Baron Blitzkrieg and Iron Claw led the two captives, guarded by armed troops, into the complex called Muspelheim.
Mister Terrific noted every detail, knowing his photographic memory could be of vital help later. “This base is centered around building artificial thermal generators,” he said. “I can tell by what I see. Your land of fire is literal. If you complete and activate these devices, all of Germany will go up in flames. That’s madness!”
“Better to burn than to live as a conquered trophy for the hated Allies,” said Baron Blitzkrieg. “Hitler himself planned such an eventuality all along. He trusted us to carry out the destruction of Germany should the Axis cause fall. The Allies will burn, and their victory shall prove a pyrrhic one, indeed!”
Red Eagle rushed forward but was backhanded by the brutal Nazi. “Your speed is phenomenal!” she cried as she wiped her bloodied lip.
Mister Terrific stepped in front of her. “Hold it, Baron. If you wish a fight, then try me!” he vowed.
“Oh?” said Baron Blitzkrieg. “And how can a mere acrobat pose a threat to one who may draw upon enhanced adrenal energies to fly, generate energy-blasts, or bend steel in his bare hands? Can your lofty fair play do that?”
The Iron Claw waved his artificial metal claw and said, “Perhaps the Amerikaner thinks his pure heart gives him the strength of ten, eh?” They laughed and led the two forward. “See? This doomsday device is manned by those who remain of the Third Reich’s glorious might,” said the Claw. “They gladly serve to end the shame of defeat!”
“Good heavens!” gasped Mister Terrific as he saw the circle of armed guards. “They’re all children!” he whispered.
“Correct. The kinder are the fruits of the Hitler Youth program,” said the Iron Claw. “I formed the group after serving as Himmler’s personal bodyguard,” he boasted.
“You certainly did a stellar job in that capacity,” joked Mister Terrific. “Where were you when he was captured and ended up biting that cyanide capsule last year?”
The Iron Claw cursed and said, “Let me rend this hero asunder!”
Baron Blitzkrieg chuckled. “He struck a nerve, Herr Claw. Let me assure you, his days are numbered.” Turning to Mister Terrific, he said, “You see before you the flower of German youth. They believe in the cause, and that faith will triumph over any amount of fair play!”
Red Eagle gasped, “Heinrich!” She pointed to a figure who was chained in a prison room. His costume of black and gold was torn, and his spirit seemed broken as well.
“Ja! Your husband! He has been our guest, along with these other Allied dogs!” said the Baron as his metal-gloved hand gestured toward other weird captive figures.
One was a pretty woman in gray with dark black hair. A glowing nimbus of fire served as her dark costume’s chief symbol. Next to her towered a monster of green scales and massive proportions. Finally, an inhuman, blue-skinned youth rested nearby.
“I give you the Soviet Fireball, the Chinese Kuei, and the French Phantasmo!” said the Iron Claw. “They fell into our power when they came here as well.”
Mister Terrific frowned as he recognized the international heroes called the Young Allies from an old All-Star Squadron case. “Surely the sheer physical prowess of the one called Kuei could break those chains!”
Baron Blitzkrieg nodded. “Power dampeners suppress all their accursed powers, leaving even the freakish misfit a mere human!”
Mister Terrific gave a determined look toward his captors. “A mere human can achieve a lot!” he vowed.
Terrific waited as he and Red Eagle joined the others in their cell. He and the blonde heroine had not been chained, since their cocky captors scorned their all-too-human abilities.
“Heinrich, my love!” pleaded Red Eagle.
Her husband showed signs of weary recognition. “Katerina! You should not have come to this hellish place!” he groaned.
She cradled his head and said, “How could I not?”
The Soviet woman called Fireball said, “You are an American, da?”
Terrific nodded. “Proud of it, too. You come from Siberia!”
Fireball smiled with eyes widening. “You know my accent!” she said. “You surprise me.”
Kuei spoke, his voice a low rumble. “He is Mister Terrific. He is said to know most everything,” he said with a sad shake of his huge head.
“Kind words from one named after an Asian otherwordly spirit,” said Mister Terrific.
“I am an elemental,” said Phantasmo, “yet that power-dampener robs even me of my natural immunity to things of the earth.”
“I’ve read of beings like you,” said Mister Terrific. “The Comte Saint-Germaine wrote about your type of being.”
The next morning, Mister Terrific greeted the others with a startling announcement. “We may all be free soon,” he said. “I believe I have a plan!”
Calling out to his captors, he said confidently, “Baron, I defy you. I defy you and your Aryan pride. You’re a beaten man. Let me out of this cell, and I’ll prove it.”
“Mister Terrific, is this wise? He is a fatal man!” warned Black Eagle.
“I trust him,” said Red Eagle. “Did he not prove his talents last night?”
Her husband nodded wearily. “It is as you say, my love.”
Baron Blitzkrieg approached and said, “You annoy me. I have broken men in half for less!”
“I know you murdered the Red Bee on that parallel world we call Earth-X. (*) I don’t think you’re man enough to fight me one on one!” said Mister Terrific. His flawless German carried out into the morning air, and he knew he was heard by all.
[(*) Editor’s note: See “That Earths May Live,” All-Star Squadron #35 (July, 1984).]
The Baron turned to see the crowd of uniformed children who served him watch uneasily. Some whispered as their master was taunted by the American. “You know I have superhuman powers. You have nothing but an admittedly brave heart. I shall stop its beating with ease,” said the Baron as his golden armor gleamed in the sunlight.
