Long before he had even considered taking to the streets to fight crime as a masked vigilante, crime reporter Vic Sage had done his research on the most notorious figures in Crown City, which led him to learn a lot about Paul “the Butcher” Buccini, a La Cosa Nostra hood who was rising up the ranks and likely to be the next capo of this territory. Buccini owned a number of legitimate businesses but also controlled the dope and porn rings that brought in huge amounts of money, all tax-free and easy to launder.
The Question told his erstwhile new partner what he knew about the man they were after as the Bat-Man drove the borrowed limousine to the estate of their target. “He should have about ten or twelve bodyguards on site, and maybe more if he found out about our hit earlier. But that number doesn’t bother me.”
“I have taken on such types before, Question,” replied the Bat-Man. “Not a problem. OK, there it is. Think we should scout it out before we go in?”
“I’ll go around the back,” said the Question. “You take that side wall there. The girl will be OK in the backseat for now; whatever they gave her, she’s still sleeping it off.”
While the Bat-Man had suggested they drop off the child at a nearby hospital before taking on the boss, the Question was nothing if not cautious, and some had even accused him of being paranoid. But his reasoning was sound. If word got out that a child escaped custody of the pornographers and could identify them by sight, there was every possibility that someone at such a hospital — such as a low-paid orderly or janitor — would be paid off, and the girl would be dead by morning. Even the police weren’t above corruption of this type. The faceless crime-fighter wanted to keep her close until he was sure he could keep her safe.
The Bat-Man started to reply, then stopped as they spotted headlights. “Cars going in. Looks like Buccini has company.”
“Probably why he wanted the film delivered to him,” said the Question. “Let’s wait a little while before we begin our operation, then see if any more people — if you want to call them that — come in.”
“Good idea,” said the Bat-Man. “I see a few more headlights approaching his place. Nice neighborhood, expensive housing; obviously, this scum-bag makes some money.”
“Yeah. A lot of it supposedly legit, too.”
They waited for a while, and while watching, the Bat-Man said, “I figured something out, Question. When I realized I wasn’t in Gotham City, I was puzzled. Then your reaction to me and talk of a TV show about me, or someone like me, gave me an important clue. Obviously, I am on a parallel world.”
“Makes sense,” said the faceless crime-fighter. “I studied that concept in college physics but never really considered that they might actually exist.”
The Bat-Man was silent for a moment before he continued. “Superman once told me that, as a boy, he met another Superboy from another Earth. They were very much alike, with a minor difference in their costumes and some slightly different history.” He sighed heavily. “I miss the big lug.”
“So Superman is real?” said the Question. “How about the Green Hornet? Don’t tell me Mister Terrific and Captain Nice are real on your world, too.”
“No,” said the Bat-Man. “Just Superman.”
“So what happened to him?”
“Three years ago, he disappeared,” said the Bat-Man. “So did Lex Luthor, his arch-foe. I investigated but could find no trace of either. I assumed they died somewhere, probably fighting each other. Of the few fellow crime-fighters who donned a costume, he was the most powerful of us and the one most accepted by the general public. Of course, I myself prefer operating out of the shadows and never sought public recognition. Five years I’ve been at it, and most people think I’m just an urban myth.”
“I understand that,” said the Question. “I’ve taken great pains myself to remain as unknown as possible. But I would have figured Robin the Boy Wonder would make you more well-known.”
“Robin?” asked the Bat-Man, puzzled by yet another reference.
“You don’t have a kid sidekick?”
“No,” replied the Bat-Man, looking at the faceless man quizzically. “Never even thought about it. Who in their right mind would bring a child into war with armed criminals?” He shook his head and turned back. “OK, they’re locking the gate. Let’s get ready.”
Near the estate of Paul “the Butcher” Buccini was parked a rather nondescript van decorated in a contemporary, hippie-like style. Inside were several men with the latest electronic surveillance equipment. One of these men nudged a co-worker and said, “Listen to this.” He rolled back the tape and played it for him on an external speaker.
“Q, this is B. Perimeter one secured.”
“B, this is Q. Same for perimeter two. Ready to move in?”
“Roger that, Q.”
“Sounds like someone’s got plans for our pals inside.”
A third person spoke up. “The locals are moving in, too. Seems they busted some of Buccini’s boys and got enough to lock him up.”
