Guardian, Red Robbins, and Speed Karr had wasted no time after learning that the arsonists had been dressed like former action-heroes the Flame and Flame Girl. Acting on the information Bill Powers and Sarge Steel had given her, Guardian swiftly traveled to the Civic City home of Flame and Flame Girl.
The blonde heroine turned to her super-swift allies and said, “From what I was able to gather, the Flame’s real name is Gary Preston. Flame Girl is his wife, Linda Dale Preston. Why they would try to kill two former allies is the big question. I think we may assume their flame-generation powers caused the fires that killed Banshee and Rulah as well.”
“They were in some cult,” said Speed. “Maybe their minds finally snapped!”
“It wasn’t what I’d call a cult, Speed,” said Red. “Gary Preston was raised by an order in Tibet. Those monks or wise men taught him to mentally raise his physical abilities to the peak of human capabilities, similar to a few other famous heroes I can think of — Yarko the Great, Wonder Man, the Green Lama, and… another young man more recently, whose name slips my mind at the moment. (*) Later, Gary learned how to generate flames without being burned himself. He also had a bizarre power in which he could travel through flames. He could step into a fire in one location and emerge from a second fire miles away. He was a famous hero in his day, having been a founding member of the Big Three, along with Blue Beetle and Samson. He was also a member of the Mystery Men of America for a time.”
[(*) Editor’s note: Red Robbins is referring to Peter Cannon, Thunderbolt, who was recently erased from history; see Sentinels of Justice: Atomic Nightmare.]
“I see your point,” said Speed, “but you got to admit those monks weren’t exactly like the local Lion’s Club!”
“I’d like to think that the heroes are being impersonated,” said Guardian. “One of my teammates Nightshade was abducted once by a shape-shifter named Duplicity. She was able to mimic the real Nightshade down to her looks, voice, and walk.” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See Sentinels of Justice: Duplicity.]
Speed smiled and said, “Evil twins! I’ve missed that kind of thing over the last thirty-plus years!”
“Neither of you look or act anything like your true ages,” said Guardian. “I guess your speed powers prevent you from aging normally. You could both return to the costumed life, if you wanted to.”
“We do enjoy the same vitality as much younger men,” agreed Red, “but I prefer working behind the scenes now.”
As they approached a mansion, Guardian said, “Could you two do a super-fast search of the place? I’d say that would give us a bit of an advantage.”
“Consider it done, little lady!” said Red, racing forward to become a blur as he vibrated through the solid wall of the house.
It’s a shame Speed and Red can’t join the Sentinels, thought Guardian. Their speed would be such an asset. Plus, we could learn so much from them.
Speed frowned and said, “Somethin’s wrong! Look!” He scooped up Guardian and carried her into the house.
She gasped as her atoms passed through the wall and emerged intact. Anything they carry must briefly gain the benefit of their molecular control, she thought.
Within, she saw a shocking scene. The house’s comfortable living room was a place of terror as a blond man stood clutching a gun, while a brown-haired woman watched and pleaded with him to drop it.
Red Robbins was hesitating between the pair as if trying to give her words a chance to persuade her husband. “Linda, Gary, stop this madness!” he said in a calm tone.
“Red, you more than anyone should want me to end my life!” cried Gary Preston. “I’ve lost control! I could have killed you and your staff! To top it off, I was enjoying every minute, too!”
“We didn’t want to do it!” said Linda Preston. “Heaven help us, we’ve become killers!”
Gary raised the gun to his head and said, “I love you, Linda. Forgive me for what I’m doing!” He pulled the trigger, and the gun exploded out of his hand. He gasped in surprise.
The blast hadn’t harmed him, since he was immune to heat, but he was shocked that the gun had failed to fire.
“I put a TK shield over the end of the gun,” explained Guardian.
“Well done!” said Red. “I could have outraced the bullet, but I hated to risk all on such a gambit.”
“You tried to kill us,” said Speed. “You admit that much. Still, I sense you got more to say.”
“When Gary gave me the power to become Flame Girl,” said Linda, “I took a solemn vow that I would never let the heat of battle or my own fears or emotions overwhelm me to the point where I would kill with the flames I command.”
