by Bradley Cobb, Doc Quantum and Libbylawrence
Dr. Lorenzo Puzzini of Rome, Italy, had been through hell and back over the last few months. He’d discovered two surprising revelations about his family. The first revelation was that his uncle by marriage — an American history teacher named Caius Martius Wheeler — had not only been a mystery-man in the 1940s known as the Dart, but also claimed to have been born in ancient Rome. As the story went, Caius had suddenly materialized on an ancient stone in the year 1940 after having disappeared more than two thousand years earlier. Lorenzo thought the family was pulling his leg with that tall tale, but he knew that the mystery-man story was true. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See The Dart, Weird Comics #5 (August, 1940).]
If that had not been enough, he was shocked to discover that his father, a renowned medical scientist named Dr. Rodolfo Puzzini, had also been the diabolical master criminal known as Barbarik, the most wanted man in Italy and the fiend responsible for his mother’s death in 1968. It was a deathbed confession after his father’s long battle with cancer, and Lorenzo had to listen to his own father admit to killing his wife and Lorenzo’s mother before begging for his love and forgiveness. Although the death had not been intentional, it had been committed during one of Barbarik’s crime sprees. The mental strain of the act had caused his father’s mind to shatter and split into two — the good Dr. Rodolfo Puzzini, scientist, and the evil Barbarik, master criminal. Lorenzo had heard of a somewhat similar case that had occurred to one Dr. Jekyll a century earlier in Victorian England.
Having no room in his heart to forgive the man who had slain his mother, whether by accident or not, Lorenzo silently watched his father die slowly and painfully as he kept begging his only son for forgiveness over and over again. For the next few weeks after that, Lorenzo had broken down mentally and did not leave his house for over a month.
“Like it or not, he’s my father,” said Lorenzo one day as he sat with his Uncle Caius, who was visiting from the United States. “And even though he put me through seventeen years of complete hell, I still love him.”
“Despite his criminal failings, I believe your father was a good man at heart, Lorenzo,” said Caius. “I think Rodolfo had spent so many years helping people that he finally cracked from the strain. His accidental killing of your mother was the final straw that split his mind in two between the good Dr. Puzzini and the evil Barbarik. You, being a doctor, know what stress can do to a person. I’m not saying that’s an excuse for what he did to you, I’m just trying to…” Caius trailed off, unsure that he was speaking the right words. Lorenzo looked at him, waiting for him to continue.
Caius finally thought of what to say. “Lorenzo, you are like your father in that you both strived to help people. The only real difference is that in his medical science career your father tried to prevent harm, and you try to repair harm that has already been done.” Lorenzo looked at his uncle, a man who claimed to be from ancient Rome, and said nothing.
“Lorenzo, I know you’re trying to be like your father,” continued Caius. “And I know you feel a need to atone for his actions. He and your mother would both be proud of you for trying to do that, but it’s a different world out there. It’s much more dangerous now than it was when I fought crime as the Dart. I mean, just look at this British fellow who stopped an assassination attempt on Thatcher the other day. He calls himself the Black Lion, but I know for a fact that he has no connection to George Davis, the original Black Lion who fought crime back in my heyday. George was a friend of mine; a wealthy big game hunter by trade, he decided to apply what he knew about hunting in the jungles of Africa to hunting for criminals. (*) He died in the Korean War, God rest his soul. If he were still alive today, I doubt he would approve of his successor’s guerilla tactics. But I guess you have to admit the new guy gets the job done.”
[(*) Editor’s note: See The Black Lion and the Cub, Wonderworld Comics #21 (January, 1941).]
“Uncle Caius, I–”
Caius Wheeler interrupted his nephew. “Hear me out, Lorenzo. I’m not trying to dissuade you from doing what you want. I just want you to be prepared for what may happen. If you’re not prepared, you can get hurt, and even killed. Believe me, I’ve seen it happen. You don’t have to look any further than George Davis’ nephew, Larry.
