Al Pratt rushed across the campus of Calvin College in the spring of 1943. He was late. He always got the same stupid reaction whenever he showed up late for an appointment. Some wise-guy would make a crack about “those short legs of yours,” and Al would play the good-natured, “Aw, shucks, fellows!” role he always displayed as Al Pratt.
As the masked Justice Society of America member called the Atom, he might have answered such comments with a swift left hook of Golden Gloves quality like his old trainer Joe Morgan had taught him. However, the Atom and Al did things differently in order to protect his identity, and being so short in both roles made that a precarious task at best.
Still, he hoped his friend might be late, too. That would solve any embarrassment. But no, of course Terry Sloane was on time. He’d probably gotten there early, wrote a poem or two, and re-landscaped the campus by now. Terry could do it all. As millionaire businessman Terry Sloane of Gateway City or as Mister Terrific — the All-Star Squadron’s true blue champion of Fair Play — he was almost perfect.
Terry was talking animatedly to a couple of young boys who were here, like Terry, for the Quiz Kids Academic Competition. This academic meet was for the nation’s best and brightest youth. The prize would be a scholarship for future college studies and a matching donation to the war effort by local industries.
“Hello, Al! We were just talking about sports,” said the handsome Terry Sloane. “I hear the Calvin College athletic program is going great guns this year.”
Al smiled ruefully. “Yeah, it is. Sorry I’m late,” he began.
Terry cut him off. “No problem, right, men? The boys here are in the Competition, so as Quizmaster I was just getting to know the players.”
Al knew getting the illustrious Sloane as Quizmaster was a real coup, since the former child prodigy’s name was legendary for achievements in aeronautics, engineering, athletics, literature, and more. Al had suggested his crime-fighting pal when he was asked to serve on the Calvin College welcoming committee.
“So who do we have here?” asked Al as he glanced at the boys who were already old enough to stand around his height.
A chubby blond boy piped up, “I’m Thomas Watts, but my pals call me Tubby!”
“Say, I know that name,” said Al.
Terry said, “You’re thinking of his older brother, the Sees All, Tells All newsreel cameraman.”
Tubby said, “Yessir! I kinda inherited his nickname in the neighborhood ’cause’a our love of food!”
The boy next to Tubby said, “I’m Tommy Rogers. Tubby is here to root for me.” Al shook hands with them, musing on how much Tubby looked like his brother, who was pals with the heroic Johnny Quick.
An Englishman arrived with a bright boy who introduced himself as Dick Grayson. “Say, Alfred, thanks again for coming down. What with Bruce out of town and all, it’s swell to have some support.” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See Justice Society of America: Times Past, 1943: Woman Trouble.]
Alfred Beagle smiled paternally. “Service is its own reward, Master Dick!” Although the rotund former music hall actor was a very recent addition to the Wayne household, Alfred had already made himself indispensable. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Here Comes Alfred,” Batman #16 (April-May, 1943).]
A fancy limousine pulled up then, and a redheaded driver hopped out to open the door for a scholarly looking youth. “Excuse me gentlemen, but where does one register for the Academic Competiton?” said the boy. “My name is Sylvester Pemberton.”
“You’ve come to the right place, pal,” said Tommy.
Dick Grayson was a very clever boy, and he immediately recognized the lanky driver of the limo as Stripesy. Guess the kid in glasses is the Star-Spangled Kid. He seems to really be a junior version of Bruce’s shallow rich guy act.
A rough-voiced kid with a sharp nose popped up and, pointing at Sylvester, said to Tubby and Tommy, “Hey pals, who’s the swell?”
“Toughy!” Tommy exclaimed. “Good to see you. What brings you here? Co-eds?”
Toughy laughed, and said, “Naw! Just wanted ta lend ya some support in this here egghead festival.”
Tommy smiled. “Say, it’d be swell if we could go into action here, huh?”
