The Apokolips Agenda
The Superman Revenge Squad was mobilized, combat-ready, and on a path that would lead them to Earth-One.
Their story had begun some decades ago, when Superboy defeated a race of tyrants on the planet Wexr II. Unfortunately, he didn’t defeat them enough to keep them from reuniting, forming the Superboy Revenge Squad, and coming after him with plot after plot, scheme after scheme, and atttack after attack, during his boyhood and, later, during his manhood. By the latter time they had renamed themselves the Superman Revenge Squad, gathered alien criminals of all stripes to their banner, and had continued to fight the Bad Fight the best way they could.
The assignment they had wasn’t the way they would have usually played it. They usually tried to hatch a sure-fire trap for Superman, and had gotten pretty close to killing him several times. A full-scale assault on Earth wasn’t really what they’d considered, before doing the job on the Kryptonian.
But when Darkseid turns up on your doorstep with enough muscle from the fleets of Apokolips, he can be quite persuasive.
The Revenge Squad changed their tactics on the spot, and hoped they were doing the right thing.
It takes time, moving an armada of ships through space. Even with the space-warps and the warp-drive technology, you don’t just move men and equipment from Wexr II to Earth in the space of a day.
Thus, when the fleet came within range of the warning in space, they were quite a few solar systems away from Earth. It was written in glowing letters of some unknown substance, each letter over a mile high.
In Interlac, the notice read: TURN BACK OR BE TURNED BACK. ONLY WARNING.
The lead vessel transmitted a quick message back to the command ship, which was: “Advise.”
“Go on, or we’ll blast you from the back,” was the gist of the reply.
So they did. Or at least they tried to.
A telepathic message went out to a number of persons waiting in the void. <To each one of us, Superman or Supergirl has shown friendship. Now we repay them, and show them the power of our friendship. The Squad shall advance no farther. Take them.>
They didn’t have to be telepathed twice.
The lead Revenge Squad warship could have taken on most interplanetary craft, easily. Even most galactic patrol corps kept their distance from Wexr II. When the Squad members within got a glimpse of the man in their viewscreens, they failed to recognize him. He was powerful, a humanoid with receding brown hair, a mustache, and only a vest, trunks, and thigh-high boots for a costume. He hung in space with no need for a protective suit, and for that reason, the ship’s captain yelled, “Blast him! And use Kryptonite!”
The gunner did so on the spot. A blast-ray was combined with the wavelengths of green Kryptonite radiation and turned on the man in space. The corona of light given off by the impact prevented them from seeing what had happened to their target for a moment. If he wasn’t Kryptonian, the blast would undoubtedly take care of him. If he was, the green K would do the job.
The light faded and all they saw was a very grim hero, raising his hands, clasping palm to palm, and pointing them straight at their vessel.
A burst of silver light lanced out from them, smashed into the ship, and cut it in half.
Vartox flew forward, made sure the crewmen were safely encased in space suits, and gave the few who were stupid enough to draw down on him a sound thrashing before he moved on to the next ship.
He was smiling.
Two bolts of blue and red had smashed into another ship. A black-haired male and a blonde female in very familiar costumes stood on the bridge of the Ravaging Reaver and gave the crew a pair of baleful looks. One of the Squadders, a lizardman from Tok III, reached in his backpack, grabbed a hunk of green Kryptonite, and threw it at them.
“Oh, please,” said Marvel Man, catching it in one hand and crushing it. “Isn’t your research any better than that?”
Marvel Maid, who, like her cousin, came from the planet Terra, was already using one Squadder as a body flail against fourteen others and was melting weapons and circuitry with her heat-vision. “Never mind, MM, just do your job!”
The few who remained conscious long enough to notice took note that the pseudo-Superman and Supergirl had M’s on their chest shields in the place where a big S should have been, and, before they were clouted, silently agreed that the Squad should have done better research.
Other ships were having their own problems. A pair of yellow-clad
heroes, Mighty Man of Zumoor and Dyno-Man from Sorrta, were making a game
of grabbing a warship apiece and smashing them into each other. Ron-Avon
of Belgor, also dressed in a mostly-yellow costume, smashed through three
warships in a row, then doubled back and smashed through them again.
Another vessel was penetrated by a woman in a white leg-baring leotard and green cape. She carried several other persons in her wake. A contingent of Squad warriors came at them, knowing they had to make a show of offense or risk getting executed by their higher-ups once the thing was sorted out.
“This one’s for you, Superboy,” said Mighty Man, a former native of Earth, and activated the ray-blasters on the wrists of his battle suit. His strength was great enough on his asteroid home, but here he had to rely on weaponry. Thankfully, it was strong enough to take several attackers out.
