The Atom and the Flash sat in the Gateway City living room of Lysette Sloane. She was a pretty, but elderly woman who smiled with pleasure as her husband’s old friends sat across from her. Photos of the handsome and smiling Terry Sloane covered the walls.
“I am so glad you came by like this, even if it’s because of some danger from Terry’s past,” said the old lady. “You can’t know how much joy I get from talking with those who loved him. His old pupils and those who read his books all call from time to time. Countless young men and women who were pulled from the streets and given hope, self-esteem, and a new code of ethics to live through the work of Terry’s Fair Play Clubs write to me yet. However, I know his heart was always with your group. The Justice Society represented Fair Play at its best and brightest, and so did Terry. He did not attend the meetings very often in recent years, but he, Ted, and Al, here, always stayed in close contact. I know he valued his membership and your friendship so much.”
Al Pratt nodded. “Terry was my closest friend, along with Ted. He was so smart! It’s always amazed me that he could have been so gifted, so exceptional, yet he always made me feel worthy and important. I guess some folks would say I had a bit of an inferiority complex as a kid and acted aggressively to prove my worth around guys like the Spectre and Hawkman, but still, Terry just made me feel like an equal. That was a gift of his. I bet that’s why the kids he mentored were so crazy about him. He made you feel like you could be a hero, too.”
The Flash grinned. “You know, Terry and I were pretty close, too, and I always saw him as a regular fellow. I mean, he had a dozen Ph.D.s and could do anything — and I mean anything — like a master, but he just had that manner about him where he’d smile and say, ‘Biology was a hobby of mine,’ or ‘Judo was a hobby I had once,’ as if that explained why he was the best or smartest guy in that field! He may have been the man of a thousand talents, but just being a decent, caring, compassionate man and a loyal friend may have been his greatest talents.
“Why, I remember that he and I were at some charity event once, and a little kid came up to us, and he had this homemade Flash T-shirt on,” continued Jay Garrick. “He watched from the side and fought to get his nerve up to talk to us. Terry saw him and went over, and in minutes he had the kid talking and beaming from ear to ear. He had me give the boy an autograph, and we talked a bit, and then the kid walked over to some of his buddies. Well, they knew me and the Green Lantern, but they didn’t know Mister Terrific, so when they asked the little fellow who Terry was, he just smiled and said, ‘He’s my friend!’ That’s about the best thing a guy can deserve from anyone — to be called a friend. That’s what Terry Sloane was to me and all of us JSAers — a real friend!”
As Lysette smiled with tears in her eyes, the ghostly figure of El Espada walked through the walls.
“Touching!” he said. “I never met the esteemed Terry Sloane, but I assure you my master does not think of him as a friend!”
Lysette Sloane gasped as the Atom jumped from the chair and sent the weird Conquistador crashing through the patio glass door to the yard beyond.
“Not so smart-mouthed now, are you?” he said. “I see you can be solid and can be touched if caught by surprise! You figured Flash would move first, didn’t you? Well, I had a greater motivation to lay hands on you dirtbags. Your type killed my buddy, took over the mind and body of my other pal, and stole away my wife. I can assure you, you’ll be one sorry ghost when I get done with you!”
Al Pratt atomic-punched the ghostly figure, and the laughing spirit did not rise again, having been caught completely off-guard by the Atom’s furious attack. “I got him!” he said. “Now we can find that Seven person we’re seeking and free Mary and Joan.”
The Flash joined him. “Easy, Atom. We’re getting there. Don’t lose it now. He’d want you to keep cool — the thinking man’s hero, remember?”
Al glanced over at Lysette and nodded. “Thanks, pal.”
Meanwhile, even as the Atom and the Flash attempted to find a means of restraining a man who could turn intangible at will, that man’s old foe stirred from a very happy romantic night.
Sitting up on one elbow, he gazed down at the beautiful blonde woman who slept next to him. She was his wife, and they were blissfully content together. Her name was Deborah Wallace, and she was but the latest woman to carry that name and that special, demure beauty. Her predecessors had also loved the man beside her, although there had been decades and even centuries that separated the three Deborahs. This man was named Charles Collins or, more precisely, that was the name of the shell he had worn since 1941.
In truth, he was Keith Everet, the Earl of Strethmere, and although he had been dead since the 1700s, his restless spirit had wandered the earth anew ever since he was sent back to the mortal plane by the spirits of his ancestors. (*) He was called at various times the Gay Ghost, but he had been a Grim Ghost to those Axis agents and super-criminals who sought to harm others or wage war on the helpless. Now he stirred from contemplating his beloved bride as she slept. His old foe, El Espada, was loose again; his special sensory abilities told him so.
