by Bradley Cobb and Doc Quantum
Of all the places I could be right now, why here?
Those were the thoughts of the man known as the Green Mask as he drove through a torrential downpour. He exited his vehicle and quickly ran through the parking lot to the entrance of the pizzeria.
As he stepped in, he took off his sunglasses and wiped away the gathering moisture from the lenses with a handkerchief. He had begun to remove his trenchcoat when a man called out his name. “Mike!”
Michael Shelby looked up and walked to the table closest to the salad bar. “Bulldog Harlow — it really has been too long.” Shelby shook his hand and pretended to cringe.
Robert “Bulldog” Harlow had become overweight, and he had taken a seat by the salad bar only for show — he’d only eaten a salad once, and he hated it. Additionally, the life of a political party chairman wasn’t all that physically straining.
“So, you eternally young hero types have no secret identities anymore?” Bulldog asked, smiling sarcastically at Shelby, who was a bit confused at his friend’s meaning, raising one eyebrow in response to the question. Bulldog shook his head and said, “I mean, you got the trenchcoat and the black shades, yet you still have that gaudy blue and green outfit on under it. Good grief, Mike, aren’t you supposed to be a master of disguise? I know your identity is public knowledge and all, but take my advice — if you’re gonna go incognito, scrap the blue swashbuckler boots.”
“I just wanted to be ready for action,” Shelby said, shrugging.
“Well, normally I’d say there’s never a need for action in Foxville,” said Bulldog. “That is, unless you work for the prison.”
Shelby nodded. “Foxville seems to be a quiet little town, with the exception of all this rain and flooding.”
Bulldog burped and said, “No kidding.”
“So if there’s no need for action, why’d you call me down here?” Michael Shelby softened his voice and added, “You sounded worried.”
Bulldog looked around nervously left and right before continuing. “Well, here’s the deal…”
Michael Shelby and Bulldog Harlow finished off the double-decker pizza and a few Diet Pepsis before they finally got up from the table. As they exited the building, they saw that the rain was heavier than before. The drops seemed to be as large as golf balls and were coming down hard, fast, and thick. It was as if God had a giant bucket and had decided to pour it all out at once on the small city of Foxville.
They both ran to Bulldog’s vehicle, a 1983 Chevy Scottsdale, before they realized that there was no way of getting out of the parking lot. The rain had come so fast that the streets were completely flooded, and not even the four-by-four could make it through the rivers that flowed down the street.
Shelby and Harlow began their trek across the parking lot as the first lightning bolt crashed. The two turned to see Bulldog’s truck seemingly levitate from the bolt hitting so close to it. The truck went up a foot and came back down harmlessly, but it creaked loudly, sounding like a vehicle twenty years older. If he hadn’t been distracted by the bouncing truck, Shelby would have heard the gunfire.
Bulldog Harlow fell to the ground, clutching his shoulder. The bullet had gone all the way through him and narrowly missed Shelby. The man known as the Green Mask turned around and watched as two Foxville police officers drew their guns at him.
The first officer to speak pulled out his badge and screamed, “Officer Steele, Foxville P.D.! Put your hands up now, and you won’t get hurt!”
Shelby looked at Harlow, who laid on the pavement shaking and holding his shoulder. His eyes were bulging as he looked at the two law-enforcement officials. “It’s them!” he half-screamed, half-whispered. “It’s them.” Bulldog started to say something else, but a second bullet silenced him, this time for good.
The mystery-man glared up at the gunman, his eyes flashing. “That, my poor little friend, was the last mistake you’ll ever make!”
Both officers tried to shoot Shelby as he ran toward them, successfully evading most of the bullets and letting the suit take the rest. Kevlar body armor was a welcome addition to his costume. He was only four feet from the officers when the lightning struck again. The force from the bolt of electricity sent the hero flying through the air and into the late Bulldog Harlow’s truck, crushing the side door and crumpling part of the hood. The officers landed harmlessly in the flooded street.
Shelby got up painfully, knowing that his vita-ray-enhanced body would soon heal him, and reached for the hubcap sitting on the ground next to him. He concentrated and, seeing movement in the water ahead of him, twisted and threw the hubcap like a frisbee toward the water. Steele was the first to emerge from the watery road, and as he opened his eyes, he spent his last moment of consciousness in panic just before the hubcap struck him in the head.
The man known as the Green Mask was about to run after the other cop who had fled, but instead he stopped, standing silently for a moment and sniffing the air. He then turned toward the pizzeria and saw the flames coming from the roof. That was where the Green Mask was needed.
