by Blackwolf247, with Punkybluester
Vic Sage always trudged slowly through the crisp air of the evening. Others stayed inside, tucked safely away in suburban Crown City homes, but Sage liked the feel of the breeze against his hardened face. It chilled his old bones, battered and beaten from the past years of strenuous use. It reminded him that he was still alive, and it drove home the fact that he’d like to stay that way through the night.
He had almost reached the building that he had planned to investigate as a possible crack house. It certainly was a seedy rundown building there in the inner city. Darkness and the evening chill was keeping most people off the streets, but several young, haggard-looking youths were seen talking to a rough-looking customer who seemed to let everyone in, hassling each of them first. But before he tackled the crack house, he would need to find some information.
Taking advantage of the dark alleyway near Sully’s Beer ‘n’ Pool, Sage paused for the process that he had come to call the metamorphosis. The identity he put on wasn’t really an alter-ego — it was more an extension of himself. The crumpled special plastic ball that he held in his hand was the key to his transformation, creating a faceless figure that operated in ways that man-about-town reporter Vic Sage couldn’t without being pursued by both the whole of the Crown City underworld and the police department. Although sometimes these days, Sage often wondered if they weren’t one and the same.
Sage slipped on his mask and let loose the familiar cloud of yellow gas that floated around him, seemingly consuming him as it transformed his appearance. What emerged seemed a different person. Gone was the bright red hair that, along with brutal sincerity, had helped make Sage one of the most popular co-anchors on WWB’s evening news. Instead, there were combed-back, jet-black tresses, tucked under a light blue fedora that was, before the transformation, pine green. In fact, the color of his entire suit had changed to the hues of blue and orange. The biggest change, however, was his complete lack of a face.
Years earlier, Sage had been an idealistic kid, fresh out of college and looking to change the world. He got that chance from a professor and friend named Aristotle “Tot” Rodor. Professor Rodor had developed a pseudo-dermis that sealed itself to skin while allowing for porous breathing. It was going to revolutionize surgeries and help rehabilitate burn victims. Unfortunately, the invention fell into the wrong hands, and Rodor lost the patent. Still, he decided to salvage the benevolent nature of the creation, and so was born the action-hero who currently struck fear into the hearts of criminals and ne’er-do-wells across the city.
Since then, Sage had been masquerading nightly as the faceless vigilante. Always on the side of right, objective in his ways, unable to be bought, relentless, and ruthless. He was a legend to some, a cold reality to others.
The faceless Sage rounded the alley corner and kicked open the heavy wooden door of the pool hall. He surveyed the room. Some of Crown City’s roughest thieves, rapists, and killers stared back with cold fear in their eyes. The same name moved silently silently across their lips at once:
Beneath the featureless mask, Vic Sage smiled.
He had slipped his gloves on and was preparing to move in when he heard gunshots from the suspected building across the street and stopped. Information-gathering could wait. Leaving the pool hall — to the obvious relief of its unsavory clientèle — the Question cautiously peered around the corner and spotted people running out of the building while shots were being fired inside.
Looking up, he spotted at the top of the building a man dressed in black with a cowl and a skull and crossbones insignia on his chest. The man had no cape, but he was definitely wearing a belt with attachments, like a collapsible hook with a rope attached that he was securing on the roof. The Question realized this mystery-man was preparing to swing into the building. The thing he couldn’t yet figure out was who he was and why he looked vaguely familiar.
The Question had to reevaluate his plans when he heard the crashing of glass. He looked again and saw a figure flying out of the third-story window also wearing a costume. The mystery-man on the roof looked down, then prepared his own entrance. Within moments, more shots were being fired.
The faceless action-hero went to the fallen body. It was a man dressed in black leather and midnight-blue Lycra whose helmet somewhat resembled a bird, and he had a Kevlar chest protector with what looked like glider wings on it. He also had a bullet hole in his arm, as well as probable broken bones and soft tissue injuries from the fall.
He wasn’t conscious, so the Question left him to enter the building and join in the battle. Stopping evil was the reason he began wearing a mask in the first place.
Above, the man in the skintight black outfit adjusted his cowl as he stood atop the creaky old building, making sure it was comfortable. To be the new Black Fury, to have been selected from over two hundred applicants for action-hero training, was an honor for this ex-Marine. Here I am, he thought, twenty-five and already about to make a big mark on the world, or die trying.
