Route 66 was legendary in America. The highway that linked the East and West Coasts, it has been immortalized in song, television, and film. Today, that legendary highway was in danger of destruction.
“Oleander to Sumac, do you copy?” the green-garbed girl said into the device on her wrist as she stood near the culminating point of Route 66 in California.
“That’s a big ten-forty, sis,” her brother’s voice came over the device. He was at the other end of the highway in New York.
“You mean ten-four, thicko,” Oleander said. “Ten-forty is a tax form. Boy, these communicators Madame Mayhem gave us sure work, don’t they?”
“I’ll say,” Sumac said. “Even with her satellite mucking up regular communications. How did she say they worked?”
“I dunno; tacky-something,” Oleander said. “Anyway, shall we get started?”
“You bet!” Sumac said enthusiastically. “One long vine, about twenty feet around, ripping up through the concrete! What a sight that’ll be!”
“Yeah, nobody’ll get their kicks on 66 after that!” Oleander giggled. “OK, let’s go!”
Simultaneously, three-thousand miles apart, both siblings spread their arms and hands wide. They concentrated, summoning the power they had gained from their father’s tainted genes. They reached out and touched the green, feeling themselves flowing into the mass plant consciousness. Soon, the concrete of Route 66 began to bulge, ever so slightly.
“Say, you — quit that!” barked a voice behind Oleander. Without moving her arms, she turned her head to see. A blond man in a green suit was riding a pink bolt of lightning toward her. Also astride the lightning, behind the blond man, were a man in a red Robin Hood outfit, a young woman in red and gold, and an older man in a winged helmet.
“You’re too late, heroes,” Oleander declared as they touched down beside her. “Take a look — Route 66 is about to become gravel in a big terrarium!” It was true; the highway was bulging and buckling with the force of the giant vine beneath it.
“Thunderbolt!” Johnny Thunder called. “Stop that vine from wrecking the highway!”
“At once, Master John,” the Thunderbolt declared. Oleander and the heroes watched in amazement as the giant vine pushed its way through the highway and loomed above the cars that drove straight through it.
“My vine!” Oleander screamed. “What did you do to my vine?!”
“Yeah, T-bolt, what’d you do?” Johnny asked in bewilderment, peering through the vine at passing cars.
“You said to keep the vine from wrecking the highway,” Thunderbolt explained. “So I turned it intangible. It passed through the highway without wrecking it.”
“Sis, what’s going on?” Sumac’s voice came through her wrist-communicator. “The vine — it turned into a ghost, or something! What the hell is happening?”
“Ah, the other half of the horticultural Donny and Marie,” the Flash said with a wink. “Excuse me.” And the last the heroes saw was a crimson blur speeding up Route 66.
“Good work, Thunderbolt,” Johnny Thunder said. “Now, let’s…”
Oleander looked furious. She said not a word, but suddenly a large flower popped up out of the ground at Johnny Thunder’s feet. It sprayed a thick cloud of yellow pollen directly into his face.
“Ah-choo!” Johnny Thunder began sneezing. “T-bolt, I — ah-choo! I need — ah-choo!”
“Thunderbolt, are you going to let her get away with doing that to your master?” Fury asked the mystic being hovering above Johnny.
“Sorry, Miss Fury,” Thunderbolt said, “but I can’t do anything unless specifically ordered to by Master John.”
“But — but he can’t order you to do anything when he’s sneezing like that!”
“Exactly,” Oleander said, grinning wickedly. Vines suddenly burst from the ground and wrapped themselves around Fury and Red Arrow.
“Enough is enough!” Fury cried, flexing her mighty muscles, which were in no way hampered by her advanced pregnancy. The vine around her burst like tissue paper.
“You said it, Fury.” Red Arrow removed a large arrow from his quiver; this shaft looked somewhat like a hypodermic needle. Red Arrow thrust it into the vine; the plant immediately began to wither. “Weed-killer arrow,” he explained to Oleander.
“S-stay back,” Oleander said, suddenly sounding afraid. She backed away as Fury approached her.
“Let me give you a word of advice,” said Fury as she stalked forward with a frown. “Never mess with a pregnant woman!”
Still, Fury didn’t trust this sudden show of fear; she was sure Oleander was plotting something. She never learned what, however, for a blunt-headed arrow suddenly struck Oleander in the temple, and she collapsed with a moan.
