team present. “All right, now Starman has ascertained the type of radiation weaponry that these aliens may use against us, and since the Atom probably has the least vulnerability to radiation of us all, he volunteered to test his resistance to it in order to see if normal, non-powered Earth people can also withstand it. Now, Johnny, while Superman has helped clear up your legal problems by vouching for your identity, we still want to keep you out of trouble. Therefore, I’m afraid you’ve drawn monitor, at least until the T-bolt’s back, and we settle this once and for all. Now, I want to get back to the business at hand: Starman, you still have no idea how the information regarding this alien invasion got into your computers?”
“None, Hawkman,” replied Starman. “My computers are good, but not that good!”
“Mr. Chairman, if I may?” asked Bruce Wayne, the police commissioner of Gotham City and the former crime-fighter known as the Batman. “My investigations have finally narrowed the source of Ted’s information to have come from an old hideout of Luthor’s, but when I got there to check it out, the headquarters was empty. Signs did point to Luthor, but since I had Superman make certain he was still in jail, I did some more poking around.”
“And what have you uncovered, Bruce?” asked the winged wonder.
“That we may be dealing with the one man who may be Luthor’s brilliant mental superior: the Ultra-Humanite, back in Dolores Winters’ preserved body in order to more easily meld in with humanity!”
“All goes well, Chancellor Duvolo,” the young officer reported, saluting with a green tendril. “Earthfall in three solar cycles. Cloaking devices engaged.”
“Excellent, Lieutenant,” the plant-man hissed in the sibilant tone common to the Neptunians. “Keep me posted.”
The chancellor leaned back in his command pod, touched the tips of his tendrils together, and smiled — or at least as close to a smile as a Neptunian could come, anyway. Soon, now, very soon. He couldn’t wait to see that one Earthman face to face. Doctor Mid-Nite, Duvolo believed he was called. Were it not for him, Duvolo would not be chancellor.
Mid-Nite had found a cure for the Red Death, the plague that had wiped out half of Neptune’s population every time it occurred. (*) He obviously had not grasped the implications of this. Unchecked by the natural elimination of the plague, Neptune’s population had grown, doubled, squared, until Neptune could no longer feed and shelter all its citizens.
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Shanghaied Into Hyperspace: Interlude Three,” All-Star Squadron #56 (April, 1986).]
This led to unrest, riots, and finally the revolt that had unseated old King Hydara and allowed Duvolo to gain control of the planet. He had promised them resources, food in vulgar surplus for all and living space, and he had promised to take it all from the planet that had caused the overpopulation problem in the first place. When he fulfilled that promise, Duvolo would be their ruler for all time. The plant-man smiled at the thought. Perhaps he would thank this Mid-Nite personally, before he killed the man.