“It is the stars,
The stars above us, govern our conditions…”
–The Earl of Kent, Shakespeare’s King Lear
The Duchy of Ferrara on the spacious villa of the Duke of Ferrara, Alfonso d’Este, June 24, 1519:
On the balcony stood a handsome, dark-haired man with a black beard and a worldly air about his rugged features. He gazed up at the midnight sky and the dancing stars that filled the air above Italy. He idly caressed his companion, a passionate-looking, regal beauty of thirty-nine years of age. “Do you think those stars really affect human events, my love?” she cooed.
He smiled. “No, my fair Lucrezia. As the ruler of the Borgia clan, you must know the source of true power lies within the human heart and soul. For such is the power you hold over me.”
She smiled in an oddly girlish manner for such an experienced woman, fondling a gleaming half of a fiery gemstone that hung about her neck. As she sighed contentedly, her lover delicately slipped her hand away from the jewel that twinkled at the stars above. She snuggled closer, then suddenly found herself violently gripped.
Her muffled cries fell on deaf ears this fateful night. The Duke of Ferrara tore the jewel from her neck and pushed her over the railing to a sudden death below. History would say that she died from complications after giving birth to her eighth child, but then history was this infamous immortal’s most enduring work of fiction.
The man currently known as Alfonso d’Este, but more accurately called Vandal Savage, had done his work well. He now had what he had sought from the Borgia family all along in the seventeen years he had been married to the unfaithful strumpet. The rush of guards echoed out, but they were all loyal to him and would do his bidding. He wondered — would he ever use this item?
But Savage never used the jewel, instead hiding it while he kept the identity of the Duke of Ferrara for another fifteen years; he had other plots in motion that he wanted to see play out, after all. Finally, he finally faked his death in 1539 and left Italy with the jewel, soon afterward — by his standards, at least — founding a group of power-seekers called the Illuminati. He entered that New World of America, dealt with the Colonial War, the Napoleonic War, and many other wars over the centuries. The jewel, whose true power the immortal never discovered, fell out of his possession sometime during those years and was almost lost to time — until today.
In a private hospital room, an elderly man drew a slow and labored breath. Next to his bed a young man and younger woman with an obvious family resemblance watched his efforts with sorrowful anticipation. The man led his sister a few steps away from the bed and whispered, “Grandpa is sleeping. He’s weak — so weak. I hope he’ll rally, but I just don’t feel good about this.”
The woman shook her long, black locks and wiped a teary eye. “I hate to see him like this. The world could care less about him. The sun shines, the birds sing, while this wonderful and gifted man dies. The world does not know him like we do. Grandpa raised us after our parents died in the plane crash. He loved us, and we saw his wonderful emotions, plus that mind — so advanced. He should be a hero! He should rank up there with Edison, Oppenheimer–”
The man scowled. “We both know who cost him all he should have had. We both know Professor Abraham Davis was robbed by a costumed thug posing as a hero. Starman took Grandpa’s invention, the gravity rod, back in the 1940s! He pretended to be saving him from that Doog, but he was worse!” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Amazing Starman,” Adventure Comics #61 (April, 1941) and “Catch a Falling Starman,” All-Star Squadron #41 (January, 1985).]
“Yes! Ted Knight carried off the rod from Grandpa and took credit for it. He even made the world out there believe him to be a genius!” cried Candy Davis.
Her brother Alex Davis clenched his fist with rage. “We know Ted Knight is Starman, we know where he lives, and with our acquisitions we’ll have the power Grandpa lost. We’ll kill Knight, and we’ll make the name of Abraham Davis live on!”
The old man shuddered slightly and dozed.
With her long, flowing blonde hair, perfect face, terrific body, little black dress, and high heels, Libby Lawrence was a strikingly lovely young girl, to use a pre-feminist term for a young woman. The young girl part was a recent adjustment that she had embraced joyfully.
However, even with her notable assets, she was decidedly sour-looking today. Her efforts to track down the kidnapped Jonni Thunder had met little success thus far. (*) She had called the ever-befuddled Johnny Thunder just as he was about to leave on a trip for Badhnisia. (*) But after an exasperating conversation, he had eventually confirmed that he was not related to the missing woman and had no idea who she was. For that matter, he did not really remember who Libby was, either.
Her next idea was to find some way to track her abductor, Doctor Double X. He — or was Double X an it — was a weird energy ghost who had originally been the alter-ego of a crook named Simon Ecks. She had sought his old foe’s successor, Robin the Boy Wonder, in Gotham City.
Her hasty meeting with the now-adult Dick Grayson had been surreal. She had last seen him when he had been around fifteen. Now she knew he was an adult, but in his solemnly visaged Red Robin costume, that former laughing young daredevil seemed the image of his mentor, Batman. He even had an accompanying partner, too, called Batwing.
