The sharp click-click of Libby Lawrence’s high heels echoed through the gleaming, antiseptic halls of Washington Memorial Hospital as the middle-aged blonde beauty made her way past staring orderlies.
As a pioneering anti-Axis broadcaster, she had become a household name. Her fame had grown after the war when she had returned to television journalism to become a star along with other luminaries like Lana Lang, Steve Lombard, and Jack Ryder. She was used to being admired, however, since her famous Veronica Lake-like looks still retained their youthful glamor. Plus, her mind was occupied with the sick friend she had rushed from a new story to visit.
“Poor Rick. I hate to see him frail and weak when I think of how dashing he was in his military intelligence days. Now that’s an oxymoron — military intelligence.” Her idealism, which had made her the 1940s All-American poster girl following her epic English Channel swim, had slowly faded as she witnessed the American dream reshaped by the likes of Vietnam and Watergate. Now she covered her deeply personal heroic code with a more brittle cynicism.
The former Liberty Belle mused about her old pal Rick Cannon and still fumed over her daughter Jesse’s headstrong rush into the mystery-man game. (*) Thus, she didn’t notice as a strange light appeared in a room down the hall from the retired Colonel Cannon’s quiet room.
[(*) Editor’s note: See DC Universe: Crawling from the Wreckage, Book 1: Crisis Aftermath.]
This supernatural light coalesced in a private room, where an elderly but still lovely woman gasped fitfully for a badly needed breath. The light gleamed from a shining spear held over the suffering senior’s quiet form. The spear, in turn, was held by a tall, powerful, Nordic beauty who was dressed in the stylings of one of Wagner’s warrior-maids from the Ring Cycle or the Elder Edda. This Valkyrie, for such she truly was, had walked the modern world before in her golden armor that even now reflected the weird light from her spear. Gudra almost cooed like a caring mother to her child as her ancient magic bathed the dying woman.
“Arise anew, my daughter. I sense your troubled soul cries out for a second chance. I grant it to you for revenge upon our common foes.”
At this point, the magic energy coursed down the spear and seemingly reinvigorated the sick old woman. Her form gained youthful muscle and a new and almost feline vitality gleamed from her blue eyes. By this time, the glow had attracted attention from the star-struck orderlies in the hall. As they gathered outside and tried to open the door, they found it sealed.
This caught Libby’s eye, and she approached them in search of a story, or so she told herself, but like a muffled but still-sounding bell, her heroic instincts drew her closer. The old siren-call of adventure never left you once you had experienced its heady thrill.
“If Johnny saw this, I’d never live down the hundred ‘I told you so’s’ he’d gloat in about half a minute.” Libby Lawrence pushed by the hospital staff, who were understandably stunned by the sight of Gudra once they forced the door open.
The hospital room glowed as Gudra magically granted youth back to the once-withered but now-shapely woman in the bed. While the glowing energy from the spear bathed the woman, blonde curls cascaded down her formerly gray head, and the lithe body of an athlete replaced her aged body. As Libby pushed her way inside the eerie light of the scene, she gasped in recognition of both women.
During her days as masked heroine Liberty Belle, she had encountered them both in distinctly dangerous situations. “Back away from her, Heidi!” snapped Belle as she touched her bell-shaped belt buckle and prepared to unleash her sonic powers.
Gudra smiled. “I remember your soul from the Hitlerian saga. You are Liberty Belle, are you not?”
Belle gestured, and waves of sound slammed into Gudra, who grunted but remained in place. Belle vaulted the bed with the Olympic form that had served her so well for years, landing painfully as she felt her hip crack. Ignoring the pain, she grabbed the spear. But as she did so, energy irradiated her. She shuddered but held firm until Gudra pulled away with mythic strength.
The same magic that had made the woman in the bed young again now worked its Nordic magic on Belle. Her adrenal powers had kept her more active than other women her age, but this otherworldly energy fully transformed her into a young woman once more. But the effect was hardly noticed as she fought to keep Gudra away from the bed or anyone else. Thankfully, the door had swung shut behind her, so no one else had seen her transformation or the odd battle.
“I see you have also become a maiden again,” Gudra said. “Unexpected, but perhaps of interest for the coming Ragnarok of your heroic era.”
Gudra was rocked back as Belle suddenly kicked out with force. Her high heels caught the Valkyrie fully in the chin, causing her to roll to the side and leap out the window to vanish in a green glow.
Liberty Belle rushed to the windowsill, only to receive a blow to the head from the now-active patient. “Rest here, Lana Turner,” purred the blonde who had struck Belle. “My days in a sickbed have ended.”
The heroine watched helplessly as the catlike woman slipped by her and down the hospital balcony. She rose up just a second too slowly to stop the now-healthy Priscilla Rich, AKA the Cheetah from escaping.