Much later, Michael Shelby rested in a hard bed at the Foxville Holiday Inn. He’d gone through enough for the day, and he needed rest. Mostly he wanted to think about the old days.
Fifteen years earlier, Shelby had befriended Bulldog Harlow while working on a case in Indianapolis. The case was going nowhere, and there were no leads, no suspects, and no body. Harlow, then a state representative in Indiana, had brought some information to Shelby’s attention and helped him blow the case wide open.
Over the years they had kept in touch. Harlow retired from political office and became the county’s party chairman in Foxville. Even though his own father had been a United States senator, Shelby hated most politicians, since it was only true statesmen like his father who could lead without compromising their integrity through politics. But for some reason Bulldog was different. He was actually an honest politician — an oxymoron if there ever was one.
When Harlow told Shelby he needed his help, the mystery-man-turned-private-investigator dropped everything and flew to Foxville, ready to act as the Green Mask again for the first time since the confusing mess that was the Crisis on Infinite Earths earlier this year. Harlow told him that he had stumbled upon some information and thought he was going to be assassinated. He had confided in no one else, fearing that the corruption may have been deeper than he had heard. He called Shelby because he feared for his life, and, as it turned out, he had good reason.
The Green Mask was a forgotten hero. Once he was one of the greatest heroes, but now almost no one knew about him. He wasn’t Captain Atom, he wasn’t the Blue Beetle, and he wasn’t E-Man. Hell, he wasn’t even as well-known as Nature Boy anymore. Not since the 1940s, when he was a member of the World War II-era Mystery Men of America, was the Green Mask really a household name in the nation.
For Michael Shelby, it had all begun in the summer of 1940 when his father, Senator Dan Shelby, was targeted for assassination by a secret criminal gang called the Grim Circle, whose members all wore white hooded robes emblazoned with their emblem — a red circle around a skull. The Grim Circle was just one of many criminal organizations at the time, but they were threatened by Senator Shelby, an influential state senator who planned to introduce a bill at the next session making the death sentence mandatory for members of criminal gangs tried for murder. The leader of the Grim Circle hired a group of gunmen led by “Red” Simpson to gun him down. And so they arrived one night at the senator’s home and shot both him and his son Michael, home after graduating from university, when he tried to stop them.
The gunmen merely knocked unconscious Professor Martin Lascomb, a friend of the family who was a brilliant scientist and the discoverer of vita-rays, which aid in the healing process. After the scientist came to, he discovered that while the senator was dead, his son was alive but was mortally wounded and would quickly perish if something drastic was not done. Lascomb considered simply rushing him to a hospital, but in his expert medical opinion, the young man would not survive any ordinary procedure, nor even the trip in an ambulance. There was only one possibility remaining. He would use his vita-ray machine on Michael Shelby.
Professor Lascomb had completed the vita-ray machine only recently, thanks to the patronage of Senator Shelby, and had not even had a chance to try it out yet. Using it on Michael was a huge risk, but he felt he had no choice, and he was confident that vita-rays could heal. Rushing frantically against time, he brought Michael Shelby to his city laboratory and placed him on a gurney beneath the vita-ray machine. Then he threw the switch.
But instead of giving the young man a mild dose of the life-giving vita-rays, a resistance blew out in the machine, sending thousands of volts of electricity burning through Michael’s body. Yes, he was imbued with vita-rays, but he was also electrocuted. The professor panicked, realizing that the young man’s death was almost certain now. Then a miracle occurred. Michael Shelby lived.
Professor Lascomb watched in shock as Shelby’s body healed itself, even pushing out the bullets still inside him and bringing him slowly to consciousness. The scientist examined the young reporter’s body and discovered that he was completely back to health. It was as if he had never been shot at all. But something still troubled him.
“I can’t understand how you could withstand that tremendous surge of current!” the professor asked Shelby after a series of tests.
“Not only did that high voltage save my life, but somehow, I feel different,” said Shelby. “I feel power within me! I feel as if I could soar through the air!”
At that, he leaped into the air, easily soaring to the top of the thirty-foot-high ceiling of the penthouse laboratory. Shelby had discovered that the super-charged shocks had made him a miracle man. He could now zoom through space and perform superhuman feats. It was a real rush, something that helped him cope with the loss of his father. But thinking of his father also brought him back down to earth. He had business to do.
“Professor Lascomb, you have endowed me with powers no other living man possesses!” he told the scientist. “I will use these powers to avenge the death of my father and to wipe crime from the face of the Earth!”
And at the time he meant it, too. Wonder Man’s debut a year earlier had marked the beginning of the heroic era, and although that original mystery-man vanished almost as soon as he arrived, he left a legacy behind him that would continue into the present.