“My teachers from Tibet first gave me the pathway to inner peace and finding a center that would never let me give in to dark emotions,” added Gary. “That is why I am lost! I can’t explain what forced me to become a killer!”
“You admit to killing Banshee,” said Guardian. “Did you also murder Rulah?”
Linda shook with emotion as she replied, “Yes, we did. But mere moments afterward, we felt like normal. We had no rational explanation for the urge to kill that had filled our minds. Please help us! Lock us away. Just don’t let us hurt anyone else!”
Gary took her hand and said, “We can’t explain our actions.”
“You don’t have to,” said Speed. “We believe you. What’s more, we will help you.”
“You clearly didn’t do it all alone,” said Guardian. “Someone put these ideas in your mind.”
“Mind control!” cried Red. “That is both very possible and very sinister. Still, it would explain the sudden compulsion and its subsequent departure.”
“My wife and I don’t age,” explained Gary. “That is, we do age, but we maintain our youth through the same mental techniques that enhanced our physical abilities. We never imagined our only infirmity would come in the form of madness.”
“Something is making you kill or attempt to kill former heroes who were active when you were originally in costume,” said Guardian. “I’d wager the source dates to that era as well. Did you ever run across some villain who had mind-control powers?”
“Not that I recall,” said Gary. “But come to think of it, we did have an ally who was a skilled mentalist. His name was Zanzibar the Magician, or at least that was his stage name; he was known as a mental marvel, and he often aided the police with his abilities. (*) I never learned if he had another, less-colorful name. He was one of several of us who retired from the costumed crime-fighting game in order to fight the Axis more directly when Pearl Harbor was attacked.”
[(*) Editor’s note: See Zanzibar the Magician, Mystery Men Comics #1 (August, 1939).]
Red snapped his fingers and said, “Of course! Zanzibar was also the man who liberated one of the Nazi death camps. He was remarkably powerful. Still, he never worked with me, and I don’t recall his working with any other mystery-man, either.”
“That’s why we only called him an ally,” explained Linda. “He certainly never socialized with us.”
“Maybe we can find him,” said Guardian. She thought to herself, As Debbie Huston, fitness guru, I have many connections in the media. Perhaps a former stage magician like Zanzibar will be known to some of them. Checkmate’s sparse record of him wasn’t much help.
Sometime later, Guardian, Red Robbins, Speed Karr, and the now-costumed Flame and Flame Girl waited below a lighthouse on the coast of Maine.
“There were some supernatural occurrences in this region earlier this year,” said Guardian. “I wonder if such latent magic is what drew Zanzibar to settle here.”
“He was always a loner,” said the Flame. “It’s weird how he could switch to a more colorful public or stage persona in the blink of an eye.”
“Look!” said Speed. “There he is!” He pointed to where an obese man in a golden robe stood defiantly above them, holding the railing of the lighthouse’s observation point.
“Except for his weight, he doesn’t look much older than he did in his prime,” said Flame Girl.
“I’ll fly up and explain why we’re here,” said Guardian, flying upward. A moment later, she gasped as she found herself in outer space.
She created a telekinetic field, but it was too late. There was no air to entrap. She choked and tried to shield herself from certain death.
But before Guardian could do anything more, the world grew dark around her, and when she opened her eyes, she saw that she was face down on the shore near the lighthouse. She groaned as Red Robbins bent over her. “What happened?” she asked.
“Zanzibar placed a rather potent illusion in your mind,” explained Red. “He made you think you couldn’t breathe.”
Guardian glanced up at the lighthouse and saw a battle raging as a blur that could only have been Speed Karr was circling the fat man in gold. “Where are the Flames?” she asked.
“I think we’ve been duped!” said Red. “Zanzibar is on their side! They lured us to a trap!”
Zanzibar the Magician laughed madly as he ignored Speed’s efforts and watched as the super-swift man collapsed. “Funny how hitting a solid wall at super-speed will do that to a person, even if said wall only exists in his mind!” he said.
