“Say, usually you’re the most punctual of us all, Doc,” Johnny Thunder pointed out. “What happened?”
“I noticed a jewelry store robbery in progress on my way here,” Doctor Mid-Nite explained. “Naturally, I intervened.”
“Jewelry store, eh?” Hourman asked. “Costume or common?”
“Costume, but a new one,” Mid-Nite replied. “At least, one I’d never met before. Called himself the Black Nemesis.”
“Black Nemesis?” Green Lantern repeated. “New one on me, too.”
“What was he like?” the Atom asked.
“Wore some kind of armored costume,” Mid-Nite answered. “It gave him flight and enhanced strength; likely other abilities, too. Some hidden weapons as well.”
“You caught him, didn’t you?” Wildcat asked. “I mean, they’ll pick his suit apart at Police–”
“Actually, he escaped,” Mid-Nite admitted. “When I made my move, he blinded me with a sudden magnesium flare.”
“Blinded? You?” Johnny Thunder said incredulously. “I didn’t think that was possible!”
“Mid-Nite sees in daylight with his infrared goggles,” Hourman reminded him, “which use heat, rather than light, to perceive images. And a magnesium flare, besides being bright, is very hot.”
“Exactly,” Mid-Nite said, pouring himself a cup of coffee before taking his seat at the meeting table. “All I could see for a few seconds was a huge blotch. I threw down a blackout bomb to enable my night-vision to take over, but Black Nemesis had made his escape by then.” Mid-Nite took a sip of his coffee, and frowned. “It was as if he knew just how to disable my abilities, and came prepared.”
“Well, these days, anyone who reads the news magazines would know that,” Hourman offered. “We’re hardly the ‘mystery-men’ we once were.”
“I know,” Mid-Nite agreed. “But still, it was a clever application.”
“Ahh, don’t let a sucker punch get you down, Chuck,” Wildcat offered. Ted Grant was perhaps the only man Dr. Charles McNider would allow to call him Chuck; perhaps the good doctor felt that he had earned it. “We’ll get him next time. The kid got in a lucky shot, K.O.’ed a champ; he’ll be cocky now, too sure of himself. Set up for a fall.”
Mid-Nite smiled. “Thank you, Wildcat. I appreciate the wisdom.”
“We were discussing the Sunset Killer,” Wonder Woman said to her longtime friend. The princess of Paradise Island felt a special bond with Doctor Mid-Nite; during her earliest years in Man’s World, the JSA had been her home, and its members her family. In those years the roster changed often, members coming and going frequently, and Doctor Mid-Nite had been one of the few anchors. “He’s apparently struck again.”
“Indeed?” Mid-Nite asked. “Who was his victim this time?”
“My old enemy, the Fool,” Green Lantern said. “Turns out he’d been a frequent diner at a soup kitchen in New York; the Sunset Killer, assuming it was the same person, found him and shot him there.”
“Not too much of a leap of faith that it was the same guy,” the Atom said. “Same M.O., same kind of victim. Not much chance it’s two different people.”
“Perhaps not,” the Huntress offered, “but my father taught me never to rule anything out until you’ve ruled it out.”
“Indeed he did,” a new voice came from the doorway, causing all heads to turn, and the Huntress to utter a short gasp. There wasn’t much that startled the Batman’s daughter, but this was sufficient.
“That’s exactly what your father would have said,” Red Robin concurred as he strode into the room. “And let me say again, he’d be nothing but proud of you today. I’ve said it many times before, but it bears repeating.”
“Dick!” Power Girl cried, leaping from her chair to throw her arms around her recently wedded husband. (*) “You sly old fox, why didn’t you tell me you were coming home?”
[(*) Editor’s note: See Batman Family: The Wedding March.]
“Careful, Kara!” Red Robin chided with a grin. “Kryptonian enthusiasm may be an irresistible force, but human ribs are definitely not an immovable object!”
“Hey, big bro,” the Huntress said, smiling. “Why are you here? I thought you were going to be in London another week!”
“Sheldrake Manor has its charms,” Red Robin said, “but nothing to compare to a good mystery. Syl called me, told me what was going on with this Sunset Killer guy. So I came right home to help out.” The Huntress’ mouth began to open, but Dick continued. “And I know the JSA has a perfectly capable detective already, Huntress. Syl knows it, too. But he and I go way back, and he knew I’d appreciate the puzzle. It was a favor to me, not a slight at you.”