Tubby frowned. “Please, not that again! Not today! I haven’t had lunch!”
“Ya could skip a meal or three, pal!” said Toughy as he grabbed his friend around the neck.
“Time to begin,” said a man named Parks, who was in charge. “We’re on a tight schedule, with the broadcast being live via Calvin College’s radio station.”
Soon, as the boys from across the nation filled into the auditorium and took their places, Terry Sloane climbed into a glass-fronted booth up front. It was from this sealed room that he would read out the questions at a rapid pace to cover as much as possible while a clock ticked down the seconds and the whole competition was broadcast live on radio. The front of his booth displayed all the names of the players and a place for their scores. Terry could not see this display, since it was on the outer front of his glass booth and above his head. A control panel rested in front of his microphone and registered each display as a score changed.
“Remember, Terry, this is live and on radio, too. Plus, time counts,” said Parks. “It’s an exciting element as the boys answer as many questions as possible while the clock ticks.”
“Well, public speaking is a hobby of mine, so I’ll do my best,” Sloane said, grinning. “Hope I don’t flop.”
“You can’t leave the booth or stop the game; the radio time is precious,” warned Parks.
“Ah, don’t worry so,” said Al Pratt as he went to walk to his seat in the crowd. “What could go wrong at a college academic meet?”
Dick Grayson could have answered that as he spotted a furtive movement toward the back. Two men whispered nervously and hurried out. The keen-eyed boy saw a gun under the flapping coat worn by one. Holy diploma! That guy’s got a gun at the meet! he thought. Talk about pass or fail. He slipped out and followed the man. I don’t need a scholarship, anyway. It was all for the fun of competition that I came, but this could be more fun.
Parks frowned as Terry Sloane began the broadcast, then smiled at how polished the blond man was.
“Good old Terry. He can do it all!” said the smiling Al Pratt.
Sylvester Pemberton started answering questions and took an early lead until a boy named James Buchanan began to win. Tommy Rodgers surpassed them both quickly as his buddies Tubby and Toughy hooted happily. Then trouble started.
Terry Sloane was performing on live radio and reading academic material at a fast pace. Most people would be so nervous or desperate to do the job that they could not possibly worry about outside actions. However, as Al Pratt correctly said, Terry Sloane could do it all. He read a question, “Who was the only U.S. president to get married while in office?”
As Tommy Rogers hit his bell and said, “John Tyler!” his score changed on the lighted display.
Terry answered, “Correct, Tommy.” Then he saw a man he recognized from a crime report. Harold Hess — he’s a Nazi! I recall his face from something I read as Mister Terrific. Sloane had a photographic memory. He keeps looking anxiously at the gym. What is going on there? All these boys could be at risk from some Nazi or Bundist terrorist plot. Got to get Al to check things out, since I can’t stop! he thought while still reading a question. How do I–? Of course!
Meanwhile, Sylvester frowned as he and Tommy were neck and neck. That kid is good. I don’t need a scholarship, thanks to Pater’s money, but I did want to win, he thought.
Terry knew from looking at the scoreboard display as he entered that the first few sections looked like this:
- Tommy Rogers
- Dick Grayson
- Tim Nelson
- George Martin
- Sylvester Pemberton
- James B. Barnes
As he continued to speak, he simultaneously drew upon his amazing memory and talent for electronics. He read each question and responded to the student competitors while pulling plugs and wires that created the scoreboard display. The display was backward from his point of view, which made the feat even more remarkable, but as the clock ticked, he pulled wires and dimmed the lights behind some of the letters in the display until it read as follows:
- TOMmy Rogers
- Dick GraysOn
- TIm Nelson
- George Martin
- SYlvester PeMberton
- James B. Barnes
While others merely assumed there were technical failures and continued to enjoy the meet, Al Pratt frowned at the display. Terry knows what he’s doing, as always! He’s trying to tell me, “Atom, go in gym”!
Al slipped away to change into his costume.