by Cynthia Finnegan
It was a chilly late-February afternoon as Billy Batson walked from WHIZ-TV to meet his twin sister Mary Batson Bromfield and their friend Freddy Freeman at a small neighborhood diner for lunch. And after a week of battling a bad case of the flu, it did the teen good just to get out. Though spring was rapidly approaching, the air was still cold enough for Billy to see his breath as he exhaled, and irritate his lungs enough to make him cough when he breathed in.
It had been a busy few months for the boy broadcaster. First the Crisis on Infinite Earths, and more recently that battle with Captain Marvel’s old comrade, Master Man, and meeting that fellow, Shiva, both of whom had filled in for the Marvel Family while they were in suspended animation for all those years. (*) Finally came the flu bugs, which struck Freddy first, Mary a few days later, and then Billy himself a couple of days after that. Mary and Freddy had gotten better quickly, but this microbe seemed to be holding on to Billy’s system with all the tenacity of a pit bull.
The trio all had the same symptoms: nausea, headaches, joint pain (which was especially hard on poor Freddy), chills, and a fever. Freddy’s recovery had been the quickest, because he had let his temperature rise until he nearly collapsed, basically letting the virus burn itself out. It worked, but he’d worried his landlady Mrs. Wagner greatly. And Mary had her foster-parents to cosset her over the Christmas break until she hadn’t so much as a shiver. But Billy, being a workaholic, had gone back to work before he could make a full recovery, and now his body appeared to be getting even with him for it, because he had started shivering by the time he reached the diner.
Billy noticed Mary and Freddy waving to him from the booth as he removed his overcoat and scarf, hung them on the rack, then stuffed his gloves into one of the pockets. The pair had already ordered their lunches, and Mary scooted herself and her soup over so she could make room for her brother and sit closer to Freddy. The sight and smell of food was causing Billy to feel queasy, so by the time he got to the table, he looked a bit green.
Anyone looking at the trio would see three teenagers around sixteen years old, but in reality, they were much older and had not been teenagers by the strictest definition of the word for several years now. Unless the casual observer was over the age of fifty, no one would believe that the teens had actually been born in the early 1930s, or that one of the reasons they were still so young was that they had spent twenty years trapped in suspended animation. The other reason they had not aged normally was even less believable; it was an odd effect of the magic that gave them their powers as the Marvel Family.
“Billy, are you all right?” Freddy asked with concern. “You look awful.”
“Guess I’ve still got the flu,” Billy replied, rubbing his temples. “Can’t seem to shake it.”
“Here, allow me,” Mary said as she put her hand on Billy’s cheek. “Hmm… you do feel a little warm, bro. I think you’re right; you could be having a relapse.”
Before Billy could comment, the waitress that served their table came over with a glass of ginger ale that had a yellowish powder floating in it.
“I saw you come in,” she remarked as she set the glass down. “Extra ginger; it’s an old home remedy for sick stomachs. Had the same bug two weeks ago, and the only things I could keep down were that and applesauce. You wouldn’t want some applesauce with that, would you?”
“No, this is fine. Thank you,” Billy said, then took a sip of the soda. She was right; it did settle his stomach. Not enough to eat something, but it was sufficient to watch his twin sister and best friend eat without feeling nauseous.
“OK. If you kids need anything else, my name’s Diana.”
“Thanks, Diana,” Mary replied. She then thought, I’m going to give that lady a big tip.
Meanwhile, two miles above and several hundred miles away from New York City, a black-and-gold-clad figure returned to the Earth he had been born on five millennia ago. He cursed the little crystal-spinner for keeping him trapped for so many months, and he burned for revenge against not only her, but his three foes as well. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Death at the Dawn of Time,” Crisis on Infinite Earths #10 (January, 1986) and DC Universe: Crisis on Infinite Earths: The Villain War, Chapter 11: Executions.]
His last memory had been of being transformed into crystal by Kole of the New Teen Titans of Earth-One, and then he awoke in deep space, probably by some magic spell or another, once both his transformation and the Crisis were at an end. It had then taken him several months just to find his way back to his home. Neither knowing nor caring which Earth was currently below him, he flew eastward. He calculated that, with the swiftness of Shu, he’d arrive at his destination in ten or fifteen minutes at the most. And then he would deal with any heroes as he saw fit. He grinned savagely at that thought.
Black Adam was back.
As he watched the duo eat, Billy noticed a thick envelope in front of Freddy. The letterhead on it was from Columbia University’s School of Journalism. “You got accepted?” he asked.
“Not yet,” Freddy replied nonchalantly between bites of his sandwich. “That’s just more paperwork to fill out. Scheduling and financial aid stuff, really.”