Garokk, another Earthman, wore an orange spacesuit. It didn’t inhibit his power a bit. When five Squadders turned blasters on him, he muttered a series of words which had been lost to most of humanity by the time Atlantis went under the waves. A warp opened up between him and his foes and swallowed the blasts.
Several horrifying green tentacles with suckers and claws on the underside shot out from the warp with terrible speed, grasped the Squad men, and yanked them back inside. Garokk made a gesture that closed the warp.
The Revenge Squadders shrank back from him, and concentrated on the great-looking woman in the brief costume. One of their number fitted an impact-plate to his gloved fist and came at her, knowing the power in his knuckle-duster could shatter the hull of a starship.
She took it in the stomach, was knocked back a pace by one of Newton’s laws of motion, and grabbed his wrist. Then, with her other hand, she yanked the impact-plate off his fist and crushed it.
Luma Lynai, a near-double for Supergirl from the planet Staryl, grinned and slammed him into a bulkhead. Then she waded into the rest of the squad of twenty and started throwing them around the room as if they were ping-pong balls in a bingo bin.
“Hey, Luma, leave something for us!” groused Mighty Man, who blasted one groggy attacker into full unconsciousness to have something to do.
“Just sit back and enjoy it,” advised Garokk the mystic, who, like Mighty Man, had met Superboy in years past. “There’s a lot of ships after this one.”
That there were, and one of them was commanded by someone who had the bright idea of turning the ship’s guns on the one which was beset by Luma Lynai and her friends. It would sacrifice the Squadders inside, but the main objective, killing the enemy, would be achieved. Probably.
As the blast was triggered, its path was intersected by a mighty figure in a costume of red and yellow, with a white and gold cape. He took the burst on his chest, and smiled at the gunners.
The few who saw his image on their viewscreen thought they recognized him from their studies of Superman’s allies, but they were wrong. It wasn’t the World’s Mightiest Mortal. At least, not the one from Earth-S.
Two mighty bare hands tore a hole in the side of the ship, and the man who came in a second later managed to make himself heard even through the escaping atmosphere.
“You’ve never heard of me in this dimension,” the hero said, still smiling. “But after this, I think you’ll know to make way for Captain Thunder!”
And so it went for some time, with the Revenge Squad facing those heroes and others, who arrived from space-warps in vessels of their own, heroes with names such as Liquidman, Stormboy, Tree-Man, Telepathy Man, Shadowman, Lux, Multiple-Man, Mask-Man, Surya, Stella, Zardin the Boy Marvel, Dr. Chill, Aeroman, Windlass, Serpento, Electric Man, Balloon Man, the Freezer, and the Flame. Most of their number were unknown to the villains whom they faced. Many did not know each other until they had been contacted for membership in the group. But all had been aided and befriended in times past by the heroes known as Superboy or Superman, and Supergirl.
All of them stood to aid them now, as the Friends of Superman. And they were enough.
Nakox, the Revenge Squad’s field commander, stood on his bridge with a communicator in hand, trying to order a tactic that would work. But the only thing that came to mind was a call for general retreat, and most of his ships were beyond that by now. He turned, about to order his helmsman to get them the hell out of there, but never got around to giving the order.
A hole appeared in the air before him, and two figures stepped out of it.
One was a man with brown hair and a red and white costume. The other, an Earthman, had black hair, an unsettling gaze, and a spacesuit supplied him by his partner.
“No one has been killed so far,” said the brown-haired man. “I’d advise your surrender.”
For answer, Nakox hefted a hand-weapon and tried to point it at him. He didn’t quite manage to do it.
Kral of Titan, the founder and leader of the Friends of Superman, sent a power-beam of his own through his eyes and knocked Nakox off his feet.
Azmo Coven, the witchboy who had first fought and then befriended Superboy, probed the minds of several crewmen and then caused certain controls to shift into place, shutting the power system of the ship down for the moment.
Kral spoke again. “I could have this ship torn to pieces by Captain Thunder, or Vartox, or Luma Lynai, or Marvel Man and Marvel Maid. But I’d much rather you make it easy on us. Will you surrender?”
Azmo walked a bit closer to the fallen Nakox, with the other Squadmen on board standing at the ready. “There are more than 1,000 subworlds I can send you to,” he said. “In over 500 of them, you’d probably last less than five minutes.”
He restored power to the communications setup as he spoke. Nakox took note of it, juggled the variables in his head, and made the logical decision.
“Men of the Superman Revenge Squad,” he said, “stand down.”
I do not want to be here, Supergirl thought. I really do not want to be here. I want to be back home in bed with Dev enjoying what I can get of my time off. I really, really do not want to be here.