“I’ll flatten him before he can use his mind games on me!” vowed Red. He created a whirlwind with his vibrating body and soared into the air. But his attack failed. He suddenly started to flail wildly as his very body went out of control.
Guardian caught him as he plunged downward. “Stay and rest!” she said as she lowered him to the sand. She soared up and used her telekinesis to shatter the floor of the observation deck.
Zanzibar yelped in surprise and hurtled through the air.
Guardian allowed him to fall for a moment, then cushioned the fall with a tightly focused telekinetic field, narrowing the unseen field until it surrounded his head. He gasped for air, then fainted.
She smiled grimly and went to check on the others. Speed and Red had both started to recover. “Now for the Flames!” said Guardian.
The action-heroine started to enter the lighthouse when newcomers burst out of the doors. She saw a beautiful barefoot blonde in a purple tiger-striped bikini. She was wrestling with a man in a green and blue costume with a green scarf as a mask. “Purple Tigress?” she muttered.
“Green Mask is as strong as they come!” explained Red. “He could kill her!” He raced forward, only to receive a jolt as Green Mask stomped on the ground and created a quake.
“Get him!” yelled the Purple Tigress. “He’s gone bananas!”
“Funny a gal dressed like a jungle queen would use that expression!” remarked Speed. He started punching the Green Mask with both fists at a blinding speed.
“Rest a minute, Miss,” said Red. “You look like you’ve been through the wringer!”
“You can say that again!” muttered the Purple Tigress. “I tracked him here, but he floored my companion before we could subdue him.”
She referred to Domino, who had remained free of whatever had compelled her previous violence, and she had agreed to lead the Tigress to her mentor the Green Mask through the telepathic link they shared.
As the Green Mask roared in pain, Speed Karr lashed out again and again until finally his superior speed enabled him to stun his much-stronger foe. The Green Mask collapsed as Red Robbins collared him.
“Nice job, pal!” he said to Speed.
A moan from Zanzibar the Magician heralded his recovery. “You won’t gloat over me for long!” he said. “My home will be your funeral pyre!” Zanzibar’s eyes gleamed with a mad light, and he radiated hatred.
The Purple Tigress flipped through the air in an incredible display of agility and landed inside the lighthouse. She grabbed the fallen Domino and dragged her to freedom as explosions rocked the building.
As Amanda Debord’s sensational alter ego escaped from the fires within, they were abruptly snuffed out.
The red-costumed forms of the Flame and Flame Girl appeared in their midst, and the Flame yelled, “We can contain the fire! That was what we vanished to do! We sensed the incendiary devices within!”
In moments, they had saved the lighthouse and the heroes who had assembled within.
“Flames, you certainly saved the day,” said Guardian. “You don’t seem to have any mental problems now.”
“We never did!” the Flame explained with great relief. “Zanzibar was controlling us, as well as Green Mask and Domino. The very shared telepathy Green Mask and Domino have made them vulnerable to a mental attack. Flame Girl and I have been schooled so extensively in the mental arts that gave us our powers that we also were oddly susceptible to his power of the mind.”
“But when he revealed himself in combat,” said Flame Girl, “all of his power over us faded away.”
“I was freed as well, but unlike you two, I didn’t have the resources to deal with it,” said Michael Shelby, the Green Mask. “I just went crazy and starting attacking everyone in sight! Luckily, this rather dynamic beauty was able to hold her own with me.”
The Purple Tigress smiled winningly and said, “I’m the Purple Tigress. I’ll be coming soon to network TV each week.”
Domino grinned and said, “I’m just glad we’re back to normal!”
“But won’t be still be guilty of the crimes we committed while under his power?” said Flame Girl. “We certainly feel morally responsible. I mean, we killed Rulah and the Banshee, and you killed Dynamo, Green Mask.”
“No, actually, we didn’t,” said Michael Shelby, using his formidable deductive abilities along with the empathic powers given him by vita rays. “We were compelled to go to the scenes of each murder, and Zanzibar planted hypnotic images in our mind — fake memories in which we believed ourselves to have committed murder. But in reality he couldn’t truly make any of us violate our moral codes in such a way!”