The Iron Claw approached and nodded. “Kill him, Baron. The kinder will be disillusioned if you back down!”
Kuei frowned. “They are responding as he said they would. He knows children well!”
Fireball nodded. “But what if his theory is wrong?”
Mister Terrific was led out of the cell as the two Nazi leaders and their assembled young workers watched eagerly.
“The Amerikaner schweinhund needs a lesson in Aryan supremacy,” said the Iron Claw.
Baron Blitzkrieg nodded. “And I shall give it to him, never fear.”
The Iron Claw nodded.
The Baron charged Mister Terrific, who darted aside and tripped his heavy armored foe. “What is this? The swine moves like a dervish.”
Mister Terrific jumped forward and punched the Baron under the chin. His metal helmet flew upward and dropped to the earth, revealing his scarred face and white-blond hair.
“You are stronger than I knew!” said Baron Blitzkrieg. “I thought you a mere acrobat!”
Mister Terrific ducked his right hook and connected with three swift blows of his own. “Your cause is corrupt, and no one like you can stand up to someone who believes in justice and freedom!” said Terrific as he staggered his foe.
The Hitler Youth members murmured with appreciation as the man of a thousand talents made a fool out of Baron Blitzkrieg. Terrific called out in German, “You see what a empty threat this windbag is without super-powers? He’s weak, because he relies on terror and brutality in place of skill and training.”
“It is just as I thought!” said Black Eagle. “The youth of Germany are not a lost group as yet! They respond to a hero’s courage and skill!”
Red Eagle helped her excited mate to his feet. “I think that was his goal all along. If he had merely wanted to free us, he could have done so when he escaped from the cell secretly last night!”
“You have no powers, but you’ve robbed me of my own!” said Baron Blitzkrieg. “I am powerless, too!”
“You see, kinder?” said the Iron Claw. “The Baron cannot win without cheating. His cause was lost before the first punch was thrown.” The children chattered in excitement as he continued, “A true German can fight for what he believes in, unlike this Nazi thug. I reject all he stands for, and I ask you to do so, too!” Many of them agreed, while others held back, puzzled by this new development.
Mister Terrific smiled. “Surrender, Baron. I think fair play just beat your Axis agenda!”
“You’ve turned the power-dampener upon me!” said the Baron. “That is how you’ve managed to make me look a fool! But I may still triumph by activation of the Muspelheim engines!”
Baron Blitzkrieg turned and gasped as a whip cracked out to trip him again. The Iron Claw, waving the weapon, stood before him in defiance. “You traitor!” cried the Baron.
“You are the traitor,” said the Iron Claw. “You betrayed the true nobility of the German nation by following Hitler’s insanity. That ends here!” Cheers rose up from some of the children, while others remained uncertain. Mister Terrific smiled and helped the Iron Claw free the heroes.
“Turn off the power-dampener,” said Fireball. “I assume you found it last night and set it against the Baron! I would char the flesh from his body!”
Mister Terrific frowned. “No! That’s not my way! He can stand trial for his crimes like all the rest of the war criminals are.”
Red Eagle kissed his cheek. “Thank you! We shall see that he does! But what of the Claw? His sudden change of heart does not make up for his past deeds!”
The Iron Claw had spent the last few minutes gathering the weapons from the youths and then helped dismantle the Muspelheim engines. Stepping into the shadows, he said in a low voice, barely above a whisper, “He paid for his crimes with his life.”
Red Eagle frowned as they moved out of sight of the children. “You are an Amerikaner!” she whispered back in shock.
“Right. A Texan, in fact,” he replied.
“This is the man I was looking for,” explained Mister Terrific. “He defeated the real Iron Cross weeks ago, but took his place in order to secretly sabotage the engines. They would not have worked, even if the Baron had activated them!”
The Americommando, for that was who was beneath the masked disguise of the Iron Claw, smiled and said, “I can’t thank you enough for helping me! I did take Iron Claw’s place — complete with this painfully uncomfortable artificial claw over my concealed hand. I wrecked his engines and tried to figure out how to take down an entire base full of gun-wielding kids and the super-powered Baron. Luckily for us all, you showed up and caught the slight Texan accent beneath my German accent.”
Mister Terrific nodded. “I did, and I caught your paraphrase of Tennyson about a pure heart. Your pal Bob tipped me off to your love of the poet! Once I realized who you were and guessed your purpose in remaining in disguise, I waited until night and escaped from the cell.” He turned to the other heroes. “I found him last night, and we planned to train the power dampener on the Baron long enough for me to show him up and hopefully turn around some of his youth.”
“A noble scheme,” said Kuei. “That is why you did not merely free us all last night when you slipped out of the cell and later came back.”
Mister Terrific nodded as the bound Baron Blitzkrieg was led off. “The U.N. authorities will be thrilled to close down this place and bring Blitzkrieg to trial,” said the hero.
The still-disguised Tex Thomson nodded. “The power dampener can be shut off now. You should all return to normal.”
Phantasmo smiled. “My thanks. I have rotted within that cell for far too long.”
“I learned something during my time abroad,” said Tex. “I can do more good using disguises than I ever could as a costumed hero. I’m heading home, and I’ll see good old Bob, but I won’t be reviving my heroic role. Mister America, the Americommando, will stay dead if you’ll keep my secret!”
Mister Terrific nodded. “You can count on me!”
Tex grinned. “If I can’t trust Mister Terrific, then who can I trust?”