“Rat!” Mary teased, playfully slapping Freddy’s arm. “Why didn’t you tell me you’re going to Columbia?”
“Because it’s not final yet. Anyway, even if I do get accepted, I won’t be starting ’til August. But I’m in no big hurry.”
“At least you’ll be earning a degree,” Billy said sourly, then took another sip of his soda.
“Billy, you have a degree in journalism,” Freddy retorted sagely.
“An honorary one, Freddy. I didn’t go to school and earn it; they just gave it to me, and it still feels like a cheat.”
“Brother-mine, what are you babbling about?” Mary chimed in, growing impatient with her twin. “Of course you earned your degree! You earned it by… by busting your hump for how many years?!”
“‘Busting my hump’? Sis, where on earth did you hear that one?”
She wasn’t about to tell her brother that she first heard that term when, during the Crisis last summer, the Titan called Changeling had asked her out on a date. After politely refusing his offer, he stated jokingly, “If I’d’ve known I’d be busting my hump up here just for a rejection, I wouldn’t’ve bothered!”
Instead, Mary simply smiled sweetly and said, “I get around.”
“I’ll just bet,” Freddy commented with a grin, to which Mary stuck her tongue out at him. He knew how she came by that comment — he had been there when it was made — but he wasn’t going to snitch on her.
Mary and Freddy finished their meals in fairly short order, then Mary pulled a twenty out of her wallet and slipped it under the plate her soup bowl sat on, wishing that she could see the blonde waitress’ expression when she saw her tip. She then took the receipt to the front counter and paid the bill while the boys got their coats. After Mary put her own coat on, the trio walked out of the diner and headed toward WHIZ-TV.
At that moment, Black Adam appeared, hovering over the city. When he sighted one familiar landmark, the WHIZ-TV building, he knew that he was on his Earth. The world’s mightiest villain swooped down for a closer look, and as he approached a diner near the station, he recognized the three teenagers exiting the restaurant and streaked toward them as they crossed the street.
Billy saw the black and gold streak above them out of the corner of his eye. In an instant, he grabbed Freddy and Mary’s arms and pulled them both out of danger, back-pedalling as fast as he could. The black streak smashed into the tarmac where the trio had stood mere moments ago, leaving a smoking, six-foot-wide crater in the middle of the street. The tremor caused by the collision was powerful enough to knock the teens off their feet.
“Billy, how did you…?” Freddy asked.
“Saw him… coming,” Billy gasped in response, which elicited a worried look from Mary.
Billy wasn’t just out of breath; he was wheezing like an old bellows, causing her to think that he was a lot sicker than she first thought, that this wasn’t just a relapse of his flu, but the onset of pneumonia. She looked around to make sure there was no one nearby. Conveniently, at that moment, no one was looking at them.
“OK, guys,” Mary said, gathering her wits, “let’s say our words before whoever it is reaches street level again.”
“Shazam!” she and Billy shouted in unison.
“Captain Marvel!” Freddy yelled a split-second later. In response, a bolt of magic lightning struck each of the three teens, transforming them into their other forms of Captain Marvel, Mary Marvel, and Captain Marvel Junior as the black-and-gold-clad form flew back up to the street.
“Black Adam!” Captain Marvel exclaimed in shock. The last the Marvels had heard of him, he had been encased in a crystalline cocoon while on another Earth. Although they had forgotten the Crisis almost altogether shortly after it ended, they had begun remembering things slowly, first through dreams and then through discussing what they remembered with each other. They had managed to piece most of it together that way.
“Pity,” Adam said, a look of maniacal glee on his harsh, hawkish face. “I had hoped you would not have the chance to say the old fool’s name, and you disappointed me. I had so wished to kill your mortal forms with my bare hands, but this will be much more satisfying.”
“Oh, as if, you fiend,” Mary Marvel rejoined.
“What happened on Earth-Four?” Captain Marvel Junior asked mockingly. “Did the Chamber of Commerce there decide that you were too ugly to be stuck as a statue?”
“You will pay for that insult, boy!” Black Adam growled as he tackled the world’s mightiest boy, trying to wrap his fingers around the young man’s throat in an attempt to throttle him, but the Captain stopped the villain by spinning him around and belting him skyward.
“What do you say we take this fight where civilians won’t get hurt?” the world’s mightiest mortal shot back as he followed the black-clad villain.
“I say, how typically noble of you to take our battle away from those innocent sheep you protect,” said Adam, “and I loathe nobility!”
At that, Black Adam used his momentum to twist around and fly into Captain Marvel’s back, punching him on his side.