by Doc Quantum
In a large room like something out of ancient Roman history sat a strange-looking man who looked like nothing less than a Roman centurion. He was called the Son of Vulcan, and this was his special monitoring room on Mount Olympus in the sidereal dimension of the gods. Ever since the conclusion of the Crisis on Infinite Earths months ago, the adoptive son of the Olympian god Vulcan had been known as the Overseer of the World, or the Monitor of Earth-Four. It was up to him and the Monitors of the other remaining parallel universes to ensure that nothing like the Crisis on Infinite Earths would ever happen again.
Despite the fact that he had quickly tired of this role as a mere watcher and had recently even told his patron Vulcan that he wished to pass on his role to another so that he could be in the thick of it once more, the Son of Vulcan continued to do his duty and watch over the whole world for signs of trouble. The mystical cauldrons he employed to monitor the world had been useful in his role, and thanks to the Monitor’s files left in a hidden cache on this world, had a wealth of information at his fingertips on the universe and the world. But even he could not see all.
Lately he had begun fixating his attention on Europe. That great collection of wealthy nations had long been bereft of the kind of action-heroes that protected the United States. Last month, for example, when a giant monster threatened the coast of France, it had been left up to the U.S. hero Captain Atom and the Soviet hero Redstar to put an end to it. (*) None of the European action-heroes extant at the time could have done anything to stop the rampage of destruction that surely would have followed.
[(*) Editor’s note: See Sentinels of Justice: Fantastic Giants, Chapter 1: The First Monster.]
But lately things had begun to change. A new crop of action-heroes had begun to appear all over Europe. Jock o’ Kent and the second Black Lion in the United Kingdom and Il Dardo in Italy were the first, now followed by this powerful new figure in Spain who had not yet taken a name but had bested a powerful man in the guise of the god Mercury. Meanwhile, several otherwise ordinary humans had been transformed into gods and powerful beings. The Son of Vulcan wondered if there was a connection. His monitors had caught glimpses of a large figure making visits in several other places around Europe, and he was sure that more action-heroes would debut in the coming weeks and months because of it. The legendary mystery-man from the stars known as Stardust the Super-Wizard had returned, and he seemed to be empowering individuals to become new action-heroes.
Could the Super-Wizard also be behind the other transformations of ordinary people becoming pseudo-gods? It didn’t seem likely, but the timing of the Super-Wizard’s arrival was too coincidental for the Son of Vulcan, who in his human identity of Johnny Mann had been an investigative reporter for decades.
The Son of Vulcan began to focus his attention on the activities of the Super-Wizard. It was difficult at first to pierce the veil of secrecy that surrounded the interstellar crime-fighter’s observatory headquarters on his star-shaped private asteroid. But with some mystical help from the gods, the Son of Vulcan had managed to see what the Super-Wizard was up to. Remarkably, he seemed to be performing the very same duties that the Son of Vulcan had been doing as the Monitor of Earth-Four. He briefly wondered whether the original Monitor had set up the Super-Wizard as a backup Monitor in case the Son of Vulcan had ever wanted to quit, but just as quickly dismissed the thought from his mind as wishful thinking.
After days of observation, he had begun to take a liking to the Super-Wizard, and he had confirmed that he was not the reason for all the pseudo-gods that had begun appearing around Europe. Furthermore, he had also confirmed that the Super-Wizard had been acting under a plan to redistribute the wealth, so to speak, of super-powers in Europe. After all, the majority of the action-heroes resided in the United States, leaving most of the world unprotected. And the Super-Wizard had made his selections very carefully, choosing only those he was sure would make good action-heroes. The Super-Wizard had quickly gained much respect in Son of Vulcan’s eyes as a man, not just as the interstellar crime-fighter he was.
Despite himself, the Son of Vulcan began wondering whether the Super-Wizard might like to take over his duties as the Monitor. After all, he also possessed both the resources and power to do the job as well as or even better than he.
The Son of Vulcan smiled. He knew he shouldn’t have been smiling at the thought of possibly abandoning his duties to return to the life of a simple action-hero, but knowing that someone just as worthy as he might be able to fill his position as Earth-Four’s Monitor suddenly gave him an unexpected feeling of great joy.
He kept smiling anyway.
Jack Bicci crumpled up the map in frustration. In the Bavarian ranch house, he and Wesley Ajax had been going over the information without any new leads for so long that they were becoming nearly cross-eyed from staring at it.
The former Wonder Boy slapped Jack lightly on the back and said, “Hang in there, Jack. Rome wasn’t built in a day, you know. You want some more coffee? I could put on another pot.”
“No amount of coffee in the world is going to make this information make sense to me,” said Jack. “The most frustrating thing about it is that my instinct tells me it should be fairly simple to figure out, but as soon as I come close, I simply lose focus and can’t see what’s in front of me. A lack of concentration has never been something that’s plagued me, as you well know.”
“You’ve been at this for too long, Jack,” said Wesley. “Maybe we’re looking at it the wrong way. Why don’t we try another avenue of investigation?”
Jack looked up at his old friend and grinned. “By God, you’re right, Wes! It’s just like the process of invention; if you get stuck on one problem, set it aside for a while and tackle another. By the time you finish the new problem, a solution might just present itself for the first one.”
