Vic Sage was a man who never grew tired when he was searching for what he valued above all else. The newsman loved the truth. He didn’t always enjoy seeing the consequences of how learning harsh truths could shatter people, but he still followed the course of seeking answers like a pilgrim on a crusade. He had learned long ago that even he could only travel the dangerous path of such a crusader for so long before becoming the prey of those who hid beneath lies and who hated the light of discovery.
Thus, with the help of a genius named Professor Aristotle Rodor, Vic Sage gained a new weapon in his personal war. He was given a remarkable substance called pseudoderm that cloaked his face with a seemingly featureless void. That mask could only be removed with the addition of certain special chemicals. As long as he wore the faceless mask, he possessed an impersonal invulnerablity of sorts. No one could know what he was feeling, since he revealed no expression. As the Question, he was a human enigma who used his courage, wits, and fists to find answers at any cost.
He stalked the dark streets of Crown City, and he looked at things he did not like to see. Corrupt urban developers pull down lives along with the slums that line their pockets. Relocation is not always a good thing. The gentrification of neighborhoods just exchanges one class of rats for another. Why can’t they let people just live their lives in peace instead of entrapping them in welfare and other socialist programs that rob people of their dignity?
His emotions were palpable even though he revealed nothing on the blank slate that was his face while he wore the mask of the Question. He waited in the darkness, and he brooded as his fists clenched and unclenched and his mind raced even faster. Devon Slade wants to torch these tenements for their insurance money. He acts like the kind-hearted do-gooder at the public meetings he attends, but I’ve got the paper trail. He owns all these places, and his hired punk Firefist burns them down at his orders. I’ll bag that firebug and then expose his boss.
The Question turned as he detected the slight hum of something buzzing above him. He glanced upward and saw a man in a silvery asbestos costume wearing gold-colored gear, including a helmet, gloves, and boots, as well as a tank with coils on his back, which was now attached to a flying device. He was setting fuses as this device carried him over the city. Blue Beetle had battled this maniac in Hub City before, and Sage knew from his fellow Sentinels of Justice member that the man’s real name was Lyle Byrnes, a firefighter who had been caught in a blaze years before and disfigured by it, both physically and mentally.
The faceless crime-fighter jumped up to grab a rusty fire escape and swung himself onto its rickety surface. He climbed swiftly and soon reached the roof. He raced across it and jumped across a skylight to reach the edge of the roof.
The hum of Firefist’s flying device caught his ears, and he steeled himself before leaping directly into open space several stories above the mean city streets. He landed on the flying pyromaniac’s back and disengaged one coil that led to the tank full of fuel.
Firefist cursed and tried to shake the Question, but the other man clung to his foe with grim determination born out of a will to win that could not be discounted. “I’m putting out your flames, you two-bit punk!” he said.
The criminal said, “Not if I burn you to cinders!” He raised his arm, and the moonlight gleamed off of a wrist nozzle as it came in line with the Question’s own body.
“I wouldn’t do that, Byrnes,” he said.
“I’m immune to my own fires,” said Firefist. “The name’s Firefist, you jerk, and I can bathe in this stuff without breaking a sweat. My insulated costume will protect me while I turn your night into a roaster.”
He laughed beneath his own mask as fire blazed out of the nozzles on the fingertips of his gloves and indeed threatened to engulf him and his struggling rider. However, the Question timed his movements precisely and rammed the coil he had ripped free from the tank on Firefist’s back over the nozzle.
The flames entered the coil and completed a circuit that led to two swift and sudden events. The Question leaped to safety and a hard landing on a roof below, and the flames entered the tank instead of hitting the hero. The resulting explosion hurled a stunned and battered Firefist to the pavement below.
Minutes later, a bruised Question staggered out to check on the beaten crook. Byrnes is stunned but unhurt. That fancy costume kept him alive as I knew it would. Now to wrap this up.
At the elegant mansion of Devon Slade, lovely women in evening gowns mingled with suave men in suits, and wine glasses tinkled as the guests drank and danced. The table was covered with silverware that could have paid off the rent in one of his slums for months. Slade sat watching it all at the head of a long table.
The mayor of Crown City nodded in approval and said, “Devon, this is a wonderful thing you are doing. This fundraiser will help so many homeless people. You deserve a medal.”
Slade smiled smugly and said, “It is the least I can do. Those who have should give back.”
The large picture window behind Slade shattered as the stunned form of Firefist was suddenly tossed through the pane.
Slade gasped as the party came to a halt, and Mayor Ditko cried, “What is this? That’s the costumed Firefist who’s been targeting the slums!”
The Question stepped through the broken window and handed the old man several legal papers. “Right you are, sir,” he said. “And these papers link him to your distinguished host. Slade is behind the whole arson scheme. Shall I wait here, or do you want to turn him in yourself? I understand the same evidence has reached a newsman named Sage. You could get a nice photo op if you hurry.”
As Mayor Ditko nodded and turned to see a smile spread across the face of Commissioner Aparo of the Crown City Police Department, the Question vanished. As he crossed the lawn into the night, a satisfied smile played across his own hidden features. That smile would fade before the evening ended, since the Question’s work was far from over.
