by Dan Swanson
By the summer of 1956, Red Rocket and Tom Atomic had met and worked with some of the other major heroes of the time, including Shiva, and had become well known in their own right. (*) The world had by now given up on the quick return of the Marvel Family and other heroes who had gone missing in November, 1953, and this new generation of heroes was quickly filling the gap left by their absence. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See Shiva: Times Past, 1953: The New Kid and “The World’s Wickedest Plan,” Shazam! #1 (February, 1973).]
Buoyed by his successes at the Dewey, Ketchum, and Howe Detective Agency, Tomas Thomas, alias Tom Atomic, had managed to convince his good friend Todd Drake, alias Red Rocket, and his former secretary, Bonnie Marlowe, to be full partners in the DMT Agency, which stood for Drake, Marlowe, and Thomas. Tomas and Bonnie acted as the primary investigators, while Todd performed forensic work for them. When Ketchum and Howe had retired in 1955, the agency purchased the assets of Dewey, Ketchum, and Howe and took over the same offices. In a very short period of time, they had arguably become known as the best detective agency in Chicago.
Being private investigators also gave Todd and Tomas the freedom they needed to operate as super-heroes, and in their identities of Red Rocket and Tom Atomic, they were often able to deal with situations that Bonnie, Todd, and Tomas were unable to handle as private eyes.
Todd Drake graduated from the University of Chicago in May, 1954, and by that time he had been dating Bonnie for a few months. After a passionate romance had kindled between them, Todd and Bonnie were married in late 1954, and in the following year of 1955, they had a son they named Jack after Todd’s older brother.
Two armed men were holding up the downtown branch of the First Bank of Illinois, and to prove that they weren’t fooling around, they shot one of the guards without warning, and they had also shot a customer who had tried to run away. Right now, everyone except one terrified teller was lying on the floor, and she was busy stuffing money into a bag. Suddenly, the door of the bank flew open, and a multicolored disk the size of a manhole cover flew into the bank, striking one of the robbers in the wrist with an audible crack. He immediately dropped his gun and started screaming in pain. The other immediately blasted a half-dozen shots through the door, which by now had swung closed again, then picked up his buddy’s gun before anyone else could do anything.
“Shut up, Jake, or I’ll have to shoot you, too!” Reaching over the partition, he viciously hit the teller in the side of the head with his gun, knocking her out, and grabbed the bag. “Time to go!” The screaming bandit named Jake apparently realized that his partner meant what he said, for he stopped screaming, but whenever he tried to move, he mewled in pain. His partner headed for the door, ignoring him.
A dynamic figure dressed in red, white, and blue charged through the door, hit the floor, and rolled, surprising the thug who was unable to get a bead on him. Picking up the disk, the hero jumped straight at the thug with the gun, holding the disk like a shield between them. The shield smashed into the man’s arm before he could fire, and the impact knocked the thug off of his feet. He crashed into a wall and slid down to a sitting position on the floor. He shook his head dizzily.
“Damn!” he complained loudly, to no one in particular. “It’s one of them long underwear guys! The Boss told us he’d take care of all dem guys!”
“Looks like you oughtta find another job!” The hero snapped a kick to his jaw, knocking the bandit unconscious.
A very loud, deep, commanding voice could be heard outside, speaking an unknown and very guttural language. “Ghxnog hhtygv aakwka ppifoi xuvalu!”
In response, the door of the bank exploded inward, showering the interior of the room with flying fragments of wood. Almost everyone in the room was peppered with slivers, but they were so small that no one was seriously hurt. Following the exploding door, a man in a costume swaggered through the gaping opening.
This man was tall and dark, wearing a black coat and tails, with a black top hat, and he had a hook-like nose, slick black hair, and a goatee and mustache. He carried a cane or wand made of a dark, highly polished wood banded with gold. The wand was topped with a golden skull slightly smaller than a tennis ball. In a deep, sonorous voice he spoke again, pointing the wand in the direction of the thug who had just been knocked unconscious.
“Gnuhht ygnagu kxekly lwnopu xuvalu!”
The unconscious man vanished in a burst of oily flame. A sickening smell filled the room.
During the time it took the magician to speak that spell, the costumed hero had recovered. He threw his shield at his opponent, then rushed toward him. Strangely enough, he made a strange noise when he moved — sort of a ringing rustling, perhaps like the sound of a steel chain being dragged across a concrete floor. The wizard held up his wand and uttered a command.
“Ghgtyu nvgham xuvalu!”
The shield stopped flying through the air, then dropped to floor with a clang. The wizard then quickly turned to the charging man, waving the wand and chanting another incantation.
“Ghewwo ykgany vywiol vghamh tygpol xuvalu!”
The hero stopped in his tracks. The air around him seemed to have turned solid.
Another wave of the wand was followed by another incantation.
“Ghewwh eklhty gpolyl hapygh xuvalu!”
Now the wounded man dissolved into mist, followed by another incantation.
