by JSAGL, Vendikarr DeWuff and Starsky Hutch 76
“Do you trust Steel?” Johnny Chambers looked at his ex-wife with a hint of concern. After all, Commander Steel had disappeared in the middle of World War II, and now he was back after apparently having lived on Earth-One for decades and raising a family there. They had briefly met Hank’s grandson, also called Steel, during the Crisis on Infinite Earths.
Libby Lawrence finished pulling her boots on. It was nice of Steel to provide them with quarters while they were here. “Not for a minute, Johnny. A lot of this doesn’t add up.”
Johnny smiled at that. Libby’s instincts as a newswoman were second to none. “Such as?”
Libby turned to face Johnny. “For starters, how does Hank Heywood suddenly return to Earth-Two and get entrusted with a covert government operation like this? At last count he’s been gone for almost fifty years. Now, I know the government isn’t always known for making the brightest decisions, but even they wouldn’t hand over the reins of a group like this to someone they didn’t know.”
Johnny frowned. “You’re right. I hadn’t thought of that. And didn’t he tangle with the JSA and Infinity Inc. during the Crisis? Not exactly the Hank Heywood I remember.”
“How well did we really know him, anyway, Johnny? He wasn’t a member of the All-Star Squadron all that long.”
Johnny and Libby were interrupted by a knock at the door. Hank’s secretary poked her head in the room. “The group is assembling now.”
She led Johnny Quick and Liberty Belle into a conference. Already seated there were Colonel Steve Trevor (alias Odysseus), Paula Crock (alias the Tigress), Arn Munro (Agent Liberty), and an unexpected but very familiar face.
The two heroes looked to see Jonathan Law, alias the Tarantula, come toward them with a big grin on his face.
“Jonathan Law! You look fantastic for a man in his sixties!” Libby said as she gave him a hug.
“I could say the same for you, Lib. And Johnny, you don’t look like you’ve aged a day, either.”
Johnny shook John’s hand. “Well, Libby got herself magically rejuvenated, and as for me, well, I guess I’ve tapped into whatever force it is that Dick Clark uses to stay young.”
The door swung open, and Commander Steel entered the room. “If you are all done with the tearful reunion, we’ve got some work to do. Take your seats.”
Before Steel could continue, Libby spoke up, “Hank, you said that we’d have seven in this group, not counting you. Where are the other two?”
Opening the folder in front of him, Steel replied, “Glad someone’s paying attention.” He pressed a button on the desk and said, “Send them in.”
The door opened to reveal another familiar face. “Chuck? Chuck Grayson?” Libby said as the man entered.
“Wow. When Hank asked me to come, I was hesitant, but this is a real All-Star Squadron reunion, here. Oh, it’s actually me, Paul Dennis, Robotman, in here. They put my brain in Chuck’s body when he passed.”
Steel motioned for the former Robotman to sit down. “Not to mention a few… adjustments… we made during Chuck’s stay here.”
Johnny was about to ask about those adjustments when the door opened again. Tarantula, Libby, Johnny, and Robotman all jumped out of their chairs when they saw her enter the room. “Mekanique?!” cried Johnny Quick. “Steel, are you out of your mind?!”
“Just calm down, Chambers. Mek has been working with me since before the Crisis, and she’s already infiltrated Savage’s organization for us. She’s one of the good guys.” Mekanique smiled.
After the initial shock of Mekanique’s arrival wore off, everyone took their seats, and Commander Steel moved to the head of the conference room. Just as he was ready to speak, the center conference room window began melting, and papers began flying out of the room. The gathered heroes rose to their feet to see a being engulfed in blue flame fly into the room.
“Damn it, Malone, can’t you use a door?” screamed Steel.
“Not when I can tick you off by entering this way,” replied the Irishman. He landed on the floor, and his flame ended, revealing a man appearing to be in his late thirties who wore a very expensive Italian suit. He walked up to Steel and stared at him defiantly. “You told Arn you wanted me here, so I’m here,” said Malone.
“Matches, come sit down,” said Munro as he motioned to the chair beside him. Jonathan Law used some web fluid like a spider and sealed the opening. Several of the others stared at him as he did.