“Back in the ’40s, Larry Davis had been the Black Lion’s kid partner, the Cub. When he grew up, he went to law school with the goal of becoming district attorney, and he made it as far as Assistant D.A. in Los Angeles. But after his uncle George’s death in Korea back in ’52, Larry decided that he needed to honor his uncle’s memory. Instead of relying on the justice system and the courts to bring criminals to justice, he decided to try going it alone as the new Black Lion, without a partner of his own or any super-powers at all, and exact justice in various ways on the criminals who slipped through the cracks. He soon found himself singlehandedly taking on the Mafia, with no support from the law. This was in 1959, back when the FBI still denied the Mafia’s existance.”
“What happened to him?” asked Lorenzo.
“Nobody knows,” said Caius. “One day he just disappeared. Never showed up for work at the D.A.’s office. But rumor has it that his body is buried under Dodger Stadium.”
That same August night, Dr. Lorenzo Puzzini set out to prove himself to everyone — to his Uncle Caius, to his late father and mother, and to whoever might get in his way. He would prove once and for all that he could handle being an action-hero. Instead, he barely survived the ordeal.
Dressed in a copy of his uncle’s red, yellow, and green Dart costume, Lorenzo interrupted a drug deal in a seedy neighborhood of Rome. But before he could even utter a word, he was struck by a car driven by a Mob enforcer.
Laughing at him, the criminals tore off his colorful costume and threw him naked into a pile of trash, then casually fired off a few shots. They had not even thought him worthy of checking whether any of the shots had been fatal.
Lorenzo awoke some time later, pain searing throughout his body not only from being struck by the car but also from several bullet holes, none of which were serious. The tattered and bloody doctor dragged his body toward the hospital and collapsed there in the emergency room entrance. He awoke three days later.
In September, some weeks after his failed attempt at being a crime-fighter, Dr. Lorenzo Puzzini lay helplessly in his hospital bed in Rome as his uncle visited him again.
“Thanks to a friend at Interpol, I was able to find out the name of the driver who struck you,” said Caius Martius Wheeler. “His name is Salvatore Trapani. He’s an enforcer who works for Giovanni Santangelo, Rome’s notorious crime boss, nicknamed Don Alla Moda because of his unique personal style and his ties to the fashion industry.”
“Why are you telling me this?” asked his nephew sullenly.
“Lorenzo, I know how determined you are to become the new Dart,” said Caius, “so I’m not going to try to talk you out of it. After all, I had always hoped that someone else would pick up where I left off. As you well know, I’ve had my share of health problems and have tried to accept that my heart is just not strong enough for any major exertions, let alone resuming my costumed career. But even my old crime-fighting partner Andrew ‘Ace’ Barlow has never had any interest in becoming the new Dart. So there’s no one else in the world that I’d rather see take on my legacy than you.” He paused for a moment and then added in a serious tone, “But I will ask one thing.”
Lorenzo looked up at his uncle with newfound respect. “Name it.”
“If you want to be the Dart, I want you to be prepared. There are always consequences to our decisions. Remember what happened to Larry Davis.” A single tear streaked down the older man’s face, and he left in silence.
In an unknown place, a woman in her mid-twenties with shoulder-length dark brown hair groaned in pain as she felt her psychic powers being pushed to their limits. She tried to turn, but the ectoplasmic restraints that encircled her curvaceous form kept her a prisoner. She sensed the spirits hovering and flitting around her and realized that she was now trapped by the vital psychic realm that had once given her power.
Between waves of pain and a narcotic-like stupor, the woman named Lucille Michaud remembered how it used to be when she was the great heroine Psyché. Wearing her sleek, form-fitting, dark purple costume and thigh-high boots, she had been the closest thing to a celebrity hero that France had ever seen. Her romance with the dark action-hero called Baron Cuir was legendary. After his death in 1984, she had forgone her heroic career for a life of seclusion until the Crisis. She remembered watching a white wall of antimatter approach the world, and then nothing. No matter how hard she tried, she could not recall what had happened since then. And so she began thinking back over her life.
