by Doc Quantum
In Paris, Jack Bicci visited his private office at the local branch of Wunderkind International. There was no better place in the city than his own company headquarters to conduct research. As Jack sat at a computer screen, reading police reports submitted through proprietary software he had programmed himself, Wesley Ajax sat on a couch nearby, sipping a cup of coffee.
“Sorry, old man,” said Jack. “I know this isn’t exactly the excitement I promised, but an investigation like this can be quite dull at times.”
“Oh, don’t mind me,” said Wesley. “It’s good to get away from the ranch once in a while. And since the most excitement I get in a week usually involves some poor tourist falling off his horse at the ranch, this is utterly thrilling. Feels like the old days.”
“Ah,” Jack said finally. “Here it is, the last known whereabouts of Doctor Diabolique. Apparently, he had several lairs across the city that were known to the police. Baron Cuir himself identified most of them and shared his information with the police.”
“Why haven’t they simply raided the places and shut them down?” asked Wesley.
“Oh, the police have done so on a few occasions,” answered Jack. “But Diabolique always managed to elude them. For the remaining known lairs, they approached it a different way by installing wiretapping devices instead.”
“Surveillance — of course,” sighed the former Wonder Boy. “I’m sure they were able to find more evidence against him that way.”
“The police had all the evidence they needed to put Doctor Diabolique himself away for life, but the intelligence they gathered helped them build a case against his various associates as well. But they’ve been sitting on a lot of evidence prior to an arrest.”
“Well, they won’t be arresting anyone now, if the good Doctor is really gone,” said Wesley.
“That’s just it,” noted Jack. “The worst villains never die — they just keep coming back in improbable ways.”
“I think I’ve found it!” said Jack, skimming through a transcript of a conversation Doctor Diabolique had held with one of his criminal associates. “According to this document, our not-so-good Doctor was hired to capture Psyché — Baron Cuir’s crime-fighting partner — during the confusion of the Crisis on Infinite Earths!”
“You’ve got to be kidding!” said Wesley. “And the police have been sitting on this information since then?”
“No. The records show that they’ve been trying to follow up on their leads, but they won’t get very far with them alone,” said Jack. “Not with a character like this one. It looks like they recognized this as well, since they contacted the Dome — that new United Nations agency that is supposed to coordinate action-heroes across the globe — to get in touch with Captain Atom and the Sentinels of Justice about the problem. (*) But the message was rated low priority, so it’s likely the Sentinels don’t know anything about it just yet. That’s bureaucracy for you.”
[(*) Editor’s note: See Sentinels of Justice: Watching the World, Epilogue: The Dome.]
“Who is it?” asked the former Wonder Boy. “Who hired Diabolique?”
“You might have heard his name from watching that documentary on Captain Atom a few years back, when his early cases were declassified,” Jack Bicci explained. “He was one of those space villains that both the Captain and the Sentinels fought a few times in the ’60s and ’70s, but he hasn’t been heard from in nearly ten years. Despite his notoriety, he wasn’t one of those so-called ‘super-villains’ who tried to conquer the world during the Crisis, either, though he easily could have been, along with the likes of the Madmen, Punch and Jewelee, and Doctor Spectro.” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See DC Universe: Crisis on Infinite Earths: The Villain War.]
“Enough with the suspense, Sinistro!” said Wesley, now sitting on the edge of his seat and feeling very much like Dr. Watson to his Sherlock Holmes. “Tell me who this mystery man is!”
“The man who hired Doctor Diabolique to kidnap Psyché, and who subsequently provided him with that manticore of his, is called…”
Drako smiled, knowing he was well on his way to conquering this world before anyone could even realize what was happening. He had thought that acting behind the scenes would be less of a challenge than he wished. After all, he couldn’t even gloat about it to anyone except Psyché herself, and her spirit was too broken for that to be very satisfying. But there was something immensely satisfying about being far more powerful than anyone could guess.
Of course, he also knew that if he had acted openly, as he’d done in the past, he would probably end up being jailed by Captain Atom or one of those damned Sentinels of Justice before too long, just like every other time he’d tried to conquer the world.
That was why Drako had begun to change his tactics after his last defeat a decade ago, and had declined his invitation to participate in the Villain War. He knew that any gains made even by an army of super-villains would eventually be undone by those costumed action-heroes, time and time again. With all those gaudy costumes of theirs, it was as if the villains had targets painted on their chests.
Drako had always been a master planner, and that’s what had allowed him to rise to the status of ruler of his own world. He had been born on a gigantic space ark in the shape of a planetoid after his ancestral world was destroyed by an atomic war. On the surface of the artificial planetoid was a barren wasteland, while inside was its vast scientific civilization, kept powered and warm artificially through the cold of deep space as it traveled away from its original star system. But young Drako was unlike any other in the small colony of peace-lovers. He had plans, and he was ambitious, but most of all he had the patience to wait for his time. With his ingenuity, young Drako slowly moved up in power, gaining more responsibilities and proving himself worthy of them, until he was second-in-command to the old ruler himself.