Liberty Belle, on the other hand, had equally startled Robin. He had last seen her as a woman of thirty or so. Now, over forty years later, she looked younger — around twenty years or so, like her daughter Jesse — than he did. She had been very pleased with her reception. He was a man Batman could be very proud of. His sister, the Huntress, was also present and had been very capable-looking, if a bit standoffish.
After telling her that they had nothing to help her in her search for Doctor Double X, they had received a summons from the Justice Society of America and rushed off on some crisis. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See DC Universe: Crawling from the Wreckage, Book 4: Twilight of the Gods.]
“If you need us, just call,” offered Red Robin. “I’d try a science expert like Ted Knight or Jay Garrick,” he suggested.
Libby had thanked him, winked at the young Batwing, and headed for her home. There, she spent several frustrating hours on a computer, until she finally declared, “Oh, well, Ted Knight it is!”
The recent past:
Rex Mason was a grumpy old man — not a jovial Jack Lemmon type of funny old grouch but a true, dyed-in-the-itchy-burlap kind of grouchy old man. He had little use for people. He had been a loner all of his long life. As a treasure-hunting archaeologist, he had traveled the globe and never stayed too long in any one place.
Still, he had one soft spot. He loved his young niece, Amanda Martin. She was his sister Myra’s girl. This amazingly late-in-life birth gave him some pleasure. He had mailed her a jeweled necklace that he had made from a fragment of a bright gem. He had located this gem on the behalf of a woman named Candy Davis. She had been rude to him and had treated him like hired help. Thus, when he found the pink stone, he had split it and sent half to Ms. Davis and half to Amanda for a surprise present. He figured that spoiled Davis witch would never know the difference, and he’d be long gone before she found out. Rex was wrong. Fatally wrong.
As he packed his beat-up bag, a dapper young man walked in the room. This sissy-looking pup wore a full tux, complete with spats and a top hat. His muscled form belied his delicate manners. He bowed to the angry Rex. “Good day, Mr. Mason. Allow me to give you my regards. Finding a gentleman of your talents has not been without considerable challenge. You have displeased our employer, the lovely and so stylish Miss Candace Davis. I must ruefully eliminate you now.”
The foppish lad pulled out a silk-covered umbrella and, with a twist of the ornate, ivory handle, gunfire erupted from the tip into a startled Rex Mason. He fell to the floor in shock. The young man wiped his hands gently, though no speck of lint touched their costly material. He shook his well-coiffed head and said, “Well, this first blood went quite well, if I do say so myself.” His monogrammed handkerchief dusted the umbrella. The initials read O.C. II.
His name was Oswald Cobblepot the Second, and his father, the murderous Penguin, would have been so proud. He searched Mason’s bag and smiled as he produced a card from Washington, D.C.
“Amanda Martin? I do hope the young lady is attractive.”
Amanda Martin did not enjoy being a problem pupil at the Holliday Academy. She knew it was costing Dr. Charles McNider a bundle to keep her as a student there. Her dad, Bill Martin, had died a few years ago, leaving his widow Myra Mason Martin and their young child in debt. Dr. McNider, Myra’s old friend and former employer, had rushed to Myra’s aid, and he thought, as did Myra, that this school so valued by his friend Wonder Woman would be good for the young blonde. But she missed her mom. Home had been good, although she had always sensed that her parents were really more like good friends than lovers. Myra clearly pined secretly for someone else — likely McNider, the confirmed single man. In any event, she and Bill had been great parents, and Amanda missed her dad still.
Myra’s bizarrely extended youth and Amanda’s power had made it essential for the nurse to reveal McNider’s identity of Doctor Mid-Nite to the girl. It seemed that exposure to a device of Mid-Nite’s called the cryotuber had given the pair extra youth due to cryogenic energy in an unshielded form. (*) It gave Myra’s daughter, years later, a form of the device’s power to temporarily affect the human nervous system.
[(*) Editor’s note: See The Brave and the Bold: Doctor Mid-Nite and the Guardian: Times Past, 1947: Shedding Some Light.]
Now, Amanda slipped out of the school and ran for the road to town. She was going home anyway. Her run ended when a refined voice called out, “Pardon me, my fair miss, but I do believe you are Amanda Martin. I am so glad to make your acquaintance. Call me the Penguin.”
Alex Davis grimaced as his wrench fell to the floor. He had almost perfected his helmet. He had taken the stellar energy work of his gifted grandpa and had added a touch all his own. He theorized that absorbed stellar energy, if carefully filtered, could boost the mind’s power.
He slipped on the helmet and stood near a telescope-like device. When the roof slid back and starlight hit the lens, his helmet glowed, and he knew. He knew things beyond even his years of study. He felt raw energy stream through the helmet and into his mind. With a casual thought, he sent a beam of pure stellar energy through a desk. It crumpled in a heap. He merely gestured, and it reassembled itself anew.
“Now, Ted Knight! You and yours will feel my stellar might. You’ll pay at the hands of the grandson of the man you ruined. Brainstorm is coming for you!”