After her parents died in an automobile crash when she was five, Lucille came under the care of her Aunt Anna. Since Anna Michaud was the only mother figure she ever knew, the girl trusted her implicitly. Lucille had always possessed special abilities, but she had not realized how unique they were for most of her youth.
Lucille Michaud’s childhood was full of strange and unexplainable events. Her toys often spoke with her, and objects in her room casually flew about with purpose. None of this frightened the little girl, however, who did not know that these things were not common occurrences. At first it seemed that the house they lived in was haunted, but Anna soon figured out that Lucille was behind it all. There was something special about this girl in her care, and Anna was determined to profit from her niece’s strange powers.
She had tested the girl over a few years, determining the extent of her psychic abilities by making a game of it. Anna would place the girl under hypnosis — she had always been very susceptible to hypnotism — and channel her latent powers through a crystal ball. In this way, Lucille’s mind would reveal the winning number of a lottery ticket or the answers to a quiz on television. Anna made a modest income from the girl, enough to quit working and pay off all her debts. But it wasn’t until Lucille was older that Anna dared to pull off a larger scheme, since her niece was intelligent and had always been impeccably moral in her outlook. She had discovered that the hard way when Lucille had refused to help her on the few occasions she’d suggested using her niece’s psychic abilities in any way that would break the law. In order to ensure her continued cooperation, Anna always had to be very careful not to let the girl know of her criminal ambitions.
In 1975, when Lucille was fifteen, Anna began placing the girl under hypnosis late at night on a regular basis, since her niece would at that time be very tired and prone to suggestibility. Eventually, after several nights in a row of asking the girl harmless questions to test her psychic abilities, such as the locations of lost objects, she went ahead with her plan. She asked Lucille where on his property a local nobleman kept the gold he owned. Relating the information to two criminal associates, she waited as they went to the count’s chateau to rob him of his gold. Unfortunately, something went wrong.
That night, Lucille had fallen asleep and soon found herself in a nightmare. She dreamt that she had used her powers for evil, causing two criminals to rob a man’s house. But she also dreamt of a smoke monster that attacked and killed the thieves before they were able to kill the count’s servant. Unbeknownst to herself or her aunt, she had created the monster from her mind and exacted justice on the criminals just as in her dream. Since this attempt had gone wrong, Anna decided to recruit two more thieves and try the same trick again one week later. This would be her undoing.
When Anna placed Lucille under hypnosis this time, her two criminal associates in the room with her, she asked the girl to give her the combination of a bank vault known only to the local banker. But she had overstepped her bounds, and Lucille was now fully aware of her aunt’s evil intentions. She refused. And as her anger at being used grew, so did the smoke monster that came from her mind. The monster completely consumed first Anna and then her two criminal associates. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “All in the Mind of Lucille Michaud,” Beyond the Grave #3 (December, 1975).]
Ever since that day, she had vowed to never let anyone use her like that again. She had, indeed, taken control of her unusual abilities and had used them to make herself a great heroine. But now she had been trapped once more and forced, she knew, to use her powers for evil. She did not know who was behind it or what intentions they had, but she was determined to fight her captor every step of the way. If only Baron Cuir was still alive, she thought sadly. Even though he possessed no special powers and had to rely solely on his wits and his martial arts prowess, he would already be on his way to rescue her, no matter how great the challenge was. He had always been there for her.
After the death of her aunt, young Lucille had fled from her home. She did not regret what happened to her aunt, since she had psychically sensed that Anna was planning to kill her niece if she ever suspected the truth. But she was fearful of being implicated in her death. That was when she met Gérard Leboeuf.
This tall, dark, and handsome stranger was almost a decade older than her but immediately saw her potential for good. The athletic and multi-talented Gérard had a thirst for justice that had driven him to pursue a career in law enforcement, but a rare medical condition called Porphyria’s Complaint had rendered him ineligible. This condition enabled him to be more alert and energized during the night but sluggish and slow-witted during the day, sometimes even leaving him so weak by noon that he needed to use a wheelchair.