But how would he do so? That was when fate stepped in. A couple of days after Shelby began contemplating his impending war on crime, an old friend knocked on the door at the home of Michael Shelby and Professor Lascomb. This man was Walter Green, an old friend of Shelby’s whom he’d met through a mutual friend, reporter Blake Doakes. Walter was an ex-soldier whose wife had been murdered by criminals nearly two years earlier, leaving him a widower and their young son Johnny an orphan.
Walter explained that Professor Lascomb had told him about Shelby’s vow to wage war on crime, and that, thanks to a freak accident with the vita-ray machine, Shelby had the powers to do so. Walter then explained that he’d come to a similar decision after his wife’s murder, and that he had created a masked identity of his own and had waged war on crime for the last year under the name of the Green Mask. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “A Modern Robin Hood,” Mystery Men Comics #1 (August, 1939).]
With only his wits and his athletic prowess at his disposal, the Green Mask was a force to be reckoned with. He worked hand in hand with the one man who knew his true identity — “News” Blake Doakes, his friend at the Daily Globe with whom he exchanged exclusive stories for the ace reporter’s information.
However, Walter explained, he’d had too many brushes with death as the Green Mask, and he couldn’t bear to leave his son without a father when he’d already lost his mother. After his last case, in which he captured the gang of a criminal named the Wizard, alias Doc Carson, he retired as the Green Mask. (*) He planned to rejoin the U.S. Army, since he wanted to be ready to defend his country if America ever got involved in the war that had been raging in Europe and in the Pacific. Still in mourning for his father, Shelby agreed to become the new Green Mask.
[(*) Editor’s note: See The Green Mask: Times Past, 1940: The Harried Hoodlums.]
After a few days of training with his powers, Shelby was ready to embark on his career as the masked nemesis of crime, having donned the same blue uniform with a red and blue cape and a green mask that Walter Green had made famous. In the costume Shelby looked nearly identical to the original Green Mask, except whereas Walter was tall and lanky, Shelby was slightly shorter and more muscular. He had abandoned his original career goals after his father’s death and his own amazing recovery, since he had decided to dedicate himself full-time to crime-fighting by using his inheritance.
He presented himself in his mystery-man identity to Professor Lascomb. “No one shall know my identity! I shall be known only as the Green Mask! And my uniform shall strike terror into the hearts of all criminals!” Professor Lascomb wished him good luck, and Shelby’s career as the second Green Mask was born.
Thanks to the freak accident with the vita-ray machine, the Green Mask had the super-powers of great strength and speed, allowing him to leap up to an eighth of a mile. In his early days there were times when the Green Mask was actually able to fly, but he never seemed to quite get a handle on that power, which would come and go. His great strength also dwindled in the weeks and months after the accident. It was a situation strangely opposite of another mystery-man at the time — the Blue Beetle — who had begun his career without any unnatural abilities but eventually gained amazing super-powers through repeated exposure to Vitamin 2X, invented by a scientist named Dr. Abraham Franz. Later on, Shelby discovered that repeated exposure to vita-rays would restore his powers for a while, but he didn’t like the way he felt when he had them. Although Professor Lascomb eventually perfected the vita-ray process to give him permanent powers without any negative side-effects, Shelby would rarely use his unreliable and extremely dangerous power of flight ever again, since he was just as vulnerable to injury as any man.
The Green Mask’s first case would be bringing to justice the group of men who had murdered his father. That case began shortly after he donned the mask when the Grim Circle assassinated a Russian peace envoy named Sergei Marzoff as part of a plot to bring the United States into the war for the foreign interests that were their employers. When the Grim Circle discovered that the Green Mask was investigating the crime, they tried to silence him by tossing a live grenade at him on a city street. But while the Green Mask survived unharmed, a boy walking nearby was severely injured.
Recognizing that the boy was close to death, the Green Mask took a chance and rushed him off to Professor Lascomb’s laboratory. There, Lascomb used his repaired and improved vita-ray machine on the boy, bringing him back to full health without any incidents like those that had granted Michael Shelby powers. Upon learning that young Don Mason was an orphan, he took him in, and he lived with him and Professor Lascomb. Although the boy had been exposed to vita-rays, he gained only vitality, not the range of super-powers Shelby possessed.
The Green Mask soon encountered Red Simpson and the Grim Circle and discovered that they were the ones who had murdered his father. With the help of Don, who donned a uniform of his own and became Domino, the Miracle Boy, he crushed the Grim Circle and exposed the identity of its leader — wealthy financier John Sebastion. He had avenged his father. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See 1st story, The Green Mask #1 (Summer, 1940).]