“I want you all to relax. Picture your favorite place. Perhaps you are sitting under a grand old tree, and a gentle breeze is whispering in the leaves above. You could be in a crystal blue pool by a beach of white sand. It doesn’t matter where you are in your mind, as long as you feel soothed and nurtured.”
The words came in a honey-toned voice from a beautiful woman with long, tawny blonde hair and a bronzed, fit figure. Wearing a white halter top with matching shorts, she smiled winningly as she sat in the lotus position.
As she concluded her fitness television show, and the taping ended, Debbie Huston stifled a yawn, then grinned sheepishly as the cameraman laughed loudly. “What’s wrong, Debbie?” he said with a smile on his rugged face. “Did you get so relaxed that you fell asleep?”
The fitness queen covered her face in mock shame and said, “I can’t fool you, can I, Rocky?”
The cameraman smiled back with pleasure. Rocky Green was very fond of the young woman whose fitness tapes and accessories had made her very name a global brand in the market of health and exercise products. Debbie’s a great kid, he thought. She’s got looks, brains, and money, but acts like the girl next door. Her fame and success hasn’t spoiled her one bit. He recalled with a chuckle how her gift of homemade fiber-bars on his wife’s last birthday had been very thoughtful, if rather bland-tasting. Still, it was the personal warmth that made Debbie Huston a special girl even off camera.
As the tawny blonde girl hurried to her dressing room to change for a second taping of one of her aerobics specials, she stopped by her desk and answered a ringing phone. “Deb Huston speaking,” she said. “Have a great morning.”
“It’s not a great morning. It’s a bad one, and it may be the start of an even worse month.” The voice on the phone was well-known to the fitness princess, as she was often called in the press.
“Mr. Steel,” she said. “I’m betting you’d like me to help out with something. Am I right?”
Sarge Steel was a top government agent who had risen from a rank-and-file CIA agent to his current role as head of the superhuman-focused secret agency known as Checkmate. He had personally selected the former world-class athlete during her teen years to train as an agent of CHESS, the larger organization in which Checkmate was its superhuman division. After the Crisis on Infinite Earths, he came back to ask her to fill a position that he thought was vital, offering Debbie Huston the chance to become a real action-heroine as the woman called Guardian. She was the second individual to have that name. An obscure action-hero called Guardian had been active only a few years earlier. (*) In reality, he was one of Sarge Steel’s agents and had died during the Crisis on Infinite Earths. Steel had assured Debbie that the original Guardian would have been honored that she was carrying on his heroic name, even if he was largely forgotten.
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Tale of a Guardian,” Charlton Bullseye v2 #4 (November, 1981).]
Now, Debbie listened to his story, and a sad look came into her normally dancing eyes. “Oh, no!” she said. “That poor, sweet man! I’m on the way.” She put down the phone and said, “I can’t tape the Dancer-cise Diva special today,” she said. “A family matter requires my attention.”
She smiled ruefully as she recalled her earlier words to her audience: “I want you all to relax.” There would be no time for rest for Guardian, since a killer was loose, and Sarge Steel had made it all too clear of how very personal the crime was to the young heroine.
Later, as Guardian, Debbie Huston gazed sadly at the shattered remains of a charred and broken home. “Such a loss,” she said softly. “Grandpa always told me how much Mr. O’Donnell loved this house.”
She wore a red and light blue costume with a domino mask and a tiara, gloves, and stylized belt. Her superhuman powers came from these three accessories. They had once been used by a small team of three heroes primarily active twenty years ago, but the owners had retired and had given the inventions to Sarge Steel after the perils of the Crisis helped them see that the lives of action-heroes were not what any of them truly wanted.
Sarge Steel had trained Debbie in various skills, as had her grandfather and some of his friends. She had originally been brought to CHESS when she was a teen, though she had only been sponsored by the agency in an informal and unofficial manner. Steel had explained that she was being groomed for potential future use, and that use had come about when she, as an adult, had accepted the tiara, belt, and gloves and officially became Guardian. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See Sentinels of Justice: Superpowers, Chapter 10: Sentinels Reborn.]
Now, Guardian used the super-strength the gloves granted her to lift a large brick wall off the doorway. She concentrated and allowed the telekinesis the tiara gave her to mentally move other areas of rubble with a gentleness the gloves would not allow her to use with as much precision.
