Superman still rankled over the Penguin’s comments as he flew through the skies of Metropolis. He now realized the old former crook probably hadn’t really meant what he said, but had just been trying to goad the JSA into taking him and the other sanctuary-seekers in, which, in fact, he had accomplished. But the very idea that the Justice Society had sanctioned a serial killer still made the Man of Tomorrow’s blood boil, especially because it hadn’t been all that long since Bruce Wayne’s diary had turned public opinion against the JSA. (*) Superman had needed to get out of there, have some time to himself. But it hadn’t worked; he was still angry.
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Chapter One: I Accuse,” America vs. the Justice Society #1 (January, 1985).]
As he soared over the city he had loved and protected for half a century, marveling at how it had changed over the years, his super-hearing suddenly picked up something.
His scowl slowly turned into a smile, and he banked in his flight to soar down to Earth.
At the Metropolis City Zoo, the admissions booth was flanked by huge posters advertising the limited visit of a rare albino alligator, on loan from an Asian zoological garden. The young woman inside the booth was stammering in terror as she stared down the barrel of a wrist-mounted energy-projector.
“Come on, a little alacrity, please!” Black Nemesis snarled. “I know your cash drawers are full from all the visitors to the rare new exhibit you have — that’s why I’m here! But please, don’t take all day filling that bag! I wouldn’t want to think you’re stalling, hoping for an appearance by–”
“Me?” a rich bass voice boomed from behind. Black Nemesis slowly turned to face a titan with arms folded over his blue-clad chest, hovering a foot off the ground.
“Ah, yes, there you are,” Black Nemesis said. “I really should have known you’d show up when I tried a robbery in your city. But nothing ventured, nothing gained, eh?”
“As long as we’re trading trite sayings,” Superman said, “here’s one for you: will you come quietly, or do I have to take you by force?”
“My, my, that is trite,” Black Nemesis agreed. “So, I’m afraid, is my response.” The villain’s ebon-armored hand darted around behind him; Superman’s hyper-sensetive ears picked up the tiny sound of a motorized compartment door opening. In a blur, Black Nemesis’ hand was back in front of him, holding a gray metal object. Superman had to fight down the urge to laugh.
“A potato-masher grenade?” he exclaimed. “Come now, Nemesis! You don’t really expect that thing to even smudge my suit, do you?”
“As a matter of fact, Superman — no,” Black Nemesis said simply. Then, without even looking to aim, the villain tossed the grenade over his shoulder with armor-assisted strength. It sailed through the air far into the grounds of the tourist-crowded zoo.
“Great Scott!” Superman cried, and was off like a bullet into the zoo. He silently cursed his own overconfidence, lack of caution, and everything else as his super-vision located the grenade, about to come down in the middle of a group of summer day camp children posing for a picture beside the bronze statue of Titano outside the primate enclosure. Superman poured on the speed and watched the distance between himself and the grenade close in an instant. He grabbed the deadly device in his fist and sailed up into the sky with it, still cursing himself. He knew that, by the time he got back to Earth, Black Nemesis would be long gone.
“Ted will never let me hear the end of this,” Superman muttered.
“Hey, Den!” a leather-clad biker shouted at the bartender, above the din of the bar. “Six more over here!”
“You gonna pay this time, Solly?” the bartender demanded.
“Why don’t you get the beers over here and find out?” Solomon Quinn growled as he returned his attention to the pool table.
“Hey, Solly,” one of the other pool players asked, “what do you hear from your uncle?”
Quinn looked up from the table with anger on his face. “My uncle? What kind of question is that? What do you care about my uncle?”
“Nothin’,” the other biker said casually, leaning on his cue stick. “I’ve just heard all the news reports about the old-time bad guys gettin’ killed, figured your uncle might be worried he’d be next.”
“Yeah,” another biker giggled. “Might call on his favorite nephew for perteckshun! Ain’t that right, Solly?”
Quinn grabbed a handful of the giggler’s Metallica T-shirt and hauled him close. “I don’t owe my uncle nothin’,” Quinn snarled in his face. “An’ I don’t care if a bunch of old gas-passers get shot in their beds! And that goes double for my loser uncle! You got that?”
