Later, Guardian sat across from her grandfather and Kimber Buchanan in a fast-food restaurant as the teenaged granddaughter of the original Banshee munched on a hamburger.
“Mmm… This is great!” Kimber said, speaking between bites. “I thought I’d die on the bus ride. I didn’t have enough money for a ticket and lunch, too.”
“Do you have any idea who would want to harm Jim?” asked Bill Powers. “I know he had a shorter career than I did, and he stayed mostly around his home turf on the coast. He also didn’t seem to run into many big-name villains, except the Scorpion. My time as the Eagle was a bit longer. I got into costume originally back at the tail-end of 1939, and I was glad to be a founding member of the Mystery Men of America just after Pearl Harbor, in early ’42. Most of my adventures after that was with the team, until I was drafted in ’43 as plain old Bill Powers. I packed away my flying gear and finished out the war in the Navy, of all places. After that, I married and took an engineering job.
“I never suited up again, though I was sorely tempted to help Jerry Steele form his new team back in 1966. Ol’ Jerry was a patriotic hero known variously as U.S. Jones and as V-Man. (*) He tried to start a new team like the Mystery Men in the mid-’60s with a few next-generation heroes and a few of us old-timers from the ’40s. It would have been called the Action Heroes. But the idea fell flat. It wouldn’t be for another couple of years until the Sentinels of Justice was formed. Anyway, by then I had a family to take care of, and being a hero was a young man’s job.”
[(*) Editor’s note: See U.S. Jones, Wonderworld Comics #28 (August, 1941) and “V-Boys Fight to Win,” V…- Comics #1 (January, 1942).]
“My grandfather didn’t talk much about being the Banshee,” said Kimber. “I stumbled on his old clippings when I first moved in with him. I think he was pleased I was curious about the old heroes he used to know. I had no idea that he actually knew the Eagle himself!”
“Young lady, you may just turn my graying head!” said Bill.
Kimber grinned and said, “Seriously, dude, I admire you very much. You may not have been in costume as long as some, but you were the man who saved FDR from the Aryan Assassin! That’s in all the history books!”
“The Aryan Assassin!” said Bill. “Now there was a real threat! He was as strong as ten men. Tossed me right across the Oval Office like I was made of feathers!”
Guardian found herself torn between enjoying her grandfather’s animated state and feeling a bit jealous that he was showing the runaway so much attention. She shook her head and thought, Grow up, Deb. She’s just a kid. Hard beyond her years, but still a kid in need of help. Gramps sees old Jim in her.
“When I was little,” said Kimber, “I found a bunch of clippings about the old mystery-men like Eagle, Banshee, Yarko, Cat-Man, and Blue Beetle, and I developed a real crush on Yarko the Great! Now it seems silly to say that! What is the guy — eighty by now?”
“I know him,” said Guardian. “I also know his son, Amon the Invincible, whom some believe to be the reincarnation of an ancient Egyptian prince named Amenhotep.”
“Maybe you could stop the killer by baiting a trap,” suggested Kimber.
“Yeah!” said Bill. “I could be a target! When he comes for me, we could nab him!”
“Mr. Powers, I don’t think that’s wise at all,” said Guardian. “Very few people know you were the Eagle. Why put yourself at risk by making that known?”
“You got a point there, darling,” said Bill, sighing. “But how did the killer learn Jim was Banshee? I know Jim never told his secret to any of us except for me and Red Robbins.” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See Red Robbins, All Top Comics v1 (1944).]
“Red Robbins?” asked Guardian. “I’ve never heard of him. Could you help me get the addresses of the surviving heroes from the ’40s? You must know the rest of the membership of the Mystery Men of America, plus several other independent heroes. It’s a shame the Mystery Men didn’t have more than a few members at a time.”
“Most of us back then worked solo or in small teams,” said Bill with a shrug. “A lot of us, myself included, also had kid sidekicks. And then some of them — guys with real muscle like the Blue Beetle, Green Mask, or Samson — were so tough that they didn’t really need a bunch of masked acrobats getting in their way. The Mystery Men of America were lucky to have them. But there were so many back then, and almost all of ’em had short-lived careers. I can only think of a few off the top of my head. The Bird Man died in ’45. (*) Black Lion — the original one, not that Scottish bloke — was killed in Korea, of all places. (*) The Dart and Amazing Boy are both alive, but young Ace Barlow broke his mentor’s heart by refusing to take his place as a second Dart, and the boy went into business for himself. I think Mark Wheeler, the original Dart, is bad off these days and living in modern-day Rome. Bad ticker. I’m not sure what connection, if any, that new Italian Dart has to Mark. I tell you, the Sentinels ought to take a look into that European team the Paragons sometime. With all the new versions of old heroes in that team, such as a new Black Lion, Dart, Thor, and even a new Stardust, I wouldn’t be surprised if a new Eagle eventually showed up as a member!” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See The Bird Man, Weird Comics #1 (April, 1940), The Black Lion and the Cub, Wonderworld Comics #21 (January, 1941), and The Paragons: Deus Ex Astra, Book 1: Visitations.]