[(*) Editor’s note: See The Gay Ghost, Sensation Comics #1 (January, 1942).]
Kissing her gently, he arose and — by force of will — caused his appearance to resume his customary in action look of long brown hair, a gray cape, a sword, and a red and blue costume. Flying over the streets of Metropolis, he mused upon the whims of fate. Odd that this doomed Spanish nobleman would surface again after so many decades, he thought. I suppose his waters of immortality have not lost their miraculous potency.
The Grim Ghost tracked the evil man down to a dwelling outside of Gateway City, where he recognized the famous Flash and the Atom. Materializing solidly, he greeted them, saying, “Well met, friends. I have not ventured among your like for many a year, although I did aid the fair Liberty Belle not long ago.” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See Liberty Belle: The Future Is Now.]
The Flash smiled. “The Ghost! You’re looking well for a dead man!” he said. “Y’know, it should tell you something about my social circles that I’ve actually said that line before.”
The Atom frowned. “Who is this guy? Another creep working for the Shadow Fiend?”
“Nay!” said the Grim Ghost. “Never think that an Everet would consort with the forces of darkness!”
“Say, would you be here because of our fallen Cortez here?” asked the Flash with a glance down at El Espada.
“Indeed I am,” said Keith Everet. “‘Tis true that knave fought me many a time during the conflict with Hitler. I sensed he walked once more after decades of inactivity, though I’d thought him long dead.”
“You mean he isn’t already?” asked the Atom.
“No,” said the Ghost. “He possesses ghostly powers from magical waters within which he was once doused. He is nigh immortal but had been long gone from this realm.”
“Would you care to help us track down another unique being?” asked the Flash. “We seek a member of a fabled group called the Seven.”
“I would gladly fight those who seek to return such a miscreant as El Espada to action,” he offered.
The trio, along with a bound El Espada whom the Grim Ghost was restraining with his own powers, followed the glowing ankh symbol and soon reached the shabby office of a detective called Magnon, P.I.
“Odd… I detect much the same type of aura from within yon office that Espada emits,” said Keith Everet.
They entered the office and saw a rough but handsome man sitting at the desk with his feet on the top. “Hiya, gents! What can I do ya for?” he said, suddenly sitting up straight as he recognized them. “Whoa, the Flash! This is an honor!”
“Mr. Magnon, we need your help,” said the Flash. “Are you aware of the Seven?”
“The seven what? Dwarves? Osmonds?” said Chuck Magnon. “Be more precise-like!”
“Hey, buddy, this is serious,” insisted Atom. “Do your poor man’s Bogart for the divorce cases.”
“Sorry, Mr. Pratt,” he said, rubbing his hands over an unshaven chin. “I can see that my little charade did not amuse you as it does many of my clients. I was indeed a member of one of the many assemblies who performed needful services under the illustrious name of the Seven.”
“Pratt?” said the Atom in amazement.
“Come, now, sir,” said Magnon. “Your size, your location for so many years… how difficult would it be for a thinking man like myself to connect the two, eh?”
“Zounds! The man is more than he seems,” whispered the Grim Ghost.
“True, Earl of Strethmere. I do have my talents, as do you,” said Chuck Magnon. “Look, in a nutshell, I fell into a pool of weirdly altered waters in prehistoric times, and have been around ever since under one name or another. I did aid the Seven once, in Egypt during the reign of Khufu. I take it that the Shadow Fiend has risen anew?” He circled the desk and made for the door.
“Right. Uh, where are you going?” asked the Flash.
“I’m going to the most likely source of transport to his old base — the dark side of the Moon — you know, your pal, Doctor Fate,” explained Magnon with obvious surprise that anyone would ask.
“An immortal genius caveman detective, a ghostly seventeenth-century noblemen, and a base on the moon,” muttered Al Pratt. “This is getting to be the weirdest case I’ve seen in years!”
Superman, Hawkman, and Lagra, the man of power, hurried along the trail of the gleaming ankh until they reached a European villa near Italy’s southern coast.
“With Lois and Shiera both under that creature’s spell, I’d say neither of us will be thinking too clearly,” said the Man of Steel. “It’s good to have a back-up in Lagra here.”
Hawkman nodded grimly. He didn’t truly recall the events of his ancient life before the battle to the death with Hath-Set. (*) But this Lagra, reincarnated as Lane Grange, had spoken of their friendship in detail as of memories that had only awakened within his own mind during the time when this Shadow Fiend had stirred with the Crisis on Infinite Earths.