“Paluix oswnio whukpu xuvalu!”
This caused the money bag to float up off the floor. For the first time, the wizard now spoke in English, after pointing at one of the bank officers. “When the police arrive, be sure to tell them that Wizzo the Wizard has returned, and I am more dangerous than ever! (*) I leave this hapless, hopeless hero alive as a warning to all heroes — but I will not be as merciful to the next hero who tries to interfere with me or my minions.” He again waved the wand, and another powerful incantation shook the air.
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Captain Marvel Fights Captain Marvel,” Captain Marvel Adventures #139 (December, 1952).]
“Folvnu hpuwni xuvalu!”
He lifted gently from the floor and floated slowly toward the door of the bank, and the bag of cash floated after him. Just before he passed through to the street, he made one more incantation.
“Goykmk ahuzhp uwkapx ennuhg xuvalu!”
The air around him seemed to swirl, blurring his figure somewhat.
As he floated out the door, a police squad car pulled up in front of the bank, and two officers leaped from the car and started shooting. Something in the swirling air deflected their bullets, and the wizard flew serenely away. He must have felt the need to leave a greeting card, though, because he turned and pointed the wand at the squad car.
“Ghewws oganyl uholru bmnavu xuvalu!”
The squad car exploded, and burning debris flew through the air, burning both officers, even though they had hidden behind other cars. Fortunately, the rest of the street was empty, as all the spectators had found hiding places when the shooting started.
“Ghewdo lygtpu ylgmuz hozeno kghinu xuvalu!”
A tremendous explosion occurred in the air exactly where Wizzo had been flying. The only observer who happened to be looking directly at him swore he disappeared an instant before the explosion. But it would be over a month before his vision returned, so no one was really certain what had actually happened. It seemed unlikely that the wizard had blown himself to smithereens, and, in fact, within a day he had appeared again.
The bank was a couple of miles from DMT Agency, but the explosion when Wizzo the Wizard vanished was loud enough that Todd Drake, who was doing forensic work in the laboratory while Tomas Thomas worked a case, was alerted. He changed into his Red Rocket costume and was out the back window in seconds. It took him about four minutes to reach the disaster site. Much of that time was spent flying high enough to spot the smoke from the burning squad car. Red Rocket was on the radio the whole time, talking to a police dispatcher, and as soon as he saw the scene, he requested an ambulance.
Flying into the bank, Red Rocket saw a red, white, and blue-costumed man performing first aid on a wounded bank guard. A customer was bleeding from a leg wound, and Todd quickly helped another bank guard put a tourniquet on the leg, then prayed that the ambulance would arrive in time to save the wounded.
Rocket and the other costumed hero did all they could for the wounded in the bank, then went to see what they could do for the burned cops on the street. Though it seemed like ages, more police and the ambulance arrived inside of ten minutes.
The only lives lost were the two original bank robbers, who had been murdered by their boss, apparently for botching the robbery. Rocket shuddered; he had never before encountered such a vicious villain. He told his story a half-dozen times to half a dozen different homicide detectives, and they left him alone. They had also finished interrogating the other hero, so Rocket walked over to talk to him.
“I’m Red Rocket. I’ve never seen you around before,” he said, and stuck out his hand.
“I’m a big fan of yours, Rocket!” the other man said, shaking his hand. “This was my first time out, and it sure didn’t work out the way I’d hoped. My name is Captain Democracy.”
“‘Captain Democracy,’ huh? Unique name. Nice to meet you.” Red Rocket started to say something else, but the Captain cut him off.
“How do you stand talking to idiots like that?” His sweeping gesture clearly included the whole homicide investigation team. Rocket was watching him closely.
“Why, they’re only doing their jobs, Captain.” Once again, he was about to say more, and once more he was cut off.
“Well, lets you and me do our jobs, and go catch that murdering monster! He might be killing someone else right now!”
Rocket asked him quietly, “Why are you so sure he murdered anyone?”
“What are you, crazy? I saw it with my own two eyes. That maniac murdered his own partners! Right in front of me and everyone in the bank!”
Red Rocket walked toward the puddle left when Jake had apparently evaporated into mist.
“I know it looks that way, but why did he leave you alive?” Captain Democracy was about to interrupt again, but Red Rocket held up his hand. “I heard what he said, about you being a message to the rest of us super-heroes. But why not kill you instead? Or, better yet, why not cripple you for life? He seems to have had the power to do that — wouldn’t that be a more potent warning?”
Before the other hero could answer that, Red Rocket continued. “He chanted and waved his wand to ‘murder’ those two, didn’t he? And they vanished spectacularly, right?” The Captain nodded. “Well, did you hear the story of how Wizzo vanished? He chanted and waved his wand and vanished in a spectacular explosion. Do you think he blew himself up?” This time the Captain shook his head. Rocket wasn’t quite finished speaking. “I admit I think he probably killed those two thugs, too — but I’m not ready to jump to conclusions yet.”
