The Penguin squawked with roguish delight as his flock of trained attack birds kept the New York police at bay while he made his escape from the Feathered Nest jewelry store. The fat man laughed and said, “I should have struck the Big Apple long ago. Gotham City is not for the birds — at least not this one!”
The villain was delighted to have pulled off the robbery with such ease and flair without any costumed heroes interrupting his moment of triumph, and especially not his most frequent foes, Batman and Robin. He frowned, though, as a high-pitched noise echoed through the air, and his flock departed in haste despite his best efforts to regain control. He gasped in irritation as a red-and-green-costumed man raced forward. He wore an emblem of Fair Play emblazoned across his costume.
“Mister Terrific!” sighed a cop in relief.
“You sent my pets away! How?” demanded the Penguin as he brandished an umbrella.
“I mimicked their natural predators,” he said with a smile. “They fled. You can’t change their basic survival instincts. Bird calls are a hobby of mine!”
The Penguin jumped up and spread wide his customized bumbershoot. He rose off the ground and sailed skyward with a taunting look on his face. “Well, birds of a feather and all that, old chap!” he chortled as he made his escape.
Mister Terrific calmly hurled a borrowed policeman’s hat skyward at the precise angle needed to slam into Penguin’s gloved hand and cause him to release the umbrella. The Penguin fell down hard the few feet to the ground and scowled as the cops cuffed him. “I’m surprised you didn’t remember that Penguins are flightless birds!” said Mister Terrific as the police and onlookers cheered.
The Penguin gave the champion of fair play a black look. “You, sir, are as irksome as Batman!” he said.
Mister Terrific smiled. “I take that as high praise, indeed!”
As he turned to depart, a man hesitantly approached him. He was a fat man in a nice suit with a pleasing expression on his round face. His small mustache twitched as he gathered his courage. “May I help you? Mr. Daley, isn’t it?” asked Mister Terrific.
Bob Daley looked puzzled. “Why, yes. I’m surprised you know me. You are from Gateway City, right?”
“I call both New York City and Gateway City home,” explained Mister Terrific. “And I make it a point to keep up with notable crime-fighters like yourself. You are one of the most successful members of the New York City D.A.’s office. I never forget a face.”
“I was wondering if…” began Bob. “I mean… could we talk?”
Mister Terrific nodded and ushered him along. “What can I do for you?” he asked. “I’m always ready to help.”
“I was a mystery-man, too,” explained Bob with a whisper. “Fat Man. I aided Mister America. You know of him?”
Mister Terrific nodded. “Indeed, I do. Americommando was his most recent costumed name. He is a fine man. I believe he went behind Axis lines during the war. He was superb with disguises.”
Bob shrugged. “That’s it, exactly. He has never returned. We got word from him right after the end of the war, but still he hasn’t returned. I wondered if you would try to find him! I would go, but my wife Peggy is pregnant.”
Mister Terrific mused silently as he remembered the name from his files. Peggy Malone — Miss X — former aide to Mister America. “I’m willing to try to find him. Tell me all you know,” he said. “It would not be fair to leave a true American hero like him in peril.”
Bob smiled broadly. “I hoped you’d say that. The words on your costume — you really live by them!”
Mister Terrific nodded. “I try.”
The next day, Al Pratt and Ted Grant each received letters from their friend Terry Sloane. Each letter enclosed a sealed envelope. The cover letter informed them that Terry was going abroad on business and would appreciate it if they would open the enclosed envelope if he did not write again in a month.
Ted Grant frowned and slammed his fists into a punching bag. “He’s going off on some dangerous mission, but I gotta respect his wishes for now,” muttered the man known in his costumed identity as Wildcat. “I’ll hold his envelope and hope for the best!”
Meanwhile, Al Pratt paced back and forth in his room at Calvin City College. “I don’t like his request to hold the envelope unless he doesn’t reply in a month,” replied the Justice Society member known as the Atom. “Sounds like he’s expecting big danger, and I should be there for him!”
Al tore open the envelope, but then, with some reluctance, put it in a drawer, unread. I’ll honor his wishes for now, he mused. Got to get out and work off this energy. Terry, I sure hope every one of those one-thousand talents are working for you, buddy!
Terry Sloane, in a dark suit, had made his way into postwar Germany and wasted no time in putting his superb deductive skills to work. Acting on Bob Daley’s last communication from Tex Thomson, he had reached the Americommando’s last known location and had discovered a lead.
“Thomson posed as various Axis officers and is rumored to have reached Hitler’s bunker itself,” mused the handsome, blonde Sloane. “That panned out to be false. If anyone got there, it must have been some other master of disguise. But some Allied intelligence operatives say Thomson left Berlin for the countryside in pursuit of some mystery.”
Terry spoke German with a flawlessness that enabled him to pass through the area passing as a German, helping him get information with ease. As he went, he saw scenes of horror and hardship, and pondered on what suffering war brought to all those caught within its inhumanity. Kids are going hungry. Innocents have been raped and brutalized by both sides. It’s sickening. I wish the world could see that not all Germans were Axis, and now, in peacetime, even those who once supported the Nazis deserve the basic essentials of life, he mused. Hope the newly formed United Nations that met last month will make a difference!
Seeing a large child bullying a smaller one, he stopped in his tracks. He bent down and said in perfect German, “You boys should be helping each other, not fighting. You need to work together to help your folks rebuild this nation for a better tomorrow. Show the world that Germans can build up as well as tear down!”