“Y-y-y-yeah, I g-g-got it, Sol,” the terrified biker stammered. Quinn released him with a shove.
“Anybody else wanta talk about my uncle?” Quinn demanded, looking this way and that around the biker bar. “For anyone who don’t know, my uncle called himself the Sky Pirate! Used to fight Green Lantern, long time ago! (*) Got his sorry butt kicked a dozen times! An’ he made a flyin’ motorcycle fer me, an’ I tried the same stunt, callin’ myself Sky Angel! (*) I got my butt kicked, too, but if there’s anyone in here thinks they’re man enough to do it, let’s hear him! Come on! Anyone?”
[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Freedom of the Skies,” Green Lantern #27 (August-September, 1947) and Justice Society of America: The Anarchy Society of the World.]
“Yeah!” a lone voice from the corner called. Solomon Quinn whirled in the speaker’s direction, ready to snarl out a challenge.
He never got the chance. A .45 bullet cut off his speech.
“Do you even understand the term ‘protective custody’?” Red Robin said in exasperation to the elderly man on the other side of the bars.
“Indeed I do, my boy,” Oswald Cobblepot said. “But is it unreasonable for a man in protective custody to expect to be fed?”
“Fed, sure!” Robin replied. “But oysters Rockefeller?! This is the JSA holding cells, not a five-star hotel!”
“Well, you’re certainly right about that,” Cobblepot sniffed, looking around the cell. “Even by common detention standards, it’s two stars at best.”
“You’d know,” Robin came back.
“Touché,” Cobblepot replied, with a gracious smile and a tip of his hat. “Seriously, dear boy, you don’t expect a man of my cultured palate to subsist on the meager offerings you and your comrades have proffered, do you?”
“Now, look here, Penguin–”
“Please,” Cobblepot said, with mock indignation, “those days are long behind me. You should know; you helped set me up in legitimate business. Please, call me Oswald.”
Red Robin softened a bit. “All right, Oswald. You’ve got to understand, we’ve got more pressing concerns right now than catering to your palate. The Sunset Killer, to name one.”
Cobblepot looked at the floor and sighed. “Dear boy, would you do me a small courtesy? Please inform Superman that I really didn’t mean what I said, when I suggested that this blackguard was operating with the sanction of the Justice Society. I can tell it bothered him.”
Robin smiled. “I’ll do that, Pen — Oswald. I’ll see what I can do about the menu, too.”
“Bless you, my boy,” Cobblepot replied. He settled back on the cot in his cell, picking up his copy of Raffles.
Sighing, Red Robin turned and headed back toward the conference room, where a strategy session was underway. As he passed the communications center, however, a beeping sound alerted him to an incoming communication. He strode into the room, acknowledged the signal from Infinity Inc. headquarters, and opened the channel. Sylvester Pemberton’s youthful face came on the screen.
“Robin!” Pemberton said, happy to see his old friend. “How are you, buddy?”
“About the same,” Red Robin said. “Do me a favor and grow some gray hair sometime, will you?”
Sylvester chuckled. This was a favorite joking point of Dick Grayson’s, the fact that, of the teenaged members of the All-Star Squadron, he was one of the few who had aged appreciably. “Glad you’re in a good humor, Robin. You’re going to need it.”
“Oh, no… more bad news?” Red Robin asked. “OK, don’t sugarcoat it, just let me have it straight.”
“You remember the Sky Angel?” Sylvester asked.
“Sky Angel — that Peter Fonda wannabe with the flying bike?” Red Robin asked. “Part of the Anarchy Society, right?”
“He was,” Sylvester acknowledged. “He was murdered last night in a biker bar in Encino.”
“Holy — do you think it’s a copycat killer?” Robin asked.
“Could be,” Sylvester acknowledged. “Or Sunset is broadening his horizons, going after active super-criminals instead of just old retired ones.”
