by Vibe 41005 and Doc Quantum
Jason Grey looked down at the costume his mother had given him the night before. It had originally belonged to his father during the war. Jason’s mother was Dianne Grey, whose maiden name was Grayton when she first donned the costume of the Spider Widow. She was an unconventional heroine, to say the least. While Phantom Lady or Lady Luck dressed in sexy costumes meant to distract their male foes, Dianne Grayton dressed as a green-faced old hag in the role of the Spider Widow. After a few solo adventures, she met the man who would become her partner and husband, the Raven.
The Raven, who in his prime was never as well known as the Ray or Black Condor, was actually a private investigator named Tony Grey, who had already been inspired to become a mystery-man called the Raven before he finally crossed paths with the Spider-Widow. Convinced that there was a beautiful and lively young woman beneath that gaudy witch’s mask, the Raven continued to aid the Spider Widow whenever she needed help. While neither knew the other’s real name during their early cases together, eventually they did learn those secrets. It wasn’t too long before they also realized how much they cared for one another. Within a couple of years they were married. They retired their masked identities shortly afterward, since the war at the time was settling down into a cold war.
But after Nazi Germany invaded the United States in 1963, the Raven and the Spider Widow came out of retirement along with several other mystery-men of the 1940s. But now the Raven wore an antigravity belt and working mechanical wings that allowed him to actually fly; earlier the wings had only allowed him to glide for short distances. Together, the Raven and the Spider Widow were dedicated heroes and fighters in the American Resistance.
That was, until the world fell under Nazi mind-control back in 1968. When America fell under the influence of that mind-control device, so did his father and mother. The Raven and Spider Widow, now pacified, finally settled down and had children. Jason was born in 1969, and his sister Penelope was born a year later; they were now sixteen and fifteen years old, respectively.
In 1973, Tony and Dianne Grey along with the rest of America were freed by the remaining Freedom Fighters and a group of super-heroes from two parallel worlds. (*) But the time for heroics was over, and Jason’s parents decided to remain retired and raise their family.
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Crisis on Earth-X,” Justice League of America #107 (September-October, 1973); “Thirteen Against the Earth,” Justice League of America #108 (November-December, 1973).]
And then in 1976, the Freedom Fighters — those still active in the team — disappeared for a short vacation on Earth-One that ended up becoming an absence of over two years. (*) A group of Nazis, who had been in hiding since the late 1960s, decided to take advantage of the situation and attempted to take over New York City during the Bicentennial celebrations on Independence Day. This event would thereafter be known as the Nazi Uprising of 1976.
[(*) Editor’s note: See Freedom Fighters #1 (March-April, 1976).]
A small team of former Freedom Fighters went to stop them, led by one of the world’s greatest and most popular heroes, Plastic Man. Eel O’Brian had actually been killed in 1968 before the Nazis’ mind-control rays took over the world, but when he miraculously came back to life in September of 1975, scientists determined that his plasticized body had merely been in a state of shock resembling death. With the core group of Freedom Fighters in another universe, Plastic Man was the world’s greatest living hero and the natural leader of a de facto Freedom Fighters team.
Plastic Man had recruited the Spider Widow and the Raven, as well as the Great Defender (Stormy Foster), the original Jester (Robert Mason), and the Ghost of Flanders (Rip Graves), to stop this new Nazi menace. But although this group of Freedom Fighters defeated the Nazi faction, they also paid a terrible price — the Raven, the Jester, and the Ghost of Flanders were killed in the battle.
The grieving Dianne Grey retired permanently as the Spider Widow this time, remaining at home to take care of her kids. She also made sure to continue their training in the martial arts and crime-fighting techniques, since she was painfully aware of the harsh realities of the world they lived in. Penny Grey, Jason’s little sister, had already become the young heroine called Spidergirl last week, eschewing their mother’s old hag look for something more inspired by arachnids and an obscure comic-book character who had existed before the Occupation.
Yesterday, the letter Jason was dreading finally came. Next week, he had to decide if he wanted to join the U.S. Army or take his father’s costume and fight the Nazis and Japs that way. Although he was only sixteen, the military was in desperate need of soldiers and had enacted an optional program allowing for sixteen-year-old boys to volunteer for active service, while those eighteen and over were automatically entered into the draft. Most young men never bothered to wait for their draft letter, volunteering right away to protect their country from the invaders.
If he did become the Raven, he could make sure that Penny was kept safe by becoming her partner. While he tended to be cautious, always planning his next move ahead of time, she was just as headstrong as their mother and had a tendency to jump into situations without much consideration for consequences. As far as he was concerned, Spidergirl would have top billing in their partnership. The Raven was better suited to the shadows, anyway.
Jason Grey tried on the costume his father had created for his revived heroic career twenty years ago. After looking in the mirror, he thought to himself how silly the costume looked and how the army might actually be better, after all.