“That brings up a good point,” said Kimber. “Why didn’t you pass your role of Eagle on to Mighty Babe, here? I can tell you two are family.”
“Would you stop calling me things like Power Pretty and Mighty Babe?!” demanded Guardian. “You make me sound like some exotic dancer!”
“I trust the kid,” Bill said to Guardian. “I’ve got the instinct. We can trust her. The truth is, I never gave the Eagle a thought after I was drafted. It was like that costume was part of my past, and I didn’t need to dwell on it. I guess you could say Debbie, here, is carrying on for me in her on way. That flight belt of hers is not that different from my flying gear in terms of its basic design.”
“Debbie? You’re Debbie Huston!” said Kimber. “I feel like I should be doing rhythmic high kicks or something!”
“Keep your voice down!” warned Guardian. “We may be in a Burger Club, but I don’t want my name to be public knowledge.”
Bill laughed and said, “Honey, you’ve got to trust the kid. She’s Jim’s grandchild. You and she have a lot in common!”
“I won’t be bragging about this to my pals,” said Kimber. “We turn the sound down and say nasty remarks when your show is on.”
“If you’re done insulting me, let’s get back to the topic, shall we?” said Guardian. “Who would have wanted your grandfather and the others dead? Who has the means to achieve that goal? Who knew their secrets? And who are the other potential targets?”
“How about Blue Beetle and Yarko the Great?” suggested Kimber.
“The original Blue Beetle is dead, supposedly, though I’ve heard strange rumors about him not only living into the present but remaining a young man,” said Guardian, shaking her head. “The current Beetle’s with the team on some case. Yarko is on some other-dimensional plane with his family — their idea of a family vacation.”
“I can get the address for the Dart and Amazing Boy,” said Bill. “As for Red Robbins, he lives up in New York. John Perry owns the Daily Clarion in Converse City; he worked at that newspaper as a gossip columnist back when he was the original Black Fury — not to be confused with the famous horse from the Old West, of course, or that new fellow who popped up over a year ago in Crown City.” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See Black Fury, Fantastic Comics #17 (April, 1941), “The Saddle Tramp,” Black Fury #1 (May, 1955), and Sentinels of Justice: The Calm Before the Storm, Chapter 4: The Question.]
“Steel gave me the names of a couple of others,” said Guardian. “I don’t want you left alone, though. You could be a target, too. If our mystery man knew the secrets of a diverse group like Rulah, Dynamo, and Banshee, he might have learned yours as well.”
“I could watch your back,” said Kimber. “My gramps is gone. I know you’d like to be there for the service. Maybe we could stay together for now.”
“I have plenty of room at my house,” said Bill with a grin. “You’re welcome to come back with me until you get your plans made.”
“Thanks,” said Kimber. “Thanks, both of you!”
“OK, but just in case, keep this signal device,” said Guardian. “It will alert me if you need help.” She handed a black and yellow, square metal object to Bill and said, “Just push the big yellow button if you need help.”
As the old man grumbled but accepted the device, the yellow button seemed to wink at Guardian before returning to normal. I owe you one, Shape, she thought. Thank goodness I was able to contact the Shape. That artificial man can guard my stubborn old grandfather without him ever learning that the signal device is really a form-altering action-hero pal of mine. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s the Shape,” Charlton Premiere #1 (September, 1967).]
Standing up, she said, “Kimber, I’ll find the killer. You can trust me.”
“Thanks. I know I can rely on you,” said Kimber. “I mean, you have buns of steel!”
“Shut up,” growled Guardian, “or I’ll choke you with a leg warmer!”
Guardian combined the information her grandfather provided with some files from Checkmate and swiftly located the nearest former mystery-man. Red Robbins had never truly strayed very far from the Harlem neighborhood in which he had so often worked as a young man in the ’40s. Now he lived above a small office that also served as his workplace as a social worker. The former hero was still physically vital, and his athletic physique and tanned features contrasted with his stark white hair, which was thick and wavy.
