Jack Weston kicked the hulking brute who had been choking him. After kicking him above the belt, Jack slugged him with a swift left.
“Sorry, Kravinoff! But this is where I get off — government blueprints included at no extra cost to you, Soviet spy and mental defective that you are!” he bantered, and with a farewell wave, the patriotic hero known as Minute Man threw himself out of the airplane.
Dropping down, he said to himself, “Hope I packed the chute and not that suit I was to take to the cleaners!” Sure enough, a parachute expanded, and the mystery-man sailed gently down to a safe landing.
Meanwhile, his Soviet foe’s plane crashed into a nearby mountain peak. Yikes! he mused. I told him not to trust that autopilot, but no, he had to try to choke me to death instead of flying the plane! Guess spies like him aren’t any brighter now than they were back in the 1940s!
Upon reaching civilization, Minute Man returned the stolen plans and received the thanks of his nation once again. “No thanks are necessary,” he told the president once more. “I’m here to serve my country!”
Returning to his small cafe not long after, he mused, The Minute Man Cafe just doesn’t attract business these days. I guess with McDonald’s, Arby’s, and all the rest available, my little place doesn’t cut the mustard, so to speak. The cafe was located in the Southwest, and the dusty desert left Weston with little business, except for lost tourists.
“I guess that hobby of mine has taken too much time away from the business, but I’ll never quit being Minute Man,” he said. “I mean, that’s who I am. Jack Weston and Minute Man are the same. The mask and costume don’t change my personality at all.”
Dusting a shelf, he pushed a button on his jukebox, and it played Rosemary by the Fascinators, and he hummed happily along.
“Guess that song means nothing to anybody under fifty these days. I still am only about thirty-six because of the Suspendium trap, but my tastes in everything from the decor to the music are around thirty or forty years out of date. Funny that a guy named Minute Man would be a golden oldie!”
He looked at a framed photo of actress Sandra Dee that lined his walls, along with Doris Day, Grace Kelly, Tuesday Weld, and Eva Marie Saint. After emerging to a new world in the early 1970s, Jack Weston had spent much of his time catching up with popular culture, and he found himself drawn to a lot of the music, films, and television shows from the late 1950s, just a few short years after he fell into the Suspendium trap in 1953. “Oh, Sandy, I guess you and the girl next door are long gone in this MTV era,” he said wistfully.
Fatefully, a beautiful blonde girl in a pink sweater and a long pink skirt entered. Her hair was swept back in a pink scarf. “Hi! My name is Sandra Dee. I bought the gift shop beside the cafe. I guess you could say I’m the girl next door!” she teased.
Jack blinked and said, “Welcome, neighbor! My name is Jack Weston, and your name is…?” he asked, showing her a seat in a booth.
“It really is Sandra Dee, like the old singer,” she said.
“Actress. She was an actress,” he corrected. “Her ex-husband, Bobby Darin, was the singer.”
“Right. She’s just a name I’ve had haunting me all my life!” she said. “I own the book store/gift shop next door, so I wanted us to get acquainted.” Running her hand over the plastic napkin holders, she said, “I like your cafe. It’s so quaint.”
“That’s me, all right. Mister Quaint! I also answer to Mister Weird or Sir Bizarre!” he joked. “Uh, listen, Miss Dee, would you like to join me at the circus?” he asked nervously. “There’s a troop in town, and I thought I’d take in the show. How about it? The peanuts are on me!”
“I’d be delighted, except my boyfriend might object!” she said.
Jack’s face fell. “Oh, sure. No problem.” She left with a wave, and he sat down in the booth. Great! Too late once again! Hope at least the circus is fun! he thought.
In the big top tents, a sinister figure stood before a mirror. He wore garish makeup and had black circles painted around his cold eyes.
“The Black Clown is back once more in front of the lights and the roar of the crowd, and yet again his reign of terror will begin! Come one, come all, and let the master of terror drain you dry of every value you have!” Laughter echoed through the looming big top.
Jack Weston enjoyed the circus. He liked the old fashion spectacle and enjoyed the memories. You know, in this tent it could be 1940 or 1950 or anytime at all! he thought. That makes me feel normal once more. I wonder if Captain Marvel has that feeling of being out of time? I’ve had more than a decade to get used to things and all, but I just can’t quite adjust, somehow.
