by Dan Swanson
Ted Knight felt great. In fact, he felt better than he had for years. Yes, he had some nagging little injuries, but they were really trivial. It was time to zap the bad guys.
He couldn’t understand why it had taken him so long to realize just how powerful Starman really was. It seemed to him that the Ted of the past had been either quite stupid or scared of his real power. Well, he was past that now. It was hard to believe that, only a few minutes ago, he had been terrified of a bunch of, frankly, second-rate villains. But it really didn’t matter. He was straightened out now.
He didn’t agree with Mister Terrific’s plan to take on the villains in separate, one-on-one battles. Ted knew he could take them all by himself, with the other All-Stars for backup and support. But the others had accepted Terrific’s plan, so Ted had gone along. He was flying above the woods, informing his teammates of the bad guys’ locations.
This job was boring. Ted was trying to figure out the most spectacular way of beating the Aryan Flame, when suddenly he was smashed by energy bolts and sent pinwheeling through the sky. The Phantasm had used his illusion powers to hide blast beams and lightning bolts until they actually blasted Starman’s energy shield. Starman was spinning end over end, and he became so dizzy that he lost control of the gravity rod. He fell into the clearing and would have been seriously hurt if Amazing-Man hadn’t been doing his Plastic Man imitation again and managed to catch him.
Ted was annoyed with Will Everett. He hadn’t asked for help. He could take care of himself, and certainly didn’t need any assistance from an India rubber man. At that moment, the four villains burst out of the woods at the opposite end of the clearing, and started rushing to the attack.
Starman, Amazing-Man, and Mister Terrific raced toward their foes, while Doctor Mid-Night remained motionless. As far as he could see, there was nothing in front of the other All-Stars except an empty clearing. He remembered Terrific’s warning and, quickly scanning the entire clearing, was chagrined to see the four villains only yards from him, clearly about to launch a sneak attack.
Doctor Mid-Nite did what he always did so well in a fight. He whipped out a blackout bomb and hurled it at his foes. Suddenly, the bad guys were enveloped in a thick black smoke cloud. The cloud momentarily blocked the Phantasm’s vision, and his illusion vanished. The moderate breeze quickly blew the smoke away, leaving the villains facing the heroes for the final battle.
The explosion of the blackout bomb and the disappearance of their foes took Starman, Amazing-Man, and Mister Terrific by surprise. They were stunned to see that the bad guys were actually behind them, and about to launch an attack of their own.
Amazing-Man had the best reflexes of the three, and he turned around and quickly lunged toward a broken electrical cable. The insulation had peeled back, and copper wire was exposed. Amazing-Man was following Mister Terrific’s hastily stated battle plan, to use a form of copper, which would make him immune to Electraking’s powers. But his foes were faster.
The Phantasm threw a dazzling beam of light at Amazing-Man, trying to disorient him. At the exact same instant, the Aryan Flame shot two blast beams, and Electraking blasted him with lightning while using his magnetic powers to try to smash Amazing-Man from behind with debris. One of the Aryan Flame’s beams struck the ground just in front of Amazing-Man and caused an explosion, releasing a burst of radiation.
Starman tried to protect Amazing-Man from these energy blasts with an energy-shield. In a one-in-a-zillion coincidence of the kind that only happened on Earth-Two, Amazing-Man was struck by six kinds of energy — light, blast-beam, radiation, lightning, magnetism, and stellar energy — at exactly the same nanosecond as he willed his body to absorb the properties of the copper wire.
There was a soundless explosion of brilliant white light, so bright that it temporarily blinded everyone, even Mid-Nite. When the heroes could see again, Amazing-Man was gone without a trace. If this was a baseball game, the score would be All-Stars zero, atomic zombies one.
The villains didn’t give the All-Stars any time to wonder about Amazing-Man’s fate, however — they attacked in force, trying to take advantage of their enemies’ confusion.
Electraking and the Aryan Flame both blasted at Starman. The Iron Fury attacked Mister Terrific, and the Phantasm directed an illusion at Doctor Mid-Night.
Unfortunately for the Phantasm, his illusions involved visible light, and Mid-Nite’s goggles allowed him to see using infrared light. So the Phantasm’s powers were completely ineffective against Doctor Mid-Nite, as Mister Terrific had suggested. The Phantasm did have enhanced strength as a result of the process that had given him his illusion powers, but he wasn’t a trained fighter. He was used to striking disoriented, defenseless opponents. Well, he was attacking the wrong All-Star this time.
Mid-Nite didn’t even need to waste another blackout bomb; he just ignored the illusions that the Phantasm was desperately creating around him. Then he simply walked up to the Phantasm and decked him with a swift one-two. The score was now tied up.
