The Paragons: Deus Ex Astra, Book 2, Chapter 1: Wonder Boy

by Doc Quantum and Libbylawrence

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On his private star, the Super-Wizard watched as Redstar flew back to the Soviet Union, the Golden Stags of Romania defeated. On another view screen, he saw a group of uniformed commandos led by their instructor, the American action-hero called the Peacemaker, in battle with what appeared to be a fire-breathing dragon in the Swiss Alps. Another view screen displayed a battle throughout Brussels, Belgium, between the gold-and-black-clad agents of Checkmate and a group of earth, water, air, and fire elementals.

The Super-Wizard frowned as he turned away from his view screens to study his crime-detecting scopes. Ever since the end of the Crisis, they had shown him that something was happening in Europe, but whatever it was somehow managed to cloud itself from his instruments. The interstellar crime-fighter could sense that this mysterious source of power was behind the recent rash of ordinary humans turning into gods and powerful beings from myth.

After the scientist from the stars had begun his plan to create a new generation of heroes in Europe, he had discovered that some kind of counter-force was acting against his efforts. He had spent much of his time trying to pinpoint the source of that force, that energy, and after a great deal of work, he had finally managed to narrow down the location to somewhere in the Baltic Sea near Denmark. But a personal inspection of the entire area had revealed nothing, and the Super-Wizard was back to square one.

What was this power hidden from him, and who was behind it? The Super-Wizard was determined to find out. All that was left for him to do at the moment was review his handpicked group of heroes.

In Spain, Rafael Guerra had acted with bravery and skill while using his newfound powers to battle the supposed god Hermes. The Super-Wizard planned to pay a visit to the young hero sometime after his other plans had come to fruition. It was strange, but the ray that he had used to relay the heroic energies of Thunderbunny had somehow also connected him in some way with himself. He wondered how that connection would play out.

In Italy, the new hero known as Il Dardo, or the Dart, had been successfully fighting crime in Rome for a month now. Dr. Lorenzo Puzzini’s desire to make restitution for all of his father’s misdeeds had given him a strong thirst for justice. The Super-Wizard was happy with this successor of the golden age mystery-man, and he knew it was only a matter of time before the Dart would meet the other new heroes of Europe.

In the British Isles, he could see that Jock o’ Kent had been kept very busy by what seemed to be the same forces behind the appearance of the false gods appearing in Spain and elsewhere. The spirit of the wizard hero of British folklore had found new life in a young Welshman named Jock Gruffudd, and Great Britain was benefiting greatly.

He had also discovered that a Scotsman wearing a black lion’s head mask and green fatigues had secretly begun fighting crime in the United Kingdom under the name of the Black Lion. The Super-Wizard was thus pleased to note that new crime-fighters were appearing in Europe even without any efforts on his part.

The Super-Wizard had also watched the scene at the Bavarian ranch owned by the former Wonder Boy. In his research on all the action-heroes of the world and their foes, he had learned of this young genius named Jack Bicci, who had once called himself Sinistro, Boy Fiend. But he had not considered that this former would-be super-villain might ever become a useful player in the Super-Wizard’s plans for Europe. He hoped that Bicci had genuinely turned his back on evil.

There were others throughout Europe not yet ready to meet their destinies, and two of them presently caught his interest. In Austria, young Madeleine Fehr had not tried to transform herself a second time into the powerful feline action-heroine known as Panthera. And in Sweden, Alvar Sundin still pondered the strange pendant around his neck, reluctant to use it to turn into the mighty Thor, god of thunder. But the Super-Wizard knew that they, too, would not fail him when the time was right.

***

On his ranch in Bavaria, Wesley Ajax shook his head in amazement as Jack Bicci told him the story of his encounter with Doctor Diabolique. He smiled slightly as he realized how long it had been since he fought similar weird foes during his own colorful youth as the heroic Wonder Boy.

Although by all outward appearances he was a handsome, slender human male in his mid-forties, he had in fact begun life on the distant planet Viro. His homeworld had been destroyed by a collision with a star, and the boy had apparently been the lone survivor. He was also an amnesiac, remembering nothing about how he was saved, nor even his name. His first true memory came from August, 1951, when the spacecraft he was in crash-landed in the middle of Nome, Alaska, and the boy walked away from the wreckage unharmed. The world had mistakenly believed the spacecraft to be a meteor, and the authorities thought the boy was one of the survivors of the explosion caused by the crash.