He watched all the acts eagerly, trying to block out the fact that Duran Duran T-shirts and Madonna wannabes filled the stands where coonskin caps and poodle skirts were so recently in his memory.
That clown seems to run things, he noted as he watched. The ringmaster seems a puppet in his hands. Every one of them turns to the clown instead of him for approval!
Then a scream echoed as a lion broke free from its trainer.
“Great guns! I’d better tame that kitty!” he said, leaping out of the crowd to change into the red pants and blue boots, along with the white-collared, long-sleeved shirt of red and white stripes that identified him as Minute Man.
The Black Clown was delighted. He had come a long way since he had fought Mister Scarlet back in the 1940s as a circus owner turned clown-themed criminal, both solo and with his allies in the Death Battalion. (*) No longer did this villain need to use trained animals to commit crimes. In the decades since then, Harry Parrish had developed another talent, the ability to feed off of the emotions of the crowd, which had come about as a side effect of a number of experiments he’d had criminal scientists perform on him over the years. The machines he’d had built for him subtly bathed the audience in subliminal waves that drained them of reserve and moral values, finally driving them to increasing acts of madness. He only needed the energy the machines stole to power his own mental control of his troop, but he considered the corrupting influence it had on the crowd to be a sick thrill for his twisted sense of humor.
[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Black Clown,” Wow Comics #3 (Fall 1941) and “The Death Battalion,” America’s Greatest Comics #1 (1941).]
The loose lion could spoil his plan, since the crowd had not been drained as much as he had wanted. Without their energy to sap the will of his troop, the troop would not obey his orders to rob while some of them entertained the crowds.
Then he saw Minute Man drop down in front of the lion as it approached a little girl. He scooped her up in his arms and said, “Don’t worry, honey. That big cat won’t hurt you. He just needs me to let him out for the night!”
After he handed her to her mother, the grateful woman said, “Thank you, Minute Man!”
The hero turned to face the lion, which roared at him. “You need anger management,” he said. “I know people who could help you with that!” Then, jumping over its head, he landed with a spin on the beast’s back. He grabbed the mane and said, “I guess I’m the ‘mane man’ now!”
Pulling the mane back tightly, he held the lion in place until everyone had scattered and the tamer could rope it down. “Now, that was some ride. And I thought the subway was wild!” he joked to ease the crowd. As cheers broke out, he ducked under cover and returned to his seat in the dense crowd.
The Black Clown smiled. “Minute Man! The Hood wanted him dealt with, and I might as well do it. If I can enslave that do-gooder, then I’ll know my machine can control anyone, perhaps even the Marvel Family!” His dark face brightened, and laughter echoed once more.
The next night, Jack Weston was out scouting the city on his cycle when he spotted a shadowy figure high above on a rooftop.
Shadowy figure plus rooftop equals action in the Minute Man school of the new math, he thought, stopping quickly. He climbed up the roof nimbly without a moment’s hesitation and soon heard whispered dialogue within.
“The Black Clown says this place is loaded with loot!” said a foreign accent.
“Hey, the Black Clown is always right!” replied his friend.
“The Black Clown needs therapy,” joked Minute Man as he leaped down. “How about we put him in light blue or green and call him the Pastel Clown. Those Miami Vice guys make it all the rage!”
“The Minute Man!” cried a brutish strongman.
“Articles strictly optional!” replied Minute Man as he jabbed the man under each arm.
The brute dropped a heavy table on his own feet before he could smash it down on Weston. “That’s gotta hurt! I’d lay down a while. I’ll help you with that!” he said, punching the pinned brute in the face three times rapidly, then kicking him flat.
A knife whizzed by his head. “I think Sterling Morris owns the rights to the sound whiz!” he joked. Seeing the wiry knife-thrower, he said, “You know, something tells me you guys are with the circus, although that suit just screams Wall Street.”
Ducking low, he pulled the rug the thrower was standing on, and it tore into pieces. “They don’t make rugs like they used to in my day!” he said with a shrug.
Minute Man jumped high and spun down to land with a crash on the circus performer. He slapped him down and said, “I just know there’s an acrobat somewhere around here! There always is!”
Ducking as a third agile man dropped from above, he turned and grabbed him, then slammed him into the table the brute had dropped. “I recommend lemon-scented Pledge, but when in a pinch, use the face of a thug!” he quipped, rubbing the thug against the table and letting him fall stunned.
