A balding blond man with the easy assurance of a born aristocrat and the natural grace of a superb athlete paced restlessly back and forth within a luxuriously decorated living room in a sprawling southern mansion in the green hills of Virginia.
Alan Armstrong managed a thin smile of thanks as a heavyset woman in her fifties peered into the room around an ajar door and nodded down to a tray of sandwiches and drinks she was propping against the door. “Thank you, Mrs. Copeland. I’d almost forgotten to eat today, with poor Eve like she is,” he said as he moved forward and took the heavily polished tray from the cook’s plump hands.
Mrs. Copeland nodded and said, “I’m so sorry, sir. Miss Eve has had more than her fair share of troubles.”
Alan put the tray on a small table and patted her hand. “Yes, she has at that,” he said. “Still, I know her burdens have been eased by having such a good friend like you around to take care of us both.”
After the cook returned to her kitchen domain, her employer looked over to his guest. A sultry Egyptian woman with ravishing good looks and a cool but penetrating intellect sat nearby in a dress made of an exotic fabric quite possibly lost to modern knowledge. She stood up and moved closer to where Alan offered the meal.
“Alan, you are, as ever, the perfect southern gentleman and host,” she said in a musical voice that echoed with hints of far off lands and ancient wonders, “but you must not allow your concern for Eve or your natural inclination for playing the gentile host to prevent you from eating as well. Starving yourself will do nothing to help your mate.”
“Taia, I know,” he said. “I’ll eat. I guess I just feel so guilty. Eve’s life has been ruined by my actions. Her very sanity has been threatened by my deeds or those of my foes. She would have been better off if she had never met me.”
Taia frowned and lowered her expressive eyes. Heavy but expertly applied mascara darkened her lashes but failed to conceal the sorrow in her eyes. “Dear Alan, your Eve loves you as strongly as my own Prince Amentep loves me, and our passion was vital enough to survive the grave itself, or a sleep nigh unto such a final rest,” she said. “I am not your bride, but I am a woman in love, and I can assure you that with a passion like the one shared by Eve and yourself, any sacrifice is worthwhile.”
Alan nodded and said, “Taia, you are a remarkable woman and a good friend. I only hope Ibis can help Eve.”
“You may rest assured that he has not earned the title of ‘the Invincible’ by lightly failing any task or turning away from the direst of perils,” said Taia
Alan sighed and sank down into a plush armchair, then idly ate a sandwich without fully tasting the food or thinking about anything but the woman he loved and her current plight.
Upstairs, in a beautifully decorated room, Ibis the Invincible himself attempted to live up to his wife’s faith in his prowess. The Egyptian prince wore one of his customarily elegantly fashioned suits and a red turban. His regal features were clouded as he whispered softly and held an ornate wand over a restless woman who moaned softly in a fevered sleep. She was lovely, but her features also showed care and strain. Eve Corby Armstrong came from a proud line of Virginia aristocrats, and like her wealthy husband Alan, she was made of stern stuff. However, as Alan had lamented to Taia in the room below, Eve had also suffered extraordinarily over the years.
Ibis spoke again, and a faint glow suffused her body before a look of peace came across her face, and her slumber became heavier and more tranquil. “Ibistick, heal her!” he said. “Ibistick, soothe her troubled psyche!”
The sorcerer knew that the magic power within his talisman could perform nearly any deed, no matter how bizarre or fantastic in nature. Still, he knew magic had its limits, and other, more intimate weaknesses originating from the frailty of the woman herself could prevent him from performing the wonders expected of him.
Closing the door, he came downstairs to face an eager Alan Armstrong and an expectant Taia. He read on his wife’s face the old look of faith in him, and he silently blessed her for her loyalty.
“Is she–?” began Alan.
Ibis spoke in a commanding tone that still carried within its stentorian force an all too evident compassion. “Eve is much improved. However, she needs her rest. Upon awakening, she may find herself in possession of both her faculties and her memory.”
Alan nodded in relief. “Thank you! I was at my wits end. She didn’t know me this morning. She looked at me with the gaze of a madwoman! I thought it was just a relapse of her old problem from the Suspendium trap, but it was much worse! She didn’t just think it was 1953 again — she had no memory of the year or who I was or of her own identity!”
Ibis nodded and gently but firmly ushered Alan to a chair. “Alan, we can do nothing more for her until she awakens naturally. I suggest we occupy that interval as best we can. Would you tell me more about Eve’s history? I fear I have been remiss in contacting you so infrequently since we all were revived from that devilish trap of Dr. Sivana’s nearly a decade and a half ago. When we have met, it has been to vanquish other fiends, like that mad but brilliant scientist, and not to merely partake of the joys of friendship.”
Alan sighed and said, “Well, I’ve been as much to blame as any of you. I have only suited up a dozen times or so in the last twelve years, and most of those cases were more cosmic things like that business with the Justice Society. (*) No wonder we old allies have fallen out of touch with one another. Plus, with the Marvels around, it’s not like masked acrobats have been that necessary for a long time. Now I regret even leaving Eve those few times.”
