The Apokolips Agenda
Barry Dark, the king of Gotham talk radio, never forgot the events of that night. Neither did any of the millions who were listening in live, or the audiences who later listened to parts of the truncated broadcast.
Dr. Hugo Strange, one of Batman’s arch-enemies, had busted loose from Gotham State along with most of his colleagues. Surprisingly enough, he didn’t throw in his lot with the mob of villains currently making war on any heroes they could find. Instead, he broke into the studios of WDON Radio while Barry was on the air. The breaking in part was easy. Strange had converted two petty crooks he’d found into eight-foot-tall monsters with two injections of his Strange Serum, and the twosome had just smashed their way through whatever physical barriers there were, inanimate and otherwise, till they got to Barry’s broadcasting booth.
Barry had been taking phone calls from listeners about the worldwide crisis up to that point. The break-in had been too fast. Strange’s monsters had pitched aside the two guards in the outer office, along with the Gotham parapsychologist who was to have been Barry’s guest in the next half hour. Neither they nor their master looked back as they smashed into the booth.
Barry’s first impulse was to turn down his microphone pot. He froze when he saw Strange’s .45 pointed straight at his face. “Leave it on,” Strange advised. Shakily, Barry’s hand went back to the Formica tabletop.
He tried to rally. “Uh, I’d...I’d like to inform you who may be listening that, uh...we’ve had an unexpected guest...”
Strange had shoved Barry away from the board. He tipped over in his wheeled office chair and went plotz on his back, messing up his impeccable Armani suit somewhat. For once, he wasn’t worried about his clothes.
Flanked by his monsters, Hugo Strange stepped up to the mike. “This is Professor Hugo Strange,” he announced. “Tonight, I am come to end the Batman’s career.”
Barry looked up, from his floor perspective, on the savant and his two gargantuan goons. He decided against any heroic activity.
“A few years ago, I learned the Batman’s true identity,” Strange continued, in a voice that held madness. “Sometime after that, he convinced me that I had been duped, but I have since seen through his ruse. I am satisfied and convinced that the face I saw when once I unmasked the Batman is his true face. No matter what happens after tonight, his career will be over. For now I will verbally accomplish what I–“
There were screams from both the monsters as something attacked them from the back. Even Strange had to stop, in stunned surprise. The two brutes, standing side by side, were each trying to reach behind them at something, some being, which, impossibly enough, was clawing its way up their backs. As each of them tried to bend forward, two yellow hands ending in claws reached around their throats.
There was a sharp coordinated motion and the monsters began to bleed. Profusely.
Then they crashed to the ground, and Barry Dark and Hugo Strange saw what was on their backs. It was a sight Barry never wished to remember, and one he would carry to his grave. The audience heard Barry saying, “Oh, my God, oh, my God” continuously. He was not aware that he was saying it.
The intruder had yellow skin and a red costume. He did not appear to be human, though he seemed humanoid. His movements were something like that of a huge insect or nimble animal, each of the predatory variety.
Hugo Strange had quite forgotten about revealing the Batman’s identity, unless it was somehow contained in the nonsense syllables he was gibbering.
The yellow being stalked forward. As he did so, he spoke:
“You threaten secrets of an ofttime ally
To reveal what’s best not known by any man!
And thus, betraying one who’s friend to Demon,
Incur the bloody wrath of ETRIGAN!”
The Demon leaped as Dr. Hugo Strange screamed. Barry leapt up himself, ran, tripped over the fallen monsters, got blood on his coat, picked himself up, and ran once again. He ran out of the booth, over the broken door, out of the office, down the hall, and down several flights of stairs before he huffed and puffed his way to the elevators. He convinced himself to press the button and wait for the car, which he rode down to the ground level.
Gotham cops were already on their way up, and one of them took him by the arm and steered him to a police car for safety. Later on, another cop came down with somebody else in tow, who was placed in the back with Barry for questioning at Headquarters. Dr. Jason Blood did what he could to calm Barry down.
The police would never tell Barry what they found in the studio. He was just as glad not to know. It took weeks for him to convince himself to get back in there and hit the mike again.
There were a couple of fingers and enough of a jawbone left for them to make sure it was Strange.
Batman’s identity was safe from that direction, at least.
On Earth-Two, the loose band of Earth-S villains usually referred to as the Monster Society of Evil were having a rough time of it against the Marvel Family and Squadron of Justice. Black Adam had given Captain Marvel, Mary Marvel, and Captain Marvel, Jr. a heavy time for a bit, but numbers took their toll and the titanic threesome were collectively beating him to a pulp.
Cap socked Adam high in the air above St. Louis’s arch. The black-clad scion of Shazam soared several hundred feet above the ground, not under his own power. Mary Marvel yelled, “I’ll get him, Cap!”, and took off after him. Even at the rate he was travelling, she had no problem matching his speed.