“I owed her that, for Ollie’s statue,” Red Arrow said grimly.
Just then, another scarlet blur whizzed down Route 66. Suddenly, the Flash was standing amidst them, holding a docile Sumac by the neck of his costume.
“No fight left in that one?” Fury asked.
“None I could find,” the Flash said. “I see you guys handled the lady of the team, too.”
“She’s no — ah-choo! — lady,” Johnny Thunder commented.
“I still don’t believe this,” Obsidian commented as they walked down the long hallway.
“I have to agree, despite the empirical evidence,” Doctor Mid-Nite added. “A secret hideout beneath Gateway University Library — who would have guessed?”
“And a secret entrance reached by pressing a button on a bookshelf, hidden behind a musty old copy of The Orestes Plays of Aeschylus,” Obsidian commented, shaking his head. “It all sounds like a bad episode of The Hardy Boys.”
“A bad episode?” asked Catwoman. “You mean there was another kind?”
“All right, can the chatter,” Green Lantern said as he led the way. “This Madame Mayhem we’re after is very efficient. I’m sure she knows we’re here by now. Keep on the lookout for any traps.”
Suddenly, a panel opened in the ceiling above them, and a small green object clattered onto the floor ten feet before them.
“Found one,” Catwoman quipped.
“A grenade,” Green Lantern said grimly. “Our mysterious assailant is slipping, if she thinks this will stop us.” The emerald gladiator surrounded the small object in a bubble projected by his power ring.
“Lantern, wait!” Doctor Mid-Nite called out. “That’s not–”
The man of the night’s warning was cut off by an explosion. To Obsidian and Catwoman’s surprise, debris pelted the walls beside them, and Green Lantern loudly groaned in pain. He sank to the floor, and Doctor Mid-Nite caught him.
“Dad!” Obsidian yelped. “What happened? Why didn’t your power ring stop the grenade? Doc, is he all right?”
“He will be, once I can get him to a hospital,” Mid-Nite said grimly. “That fragmentation grenade’s casing wasn’t metal, but painted wood. I noticed it too late. The shrapnel went right though the power-bubble.”
“Wood? You mean, Dad–”
“Has a bellyfull of wooden splinters, yes. His power ring is protecting him as much as it can, stabilizing his body conditions, but it can’t force out the wood. I’ll have to remove them the old-fashioned way.”
“Oh, man!” Obsidian grumbled, eyes narrowing to white slits. “Am I going to give that Mayhem bitch what for! Come on, Catwoman!”
“Wait!” Doctor Mid-Nite warned. “She’s obviously prepared for us; this is no time to go off half-cocked!”
“Can it, Mid-Nite!” Obsidian snapped. “She hurt my Dad, and I’m going to pay her back triple for–”
Suddenly, huge klieg lights snapped into brilliance on either side of the hallway. The narrow enclosure was bathed in brilliant, hot light. Mid-Nite tried to shade his eyes with his forearm; Obsidian merely sank against a wall.
“Aahh! That light!” Obsidian wailed. “It’s so bright — I can’t take shadow form! No darkness to work with! And I can’t block it with my light-based powers, either — they’re still too new!” (*)
“And it’s so hot,” Mid-Nite added, “it’s fouling my infrared day-sight! Hang on, I’ll throw a blackout bomb!” But as soon as the bomb detonated and released its inky black gas, a powerful ventilator fan in the ceiling roared to life and sucked the gas away.
Somewhere at the end of the hall, they heard a door open. The lights were so bright, they could barely make out the lithe female form standing there.
“Welcome, JSAers, to your doom,” the woman said. “I am Madame Mayhem. But I suppose you know that by now. I have kept tabs on all my operatives through special one-way communicators they did not even know they were wearing. I should have known better than to trust that spineless oaf, Death Metal, with anything important. He squealed like a stuck pig.”
“Yes, and by now all your plans have been stopped,” Mid-Nite said, squinting to make out the woman’s shape in the infrared heat blur. “You may as well surrender; there’s no way you can win.”
“Oh, I can still achieve some small measure of victory, Doctor,” Mayhem assured him. “Even if it means I die with you!”
Catwoman had been silent all this time. Her feline eyes were adjusting to the light. Now they were operating at peak efficiency. Madame Mayhem, in her skintight, all-concealing costume, was in perfect focus. With a hiss and a snarl, Catwoman leaped at her. Mayhem saw this and instantly went into a fighter’s crouch to receive the pounce and throw Catwoman’s weight against her.
