by Dan Swanson
One person who was not satisfied with the ending to Vic Valor’s story was Lily DeLuna. Valor had twisted the truth before — how could anyone be sure he had been telling the truth about his death? When Lily had been promoted to the dayshift at the Opal City Register, she quit her second job as a waitress, and she used some of her newfound spare time on a private investigation into everything that was known about Vic Valor.
Lily had felt a passionate interest in Vic Valor from the moment she met him, and her anger at his consistent bending of the truth had not tempered her interest. In fact, she had promised to document his lies. When she learned of his death, she changed her promise — she would document his life.
For the next couple of months, Lily spent several hours of each working day investigating every aspect of Valor’s brief interlude in Opal City. Fortunately, when she was transferred to the dayshift, she got a raise that allowed her to quit the waitress job, or she definitely wouldn’t have had time in her life to sleep.
She started by creating a timeline. She broke the times that Valor had been seen down into fifteen-minute intervals. She gathered all the available details as to what had happened in each of those intervals. She made lists of people who had actually seen Valor during those intervals, people who might have seen Valor, and people who might be able to answer questions about events in those intervals. For example, during the first such interval, the wrestler Obsidian Warrior had somehow turned into the Obsidian Warrior monster. Lily wanted to know how and why. Did Valor have anything to do with it?
She also used a map of Opal City to chart Valor’s known movements. She was hoping to find a pattern of where he was first sighted, or where he was sighted most often. Unsurprisingly, he had most often been sighted downtown near the Register building. It was interesting to Lily that he had never been sighted anywhere near his supposed hideout.
Lily then started her legwork. She talked to everyone on her list who had ever seen Valor in person. She talked to people who had been nearby when Valor was in action. She talked to doctors regarding the Obsidian Warrior’s sudden mutation. She talked to astronomers, including Ted Knight, about the theory of brown stars. It was a wild theory and widely discounted among astronomers.
Lily found out that the U.S. government had asked the Justice Society to investigate Valor’s claim that he had parked his spaceship on the moon. Magical and scientific searches carried out by the JSA failed to find such a ship, or any evidence that there ever had been one.
When she attempted to find out more about Xenon, she ran into a stone wall of silence. The official word was that Xenon had been an innocent man, hypnotized by Doctor Doog, but nobody would say who it was. Lily had never before run into a secret so closely held.
Lily continued her relentless research. She put together a fact gleaned here, another fact painstakingly uncovered there, and thought she might finally be getting a handle on the big picture. One of the most significant events in her research was when she requested an interview with Doctor Doog.
Prison officials were being particularly cautious with Doog this time around. He was being held in solitary confinement, with nothing in his cell except a mattress on the floor. A lead-lined cowl was locked in place over his eyes, and he had shackles on his wrists and ankles. He was monitored twenty-four hours a day by a team of guards who watched him through observation slits cut into the walls of the room. His meals consisted only of food that could be eaten without utensils, and he received nothing but water to drink. No more doing advanced biochemistry in his cell.
So far, Doog had not figured out a means to escape from his cell, and he was getting bored sitting there hour after hour. Although he would let no one know it, he was relieved at the break from his boring routine of sitting, eating, and sleeping, and he welcomed the chance to sow some intimidation among the prison guards. He would enjoy this interview.
Lily was appalled at the interview room. It was a very small room that had perhaps started life as a supply closet. She sat on an extremely uncomfortable, straight-backed armless chair, while Doog was positioned on a stool, and his shackles were locked to some eyebolts extending from the wall. An armed guard sat at either end of the room, each with his gun cocked and ready. To Lily the scene was surreal — a prisoner, bound and shackled, blinded by a hood covering his eyes, attached to the wall, and still the guards felt it was necessary to have their weapons drawn and ready to use. Just how dangerous was this man, anyway? Just how safe was she?
Trying to conceal her nervousness with a brisk, businesslike manner, she began, “Doctor Doog, thank you for talking with me. I’m…”
Doog cut her off. “Lily DeLuna, of the Opal City Register. Yes, I know. You’re that fawning sycophant who did those candy-cotton interviews with Ultimate Victorious Valor. What drivel!”
“Doctor, if you have actually read those interviews, you would realize that I don’t ‘fawn’ for anyone, including Valor. I…”
Doog cut her off again. “DeLuna, this interview is interfering with my escape planning.” Both guards nervously fingered their weapons, preparing for action. “I do not have time to listen to your feeble attempts at self-justification. If this interview doesn’t become much more interesting to me in the next minute, it will be over.”