“Mr. Robbins, I’m honored to meet you,” said Guardian. “I only wish I was here for a more pleasant reason.”
Red smiled and said, “I’m afraid when costumes types gather together, it’s inevitably because of some kind of crisis. That’s almost an unwritten rule of the trade. In fact, the thing that led so many mystery-men to suit up in the beginning was a little thing called World War II, even if it took a couple of years for us Americans to get involved. As for myself, I didn’t gain my super-speed until a few years later, in ’44.”
“I’m afraid you might be a target,” explained Guardian. “I mean, you don’t have a secret identity. You even have your name on the office door.”
“Miss, I’ve fought for justice in one way or another on these streets for so long that I’d feel lost if I relocated,” Red began. “I like to think that using my experience and the resources of a good staff enables me to continue that mission, even if it only involves finding food or work or medical care for those folks around these parts who need a hand.”
“Forgive me for being forward, sir, but do you still have your old powers?” asked Guardian.
Before she could blink, she found herself sitting in a chair with a steaming cup of coffee and a doughnut before her.
Red smiled and said, “Does that answer your question? I thought I might pick you up a little snack from this swell little diner I like. It’s in Jersey!”
Guardian smiled back and said, “Your super-speed is as impressive as it ever was, or so I should imagine.”
“Actually, I’m much slower than I used to be,” Red admitted. “Plus, I’m out of practice, though I still jog each morning, of course.”
A middle-aged black man appearing to be in his fifties or so came inside and said, “Oh, sorry, Red. Didn’t know you had company.”
“Pull up a chair, Speed,” said Red. “This concerns you, too. The lady in the blue tights is Guardian. She fears we old warhorses might be targets for someone who is killing old mystery-men.”
“I’m Sam Karr, though Red still calls me Speed sometimes,” he said as he sat down. “It was an ironic nickname originally; I wasn’t very quick on my feet when I was a kid. In fact, Red used to joke that I was the slowest man on Earth.” (*) He laughed and extended his hand. “Pleased to meet you, Guardian.”
[(*) Editor’s note: See Red Robbins, All Good Comics v1 (1944).]
Guardian shook Sam’s hand and replied, “You were Red’s partner when you were a boy. I read about you on my way here.”
“I still am his partner,” said Sam. “In fact, my wife Gloria works with us, too. I owe everything I have to Red. He mentored me when I was a kid, and he introduced me to my wife when he hired her to work here.”
“Sam is being modest,” said Red. “He saved my life on more than one occasion. A man couldn’t ask for a better partner and friend!”
“Forgive me for being so direct, but I’m impressed with your story,” said Guardian. “Back in the ’40s, people had different ideas about race, and yet you not only made a young black man your sidekick, but you worked actively as a white hero in a predominantly black community.”
“People are people in God’s eyes,” said Red. “My father raised me to believe that you don’t judge people by the color of their skin. Maybe my attitude was ahead of its time back in the ’40s, but personally, I’ve always considered it common sense.”
“Red’s a hero in more ways than one,” said Sam. “Running fast is the least of his worthy qualities.”
At that moment, a blur raced into the office and scattered papers everywhere until Red and Sam caught them in midair at super-speed.
“You have super-speed, too!” gasped Guardian.
Sam grinned and said, “Yes, I do. Red gave me that gift when I reached adulthood. He didn’t figure his formula would be healthy for a kid who was still growing. Believe it or not, it takes two men with super-speed to handle everything that comes up in this area. Gangs are a real problem. Speaking of trouble…”
He turned to face the third male who had caused the disturbance by his super-swift entrance. He was a teenager with a handsome face and a good build who looked like a younger version of Sam Karr.
“Michael Karr, what have I told you about racing inside a building at super-speed?” demanded the elder Karr.
Michael shrugged sheepishly and said, “Sorry, Dad. Don’t go all Cosby on me. I was just excited. Some of the kids at school heard that one of the Sentinels of Justice was here.”
Guardian smiled winningly and said, “I’m Guardian. You must be Sam’s son.”
“Yeah, I am,” said Michael. “Man, this rocks. I never thought I’d meet a real action-hero!” A moment later he slapped his head with one palm and said, “Sorry, Uncle Red. Sorry, Dad. I guess my mouth is super-fast, too! I didn’t mean you guys weren’t heroes. I just meant–!”