Without a spoken word, the two women launched into battle. Catwoman marveled at the woman’s skill. Even while being trained by her Uncle Ted, she had never seen such fighting. Mayhem rapidly switched fighting skills in the heat of battle, going from jiu-jitsu to boxing to savate to Greco-Roman wrestling in the blink of an eye, and she seemed a master of each. Catwoman merely fought with savagery and animal ferocity, rending and tearing every time she managed to land a claw.
In the meantime, Doctor Mid-Nite had managed to stuff his cape into the ventilator fan shaft, blocking it. He hurled down two of his blackout bombs, and the hall filled with darkness. The powerful klieg lights were dim beacons in the cloud, like faraway stars. Mid-Nite’s eyes focused on the two women. There were large tears in Madame Mayhem’s costume; her mask was hanging in one long, tattered strip that flailed about as she moved. In frustration, she ripped the mask completely from her head to prevent it from interfering with her vision. Doctor Mid-Nite beheld the pretty, young, red-haired woman, her face frozen in a grimace of pure hate.
“Good Lord!” Mid-Nite gasped, as revelation dawned on him. “I know her!”
Green Lantern had been hovering on the edge of unconsciousness since the shrapnel hit him. At the urgency and disbelief in Doctor Mid-Nite’s exclamation, however, he struggled to raise his head.
“What’s… that? You know her?” he asked weakly.
“I haven’t seen her since her father’s funeral,” Mid-Nite said in a voice that echoed with amazement. “But I’ve known her longer than almost anyone else has. I helped deliver her! That’s Geri Sloane!”
Silence reigned in the hallway for a long moment.
“What — Terry’s girl?” Green Lantern asked. “But it can’t be!”
“Can’t it, Lantern?” Madame Mayhem shrieked in a voice choked with rage. “Can’t it? Trust me, it can! As his career as Mister Terrific wound down, my father wanted one thing more than anything else in the world — a son in his image, a boy of many talents whom he could train in all the skills he had himself mastered, to carry on the grand name of Mister Terrific when he was gone. But fate played a nasty trick on him. He had a daughter! The idea of training a girl was repugnant to him. All my childhood he ignored me, treated me like an inconvenience. And when it became apparent that he would never have the son he so wanted, his hostility toward me grew until it was unmistakable! Is that justice? Is that fair play?”
The raving woman stopped for a moment to allow her words to sink in. Nobody said a word.
“I became determined to show my father how wrong he was. He wouldn’t train me, so I trained myself, learning everything he knew and more from the ground up! My goal was to become the greatest crime-fighter the world had ever known, then publicly reveal my identity and spit in his eye! That would show him! But I was cheated of this, when my father died before I was ready! That’s when I learned that there was no justice in the world, no divine plan — nothing but chaos and anarchy!”
Obsidian considered trying to overwhelm her with his shadow-form, but quickly realized it would be fruitless. The same would happen as when he tried it on the Ultra-Humanite. This woman knew exactly what she was, and gloried in it.
“So my goal changed. It became merely to spread this beautiful anarchy to the whole world! I assembled my Anarchy Society to help me do it, but they turned out to be fools and bunglers like their mentors! So the only thing left for me is sweet oblivion — and you’ll go with me!”
Geri Sloane’s hand stabbed a button on her belt buckle. In seconds, great explosions rocked the underground chamber. In less time than it took to recount, the headquarters of the Anarchy Society of the World was destroyed.
Six figures watched the carnage from above, suspended in two green bubbles. In one of these, the woman who called herself Madame Mayhem sat alone, shrieking, pounding her fists against the bubble walls.
“Lucky thing you got here when you did, Jade,” Doctor Mid-Nite said. “Those explosions would have finished us.”
“My power pulse started to vibrate a little while ago, I guess when Dad got hurt,” Jade explained. “Subconsciously, he called to me for help.”
“Will Dad be all right, Doc?” Obsidian asked.
“Sure,” Mid-Nite said. “He’ll spend some time under Diana’s purple ray, along with Superman.”
“What about her?” Catwoman asked, indicating Madame Mayhem with a jerk of her head.
“Arkham, I suppose,” Mid-Nite sighed, shaking his head. “What a waste. What a sick, tragic waste.”
And nobody said another word as Jade flew them back to Civic City. There didn’t seem to be anything else to say.