At that moment, to the surprise of everyone in the room, a man in red and gold entered the room and slapped the stone out of Alkemi’s hand. Before she could reach for it again, he had deftly stunned her with what looked like a gentle tap.
Layla scowled as she recognized the little-known costumed hero of the past. “You, here? I suppose this was some little joke by my erstwhile ally. She does enjoy manipulations of time and space, but then I can put up with it, since she gave me some of the devices I’ve used to bring about this plan of conquest!”
“My name is Wonder Man,” the blond man stated confidently. “I can’t explain how I just appeared here, unless it has to do with some kind of time-travel, since I’ve had my own problems in that area. I don’t know you or what you’re doing, but I won’t let you hurt those people! They can’t withstand your kind of violence!”
“I knew you existed in this universe, but I certainly didn’t know you played a role in my bold new world,” said Layla. “I suppose my time-bending ally wanted you here for some reason!”
Captain Atom was struggling to regain his heroic form even as his partners were shaking off the power of the stone. He stared at the newcomer with a look of amazement. He had seen every kind of peril in the universe and had accomplished an incredible amount in his remarkable life, but Wonder Man could claim something even Captain Atom could not call his own. Wonder Man was the world’s very first true action-hero, or mystery-man as they were called back then. (*) He had vanished decades ago and had been largely forgotten by the world, but Atom knew all about him since he was, in fact, an inspiration of sorts to him.
[(*) Editor’s note: See Wonder Man, Wonder Comics #1 (May, 1939).]
“My automatons may be crude,” said Layla, “but they can still batter you all into submission while I deal with this unexpected intruder!”
Humanoid robots surged forward from below with mindless determination and tireless energy. They swarmed over the heroes even as they managed to shake off the lingering power of Alkemi’s stone.
As Captain Atom started to lead his friends into battle, yet another newcomer appeared, and he began to feel a sense of dread as he recognized the white-clad form of his old foe, the Ghost.
Layla smiled as she said, “Ghost, you did a fine job in recruiting my defeated action-villains, but I wish you had been a bit more punctual with reinforcements.”
The Ghost calmly replied, “I’d say I brought the reinforcements at the perfect moment!”
As he spread wide his cloak, the Ghost’s costume of white faded to reveal a red, white, and blue costume with a star emblem on the chest. Next to him materialized the forms of Nightshade, Tomorrow Woman, and Guardian.
Layla cursed as she stared at her ally in disbelief. “What is this folly?” she demanded.
Alec Rois, the former Ghost who had renamed himself Supernova, smiled as he said, “I’d decided that the life of a villain wasn’t for me even before you approached me with your offer. I decided to play along with you as the Ghost while secretly removing villains from the field and from your reach as Supernova. I also abducted Captain Atom’s esteemed friends, here, in my Ghost role in order to secure them from you and bring them here at the right moment to use against you! Thanks to my own improvements to my transportation and intangibility devices, I found a limbo between realms that rests beyond anyone’s touch but my own. It has made a fine prison for the likes of Firefist and other villains, and a good temporary place of hiding for the heroes!”
Layla shook her head and said, “No one betrays me! I still have enough power to end this now!” She pressed a button, and the walls parted to reveal a huge sphere full of crackling white energy.
Wonder Man gasped as he recognized the energies. He was uncertain as to the current time due to his own time-travel ordeals, but he had recent memories involving a cosmic crisis and similar energies. (*) “Antimatter!” he said. “You’ve harnessed antimatter energy!”
[(*) Editor’s note: Wonder Man’s travels through time will be more fully revealed in stories to come.]
Layla nodded and said, “This bomb will release enough energy to eradicate this universe! I’ll achieve what even the Anti-Monitor failed to do. I’ll destroy this particular cosmos!”
The robots were seemingly limitless, and even as Nightshade, Guardian, Tomorrow Woman, and Wonder Man joined the others in battling them, the odds seemed to be growing against the heroes.
Wonder Man turned to the heroes and vowed, “I stand with you!”
“I don’t care if you came here by chance or design,” said Layla. “Your story ends now!” She calmly activated a portal that brought the white sphere closer.
Meanwhile, Lord Volt wasted no time before confronting Layla herself. “This madness ends here and now!” he said as Lady Quark flew by his side. “You face one who lost his very world! I will not show you mercy of those who have not carried such losses!”
