Seven Soldiers of Victory: 1943: Return of the Dark Cross, Chapter 2: Dead Men Walking

by Libbylawrence

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The Vigilante wasted no time in summoning his friends in the heroic group called the Seven Soldiers of Victory. They had assembled at the odd structure called the Arrow Cave beneath the New York City home of millionaire Oliver Queen and his ward, Roy Harper. Together the pair as Green Arrow and Speedy formed one of the sub-teams within the Soldiers. They had happily hosted the meeting at the Vigilante’s last-minute request, since unlike the Justice Society of America or the All-Star Squadron, the team had no headquarters or base of operations. Usually the Law’s Legionnaires, as they were also known, just rented a hall in Manhattan whenever they needed to make it to one of their infrequent meetings, but the hall they usually used had already been reserved for a wedding reception, and there weren’t any others available at such short notice.

“Thank you kindly for the hospitality, G.A.,” said the Vigilante. “When I found this list of names and did some checking, I figgered we better get together.”

Green Arrow nodded. “Glad to have you fellows here. It’s not like we often bring guests down here.”

Speedy grinned. “Right! Most of Oliver’s high-society friends wouldn’t fit in in a cave full of gimmicked arrows!”

The youth called the Star-Spangled Kid smiled in amusement. “Correct; after all, just what does one wear to a mystery-man headquarters?”

Stripesy, a big redhead in a red and white shirt, grinned at his youthful partner and boss. “Yeah! Leave it ta the Junior Warbucks of the heroic set to think of a dress code!” he said in good-natured ribbing of the young man whose family employed him as their driver in his Pat Dugan identity.

The Shining Knight, a handsome man in gleaming golden armor, frowned as he leaned toward Lee Travis and Wing How, who as the Crimson Avenger and Wing completed the teaming of champions. “Verily, friend Avenger, your countenance is as grim as ‘ere I’ve seen in eras diverse,” he said. “What troubles you sorely about said names on the parchment?”

Before the Avenger could speak, the Vigilante interrupted, saying, “I knew they were all supposedly dead men by checking up on ’em, but I figgered checking your Globe-Leader’s newspaper morgue might tell me a heap more. I hope I haven’t put you out!”

The Crimson Avenger shook his head. “No, you were right to call us in. I’ve personally had dealings with the Dark Cross, and the men on this list you found were and apparently still are its ruling body. The Cross group are arms dealers with loyalty to no cause, either Axis or Allies. I captured some of them and left others for dead back in ’38. The ones I captured apparently faked their own deaths afterward in various jail breaks. It concerns me personally, because their chairman is Winston Smythe — my godfather.” (*)

[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Dark Cross Conspiracy,” The Crimson Avenger #1-4 (June-September, 1988).]

Speedy leaned toward Wing and asked the older Oriental man in hushed tones, “Their head man is Lee’s godfather? No wonder he’s so upset!”

“We believed him dead a second time after their final encounter,” Wing said softly. “Mr. Travis’ wealth comes from Winston Smythe, who sought to corrupt his idealism with such gains. Needless to say, he failed!”

“The gas-guns they are turning out would be powerful weapons for criminals or the Nazi cause,” said Green Arrow.

The Vigilante nodded. “Right, pard. So I say we divide up and try to hogtie these owlhoots. If’n he hadn’t vanished, Slim Chance would’a been a rival to this western crooner. I’ll take him.”

Stripesy frowned. “Hey, I’ve driven this Stanley Cartwright to your old man’s place, Kid!”

The Star-Spangled Kid nodded. “He was a banker, and thus a business associate of father’s. Plus a countryman of yours, Sir Justin.”

The Shining Knight frowned. “In sooth, I should like to venture to bring this fallen scion of Britain to righteous justice. It troubles me to learn that one so steeped in material riches would be so base as to ungratefully turn ‘gainst the nation that succored him!”

“We’ll take Wu Fang,” said Green Arrow. “Chinatown, here we come.”

“I knew Wu Fang’s esteemed daughter, Su Ling,” countered Wing. “I would avenge her death and see my own countryman brought to justice as well.”

The Crimson Avenger shook his head. “I’m sorry, Wing, but I need you to help me bring down their chairman — my godfather with his multiple exaggerated deaths.”

“We’ll take John Pulaski, former president of Great Lakes Steel,” said the Star-Spangled Kid.

“My godfather hid in one of his old property holdings,” said the Avenger. “I’d venture to guess this list of more of his hidden real estate holdings — which conforms to the locales generally associated with Chance, Pulaski, Fang, and Cartwright — should lead us to them!”

Sir Justin raised his sword and said, “Then our cry be as always… for justice!”

For justice!” echoed out as the Law’s Legionnaires rose from one round table not so different from another the Shining Knight had once known.

***

Green Arrow and Speedy wasted no time in getting to Chinatown via the Arrowplane. They reached their destination and soon found themselves deep within the community in no time at all.

Speedy frowned. “Wing seemed pretty animated for a guy who is normally so calm. This Su Ling must have made quite an impression on him.”

Green Arrow nodded. “Well, youngster, when you’re a bit older, you’ll understand why. She was brave and beautiful, and quite a pilot, from the few press clippings I recall. I’m sorry he could not join us in tracking down her villainous relation, Wu Fang.”

The expert bowmen fired as one and sent two shafts skyward. As the trick arrows reached the roof, small hooks protruded and anchored the lines that trailed from their ends. They climbed swiftly with the grace of the athletes they were. Silently and surely they made their way toward the windows of a dirty and abandoned structure.