He had prepared his grapple-hook and was ready to leap in through the top story window, when he heard shouts and gunshots. A furtive look down, and he spotted a man in a costume being thrown out of the building.
“$#!^! Gonna make this harder now,” he muttered, but he was committed and so leaped into the fray.
As he landed, he pulled out his twin nine-millimeter. Several of the crack thugs spotted him and aimed their own guns at him. He returned fire and didn’t miss one of the five attackers.
People were fleeing out of the building, or at least those not too wasted to move, and somewhere he could smell a fire that had started. More shouts and gunfire came from downstairs. “I must have hit at a busy time. Who’s next — Thunderbunny?”
He cautiously made his way through the building and hustled several stoners out, then went to the second floor. It was empty.
On the first floor, the shouting and gunfire had stopped. The Black Fury leaped the length of the stairs, landing at a roll and quickly standing up, holding his pistols toward the only standing person left: a white man who didn’t seem to have a face.
“Man, either I got a whiff of their poison, or you have a serious problem,” the Black Fury said, not lowering his guns even though this man appeared to be unarmed. Appearances could be deceiving. Outside, the sound of approaching sirens indicated either the police or ambulances were en route, and hopefully the Fire Department, too. Smoke was beginning to creep down the stairs from the third floor.
“I am the Question. This is my city. Who are you?”
“I’m the Black Fury.” He put his pistols in their holsters. “I’ve heard of you. Who was that other guy? One of your teammates?”
The Question looked around to make sure no criminals were sneaking up from behind. So this was the newest man to wear the outfit of the Black Fury, a legendary mystery-man whose career spanned over forty years. “I don’t know him, but I recognize your costume. Come on. The police are almost here. We can talk down the street.”
“This is Cassandra Brooks on the scene of a fire in downtown Crown City at the corner of Giordano and Tallarico, a predominantly African-American neighborhood. The fire started in a building said by many eyewitnesses to have been a suspected crack house, where just within the last hour a gun battle broke out inside this building, and two, maybe three or even more action-heroes may have been been involved.
“A security camera from the front of Ibraham’s Grocery shows a costumed figure landing on the street and shortly after being checked on by someone. We only get a brief glimpse of his face, but he doesn’t appear to have one. Several witnesses have reported seeing a Caucasian male running into the building as people were coming out, and at least a few of the witnesses from inside the building as well as outside have mentioned words to the effect of — and I quote — ‘He had no face.’
“Other eyewitnesses talk of seeing a masked man on the roof of the building dressed in black with a skull and crossbones symbol on his chest. He reportedly swung into the third story window moments after the first costumed man was thrown out another window on the same floor. Again, from people who were inside the building, mention was made of a ninja or a man in solid black clothing with a skull on his chest herding them away from the fire that somehow had started on the third floor and was rapidly spreading.
“No sign of either a faceless man nor a costumed man has yet been reported by the authorities on the scene, but they remain unable to go into the building because of the fire, which the Fire Department is trying to keep under control so it doesn’t spread.
“So far, authorities have not released a name for the costumed individual who was taken to a hospital nearby, and no one remembers seeing this particular costume before, leading us to believe he may have been another person with a dream and a costume, but who attempted the wrong target. More on this story after this message from our sponsors.”
Elsewhere, Vic Sage sat in his car with an unopened envelope. After he and the Black Fury had gone through the back alley and down another alleyway, the Black Fury had pulled this envelope out of one of his pockets on his belt. He had explained by saying, “I was told, if I ran into you, to give you this.” He then dropped a smoke pellet and took off in an unknown direction.
“I should have seen that one coming,” Sage chuckled to himself. He was going to open the envelope when he got home, although he doubted it was booby-trapped. Judging from the handwriting on the envelope, which read ONLY FOR THE QUESTION, Sage knew who wrote it, but he had a feeling he wanted to relax while reading it.
In the ambulance, the black youth in the costume regained consciousness as his internal injuries mended and healed. He also found himself strapped down.
He was not in a good mood.
Ambulance attendant Jeffrey Coombs was not a stupid man, and when the patient en route to the hospital suddenly rose from the stretcher, breaking his restraints, Coombs figured the better part of valor was to not try to keep this individual down.