“I’m not a scientist, but based on what I’ve seen of superhuman types during my time as a member of the Sentinels of Justice or merely watching Grampa’s friends when I was a girl, I’d say this destruction was deliberately caused by someone with a lot of raw power. Not only did the attacker have super-strength, but he or she could generate temperature extremes, too!” She sighed as she looked over so many broken or charred items that had clearly once given their late owner so much pleasure.
“It’s a travesty!” cried an old man.
She whirled to see an old man with heavy wrinkles and shaggy gray hair. He looked like any ordinary senior citizen, except for one thing. He was hovering in the air.
“Gramps! Get down here. You don’t want to give away Mr. O’Donnell’s secret! I mean, the media might not have to learn that he was a mystery-man when he was younger!”
Bill Powers nodded sadly and lowered himself to the ground. “I know. I’m acting like a young idiot. But I had to get here. I didn’t want to wait on normal avenues of travel. I just grabbed the costume and flew here.”
She hugged him and led her grandfather to the back of the ruins. No one could see or hear them there. “Grandpa, no offense, but I didn’t think the old costume would even fit you anymore!” said Guardian.
Bill Powers smiled slightly and said, “You calling me a fat old man? Well, I am a fat old man. Why beat around the bush with it? Still, the old suit didn’t have to be strictly regulation to do the job! See?” He held open his trenchcoat to reveal the red, white, and blue costume of the mystery-man known as the Eagle, which had several deep cuts along the arms and waist. (*) “Beneath this coat, who’s going to know I had to put in some extra breathing room?” he said. “I mean, your grandmother used to do the same thing with her old clothes!”
[(*) Editor’s note: See The Eagle, Science Comics #1 (February, 1940).]
Guardian smiled as she thought of her late grandmother. Debbie had been raised by Bill and Mary Powers and had never known her parents, since they had died in a plane crash when she had been a baby. “Grandpa, I’m so sorry about Mr. O’Donnell,” she said. “I never really met him, did I? He wasn’t one of the ones who visited you, was he?”
“Nope,” said Bill. “When I was the Eagle, and Jim O’Donnell was the Banshee, we only teamed up a few times to take down some costumed yahoos, but he saved my life. That’s why I felt I had to come here out of respect to his memory.”
“Sarge Steel called me in,” Guardian explained. “Gramps, Jim O’Donnell isn’t the only former mystery-man to be murdered in the last few weeks. In Africa, of all places, someone killed an old lady named Jane Dodge.”
Bill shook his head. “I’ve never heard of her. The only jungle heroine I ever knew was a real glamor girl called Purple Tigress. Her real name was Ann Morgan, if I recall correctly. It was the craziest thing. The gal wore a purple-striped swimsuit — two-piece number — and no mask, but folks still never recognized her as the Tigress. I guess they were too busy looking elsewhere to pay mind to her face! It was different back in the ’40s. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Who is the Purple Tigress?” All Good Comics v1 (1944).]
“Take Jim O’Donnell, for example — the Banshee. He was an Irish immigrant who had no powers. He just wore a blue body-suit and wrapped this wispy gauze over his face and around his head, and made his entrance with a blood-curdling banshee wail! (*) I always thought it was a shame that that crook who called himself the Banshee and fought the Question a few times took that name. (*) Hardly anyone even remembers the original Banshee anymore. Still, back in our day, he got the job done. Let me tell you — once, when I was about to be dropped in acid by a goon working for this mad genius, ol’ Jim dropped in through a skylight, and…” He stopped as he heard a noise. “Someone’s coming!”
[(*) Editor’s note: See The Banshee, Fantastic Comics #21 (August, 1941) and The Question, Blue Beetle v4 #2 (August, 1967).]
Guardian jumped forward and stood protectively in front of her grandfather. His days as the crime-busting Eagle were long past, and she wouldn’t risk his safety for anything. “Come on out!” she called. “I hear you!”
A furtive figure ran out of the remains of a storage shed and headed for the woods nearby. Guardian considered creating a telekinetic wall of force but dropped the idea in mid-flight. I can’t let him break his neck by putting up that kind of unseen barrier, she thought. I’d better rely on my more physical talents.