They listened and were oddly moved, not so much by his words but by his obviously sincere interest and concern for them. “Mister! He took my food!” said the small lad.
Mister Terrific turned to the larger youth and said, “Why’d you do it? You’re hungry, too?” He reached into his coat pocket and handed them a wrapped package. “Here, divide this up and try to think about what I said.” He urged them to cooperate as he gave away what was left of his own supplies.
“Thanks!” they replied. He smiled and wondered if the conversation would make any difference. Got to help these poor kids learn that life doesn’t have to center around the will of the strongest, but it should be based on mutual caring and cooperation for the common good! he thought.
Continuing on his journey, Terry Sloane pondered the odd name that kept coming up as he spoke with various figures who claimed to know of rumors about what mystery lurked within the isolation of the German countryside. Muspelheim, he mused. That one name has come up more than once. Tex was looking into something called by that name. In Norse myth it was the realm of fire. Sounds like a sinister place.
Terry, now dressed as Mister Terrific, scrambled through the night and peered down from a rocky hill toward an intriguing sight. Cars, trucks, and wagons are all entering that old barn, but there is plainly not enough room for them all, he thought. Plus, none have exited since I started staking out the place. My experience with construction and design suggests the barn is merely concealment for a tunnel entrance to some underground location. That could well be called Muspelheim!
Mister Terrific frowned as his keen ears picked up a rustling sound in the woods. He turned to face a costumed figure that lunged for him. Twisting agilely aside, he grabbed her wrists and took a look at her. She wore a black costume with a red eagle on the chest. Her mask opened at the nose and the top. Blonde hair flowed out of the top of the dark mask. “You are an Amerikaner! I saw you on the newsreels!” she said.
Nodding, he said, “And your German is tinged with the accents of Great Britain!”
“My mother was English,” she said. “My father was German. Prussian nobility runs in my ancestry!”
Mister Terrific smiled. She seemed woefully eager to establish her background; he had a good idea why this might be necessary. “Red Eagle — I assume that is your costumed name,” he said. “Taken from the Prussian version of the Victoria Cross or Iron Cross. You are anti-Axis, and your German father’s name caused you much grief.”
Tearing free, she said with a puzzled look, “Yes. You must be a psychic! I grew up shocked and repelled by Hitler’s mad rise. My brother died fighting for that fiend. I donned this costume to do my part to show that not all Germans are allied with Nazism.”
“I’m Mister Terrific,” said the hero. “I’m glad to meet you. Your crusade had to be a dangerous one; I admire your courage and resolve. I’m here to investigate that building below. A friend may be inside.”
The Red Eagle nodded. “I also seek a friend — my husband, the Black Eagle. He vanished, and my hunt has brought me here.”
Mister Terrific nodded. “Well, shall we go and get to the bottom of this so-called Muspelheim?”
The blonde smiled and said, “Agreed!”
Reaching the old barn, they confronted three guards. Red Eagle darted forward aggressively and kicked a gun out of one guard’s grip. As she did so, Mister Terrific rolled forward and sprang up to tackle the other two. He slammed their heads together and dropped them stunned to the ground. He led Red Eagle inside after a spinning kick from the agile blonde brought down her foe.
“See? The tracks lead to that passageway,” he said. “It’s like a drawbridge beneath the earth! Amazing how much time and effort must have gone into building this place.”
Red Eagle nodded. “My husband believed there to be such a hidden lair built in preparation for a final Nazi plan if the war ended badly. The name suggests a fiery ruin!”
“Exactly,” said Mister Terrific. “Come on. Let’s brave the flames together!” They rushed down the passage after Terrific expertly operated the machines that controlled the opening to the underground complex.
“You knew how to use those devices. How is it so?” demanded the fiery heroine. “You claimed to know little beyond the name of this base!”
“I studied electronics, and I dabble a bit in various sciences,” he explained.
She nodded. “Forgive my doubts. I should know a Justice Society member would be no spy.”
“I’m really just a reservist,” explained Terrific. “My work keeps me busy on my own.”
“What work, may I ask?” said Red Eagle.
“When I’m not working on a case as Mister Terrific, I spend most of my time mentoring children back home in Gateway City,” he said.
“A remarkable man!” she said admiringly. “I assumed you crime-busters were all two-fisted daredevils with no time for social concerns.”
Mister Terrific smiled. “I’m sure it must seem as if some mystery-men care more about the thrills than the ordinary folks they help, but all of the men and women I’ve met who engage in the field are sincere about making real social change!”
“How trite, but then any gaudily clad fool who believes in a naïve virtue like fair play has to be a sentimental dolt!” said a deep voice.
They whirled to see a gleaming armored figure. “Baron Blitzkrieg!” cried Mister Terrific as he recognized the old foe of the All-Star Squadron. “I thought a rat hole this big would house a king-sized rat!”
“Ja! And I am not alone,” said the golden-armored, masked Nazi super-agent.
Red Eagle pointed beyond the shadows to where a second costumed Axis agent of notoriety stood, along with armed troops. The two heroes had been captured.
“Iron Claw!” said Mister Terrific, recognizing the costume. “Wonder Woman told me all about you.” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Hell on Skis,” World’s Finest Comics #245 (June-July, 1977).]
“Schweinhund!” the Iron Claw cried. “The infernal Amazon will die at my hands or claw eventually, Amerikaner!” He laughed and motioned for his armed troops to seize the two costumed heroes.