The Paragons: Deus Ex Astra, Book 1, Chapter 3: Wunderkind

by Doc Quantum and CSyphrett

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December, 1985, four months after the end of the Crisis on Infinite Earths:

A tall, handsome young man wearing an expensive Italian suit watched a television news report in his plush office in Florence, Italy. According to the report, a costumed man in Rome calling himself Il Dardo had singlehandedly stopped a rampaging, monstrous giant that had looked like a Cyclops.

The telephone rang, but the man couldn’t help but recognize the gold, red, and green costume of this Dardo character as an updated version of something nobody had seen since the 1940s, except now with a pointed red helmet shaped like a dart and no cape. The phone rang again, and the man wondered what connection there could be between Il Dardo and the World War II-era mystery-man known as the Dart. He had already noted the debut of another new European crime-fighter using an old name — the Black Lion of the United Kingdom — and he wondered if there was any pattern to these new appearances. Even this Jock o’ Kent of the U.K. who showed up just after the Crisis had seemed to be inspired from the British and Welsh legends of Jack o’ Kent.

He turned off the TV and picked up the phone on its third ring. “Bicci here,” he answered, pausing for a moment to listen as he ran one hand through his unruly brown hair. “Oh, hey, Wesley — it’s been ages! How have you been?” he asked, a grin spreading over his face as he listened intently to the voice on the other end. “To tell you the truth, I’m a bit rusty, Wes, but I’ll be glad to have a look at your problem.” Another pause. “Sure thing. I’ll get a plane out there as soon as I hang up. See you in a day or two, Wes. Oh, and say hello to Sally for me.” He hung up the phone, then instructed his secretary to reschedule all his meetings and make a quick call to the Peretola Airport to check if his private jet could be readied to go.

The man wondered what was going on but decided to place the problem to the side until he had more information on it. He already knew it was going to be something dangerous. It would have to be for Wesley to ask for the help of the world’s fifth richest man.

He sat in a swivel chair in his office, looking out through his window to the bustling streets below. It was here in the great Italian city of Florence where he felt most at peace with himself. He often mused that he received direct inspiration from the city’s many notable figures — Dante, Michelangelo, Niccolo Machiavelli, Donatello, and Galileo Galilei. Given that he liked to think of himself in the same category as those esteemed figures, it was little wonder that he had chosen to make Florence the head office for his company, Wunderkind International. His name was Jacopo Sinistro Bicci, but everyone called him Jack.

Now thirty-four years old, Jack Bicci — at one time called Jack Biceps by his friends because of his strong build and good looks — was originally from the United States, where he once had a short-lived career as an antihero when he was in his late teens and early twenties, using his middle name as his nom de guerre of Sinistro, Boy Fiend. He had impishly referred to himself as evil’s own super-hero, but the papers knew him as a super smart aleck for his goofy sense of humor and lack of true malice.

This child prodigy’s motivation to become the Boy Fiend was obscure to his family, friends, teachers, and his girlfriend Shirlee Peech, who were all convinced by young Jack’s wholesome good looks, intelligence, and good nature that he would play the hero’s role in life. This teenager from Hoboken, New Jersey, seemed from all outward appearances to be an all-American boy in the mold of Jack Armstrong or the Hardy Boys. But the truth was that he hated all those considered to be the good guys and heroes of popular culture, and he held an intense dislike for all those who dared to call themselves super-heroes or action-heroes.

Jack’s dislike of heroes, probably spawned by a need to disassociate himself with the pressure to become a role model, was one reason for his peculiar acts of rebellion. But he later realized that he was simply bored to death of his suburban American lifestyle and yearned to break free from it. For any other teenager in the late 1960s, growing long hair, carrying a peace sign, and calling himself a hippie would have been enough. But Jack Bicci liked to think of himself as an individual, and he was never one to follow the crowd, no matter where it went.

By 1967, this sixteen-year-old would-be villain had begun sending away for various mail-order items — which he improved using his inventive genius — seeking to transform himself into a monster through witches’ concoctions or to otherwise use gadgets to aid him in any nefarious deeds he might come up with. He began telling his friends to call him Sinistro, Boy Fiend — also sending out business cards under this name to local figures in organized crime — and disappeared for days constructing do-it-yourself gadgets he had purchased. Thanks to his genius, Jack was able to transform a rickety autogyro called the Highro-Gyro into a true flying machine. Deciding that now was the time to make Sinistro, Boy Fiend a reality, Jack Bicci put together a costume using a navy blue tuxedo vest with an S insignia, a black bowtie, tan suede gloves, black pants and shoes, a black domino mask, and a navy blue opera cape. He then set off one Saturday afternoon in the autogyro, crossing the Hudson River from Hoboken into New York City.