Aboard a U.S. military plane, Charlene Swanson sat next to the window, staring out at the sky. The past few weeks had been a blur of activity, and her life would probably never be the same.
Two years ago, she had volunteered for a secret military program called Project Hero. Ever since the end of the Nazi Occupation in 1973, the government had secretly been training its best and brightest to become costumed crime-fighters able to take the place of the Freedom Fighters in the event of their absence. Most went on to other careers eventually, such as the police, the military, or the OSS.
She had heard rumors that the government had also been working on ways to grant their Project Hero graduates super-powers on top of their training, since they were little more than costumed, non-powered vigilantes like the Batman of a parallel world who had once helped liberate the world of Nazi tyranny. As far as she knew, government scientists were unsuccessful at cracking the secret of super-powers, but they had made great progress in creating advanced weaponry and robotics that could simulate powers. Her own boyfriend had gone on to participate in one such program, which was called Project Heavy Metal.
Charlene had just completed her hand-to-hand combat training when the Crisis on Infinite Earths began. While the Freedom Fighters left with the heroes of other worlds to fight the Anti-Monitor, she and several others made their debut as costumed crime-fighters. They weren’t ready to face the shadow demons, though. While they were instantly popular with the news, the media never realized how many perished in the ensuing days along with the hundreds of civilian casualties. Out of twenty-four original agents of Project Hero, only seven remained when the Crisis finally ended. Charlene herself would have been among those who died, had it not been for the sacrifice of an older Project Hero graduate whom she had only known by his code-name of the Crimson Hornet.
She had just spoken to her boyfriend, Brad, to discover he was all right after another disaster had taken place. The Nazis, taking advantage of all the confusion, had attacked. He had been stationed in Germany for the testing of Project Heavy Metal, and Charlene had desperately hoped he was still alive. The Nazis had admitted to having taken several thousand prisoners of war already.
Her first reaction was to demand action oversees and to forget the stupid-looking costume the government now had her wearing. But they insisted she would be more valuable to the war effort if she remained as a costumed champion. And now they had her doing a recruiter’s job.
Charlene’s great career as a super-hero consisted of traveling around the unoccupied states of America, visiting shopping malls and assuring everyone that the war would be over soon, as long as everyone just did their part. She also had to answer questions from reporters. Usually these were dumb ones like, “How does it feel to be a second-banana to Phantom Lady?” or, “Do you feel that being black makes a difference in how you’re viewed?”
Oh, well. She hoped her request for a new assignment would be granted. But until then, she would go by the code-name Flare, perform flame-throwing feats for the crowd, and wear a skimpy little hero outfit to boost the country’s morale.
Ernie Thomas O’Brian stepped out from a rail car onto the entrance of Crestwood Mall in St. Louis, Missouri. He noticed that the number of people there was dramatically higher than normal. An automated cart came up to him, but he turned it away, having no need of it today. He was only there so he could meet Flare.
The economies of the world were just beginning to figure out how to survive in peacetime when the Nazis revived the war. Before the Occupation, shopping malls were a place where people could do all their shopping in one spot. Not only were the big stores such as Sears at most malls, but so were groceries, laundromats, and bars. This made it easier for rail systems to get people to and from these places.
While most people were here to sign up for the military or get an autograph, Ernie was here to try to join the Freedom Fighters. He needed to do this quickly before his father found out about it, his father being a rather famous former member of the Freedom Fighters himself — former FBI agent Patrick “Eel” O’Brian, alias Plastic Man.
He knew, from what his mother had told him, that the reason his father didn’t want Ernie to go to battle was simply to protect him. With his father’s government connections, Ernie would never serve a day in any military force, whether he wanted to or not. Old Plastic Man had never been the same since the Nazi Uprising of 1976.
Of course, Ernie wanted no special favors and had gone into action when the Crisis started. And even his father had dragged himself out of retirement to help fight the shadow demons. But after a harsh encounter with the Spider Widow, Plastic Man went back home and had scarcely left the house ever since. This great hero had never been the same after his best friend, Woozy Winks, disappeared in 1956, but the nail in the coffin of Plastic Man’s career had been losing three allies and friends in 1976. Ever since, Eel O’Brian had become quite a serious, almost morbid man who suffered from depression.
Ernie’s mother assured him that his father had been a very different man when he was young. He was much more like Ernie, in fact, in the way that he could always make her laugh and never took anything too seriously. Ernie found it hard to believe that his father could have changed that much, but old films of Plastic Man from before the Occupation indicated she was telling the truth about him.
By the time the news came to all forty-eight states about the Nazi takeover in Europe and the Japanese invasion of California, Plastic Man had once again fallen into a deep depression and seemed unwilling to join the fight once more. Ernie hoped that his dad would snap out of it soon, but he felt his own duty was to help fight the Nazi menace, and he vowed to do so himself, with or without Plastic Man at his side. With most of the Freedom Fighters still missing since the Crisis, someone had to join the fight, and that someone would be the new hero called Offspring.