[(*) Editor’s note: See The Hawkman, Flash Comics #1 (January, 1940).]
“You are much more driven now than you were as Khufu,” said Lagra. “The ages have made you more relentless.”
Carter Hall grimaced; he didn’t like the idea that another person could claim a greater knowledge of his own past life than he could. “I suppose it’s due to the little fact that it’s my wife he has!” snapped Hawkman.
“True, my friend,” said Lagra. “You and Shiera were always bound like one soul. I sense how her absence tears at you still.” He was blond and handsome and slightly balding, but he always had this aura of knowing one’s thoughts before the thinker did. His considerable mental powers may have given him that very ability.
“I sense you wonder about my powers,” he said. “I received them through intensive meditation, and nothing more. They are open to all who would master the limits of human thought.”
“I can’t say I ever cared for those kind of Zen-style techniques, but then I was always prone to just use my own powers in any crisis,” said Superman.
“I understand,” said Lagra. “Who would argue with Superman’s own success after generations of being revered as the greatest mystery-man of them all?”
“Where exactly have you been since the days of the Seven?” asked Hawkman.
“Like you, I died and lived anew in several lifetimes, with vague memories and various degrees of power. It was only the coming of the Shadow Fiend that stirred my past lives and gave me clarity once more of who I used to be.”
“The magic symbol leads to that villa,” said Superman. “I see a rather familiar face below — much like mine, as I’ve heard people say.” He dropped down to the yard around the home of Richard Occult; he entered when no one came to the door.
“Strange. I know he’s home. Doctor?” he called.
A red-and-blue-clad figure bolted forward and blasted him in the chest with a magical talisman. Superman grunted as the magic energy slammed into him.
“By Osiris!” cried Lagra. “That is the Symbol of the Seven!”
A man who did indeed resemble the Kryptonian, right down to the red and blue outfit, cried, “Die! The Shadow Fiend commands it!”
Hawkman brought around his mace and scowled. “Great. He’s already fallen under this creature’s spell!” He yelled in pain as Occult’s symbol sent a crescent of fire into his flight path.
Lagra stood still. He concentrated, and mental waves surrounded the mesmerized Doctor Occult. Slowly, the famed occult detective’s hand grew heavy, and he could no longer lift the powerful talisman.
Superman seized the moment, connecting with a left hook that rattled Occult’s teeth and left him senseless. “I hated to do that, but I’ve learned that magic is one thing even I can’t afford to play with.”
“Can you free him from the spell?” asked Hawkman with concern. “We do need him, right?”
“I shall try!” cried Lagra. “He is valiant to have resisted this long, for I sense the shadows all around us even now!”
Then darkness exploded around them as dozens of shadow demons charged from every side.
Superman surged forward. “I beat your brothers and sisters in the Crisis, and I’m not alll that keen on renewing the family acquaintance!” He flared his heat-vision, and the dark beings avoided his powerful blasts.
Hawkman tossed his mace through one, and it merely re-formed seconds later. He tried something desperate and reached for the Symbol of the Seven. The mace was useless against the dark things, and he knew how deadly they could be.
Lagra was striking out with unseen mental blasts, but he seemed to be weakened with each one. Superman could handle himself or an army, but he could not be everywhere at once. Hawkman held the disc, and it felt right in his hands; he’d had limited abilities in astral projection when enabled by a mystic source like his crystal dagger. He tried to activate the talisman, and as sweat beaded his brow, he succeeded. The disc exploded magical energies around them, even as his vision grew dim because of the shadow demons crowding around them.
When his vision cleared, they were alone, and Doctor Occult rose with a pained expression.
“Superman, you freed me!” he began. “Thank the Seven! I was ambushed by the Shadow Fiend’s minion.”
“You know about him?” asked Hawkman.
“Yes. I was alerted when he first entered our plane of existence,” explained Occult. “I sought to find the other heirs to the Seven, as I see you have already begun to do. To my horror, my foe took over my better half, Rose Psychic, and thus through her controlled me as well.”
“You’re wearing a costume. Is that new?” asked Superman.
“No, my friend. It is old,” Occult said with a smile. “It actually predates you, but when you appeared on the scene, I chose to return to normal clothes to avoid confusion. Excuse the description of your costume as not normal.”
“I’ve heard much worse,” said Superman. “Now, friend, if I can return the favor I owe you costume-wise, and loan you another cliché of mine: this looks like a job for Doctor Occult!”