“Perfect, just perfect,” Red Robin grumbled. “Just what we needed, on top of our holding cells being full of terrified old costumed crooks asking for oysters Rockefeller! Not to mention this new Black Nemesis guy! Give me the good old days, when, if things got out of hand, we could ask for back-up from Earth-Two!”
Sylvester looked confused. “I thought this was Earth-Two, and the Justice League’s world was Earth-One?”
“So they say,” Robin said. “And it was their Flash who came up with that designation. I’ve never bought it.”
Sylvester chuckled. “Keep that sense of humor, Robin.”
“I’ll try.” But it wasn’t getting any easier.
“Robin, join us,” Superman said as Red Robin entered the conference room. “We were just discussing the Black Nemesis problem.”
“Yes, there seems to be more to this new villain than meets the eye,” the Sandman said.
“Oh?” Robin said, settling into his chair. “Such as what?”
“Well, he got away from me by tossing a grenade into a crowd of people,” Superman said. “But when I caught the grenade and flew up into the sky with it, to let it detonate harmlessly — it didn’t go off. I examined it and found it never would have. It was a dud, and he must have known it. There’s no way it ever could have gone off.”
“Interesting,” Red Robin agreed.
“Which made me realize something I’d overlooked,” Green Lantern pointed out. “After he cold-cocked me, he could easily have finished me off. But he didn’t; he just fled.”
“Could have been scared,” Wildcat offered. “Afraid you’d come to before he could punch your ticket.”
“Perhaps,” Hawkman said. “But in light of what Superman said about the phony grenade, I’m inclined to think this Black Nemesis is that rare breed: an honorable criminal. He doesn’t really want to hurt anybody, just wants to get away with the money.”
“Like Mom,” the Huntress said.
“Like your mother,” Hawkman agreed.
“That’s all well and good, as the saying goes,” Doctor Mid-Nite said. “But I don’t see how it brings us any closer to catching him.”
“And,” Red Robin said, “I’m afraid I have even more bad news.” And he began to relate the tale told to him by Sylvester Pemberton.
Impatient men and women sat nervously fidgeting in rows of aluminum folding chairs. Most of them were old and dressed in civilian attire; a few of the old ones had worn their old costumes, or such versions of them as they had been able to piece together for the occasion. There were some younger attendees, as well; a few of these looked on the older ones with something like awe and reverence, while others viewed them with scorn and disdain.
“If I could have your attention, please,” the bearded man at the scarred, dirty lectern said. His voice echoed through the dark, empty warehouse where this strange meeting had been called. “Thank you. First, I would like to thank you all for coming. I must admit I was hopeful of a larger turnout, but one works with what one has. Second, allow me to introduce myself, for those of you who are not acquainted with me. My given name is Evan Morris, and my nom du crime is the Puzzler. (*) Before we begin our meeting, I would like us to go around the room and introduce ourselves, by given name and costumed identity, if any. Let’s start here, shall we?” And the Puzzler pointed to the man seated in the chair at the far left of the front row.
[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Puzzler,” Action Comics #49 (June, 1942).]
“Dylan Keen,” the old man said. “I called myself Anti-Electric.”
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Anti-Electric,” Comic Cavalcade #27 (June, 1948).]
“Eric Preston. Presto the Magician.”
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Crime Carnival,” Adventure Comics #84 (March, 1983).]
“John Simmons. I’m Fusebox.” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See Justice Society of America: The Anarchy Society of the World, Chapter 2: Sowing the Seeds of Doubt.]
“Tony Romero. Used to call myself Big Caesar.” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Blackout Over Broadway,” Leading Comics #1 (Winter, 1941-1942).]
“George Cavill. Astra the Astrologer.” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Constellations of Crime,” Adventure Comics #85 (April, 1943).]
“Connor Hawke. Black Arrow.” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See Arrowette: Legacies.]
“Paula Crock. The Tigress.” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: Better known as the original Huntress, foe of Wildcat, wife of Sportsmaster, and mother of Artemis Crock.]
“Stanley Fell. The Roper.” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Rogue of 1,000 Ropes,” Adventure Comics #176 (May, 1952).]
“Bedwin Footh. (*) I never saw the need for a super-villainous sobriquet.”