Captain Democracy picked up his shield and shrugged his shoulders into straps that allowed him to carry it backpack style. Once again Red Rocket watched him closely, then shrugged himself and turned back to the crime scene.
Red Rocket pulled a camera from his utility belt and began taking photos of the scene. He carefully examined the wet spot on the floor that was all that remained of the unfortunate Jake. He made use of the super-vision powers built into his goggles, viewing the remains in visible light, infrared and ultraviolet, using his microscopic vision at highest magnification.
Captain Democracy was getting itchy again. “Say, Rocket, what’s there to look at? Magic turned this guy to mist, right? Did you find anything useful?”
“Only that this water really seems to be water. I can’t detect anything about it that is magical. Of course, that’s not unusual with magic.”
One of the police investigators had noticed the two of them examining the area, and he walked over to them. He had interviewed both heroes earlier. “Mr. err… Democracy… I’m afraid you are going to have to leave the area now. It’s a crime scene, and we’re declaring it off-limits to everyone not on official business.”
The Captain was clearly irritated by this request, and he was about to say so, but this time, he was interrupted by Red Rocket. “It’s OK, Tony, he’s with me. We’ll let you know if we spot anything important.”
Homicide Detective Tony Spinelli looked at Captain Democracy, and then at Red Rocket. He seemed just about ready to make an issue of the whole thing. Truth be told, though he and Red Rocket had always gotten along pretty well when they happened to come into contact on occasions similar to this, this new guy had really rubbed him the wrong way during their earlier interview.
The detective would have loved to toss the guy out on his can. And he could tell that the “hero” was spoiling for a fight himself. Spinelli wasn’t too worried about a fight, though; he could handle himself, and he wasn’t afraid of this cocky youngster just because he had a costume on. But he was on official police business, and he wasn’t paid for beating up punks.
“OK, Red, he can stay. But you keep an eye on him; I don’t want him making any rookie mistakes like stepping on the evidence.” He turned and went back to his investigation.
Captain Democracy quickly looked at the floor to make sure he wasn’t stepping on anything, and then said something under his breath. Red Rocket’s helmet granted him enhanced hearing, and he heard what the other hero said. It was a very unpleasant comment on Spinelli’s background. His eyes narrowed in anger; Spinelli was a good cop and a good man. He was close to the edge of his tolerance for this newcomer.
Red Rocket stepped over to the charred mess on the rug that was all that was left of the other thug, and repeated his earlier examination, taking a couple of samples of the charred remains using vials from his utility belt. Captain Democracy watched him in silence for a few minutes, and then spoke up again.
“You’re a pretty smart guy, Rocket. But I don’t understand why you wear a red outfit and use the name Red Rocket. Do you want everyone to think you’re a commie?”
Red Rocket was thoroughly engrossed in his examination, and didn’t really hear the words, so he just slightly nodded his head casually. All of a sudden, though, the meaning of Captain Democracy’s words came through, and he jerked his head up and stared at the man. He decided to be amused rather than annoyed.
“A red costume means I’m a communist? I hope you’re kidding!” There was incredulity in his voice. “Where did you come up with that? I thought we’d gotten past McCarthyism by now! Not that it is any of your business, but I wear a red costume to honor my mentors, Bulletman and Bulletgirl. And, in case you didn’t notice, Captain Marvel — the Big Red Cheese himself — wore a red costume as well! And, by the way, there’s a lot of red in your own costume, too.”
“Yes, well, in case you haven’t noticed, we are still facing the commie threat, and your precious ‘heroes’ aren’t around to help out, are they? Do you think that’s a coincidence? And my costume is red, white, and blue, the colors of the American flag — not red and yellow, the colors–”
Red Rocket interrupted quickly before this jerk could say something he couldn’t ignore.
“I don’t usually give free advice, but most people don’t manage to piss me off like you do. So here’s some free advice. First, you need to learn to respect people — all people, even people who are different than you. Second, I don’t know what you were thinking, making your costume of chain-mail. Man, it slows you down, it’s so loud no one will ever be surprised when you show up, and it sure won’t stop a bullet. Won’t even stop an arrow or a knife, for that matter. Finally, I don’t know what that shield is made of, but unless it’s solid steel, don’t expect it to stop any bullets. And the way you carry it around, it’s too light to be steel.”
He knew for sure it wasn’t steel; he had aimed a quick magnetic beam at it, without effect.
“I think you’ve been hanging around with that half-breed Tom Atomic too long, and you’ve forgotten what it’s like to be a real American — if you ever knew!” Captain Democracy spat the words at Red Rocket, contempt in his voice. He didn’t realize yet that he had just stepped over a line, or how far.
But he found out in a hurry. Red Rocket used his gravity regulator to defocus the gravity beneath Captain Democracy, artificially lowering his weight and then grabbed his belt, picked him up, and shoved him against the wall, hard. His actions were instantly noted by the homicide squad around them, and they all stepped away and drew their pistols.