“Hey, give a brother a break, man! Don’t hurt me!” Coombs was hoping the fact that both he and the costumed youth were African-Americans might be a benefit right about now.
“Have this ambulance stopped. I must get back to the action. Criminals cannot be allowed to operate in my ‘hood.”
Coombs rapped on the door to the front of the ambulance, and when he got the attention of the attendant in the passenger seat, he signaled to pull over.
The mystery-man prepared to leave, and Coombs said, “Wait — who are you, bro?”
The young man looked back at him thoughtfully. “I haven’t thought of a name, frankly.”
He leaped out, only to come face-to-face with the Black Fury, who had been following the ambulance in his own large camper van.
“Kid, I damn well hope you’re one of the good guys,” was all he said.
“The Black Fury! Man, when I was a kid I had your action figure. Folks said you didn’t exist — just an urban legend like the Question.”
The black-clad mystery-man chuckled. “I’m gonna trust you for now. Come on into my van. We have some talking to do.”
The two spoke for several minutes, gaining each other’s trust, until the conversation came back around to what the new young hero was going to call himself.
“I’ve thought of several names — Raven, Black Raven, Blackhawk, even,” said the young man, “but with this mask, it’s obvious I am black, so maybe just Raven or Hawk-something to fit this costume I found.”
“You found that costume?” asked the Black Fury. “And it fit?”
“Yeah, pretty cool,” the kid said, grinning. “I added the Kevlar, but that slows me down. And this suit seems to heal my injuries.” It was true. Already the pain had subsided, and the young hero almost seemed ready to get back into the fray. Still, it would probably take at least a few days before his broken bones were healed, magic suit or no magic suit.
The Black Fury thought long and hard. “Well, the mystery of that outfit is definitely worth investigating. As for your name, there’s already a Raven who’s been around since the ’60s, and back in the ’40s there was an earlier Raven for a short time who worked with Spider Widow. I’d suggest a new name, or at least one that isn’t currently being used. How about Bird Man?”
“Screw that — sounds like a damn cartoon character. But how about Street Hawk, because the streets are my battlefield against crime?”
“Works for me.”
Elsewhere, Vic Sage sat in his apartment reading the handwritten letter he had received from the Black Fury.
“Question, this letter is to introduce my successor. He’s a good kid and has a lot of skill and talent. Remember when we met? Well, he’ll probably be as green as you were. But you handled Bull Brady quite well, and I think this kid will be up to the job. –Chuck Marley.”
Sage immediately recognized the name as the second Black Fury, the one he had met fifteen years ago. Chuck Marley was the son of a murdered policeman, and he had been the sidekick of the original Black Fury, a man named John Perry. (There were also rumors that Perry had, in turn, actually picked up the name from a legendary horse in the Old West, but these were probably just rumors.) Like Sage, Perry had been a reporter and operated his crime-fighting identity hand-in-hand with his journalism career to fight crime and corruption. Sage had never met Perry, who was now an elderly newspaper publisher, but he knew Marley to be a dedicated soldier in the war against crime. Since his retirement, he had apparently been working to develop the Black Fury as some kind of crime-fighting legacy.
The Question had never considered retirement, even as the other members of the Sentinels of Justice would often go for months or even years without crime-fighting. While he had worked with the Blue Beetle in the past and considered Ted Kord a friend, he found it difficult to respect the man’s lack of commitment to stamping out corruption. Unlike the Blue Beetle in Hub City, the Question had never let Crown City forget who he was.
He looked back at the note. “A new Black Fury and another rookie who’s likely going to spend the next few months in a hospital,” Sage contemplated. “Well, that will give him time to rethink taking on this dangerous occupation.”
Not everyone was cut out to be a crime-fighter, even if they had special abilities, he knew. He had seen reporter John Mann a few years ago while covering the same story, and he seemed to be completely in his element, which was more than he could say about Mann’s short-lived career as an action-hero. As a journalist, Mann was one of the best, but as the hero known as the Son of Vulcan, he was mediocre despite all the power at his disposal. It was a pity, in his opinion, that Mann had recently resumed his action-hero career during the Crisis. His news career would obviously suffer for it, resulting in one less honest hard-hitting investigative journalist out there to expose corruption wherever he found it.
“Some people just don’t know what they’re best suited for,” he muttered, pouring himself a cup of coffee.