“Great. And us with our pants down,” said the second man. “Call H.Q. Tell them we need backup. It’s time we move in as well.”
The first man, who had continued to listen over the shortwave radio frequency, said, “Uh-oh. This Q just told B a third party has joined the fray — someone Q, whoever he is, doesn’t recognize — and this third guy is armed to the teeth.”
“Looks like vigilante action for sure,” said the second man.
“I just hope our man on the inside doesn’t get caught in the crossfire,” the first man spoke solemnly. “Six months of deep cover, and a couple of vigilantes are gonna wreck our plans.”
“Or do our work for us,” the third man muttered, already calling the base.
For Vic Sage, alias the Question, this was not his usual kind of operation. But in the few months he had been fighting crime as the Question, he found the battle was always subject to change. This was a lesson he had learned several years ago as a fresh-out-of-college lieutenant stationed in Southeast Asia.
He had knocked out and tied up several guards of Mafioso chief Paul “the Butcher” Buccini. And he had learned that his new partner, the Bat-Man — a man supposedly from a parallel world — that he had done the same. They were accordingly planning to move in and kick some royal butt, when the man without a face spotted a third player in this game enter the fray. This was a young man with several armaments, a wicked array of weaponry, a blue combat uniform, and a red beret.
“Is that one of the Fightin’ Five?” the Question muttered with surprise as he recognized the uniform. As Lieutenant Vic Sage, he had met Captain Hank Hennessy in Vietnam a few years before, and he had in recent years heard rumors that Hennessy now led a semi-secret elite combat team that, generally speaking, went after the Reds and international criminals.
He pulled out his walkie-talkie and spoke quietly into it. “B, we’ve got another fighter here. I know him, or at least his group, but be careful. If one’s here, the other four might also be here. And they don’t know us.”
“Roger that, Q,” the Bat-Man replied. “Blue uniforms and red berets? Just spotted two myself. I suggest we stay close, but in the shadows. The cops are en route, too. I hear sirens.”
“Roger that, B. Over and out.”
The Question heard gunfire and, grabbing a pistol from one of the men he had knocked out, checked it for ammo. It was full, and he moved in, quietly spotting as he did another member of the valiant team.
“Hold it right there!” a voice called. “Raise ’em! And turn around slowly.”
The Question did so and found himself face-to-face with two of the Fightin’ Five members. In this light, he recognized the muscular, red-haired man as a wrestler who had retired in 1963 after his last match in Bridgeport, Connecticut. (*) The other man, also a redhead, he didn’t recognize, but he also wore the Fightin’ Five uniform; Vic Sage guessed that this man was either a replacement or a temporary stand-in for one of the regular members of the team.
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Introducing the Fightin’ 5, America’s Super Squad,” Fightin’ Five #28 (July, 1964).]
“Holy–!” the first man shouted, startled by the sight of a man without a face. “Who or what are you?”
“The nightmare of all that is evil, Tom-Tom,” said the Question, using the man’s nickname. “And welcome to the fight.”
“You know me?” said Tom-Tom suspiciously, glancing for a second at his teammate, who had remained quiet. “We don’t know you, pal.”
“I know of you, yes. And I know Captain Hennessy. I’m a friend.”
An explosion, followed by gunfire, then sent all three men to the ground. They heard shouting and saw several armed men running toward them, and the three quickly identified them as hostiles.
Already firing in their direction, the Question, Tom-Tom, and his ally each returned fire, dropping their attackers quickly.
“You handle that pistol well, nightmare,” said the other red-haired man, “or whoever you really are.”
“I had some experience once upon a time,” replied the faceless crime-fighter. “Why is your team attacking this place?”
“Possibly the same reason you are,” replied Tom-Tom. “It’s a viper’s nest and has to be eliminated.”
“Indeed. Well, tell your team I have an ally here, as well, dressed like a bat.” With that, the Question disappeared into the shadows.
“Y’know, Red, those costume guys make me nervous,” said Tom-Tom to the backup member of the Fightin’ Five, Red Crandall.
Looking around for more foes, Red noted that the faceless one had shot not to kill but disable. Impressed, Red whistled and said, “He’s either an amateur or a very good marksman.”
“Either way, we better try and tell the others,” said Tom-Tom.
