by Dan Swanson
As his closest friends knew, Tomas Thomas, alias Tom Atomic, had been working on a role-playing game called SuperYou for a few years, though he hadn’t been ready to release it to the general public until he was sure all the bugs had been worked out in version one.
While Tomas had worked on most of the game development on his own, he did have some help in the final stages, after he discovered a group of strategic games enthusiasts in Maine who helped him play, test, and fine-tune the rules. The SuperYou Player’s Handbook and character sheets for the specific incarnation of characters that were released that night were already well-known to the members of the Justine Literary Association of Justine, Maine. These games enthusiasts would later go on to find fame in their own right.
Somehow, on Halloween night in 1964, something would bring some of the villains of the Jailbirds and Legbreakers Assembly to life, and give the members of the Super Squad one of the greatest challenges in their careers.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I am proud to introduce the guests of honor for the 1964 Justine Literary Association’s gala, Halloween Hullabaloo! Please welcome the real, honest-to-goodness super-heroes Red Rocket and Lady Victory!”
Two colorfully costumed figures stepped out from behind a screen onto the stage. The audience of about two hundred people applauded and cheered. Most of them were wearing similarly colorful costumes. In fact, there were more than a few other Red Rockets and Lady Victorys sprinkled through the crowd, although Tom Atomic, Shiva, and Kali appeared to be the most popular costumes there. “With this year’s theme of ‘men and women of mystery,’ I’m sure they’ll feel right at home!”
Lady Victory took the microphone. “Thank you, Chairman ‘Adamant.’ I must say, the JLA are looking extremely sinister tonight!” The sponsors of this annual fundraising party, the seven members of the Justine Literacy Association of Justine, Maine, were wearing the costumes of the fictional villainous super-group, the Jailbirds and Legbreakers Assembly. The villainous JLA had become famous as playing pieces in the popular new board game, SuperYou. Lady Victory and Red Rocket enjoyed this even more, because SuperYou was the first commercial entertainment product released by their entrepreneurial friend Tomas Thomas, alias Tom Atomic. The heroic game pieces been modeled after members of their own team, the Super Squad.
“Thanks, Lady V! Tonight, we’d also like to welcome our new corporate sponsor, the I.E. DuPaul Chemical Company from nearby Wayne, Maine! Ladies and gentlemen, most of the colorful costumes you see around you tonight were created using various synthetic fabrics, all donated by DuPaul just for this occasion.” The crowd cheered again, somewhat more subdued. It was a lot easier to cheer for super-heroes than some faceless corporation, and most of the crowd was anxious to get the party started.
“Tonight’s open bar and the evening’s grand prize are also donations from DuPaul.” This announcement prompted more cheers, and the chief publicist for DuPaul, who was wearing one of the better Shiva costumes, smiled to himself. Some of the locals were starting to grumble about the effects on both the local economy and ecology produced by the giant chemical facility in Wayne, and this event would generate some needed goodwill from the locals.
The chairman of the Justine Literary Association — dressed as Adamant the Abhorrent Android, who was the most powerful villain in the Jailbirds and Legbreakers Assembly — waited, as he wasn’t quite finished, and he loved being the center of attention.
“And finally, thanks to all of you, as your generous donations will help us purchase new materials for the Justine Library and Museum.”
The chairman was smugly satisfied that, this year, the Halloween Hullabaloo would finally be the biggest, most talked about event in Justine. Bigger than any previous Hullabaloo, bigger even than the best past Spring Fling ever produced by the Justine Social Alliance. Yes, this was the year the JLA would forever transcend their “junior partner” status when compared with the older JSA.
The other members of the JLA knew what always came next: a photo opportunity. The chairman handed out antique goblets made of pure gold (another one up on the JSA) and filled them with champagne. The JLA members raised their goblets in a toast.
“Now…” the chairman said, pausing for effect, “…let’s get this party started!” The goblets clinked together, and a dozen flashbulbs popped. This picture would be on the front page of the Justine Weekly Journal, and would probably hang in City Hall.
But before they could touch goblets to lips, the chairman crashed to the floor as if unconscious. Lady Victory quickly bent down to examine him.
“Stay away from him!” screamed a woman dressed as F’ant O’mah the Lunarian Lawbreaker, and slammed her viciously with a backhand. Lady Victory flew through the air, whirling, and smashed through a wall, hardly slowing down. Party guests started screaming and running for the exits.
No non-powered human could possibly hit that hard. Lady Victory’s costume would probably protect her, but Red Rocket wasn’t thinking rationally right now — that was his wife. Turning his gravity regulator to emergency maximum overload, he flew forward, smashing into the lunar lawbreaker with a thunderous noise that shattered nearby windows. She had no time whatsoever to react as the two of them crashed backward through a different wall and into a kitchen, where they smashed into some storage cabinets. Cans and boxes cascaded down around them, and glass bottles smashed and drenched them with their contents. Red Rocket stood, but F’ant O’mah was unconscious.