Lily struggled to contain her anger. Clearly, Doctor Doog had nothing but contempt for the rest of the world. She wanted to rub his nose in that attitude, but she realized that if she provoked a confrontation with him, she would never get another chance to talk to him. “OK, Doctor, let’s cut to the interesting stuff. If you designed your Destructo-Ray specifically to destroy Starman, how is it that it killed Vic Valor?”
Doog was secretly a little impressed with Lily’s self-control. And she had surprised him by immediately asking a key question. “Miss DeLuna, I’m surprised. That’s an excellent question. I don’t know the answer. The Destructo-Ray was specifically designed to be harmless to normal humans. It had to be. It was assembled from my plans by my incompetent technicians, who would have killed themselves twenty times over if they could have. Even incompetent minions don’t grow on trees.”
Lily was surprised that he seemed to be giving her straight answers. She noticed his use of “Miss,” which seemed to indicate a modicum of respect. “So, Doctor, does the fact that your Destructo-Ray was designed specifically to affect Starman and not normal humans establish that Valor wasn’t human? Or that there was a link between Starman and Valor? Or could Valor’s death be a put-on?”
Doog was even more impressed. “Miss DeLuna, you are surprisingly competent… If you ever wish to make a career change, please look me up after I have escaped.” The way it said it left little doubt that he was sure he would escape. One of the guards stood up and nervously raised his weapon.
It was very hard to distract Lily from her job, but Doog had just managed. “I heard that hesitation, Doog! You were going to say, ‘competent, for a woman,’ weren’t you?”
Doog was genuinely amused. “My dear, it is so extremely rare to find competence at anything. The value of competence far outweighs any trivial variances between people such as gender.”
Lily almost felt flattered, until she remembered with whom she was talking. She knew she had to get back to her original line of questioning, but Doog’s last comment absolutely required more investigation.
“Doctor, do you include ‘race’ as one of those trivial variances?”
“Differences in race are much less important that the idiot public believes,” he responded. “I am interested only in competence. And no one race, no one gender — in fact, no one country — has a monopoly on competence.”
Lily was stunned to find this kind of attitude in one of the most dangerous men on the planet. “Doctor Doog, thanks for your job offer, but I doubt I will ever be interested. But, if you should ever decide to go straight, there are a lot of people I know who are fighting for equality who could use a man of your brilliance on their side!”
Doog returned contemptuously, “You misunderstood me completely. I have no use for equality. I simply use a more rational standard of judging people. The competent should do my bidding and be rewarded for their competence, and the incompetent should be grateful for whatever scraps they receive.”
Well, Doog had just ruined whatever good impression he had started to make. It was time to bring this interview back on track. “Doctor Doog, let’s get back to the question. What do the effects of your Destructo-Ray on Valor tell you about him?”
Doog, like many other people who came into contact with Lily, was becoming more and more impressed with her. Since he had left the employ of the Ultra-Humanite, there were few people whom he found interesting enough to talk with. “Very good, Miss DeLuna. Many people become sidetracked by trivia and unimportant peripheral issues. Unfortunately for you, I am not prepared to share my conclusions about Valor with you or anyone. Do you have any other questions?”
Doog had not dismissed her, but he had clearly ended discussion on the topic of Vic Valor. Lily really wasn’t interested in talking about anything else, but if she kept him talking about related topics, perhaps she could pick up something else. She changed the subject. Doog was impressed once again; she was a very practical lady.
“Xenon was obviously working for you. The police know who he is, but no one will tell me. Who was he?”
“Ah, Miss DeLuna, the police have their reasons for silence, and I have my own. Next question, please?”
She still hadn’t been dismissed. Doog must be interested in talking about something, but clearly he was going to make her fish for it. She had a thought — perhaps Doog wanted a chance to boast. “I’ve discovered that Xenon’s armor and scepter weapon were very similar to those used by a villain named Xnon, in an unsuccessful encounter with the Spectre back in 1940. And there is the obvious similarity in their names, too. But Xenon’s armor and scepter seemed to be more powerful and sophisticated than Xnon’s. Did you have anything to do with that?”
Doog recognized the subtle flattery in the question, but he knew he deserved it. “In fact, I was acquainted with Xnon before the war, and he built his armor and power rod based on designs he stole from me. His implementations were crude and unsophisticated, and it was a relatively simple matter for me to improve them.”
Lily didn’t want to hear about a contest of egos between two power-mad super-geniuses. “Doctor, it appears that the purpose of your whole plot was revenge against Starman. If Starman is retired, why bother?”
“Why indeed, girl? He no longer stands in my way. My desire for revenge has once again led me to this sorry state. Perhaps it is time that I reconsider my goals. You may leave now. Perhaps the next time we meet, you will be working for me!”
That was the end of the interview. Lily had found out almost nothing. She shivered as she recalled Doog’s last comment. Hopefully they wouldn’t meet again.
