Meanwhile, Captain Atom, Lady Quark, Lord Volt, Champion, and Son of Vulcan had managed to reach the source of the cosmic disturbances. Even an experienced, universe-traveling hero like Captain Atom found something to marvel at within the weird structure that seemed to be the sole building on the otherwise barren planetoid.
Great Scott! This place is amazing, thought Atom. It makes our own Project X satellite look like a child’s toy!
Champion was more than a little awed by everything around them, but he fought to conceal his own feelings of surprise and dismay. We beat Monarch, and he had technology from the future. This place may be a bit more exotic, but we’ll be OK, he thought to reassure himself. He didn’t want to let Captain Atom down in any way.
Lord Volt was silent as he watched the others and remained close to his wife. “Tashana, I am not a fatalist, but I want you to know I have been honored to share my life with you,” said Lord Volt as he leaned forward to kiss her. “I did not have the chance to say those words when last we parted!”
“My love, I cherish every moment I’ve spent with you, but we shall have many more!” she insisted.
Lady Quark responded passionately to his kiss, even as her mind raced with the implications of his words and their current environment. This has to be Layla’s base, she thought. Only her use of the late Monitor’s science could cause such chaos. I fear my moment of decision is rapidly approaching. Do I betray my friends even to save my husband?
Son of Vulcan frowned as he whirled around at the sound of a slight movement. Since he had severed much of the connection he’d previously had to the Olympians, he no longer had as many powers as he’d once possessed, but he was thankful for the experience of a seasoned warrior that served him so well.
“We are being watched!” he said as a beautiful woman stepped out on to the platform that rose above them. It was indeed the raven-haired Layla, but her short pink dress had been replaced by a tight pink jumpsuit with matching high-heeled boots.
“I little expected to have guests at this point in my plans, but then again, when a woman has a universe to reshape to meet her every whim, she can lose sight of the small details!” she said with a laugh.
Captain Atom frowned as he recognized the altered woman. “Lyla?” he said. “You served the Monitor, but you’ve changed — in more ways than one! What game are you playing?”
Layla posed defiantly and said, “I serve no one but myself now. In fact, I am far different from that weakling Lyla. She sought to preserve the cosmos for her master, and I have a different goal in mind! My goal is rather simple. I want to see this universe destroyed! I want to ruin what work the other Lyla sought to preserve.”
Vulcan stepped forward and raised a mace. “You have clearly usurped some power from the late Monitor. If you choose to use that power in a petty and cruel way, then you are no better than the most ancient of tyrants from mythology, and I’ve dealt with many of them!”
“My, what a forceful man you are!” said Layla. “Still, I have allies of my own who will be more than happy to test your many talents!” She gestured to where a sliding door opened to reveal several costumed figures.
A hulking figure in green and purple led the others as he raised a gleaming mace of his own. “Blackguard, here, has as many weapons as you do, Vulcan!” declared Layla.
Blackguard nodded and said, “I’ve always wanted to throw down with you, Vulcan! Booster Gold’s smart mouth got on my last nerve! At least you don’t talk a man to death!”
Next to Blackguard was a bald man in black. Light gleamed off an artificial arm that he flexed as he approached. “Captain Atom might remember me,” he said, introducing himself with a grin. “Iron-Arms is my nom du crime. (*) My old ally Professor Koste could not be here, but his improvements to my arm should speak well for his unfailing genius!”
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Finally Falls the Mighty,” Captain Atom (Charlton) #83 (November, 1966).]
Five tumbling, giggling, wildly leaping men in multicolored costumes bounded forward, needing no introduction.
The Madmen! Those maniacs are deadly, in spite of their inane act! thought Captain Atom, recognizing Blue Beetle’s old foes.
However, none of the heroes recognized a slender woman who wore a costume whose colors changed from moment to moment. Her long blonde hair was crowned with a pulsating helmet.
“I am Spectra! My mentor was the late and lamented Doctor Spectro!” she announced.
A Japanese-American woman in a brief gold tunic and sandals remained in the rear as she clutched a small oddly shaped stone. She stayed back as the other action-villains charged at the heroes.
Champion glanced over at Captain Atom, then flew directly at the Madmen before they could spread out. Increasing his density until he was a human battering ram, he crashed into the acrobatic thieves.
As they collapsed beneath the impact, Champion smiled slightly. I can handle action-villains like them! he mused. That’s one good thing about this kind of cosmic case — at least the henchmen are all too human!
Son of Vulcan was dodging the swinging blows of Blackguard, even as he prepared to use his own mace against the armored assassin. Blackguard’s like some relentless fury, but I think I can outfight him! thought Vulcan.
Blocking the mace with his own weapon, he then punched Blackguard in the mouth. He followed up with a second blow and began to circle his foe warily.
Captain Atom had met Iron-Arms in mid-step, and he grappled with the bald villain for a moment or two before he realized that this was indeed a new and improved version of his old enemy.
“What’s wrong, Captain?” gloated the man in black as he pushed the atomic ace backward. “Could it be you’re beginning to see that I’m as strong as you are now?”
Captain Atom grunted with effort as he began to fall beneath the grinning man’s greatly enhanced power.
Lord Volt and Lady Quark had begun to move forward, when blinding yellow light bathed them in a glow from the helmet worn by Spectra. Lady Quark frowned as she felt her heart rate increase, and she started to feel a wave of panic. Lord Volt was experiencing the same trauma, but neither he nor his wife would give in to the strange emotional control their silent enemy exercised.
Suddenly, Lady Quark released a burst of crackling energy that struck Spectra and knocked her across the room. She struck a wall and remained still.
“Clearly, dear Spectra little expected to face a pair who were so greatly beyond emotions like fear!” said Layla.
The Madmen had started to recover from Champion’s attack, but their insane brand of combat did little to slow the young hero down. As the colorful criminals jumped around the hero, they either hurt themselves against his super-dense form or found themselves unable to move as he increased their own weight.
Captain Atom was seemingly losing his own battle, but he was far too experienced to allow a change of fortune to ever really defeat him. Phasing through Iron-Arms, he then caught him from the back in a wrestling hold.
They soared skyward, and then Atom dropped him. Iron-Arms screamed as he struck the ground below. He regained his footing for a moment, but collapsed seconds later.
His newly enhanced cyborg form was durable enough to withstand the drop, thought Atom, but he won’t be ready for a fight for some time to come!
Son of Vulcan had managed to stagger the cocky Blackguard as well, and with a stinging punch he knocked him cold.
At that moment, the Japanese-American woman known as Alkemi stepped forward at Layla’s command and used her Philosopher’s Stone to change the air around the heroes to steel.
Layla nodded in approval as the tactic delayed the intruders. She knew the metal would not hold any of them for long, and she was right. Turning to Alkemi, she said, “I realize that your elemental powers have their limits, but I think it is time to test them! When the heroes break free, I wish you to use the stone to disperse their very molecules!”
The younger woman nodded slowly. She had been defeated so often in the past by Liberty Belle that she could hardly imagine a victory.
As Captain Atom led the others to freedom from their metal tomb, the magical energies of the Philosopher’s Stone washed over them, and they each felt crushing pain.
I can’t phase! thought Champion.
Captain Atom was in pain as well, as he felt himself begin to change back to Nathaniel Adam against his will.
The royal couple were finding their own powers to be useless against the magical stone as well. Even as Lady Quark struggled beside her spouse, she looked toward Captain Atom’s painful transformation, and she glanced up at the screen that showed her husband’s possible fate.
Vulcan was trying to find some avenue of power that would counter the magic, but he was failing as well.