The electronics in his suit was faster than whatever crashed into him next, but before he could react to its warning, some invisible force smashed into him, and he was being pummeled savagely. His radar showed that he was being hit by something moving impossibly fast — no, two “somethings.” He had long ago realized that the best way for him to fight someone that much faster than he was to plan ahead, so before they could seriously harm him through his armored costume and protective force-field, he thought a specific command into his gravity controller.
In a circular area around him, for just a nanosecond, gravity increased to twenty times normal, and then dropped down to five times normal gravity. Two costumed figures who had been moving too fast to see, were slammed violently to the floor. Then the floor crashed down into the basement, where they were pinned to the concrete, along with the unfortunate F’ant O’mah. The male wearing the costume of Breakneck the Speed Freak didn’t move, while the female dressed as Vanquish the Deadly Domina was squirming weakly. She was tough. Red Rocket was, of course, unaffected by the gravity shifts he had created, and he quickly sprayed all three villains with a cocoon of fast-setting, super-strong epoxy.
Flying back into the ballroom, he was welcomed by the sight of Lady Victory engaged in combat with three other costumed opponents. It looked as if at least six members of the Justine Literary Association had somehow morphed into the very same members of the villainous Jailbirds and Legbreakers Assembly whose costumes they were wearing. He wished he knew more about SuperYou, and hoped Tomas hadn’t made these villains invincible.
Another costumed figure was hurrying the last civilians out of the room. That was good, because he was tired of holding himself back.
The three villains were battering Lady Victory and keeping her off-balance. Aquon the Terror of the Seas was pulling softball-sized spheres of something solid from the big aquarium and throwing them at the heroine. They exploded with the approximate force of a quarter stick of dynamite, Red Rocket thought. Not enough to hurt her through her armor, but enough to prevent her from attacking. As she ducked a lasso thrown by the Ghast the Ghostly Avenger, Balefire the Pale Pukard blasted her with a flying battering ram created out of sickly looking yellow energy. She blocked this with her shield, but it knocked her backward into a wall, just as Rocket slammed into the trio of villains, scattering them like bowling pins.
“OK, I’ve had it!” Lady Victory sprang to her feet and threw her shield directly at Balefire’s head. “You want me pinned to a wall? Buy a poster!” She charged after her shield at full speed. Balefire blocked the shield with a hastily formed force-field around his head, but he was unable to fend off the charging Lady Victory, who slammed her shoulder into his stomach. He folded over her shoulder and gagged.
“Hey! Now I know why your uniform’s that awful pukey color!” she mocked him. “So you don’t have to wash it later!” She dumped him on the ground, and glared down at him, fists on hips. “Buddy-boy, I sure hope you try getting up!”
“When she gets like this, guys, the smart bad guys just surrender!” Rocket quipped, as he swung a punch at the recovering Ghast. “But you don’t look that smart.” The haunted heel blocked, and launched a vicious sweeping kick at Rocket’s head. His force-field protected him from major harm, but he was knocked backward; the villain must have had some kind of armor reinforcement in his boots. Red Rocket used his gravity control to regain his balance, and aimed a focused, high-intensity ultrasound beam at the eidolic evildoer, who dropped to the ground, screaming and writhing in agony as he covered his ears.
“Hey! Save me some fun!” yelled a woman, her voice unknown to the heroes. Her shout was followed by an unusual sound, like the twang of a giant bowstring, and a large blue ball perhaps the size of a truck tire flew into the room at high velocity. It thudded into Aquon’s head, dropping him to the ground. The ball rebounded high into the air, and as it came down, it changed form to a woman in a light blue costume. She managed to slam a kick to head of the terror of the sea as he tried to rise, and he fell motionless to the floor.
“Thanks for the assist. Who are you?” Red Rocket asked her.
“Why, um, err, you can call me… Elastique!” she said, smiling.
With so many unknown super-powered villains making their unexpected debuts tonight, Red Rocket and Lady Victory weren’t inclined to immediately trust this super-powered newcomer. They approached her warily, alert for a trap. Unfortunately, the villains took advantage of their divided attention.
The Ghast turned his agonized writhing into a weapon against his foes. Managing to pull a handful of small capsules from his utility belt, he used his twists and turns to throw them throughout the room. They burst and filled the room with dense gray smoke.
There was some kind of irritant in the smoke, and the heroes bent over, coughing. Lady Victory and Red Rocket sealed their costumes and switched over to internal life support. She grabbed Elastique, who was by now screaming in agony. “I’ve got the heroine — you get the crooks!” she radioed to her partner and ran toward the door.
Rocket switched to infra-vision and discovered that the smoke must be hot — the glare from the smoke blocked everything else. He smoothly switched to echolocation, which didn’t work either. The Ghast’s own natural echolocation produced high-frequency noises that confused his systems. The Ghast seemed to be just as blind as he was, but he had been prepared for the smoke, and screamed louder than possible for any normal human.