When the old ruler died, Drako became the new ruler. The first thing he did was frame a political party for plotting to take his life; in the ensuing chaos, he was able to build a new order in which he was the sole arbiter of power. He abolished the senate and all committees, retaining only one old man named Valdar to act as his advisor, an essentially powerless role. And Drako’s plans finally came into fruition.
Drako had grown up hearing tales over subspace radio of a wondrous man of power who had accomplished the conquering of his own world. Ming the Merciless was Drako’s hero, and he even patterned his appearance after that fabled ruler of the mobile planet of Mongo, growing a mustache and beard much like Ming’s. But whereas Ming the Merciless had not succeeded in conquering the planet Earth, Drako would prove worthy of that challenge.
It was his hubris that had been his undoing, Drako now knew. If he had simply held on to his own artificial world instead of getting greedy and trying to conquer a second world too soon, he would still be ruler today, and possibly even on his way to creating an empire that spanned the stars. Instead, he was a man without a world.
He had gotten greedy and had tried to conquer a second world instead of holding on to the world he already had. It began when his artificial planetoid approached the Solar System. Telescopes on Earth were able to spot the mobile world as it approached Pluto and kept moving at an incredible speed, and they had estimated that the heavenly body was in a collision course with Earth itself in as little as two days’ time. Thus, just as when Ming the Merciless had tried to conquer Earth thirty years earlier, the humans sent a champion forward to save their world. Only this time it wasn’t Flash Gordon and his associates in a rocket ship, but a unique man who had been transformed through nuclear fire from an ordinary human being into one able to harness the power of the atom itself: Captain Atom.
Investigating the artificial planetoid, Captain Atom quickly discovered that it was hollow, and using his ability to discorporate his body, he passed through the outer shell to find the civilization within. There the hero of Earth met Drako’s daughter, Celest, and then Drako himself.
Drako explained that he was unable to stop his artificial world from colliding with Earth himself, but with Captain Atom’s help, he could build a gravitational motivator that could decelerate his world without killing all those within. And although old Valdar warned Captain Atom of Drako’s duplicitous nature, the Earth hero nevertheless agreed to go through with the plans, since the fate of two worlds was at stake. Using a list that Drako prepared, Captain Atom rushed at breakneck speed to several places around the Solar System to gather the materials needed to build the device.
Finally, Drako was able to complete his device. But it lacked a power source. That was where Captain Atom himself stepped in. Under Drako’s direction, the Earth hero willingly placed himself at the exact magnetic center of the sphere, where he radiated his internal nuclear power outward. And just as Drako had promised, his device slowed down and finally stopped the artificial planetoid from its fatal trajectory. The populations of two worlds celebrated their continued survival, though the people of Earth would have no idea how it had been accomplished until after Captain Atom’s existence was revealed to the world a short while later.
Unfortunately for Captain Atom, he had not only unwittingly supplied the power Drako needed to keep him captive indefinitely, but had also left the Earth defenseless against Drako’s plans to conquer it. And with Captain Atom’s own vast power under his control, Drako was sure to attain that goal. It was a master stroke that not even Ming the Merciless had been able to accomplish.
But Drako was betrayed by his own daughter, Celest, who shared the same values of peace prized by the simpering people of his artificial world. Captain Atom had instructed her that she could upset the delicate balance of the forces binding him if she could just throw a large object into the energy-field. Drako overheard and forbade her from ever seeing the Earth hero ever again. But Celest had already made up her mind. Before Drako could stop her or Captain Atom could plead for her not to do so, Celest threw herself into the energy-field, sacrificing her life to save two worlds from her father’s rule.
Now freed, Captain Atom rushed forward with his daughter’s lifeless body. In an instant, Drako had lost everything dear to him. He did not resist when Captain Atom took him and placed him in prison. With his spirit completely broken, Drako languished in a dungeon as old Valdar became the new leader of their people. After Valdar vowed to lead his people wisely, Captain Atom left the artificial world and used his mighty power to push it back out of the Solar System and into deep space. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Death Knell of the World,” Captain Atom (Charlton) #80 (May, 1966).]
Of course, Drako eventually escaped his imprisonment with the help of a few loyal followers, and he abandoned his people forever. He half-heartedly attempted to conquer the Earth a few more times, but each time he found his plans thwarted by Captain Atom or his Sentinels of Justice. Finally, he knew he needed to change his approach.
Drako would become the hidden hand that ruled the world instead of its outward ruler. But to do that would take the same kind of patience and planning that had allowed him to become the ruler of his world in the first place. He spent the last decade building a base of power among the nations of Earth, discovering the greed of mankind to be a vast resource he could tap in exchange for promises of allegiance. All he needed to do was share a small amount of his technology with these humans, and they were willing to sell their souls for it. Humans were so tragically easy to manipulate in that way. The secret societies across the globe made his job infinitely easier, since all he needed to do was to bring those at the top under his control, and they would do the work of controlling everyone below them. Only a small minority at the top were even aware of his involvement at all.