Probably owing to his now-famous luck, Sinistro soon spotted no less than five heroes soaring through the skies above Manhattan — the Peacemaker and the third Blue Beetle, as well as the more obscure action-heroes named Captain USA, the Green Spider, and Superguy. Looking around, he realized that each action-hero had probably come separately in response to an alarm set off by a gang of criminals attempting to loot a vault full of money. Sinistro watched as Superguy arrived first and battled the criminals, and then he encountered Captain USA in the sky as the flying hero passed by and caused the autogyro to experience turbulence. Sinistro called Captain USA a “big boob,” resulting in an angry retort by the powerful action-hero, who followed this up by striking and damaging Sinistro’s autogyro, forcing the teenager to return to his house in Hoboken.

While doing his homework that afternoon, he was approached at home by a criminal underling of a low-level Mob boss named “Irish” Hymie Schultz, who had received one of his business cards and wanted Sinistro’s help to act as a lookout during a criminal operation. That night, using a pair of mini-jets he had invented, Sinistro flew to the meeting point: a wax museum. There, Schultz explained that he’d been having so much trouble with action-heroes lately during his criminal capers that he needed a costumed character of his own to act as a diversion in order to give his men time to get away with the loot.

As Schultz spoke, Sinistro noticed that a wax statue of an old female axe-murderer had slightly moved. He trusted his instincts and shot a stream of ink at its eyes, exposing the Green Spider in disguise beneath the wax. He then shot another stream of ink, allowing Schultz and his gang to flee to safety. The Green Spider turned to Sinistro and demanded an answer for his actions, asking him why he had befriended these evildoers and helped them escape. In response, Sinistro recited a speech that he had written days earlier and wanted to use as soon as possible:

“In the name of fair play I befriend evildoers, Green Spider. Whenever great plans are made which are against the law, the conspirators are harrassed and threatened by a horde of you super-characters. You travel at supersonic speed. You’re bulletproof. You can see through walls, hear to the horizon. You hurl bolts of lightning, burn with laser rays, read the criminal minds, swim like fish, bore through earth, out-think, out-fight, and you always wind up getting the girl.”

When the Green Spider demanded he step aside once more, Sinistro refused, only to be struck by a blow powerful enough to send him reeling through the air as well as activate his mini-jets. He flew lazily through the air with a slight concussion, spotting in the skies above Manhattan the Peacemaker’s famous Mach 3 jet and the Blue Beetle’s scarab-shaped flying craft known as the Bug, as well as the Green Spider, Superguy, and Captain USA. Concerned for his client, Sinistro tracked down and followed Schultz’s car all the way to the National Treasury Building, where the criminals had begun a raid on it. Schultz then instructed the Boy Fiend to keep any action-heroes who might arrive busy long enough for him and his men to escape with the loot.

When Superguy arrived, Sinistro incapacitated him by using his micro-mesh, which enveloped the action-hero in an invisible cocoon stronger than steel. The Blue Beetle arrived shortly afterward and struck Sinistro (whom he guessed to be working with the criminals), sending him to the ground. Sinistro recovered after a few moments and retaliated by getting his attention with a pea-shooter and then managed to put him to sleep using dazzling light reflected off a pocket mirror. Next, after spotting the Peacemaker, Sinistro removed his own costume to appear as the normal American teenager Jack Bicci once more. When the action-hero asked him about the situation, Jack led him toward an open manhole, distracting him from seeing it until it was too late. Putting his costume back on, Sinistro again encountered the Green Spider, who had spun a web across the sky to capture the young antihero. The Boy Fiend was able to use psychology to cause the action-hero to collapse into tears and step aside.

Having done his job, Sinistro confronted Schultz, who tried to pay him a very small sum of money for his work as a lookout. Instead, the Boy Fiend laid a trap for the crook by demanding half of the entire amount Schultz robbed from the National Treasury Building. Schultz refused, threatening him with violence, and Sinistro’s comeback was to trip a fire alarm, clogging the streets around the building with fire trucks, effectively preventing the gang’s escape with the loot. When the police arrived to arrest Schultz and his gang, Sinistro attempted to surrender as well but wasn’t taken seriously by the police, who told him to leave. The Boy Fiend returned home, having been unsuccessful in establishing his reputation as a villain.

As indicated by this first outing, Sinistro was generally nothing more than a nuisance at first, targeting these heroes for ridicule as well as other action-heroes, including Thunderbolt and the Question. But his sheer persistence in bedeviling New York’s action-heroes soon had the unexpected effect of uniting the Green Spider, Captain USA, and Superguy into a team of their own. The three super-powered action-heroes decided in early 1968 to form a team without a permanent leader called the Big Guys, inspired by the example of the Big Three of the 1940s. They initially opened up membership of the team to all action-heroes who might be interested, but because of their rather arrogant personalities, they couldn’t convince anyone else to join.

