“How did you plan to capture the men who framed your Earth-One self, Wildcat?” asked Kent Nelson, AKA Doctor Fate.
“The first thing was to track down Jack Flint and Jake Skinner,” said Wildcat. “They were the ones who killed Socker Smith, or at least they were on Earth-Two. I figured they would be the ones to start with.”
“How did you do that?” asked Kent. “The library again?”
“Right. The librarian was a sharp cookie, though. After searching for Ted Grant all that time, here I show up with a couple more names. She asked me what was up.” Ted Grant smiled, remembering the gleam in the young woman’s eyes when she started realizing that he wasn’t just looking for a long-lost cousin.
“Did you tell her?”
“Not all of it. I didn’t tell her that I came from another universe. After all, I’ve never thought I’d look good in a straitjacket. But I told her that I thought Ted had been framed, and I was trying to track down the real killers.”
“What was her reaction?” Kent asked.
“She dove right into it. That’s when she introduced herself. Turns out that Barbara’s daddy was a cop, so she offered to pass any information that we dug up along to him.”
“Probably not what you planned on doing with it.” While not a street-level crime-fighter himself, the man also known as Doctor Fate could imagine Wildcat taking out the killers himself.
“You know me too well, Doc. We found out that they were both still in Gotham, though Skinner had been investigated a couple of times for fixing local matches. I went and paid them each a little visit that night. Or, should I say, the next morning — like, about four o’clock the next morning.” The ex-heavyweight champ grinned. “When they found themselves in bed with a two-hundred-and-forty-pound cat on their chest, they got real talkative.”
“I’ve seen you at work, Ted. I can believe it.”
“By the next morning, they were both arrested, and thanks to Barbara, I got to be the one to break the news to Ted Grant that he was being released.”
Ted looked contemplative for a moment. “Kent, have you ever heard Red Robin tell what it was like meeting his Earth-One counterpart?”
“Yes, as well as Superman. They both said it was one of the strangest things they’ve ever experienced.”
“That’s what I was expecting, too. There I was, in the Gotham State Penitentiary, and they brought in this man in an orange prison jumpsuit. Two guards, one on either side, and I think it was the first time I ever realized how big I really am. He towered over both of these burly guards. I had never noticed it before, but when I stood and faced him, we were eye-to-eye.”
“What about the similarities? Did he notice?”
Ted Grant nodded. “Oh, yes, and so did the guards. He asked who I was, and I told him that I was a distant relative. Then, when I told him about Flint and Skinner, I thought he was going to faint.”
“Well, ten years in prison would tend to make one lose hope.”
“It took a couple of weeks for everything to get cleared up, but when he got out, I was there to meet him. Like me, he didn’t have any other family.”
“Did you ever tell him who you really were?”
“The night he was released. I told him everything: Earth-Two, Wildcat, everything. He took it pretty well.”
“What became of him after that?”
“There was a lot of hoopla when he was released, what with him having been the champion and all. He actually won the title before the bout with Smith, and it was Smith’s chance to win the crown back. So promoters were in a rush to see if he was interested in boxing again. He was only 29, so it wasn’t impossible.”
“Was he in shape for it, though? After all, ten years is a long time,” Kent observed.
“He kept in shape in prison, and boxed in matches in the prison, but he wasn’t interested. Then he had the idea.”
“Ted, you didn’t!”
Ted Grant smiled. “I did. Or I should say, we did. We swapped places. He became Henry Grant, working for prisoner rights and death penalty defenses, sort of a jailhouse lawyer. And I stepped in his shoes as Ted Grant, returning heavyweight champ. I never won the title there, but I had a long run of matches and some exhibitions. And as Wildcat, I fought crime occasionally over the next three years, even teaming up with Batman a few times, and the Creeper once, too. Of course, I made a few short trips back to Earth-Two about four or five times, mostly for the JSA’s annual team-ups with the JLA. While three years passed on Earth-One, seven years went by here. However, I had something else to take care of, too.”
“Let me guess what you still had to take care of on Earth-One, Ted. Your friend Barbara?” asked Kent.
“Not really. Oh, we had become friends while I was investigating the framing of the Earth-One Ted Grant. And she was the one I turned to for help.”
“So what did you need to take care of?”
Wildcat looked at him as if the answer should have been obvious. “I got to thinking, if Ted Grant never became Wildcat on Earth-One, what about other members of the Justice Society? Are there more counterparts for our members than we realized?”
“Oh. I hadn’t really thought of that.” Kent sat quiet for a moment, pondering the possibilities. When he spoke again, his voice was quiet. “What did you find?”