Then she quickly rolled and took to the air to avoid the power-bolt of Blackstarr’s that punched through the concrete she was lying on and made the dirt below it fly.
As quickly as she could rally herself, Kara arrowed at Blackstarr and punched her in the jaw, hardly holding anything back. It rocked the villainess off her heels and onto her back, but it only impacted on her force field. No real harm had been done.
Blackstarr herself was capable of doing harm to Supergirl. The permanent kind.
The facts in the case of Blackstarr, as they were known to Kara, were these:
She had been Rachel Berkowitz, the daughter of Linda Danvers’s landlady and of her husband Hyman. Her birth had occurred only a few years prior to the Berkowitz family’s forced journey to a Nazi death camp. Mrs. Berkowitz survived the camps. Hymie did not. Rachel had quite another fate.
Rachel became, because of her intellect, the favorite of the camp commandant. What that entailed, Kara wasn’t sure she wanted to know. But she was a brilliant prodigy, and her education was encouraged by the Nazi who held the fate of all within the camp in his grasp. Two things resulted from this: first, Rachel herself, a Jew, became an anti-Semite, thanks to the commandant’s influence and what she saw as her parents’ weakness. Second, Rachel comprehended the Unifed Field Theory, and took its power into herself.
This had the effect of displacing her in time and space for about forty years. When she reappeared in Chicago, at the head of a band of neo-Nazis, she had become Blackstarr. Her powers gave her control of gravitic forces, energies of many sorts, and even black holes. She had been opposed twice by Supergirl (the second time, with Superman at Kara’s side), and each time it had been a terrible battle for the Girl of Steel to prevail. Even at that, she never captured Blackstarr.
The last time they had met, Blackstarr had used her power to expand the shrunken Earth-One universe back to its original boundaries.
That was what kind of power Supergirl was facing.
Blackstarr stood there, her purple cloak swirling about a multi-colored costume which, supposedly, represented the forces binding the universe. Her long red hair framed a face which seemed young and attractive, but Rachel Berkowitz was really over 50 years of age.
She was smirking.
Supergirl flew forward, her fist upraised, kicking in her super-speed. If she could get in one good punch, perhaps this fight would be finished before it could go on much longer.
Blackstarr already had her hands raised.
“Your powers don’t just come from a yellow sun,” she announced. “They also stem, in part, from Earth’s lower gravity. But what if Earth’s gravity wasn’t lower?”
Oh, great, thought Kara. Let me get there in time. Let me connect with her jaw just once, and...
She dropped to the grass below her like a car dropped from a junkyard magnet.
The gravity of the area below her was approaching that of Krypton. Her strength powers were fading. Just great. Even worse, the pull was increasing still, and she found her body digging into the ground...
Blackstarr was smirking.
Kara loosed a blast of heat vision at her face and made her yelp. The gravitation decreased. She was up and at her foe again.
This time, Kara connected with an uppercut. But it only contacted the protective field of force Blackstarr had coated herself with. Nonetheless, some of the impact got through, and it ratcheted her foe’s head back with enough force to satisfy Kara. She unleashed six more blows in the space of an instant, but the field held.
Blackstarr brought two black holes into being on either side of her and had her instantly perpendicular to the ground, pulled between them, her hair being yanked painfully towards one black ylem and her boots threatening to be pulled off into the other. Despite her power, she was paralyzed.
Trees and soil started bending towards the black holes, drawn in despite the limiting field Blackstarr had placed around them. Numbly, Kara was glad there weren’t people around to have the same done to them.
“Comfy?” sneered Blackstarr, standing before her. Without waiting for an answer, she unleashed a stream of cosmic rays at Supergirl. Normally she would have shrugged them off, but Blackstarr had concentrated them enough to make them feel like bullets ricocheting off her body. It hurt.
With a desperate effort, Kara sucked in a large amount of air and expelled it towards Blackstarr. It spun the redheaded villainess off her feet and down the turf for a good hundred yards, cracking her head against the sidewalk at the end of it. The sudden impact startled Blackstarr and her concentration wavered.
The blonde in blue exerted her full muscular power and yanked herself free of the black holes, which came together in an impact of cosmic sound and coruscation before fading out.
Some of the civilians were starting to venture into the battle zone. Not good, thought Kara. She whirled and grabbed Blackstarr by the left wrist, then crouched and leaped into the air. Her velocity carried them almost a thousand feet above sea level before Blackstarr hit her with a solid neutrino blast that sent her somersaulting backwards.