Mister Terrific knew that the Iron Fury was stronger and faster than he was, and also seemed to be partially invulnerable. He knew that one way to fight a foe who had these advantages was to strike him from outside the opponent’s own striking range, and block or avoid any attacks that opponent might make. One weapon that might allow Terry Sloane to do these things was the quarterstaff. The man of one thousand talents was a little rusty, as he didn’t have a lot of time to practice — his nine-hundred and ninety-nine other talents took a lot of his time. And he was worried that the Iron Fury might have experience fighting against a man armed with a quarterstaff. Far Eastern martial artists often fought unarmed against armed opponents in practice.
Terrific had found a perfect quarterstaff in the wreckage — a wooden rod about eight feet long and perhaps two inches in diameter, made of a very hard wood, and polished smooth. It must have been a handrail on the wall of one of the Pullman coaches. He quickly moved to the attack against the Iron Fury, trying to regain his touch. The Fury was able to block all of Mister Terrific’s attacks, but Terry saw, to his relief, that the Fury was using blocks that had been developed for use by unarmed fighters against men with swords, not quarterstaffs. And he noticed that the Fury’s fighting style was very sloppy — he depended on his superior strength and speed rather than skill and training, and often let an attack land, rather than avoiding it or blocking it, counting on his armored skin to protect him.
Suddenly, the Iron Fury launched an attack of his own. He leaped toward Mister Terrific, swinging a right, then a left, and followed up with a sweep of his right foot toward Terrific’s head. Terrific blocked the punches by cracking the staff down on the Fury’s wrists with force that would have shattered a normal man’s bones. And then he swung the staff up under the kick, lifting the Fury’s leg even higher, and the Fury tumbled backward. Terrific charged, but the Fury recovered in time, and Terrific was barely able to evade another kick to the head.
The Iron Fury may have been a sloppy fighter, but Terry quickly realized why he could get away with it. Mister Terrific’s hands were almost numb from blocking the earlier blows, and the Fury hadn’t seemed to notice Terrific’s hardest blows. If Terry couldn’t end this soon, even if the Fury never hit him, he would soon be too battered and worn out to keep blocking and dodging. And he knew that, after that first missed block, it would be over.
Mister Terrific tried a desperate move. He dropped under a left-footed kick to his head and shifted his grip on the staff. While the Iron Fury was recovering his balance from the kick, Terrific swung the staff like a baseball bat at the Fury’s right knee. Even though he was standing on only one leg, the Fury was strong and fast enough to jump backward beyond the range of Terrific’s strike. Mister Terrific missed.
Terry’s momentum carried him around in a complete circle before he was able to regain his balance and get his guard back up. Luckily, the Iron Fury had landed on some unstable rubble and had almost fallen, preventing him from attacking Terry when his back was turned.
Seeing that Mister Terrific was a little slow in recovering, the Iron Fury immediately launched a new attack, throwing a series of punches that Terrific had trouble blocking, each punch getting closer to him before he could deflect it out of line with the staff. Suddenly, the Fury swept another left-foot kick toward Terrific’s head.
Mister Terrific ducked, and once again swung at the Iron Fury’s exposed knee. He had held back a little last time, but this time he used his full speed, hoping to catch the Iron Fury off-guard. But the Fury had deliberately repeated this attack, anticipated Terrific’s response, and set a trap for him. This time, instead of jumping backward and clear, the Fury leaped straight up. Mister Terrific’s momentum would once again force him to turn his back on the Iron Fury, and the Fury would come down close enough to launch an instant attack. A hard kick to Terrific’s spine would end this fight for good.
Except Mister Terrific had set a counter-trap. Instead of completing his swing at the Iron Fury’s knee, which was no longer there anyway, Terrific strained with every erg of his own strength and speed to change the arc of the swinging staff. He yanked it into an uppercut, and stood up as he did so, adding even more power to the swing. The staff struck the Iron Fury on the left side of the head, across the ear, and the force of the blow actually shattered the end of the staff. The Fury went limp in the air and fell hard to the ground. He was no longer moving.
Mister Terrific hammered the remaining length of staff into the back of the Iron Fury’s head, smashing it into the ground so hard that it bounced. After that, he lay motionless. Terry Sloane had never before hit an opponent with such vicious blows, either of which could easily have killed a normal man. But the Iron Fury was far from normal.
The score was All-Stars two, atomic zombies one. For the first time in this fight, the All-Stars were ahead.
The Iron Fury wasn’t breathing, but Terry wasn’t worried. He had noticed that none of these four breathed. He had a theory that they were somehow animated by radiation, but he needed to discuss that theory with Doctor Mid-Nite and Starman before he came to any firm conclusions.