The two worked together to discover the extent of Lucille’s psychic and telekinetic abilities and soon decided to emulate American action-heroes by fighting crime in costume from dusk until dawn. Inspired by an adventurous ancestor, a sixteenth-century swordsman who fought for justice under the name Leatherface, Gérard Leboeuf became Baron Cuir, or Baron Leather. (*) And Lucille Michaud became Psyché, the psychic wonder. As crime-fighting partners in Paris, they fought for justice in the shadows of the famed City of Lights and anywhere else they were needed. Eventually, they also became lovers. But their time together had been cut off prematurely.
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Count Vultiere,” Cat-Man Comics #26 (September, 1944).]
“Gérard,” she whispered, allowing a single tear to fall down her cheek for her lost love before she regained control. She was an action-heroine, Lucille told herself. As Psyché, she had protected La Belle France from all strange threats for almost a decade, and she would not disgrace her country’s proud heritage by showing fear or weakness. No, she would rest and bide her time. Surely she would be able to free herself before much longer.
For the first time she now became aware that a strangely garbed man in the shadows nearby was watching her efforts. This shadowy figure merely laughed as he leaned on the massive tree that loomed far, far above them and entrapped Lucille.
“Go on, struggle all you like,” he said. “But you cannot prevail. For with your help I will make myself one with the power that lies behind everything, and with that power I shall reshape this world in my image.”
In October, Dr. Lorenzo Puzzini was finally discharged, but he stayed and walked the halls of his hospital, looking around at all the people who had been injured by the vile criminals that haunted the city nights. All the while, his uncle’s words repeated themselves in his head. “I want you to be prepared.”
“Be prepared,” he repeated to himself as he wandered into an empty hallway. “Prepared.”
As he turned a corner, he was stopped in his tracks as he witnessed a huge man in blue materialize before him from out of nothing.
“Do not be afraid,” the Super-Wizard told the man.
“I-I have no fear left in me,” Lorenzo replied. “H-have you come to help me? Have you come to help me become prepared?”
“Yes,” said the Super-Wizard, smiling benevolently at the man. “And I have come to offer you — and others like you — a second chance.”
November, 1985, a month later:
Salvatore Trapani was not the kind of man who scared easily. He had steadily risen through the ranks during his criminal career, and the brawny Mob enforcer feared very little. He knew that, in addition to his own reputation as a dangerous man, he could rely on the even more infamous reputation of his boss, Don Giovanni Santangelo. The colorfully flamboyant gangster with ties to the Italian fashion industry had made himself a legend for his unpredictability and sheer ruthlessness. No one crossed Don Alla Moda without regretting it. For years the Italian police and Interpol had tried and failed to pin anything on him, but the Don had only grown bolder in his ventures, creating an image of terror that few could forget.
The Mob enforcer smirked as he watched his men load crates on a truck near Rome’s waterfront. The stolen items would be sold later, and the gang would reap a rich benefit. Despite his eccentricities, Don Santangelo took good care of his men.
“What the–?” Salvatore gasped, his cigar falling out of his open mouth. He had spotted a golden figure crash into his men like a human bullet.
This strange man wore a metallic red helmet shaped into a point and had a familiar-looking costume consisting of a gold tunic emblazoned with a red arrow pointing upward, with dark green gloves, pants, and boots. As Salvatore watched in shock, the man quickly plowed through his men as if he were a machine, pounding them brutally.
The enforcer finally drew his gun and rushed to their defense, firing with his customary skill. But every bullet bounced off the newcomer, who turned and knocked the gun flying.
“Salvatore Trapani, is it?” said the costumed man fiercely. “Tell Giovanni Santangelo that a new boss rules this town. And the Dart won’t tolerate crime in this city any longer.”
The last thing that the Mob enforcer saw before he blacked out was the Dart rushing toward him faster than was humanly possible.