The Squadron of Justice had triumphed over the time bombs, and true to her word, Steffi Swift had returned them to the Time Field. She smiled at all of them with a kind of wonder and thought, These heroes are truly amazing. It is satisfying to see that their legends are based on truth!
“You have thwarted Zotan’s efforts to safeguard the point of entry into the time of the Marvels,” she said. “Now you must free them and stop his plans of conquest! He has a sense of irony. He came from a million years in the future; he now lurks a million years in the past! I will send you there, and you must defeat him and return the Marvels to November 15th, 1953. They will have no memory of what occurred on their missing day, but history will be restored, thanks to your courage!”
The team vanished before they could speak. Instantly, they found themselves in a city made of stone. They saw no occupants, but an ominous obelisk towered over the silent city, and a sense of peril filled all their hearts.
“A serpent like Set himself!” whispered Taia.
“Amazing!” said Bulletman, his scientific curiosity immediately piqued. “This city is both primitive and yet otherworldly. I have a theory that explains the dichotomy, but I hesitate to voice it!”
Minute Man grinned and said, “I’d deduce it was built by a bunch of snake-men from space!”
Bulletman frowned as he said, “Crudely put, but accurate in general. How did you know I was going to say that?”
Bulletgirl smiled and said, “He looked over your shoulder, honey!”
As Bulletman turned, he saw a horde of humanoids racing out of the stone structures. They were green and covered with scales, with the elongated snout and ridged skulls of alligators.
“Great Scott! There must be dozens of them!” said Spy Smasher. “I seem to recall reading about creatures like them in a paper! The Marvels stopped them from invading 1953 from a tunnel that led through time to this era! Captain Marvel told me they were called Hissmen!” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Hissing Horror,” The Marvel Family #74 (August, 1952).]
Mister Scarlet raised his fists for battle even as he thought, Why am I here? I should be with Cherry. If I had only hung up this hood decades ago, I might have been with her all these years. Rob is more than capable of being Mister Scarlet.
Rob Butler glanced at his father and guessed his feelings, if not his thoughts. I’m worried about him, he thought. He’s almost a broken man. I have to watch out for him until this case is over! At least Pinky is not getting into trouble!
But little did Rob Butler realize that Pinky the Whiz Kid, alias Melanie Garde, had already embarked on a mission all her own.
The blonde teenager had talked Steffi Swift into discarding her scholarly reluctance to interfere in time travel long enough to transport the Whiz Kid to one particular spot in 1953, where the spunky girl was about to take a remarkable risk.
Smoothing her long blonde curls and inhaling sharply, she approached a pretty brunette woman outside an urban law office. “Cherry? Miss Wade?” she began. “This may sound crazy, but I need to talk you. You see, I know all about you and Mister Scarlet. I’m from the future, and you just have to believe me!”
One million years back in the past, inside the city of the Hissmen, the Squadron of Justice members were fighting nearly hopeless odds.
Ibis the Invincible raised his wand and shouted, “Ibistick, repel them!” The magic drove the attackers back, but they seemed tireless and surged forward again and again.
As a boy in ancient Thebes, I had a tutor who showed me a parchment concerning serpent men who supposedly ruled the world eons ago, thought Ibis. They were said to have fallen from the stars. Clearly, these Hissmen came to Earth from another planet and were mistaken for gods or monsters! In either case, we are sorely pressed to deal with such numbers!
As Bulletgirl kicked a Hissman in the snout, and Mister Scarlet and Pinky knocked two more to the ground, the fight abruptly stopped for a moment as red beams shot out of the eyes of the serpent obelisk.
The beams hit Minute Man, and he shuddered as if in pain before slowly turning green and scaly. “I’m changing into a Hissman!” he cried. “You’ve got to fix this! Green is not my color!” he said as he fought the horror of his transformation.
“I should have been the one to say that!” said Bulletgirl.
Spy Smasher said, “I think we’d better rally around the obelisk! Ibis, can you get us on the platform at its base and shield us?”
Ibis nodded and said, “Ibistick, take us to the obelisk and protect us!”
Instantly, all of the Squadron, including the shocked Minute Man, were transported to the base. A gleaming shield surrounded them as their enemies charged at the force-field again and again.
“I may not be able to maintain its integrity for long!” said Ibis.
“Feeling funny,” said Minute Man. “Getting hard to concentrate!”