“I should have known that,” the Huntress said. “Welcome aboard, Red Robin. We sure can use all the help we can get.” The Huntress did understand what Dick Grayson meant about his bond with Sylvester Pemberton. There hadn’t been many members of the All-Star Squadron of their age, and during those crowded meetings full of men and women in their twenties and thirties, the teenaged members had naturally gravitated toward one another, eventually becoming an unofficial team-within-a-team known as the Young All-Stars. Helena Wayne’s deep friendship with Kara Zor-L had begun in much the same way, as the two youngest members of the Justice Society over a decade ago.
“OK, we now have two detectives on the case who were each trained by the world’s greatest detective,” Johnny Quick said with a grin. “So what’s our next move?”
“I have to admit I don’t know,” Red Robin said, settling himself into his seat at the meeting table. “In a case like this, with a mystery killer targeting a specific type of victim, Batman’s first move would be to determine the most likely next victim and get one step ahead of the killer. But if the victims are retired costumed villains, the list is simply too large for that to be feasible.”
“Say, maybe not, at that!” Power Girl said, snapping her fingers. The other members clapped their hands over their ears; Johnny Thunder, who was seated next to Power Girl, yelped in surprise as his watch crystal exploded. “Sorry; I keep forgetting,” Power Girl said sheepishly. “Anyway, we do keep a database of every known criminal any costumed hero has ever fought, not just JSA members, but all capes and cowls. From the Monk on up.”
“It’s still a pretty big list, though,” Hourman pointed out. “Even if it is computerized.”
“Says the guy who has masking tape over the clock on his VCR, because he can’t get the twelve o’clock to stop flashing,” the Atom joked. “Go on, Kara.”
“Well, every entry has many different points of reference,” Power Girl pointed out. “Living or dead, last known appearance, last known address, et cetera. I can generate a list of villains who fit Sunset’s known profile so far.”
“Hey, yeah!” Red Robin agreed. “That would narrow down the list, all right!”
“But his first victim was Doctor Glisten,” the Sandman pointed out. “He was listed as dead, wasn’t he?”
“True,” Power Girl said, “but his body hadn’t been found. There’s a sub-section for presumed dead, unconfirmed.”
“And both of Sunset’s victims were on the Eastern Seaboard,” the Huntress added. “Glisten in Delaware, the Fool in New York.”
“Another means of narrowing the list!” Power Girl agreed. “You guys give me ten minutes, and I’ll have a list of potential next victims that we can work with!” Power Girl sped from the room, headed for the communications center.
“You sure can pick ’em, Robin,” Wildcat said, grinning.
“Ain’t it the beautiful truth?” Red Robin agreed.
In the basement of the Champlain Arms, a Chicago hotel that had been considered posh and luxurious during the 1930s but had fallen into disrepair in later years, an old man sat at a small desk, perusing a magazine of the type that some men claimed to read “just for the articles.” So involved in the magazine’s contents was he that it took three rings for him to answer his phone.
“Janitor,” he grumbled into the phone.
“Fred, those college kids up on twelve just puked in the hall,” the desk clerk’s voice came through the receiver. “Get it cleaned up, will you?”
“OK, OK,” the janitor muttered, hanging up the phone. He got up slowly from his chair, stretched, and went to retrieve his mop and bucket. One could tell from looking at the janitor that he had once been a very muscular man, but old age had shrunken his body.
All the way up to the twelfth floor in the elevator, the old man cursed his current state of affairs. Reduced to cleaning up vomit for a living, when once strong men had vomited in terror at the mention of his name. Well, it could have been worse, he told himself; at least he was alive.
The elevator stopped when the indicator light was on the twelfth floor. The doors slid open, and the old man found himself staring into the barrel of a .45 pistol.
Suddenly, it was worse.
“Don’t hurt me, please!” the armored car driver begged, his hands held nervously on top of his head. He knelt on the pavement beside his car, which had been turned over on its side. “I-I have a family! Kids! Please–”
“Oh, stop your pathetic groveling!” the man in the ebon-armored costume said contemptuously. “The Black Nemesis does not make war on pitiful fools like you! Unless you’re foolish enough to try to stop me from getting what I came for!”
“If he isn’t, I am!” boomed a voice from above.
The black-helmeted head whirled around in the direction of the voice. “Well, well, Green Lantern! Perhaps someone worthy of me! Your Justice Society comrade proved not to be, the other day.”
