Seven Soldiers of Victory: 1943: Return of the Dark Cross, Chapter 3: No Man is an Island

by Libbylawrence

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The Vigilante had found Slim Chance as well. The former singing cowboy still retained his trademark amiable good looks and easy manner. However, his charm was diminished by the menace of the gas-gun he waved and the goons he employed at the ranch owned by Winston Smythe. “This looks like a scene from outta one of your pictures,” said the Vigilante.

Slim shrugged. “So you’ve seen my work?”

The Vigilante nodded as he eyed the gunmen. “Yep.”

Slim’s hayseed grin grew broader. “I hate to shoot down a fan!”

The Vigilante grinned beneath his bandana. “I’ve seen your films. Never said I liked ’em!” He jumped forward and tackled the cowboy. Three swift blows left Slim stunned and the gas-gun broken. The Vigilante leaped aside and met the charging goons who rushed to aid their boss.

One was a fat man with heavy eyebrows. “You can’t treat Slim like that!”

The Vigilante dodged him and dropped him with a right cross. “Don’t send his agent after me!” He grabbed the gun arm of the remaining thug and twisted deftly to disarm and then subdue him. So, I reckon this ends this little shindig, he thought. Then a bubble sailed across the field and exploded near him. “Sticky goo! Almost trapped me!” he muttered as he pulled free of the stuff.

A high-pitched laugh echoed, and an odd little man skipped over to face him. “Who in Sam Hill are you?” demanded the Vigilante.

The foe who stood before him had messy red hair with a cowlick and freckles around a broad, crooked grin. His suit was checkered and garish, and his laugh was annoying and constant. “They call me Mister Laff, and the joke is on you, cowboy!” he chuckled. (*)

[(*) Editor’s note: See Mr. Terrific, Sensation Comics #12 (December, 1942).]

The Vigilante drew his lasso and tossed it toward the mocking figure. “Fair enough, since my rope’s on you!” he replied, reeling the gangly man forward. But his confident manner turned into a frown as one of Mister Laff’s arms extended from his green-and-gold-colored suit sleeve to punch the Vigilante with iron hardness.

“Got to hand it to ya!” giggled the villain as he dropped his extending arm to cut through the rope with a seemingly rubbery but apparently sharp saw-blade.

The Vigilante swung out and missed as Mister Laff literally flew aside on rubber springs that popped out of his large shoes. “Got the jump on you, Tex!” he screeched.

Ignoring the chatter, the Vigilante waited. Then three quick shots rang out as Greg Sanders expertly riddled the man’s bulky suit with shots. Coils, bands, weird lights, and assorted gimmicks fell to the ground.

“You wound me!” said Mister Laff.

“Not yet, but give me time!” said the Vigilante. He tackled Mister Laff and pounded him until he gasped a surrender.

“I give! You heep big man!” said Mister Laff.

The Vigilante nodded and lifted him to his feet. “What kinda fool name is Mister Laff?” he asked.

“I think it suits me!” said his foe with a look of defiance.

“A straitjacket suits ya!” said the Vigilante. He turned away for a minute and groaned as electric current flooded his body and left him stunned next to his fallen enemy.

“Got ya!” moaned Mister Laff as he passed out.

Slim Chance nodded with approval. That maniac nearly electrocuted himself just to get Vigilante. Guess I owe him a big bonus!

***

Sir Justin the Shining Knight rode his faithful steed Winged Victory over the country home of the supposedly late Stanley Cartwright. Unlike the other members of the Dark Cross, Cartwright had not been hiding where the Crimson Avenger’s information indicated he would be found. Thus Sir Justin had decided to search the American home of the British banker-turned-criminal.

Gently urging his horse downward, he softly commanded the stallion to wait for his return. He then entered the house and walked down its elegant but empty corridors. ‘Tis a regal manor in truth, yet how base a nature he who claimed it must possess! mused the time-tossed knight errant.