“Long story; will fill you in later,” was all the arachnid-themed hero would say. Everyone took a seat, with the exception of Matches Malone, who stood behind Munro and leaned against the remaining window.
Steel cleared his throat and said, “As I was about to say, we have a situation that I need your help with. It involves Vandal Savage.”
He looked around the room and saw that he had everyone’s attention. He then continued. “Millennia ago, Savage founded an organization called the Illuminati. He has used this organization to manipulate human events from behind the scenes until recently. In 1943, however, Vandal Savage first became known to the general public as a so-called super-villain when the Green Lantern defeated his plot to allow the Axis to win World War II. (*) He was believed to have died at the conclusion of that case, but the truth was that he simply went back underground. Savage resurfaced in 1947 as a member of the Injustice Society of the World, a group of super-villains who were enemies of the individual members of Justice Society of America and who thought they’d be successful by attacking in concert with each other. The JSA proved them wrong and sent them to prison. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Man Who Wanted the World,” Green Lantern #10 (Winter, 1943-1944) and “The Injustice Society of the World,” All-Star Comics #37 (October-November, 1947).]
“Vandal Savage spent the next fifteen years in prison as a result of his actions with the ISW. One wonders what he was thinking to abandon his usual secretive methods for a more hands-on approach. Some have theorized that he joined the ranks of the common super-villain as a result of boredom. What is known, however, is that in 1963, a Vandal Savage humiliated after years of being treated like a common criminal kidnapped several members of the then-retired JSA in order to remove the threats to his own plans as well as to have his revenge on his captors. He hadn’t reckoned with the assistance of a hero of another world, however, when the Flash of Earth-One intervened and teamed up with the Flash of our world in order to stop him and release the JSA. (*) It was then that he first learned of the existence of other, parallel Earths. He was again sent to prison, but this time he escaped and remained underground.
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Vengeance of the Immortal Villain,” The Flash #137 (June, 1963).]
“By 1972, Savage found that he had begun to age and discovered that he had in fact lost his immortality. He left the Illuminati and the world to its own devices at that time as he began to search for a way to restore it. He was unsuccessful in his first few attempts, which brought him into conflict once again with the Flash of our world and the Flash of Earth-One as well as that world’s Green Lantern. (*) After one final case against the JSA on our world late in 1976, he finally left this world altogether for new challenges on Earth-One, where it is presumed he discovered a way to restore his lost immortality. (*) There, Vandal Savage took on the challenge of battling the powerful Superman of Earth-One on several occasions, as well as dabbling in time travel. (*) While he was gone, the Illuminati went its own way, becoming more of a men’s club, a shadow of its former existence. Savage returned to Earth-Two during the Crisis and is currently trying to take the organization back. We cannot allow that.
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Death of an Immortal,” The Flash #215 (May, 1972), “The Master Plan of Vandal Savage,” All-Star Comics #65 (March-April, 1977), and “This Is My World, and You’re Welcome to It,” Action Comics #515 (January, 1981).]
“Additionally, he has shown interest in an ancient pyramid located on the sunken continent of Atlantis. Senator Perkins has obtained permission from the Atlantean government for us to excavate that pyramid. We need to get there first and find out what Savage needs from that pyramid. Munro, you will take a team to the pyramid and stop Savage. Use anyone here and take who you need from available operatives. I will lead another team to the headquarters of the Illuminati and keep them out of Savage’s hands. Any questions?”
There was silence in the room, and then Commander Steel said, “Good. Munro, assemble your team and be at the harbor in the morning. Everyone else will meet here the same time. Dismissed.” Steel then exited the room with Mekanique in tow.
Arn stood up and said, “Matches, you’re with me. We’ll set up the rest of the team over breakfast.”
“Sorry, Arn, can’t do that.”
“What? Why?” asked Arn.
“I’m fire; you’re headed for water. I am useless there. Besides, I think someone needs to keep an eye on Mister Big there. With Steel involved, there’s more going on than he’s telling us.”
Arn nodded, then led the gathered heroes out of the conference room. Malone just stood and stared out the window for a few minutes, alone with his thoughts. He then exited to catch up to the others.