The Question had not even reached the heart of Crown City before he detected more signs of trouble. He glanced upward as he crossed the street near the Highland Towers, home of Carlton Highland, the millionaire whose real estate holdings were only equaled by the number of tabloid stories about his romantic affairs.
It must be nice living up among the clouds in that ivory tower, he thought. I wonder if that old liberal ever actually gives a thought to the pain and sweat of the little folks he claims to care about who labor honestly down here on the streets below his home?
The Question frowned as he saw a strange craft hovering silently alongside of the tower high above the ground. That’s one strange-looking chopper. It makes no sound and sure doesn’t belong up there. Highland only travels in private jets that could hold five or six of those odd little ships.
His interest increased when he spotted a flying costumed figure emerge from the craft and enter the window of the penthouse above. Breaking and entering on the high-tech level, he noted. He hurried across the street and made his way into the lobby of the building.
“Excuse me, sir, but you can’t go up there!” said an officious-looking man who stood by the door.
The Question said, “I’m here for a meeting with Highland. He won’t like it if I’m late.”
The startled man gasped as he saw the Question’s blank features as the man in blue moved rapidly into the light. Before he could react, the Question had already raced inside an elevator and closed the door behind him.
No doubt the elevator will only go so far before it stops. I suppose I’d need some security code to ride all the way up. I’ll have to just climb the cable the rest of the way. I hope Highland won’t have reason to regret the level of his security by the time I get to his place.
Soon, the Question found himself emerging from the elevator shaft outside the millionaire’s private domain. He kicked in the door and found himself staring at a scene he was all too familiar with from past cases. A costumed figure was trying to abduct the frightened Highland.
“Help me!” cried Carlton Highland.
The Question grinned beneath his pseudoderm mask as he noticed the millionaire playboy was very bald without the hairpiece that lay at his feet. He tackled the costumed figure and grunted as the other man displayed a superior agility and some rather deadly offensive weapons. Claws raked across his chest, and he rolled aside to avoid being disemboweled.
“You play rough!” he said. “What’s your gimmick? You have a definite problem with hostility and aggression, but I also detect a vague animal motif. For a guy who loves our furry friends, you sure don’t mind trashing ordinary individuals.”
The black-and-gold-costumed man also wore a cowl that hid his features, except for red contacts that gleamed from the holes in his mask and gave him even more of a feral look.
“Badger? Wolverine? He-Who-Has-Scissors-On-His-Hands? You must have a name,” the Question prompted as he slammed his elbow into the villain’s head.
“Xopek!” hissed the other man as he rammed his knee into the Question’s chest and brought his own arm down in a stunning blow.
The Question dropped down and kicked out with both legs, but all he managed to do was trip his attacker. Xopek cursed and grabbed a table with one hand. As he tipped it over, a lamp crashed down on the Question’s head. He received a kick to the face and fell flat for a moment before diving between his foe and the millionaire. “I’m not done with you yet, hairball,” he said.
Xopek sliced at the Question and found his arm snared within the hero’s hastily shed jacket for a moment before his claws ripped free of the coat. The Question jabbed out again and again, finally knocking the other man out.
“You did it!” said Carlton Highland. “Thank you. I’ll see you rewarded for this. I’ll give you my autograph.”
The Question said, “It’s true what they say. You really are all heart.” Before he could continue his banter, he heard a terrible sonic burst that cut into his ears and left him staggering. “Some kind of high-pitched attack!” he cried.
He saw a woman in gold and blue slip inside from an odd but familiar-looking flying craft that hovered outside the window. She scooped up the fallen Xopek and dragged him to freedom with surprising strength for a petite, lithe woman with such beauty. Her blonde hair flowed down her back, but all the Question could do was lurch after her and fall into her craft while she secured Xopek.
Xopek muttered, “Myxa!” She whirled as her rapidly vibrating wings sent another wave of sonic force at the Question. He glanced around at her weird vehicle before falling flat at her high-heeled boots.
When he recovered, the Question found himself inside Highland Tower, where a worried-looking Highland bent over him. “I’m glad to see you coming around,” said Highland, who had replaced his trademark hairpiece. “I thought you were dead! I couldn’t tell if you were breathing because of that face mask. I couldn’t remove it, either.”
The Question sat up and said, “I’m just swell. Now tell me, who were our playmates? They sounded Russian.”
Highland said, “They tried to kidnap me! I can only suppose they wanted my money. Those Reds claim to be so superior, but they want cash like everyone else.”
The Question nodded and said, “I guess the woman’s buzzing drew attention and made it too hot for them to come back for you. Lucky for me they tossed me out of that crazy ship.”
“I saw it, too,” said Highland. “It was remarkable. I’ve never seen anything like it. Do you think they’d sell it?”
The Question shook his head with amusement. “There are some things even you can’t buy.” He exited abruptly after reclaiming his shredded coat.