She flew over the house via her flight belt and dropped down to tackle the shadowy fugitive. “Calm down! I won’t hurt you!” she said as the figure in her arms struggled and kicked, fighting like a wildcat.
“Hurt me? Don’t flatter yourself, Action Barbie!” shouted the smaller woman in her arms.
Guardian exerted a bit of super-strength and pinned the girl to the ground. “I’m Guardian,” she said in a soothing manner. “Who are you? You don’t need to fear me.”
The girl on the ground laughed harshly and sneered up at her with a look of contempt. “Action Barbie, you don’t scare me,” she said. “I’ve been on the street. I know more about life than you’ve ever imagined back in your Justice Squad Dream House! Now, let me up. I’m not interested in tall blonds unless they look like Sting.”
Guardian released the teenager and started to help the girl get to her feet, but she pulled away and stepped back to stare at the heroine with a look of disgust. “Again I ask — who are you? This is a crime scene!” said Guardian.
The girl had short dark hair with bangs, an athletic figure, and a very pretty face, in spite of her hostile manner. “OK, OK. I get the message, power pretty. It also happened to be the home of the only person who ever treated me with any kindness. My name is Kimber Buchanan. My grandfather was the owner of this house.”
Bill Powers stepped forward and cried out, “You’re Jim’s daughter’s girl! I’d heard about your mother’s death. I know Jim tried everything he could to find you when you ran away.”
Kimber started to cry, then roughly wiped one hand across her brown eyes. “I never knew my father. My mother was an addict. She was no good. She dumped me here when I was ten. Jim O’Donnell took me in, but I was a real brat back then. I ran away when I turned fifteen. I’m sorry now that I did. I never meant to hurt him; he was good to me. After I heard about the fire, I got on the bus and came straight here.”
“Your grandfather was a fine man,” said Bill. “He was a buddy of mine during the war.”
“Which one were you?” asked Kimber.
“Listen, I think we’d better take you somewhere and get you something to eat,” said Guardian. “You look starved.”
Kimber smiled and said, “C’mon, which one were you? Green Mask? The Dart? I know you weren’t the Bouncer!”
Bill Powers grinned and said, “I was the Eagle. Ever heard of me?”
“Sure!” said Kimber. “You were one of the big ones. You and the Blue Beetle, Cat-Man, and Yarko the Great. Why don’t you and I ditch blonde beauty here and talk things over. Anybody who was a friend of my grandfather is aces in my book.”
Bill winked at her and said, “Nope. Ace Barlow was Amazing Boy, sidekick to the Dart! He was a real Rip Van Winkle type from ancient Rome who slept for over two thousand years to awake in the present, only to become a mystery-man. (*) Your grandfather probably never met him.”
[(*) Editor’s note: See The Dart, Weird Comics #5 (August, 1940).]
Kimber smiled broadly and said, “I like you! You got my grandpa’s kind of humor.”
“You knew your grandfather was a mystery-man during the ’40s,” said Guardian. “Do you also know that someone has been killing mystery-men from that era? Jane Dodge, AKA Rulah, Jungle Goddess, was murdered in Africa. (*) Jim Andrews, the original Dynamo, was found in his car — the whole vehicle had been smashed to scrap. For all we know, there may be other former mystery-men from the ’40s who have been killed, but since their identities weren’t known to the government, no one connected their murders to the fact that they were once costumed champions.”
[(*) Editor’s note: See Rulah Jungle Goddess, Zoot Comics #7 (June, 1947).]
Kimber looked shaken and said, “I didn’t know. I thought maybe it was some freak accident. I want the killer to pay! I did my grandfather wrong when he was alive, but I won’t fail him now!”
“Let’s start over,” said the action-heroine. “Kimber Buchanan, I’m Guardian. This is Mr. Powers. We want to find the man or men who killed your grandfather and the others.”
Kimber nodded and warily shook hands with the taller woman. “Sorry I mouthed off to you,” she said. “It’s just — I never did think much of pom-pom girl type blondes. Face it, you look like every golden girl pin-up ever printed!”
Guardian smiled and said, “Well, I do work out a lot.”
They led the angry young girl away from the ruins of the only home she had ever known, and Debbie Huston vowed once more to find the killer.