“Exactly,” said Wesley with a grin.
Jack shuffled all the papers on the table into his briefcase and marched for the door. “You coming, Wes?”
The former Wonder Boy grabbed his crutches and said, “Where are we going?”
“To find out who hired Doctor Diabolique!” shouted Jack over his shoulder. “It’s back to the airport, then a quick private flight to Paris.”
Turning back inside for a moment, Wesley shouted upstairs, “Just stepping out for a while, Dona! Should be back in a few hours or so!”
“OK, Dad!” he heard his daughter shout back down to him.
At the Paris branch of Wunderkind International, the Grey Ghost had come up with no leads on the missing computer chips, and he wasn’t happy about it. The only positive note about the experience was that his exit from the building would probably be simpler than his entrance, since he might be able to blend in with the factory workers when they ended their shift.
It began to look as if he’d have to talk to someone in charge to figure out if Wunderkind had anything to do with this case at all. Jack Bicci himself might not be aware of what was happening in his company, but he could find out a lot more quickly than the Grey Ghost could. It was a risk, he knew, but it began to look as if seeking out the elusive Jacopo Sinistro Bicci might be his next step.
The only problem, he knew, was that Bicci was rarely in Paris. He would have to track down wherever the boy genius was at the present moment. It wouldn’t be the first time he’d be on the hunt, though this was wealthier game than he was used to.
The Son of Vulcan materialized in the orbiting craft shaped like a stylized star and looked around. He had decided that it was past time for him to meet the man whose handiwork he’d been watching since the Crisis. He needed to know for sure what his motivations were.
As he silently mused to himself, a voice from behind him said, “Greetings, John Mann.”
The Son of Vulcan turned and saw the Super-Wizard standing there. He was even taller and more impressive in person. “You know my name, and I obviously know who you are. Can you guess why I’ve come?”
“I need not guess; I know you’re here to ask about the many things that are occurring on Earth, and what my role might be,” the Super-Wizard replied. “But I know you’re here for another reason, though you haven’t openly admitted it to yourself just yet.”
“What do you mean by that?” Mann said, visibly confused.
The Super-Wizard looked at his new ally and replied, “We can discuss this later, for there is little time to act, and act you must. It’s time to gather my chosen ones and defeat the enemy who is slowly but surely beginning to conquer the globe. Once Europe is overrun, the rest of the world won’t stand a chance at stopping him.”
“And why haven’t I heard about any of this?” the Son of Vulcan said, desperately trying to figure things out. “I’m this world’s monitor, the Overseer of the World, made so by the gods themselves. Why don’t I have the answer already?”
“The reason will become evident after the menace has passed, John Mann,” the Super-Wizard replied, “but it may have something to do with your connection to those very gods. It makes you particularly vulnerable to the menace on Earth, yet also allows you to be particularly attuned. But none of that matters just now, for you must act!”
“You may be right, but there’s only one way to get the true story,” said the Son of Vulcan, sounding more like journalist Johnny Mann. “I must return to Earth.”
“You cannot go until you know what to do.”
The Son of Vulcan faced the taller Super-Wizard and said, “I’m all ears. What could you possibly know that I’m supposed to do?”
“You must give up your role as the Overseer of the World,” said the Super-Wizard. “You must become an action-hero again.”
Johnny Mann was taken aback by this. “Is that all you had to tell me?” he said forcefully.
“Yes. At least, that is the first step.”
As the Super-Wizard stared at the Son of Vulcan, John Mann didn’t know what to think. This being seemed to know his innermost wish, but that couldn’t be possible. Besides the gods on Mount Olympus, he’d never shared his thoughts with anyone, not even his fellow action-heroes in the Sentinels of Justice.
“All right,” the Son of Vulcan said, the words coming from his mouth before he even realized what he was saying. “I’ll do it. I’ll give it up.”
“Very well,” said the Super-Wizard in a serious tone. “Then I will take that burden from you. In truth, that burden was always mine to bear.”
“I wanted to go back to being just an action-hero again, anyway,” John Mann said with a smile. “I’ll go back to Earth and stop that menace myself.”
“That will prove impossible, John Mann. As I told you, you must gather my chosen ones; only they can put a stop to this threat. And until you have fully given up your role as Earth’s monitor, you cannot directly battle it yourself. It will take some time to get your affairs in order with the Olympian gods before you can truly return to your old role. I’m willing to help you with this adjustment period, but it will take some months. For now, you must work through proxies.”
A confused look passed over Mann’s face. “Super-Wizard, as an action-hero I usually just use my fists and the weapons provided to me by Vulcan to bash crooks. To tell you the truth, I never needed to put much thought into it. Only in the past few months have I become used to being able to find out anything that I need to know for any situation. I don’t like being in the dark. So I’m telling you now, I need to know exactly what I should do.”
The Super-Wizard took a deep breath and said, “The enemy has hidden himself from me as well, but my chosen ones while under your direction will know how to track him down. I have a list. Gather them in this order, and you will find out what to do. I cannot tell you any more than that.”
“Then let’s have it,” said John Mann.