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Battle Against Revenge,” Sensation Comics #36 (December, 1944).]
“Jack Depp. The Sparrow.” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “He Doodled It,” Adventure Comics #99 (August-September, 1945).]
“Carson Cuse. The Baffler.” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Robotman Versus the Baffler,” Detective Comics #143 (January, 1949).]
“George Spelvin. Mister Futile. (*) Good to see you again, Bedwin.”
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Futile’s Follies,” Sensation Comics #46 (October, 1945).]
“Pratt Palmer. I was the Hood.” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Cold Light,” Flash Comics #19 (July, 1941).]
“Peter Zalman. The Red Domino.” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Riddle of the Red Domino,” Green Lantern #36 (January-February, 1949).]
“I am Emil Sledgeski. Sledgehammer, they called me.” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “When Hammer Meets Steel,” Steel, the Indestructible Man #3 (June, 1978).]
“Lawrence Tate. I called myself Mercury. Yes, that Mercury.” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Duel of Speed,” Adventure Comics #142 (July, 1949).]
“Wayne Sedgwick. The Rainbow Man.” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Crimes in Color,” Action Comics #46 (March, 1942).]
“Dr. Maxwell Gaige. Tiger Shark.” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Tiger Shark,” Detective Comics #147 (May, 1949).]
“Seymour Kravitz. I went by Nada.” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Joe’s Appointment,” All-American Comics #23 (February, 1941).]
“Gilbert Harrison. The Wind Master.” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Master of the Winds,” Flash Comics #60 (December, 1944).]
“Herbert Hynde. The Earthworm.” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Black Market,” Wonder Woman #309 (November, 1983).]
“Tiffany Manners. Plaything.” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See Power Girl: Action Figures.]
“And I believe that’s everyone,” the Puzzler said. “Now, we all know why we’re here. Someone, dubbed by the media as the Sunset Killer, has taken it upon themselves to assassinate those whom that selfsame media has called ‘super-villains’ — in a word, ourselves. Some of our colleagues have sought the Justice Society’s protection, but how do we know that this Sunset person is not working for, or actually a member of, the JSA themselves? And even if he is not, can we entrust our safety to a group of men and women whose raison d’etre is our downfall? I say we must take responsibility for our own protection, and, in the vernacular of the layman, get this Sunset Killer before he gets us!” A chorus of enthusiastic approval greeted this declaration. “Now, the question before us is, how best to accomplish this? At this time I’d like to open the floor for discussion to–”
“Hey, wait a minute!” one elderly man cried, leaping to his feet and pointing at another senior attendee. “That ain’t the Rainbow Man!”
“What? Are you certain, Mr. Romero?” the Puzzler demanded.
“Sure I’m sure!” the once and former Big Caesar declared. “It’s been buggin’ me for a while now, but I couldn’t remember why — but I just did! Rainbow Man’s dead! He died ten years ago, in stir! I was in the big house too, then; was on his cell block! I saw the screws cartin’ him out!”
“Hey, he’s right!” Astra the Astrologer affirmed. “I just remembered, too! After his death, his kid sent me a money order for fifty bucks; he’d owed it to me for years and years from a poker game. Young snot-nose said he wanted his hands clean of all of his father’s debts, and never wanted to hear from me again. I’d forgotten all about it!”
“Son of a — we’ve been infiltrated!” the Tigress shrieked, leaping to her feet and pointing a crossbow-gun at the terrified-looking Rainbow Man. Other villains followed suit, bearing down on the elderly man intent on mayhem.
“Mr. Sedgwick,” the Puzzler said slowly, “have you anything to say against these accusations?”
The look of terror on Wayne Sedgwick’s face slowly twisted into a grin of pure malevolence.
“Well, shucky darn,” he said mischievously. “Guess I’ve been found out, huh?”
“Hello?” the old man called as the warehouse door creaked open at his touch. “Anyone here? I-I’m sorry I’m late; I got on the wrong bus! I didn’t miss the whole meeting, did I? I–”
Then the smell hit his nose. He looked around the warehouse — and screamed.