Layla laughed and said, “How noble, and how very predictable! Before you make additional declarations of undying heroism, I suggest you look behind you at the screen.”
Lord Volt turned to stare upward at a huge monitor screen that depicted a scene of all-too-familiar horror. He saw his home world as it had been during the cosmic Crisis on Infinite Earths. Shadowy monsters streaked across stormy crimson skies, and perhaps most frightening of all were the images of his wife and daughter holding such creatures back. “By my crown!” he gasped.
Lady Quark’s eyes widened as she saw a scene that was like a distorted version of the past she knew.
“You see a portal into the world you lost, but I assure you it is not sealed from me!” said Layla. “I plucked you from that timeline before it was lost in the Crisis. I can return you there at a moment’s notice! Now, Lady Quark, join me in defeating your allies while my bomb begins its final countdown to detonation!”
Lord Volt shoved by his wife and said, “I was outside your door when this female fiend made you her twisted offer! I’ve bided my time until we could face her. I won’t let your honor be tainted by such a bargain! I love you. Give my love to our daughter!”
Flying at super-speed, Lord Volt caught Layla in his arms and crashed with her directly through the portal.
As it shattered, they were lost to sight, and Lady Quark could only watch in shock as her husband and her tormentor vanished in what could only now be called the mists of time.
“Korak!” she cried as she rushed forward to find the remains of what was now merely broken glass.
Captain Atom flew to her side even as the antimatter bomb began to show signs of arming. “I could try to fly this thing into space before it goes off, but then again, where could it safely detonate?” he said.
Wonder Man shoved past him and yelled, “Get your friends to safety!” he said, bounding heroically toward the huge antimatter bomb. Once it was in his arms, he crouched and then made a magnificent leap skyward.
Captain Atom glanced around the room. He knew that he and his friends had to leave now if they were to survive. “I’ll help you,” he said. “The others can escape on their own!”
Supernova removed his hood, and Captain Atom saw the handsome features of the man he had known as both friend and foe. “Nathaniel, I can shunt the bomb into the same limbo between worlds that I used to hide your friends,” he said. “Between the tangible and the intangible exists a void place where no material force can make itself felt! The bomb will be harmless! Let this old rogue make amends for past wrongs!”
Captain Atom smiled briefly and said, “Alec, it is good to have you fighting on our side this time!”
Supernova flew after Wonder Man, and with an adjustment of his costume controls, he enveloped both the mystery-man and the sphere in a flash of light.
Even as Captain Atom and the other Sentinels of Justice made their way to the orbiting Sentinel Skimmer, the atomic ace glanced skyward in search of some sign that the former villain had met with success or failure.
Minutes passed as the craft carrying the heroes soared into space, and silence was the only response to the efforts of the new heroes. Finally, Champion hesitantly asked, “Did he make it?”
At that moment, Supernova materialized aboard the Skimmer and bowed low. “I did it, but I wouldn’t want to try a stunt like that again anytime soon!” he said.
“We owe you a debt of thanks!” said Son of Vulcan. “But what happened to Wonder Man?”
At that moment, Wonder Man dropped onto the Skimmer from above and gave the Sentinels a thumbs-up through the window. It took only a few moments before the mystery-man could be brought through the airlock into the cabin.
Captain Atom shook hands with the hero and said, “We have a lot to talk about, but I can’t let this moment go by without asking you to join our team! None of us would be here if it wasn’t for you. I mean, you started it all, though not everyone remembers you!”
“I am a bit puzzled about all the things that have happened to me,” said Wonder Man with a wan smile. “I would be honored to join you, though!”
As the others gathered around him, Wonder Man smiled with pleasure at finally finding his place in the world — then abruptly vanished.
“Chronal energy!” cried Supernova. “My sensors detect as much! He was pulled back into the time stream!”
Captain Atom nodded and said, “He was, at that. We won’t forget what he did. You know, I believe he’ll actually find his way back to us somehow! Heroes always return!”
Turning to a shaken Lady Quark, he said, “We won’t forget Lord Volt, either. Maybe we can even find him somehow. He and Layla may merely be lost in time. We can find him and rescue him!”
Lady Quark shook her head and said, “He gave himself up to save me and save my honor. I am not worthy of him. I failed him when he needed me most!”
Captain Atom put an arm around her as the ship headed for Earth, and all within reflected on how close they had come to losing their very universe to a second and most unexpected Crisis.