Lily had the feeling that she had been missing something all along. Finally, she pinned it down. Valor had been carrying Xenon’s scepter when he had been trapped in the Destructo-Ray, and he had thrown it away. As far as Lily knew, it had not been recovered. She started looking for it.
But Lily couldn’t find it. She talked to a lot of people in the neighborhood where Doog had used his Destructo-Ray, and nobody knew anything about it. She was starting to think that perhaps the ray had destroyed it, when a kid walked up to her.
“Hey, lady! You’re looking for somethin’, and I know where it’s at!”
Lily examined the kid. He was wearing a faded red T-shirt with a star on the chest, and ragged blue jeans and sneakers. “How do you know what I’m looking for?”
“Well, I hear you askin’ ’bout it all ’round the neighborhood, so it ain’t like it’s a secret or nothin’. You’re lookin’ for some fancy thing, kinda like what Starman carries, right?”
Lily really hadn’t been trying to keep it a secret. But she hadn’t thought about asking any of the kids. She realized now that kids were far more likely to have found the scepter than adults. “That’s right. How do you know where it is?”
The boy said proudly, “‘Cause I found it! And now it’s mine. Losers weepers, finders keepers!” He was defiant. Then he added, “But it must be broken; it don’t do nothin’!”
Lily wanted to recover the scepter. “Will you sell it to me?”
“I dunno. It’s part of my Starman costume.” He proudly pulled out the bottom of his T-shirt to show her what he meant. “I made the rest of it myself! When we play Junior Justice Society, I always get to be Starman!”
Lily had an idea. “You said it didn’t work, right?” He nodded. “Well, there’s a costume shop over on Twenty-Seventh Avenue where they sell gravity rods as part of their Starman costumes. They have a radio and a flashlight built in. Tell you what — I’ll trade you one of them, with spare batteries and some extra bulbs, for the broken one you’ve got.”
The kid had seen the Starman costume on a dummy in the window of that shop, including the gravity rod flashlight radio. “But that costs ten whole dollars!” With a monthly allowance of a quarter, ten dollars was well outside his price range. This lady must be rich if she could buy one of them and then trade it for his broken scepter.
Lily smiled. “So, do we have a deal?”
The kid was really excited. He didn’t really believe it, either. “You ain’t just funnin’ me? You’re really gonna trade wit’ me?”
“Tell you what. Let’s walk over there and buy your gravity rod, and then we can make the trade.” And they did.
So Lily ended up with Xenon’s scepter, and the kid ended up with a working gravity rod with flashlight and radio. Whenever he and his friends played Junior Justice Society after that, “Starman” usually got to be the leader, because he had the best costume and accessories. She put aside her new possession for later investigation, because it was time to write her Vic Valor story.
Lily DeLuna wrote a three-page story that was published in the magazine section of the Sunday, April 24th, 1949 edition of the Opal City Register. She retold everything that was known about Vic Valor, including his untruths and the unembellished heroic actions that led to his death. Human-interest stories about super-heroes were pretty common fare in the Sunday papers of the nation, but Lily’s story stood out. It was eventually nominated for several awards. Her feelings about Vic Valor were summarized in her closing paragraphs.
The citizens of Opal City were witness to some extraordinary events last March. The first public adventure of a new mystery-man. A brief career followed by a tragic death. An extraordinary man surrounded by extraordinary circumstances.
We will probably never know who Vic Valor really was. The origin story he told us seems unlikely, based on the most advanced science of our times. He clearly embellished the truth on several occasions in order to make his actions appear more heroic. And he died before he really got a chance to establish himself in our community or the super-hero community at large.
By choosing Opal City as his home base, Vic Valor stepped into some pretty big shoes. In attempting to replace a legend, is it not understandable that he exaggerated his early exploits a little? From the moment he appeared on the scene, he was being compared with Starman, one of the greatest heroes of our times.
We might ask, “Why pick Opal City, if the legend of Starman is so hard to live up to?” I think Valor chose Opal City precisely because of the legend of Starman. It provided him with a goal. Living up to that legend would be a formidable challenge, a challenge that would require Vic Valor to be at his best every day, to grow and transcend himself. A challenge he welcomed!
We might also ask, “Why make up such a silly origin?” I think Vic Valor was much younger than he appeared. His origin was based in his youthful sense of wonder, and an attempt to build an adult persona for himself, so that he could interact on an equal level with the adults in the world around him.
Vic Valor is gone now, seemingly killed as an accidental side-effect of a weapon designed to kill a different hero. The answers to many of our questions died with him. His imperfections proved that he, like all of us, was human, and his courageous death proved that he was also something each of us can aspire to be — a hero.