Brian Butler was a handsome blond man with a pencil-thin mustache who, though physically middle-aged, still retained a youthful agility and a powerful right cross that had served him so well during his days as Mister Scarlet.
Now he wondered if he still had what it took to play at being a mystery-man. Although he hadn’t been active as Mister Scarlet for nearly a decade now, the recent Crisis on Infinite Earths had shaken his self-assurance in the idea that a mere man in a red suit could do any good in a dangerous world.
His adopted son, Robert “Pinky” Butler, was a second source of concern. Although Rob — or Pinky, as he’d been called since he was a baby — had originally been his legal ward after the boy’s mother was killed by Mister Hyde, Brian later adopted him as his son, though it took a while for Rob to start calling him dad. (*) Rob had made a decision that annoyed the wealthy attorney very much.
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Mr. Scarlet and Mr. Hyde,” Wow Comics #4 (Winter, 1941-1942).]
“I don’t want to go to college,” said Rob, a handsome, strawberry-blond young man. “I’m a writer. I can write without ever taking a degree. It’s life experience that counts, and you know I’ve had that since I was a kid. We’ve been to other Earths, for crying out loud!” he exclaimed.
“Look, Rob, our adventures together as Scarlet and Pinky did serve a point and broaden your horizons, but they aren’t fodder for stories. You need a college degree… maybe law…” he began for the hundredth time.
“I can do more for the law by working as a crime-fighter. I can draw upon so many weird sights and characters as a writer of science fiction or horror. Plus, you haven’t been Mister Scarlet since before the Crisis. What’s behind that, Dad?” Rob asked, suddenly concerned.
“I have been wondering about the need for us to don our uniforms, what with the crimes worse and the Marvels still around. Maybe I’m just getting too old,” Brian said with a sigh.
“‘Too old’? Never! But I do want to ask you about a related issue. How about letting me change my heroic name? Pinky the Whiz Kid just doesn’t hold up these days for a lot of reasons. If we do resume our old battle, I won’t be doing it as Pinky,” he vowed.
“Youse guys may not even be the only users o’ that name,” announced Wainwright, their jovial butler who listened to every word his old friends and employers had said.
“Meaning what?” asked Brian.
“Meaning lookit this!” said the fat man as he tossed down a newspaper.
A headline read: New Heroine Protects the Streets: Lady Scarlet. Next to it was a photo showing a costumed woman in a red mask and a skimpy red outfit swinging out over the city.
“What nerve!” said Brian.
“What a babe,” said Rob.
Wainwright spoke up, “Say, this doll is cert’nly a looker, but what gives her the nerve to claim youse guys’ name?”
“Well, Lady Scarlet is close, but it’s hardly a copyright infringement,” joked Brian.
“I’d say she was inspired by us, at the very least. She sure inspires me,” said Rob.
“Well, son, she interests me, too,” said his adoptive father. “She makes me at least want to suit up again to check her out, see if she is worthy.”
“I think the mystery-man bug is just too strong for you to shake it off,” said Rob.
“You can’t just quit! Ya got too much moxy for that!” declared Wainwright.
“Let’s hit the streets and prove it,” said Mister Scarlet.
The costumed pair soon raced into the heart of the city in the Scarlet Speedster, their souped-up van that held a state-of-the-art crime lab. Although back in the 1940s Brian Butler had gone from being a successful prosecutor to a struggling lawyer who was nearly destitute, a few investments he’d made in the early 1950s had paid off over the twenty years that he and Rob were in suspended animation along with several others. (*) Now Brian and Rob were wealthy and had been able to invest in high-tech equipment to fight crime. Even though that had been less of a priority for several years, Brian still had his Mister Scarlet identity in mind when he purchased strategically placed buildings throughout the city.
“Do you suppose this will be a quiet night?” asked Pinky.
“I have the old feeling that trouble will find us soon enough, Pinky,” said Scarlet.
“I was thinking about that name change I mentioned. How about the Crimson Kid?” offered Rob Butler. “It sounds tougher, and still keeps the color motif.”
“I like it, but the press will likely always think of you as Pinky the Whiz Kid.”
They turned a lane and spotted some odd figures loading equipment from the back of a private clinic.
“Looks like unauthorized removal to me,” said Mister Scarlet.
“Yeah! Let’s make our own house call on these thugs,” said Pinky.
They slammed on the brakes, and Mister Scarlet grinned to see his son already out the door and charging the gang. He didn’t even wait for the van to stop, he mused. He loves this life. Should I even consider depriving him of it?
The thugs gasped at the sight of their colorful foes. “Aw, man! It’s that Scarlet guy,” they groaned.
“The boss don’t want no mystery-man types messing with his plan,” vowed a bald man.
“Well, sorry, but the boss didn’t clear his plans with us! You must go through the proper channels,” said Pinky as he lashed out at the man. A swift right dropped the thug to the pavement. He pulled out a gun, only to see the fast young man kick it skyward.