Nearby, Liberty Belle and Johnny Quick took a corner of the meeting room for themselves. “Something’s not right here, Libby.”
“They don’t call you Johnny Quick for nothing, do they, Chambers?” Libby said with a quick grin at her ex-husband.
“Since I’m just going to let that dig go for the time being, what do you make of this? Why the All-Star reunion? And what in the hell is Mekanique doing here? She almost devastated the entire Squadron,” Johnny said, feeling more than a little frustrated. “This just isn’t the Hank Heywood that I remember.”
“It’s been forty years since Steel disappeared over to Earth-One. Who knows what he’s experienced in those decades? And how that might have changed him?” Libby said.
“It was strange seeing Jon again after everything that happened,” Johnny said with more purpose to his words than what appeared on the surface.
“Chambers, we are not going there. Not now. What I would like to know, though, is just how Tarantula got these amazing spider-powers,” Libby said, clearly uncomfortable and more than willing to change the subject. Even after all these years, it still bothered Johnny. Libby had never realized it.
“Well, we could go ask him. Lord knows what Steel is doing,” Johnny said.
Libby gave her ex a kiss on the cheek. “You talk to Jonathan. I’m going to find out why Steel brought our former Robotman here.”
As Johnny and Libby set out to talk to their old friends, Mekanique shimmered into view. “Fascinating.”
Hank Heywood sat in his office pondering his situation. There was so much at stake here. The fate of the entire world was resting on his shoulders. It was a weight he had become accustomed to bearing, even if at times it seemed that no one appreciated it.
Could he just afford to sit and work behind the scenes with this mission as he was usually wont to do? Savage certainly wouldn’t be. At least not this time.
He rose from behind his desk and walked to the closet. He opened the door revealing something he hadn’t expected to need ever again — the red, white, and blue uniform of Commander Steel.
Vixen reached into her closet and pulled out her duffel bag. She was in the process of throwing in a few items of clothing when a shadow fell across her. “There’s been a change of plans,” she heard Commander Steel say.
She spun around prepared to snap back, “What do you mean?” when instead she let out a startled gasp.
Instead of his trademark black suit, he was wearing his old red, white, and blue costume from the glory days of his youth. “Your leave is cancelled,” he said. “I need you here.”
“I have cruise tickets! I was going to the Bahamas!” Vixen exclaimed.
“Give them to my secretary,” Steel said. “I’m giving her the week off. I’ll see to it you’re reimbursed.”
“Do you mind telling me what this is about?” Vixen demanded.
“Like I said, I need you here,” Commander Steel said. “The Squad is splitting in two for this mission. I’m leading one team, Munro’s leading the other. I’m sorry about your cruise, but don’t worry. You’re still going to get to see the ocean.”
In Vandal Savage’s lair, the immortal villain sat staring at a monitor screen. On it images of the meeting with Commander Steel and his Suicide Squad were being broadcast covertly by Mekanique.
That young fool Steel thinks that he can plot against me with impunity. Little does he know that, thanks to Mekanique, I will be aware of his every move. Interesting that Steel shouldn’t reassemble the All-Star Squadron to deal with me. It would tend to suggest that he has a high degree of confidence in what he is planning. No matter. Between Mekanique and the mole I planted in his organization, Steel will trouble me no longer.
The view on the screen changed and showed Liberty Belle and Johnny Quick. Savage was about to turn to other business when he noticed that change in conversation. A bit of tension between the two over the Tarantula? Hmmm. Perhaps Steel assembled his team a little too well, Savage thought to himself with a smug look.
A curse escaped from Savage as the broadcast was suddenly interrupted, and static filled his screen.
Mekanique smiled internally. Savage would only see as much as she wanted him to see. She’d come up with excuses later. She had her own agenda to attend to.
It had thrilled her to see Steel in his costume once again, just as she remembered him. If she had still had a heart, it would have jumped a beat. Everything seemed to be going as planned — everything except where Robotman was concerned, that was. So much of this era was fuzzy. Her own memories of it weren’t complete, and historical records were poor at best. So finding his brain in Chuck Grayson’s body had come as a complete surprise. Perhaps the robotic form was still intact for her use. She’d have to find out.