After calling the police, the hero headed for the big top. “It doesn’t take the wisdom of Solomon to know that our Black Clown is the brains of this operation. I’ll just pay him a visit.”
Cycling over, Minute Man eased into the crowds. “That creep’s using some device to control the crowd,” noted the astute hero as he watched the Black Clown operate a machine in the biggest tent. “They’re turning money over to him, too! Plus, getting mighty worked up and violent with each other!”
Running inside, he shouted, “Excuse me, are you a Mary Kay representative? I have this rash, you see–!”
“Minute Man!” cried the Black Clown.
“Not a minute too soon!” he replied as he slugged the villain. “I’ve used that line before, by the way!”
The Black Clown sneered and said, “It’ll do my evil heart good to make you a puppet.”
“There are always strings attached to any good time!” declared Jack Weston as he dodged a punch from the evil clown.
Then the Black Clown grabbed Weston and choked him. Always with the choking these days! the hero mused as he dropped flat, then kicked the Clown over his head. He rolled aside as the fast-moving Black Clown kicked him in the head. He’s strong! I guess those rays give him added power! mused Minute Man.
This was proven when the Black Clown swung Weston across the tent by one leg. The hero kicked free and fell hard.
“I used to duel with Mister Scarlet, but I can slay you as well,” laughed the Black Clown.
“I thought you clowns were all happy and fun-loving. What gives?” asked Minute Man.
“Oh, it’ll be fun for me and make me very happy!” roared his foe. “I don’t have to beat you physically! I can let you die by your own moral code!” laughed the Clown.
“That would be better than letting you bore me to death,” said Minute Man.
“I’ll let the crowd battle to the death! Innocent lives lost in one mad stampede!” said the Black Clown.
“No!” shouted Jack Weston, worried for their safety. “I surrender! Just don’t hurt anyone!”
“Good! Tie him up and bathe him in the rays of my machine. Soon the good will die in you, and you’ll be bad, bad, bad!” ranted the Black Clown.
“Are you trying to tell me I’ll be bad?” joked Weston as he allowed the gang to bind him and set him under the machine’s lurid glow. “Does this thing tan? I burn easily, but I always like a good tan!” he quipped as he tried to think of a way out over the next few moments.
Suddenly, he shouted fiercely, “I hate you! I’ll kill you!”
The Black Clown smiled. “it’s worked already! Untie him and let him serve as one of our circus of crime!”
The thugs freed Minute Man, only to regret it immediately when the hero instantly decked both thugs with two swift blows. He then darted forward to tackle the Black Clown, who screamed in surprise.
“You’re not under my control! It was an act!” said the villain as Weston slugged him again.
“You catch on quick for a man with orange hair,” said Minute Man as he roped the Black Clown with the discarded bonds that had held him seconds before.
“How did you resist my glorious machine?” asked the Black Clown.
“I am pure of heart,” he said solemnly. “I’m a loyal old-fashioned American, and your kind can never beat us.” He grinned and added, “Oh, and I unplugged the machine when I first snuck inside! All it did was shine like a nightlight.”
“Smart mouth!” said the Black Clown.
“Thank you, and nice eyes, too!” he replied as he led the evil Clown out of the tent.
Later, as Jack Weston sat around in the Minute Man Cafe, he saw Sandra Dee enter with a tall man with blond hair and a chiseled profile.
“Jack, this is my boyfriend, Devon Willard,” she said.
“Charmed, I’m sure,” said Willard.
“Same to you,” said Jack, extending a hand.
“Oh, I don’t do handshakes,” replied Willard. “Germs, you know.”
“And they know me!” quipped Jack.
“Well, we just stopped by to say hello. See you around!” called Sandra as she led the stiff Willard out.
“What a creep! I don’t like him… and it’s not just because he has Sandy, and I don’t. He’s a jerk. Why does a girl like that go for a smug guy like that? He’s all flash and no substance,” complained Jack.
Hitting the jukebox, he played Blue Velvet. “Ah, this is living,” he said. “Maybe I can find some old reruns on cable.”
Later, as Devon Willard kissed the sweet and spirited Sandy Dee goodbye, he smiled and whistled a grim tune.
“Well may I enjoy the sweet surcease from sorrow offered by the nubile Sandra, for soon the deadly serious call to duty will sound, and woe to those it knells, since that means the Laughing Skull walks anew!” he said madly.