In the basement of the JSA Brownstone in Gotham City, a lone figure stood at a control console, staring morosely at its monitor screen.
“Blast this contraption. I wonder if it was damaged somehow by the merging of the worlds during the Crisis. Let me try another recalibration of the phase shifter coils.” His fingers moved carefully over the controls, and a low hum came from the base of a large, box-like chamber on the other side of the console.
“OK, now to run a scan to see if it makes contact with a transmatter device on any of the other Earths.” Again, deft hands manipulated controls, and again, the result was the same.
“Shouldn’t you leave adjustments to the transmatter to Jay Garrick or Alan Scott?” The new voice startled the frustrated hero at the controls. “No slight intended, Wildcat, but such devices usually aren’t your field of expertise.”
“I wish you wouldn’t sneak up like that, Doc!” Wildcat sat down in a chair next to the console. “I may have the body of a thirty-year old, again, but sometimes I think my ticker is still ready for social security.”
“My apologies, my friend,” said Doctor Fate. “I’m afraid the dimensional barriers are still closed to us. The Spectre and I have yet to pierce the veil, other than to get a message across to our comrades on Earth-One, but that was months ago now. We do not even know for sure if there are other worlds besides our two that survived the Crisis.”
“I know, but I thought I’d try again just in case. And I got to thinking about the old days, before we had the transmatter. Back then, it always seemed like the barrier was easiest to cross in the summertime. It’s still a few months away, but it may be worth a try.”
“Not a bad idea. I wonder if Alexander Luthor has considered that. It may be worth pursuing.” Doctor Fate’s helmet tilted slightly to one side for a moment, and Ted Grant, alias Wildcat, wondered if the JSA’s resident mystic was somehow contacting the youth who was developing himself to take the place of the omniscient Monitor. He wondered no more when Fate continued. “Young Luthor sends his thanks for the idea. As I thought, he had not enough experience with multiversal matters to know about the seasonal effects. He will let us know if he has any success.”
“Wow. Nice to know a mook like me can still have a bright idea once in a while.” Wildcat stood up and started for the stairway leading up. “I know you don’t usually go for it, but I could stand some coffee.”
“Actually,” Doctor Fate said, reaching up to lift the golden helmet from his head, “I wouldn’t mind a cup of coffee myself, Ted.” Kent Nelson, the man behind the magic, smiled and followed. Although he and his longtime love Inza Nelson now merged to become the mighty Doctor Fate, each of them occasionally took turns acting solo as a less-powerful Doctor Fate.
Sitting in the main meeting room of the JSA Headquarters, Ted Grant and Kent Nelson sat with coffee and cheesecake.
“Mmmm, remind me to thank Al when I see him. Mary still makes the best cheesecake around.” Ted finished the last forkful of cake.
“No argument here, but don’t ever tell Inza I said that.” Kent pushed the plate away and looked directly at his companion. “You know, Ted, you’ve seemed to be more anxious than most of us about the transmatter. How come?”
Ted looked away. “Oh, not really. I just had the thought as Irina and I were talking the other night. I’ve been filling her in on as much as I could about the last thirty-five years.” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See Justice Society of America: Ragnarok Aftermath, Chapter 2: Odin’s Gift.]
“Oh. And I thought it might have something to do with Barbara.”
“Barbara? What Barbara?” The man known to the world as both a former heavyweight boxing champ and as the hero Wildcat made a futile attempt to claim no knowledge of what Doctor Fate was talking about but quickly realized the futility of it. “All right, yes. I wanted to check on Barbara, see if she was all right. And now I want to tell her about my marriage to Irina.”
“Won’t this hurt her?”
“Look, Kent, I don’t know how you know about Barbara, but you can’t know much, or you would know that we are friends — never lovers, or anything like that. She’s one of the few people I ever told about Irina and Jake.”
“How odd that you never told any of us about your son, but you told this woman on another world.”
“Not really. If I had told you guys, there would have been a lot of fuss, and more hurt than there was. When the FBI decided that Jake wasn’t likely to be found, we decided that it was for the best that we part ways. After all, all of us had hung up our masks by then, and that creep, the Yellow Wasp, was the type who we figured would kill him just to spite me. Now I find out he adopted Jake into his crime family, and the poor kid got himself killed because he just wasn’t crooked enough.”