The Shining Knight noticed the faint signs of a secret door, and he brought his gleaming sword down upon the portal. As wood painted to resemble solid wall shattered to reveal a startled Stanley Cartwright, four muscular men charged the Knight from each side.

“What kind of foolery is this?” demanded Cartwright as his lair was invaded by the Soldier of Victory.

“Foolery, aye!” said Justin. “To one whose eyes see naught beyond the corrupting hues of greed and gain, it must appear to be foolish, indeed, to fight for justice! ‘Twould be better still if those selfsame eyes were ever closed than to look ‘pon such a knave as thee!”

The Shining Knight spun around and connected with the flat of his blade to stun one of the hulking figures. Three others grabbed for his agile figure, but he broke through their net and struck again. “Mighty indeed are your sinews, yet you none have aught but a craven heart to attack one alone!” he said.

Ducking a right cross, he allowed another’s blows to ring harmlessly off of his enchanted armor. He clipped the nearest figure with a left jab and smiled grimly as he fell in the path of his allies. Sir Justin jumped forward and slammed his shoulder into the third figure, who reeled and toppled before the valiant attack.

“Cartwright! Try not my patience!” he said as Cartwright drew a gas-gun, then gasped as Sir Justin sliced it in half with his enchanted sword.

The two remaining muscle men silently charged their armored foe and closed in on him with relentless purpose. He struggled and then shoved them back, dropping them both with one arch of the flat of his blade. “Now, sirrah! Yon pawns of yours will no longer come betwixt you and swift justice! Tell me where to find your peers!” he demanded of the cowering banker.

“Please! I can pay you!” begged Cartwright.

Sir Justin frowned in dismay. “Truly, you have as little awareness of chivalry and knightly virtue as a cur would know of breeding or lineage!” He listened as Cartwright told all he knew of the re-formed Dark Cross.

The Shining Knight nodded and watched as the hastily summoned police arrived to take away Cartwright and his gang of muscular thugs known as the Four Strong Men, one of whom groaned, “After Robotman, I figured nobody could be as tough to handle!” (*)

[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Four Strong Men,” Star Spangled Comics #21 (June, 1943).]

Sir Justin smiled grimly and rode skyward in quest of his allies and in the hope that he was not too late to help them stop the Dark Cross for good.

***

The Crimson Avenger’s quest had been short in terms of distance travelled, but long if measured by a journey into the realm of memory. Lee Travis simply led Wing How to the underground base below the final office building in the city owned by his evil godfather, Winston Smythe.

To the Crimson Avenger, this trip brought back painful memories. He had not come from a wealthy background, and inheriting the Globe-Leader and considerable wealth from a godfather he believed to have disowned him years earlier had thrust him into a new world. Now he knew that Winston Smythe had faked his own death more than once and, as the masked chairman, had led the weapons-dealing group called the Dark Cross.

Lee had initially assumed the money he had been given had been left to him out of a sense of affection, but now he knew that the old man had wanted to corrupt his idealistic heir with the trappings of money and power. He had nearly succeeded in at least turning Travis into a distant dreamer who had little personal connection to the world he sought to clarify through his brilliant editorials. The death of a reporter at the hands of costumed robbers had inspired Lee to shake off his detachment and fight a personal fight for justice on the streets of New York City as the masked mystery-man known as the Crimson Avenger. (*) With Wing’s help he had forged a legend of sorts and acquired a notoriety that had, in some ways, given birth to other mystery-men. He had finally donned a colorful and skintight costume as well in the style of other heroes like the Sandman and Batman. (*)

[(*) Editor’s note: See “Secret Origins: The Crimson Avenger,” Secret Origins v2 #5 (August, 1986) and The Crimson Avenger, Detective Comics #44 (October, 1940).]

The Crimson, as he was often known in his early days, had again encountered Winston Smythe after his first death earlier in 1938 and had believed the old man to be dead once more when their battle ended in an explosive crash. Now he knew better, and he hoped he could stop the evil plans of the group called the Dark Cross without losing his own effectiveness. Surely a captured Winston Smythe would expose his secrets to the world, and then what good could he do?