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Crisis in Eternity,” Justice League of America #135 (October, 1976) and “Crisis on Earth-S,” Justice League of America #136 (November, 1976).]
Taia said, “Alan, you must listen to my love. He is wise beyond all measure. And yet even that wisdom did not prevent him from falling victim to the wicked schemes of Dr. Sivana in 1953.”
Alan smiled as he took her gentle hint to get around to answering her husband’s questions. The Egyptian royals made a good team. They understood one another completely. “Well, I guess the story of Eve’s problems started long before the Suspendium trap. You see, she first learned my secret identity before America was brought into the war. She was my fiancée, and the fact is, she found out my secret by stumbling upon me at close range during my second case, when I was rescuing her from my old foe, the Mask. (*) I wanted to calm her down, so I just raised my goggles.”
[(*) Editor’s note: See Spy Smasher, Whiz Comics #3 (April, 1940).]
“What was her reaction?” asked Ibis. “Since she knew you well, no doubt, she had realized you possessed the skills and the motive to assume such a role.”
Alan shrugged and said, “‘So, it’s you!‘ she cried. My rather understated reply was something like, ‘I’m afraid it is!’ Tom Mix, the taciturn cowboy star, had nothing on me when it came to being strong and silent! She had no time to adjust to the shocking concept that her wealthy fiancé was really a slightly notorious masked avenger before having that fact thrust upon her all at once. I’d managed to stay in the shadows or hide myself behind my cape or mask when I’d encountered her prior to that one case. However, once she learned the truth, she was a real rock. She supported me as best she could all the way through the war. She even dressed up like me once to help protect my secret, bless her heart.
“When the war ended, I gave up the costume for a few years and solved several cases as plain old Alan Armstrong, although I toyed with using the nom du guerre of ‘Crime Smasher’ for about two years, but that never really caught on with either the press boys or my supporters. (*) In retrospect, I’m glad for that fact.”
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Introduces Crime Smasher,” Whiz Comics #76 (July, 1946).]
“Fascinating!” said Taia. “I never knew you worked without your mask! Of course, your skills and deductive mind would have served you well in any capacity.”
“I was really just playing at being a private eye,” said Alan. “Too many noir flicks from the time had seeped into my mind, I guess.”
“And yet,” said Ibis, “like so many of us, you decided to attend the celebration held in 1953 to pay tribute to the Marvel Family. Dozens of ordinary citizens, along with many of us from the mystery-man life, came that day and fell victim to what has become known as the Suspendium trap.” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “The World’s Wickedest Plan,” Shazam! #1 (February, 1973).]
Alan nodded and put down his glass. “Eve and I were there, as was Jack Weston, Brian and Rob Butler, and a couple other heroes or allies to various do-gooders. Dr. Sivana and his evil brood took advantage of the moment to engulf the whole crowd in a substance called Suspendium. It put all of us in a kind of waking sleep for twenty years! We didn’t move or age a second until the Marvels managed to escape and free us all. While we thought mere moments had passed since we arrived at the celebration in 1953, in truth, time had passed us all by.”
Ibis the Invincible smiled ruefully and said, “And Sivana and his ilk reaped little benefit from his evil schemes, since all of the villains there were also trapped by accident in the suspended animation which ensnared all others present.”
“In many ways it was a blessing, since we all retained our youth and vitality due to the effects of the trap,” said Taia.
“And yet,” continued Ibis, “while you and I had some little experience with sleeping through eons and emerging to find the world had turned many times while we slumbered, the shock must have been tremendous for ordinary souls like Eve!”
“Eve was unable to deal with the fact that she had lost so much time,” explained Alan. “Her father had died while she was trapped. Her friends had grown older. Fashions, music, popular culture — all had changed. She reacted by blocking out the memory of the trap. She acted as if it was still 1953. I tried to help her by playing along at first while I consulted medical experts. Still, the best anyone could do was to guide her back to some sense of normalcy, with one glaring exception. She no longer recalled my secret. Maybe she blamed me for what had happened. Perhaps she felt that if I had not been a friend to the Marvels, we would not have been there when the trap had been sprung. Perhaps she could only rationalize loving Alan Armstrong by forgetting he was Spy Smasher!”
Ibis noticed his friend’s rising emotion and said, “And so, after emerging from the trap and trying to cure her, you did, in fact, finally marry her. But it was only later that you revealed your secret to her once more. That occurred in my presence when my old foe the Black Pharaoh used foul magic to turn Eve into a reincarnation of his bride Osira!” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See Shazam’s Squadron of Justice: Voyagers, Chapter 4: A New Dark Era.]
“Yes, the shock of seeing me brought her out of his mind-control,” said Alan. “I had to risk it to prevent her from killing us all! I only came to consider that she had fallen under his spell so easily because some part of her hated Spy Smasher after the fact!