It was all fun and games for Sinistro and the Big Guys until 1973, when Johnny Green, alias the Green Spider, died unexpectedly due to complications with the vita-ray process by which he regained some of the abilities he’d had as a child. Sinistro, Boy Fiend — now no longer a boy at age twenty-two — decided at that moment to finally give up a life of super-villainy. Although he hadn’t been sure that it was the right decision at the time, he’d already begun to outgrow his childish antics by then and yearned for a new challenge for his brilliant analytical mind. Thanks to some powerful friends and a hotshot lawyer, Jack was able to receive full clemency for his antics, since he had never committed any real crimes of his own and could only be charged with aiding and abetting.

Having quit his short-lived career as the so-called Boy Fiend, Jack Bicci went through a time of change, one in which he began seeking out mentors and teachers who could help guide him to a new destiny and help him reinvent himself as an adult. The former Wonder Boy had been the first of many.


From the air in his private jet, Jack Bicci spotted the airstrip at the Munich-Riem Airport in West Germany and arrowed in for a landing. His deft hand brought the plane down as gently as a feather. He rolled it into a rental hangar he had secured over the phone from Florence, then shut the plane down and headed for the small terminal where Wesley Ajax was going to meet him.

Walking with a duffel bag on his shoulder, Jack Bicci — now clad in a tuxedo with an opera cape in a get-up that resembled somewhat his old Sinistro costume — began to feel an old familiar anticipation coursing through his system. There was a weird problem that needed to be solved, and he was the man to do it. The feeling was similar to the way he had felt ten years ago when he began refocusing his energy and brilliant mind toward developing a small high-tech computer software firm out of his basement and then slowly turning that into a huge multinational company. It was strange, he thought to himself. Now that he had accomplished almost all of his goals in the business world, that sense of accomplishment presently eluded him just as it had at the conclusion of his career as Sinistro. Perhaps it was time for a new project.

After a few moments, he spotted his old friend in a waiting room at the airport. Jack Bicci hadn’t seen Wes Ajax for over a decade, and Wesley now had a few more lines, a bit more gray hair, and a smile for the airport clerks that displayed the ease he had with people and his surroundings. You would never have known that he wasn’t even from Earth. “Hello, Wes!” Jack called as he approached.

“Hi, Jack!” said a grinning Wesley Ajax, uneasily standing up with the use of crutches to shake Jack’s hand with a strong grip. Although his superhuman strength had not diminished in the least, the former Wonder Boy’s left leg had been crushed during an alien invasion in 1957, effectively ending his heroic career. “It’s good to see you.”

“Likewise,” said Jack. “You’re looking well, Wes.”

Wesley Ajax led Jack Bicci from the airport to his pickup in the paved lot, moving much faster than a normal man with crutches and one bum leg. “Thanks for coming all this way, Jack,” he said, gesturing for his friend to throw the duffel bag in the bed of the truck.

“So what’s going on, Wes?” Jack said. “You mentioned you were having problems at your ranch.”

“Yeah,” said Wesley. Jack knew that the former Wonder Boy had founded a popular Western-style dude ranch with his wife Sally a few miles out of Munich. Located in Bavaria, the ranch offered a unique experience for the area and was a popular destination for Europeans and homesick Americans alike. “I haven’t seen anything like it. Something is getting at my cattle, and I haven’t been able to stop it. I guess I should be grateful this is happening during the off-season. We don’t have any other visitors staying with us at the moment. Even Sally is away right now, visiting her dad in the States, and I’d rather she not get involved. It could be dangerous.”

“Crazy stuff, huh? Do you know what kind of animal it is?” Jack asked.

“I don’t know,” said Wesley. “It’s getting past the fences and dogs and attacking my cattle in the middle of the night, not leaving anything but remains behind. The bite marks aren’t from any kind of lynx or wolf I ever saw, either.”

“Hmm. Any other predators that could fit the bill?” asked Jack.

Wesley shrugged. “Maybe a really, really hungry bear that’s lost its mind?”

Jack frowned at the information. He knew that any animal that attacked would leave a trail. Then the predator itself would have a recognizable bite mark. He wondered what was really going on.

The two soon reached the ranch, and Jack spent a few minutes examining the scenes of the attacks. He found himself some hours later looking over the evidence he had gathered. So far he could not match any of the tracks that had been left behind, but they did resemble those of a lion. He thought about that as well as the fact that the tracks did simply disappear as Wesley had said. This was a mystery worthy of looking into by the former child prodigy.

Jack stood on the porch, considering his next move. If he could predict when the thing would next attack, he might be able to pursue it back to its lair. The disappearing tracks suggested some kind of flying ability. A winged lion seemed outlandish, but it topped his list of suspects at the moment. A trained winged lion, no less, considering the way it only attacked Wesley’s ranch and none of the other spreads on either side of the site.

A motive had yet to surface in this unwieldy tangle for a human agency, but Jack Bicci felt that there was some intelligence behind all this.

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