Kent stood, walked behind Ted, and put a hand on his shoulder. “I suppose it was for the best, old friend.” For a few minutes, the meeting room was silent.
“Now, about Barbara. You remember back when we first built the transmatter?”
Sitting again, Kent nodded. “Yes, it was about fifteen years ago.”
“Well, this was about 1969 or so, when the transmatter prototype was still being tested — we didn’t put the final version into use traveling from here to Earth-One until ’73 — and my life was at a low point. I had begun to lose confidence in my crime-fighting abilities, although the Spectre did help me out there about a year earlier. (*) But boxing in exhibitions wasn’t too smart, ’cause too many people were starting to wonder how I could be doing it at my age, and my chain of gyms had gone belly up; I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. And I had really gotten to wondering why some of us had counterparts on Earth-One, while others didn’t.”
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Menace of the Mystic Mastermind,” The Spectre #3 (March-April, 1968).]
“Yes, and I also remember a discussion while we were testing the transmatter, cautioning against casual travel between the universes.” Ted’s companion, Kent Nelson smiled as he recalled the warning, also remembering the smirk on Wildcat’s face.
“Well, I never was much for being warned off easily. I had Alan teach me how to operate the gizmo, just in case we needed to jump across sometime when he and Starman were unavailable, you know? Then, when I knew I could take a couple weeks for the trip, I went across. Once I got there, I made my way to Gotham City.”
“Kent, I wanted to find my counterpart, or find out about him at least. Since I was born in Gotham, I figured that would be the best place to look. My plan was to use the library for research.”
Doctor Fate’s alter ego was puzzled. “Don’t they ask for identification? You wouldn’t exactly have a local driver’s license.”
Ted Grant chuckled. “Kent, you have to remember something. While you were having mystic duels with Wotan or some other demigod, I was duking it out in the streets with the hustlers and players, the kind of guys who can get you a fake I.D. in about sixty minutes with the right amount of cash. It took me three hours to find one and have a driver’s license, social security card, and Veteran’s Administration card in the name of Henry Grant.”
“Why not Ted? Oh, never mind; I understand. It wouldn’t make sense to be searching for yourself.”
“Right. So there I was; I found a room to rent, then I headed to the main library. I spent five days searching birth records. I figured that since Superman and Batman came along about thirty years later on that Earth, my double would have been about the same. So I started working my way back from 1960, taking into account the time-difference there seemed to be in those days between the Earths. On our world it was only 1969, but on Earth-One it was already 1978.”
Kent Nelson found himself fascinated by the story. “Did you find him by checking the birth records?”
“No luck. I got back to about 1955, and one of the librarians noticed my search. She asked me what I was looking for. I told her that I had a distant relative who I had only heard of. She offered to try this new computerized search that they had just installed. That’s how I finally found him.”
“Was he younger than you expected?”
“No. He was born in 1950, thirty years after I was. But it wasn’t the birth record that we found first.”
“Oh? What was it?”
“It was the newspaper story from 1968 — ten years earlier, Earth-One time — when he was found guilty in the murder of his mentor, Socker Smith.”
“Wait a minute, Ted. That was the murder that led to you becoming Wildcat, wasn’t it?” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See Wildcat, Sensation Comics #1 (January, 1942).]
“Right! But on Earth-One, Ted Grant went to prison for it, all the while maintaining his innocence. He escaped when the police were transporting him to the county jail, but he was recaptured the next day and was a prisoner ever since.” Ted got up, taking the coffee cups, plates, and silverware to the kitchen. Kent followed him.
“But why didn’t he fight back?”
After depositing the dishes in the dishwasher, Ted led the way to the JSA’s memorabilia room. Once there, he opened a cabinet and pulled out the contents of a folder. “That’s why.”
Ted placed the copy of All-American Comics from the spring of 1940 on the table. On the cover was a crudely drawn image of their teammate, Green Lantern. “This isn’t the one, but it was this issue of the comic-book that told some of Alan’s adventures that inspired me to put on a costume. On Earth-One, there weren’t many mystery-men around at the time Ted was arrested. There was no Green Lantern to inspire that Ted Grant.”
“Such a small thing, and it made such a big difference,” Kent said, marveling.
“I thought the same thing, buddy. So I decided to balance the scales a little. I set out to track down the guys who framed Ted Grant.”