“Up until then, we had been doing just fine. I’d retired from the business of crime-fighting, except for helping out with the Mazahs case. (*) We were thinking about adopting a baby, since we can’t have children of our own. And, like I said, this morning when we woke up, Eve didn’t recall anything about her own life! I was ready to give up when I thought of you and your magic. I really didn’t care if anyone realized my own secret because of seeing the famous Ibis here. I just wanted to help Eve!”
[(*) Editor’s note: See DC Universe: Challenge of Shazam.]
“The Ibistick has clouded the minds of all within the house,” assured Ibis the Invincible. “When we depart, only the three of us will recall that Taia and I were ever here. I think Eve’s memory has been restored. Still, we must seek the truth about what caused her to lose all sense of self.”
But before he could continue, the entire house was rocked by a series of tremors. Ibis steadied Taia as the house shook around them.
“Eve!” yelled Alan as he vaulted up the stairs.
“Beloved, get the servants out of the house!” said Ibis. “I fear we are under attack! Virginia is not noted for quakes of this magnitude!” Taia nodded and rushed out to lead Mrs. Copeland and her staff out the rear of the mansion.
Meanwhile, before Ibis could speak to command his Ibistick, he was struck by the flying form of Alan Armstrong as he rounded the top landing. He struck the ground and remained still as Alan groaned and sat up again.
Blood dripped from a cut on Alan’s cheek, but he ignored it and barely checked on Ibis before racing back toward Eve’s room. He grabbed a small end table from the hall and raised it in front of his chest as a rough shield. He grunted as something smashed into the table and kept him back. Force-beam again! he mused. Same thing that knocked me into Ibis!
Hurling the shattering table aside, he rolled nimbly beneath it to emerge in the now-wrecked room. A huge hole now covered the broken wall, and Eve was nowhere to be seen.
Alan dived through the hole, and even in his haste and concern for his wife, his keen eye noticed that nothing was burning. It was as if the wall had been broken apart by sheer vibratory force. A moment later he landed hard on a smooth metal surface and clawed desperately for a grip on the rising aircraft that filled his line of vision. He slipped precariously off one side and managed to catch one metal rail as tried to make sense of the sight. It makes my Gyrosub look like a child’s toy! he thought.
The Virginian sportsman’s acrobatic skills came into play as he swung his legs up and looped them over another rail. He wrapped his body around the rail and studied the odd ship. “Got to be some portal that will let me inside,” he said to himself. “Eve’s in that thing!”
A roar like thunder echoed from within the craft, and a speaker crackled as a powerful voice with a foreign accent but crisp and perfect diction bellowed out. “Your father’s sin against me has come back to haunt you! No one steals from me and lives to prosper! No thief will go unpunished! I have your wife, and she will be but partial payment for the loss I suffered at your sire’s hands!”
Alan gasped in pain as the rail suddenly slid into the ship, leaving him falling through the air. Twisting and turning, he managed to miraculously land safely below as the huge ship vanished into the sky and seemed to fade away like the last of the setting sun. “Eve!” he roared.
The man sank to his knees in despair and remained immobile until Ibis and Taia drew closer to him and gently helped him stand.
“Alan, I fear I was of little use to you. What new madness has overtaken Eve?” asked the Egyptian prince.
“Ibis, I need you to leave,” said Alan. “I have work to do — alone.”
“Dearest Alan, surely my prince and I may assist you,” said Taia. “This abduction may be linked to poor Eve’s amnesia!”
“The Ibistick could trace her!” said Ibis. “I am weakened, but far from beaten!”
“Listen, Ibis, this is personal,” said Alan. “I know who took her and why they took her. I can find her, and I’m going to do so, but I want you out of here. Out of respect for our friendship, I want you to trust me this time.”
Ibis stared at his friend’s wild eyes and nodded slowly. “We will honor your wishes, but we will also return at any time, should you need us.” Taia leaned over and kissed Alan’s cheek before stepping closer to Ibis.
“Ibistick, restore the damaged house,” he said. “Ibistick, return us to our own home.” The lovers vanished as the wall returned to normal.
Alan stared at it for a moment, then raced inside, ignoring a frantic Mrs. Copeland and almost shoving a maid named Kathie aside. “All of you take a week off with full pay. Leave immediately!” he shouted.
They obeyed out of respect for both his emotional state and his uncharacteristic anger.
Elsewhere, Ibis the Invincible held Taia and said, “Alan already blamed himself for Eve’s initial plight. It is apparent that something in his past has give rise to her current state. I cannot intervene, since he expressly asked me not to. But neither can I leave Eve in peril.” Stepping away from his wife, he said, “Ibistick, take me to Eve Corby Armstrong!” But Ibis frowned as nothing happened.
“Beloved, something prevents your power from working?” asked Taia.
Ibis took her hand and nodded slowly. “There is more than science involved in Eve’s abduction. The very magic that separates me from her is a clue of sorts. I must study this matter most carefully. I fear for the Armstrongs if such powers are allied against them.”
Taia rested her head against his chest and made no reply.