The strange boy from another world soon learned of the war in Korea and decided to intervene. He simply leaped into the Pacific Ocean and swam all the way to Asia, not yet realizing that other boys could not perform these feats. In South Korea he met General Douglas MacArthur and became embroiled in a series of events in which he used his great strength against the North Korean armed forces. He soon came to be known as Wonder Boy for his amazing powers, and he led a short but very successful one-boy campaign against the North Koreans until one of the military bigwigs finally ordered him off the battlefield, explaining that the U.S. Army would not allow a little boy to accomplish what the whole of the armed forces could not. He left Korea, disappointed, and the war continued for another two years.

Wonder Boy then began wandering around the world, righting wrongs wherever he found them, but moving on after his job was done, never finding a place to call his own. Finally, fate took a turn for the better in 1954 when he met Professor Benson and his daughter Sally, and Wonder Boy finally found a home for himself. Benson was the father the boy had never had, and Sally quickly became his closest friend.

After a few years, Wonder Boy met other people with strange powers like his own — the original Blue Beetle, Samson, the third Flame, Phantom Lady, the Black Cobra, the Red Rocket, Mister Muscles, Nature Boy, and Yarko the Great. This odd assortment of 1950s super-heroes teamed up only once in 1957 to stop an invasion from another world. It was during this little-known case that Wonder Boy’s left leg was irreparably crushed, leaving him in crutches. Although he retained his full strength and speed in his upper body, he could no longer act as a super-hero. He sometimes wondered what would have happened if he had not been injured and the group of heroes had stayed together as a team. Would world history have taken a different course?

Resigning himself to life as a civilian, Wonder Boy took the human name of Wesley Ajax at Professor Benson’s suggestion. And in 1961, ten years after his arrival on Earth, Wesley and Sally were married. The two purchased an old dairy farm in Bavaria and transformed it into a Western-style theme ranch, capitalizing on the popularity in West Germany of television shows and novels about the Old West. Despite his handicap, Wesley was a hard worker and managed to perform most of the construction himself, using his alien super-strength and super-speed. The two had happily made the Bavarian ranch their home for nearly twenty-five years now. But it had been the birth of their daughter Dona in 1969 after years of trying for a child that was Wesley’s proudest accomplishment.

So much time had passed since his own short heroic career had ended, Wesley pondered. So much had happened in the world. By 1973, he had assumed that the world had forgotten all about Wonder Boy. That was, until he was contacted by a young man named Jack Bicci — the former Sinistro, Boy Fiend — who came seeking guidance and a new direction for his life. Wesley invited him to stay at his ranch in Bavaria for a few months that summer and did what he could to mentor the younger man.

Wearing a dapper tuxedo, opera cape, and domino mask, the young genius calling himself Sinistro, Boy Fiend had easily been able to outsmart all others and create marvelous inventions either from scratch or by adapting inferior devices that already existed. After retiring as the Boy Fiend, Jack had astonished Wesley by his meteoric success story after that time. When he finally put all that raw talent to good use, he made himself a billionaire in the high-tech industry. While Jack had been the one to approach Wesley for mentorship, the older man had in turn grown to greatly admire the young man and his incredible accomplishments in such a short amount of time.

As he sat in his spacious ranch house with his old friend, Wesley could almost believe that no time had passed since their first meeting in 1973. True, Jack Bicci’s youthful good looks had given way to a more mature, chiseled appearance over the last twelve years. But Wesley felt the same sense of pride he had when Jack left the ranch all those years ago as his old protégé casually told him about his recent actions.

“So I managed to get this Doctor Diabolique to move into the path of his own shrinking ray,” Jack explained. “He simply vanished from sight, leaving behind nothing but a few notes about how he’d been given the manticore that attacked your cattle by an unknown individual and learned to train it for his purposes. I’m beginning to think the whole thing was nothing more than a ploy to occupy us, and I suspect our would-be mad scientist had an employer with a larger agenda. I don’t mind telling you, Wes, that I plan to find out more, if at all possible.”

“My time as Wonder Boy ended nearly thirty years ago,” said Wesley, “and I’ve been little more than a simple rancher for nearly a quarter of a century now. Why would some mad genius care about my time or want to occupy me?

“Don’t sell yourself short, Wes,” Jack said. “Despite that bum leg of yours, you’re still stronger than anyone I know, and the fastest swimmer I’ve ever seen. He probably knew you would intervene if you learned of whatever he was trying to distract you from.”

“Could be.”