Starman was facing two powerful foes. Two and a half years ago he had required the assistance of Johnny Quick and Captain Triumph to best the Aryan Flame, and Electraking had beaten him severely only minutes ago. He should have been worried about the villains, but he wasn’t. What did worry him was the beating his reputation would take if anyone else ever found out how badly a second-rate villain like Electraking had trounced him. He needed to take both villains out in spectacular fashion, or nobody would respect him.
Well, Ted Knight was sure he would have no problems with either of them now that his head was clear.
Ted was much smarter than either villain. He had created a barrier around his gravity rod that would prevent Electraking from shutting it down as he had done with the other gravity rod earlier in this fight. Ted knew his energy shields could protect him from whatever energy blasts his enemies aimed at him.
He thought back on the tactic that he had used so successfully against the two kid gangs last month. It required little improvisation here, but it was the same general plan. Starman used the gravity rod to increase the weight of the Aryan Flame’s palms so much that they pulled him down and pinned him flat to the ground. The Flame’s blast-bolts produced violent explosions whenever they hit something solid. If he tried a blast now, the explosion would blast his own hands.
Setting his gravity rod to automatically maintain the gravity field he had placed on the Aryan Flame’s palms, Starman turned his attention to Electraking. The undead villain blasted lightning at Starman, who laughed as it bounced harmlessly off his force-shield. This guy couldn’t possibly be as easy as the Aryan Flame, could he? Starman repeated his tactics, increasing the weight of Electraking’s hands until he was pulled to the ground, and his hands also were pinned, palms down. Well, that ended that fight. Maybe he ought to think about helping Mister Terrific and Doctor Mid-Nite.
But before he did that, Starman landed, then walked up to Electraking and kicked him viciously in the ribs. “That’s for the cracked ribs you gave me earlier!” Ted grunted in satisfaction. He started to turn toward Mid-Nite and Terrific, when he was struck behind by a tremendous blow. Ted had forgotten that Electraking didn’t need to use his hands to use his magnetic powers. Ted’s inattention allowed Electraking to smash him with several tons of junk.
Starman almost never let his force-shield down completely, which was all that saved his life. He was knocked flat and then buried under the tons of broken train wreckage Electraking threw at him. He lay there stunned, as Electraking piled more and more wreckage on top of him.
The good news was that the gravity rod still held the Aryan Flame and Electraking pinned to the ground, and Starman’s force-shield was still protecting him. The bad news was that most of the gravity rod’s power was currently co-opted, holding the villains and protecting him from the rubble. There wasn’t any power left to escape.
Starman decided to trick his enemies into helping him out of this trap. So he released the Aryan Flame, who responded just as Ted had hoped, quickly double-blasting Ted. This blast cleared some of the debris, and Starman’s power was enough to throw off the rest.
Ted was very angered by this experience. It wasn’t fair that a supposedly helpless opponent had attacked him. It never occurred to Ted that he had never before expected a super-villain to play fair.
Starman needed a quick way to neutralize Electraking’s magnetism. He used the villain’s own trick against him, and buried him under a pile of wreckage. Electraking was barely able to use his magnetic powers to keep from being squashed. As long as Electraking’s hands remained pinned to the ground, and he was forced to use his magnetic powers to protect himself, he was temporarily neutralized.
The Aryan Flame, on the other hand, had risen to his knees and was again firing blasts at Starman. Ted didn’t see any reason to change successful tactics, so he blocked the Flame’s blast beams and again pinned his palms to the ground. This fight was really starting to get boring.
Suddenly, the gravity rod failed. Ted checked it frantically, and realized that it had just run out of power. He had installed improved power storage in this gravity rod, but he had never anticipated this level of power expenditure. He should have known better, but he hadn’t even considered this possibility.
With their hands free, the Aryan Flame and Electraking quickly blasted away the pile of rubble that was burying Electraking. Once again, they both aimed blasts at Starman, and there was nothing he could do to escape. He managed to duck behind the remains of a car that had been carrying some automobiles, and avoid the first round of blasts, but without his gravity rod, Ted knew he was a sitting duck. The blasts flipped the train car, and Ted had to move fast to keep out from under it. A car wheel and tire, blasted free from one of the cars on the carrier, struck Ted in the back of the head. As he fell to the ground, unconscious, Ted’s last thought was about how bad his reputation would suffer when people found out he had been killed by these two losers.
The Aryan Flame and Electraking raised their arms like a firing squad raising their rifles and blasted Starman. Neither Doctor Mid-Nite nor Mister Terrific was close enough to help him. It looked like the zombies were about to tie up the score up at All-Stars two, atomic zombies two.