Red laughed and said, “We understand. Michael, this lady would impress anyone!”
“Michael, you also have super-speed,” remarked Guardian. “Does anyone else? I mean, how many people here have that kind of power?”
Sam winked at Red and said, “I think she’s thinking we gave the whole neighborhood super-speed!”
“No, miss,” said Red. “Sam and I have the power. Mike, here, inherited it from Sam by some fluke, even though acquired abilities aren’t normally passed on down the generations. That may mean that he’ll be faster than either of us ever was, once he finishes growing up.”
Suddenly, a crash shook the office, and the foursome raced outside to see a startling sight as flames began to engulf the office from two sides.
“Great guns!” cried Red. “Mike, clear the folks out! Sam and I will smother the fire!”
Red Robbins and Speed Karr raced into blindingly fast action and created matching whirlwinds that robbed the fires of oxygen and slowly contained them. Mike Karr carried residents out at super-speed as well, while Guardian dived under a falling beam and used her super-strength to hold it up so others could flee.
Red returned, as did the other speedsters. “No sign of the cause,” he said. “It was like a bolt from the blue!”
“The office building isn’t burning, but it’s badly damaged,” said Speed. “I think the roof is going to collapse!”
“We can’t let that happen!” said Red. “It could take out the whole block if it fell the wrong way!”
Mike yelped, “There’s no right way!”
“I’ll handle it!” said Guardian. She ordered them back, and when they hesitated, she snapped, “You did your part! Trust me to do mine!”
Guardian placed both hands against the outer wall of the crumbling building and concentrated. I can hold the building up, but I can’t keep it from falling apart inside! she thought. As she glanced left and right and realized the enormity of the situation. I can’t let go! The weight is no problem, but it’s so badly damaged that it isn’t going to stay together! If it collapses left or right, it will bring down the neighboring structure! Am I really just an Action Barbie, like Kimber said? I guess I’m about to find out if I do more than just fill a pair of tights. This would make some workout tape, Debbie!
As the building began to crumble above her, Guardian exerted her telekinetic force as well as her super-strength. Got to contain the brick and rubble! she thought.
As Red and Speed watched in horror, the entire building collapsed, but the falling rubble remained confined in an unseen field that prevented it from going left or right.
When the smoke cleared, the ruined building was down, but it had fallen in an impossibly neat pile, leaving the neighboring buildings safe.
“Where’s Guardian?” yelled Mike.
“I think she’s buried underneath!” said Red.
Speed whispered a prayer as they rushed closer to the scene.
“She didn’t get out!” said Mike.
“She could have flown off, but she stayed to save the block!” said Red. “That was one brave girl!”
“Look!” cried Speed, pointing to the rubble as it shifted slowly and parted to reveal the Guardian. She was curled up in a fetal position directly beneath the rubble.
“I shielded myself with my TK force-field, and I’ve lifted the rubble,” she said through clenched teeth. “But I can’t fly out before it drops down. Can one of you give me a hand?”
Red and Speed agreed readily as they ordered Mike to stay back. “On the count of three, drop the field!” said Speed. “We’ll do the rest!”
Guardian obeyed, and in the blink of an eye, she was safely out from under the rubble over Speed’s shoulder. “That was close!” he said.
Guardian nodded and said, “Thank you, all.”
“No, thank you!” said Red. “You saved my home! We can rebuild easily enough.”
“That must have been the attack you were talking about,” said Speed. “I never saw a thing.”
“I did!” said Mike. “When I ran over from school, I saw two costumed figures. I thought they were with Guardian, and I got so excited I forgot to mention it!”
Speed put an arm around his son and said, “Mike, son, tell me what they looked like.”
“One was a man in a red and gold costume,” said Mike. “The part over his head was red. His cape was red. The rest of his costume was yellow.”
Red and Speed exchanged worried looks. “Mike, was the second figure a woman with long brown hair?” asked Red. “She wore a brief red mask that left her head and hair exposed, and a gold dress with a short skirt. Her cape and boots were red.”
“Yeah, that’s what she was wearing!” said Mike.
“You recognized them?” asked Guardian. “Are they old foes of yours?”
“I recognize them, all right,” said Red Robbins. “The costumes and the powers fit those of the Flame and Flame Girl! Only they weren’t enemies when we knew them. They were fellow heroes!” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See The Flame, Wonderworld Comics #3 (July, 1939) and The Flame, Wonderworld Comics #30 (October, 1941).]
Guardian gasped in surprise. “Oh, my.”