Unfortunately, in spite of my act, I’ve seen something a lot like that craft of theirs before, he thought to himself. I got enough of a look inside it to realize that for a fact. That means my work is far from over, and I’m going to have to ruin the morning for a couple of lovebirds in Hub City, too.
In the Hub City home of Ted and Tracey Kord, the young married couple were sitting down to a meal when a phone call interrupted their solitude.
Ted, a young-looking man with brown hair and a slightly whimsical manner, stood up and said, “I’ll get it. It could be one of those darn telemarketers, and as a card-carrying action-hero, it’s my job to handle such banes to society. With great power comes great phone skills.”
Tracey smiled and began to scoop salad out of a bowl as Ted answered the phone and abruptly changed his demeanor. She stood up and moved closer to him as she noticed his voice and manner change.
“Well, sure, Vic, I can meet with you,” he said. “But why do you sound so serious? I’d say between the two of us we can handle almost anything.”
He put the phone down and turned to his wife. “Trace, that was Vic Sage. He needs to see me. He won’t spill any details, but he says it’s important.”
Tracey drew closer to her husband and wrapped her arms around his neck. “Don’t worry, honey. It’s like you said — you and Sage can handle anything. I believe in you. Besides, you know how he is. Vic Sage couldn’t relax if his life depended upon it.”
He nodded and kissed her as he headed to their room. “Thanks for the support. I’m sure you’re right. Only, Trace — next time the phone rings, you get it,” he said with a grin.
Ted Kord was far more than just a scientist. He was the third man to wear a costume and call himself the Blue Beetle. While Kord relied upon his agility, wits, and fighting skills along with certain technological gimmicks in order to fight crime, he knew that his two predecessors had possessed other advantages.
The first Blue Beetle had been named Dan Garret. He had used a special vitamin formula to enhance his physical abilities. His sidekick Spunky — also known as Sparky after his unfortunate name of Sparkington J. Northrup — had relied in turn upon the benefits given by a magical scarab when he later assumed the role of the hero, and long before that Spunky had gone as far as to legally change his name to Daniel Northrup Garrett, a name modeled after that of his mentor. “Spunky” Garrett was a few years older than Kord and had been his college roommate as well as friend and mentor.
It was admiration for and a desire to honor the original Blue Beetle that had motivated Spunky to call himself Dan Garrett in name and in role. Now Kord sought to carry on their traditions and honor the memory of the late Blue Beetle II.
He wore his own costume of blue with goggles over the eyes and an insect pattern on his chest. Sitting within his private lab, he waited on the driven crusader called the Question. Finally, Sage arrived and joined the Blue Beetle there.
Vic Sage paced restlessly for a moment or two before he turned and faced the Beetle, although in his featureless case that expression could not be taken literally. “How secure is your technology?” he asked without preamble. “Do you have any former aide or a staff that could make use of your gear?”
The Blue Beetle laughed. “Staff? Are you saying I have a security leak? If so, that means I’m talking in my sleep or something.”
The Question said, “Earlier, I battled two costumed commies with the names Xopek and Myxa. They escaped from me in a flying vehicle that looked almost exactly like your own Bug.”
The Blue Beetle said, “I told you my designs are secure. It has to be a coincidence. Just because some crooks like my style doesn’t mean my place has been bugged — pardon the expression.”
The Question remained silent for a moment and then released a vaporous chemical from a compartment in his belt. The chemical altered his suit’s coloration and enabled him to remove his mask.
Sage looked at the Blue Beetle and said, “Ted, what’s wrong? I can tell I hit a real nerve, here. Is it something to do with the other Beetles? I know how much hero worship you have for old Dan Garret.”
The Blue Beetle removed his own mask and said, “I’m sorry, Vic. I appreciate your concern. The fact is, the designs for the Bug were not mine originally. I developed them from plans and blueprints my father was working on. If you ran into something that matches my Bug, then it very well might have originated from my dad.”
Sage said, “Your father? I assumed he was dead. I mean, you never mentioned him before.”
Kord shook his head sadly. “No. He’s alive. I’ve had no face-to-face contact with him for years. He was always something of a world traveler, and he and I never really got along. I guess that’s one of the reasons I became so close to Spunky. He was like a big brother to me and closer to me than my dad, who was always distant and never showed any affection. He left the country years ago, and except for an occasional call to the family lawyer, he pretty much cut off all ties to me.”
“Could he be in the Soviet Union?” asked Sage. “If he was developing the Bug or something like it all those years ago, he could very well be behind the one used by the costumed villains I fought.”
“Right,” agreed Kord. “Maybe he’s in trouble. They could have forced him to create their gear. Well, I have to find them and then locate him.”
“You mean we have to,” said Vic Sage. “I’m in this with you. The Sentinels of Justice may be history, but the Blue Beetle and Question team still lives on.” He referred to the fact that the team had crumbled apart when Captain Atom resigned as team leader three months earlier after the team’s disastrous last case. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See Sentinels of Justice: The Dragon’s Den.]
Ted Kord shook hands with the newsman and said, “I appreciate that. I hate to think of anyone using my dad’s inventions for crime or subversive activities.”