“You caught Doc Mid-Nite on a bad day, is all,” Green Lantern said, emerald light blazing forth from his ring. “You won’t be so lucky a second time!”
“Perhaps,” Black Nemesis allowed. “But you know the old saying about the proof of the pudding!” With that, the armored villain’s right arm shot forward. A tiny nozzle popped up from a concealed hatch on his wrist, and a thick, viscous, amber-colored substance spewed from it. Whatever it was, the gelatinous fluid passed right through the green energy hand Green Lantern was making, then covered his ring and left hand, snuffing the green energy like a candle.
“What in–?” Green Lantern began, staring at his neutralized ring. But before he could complete his inquiry, something hard slammed into the side of his head, and he was swallowed in darkness.
“Quite a list,” Hourman said, going over the names that Power Girl’s computer program had generated. “The Sky Raider… the Red Dragon… Good grief, was there actually someone called the Tusk?”
“Believe it or not,” the Atom confirmed.
“All those names fit the profile of Sunset’s known vic — hey, whatcha doing, honey?” Power Girl asked. She noticed that Red Robin had his head down over a tablet of paper, a pencil between his gloved fingers.
“Huh?” Red Robin said, looking up. “Oh. Oh, I’m trying to figure out some connection between the two known victims.”
“With a pencil and paper?” Power Girl asked, slipping her arms around her husband’s neck. “Kinda low-tech, isn’t it?”
“I’m old school,” Red Robin answered. Power Girl grinned and gave him a kiss on the cheek. “Anyway, I’m wondering if there isn’t some pattern, some clue hidden in the two victims themselves — something in their names, or their locations, or something. A lot of the guys Batman and I fought in the ’40s and ’50s worked that way.”
“I know,” the Huntress said with a grin. “Mom always used to joke that she was the only one Dad ever fought who only wanted to get away with the money!”
“Batman actually found that refreshing,” Red Robin said. “After lunatics like the Joker and Penguin, anyway. But I haven’t come up with anything yet. Doctor Glisten and the Fool. Andrew McKone and Victor Sturbridge the Third. Wilmington, Delaware, and New York, New York. I’ve tried number of syllables, number of letters, all known ciphers I can think of. No hidden clues.”
“Bad news, people,” Johnny Quick said, rushing into the meeting room at super-speed. “Looks like our search criteria was all wrong.”
“What do you mean?” Power Girl demanded.
“There was another Sunset killing, or what looks very much like one,” Johnny said. “And not in the east this time — Chicago.”
“Oh, man!” the Atom said, throwing up the sheets of computer printout in despair. “Like this list wasn’t long enough as it was!”
“What happened, Johnny?” the Huntress asked. “Tell us about the killing.”
“Kara and Dick set up a filter on the news monitors to alert us of any similar killings,” Johnny said. “I just got wind of one. Fred Clarkson was shot at point-blank range in a seedy hotel in Chicago. He’d been working there as a janitor.”
“Fred Clarkson?” Doctor Mid-Nite said. “That name sounds familiar, somehow.”
“It should,” Johnny agreed. “You sent him to prison in ’47.”
“The Tarantula!” Mid-Nite exclaimed. “The one who came closest to learning my dual identity!” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Tarantula Unmasks Dr. Mid-Nite,” All-American Comics #88 (August, 1947).]
“That’s him,” Johnny Quick said. “Remember now? Small-time racketeer, tried to make it big-time by killing you. But you turned the tables on him and sent him to prison. I just reviewed his file.”
“I recall,” Mid-Nite said. “His lieutenant… James Logan, wasn’t it? Also known as ‘Logger.’ Turned state’s evidence on him and gave the authorities enough to send Clarkson away for a very long time.”
“Twenty-five years, to be exact,” Johnny said. “Didn’t do very well in prison; came out a broken man. And last night, Sunset broke him for good.”
“In Chicago,” Power Girl said. “So the area is spreading. This guy is really becoming a one-man war on retired costumed criminals!”
“He’s not our only priority right now,” a new voice from the doorway said.
“G.L.!” Mid-Nite cried, seeing his old friend standing in the doorway, an ugly purple bruise the size of a golf ball on his left temple. “What happened to you?”
“A gentleman named the Black Nemesis happened to me,” Green Lantern said. “While someone is wiping out retired costumed criminals, someone else is on the fast track to becoming the most successful one of all.”