“Glass-cutter arrow should give us easy access,” said Green Arrow as he removed an arrow and sliced through the dirty glass window of the former store. With practiced ease he reached inside and unlocked the window. It swung open, and he slipped inside, followed by his partner.

They examined the building and exchanged glances. Dust covered the entire floor, with the exception of one square of wood that was oddly free of the coating of dust. They nodded and moved closer. They separated silently, with each moving to a different side of the square. Drawing particular arrows, they lifted the trapdoor. They saw men and heard shouts as the opening revealed a secret chamber full of animate and inanimate objects.

“The Green Arrow!” gasped a fat man before a blunt arrow struck him in the chin, and he fell flat.

“You know, it’s too bad we always finish ’em off so swiftly. I never get any name recognition!” joked Speedy.

Green Arrow shrugged. “Fame is fleeting. Why, who knows? Maybe one day no one will remember us at all!” He fired an arrow that flared as its flight reached its highest arc. The blinding light left the unprepared thugs dazed, and Green Arrow and Speedy tore into them with skilled hands and feet.

“Enough! You are unwelcome here!” said a fat Chinese man in a purple shirt.

“Wu Fang!” said Green Arrow. “You didn’t stray far from your chairman’s property holdings, I see!”

Wu Fang frowned grimly and produced a gun. “You know too much. We regret a man of such learning must learn the ultimate answers that wait beyond the grave!”

Speedy grinned. “Don’t get all misty on us, pal. That fancy gas-gun you’re waving won’t do much good against us, anyway! We came prepared.” He referred to the fact that the Seven Soldiers had received hastily created masks to help them resist the potent chemicals found within the gas-gun that was very well known to the Crimson Avenger. They slipped them on and drew closer to Wu Fang.

Before they could touch him, though, electrical bursts shook them to the ground, and they groaned in pain. “Not expectin’ the likes o’ me, were you, now?” sneered Black Jack the Pirate King as his cutlass generated the stunning current. (*)

[(*) Editor’s note: See Aquaman, More Fun Comics #74 (December, 1941).]

***

Great Lakes Steel: the name invoked images of a powerful corporate engine at work. The reality was largely the same. Men and women labored diligently to produce the resources needed for the arsenal of democracy, even after the fall and alleged death of founder and president John Pulaski nearly four years earlier.

It was not the type of environment the wealthy Sylvester Pemberton was accustomed to. However, his burly driver Pat Dugan knew the mills well and had friends who worked in similar locations across the nation. “You see, Kid, it’s folks like these who make a real difference!” said Stripesy as he indicated the busy plant’s swing shift at work. “The war effort is more than a bunch’a talkin’ heads or even the Joes in the armed forces.”

The Star-Spangled Kid grinned. He could not agree more with his friend, but their relationship was one built on a bedrock of friendship and concern that was often masked by good-natured and nonstop joking. Thus he replied, “Spoken like a guy in love with metal and oil!”

Stripesy shrugged. “Hey, you’re a real card. Too bad you’ve never seen a time card, or you’d get my drift!”

The Kid nodded. “I’m joshing. I agree. Don’t get hot under your blue collar!”

Walking down a stairwell, they reached the lower recesses of the plant. “According to the Avenger’s data, Pulaski might be hiding out across from the actual plant grounds,” said the Kid. “That old house that looks like it’s ready for haunting was owned by the Avenger’s crooked godfather, Smythe.”

“Looks like the kinda place you’d find Bela Lugosi, not a big shot like Pulaski,” replied Stripesy. “Still, being a crook and believed to be dead and all, it just might suit the guy!”

They crossed the grounds and approached the old house slowly. In minutes they had entered the house, thanks to a quick display of muscle by the burly Stripesy.

“Look, Kid!” he said. “See that bookcase? It’s got mixed-up depth based on the measurements of the frame and wall. It must hide a secret room.” He braced himself and heaved until the case swung aside and revealed men in a hidden chamber.

“Mr. Pulaski! Trying to avoid fair compensation for your workers? What would the unions say?” quipped the Star-Spangled Kid as he charged into the room and faced the startled ex-steel magnate.

John Pulaski gasped and shouted, “Stop them!”

The Kid was already in the air in a spin that ended as he crashed into two men. Punching at them rapidly, he left them stunned.

Stripesy grinned and kicked out to send a gas-gun spinning out of Pulaski’s hands. “No need to use that,” he said. “The Kid’s banter’ll put ya to sleep nearly as painlessly!”

Then a newcomer stepped out and connected with a hard right hand that sent Stripesy reeling. “You didn’t expect Big Fist, did you? Well, I’m ready for you, or any mugs like you!” said a large man in black. His hands were indeed large like the rest of his body, but they gleamed in the dim light of the room.

“Brass knuckles!” said Stripesy as he staggered back to his feet and moved closer.

The Star-Spangled Kid spun around to kick at the huge man in black who ignored his skilled display and swiped out with the hand weapons. The Kid fell hard as the gleaming metal device connected.

Stripesy’s face showed concern, and he roared in anger. “Ya rat! I’ll teach ya to slug a kid!” he said, grappling with Big Fist.

The man laughed and said, “I took out Starman! (*) You really think a pug like you has a chance?” Big Fist frowned suddenly as Stripesy’s brute strength forced him backward.

[(*) Editor’s note: Big Fist fought Starman in an untold tale during the 1940s.]

“Not so tough if you can’t use your fancy mittens!” said Stripesy.

Then Pulaski fired the gas-gun, and the big man in red and white fell beneath the combination of gas and a blow from Big Fist.

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