Mister Scarlet leaped up and dropped into the other three. His fists flew out to catch two immediately, while a kick caught the third in the stomach. “Nice that you boys are so close to a hospital,” he said with his trademark charm.
Pinky laughed and slapped down the bald thug as he tried to rise. “Yes. Easy access, no waiting.”
Mister Scarlet rammed the two thugs together, and they fell, stunned. He pushed down the other one and turned to his son. “We settled their little game rather well.”
The final thug lay still, but whipped out a gun that he leveled at Mister Scarlet’s back, which in turn blocked Pinky’s view of the action.
Suddenly, a whirling sound filled the night sky, and a projectile spun the gun out of his bruised hand. The twirling glaive returned to the owner’s delicate hand.
“Careful, Mister Scarlet! You’ll lose a life that way!” she mocked, then dropped down.
It was the sultry Lady Scarlet from the news. Her curly red mane flowed over shapely shoulders in a tight, revealing bodysuit that left both arms and legs bare.
“I see you saved me. Miss Scarlet, I presume?” he said.
“No. Miss Scarlet was in Gone with the Wind. Call this babe Lady Scarlet!” she laughed.
“Are you after our jobs?” teased Pinky.
“Never! Just trying to fit in, honey,” she said, stroking Pinky’s cheek before vanishing in the night.
“Wow! I think she’s really something,” said Pinky.
“She is impressive,” said Mister Scarlet. “My error back there could have been fatal. Maybe it is time for me to hang it up? You need a new name; how about using mine?” asked the grim Butler.
Rob merely stared silently.
At the manor that housed the Horned Hood and his Revenge Inc. team, a dismayed Doctor Death ranted and raved. “The hated Mister Scarlet stopped my men from getting me the equipment we discussed!” he yelled. “I thought you were going to back me up, Hood!”
Doctor Death was a gaunt bald man with large, crazy-looking eyes, a mouthful of crooked teeth, with a white skull and bones tattooed on his forehead, who wore a black tuxedo with a black opera cape. He had always looked like the personification of death, but the wrinkles of age had enhanced his gaunt appearance even more.
“Calm down, my friend. I’ll see Scarlet die if you fail to do so or request my aid,” said the placating Horned Hood, a man in a dark blue business suit who wore a cowl with two devilish horns over his head, with openings for his evil eyes and hideous smile. “Let us not forget that you are every bit the professional that I am. You’ll stop that masked fool.”
“Yes, I will. Sorry, Hood. I lost my temper,” offered Doctor Death as he walked out.
The Horned Hood turned to the Weeper. “Poor idiot. He does not know that he played the part I assigned to him perfectly. His failure will only ensure that another, more intelligent Revenger brings about Scarlet’s demise!” He laughed as his friend wept in what appeared to be joy.
A week passed, during which time neither Wainwright nor Rob Butler could convince Brian to resume his Mister Scarlet identity once more.
Rob worried that his dad had lost his old spirit of daring. He held off any further talk about changing his own name, in fear that it would only encourage his dad to abandon the Mister Scarlet costume for good.
Then a weird series of crimes hit the city, and Brian Butler’s closest friend (outside of the loyal but blunt Wainwright), Police Commissioner Lou Garde called him.
“Brian, I hate to bother you after your seeming retirement,” he said over the telephone, “but we need Mister Scarlet to look into a case that is entirely too strange for the force.”
“Lou, old buddy, you know I’ll help if you need me. In fact, considering that you figured out my secret long ago on your own, I’d say you knew I’d help before you even asked!” laughed Brian.
“See, all police commissioner types are not dense. I do want you and Rob to look into a little matter… involving dead men who rob!”
“That sounds like some lurid story from my son’s imagination. Dead men who commit crimes?” wondered Mister Scarlet.
“Just come down in the suit. I’ll explain all,” said Lou Garde.
Brian Butler donned the suit while Wainwright located Rob Butler, and together Mister Scarlet and Pinky the Whiz Kid hit the streets once more.
“So what do you make of the photos? They appear to be corpses,” offered the rugged police commissioner.
“I’d say ‘appear’ is the key word,” said Mister Scarlet. “They may look dead, but I’d wager the family fortune that they aren’t. I’d even wager that I know who is behind these walking corpse crooks: Doctor Death.” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Mister Scarlet and the Melodious Death,” Wow Comics #2 (Summer, 1941).]
“Doctor Death?” said Lou Garde. “Surely he died himself long ago. He’s not been heard of in decades.”
“You be surprised, Lou,” said Rob. “These old villains never really die. They survive extremely well, and in very odd circumstances. He would be old by now, though.”
“This from a man who was born around 1928!” said Lou in mock amazement.
“Yeah! That suspended animation thing really made a difference! I’d be collecting S.S.I. by now without it,” he said.