“He might also have thought to keep me busy,” suggested Jack. “He deduced, logically enough, that if you were faced with an enigma like this, you’d ask for my help. Two birds with one stone.”

“Sure, but you’ve been out of the game for years, too,” said Wesley. “It’s all very strange. Anyway, he must be new to this business if he believed he could fool either of us or scare us off any chase.”

“I’m not so sure about that, Wes,” said Jack. “My research has uncovered some history of Doctor Diabolique. Apparently, a French crime-fighting duo called Baron Cuir and Psyché had fought him on at least three separate occasions over the last decade, and possibly more. He was never captured, and his true identity remains unknown.”

“We have a mystery, indeed,” Wesley said.

Jack Bicci folded his hands together and arched the fingers as if he was making a tent. He said, “Wes, thanks again for calling me here. This whole case has renewed me in ways even my entire business empire never could. I’ve been seriously considering a return to the world of action-heroes, except this time as a crime-fighter. The days of my being ‘Evil’s Own Super-Hero’ are long gone.” He chuckled.

Wesley looked sheepish as he ran one hand through his jet black hair that had gray at the temples and said, “Jack, about the time you and I first met… It was just after you reformed and explained your brief criminal career away as a mixture of genius and boredom gone wrong. I’ve often wondered if there was more to the story. Why would a man like you — a child prodigy with so much going for you — go bad at all? Oh, don’t worry — your actions that followed were enough for me. You redeemed yourself and lent the Sentinels of Justice assistance during a crucial case. No one wanted to even bring up the period in which you were acting like a–”

Jack smiled. “A villain? A rogue? A knave? A super-smart-aleck? You can say anything to me, Wes. I’ve never stopped being thankful for the way you helped me atone for my deeds. Thanks to your help, I was able to put my days as the Boy Fiend behind me and recreate myself as an inventor. Still, the fact that I kept out of the costumed game for years after that made the situation easier. Oh, I explained back then that it was the side-effects of a secret formula I ingested in 1967 that drove me a bit mad, and after a few years, I finally regained my sense of right and wrong.”

Wesley lifted a cup of tea to his lips as he listened to his old friend. “You told me that then. Now, though, you seem to suggest that was not the truth.”

“Let’s just say that it was not the entire truth,” said Jack. “Yes, the formula I ingested did seem to magnify certain instabilities and insecurities that I’d had for years, giving me the courage to don the new identity of Sinistro, Boy Fiend. But I’d already had those problems by that time. You don’t think a youth would work so ceaselessly to become a ‘Boy Fiend’ if he didn’t have issues to begin with, do you? I could say I started to believe my own talk about how awful I thought action-heroes were. I could also say I started feeling as if I was better than the common man who wasted so much time worshipping those heroes. But all I know for sure is that I became bitter and decided that the rules of good and bad no longer applied to a young man like me.”

“You’ve certainly changed, Jack,” remarked Wesley. “Twelve years ago, you might have hidden your true feelings behind a smokescreen about the nature of good and evil.”

Jack laughed. “I no longer hide behind philosophy. I’m a grown-up now, and I’m getting too old to indulge in such a weakness. I admit, Wesley, that I’d simply given in to my inner demons back in 1967. I turned bad, and I’m ashamed of it, and it will never happen again. I’ve undergone a great deal of soul-searching since then, and along the way I’ve even managed to find myself. Now I want to make the most of my time and be what all my peers had expected me to be as a boy. I want to use my skills for good.”

“If there’s anything I can do to help…” began Wesley.

Jack Bicci clasped the older man’s shoulder. “Your friendship and respect mean the world to me, Wes.”

The telephone rang, and the sound broke through the pleasant silence the two old friends were enjoying. “Hello?” said Wesley as he picked up the telephone receiver. “Dona, what’s wrong, honey?” He listened for a moment and said, “This may tie into something else I’ve found out about. Jack Bicci is here. Hold tight, and we’ll be there.” He put the phone down and turned to see Jack wrapping his dark blue cape around his tuxedo.

“I’m guessing your daughter Dona’s had a fright,” said Jack. “She doesn’t scare easily, I’ll wager — not if she’s cut from the same cloth as the former Wonder Boy.”

“Right,” said Wesley. “I should have known you’d figure things out quickly. Will you come with me and see what’s wrong? With Sally visiting her dad in the States until tomorrow evening, I’d appreciate the company.”

“I won’t fail you, Wesley. That’s a promise from Jack Sinistro Bicci.”

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