Lee glanced toward Wing in his own yellow costume and felt a pang of guilt. Wing wanted to take down Wu Fang for Su Ling’s memory, he mused. I was selfish to insist he join me, yet maybe I was afraid to face the chairman alone. Maybe I feared I’d listen to his words and surrender my hard-won sense of justice for my own safety.

Shaking off these doubts, he looked up as the now-portly form of Winston Smythe entered from below. He wore no mask and smiled with all the charm and confidence of old. “Hello, Lee! I knew you’d eventually find your way here,” said the chairman of the Dark Cross. “Now, I suppose some would say I allowed that gas-gun to fall into the wrong hands purely to indulge an old man’s wish to see his family again, eh?”

Wing tensed as he noticed his partner’s response. Lee Travis removed his mask and faced his benefactor. “I never wanted to see you again, but now I want to settle this once and for all!” he said harshly. “You’ve taught me well by example. I know now that evil can take many forms, and idealism can blind you to some of the very worst. Well, I recognize what you are now, and I see no need for masks.” Wing glanced left and right and saw no sign of hired goons or other Dark Cross members.

Winston Smythe chuckled. “Well, well… eloquence such as I seldom read in your columns. You are passionate still! Foolish, too, though. I want what I wanted years ago. I want to make you one of us. I’m dying, and I want you to become the new chairman. You can control the weapons flow. Think of the good you could do with that kind of connection!”

Lee frowned and stared at the old man in horror. Wing whispered, “Lee!”

But the troubled hero said, “Tell me more…”

***

Another heroic figure made his very solitary way toward an island. There was no land in sight, since the tiny isle was isolated and uncharted. Perhaps more unusual was the fact that there was no boat in sight, either. The man had apparently made his way to the mysterious island under his own considerable strength. He swam toward shore with a regular and powerful motion that gave him a rare grace for one so patently human in appearance.

Walking across the sandy shore of Sargasso Isle, he viewed a slope that rose to where a small complex rested on the top. Smiling grimly, he said, “Guess it’s time for me to crash this little party!” The young man spoke with earnestness belied by an obvious boyish recklessness that was evident in his confident stride and muscular frame. He wore an orange shirt, green pants, and golden gloves. His hair was blond, and his features handsome and rugged.

The young man was challenged by three guards with gas-guns. He grinned and said, “You fellows seem to be under the impression that holding some fancy guns makes you some force to be worried about. Well, I have force all my own!” Moving with amazing speed, he knocked two of them flat. They landed down hard, and his blows actually moved them a reasonable distance from where they had been standing. The third man fired his gun, only to fall beneath a swift, crushing punch.

The newcomer charged the complex’s door and shattered it with ease. Still holding his breath, he raced inside to confront an old foe and some new potential allies.

“The Aquaman! I expected you, you know!” said a bald man with a curly white mustache wearing a gold cloak and a crown.

“Master Sargasso! Back from the dead, I see!” said Aquaman. “You didn’t really think you could escape punishment for your long history of maritime piracy by hiding away here again, did you?” (*)

[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Sargasso Sea,” More Fun Comics #78 (April, 1942).]

Master Sargasso waved one hand toward several other colorful figures. “No. I figured you’d track me down, but this time I have my suppliers with me,” he smirked. “The gas-guns my troops use came from the Dark Cross, and I’m honored to host their ruling council!”

Aquaman saw a cowboy, a Chinese man, a well-dressed businessman, and a hooded figure. Nearby stood a weird redhead in a checkered suit, a burly man with brass knuckles on his ham-like fists, and, most familiar to Aquaman, a black-haired pirate with a mocking grin. “Black Jack, the Pirate King! I see you’ve escaped prison again!” said Aquaman. “That makes it what — the fifth or six time since I first crossed swords with you?”

Black Jack laughed and said, “You miscounted, laddie! I’ve fought you seven times and lived to tell the tale each time!”

Aquaman rubbed his golden gloved hands together and smiled calmly. “Well, we’ll just see what we can do about that!” he said.

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