Blackstarr sent further bursts after her, but Supergirl recovered, dodged, and, finally, hovered in place not ten feet away from her foe, her hands at her sides. Her enemy hesitated.
“Well?” snapped Blackstarr. “Why aren’t you attacking?”
“Because I want to understand why you’re attacking me,” said Kara, evenly.
“Oh–“ Blackstarr, in disgust, warped gravity under Kara. The Kryptonian girl had already flown out from above the radius of the power-flux by the time she did it. Below them, the soil started collapsing in on itself and a park bench started bending towards the gravity-well with a metallic creaking. Thankfully, no people were within its reach.
Supergirl still refused to attack.
“I want to talk to you, Rachel,” insisted Kara. “I want to know why someone with a genius-level intellect—yourself—wants to hate what she is, wants to hate her own mother, and wants to make common cause with the worst conqueror in five universes.”
“I do not hate my mother!” raged Blackstarr, her hands glowing with energies that challenged even Supergirl’s eyes to look upon them. “But I am not a Jew.”
“Aren’t you?” asked Supergirl, her arms folded. “Your mother is, and, if I’m not wrong about this, Jewish heritage is passed on through the mother. Isn’t it?”
“Stop playing with words,” said Blackstarr. “To be a Jew is to be a victim. To be what I am...that is to be the true Overwoman! The true Superwoman!”
“We’ve got a far different definition of ‘super’ on our side, Rachel,” said Supergirl. “Please let me talk, and we can throw down afterward if you want. But just listen. To Superman and I, being ‘super’ isn’t just having the powers. It isn’t just fighting bad guys. It’s using what we’ve got to help other people. People who aren’t empowered the way we are, and who are in need of aid. The hurt, the injured, the down-and-out, the destitute...anyone we can, we help.”
“Oh?” Blackstarr’s face was curled in a sneer. “Why, then, are there still famines in our world? Why are there still dictators? Why are there still wars?”
Kara sighed. “There are still famines because even we can’t feed everyone,” she admitted. “There are still dictators and wars because to substitute our will for human judgment would be making ourselves dictators. Worse, putting ourselves in place of Rao—God, if you prefer. Sometimes we can intervene. Many times, we do save lives. But we do what we can. And I know we’ve made a difference, Rachel. For the better.
“You’ve got powers that even I and Kal can’t command. You’re part of one of the greatest heritages on our planet, whether you admit it or not. You could use your abilities to help, rather than hurt. Instead of wasting them in this stupid battle...you could do something with them that could make your mother proud. And you could be a heroine.”
For a moment, Kara was certain she saw a flicker of doubt in Blackstarr’s eyes. Then it was replaced by sadness, and resolution.
“No,” said Rachel Berkowitz. “That would be futile. All it would give us is the same inefficiency. The same world, divided among hundreds of worthless governments. The same disunity, and the same inability to bring man forward, into Overman. Once, I thought I could manage it, with the help of those fools in Chicago. Then—Darkseid came to me. And I know now that only he can unite our world, Supergirl. No, more than that: unite the multiverse. After his reign is established, there will be no more war, no more hunger, no more inequality...only the reign of the One. That is what I must fight for. In the end, it will even benefit my mother, and her people. But it will not benefit you!”
Supergirl dodged another powerburst from Blackstarr’s hand. “Then you won’t reconsider? You won’t even think about the possibility that Darkseid might discard his tools, once he’s done with them?”
“The time for words is passed,” said Blackstarr, surging forward like the tide of a cosmic storm. “Now, there is only time to kill!”
Kara rocketed forward and smashed into a curtain of force which sent sheer jangling agony through her frame. But she kept going.
The problem was, she wasn’t getting any closer to Blackstarr. She was merely pushing her and her force-shield further backwards. She also wasn’t sure how long she could bear the pain of contact with the shield. Silently, she drew back until the pain ceased.
Blackstarr’s hand glowed red. “I used the power of gravity against you before,” she said. “Now, I use the power of a red sun.”
The rays of a red sun, like that which once blazed over Krypton, stripped the powers from any Kryptonian. If hit by that radiation at her current height, Kara knew she might well fall to her death. She prepared for evasive action.
Before either could move, both heard the sound of a sonic boom. Inadvertently, Supergirl looked in that direction.
A blue and red blur shot up from below them and hit Blackstarr’s field from below, jostling her upward like a piston. Her frantic red-sun blast went far wide of Kara.
“Ow!” cried Superboy, his hands pained from the contact with the field. “Dang, that hurts!”
Supergirl clapped him on the shoulder. “Got to show you how to fly without making booms. It’s a dead giveaway. But thanks.”
“I–I couldn’t stay out of it, Kara,” he said, holding his hurt hands before him. “I’m sorry.”