The change is working on a mental level, too, thought Bulletman. He’s going to forget his humanity. I wonder if that is how the Hissman expand their numbers. They may turn helpless folks into new recruits! Aloud, Jim Barr said, “Bulletgirl, fly Spy Smasher up to the top. He and I may be able to reverse the change and do some good to our cause!”
Bulletgirl carried Spy Smasher to the base of the serpent’s skull, where her husband had already ripped open a cover to reveal a weird control board. “First floor: lingerie and high heels!” she joked.
A hovering Bulletman and Spy Smasher began to work as they struggled to understand the alien science. We may be the best hope for the planet, thought Bulletman. Alan’s inventive mind and my boosted intellect combined may pull this off!
They made several adjustments while their friends watched and waited, and a restless Minute Man began to hiss instead of speak.
Finally, as the shield began to break under the continuous assault of the Hissmen, the heroes activated the beams once more. Minute Man gasped, then slowly returned to normal.
“Good job!” he cried.
Spy Smasher said, “Bulletman, let’s use the ray on the Hissmen! Some may have been humans to begin with, and the others might be too demoralized by a change to fight!”
Bulletman grinned and said, “Great idea!”
They broadened the range of the ray, and it swept across the area. Slowly, all of the Hissmen began to change into humans. While some rejoiced in their freedom, others displayed the same horror and confusion that had come over Minute Man after his own change.
Ibis the Invincible smiled as he ordered his Ibistick to put them to sleep. “Their slumber will be brief, but this will certainly buy us some time,” he said.
“Look!” said Bulletgirl. “At the top of that hill is a strange citadel! It looks like a combination of architectural styles from dozens of eras! Tacky, isn’t it? It would be like my wearing a miniskirt over a muumuu!”
“Ibis, take us to the Marvels!” said a grim Mister Scarlet. “Let’s end this!”
Ibis announced the order, and his wand did the rest. A moment later, the heroes stood within the citadel and gazed at two golden circles. One disk was mounted to the roof, while the other was on the floor below. Between the two disks was a milky white energy field, and within that odd cloud stood Billy Batson, Mary Batson, and Freddy Freeman. They were transfixed by the device, and as the heroes had been warned, apparently the kids were trapped outside of normal time and space.
“I think I can free them and send them back to November 15th, 1953, so they will enter the Suspendium trap along with our 1953 selves, and history will be restored,” said Bulletman. “Of course, they will still not know the secret behind their missing day!”
“Not so fast, you primitive!” cried a fat man in a green and purple costume. “I am Zotan, King of Time! I didn’t expect to be challenged by anyone, with the hated Marvels out of the way. Of course, there’s nothing you powerless dolts can do!”
“Really?” said Minute Man. “Don’t count your timelines before you’re finished!”
Zotan laughed harshly and patted his broad gold belt. “My time belt can take me to the past or future!” he said. “I could kill you before you were out of your mother’s womb!” Smiling wickedly, he added, “I could kill your great-grandfathers, and your family lines would end well before your births!”
“You’re outnumbered!” shouted Pinky. “Your Hissmen are not going to help you! They have problems all their own!”
Zotan grinned and said, “I’m outnumbered? You poor, deluded cavemen! Look around you — my chronal iterations will overwhelm you in a matter of seconds!” He gestured to where over a hundred identical Zotans surged from every side, until the first Zotan was absorbed into their crowd, and the heroes were completely surrounded.
One Zotan grabbed Taia and drew her into his arms as his counterparts tackled Ibis and the others. “You are lovely!” he said. “I might make you my concubine!” Princess Taia slapped him across his face.
Ibis the Invincible struggled to reach his Ibistick as the Zotans battered him from each side. The Bullets were fighting equally fiercely, as were Spy Smasher and Minute Man. They were stronger and more skilled as fighters, but the sheer number of Zotans threatened to defeat them.
Mister Scarlet, ever the detective, noticed something interesting. When Taia slapped the Zotan who was caressing her, he flinched, as did every one of the other Zotans! he thought. I think he is the original, and whatever happens to him, happens to them all!
Breaking free of the pack, with Pinky by his side, he charged toward the Zotan who was struggling with a kicking and punching Taia. With one smooth acrobatic move, he flipped directly into the fat time king and punched him in the nose, even as Pinky followed his father with the certainty born of years of partnership. He ripped the gold belt off of the startled Zotan as Mister Scarlet connected with three stunning blows that knocked Zotan cold. As the original Zotan passed out, all of his chronal iterations blinked out of existence.
Bulletman rushed over and swiftly adjusted the device holding the civilian identities of the Marvel Family, and as they vanished, he smiled. “It worked!” he said. “The kids are back where they belong!”