He had also found other willing allies who were as alien to this planet as he was. The plans of the Silver Ladies of Venus had likewise been thwarted by Captain Atom, and they had retreated far behind the Iron Curtain. (*) The Soviet Union, which had been rapidly on its way to collapse through corruption and inefficiencies, was propped up by the Silver Ladies and by Drako’s own power and influence. It would not fall until he wished it to.
[(*) Editor’s note: See “A Victory for Venus,” Space Adventures #37 (December, 1960) and “The Silver Lady from Venus,” Space Adventures #42 (October, 1961).]
But back-room deals and political maneuverings could only take him so far. Drako desired a challenge to make his efforts worthwhile. He even secretly hoped for Captain Atom or other action-heroes of Earth to discover his plans, just so he could have some combat and excitement again before retreating back into the shadows where his true power lay.
Nearby, Lucille Michaud struggled again in futility to free herself from her imprison, but she was just as trapped as Captain Atom had once been in Drako’s gravitational motivator. Psyché would not be able to free herself, and there was no one to upset the balance of power that kept her bound.
Drako would soon get the challenge that he wished for.
Jack Bicci and Wesley Ajax ran through the now-empty hallways of the Wunderkind International complex in Paris, frantically searching for something that would help them escape their foes or defeat them in their tracks. Despite his need to use crutches, Wesley still retained his alien super-speed and was able to move more quickly than a normal man. As they entered the huge warehouse adjoining the complex, Jack looked back and heard the sounds of massive destruction behind them before he barricaded the door as securely as possible in the short amount of time he had left.
“What’s happening?!” asked Wesley.
“I can only guess, but I think someone’s not too keen on our discovering who’s behind the mythological menace,” answered Jack.
Moments ago, the former Boy Fiend and the former Wonder Boy had been discussing the possibility of the space villain Drako being responsible for the chaos in Europe over the past several days. But just as Jack finished explaining what he knew of Drako, the two were attacked by a multitude of creatures that stormed his private office and forced him and his old friend to flee for their lives. Jack had only glimpsed them for a second before he bolted into action, but he was sure he spotted a unicorn, a phoenix, a Pegasus, a centaur, a cyclops, and even a dragon amongst all those creatures. Given what they knew about humans being transformed into gods, it was likely that these creatures were all members of his staff. That would explain why neither he nor Wesley had seen any other people on the complex since then.
“Jack, I’ve been out of the game for so long that I’m a bit rusty,” said Wesley. “How about you spell it out for me?”
“This is only a tentative theory, Wes, but I believe we’ve hit upon some kind of safeguard that attacks anyone who comes to close to discovering the truth,” explained Jack as they continued to run through the warehouse. “And that truth is that an alien conquerer named Drako, who’s tried to conquer Earth a few times over the past twenty years, has somehow been able to tap into the mythological realm to create all the gods and monsters he needs to cause chaos over Europe. My guess is that, once Europe is overrun by these mythological creatures, the rest of the world is fair game.”
“So, it was because we guessed that Drako was the one responsible that we were attacked, right?” said Wesley.
“I believe so, yes.”
Wesley Ajax shook his head; in his day he’d seen some strange things, but this was beyond belief. He wished his old pal Nature Boy was still around to help him out. This was more his territory than Wonder Boy’s. But that thought caused his memory to return to the alien invasion of 1957. In flashes of images, he saw death and destruction. He saw familiar heroes, his old friends, dressed in colorful costumes. He saw them all fight valiantly. Then he saw the ship falling toward him, and then nothing but black. When he awoke, his leg had been crushed. But the aliens had been defeated. Now another alien conquerer was trying something similar, just as other aliens had tried to invade Earth in the past. The former Wonder Boy vowed that Drako would be no more successful than any of the others.
“Here we are,” said Jack, reaching a far corner of the warehouse, where a bunch of huge crates had been stacked. “And here’s our salvation, hopefully.” He powered up the nearby forklift and rushed to bring a crate down from a tall stack.
“Are we going to have enough time for that, Jack?” Wesley asked nervously as he heard the sounds of the horde of mythological beasts tearing through the barricaded door before they spilled into the warehouse. The two men would be overrun in mere moments from now.
“Yes,” Jack said with a nod of his head, but he wasn’t too sure of it himself. The forklift moved far too slowly for his liking, and he calculated that it would take too long before the creatures with wings finally reached them. The barricade hadn’t held well enough.
Just as Jack began lowering the crate from the high shelf, the two men were seared by flames shot from a phoenix that was quickly flying toward them. The flying creatures attacked them with rage, forcing Jack to use his mini-jets to fly into the air in an attempt to evade the creatures. Things were not going well for them.
Nearby, a hidden figure watched the two men as they were attacked by the creatures. He watched as Wesley Ajax used his great strength to push over one of the industrial-size pallet racks toward the approaching creatures. Several full pallets of equipment shattered across the floor, pinning some of the creatures beneath the racks and pallets and giving pause to the rest. But it was only a temporary solution.
The man cursed under his breath. Despite doing his best to keep out of the madness that had spread across Europe over the past few weeks, the Grey Ghost would have to become involved in this demented battle against mythological creatures after all.