I met her along with a couple other femme fatales when Shiera, Dann, and I caught her during what I called the “Crisis at the Cotillion” back in ’44, mused Belle as she swept one flowing blonde lock out of her eye. (*) I was amazed even then at how much she looked like me in her Priscilla Rich identity. I guess now we both have our youth back. I’ll bet I put mine to better use.
[(*) Editor’s note: See All-Star Squadron: Times Past, 1944: Crisis at the Cotillion.]
Later, Libby Lawrence posed before a full-length mirror. “Careful, girl, or you’ll be proving just why these things are called vanities. Still, I admit that thanks to Gudra’s Viking twelve-step program, I look even younger than I did when I first slipped on this outfit. Jesse and I could pass as sisters.”
Libby’s old costume also looked better than ever. “Perhaps I’ll even switch to fishnets. Since Dinah’s on Earth-One these days, there’s no copyright infringement.”
Liberty Belle’s red and blue shirt and yellow tights seemed appropriate once more. It was as if her renewed youth had also brought back her heroic idealism. With them came thoughts of the early days of her marriage with Johnny Chambers. She found herself feeling wistful about him for the first time since their divorce, pursing her lips as she reached for the telephone.
“No, I’m going to do this on my own,” she finally sighed as she put down the phone.
She hurried out of her home and roared off on a motorcycle that had seen little use in years. She eventually reached Richlands — the palatial estate of the oil-heiress-turned-psycho-villain, Priscilla Rich. The iron gates were covered with ivy and rust, but the agile blonde bombshell needed little to cling to as she nimbly swung up and over the gate. I assume Prissy will need to come back to this old lair, if only to slip into her cat’s P.J.s and fuel her Catmobile. Or was it Catwoman who drove a Catmobile. Or was it the Tigress? All these feline gals run together after a while.
Belle crept toward the nearest window and forced her way inside. Sure enough, the room was occupied by Ms. Rich, now fully attired as the Cheetah. She tossed her long blonde hair and sharpened her red nails. She really does look like me, thought Belle. It’s not just that Veronica Lake do that we share.
Then the Cheetah whirled as if she had sensed Belle with some jungle cat’s acute senses. “Welcome, pretty!” she snarled. “You are not my star-spangled prey of choice, but… oh, you’ll do!”
The star-spangled siren rolled herself across the carpeted floor as razor-sharp pellets narrowly missed her spinning form. “My claws give you pause, I see,” snarled the Cheetah as she fired the lethal red projectiles at Liberty Belle.
“Your press-ons don’t impress me, but this might be worse for you than breaking a nail,” said Belle as she spun herself into the long legs of the cat-clothed heiress. They tumbled to the floor and thrashed around, with Belle managing to land more solid blows than the Cheetah.
Still, the Cheetah fought back with a more wicked intent, and she seemed to be enjoying every moment as well. Belle prepared to aim her sonic blasts, only to find herself alone. The Cheetah had copied her namesake by slipping away with near-superhuman grace.
“Here, kitty, kitty,” called Liberty Belle as she searched the room. How did she slip my grasp that quickly? She is very good, maybe better than she was when I fought the Catwoman and she wrestled with Hawkgirl at that USO ball.
Belle raced over to the looming mirror. Priscilla Rich was a split personality, and the Cheetah was the manifestation of her evil side, which she often saw in her mirror. She still likes to talk to herself in that thing. Belle called out, “Priscilla, come back. That evil woman in the mirror is gone.”
Liberty Belle was suddenly tackled by her feline foe. “Priscilla doesn’t live here anymore, and I still owe you for a very costly gown, now that I remember you.” Belle found herself in a fight for her life as claws, teeth, and even an artificial tail wrapped around the American heroine.
I don’t want to use the sonics this close to her body. Direct contact at this range might kill her. With a quick insight, Belle pushed one hand free and shattered the huge mirror with her sound waves. As glass rained down on the rug and Cheetah’s smiling, snarling face dissolved into shards of glass, Priscilla reasserted herself briefly. “I’m free… no, I’m the Cheetah!”
Liberty Belle’s belt rang out, and she landed a solid right that would have done Al Pratt proud on the sculpted features of the troubled heiress. The Cheetah/Priscilla Rich collapsed in a pile, and Belle sighed with relief. The psychological tie she had with her mirror image was just strong enough for me to confuse her. She tied the stunned Cheetah up and called the authorities.
Walking over to where the broken mirror hung near a desk, she noticed a few letters from several weeks ago, including one that caught her attention. “These must have arrived while Priscilla was in the hospital. This invitation looks interesting.”
The note simply read, “If you haven’t changed your spots, so to speak, come to the address below. I have work along your line. –Colonel Future.”
This may be something worth looking into, thought Belle as she looked through the nearest closet. She pulled out a modified version of the Cheetah’s classic costume.
“This version with the bare legs looks more like Josie of the Pussycats, but I think I’ll borrow it and see if I can use my resemblance to Priscilla to keep a date with the future!”