“So when you fought us, you were under his spell,” said Red. “Then was he the one who actually killed Banshee, Rulah, and Dynamo?”
“Yes, he did it all,” explained the Green Mask. “Yet he wanted us to think we had committed the murders. He had no power over fire, nor did he possess super-strength, but he could mimic those powers with his incredible magic and mental might.”
“Why he wanted to frame us and kill our allies is the real mystery!” added the Flame.
A woman with curly blonde hair, a filmy pink harem costume, and a sad expression came into view. “I can explain it all,” she said.
“I am Zanzi the Magician, daughter of Zanzibar,” she said. “My father is sick. He tried to increase his own powers only out of a desire to save my mother, who became ill a year ago. He failed, and she died. The failure drove him mad. He started to plot to create an army of mystery-men all under his control. He vowed to make them turn against society or believe that society had no place for them by making them seem to be murderers.”
“Your father wanted an army,” said Guardian. “Why?”
“He wanted to use them to forcibly invade the afterlife and bring my mother back,” said Zanzi.
Purple Tigress scowled and said, “That’s just nuts!”
“I am a beginner in the mental arts,” said Zanzi. “I was away on tour with my own show, and I had no idea he had become so ill. I should never have left him after mother’s death.”
Speed Karr whistled softly. “Man! Mind control to frame folks for murder so they’d become desperate enough to help him in his wacko plot. That’s a new one!”
“He does need help,” said Zanzi. “You must remember him as the man he once was — a good man, a hero. Will you help him?”
“The monks who raised me can cure him,” said the Flame. “I feel certain of it. I was frankly too ashamed of what I thought I had become to seek their help for myself when I thought I was a killer. Still, I can take Zanzibar to them.”
“Thank you,” said Zanzi. “He will be sickened by the truth about what he has done. He may never forgive himself. Three murders may blight him forever!”
“Actually, you can reduce that charge to three attempted murders!”
The voice came from thin air as lightning crackled through the sky. A crackling bolt then struck the floor and took on a humanoid form.
“Dynamo?!” gasped Green Mask.
“It’s me — Jim Andrews,” said the figure. “But from now on, call me by my original mystery-man name — Electro — since a young hero has been active under that name for the past twenty-odd years now. (*) I’ve met him, and I’m proud to see Len carry on the Dynamo name, even if it was a coincidence that he called himself that.
[(*) Editor’s note: See Electro, Science Comics #1 (February, 1940) and “Menace of the Iron Fog,” T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #1 (November, 1965).]
“Anyway, to make a long story short,” continued Electro, “Zanzibar’s attack on me only left me in an altered form. My body was destroyed, but I live on as a human lightning bolt. Perhaps some inner part of him made that happen. Maybe he was fighting his own madness on some level.”
“What about Rulah?” asked the Flame.
Guardian thought of her grandfather and asked, “And how about the Banshee?”
“He was dead before Zanzibar set his house on fire and had Green Mask smash in the walls,” explained Electro. “Time took the Banshee’s life, not Zanzibar.”
“But Rulah’s body was found,” said Flame Girl. “Surely she didn’t die by chance, too.”
“Nope,” said Electro. “Rulah, the Jungle Queen, didn’t die. Zanzibar used his powers of the mind to transfer her very consciousness to into one of her animals! She couldn’t speak, but her mind lived on in a gorilla!”
“Then he didn’t truly kill anyone!” cried Zanzi tearfully. “There is hope for him yet!”
“Electro, how do you know all this?” asked Red Robbins.
“I’ve been watching it all,” said Electro. “See, as a bolt of lightning, I couldn’t form myself into anything solid. I was just energy. I trailed Zanzibar and watched all he did. He took this long for me to summon enough power to form a human body and gain the ability to speak again.”
“I’ve got an idea,” said Guardian. “Why don’t you all come to the Banshee’s funeral? You all need to talk and share your experiences. It would be good for you all.”
“We’ll do it,” said the Flame. “First, Zanzi, let me take you and your father to Tibet, as I promised. Zanzibar the Magician didn’t kill anyone. We can cure him. I feel sure of it now!”
Zanzi nodded eagerly.