“Forget it. Here’s what I want you to do.”
Blackstarr, looking to Supergirl like a candidate for the Wicked Witch of the West, was screeching something from above them and pointing her red-glowing hands at them. The two Kryptonians split up, avoided her red solar blasts, and pulled up with Supergirl in front of her and Superboy behind her.
The villainess gave her foe a wrathful smile. “First you,” she said. “Then him.”
“No,” said Kara. “Only you.”
With that, she triggered a needle-thin beam of heat vision.
It had to be done with surgical precision, but she’d had to do harder things before.
A powerful burst of heat lanced into Blackstarr’s head, past a force-field that stopped neither light nor sound. It slipped past her eyes and impacted in a certain point of her brain. Kara changed angles and shot her heat-bolts twice more.
Blackstarr’s glowing hands slackened, then stopped glowing. Her eyes stared outward at her foe, then seemed to be looking at nothing at all.
She said something that might have been a groan. At any rate, it was no longer than a syllable.
Then she began to fall.
Superboy attemped to catch her and almost managed it, but his hands were still hurting too much. Kara came in below him and finished the job. Blackstarr was safe in her arms. The woman was glassy-eyed, slack-jawed, drooling.
“Sorry I couldn’t catch her,” said Superboy.
“Kal, will you stop saying ‘sorry’ about everything?” said Kara, using her super-senses to check Rachel’s vital signs. “You’ve done really well so far. But I just...” She hesitated, then looked at Blackstarr with great sadness.
“What’s the matter?” said Kal. “You beat her, didn’t you?”
She looked up at Superboy. “I don’t ever want you to have to do what I had to do today,” she said. “I just hope there wasn’t another way. But there probably was, and I was just too darn stupid to know it. Maybe it isn’t irreversible. I pray it isn’t.”
After a long pause, Superboy said, “Kara, what did you do?”
“I lobotomized her,” she said.
Snapper Carr was the last one out of the spacewarp in the Apokolips alleyway. He clutched the brown cloak about him and figured that, even with this, they’d be about as inconspicuous as Klansmen at a Black Muslim service.
He looked back into the warp and saw the Phantom Stranger’s face there, giving away nothing. Then it closed, and he saw nothing more.
“Not my favorite form of disguise,” said Christopher Chance, who was nearest the other end of the alley. “But until I can find a subject, I suppose I have no choice in the matter.”
“As if any of us did, Chance,” said Mal Duncan, with little affection. “This place makes me homesick for some of the bad-ass dimensions I was in with the Titans. They were nicer. You okay, Karen?”
Karen Beecher adjusted her cloak about her. “Sure, I’m fine, honey. But let’s keep the voices low, okay? That is, if you ever want to get home to write another novel.”
Ryan Chase, the Human Cannonball, shivered. “Kinda cold compared to Metropolis, this time of year,” he said. “This your first time out, kid?”
The Mind-Grabber Kid, wondering if his helmet showed up under the cloak, shook his head uncertainly. “No. I, uh, meddled in something the JLA did a few years back. But I haven’t been out since then. I...” He flattened against the wall. “This is scary. I do not wanna be here. Can you take me back? Can anybody take me back?”
He looked up at five faces staring at him.
The Kid exhaled. “Sorry,” he said. “I’ll try not to choke in the clinches.”
Snapper socked him in the bicep. “Be cool, Lucian,” he said. “I know how it was when I started with the League. Just some raw recruit beatnik wannabe from Happy Harbor one day, and the next–-wham. I’m up to my lobes in giant starfish and conquerors from outer space. But I coped. You too, okay, compadre?”
“Yeah,” said the Kid. “I’ll be okay.”
“See that you are,” said Chance. “Because once we’re in there, we’ll have to rely on you as much as anyone else.”
“Hate to bring it up,” said Chase. “But somebody here does know where ‘there’ is, right?”
Chance guided him to near the mouth of the alley and pointed. “There,” he said.
The sextet gazed out at a huge, high-walled building that took up acres of land, boasted guards in abundance, and had to be defended by things which probably would have given Superman and Green Lantern a hard time if they tried getting past them.
Mal whistled, softly. “So that’s the palace of Ol’ King Darkseid.”
“And who is it, exactly, we’ve got to get out of there?”, said Karen, who had once been known as the Bumblebee.
Snapper answered them.
“Her name is Tigra,” he said. “She’s Orion’s mother. Maybe that’s easier than getting Orion out.”
“She’s Darkseid’s wife,” noted Chance. “According to the Stranger, that is.”
Nobody said anything for a long moment.
“Let’s move out,” said Snapper.