“I know Doctor Death’s M.O.,” said Lou. “He was a real doctor who used his medical skills in a wide variety of weird, life-altering ways… like a Dr. Frankenstein of the atomic age.”
“True. And this pseudo-dead men angle would be his cup of tea,” offered a suddenly interested Mister Scarlet. “So these corpses have been robbing medical supply houses, private clinics, et cetera, around the area. We’ll stake out the ones not yet hit.”
“Thanks, pal,” said Lou. “Pinky, my little Melanie’s been eager for an autograph. How about it?” he said as they prepared to leave.
“Sure.” Rob scribbled a quick note.
After they left, Lou Garde frowned at the note. “Who’s the Crimson Kid?”
Doctor Death had indeed been behind the robberies. He had perfected a process that made his men seem utterly lifeless and oddly invulnerable. This was partly due to some ideas from the ever-brilliant Black Rat.
In his laboratory, Doctor Death turned from his desk to laugh with typical mad scientist glee. “I have them where I want them!” he cried. “My men will spread like a plague upon this city and make it mine! All I need is more equipment and more candidates from Binder State Prison.”
His white suit looked like any lab-coated doctor’s, but his face held a look of deadly intent. “The Horned Hood’s money funded me, and the Black Rat added his touches, but the glory will be mine alone.”
Mister Scarlet and the Crimson Kid hid in a lush shrubbery on a private estate.
“This place is ritzy. I’d half-expect to see the nurses in fake furs,” quipped Crimson Kid.
“I appreciate that, since I own this place,” said his dad.
“You do? What don’t you own in this city?” said Rob.
“This clinic is a good one,” said Brian. “I’m proud of it. I hope it’s good enough to attract our mad doctor friend.”
“Wainwright sure was fired up about Doctor Death’s possible return,” said Rob.
“With good reason, son. He was Doctor Death’s right-hand man back in his criminal days,” added Mister Scarlet.
“You’re kidding! I know he talks tough, but he’s like a nanny in suspenders — a real sweetheart. How could our Wainwright have been mixed up with a cold-blooded fiend like Doctor Death?” asked the concerned Crimson Kid.
“He didn’t kill for him. He was merely a small-time thug for the evil doctor back in 1940. He turned on him and saved my life. I made him my aide on the spot, and he directly provided me with information on the underworld for years. A decade ago, of course, I hired him on as our butler and secret aide when it started to get too dangerous for him out on the streets. He’s never failed us, you know.”
“Gosh, no! I know he’s as right as rain,” said Crimson Kid. “I even knew he had a shady past, but I never saw him as the henchman type. I’m shocked his mouth didn’t cause Doctor Death to rub him out a week after they met.”
“Look,” whispered Mister Scarlet.
At that minute, several odd men stalked across the yard. They were silent and pale in the moonlight.
“Look — it’s Lugosi ‘R’ Us,” joked Crimson Kid.
“Hold it! You men are a long way from the morgue!” joked Mister Scarlet with his old flair. He approached them and fired a small gun. Red mist swirled around them, and choking gasps came from their deathly white forms.
“Looks like these dead men do breathe,” said Rob. He slugged one, and to his surprise, the man merely looked at him. A second left hook had no effect.
Mister Scarlet kicked one hard, but the man merely lurched back.
“They are dead!” said the Crimson Kid.
“No,” said Scarlet. “But their nervous systems have been altered. They are alive, but they have numbed pain receptors. Nothing literally hurts them, or at least they don’t feel–” He began to choke as a fist closed around his neck. His swung his gun, but it fell from his grasp as the man ignored the blow and pummeled him.
“Scarlet!” cried Rob, and three more piled on his agile form.
Try as they might, they could not stop the men who felt no pain. They fell into a stunned condition on the lawn.
“Bring them to me!” echoed from a hidden truck on the edge of the property.
The gang loaded the heroes into the back with other stolen items easily obtained and sped off into the night.
“You’ll be more than a pseudo-dead man soon,” vowed Doctor Death as he kicked the stunned hero. Laughter echoed through the cold night.
Rob Butler awoke in a huge water tank. He was tied securely to the bottom, and only his neck was above the cold water. His adoptive father was nowhere to be seen.
“Oh, my young friend! How good it is to meet again after so long a parting,” sneered the man called Doctor Death.
“You creep! We knew it was you! We recognized your smell!” said the spunky Rob.
“Well, well, still as much of a smart-mouthed punk as you were in 1944, I see,” he said. “You’ll be happy to know that the water you’re in is slowly freezing you to death. You’ll die of hypothermia in the middle of a heated room!” he laughed madly. “I do believe you’ll make medical history, young Pinky,” he said.
The Crimson Kid started to correct him, but his chattering teeth stopped him cold.
“Your mentor dies tonight as well, although under different conditions,” added Doctor Death.
“Creep,” muttered Rob.