“Balefire! Get us out of here!” Although the heroes couldn’t see it through the smoke, thin ribbons of pale yellow-green flame streamed from Balefire’s power band — which looked similar to a set of brass knuckles on his left hand — stretched out to engulf each of the villains. Then the seven lifted skyward. As they burst through the ceiling, the Ghast tossed an incendiary grenade into the hall. Red Rocket was occupied saving civilians, and the bad guys disappeared.
Once they were out of the building, Elastique recovered quickly. She kept the crowd back, while Lady Victory rushed back into the building to make sure no one else still remained within.
Red Rocket stayed inside, using his advanced technology to disperse the cloud of noxious vapor. The hot smoke rose toward the ceiling, leaving the area near the floor relatively clear. Floating in the middle of the room, Rocket expanded his force-field to maximum radius. It just about reached the walls of the room, and by the time the shield’s strength had been reduced to that of the skin of a balloon, he then slowly contracted the field. He didn’t get all the gas, but he got a lot of it, and hoped the rest would be diluted enough to be safe. As its surface area shrank, the field grew stronger, allowing it to contain the growing gas pressure.
When the field had contracted into a ten-foot-diameter sphere, the pressure was so high that Rocket couldn’t move, though his costume prevented him from being squished. But his gravity controller responded to mental commands. He blasted straight upward at maximum power, flashed through the hole in the ceiling that Balefire had made, and within a few minutes was in the thin upper atmosphere. There he released the field, and the deadly vapor dissipated. In another couple of minutes he was back on the ground, where the three heroes did what they could to help the combined fire departments of Justine, Wayne, and nearby Downer’s Ford.
Police Chief Mark Murphy kept a close watch on the heroes. It was particularly easy to watch Lady Victory and Elastique — who was she, anyway? Murphy had never heard of her before, but he had a personal interest in Red Rocket. And he knew from experience that super-heroes usually disappeared before the police report was written. So he made sure to approach the three of them as soon as Fire Chief Vincent assured him that the fire was now under control.
“Hey, heroes — before you run off, how about a word?” The three heroes turned to greet the man in uniform. He introduced himself. “Mark Murphy, chief of the Justine P.D. Thanks for your help here!” He turned to Red Rocket.
“You likely don’t remember me, Red Rocket. We almost met in New York, back in ’44, when the X-Gang broke your arm.” Most people didn’t know or remember that Todd Drake had been Bulletboy for a short time in the mid-1940s. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See Whiz: Times Past, 1953: The New Adventures of Bulletboy, Chapter 1: Young Bulletman.]
Elastique had overheard. “Where’d they get that name, the X-Gang?”
“The bones in a skull and crossbones look like the letter X,” Lady Victory explained. She’d often heard Rocket tell the story of his last adventure as Bulletboy.
“I’m sorry, Chief — I don’t recall…” Todd started, but Murphy interrupted.
“Yeah, well…” the chief seemed uneasy. “I guess you were sort of, well, unconscious at the time.”
A light dawned in Rocket’s head. “You were one of the kids that kept them off me till the Bullets got there?” It was almost twenty years ago, and he remembered it as if it had been yesterday.
Bulletboy had been making his first solo patrol of his neighborhood. If his partners had known he planned a solo patrol, they would have stopped him, so he hadn’t told them. After all, he wasn’t a little kid anymore, and more importantly he was a super-hero. There were other super-kids who worked alone, so why not Bulletboy?
It hadn’t worked out that way, though. He had tried to stop a bunch of juvenile delinquents from beating a kid to death, and they’d swarmed over him. They held him down to keep him from flying away, and his normal twelve-year-old kid strength wasn’t enough to break free. A couple of other neighborhood kids had tried to come to his rescue, attacking the thugs with baseball bats. Fortunately for all four kids, Todd had been smart enough to call his partners as soon as he had realized that he and his unexpected allies were being overwhelmed.
Everyone ran when the Bullets showed up, and they all got away clean — at least that night — because his partners were concerned about getting him and the victim to the hospital. He’d ended up with a broken arm, and his parents finally discovered his secret — then forced him to give up being Bulletboy. He never had found out any of the names of the kids who probably saved his life, until tonight.
Murphy interrupted his reminiscing. “Yeah, me and my friend Melvin were comin’ home from the talkies, and we took a shortcut through the alley. We’d never really helped anybody before, and it felt good to stand up for what’s right! Helped me decide to join the Marines, and later the NYPD. I realized there was no chance I’d ever make chief in New York, though — too many guys all looking for one job. One of my old Marine Corps buddies told me Justine was looking for a new chief. I threw my hat in the ring, and, well, here I am. You helped turn my life around, hero!”
“And you saved mine, Mark!” The two men shook hands again.
“So, guys, when are we going to get through with the mutual admiration and get started catching these bad guys?” Lady Victory asked with phony impatience. She was actually pretty touched by this story, too; without Murphy’s courage she might not have met or married Todd, and she might not even be a super-heroine herself.