“Well, I found out that laws requiring children be properly educated prevented you from accompanying your father to Egypt. When that world’s Sven Nelson found the tomb of Nabu the Wise, his assistant was killed by a toxic gas, but Nelson survived and marked the site as dangerous. They still haven’t found a safe way to excavate it. Young Kent grew up to be one of that world’s preeminent archeologists.”
Kent looked relieved. “What about the others?”
Ted Grant walked to a file cabinet in the JSA’s memorabilia room. “Passcode: Alternatives,” he spoke to the voice-keyed lock. He returned to the table with a thick folder, which he thumbed through.
“In 1970, there was a news article on a train crash just outside of Gotham. All on the train were killed, including a young engineer from Gotham Broadcasting Company named Alan Scott.”
“That makes sense, Ted. After all, the Starheart was created by the Guardians of the Universe in that dimension and sent here in an attempt to eliminate magic in that reality.”
“I heard that story from Alan, too. I wondered if that was why we seem to have more magic-based heroes than Earth-One does.”
Ted pulled another copy of a news article from the file. “In 1968, a student named Jason Garrick was killed in a lab accident. One of the science professors there said that the chemicals involved could have odd effects on the human body, including increasing the metabolic rate far above normal.”
“Fascinating. The same thing that happened to our Jay, but with different results.”
“Rex Tyler didn’t make out any better than Jay or Alan,” Ted continued. “He was killed when he used himself as a guinea pig for a compound he developed. It did increase his strength and speed, but had severe effects on his nervous system, causing him great pain. He died from the stress on his body before the chemical could wear off. And then we already know about the Earth-One Jim Corrigan, who became the new host for the Spectre a while back, at least until the Crisis. Ditto for the Earth-One Johnny Thunder, who, as you know, became a crook — we fought him a couple of years ago with the JLA.”
“Surely, Ted, some of our counterparts must have fared better,” said Kent Nelson.
“Oh, yes. I found an article in a 1972 Time Magazine about a college student named Al Pratt who had declined a position on the U.S. Olympic basketball team. He had played amateur basketball, but never tried for the college team. He admitted that his height of six foot, seven inches, was the result of a growth hormone experiment when he was fifteen. I looked him up and found that he was happily married to the former Mary James, and teaching at Calvin City College, which is a smaller institution on that world.”
“I always felt that Al just needed a self-esteem boost, and he would have been fine.”
“Charlie McNider turned out all right, too. When some mob goons tried to bomb his apartment, he was shoved out the door by a cop who caught wind of the plan. The poor cop was torn up pretty bad, and McNider got rewarded for saving the guy’s life. Wes Dodds is a noted author and philosopher, living a reclusive life. And Ted Knight was a wealthy playboy who turned to acting, instead of astronomy. He did pretty well for himself, despite going gray an early age.”
“How many others did you track down?”
“Just one, and that’s an odd one. Barbara recognized the name on my list, though I wasn’t sure I was going to track her down. Dinah Drake joined the Gotham Police Department in 1975. Barbara met her when she was a kid, before Lt. Drake transferred out to Seattle, Washington.”
“You know, Ted, that Dinah became the Black Canary after she was rejected by the Gotham Police Academy. By the ’70s, she would have made it in easily.”
“Amazing, isn’t it, Kent? How the small things made such a big difference in our lives.”
“Wildcat, you’re right. For many of us, it was only a small difference that made the difference between life and death, between a normal life and an extraordinary one.”
“And then you have the ones like Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman, whose lives turned out almost the same on both worlds. You have to wonder how these things come about.”
“Ted, you said you want to go back to Earth-One to check up on your friend Barbara. Is she still in Gotham City?”
“She’s back there now, as far as I know. She was gone for about three years Earth-One time — almost about the time we started getting active again. But she moved back a couple o’ years ago.”
“What about here on Earth-Two? Have you ever checked to see if she had a counterpart here?” Kent smiled.
“No. I don’t know that she’d have one. Her father is the police commissioner in Gotham. The only commissioner our Gotham has had with a daughter was Bruce Wayne, and we know his daughter — Helena Wayne, our own Huntress!”
“True. I guess your Barbara wouldn’t have a counterpart here, then.”
I almost gave up entirely after you were killed, Kara. It was really hard just to go on when you, one of our bravest, and one of my closest friends, died. Your courage showed me just how much more of a hero you were than I ever was.
In the last few weeks, however, I’ve proven to myself that I’m not only still capable of crime-fighting, but Gotham needs me as well. I’d like to think, Kara, that you somehow helped me along all this time. You were the wind beneath my wings.
And with that, Barbara Gordon, the chief librarian of Gotham City Public Library, reached into her closet and pulled out the ebony and midnight blue costume of her alter ego. She was no longer a Batgirl, but a Batwoman.