The police arrived in massive numbers and soon found themselves engaged in a firefight with Mafioso, some of which had fallen unconscious after being hit by a strangely shaped boomerang tossed from the shadows. Others had tripped on something they didn’t see, while others were caught in rope traps that suddenly pulled them off the ground, leaving them hanging from trees.
One officer found one of the hoods with a note pinned to him, which read: There is a limo one street over. A little girl is in it, drugged by friends of these scum. See to her. It was unsigned, except for a stylized symbol of a bat that looked somewhat familiar to the officer, although he couldn’t quite place it.
Several more vehicles arrived behind the police cars, and men in suits flashing federal agent badges began flowing out.
More radio chatter was recorded in the surveillance van, but the men inside had already joined the officers during the operation in progress and were not around to hear it.
“B — time to evac, you think?”
“Agreed. Meet me behind the restaurant down the street. Q.”
“Right. Q out.”
The next day, the press would report that the Fightin’ Five and the Crown City Police Department, in a joint effort with the FBI, had made a massive bust of a large criminal gathering. The big mystery that no one could explain, however, was how so many of the bad guys were pinned down or out cold before any officer had even arrived on the scene. Tom-Tom and Red Crandall, the two Fightin’ Five members who had met one of their mysterious allies, had decided not to share this information with anyone outside the team.
The Question and his new ally, the Bat-Man, had regrouped on the rooftop of the restaurant down the street. In the distance, they could see a multitude of flashing red lights from the CCPD vehicles at the Buccini estate. “Now what?” the Question asked.
“Now? I suppose I’ll go back to where I first found myself in this city,” said the Bat-Man, shrugging. “Hopefully I can find out how to get back to my own Earth.”
The Question wrote down a number. “If you don’t have any luck, call this number. My friend, and a brilliant scientist, besides. Maybe he or one of his fellow eggheads can help.”
“Kord, eh? Good man?”
“One of the best I’ve ever met,” replied the faceless crime-fighter. “Tell him the Question sent you. He’s one of the few who know I even exist.”
“Thanks, Question, and much success on your continued career. What I’ve learned of you tonight tells me you and I have a lot in common.”
“Maybe so, Bat-Man, but I would never dress like a wrestler,” replied the Question.
“And I wouldn’t look so good fighting crime in a business suit,” said the Bat-Man.
They shook hands and parted ways.
The next day at the television studio, Vic Sage got a call from his friend and sometime-associate, Ted Kord.
“Got an odd call last night, Vic,” said Ted without much preamble.
“Oh, really?” said Sage.
“Yeah. Some guy said if I ever run into the faceless man, tell him he — the guy who called me — had found the way home. Called himself B. Who is he?”
“Just a lost soul who helped me out,” replied Sage. “Thanks for the message, Ted.”
“Someday, you’ll have to tell me about this guy.”
“Someday,” agreed Sage. “Who knows if I’ll ever meet him again. But, Ted, he’s a good apple.”
“I figured any friend of yours would be,” said Ted. “Has he read Atlas Shrugged, by any chance?”
“We never got into that,” said Sage.
He and Ted Kord had become friends a few months earlier during a visit to Hub City, when together they defended a work of art glorifying the heroism of man from a group of hippies who found it offensive, preferring another artist who portrayed men’s baser instincts. (*) Shortly thereafter, Vic Sage had guessed Ted to be the Blue Beetle, and when the scientist did not deny it, Sage revealed himself to be the mysterious Question of neighboring Crown City. The two action-heroes had quickly bonded over their interest in the philosophy of Ayn Rand, although Ted never seemed quite as serious about it as he was.
[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Blue Beetle Faces the Destoyer of Heroes,” Blue Beetle (Charlton) v4 #5 (November, 1968).]
“At least he didn’t seem to want to mollycoddle criminals like so many liberals do,” Sage added.
“Good, good,” said Ted. “I know how much pressure you’ve had recently from the liberal media to get you kicked off television altogether. (*) Maybe someday there’ll be an Objectivist network, eh?”
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Return of the Question,” Mysterious Suspense #1 (October, 1968).]
“Maybe someday,” agree Sage. “Hate to cut you short, Ted, but I’ve got an interview to prepare for.”
“OK. Take care, Vic.”
“You too, Ted.”
Vic Sage looked down at the Batman comic-book he had bought. “And take care, Bruce,” he said softly.