Taia and Ibis had rushed together as their foes vanished, and now they shared a passionate kiss.
“Well done, Scarlets!” said Spy Smasher. “You two really saved the day!”
Mister Scarlet shook his head. I’m glad, but what good have we really done? I wonder if Steffi Swift could help me stop my 1953 self from going to the Marvel ceremony. I might manage to stay with Cherry all those years! Of course, that would mean I also might not have been here today, or I might not have been there early last year when I saved Rob from the Murder Prophet. (*) I can’t risk trading the life of one loved one for another! I suppose I just have to let time run its course.
[(*) See Mister Scarlet: The Life or Death Lottery.]
“I’ve cuffed Zotan,” said Rob Butler. “I’d say Steffi can take him to some future jail where he won’t be able to disrupt time again!”
As he said the girl’s name, she appeared and smiled winningly at them all. “You are truly heroes!” she said. “You have restored the proper timeline! While your 1953 selves will not learn what your future selves have done on this date until they reach the date I contacted you, I know some lingering feeling that you should all form a more permanent team will resonate through the ages to your earlier selves! That will explain the feelings some of you had on the morning of November 15th, 1953, that you should unite!”
Minute Man smiled and said, “This was some case! I guess when we get back to the present, the Marvels will have returned from the wild goose chase you sent them on! I suppose we can’t explain it to them without risking messing up history!”
Steffi smiled and said, “You are correct. You may tell them it was a computer error of some type, or perhaps a prank by some misguided being!”
Rob whispered to his father, “We won! That’s got to count for something. You saved us all with that quick thinking!”
Mister Scarlet nodded as he thought, And yet what will have changed for me personally? I will still have lost Cherry!
As the heroes returned to the present and the Hall of Justice, their brand-new headquarters, they noticed that the Marvel Family had returned from space as well. Uncle Dudley and Jack Armstrong were chatting with them in a nervous manner until Jack saw his uncle, Alan Armstrong, wink at him. Both Alan and Rob were dressed in their original outfits from before their time trip.
They saved the day! We can rest easy now! thought the new Spy Smasher.
The heroes laughed and talked, following Steffi’s suggestion regarding how to account to the Marvels for the false emergency in space.
“Sorry, guys,” said Bulletman. “I suppose I still have to work a few bugs out of the trouble alert system!”
“No problem!” said Mary Marvel. “We made a race out of it!”
Captain Marvel turned to Mister Scarlet and said, “By the way, Rob, I’m sure sorry Brian couldn’t come to the opening today. He may have given up the costume to you, but he’s still welcome here!”
Rob nodded and said, “Thanks. He just didn’t want to leave his wife. Cherry and Brian are on a sort of second honeymoon! You know, this year marks their fourteenth wedding anniversary, and they’re still like newlyweds. He sent his regards to you all!”
Melanie Garde, the new Pinky the Whiz Kid, smiled as she listened to her partner. I did it! she thought triumphantly. Steffi allowed me to see Cherry Wade in 1953, and I convinced her that she simply had to go the Marvel ceremony in spite of the argument she’d had with Brian! Apparently she did go, and history was changed! She stayed frozen with Brian and Rob and the others from 1953 until 1973 and didn’t age after all! She married Brian in 1973 and never became the old dying woman she originally was on this date! We couldn’t change the Marvels’ destined time in the Suspendium trap, but we were allowed to change Cherry’s fate!
The pretty blonde girl in the pink dress frowned as she realized that she was starting to forget that she had ever changed time. Instead, she was retroactively gaining memories of experiences she now had had with the married Brian and Cherry. She’s like an adopted mom to me! she suddenly thought.
As the party began to wrap up, a stunningly beautiful young woman with auburn hair walked into the room.
“Freckles, is that you?” gasped Rob Butler as he realized the beauty he now saw before him had once been the gangly kid he had tried to avoid.
Mary Francis Dudley laughed and said, “Why, Rob, I haven’t used that nickname since we got out of the Suspendium. Of course, I admit I have changed a lot. I’m not the tomboy I used to be! I’m actually late because I broke a heel and decided to go home and change. I wanted to make a nice impression on you all!”
Rob came closer and said, “Why don’t you tell me all about yourself over dinner?”
Shazam’s Squadron of Justice was more firmly established than ever before, and they had saved their own histories. As Pinky forgot the last memory of what she had done with Cherry Wade in 1953, she turned to watch her partner make the first steps in creating memories all his own with the newly glamorous Freckles Marvel.