Except for one thing. Before she could reach him, Black Adam vanished into thin air.
Mary blinked. Adam had no power of teleportation, nor did he look to be in any shape to have used super-speed to make himself invisible. About the only thing he was capable of doing, in his condition, was not shattering into a million pieces when he fell back to Earth. The problem was, he wasn’t there to fall back to it anymore.
Even though Mary wasn’t specifically empowered by Solomon, she could draw on wisdom almost as great as his, thanks to her basic power setup. But even that didn’t tell her where Adam had gone. She wished for a moment that she had the vision powers of the Superpeople, but decided that wouldn’t be of much use, either, if he’d been teleported.
Indeed, she was so preoccupied that she failed to take notice in time of the black-dressed beauty coming up on her from behind. She heard the whoosh of air in time to turn her head, but not to prevent her foe from grabbing her by the sides of the head and channeling a bolt of dark power into her brain.
Darkling, a white-haired enemy of hers who had gained her powers through bargaining with the Realms Below, grinned evilly at Mary as she caused her purest pain.
The World’s Mightiest Girl cried out, took hold of Darkling’s wrists, and fought to remove her foe’s hands from her head. But Darkling was exerting her full strength, and somehow managing to maintain the contact. Mary’s eyes were opened wide in pain, and both their bodies shook in the air as if in the grip of unimaginable forces. One thing could hurt the Marvels, besides a confrontation with a being of equal force: magic.
Then she heard fragments of a rhymed chant, and felt a bolt of positive power slam into both of them, separating them from each other. The malignant energy-contact was broken, but Mary’s senses were reeling. She barely managed to take note of the flying form of Isis, who had sent the bolt into Darkling. The evil sorceress was staggered, but not defeated. Isis brought up her fists, gamely ready for battle.
Captain Marvel, Jr. preempted that by crashing into Darkling from the front, throwing his shoulder into her breadbasket and knocking the wind out of her. She still seethed with her malefic power, though, and he felt the backwash.
Isis, held aloft by the wind, made another chant.
“Aeolus, ‘pon whose winds I ride,
My request be not denied,
From my foe withhold your breath,
Until she sleeps, but not in death!”
Captain Marvel came up under Mary’s falling body in a perfect trajectory to catch her with his red-and-gold-sleeved arms. He sped towards Isis and Darkling, and squinted his eyes in amazement at what the Egyptian sorceress had managed. Darkling, still high above the ground, had suddenly wrapped her hands around her throat and was open-mouthed as if trying to draw in breath. Junior had separated from her and was watching her in alarm.
Even though there was air all around her, Darkling was apparently unable to breathe any of it.
Yet, she held up one arm and, putting all her effort into it, unleashed a bolt of blackness at Isis. If it struck her, it might knock her out of the sky and negate the heroine’s spell. He sped up to intervene, but it was unnecessary. Cap, Junior flew between Darkling and Isis and took the blast himself, slamming backwards into Isis’s flying body. She caught him and held him, luckily enough, as Junior looked a bit groggy from the magic burst.
Bulletman and Bulletgirl were now on the scene, flying up side by side under the power of their gravity helmets. As Darkling silently gasped out her last breaths, she began to fall. The Flying Detectives expertly caught her in a cradle of their own clasped arms. They grinned up at Cap, and he gave them a thumb’s up.
“Isis,” he called out.
“The spell should be letting up by now,” said Isis, still holding Junior, who was rubbing the side of his head. “She’ll be able to breathe again, but you’d better watch her in case she needs a shot in the jaw. Is Mary all right?”
“I hope so,” he said. “Let’s get them back downstairs. Any sign of Adam?”
Isis shook her head. “Not that I could see. But I got here after Mary did. Where to?”
He looked down. “The Arch,” he said.
So Captain Marvel and Isis settled Mary and Junior on the great beam of the Golden Arch that spans the skyway over St. Louis, judging that both their compatriots could be examined there without worrying about onlookers getting in the way. Junior set astride the Arch, and held his head in both hands. “Are you in pain?” asked Isis.
“A little, yeah,” he said. “But...I...I don’t know. Feels like something...something’s in my mind, almost, might be the easiest way to describe it.”
Isis put both her hands on his shoulders from behind. “Perhaps I can help, young Marvel. If any vestige of Darkling’s power remains in your body, my magic may be able to counteract it.”
“It’s not like that, Isis,” said Junior. “It’s like...something’s being lifted from my brain. Some kind of barrier.”
“Young Marvel, let me help,” she said.
But it was a bit too late. Junior threw his head back in a great spasm, almost knocking himself and Isis off the arch. His legs gripped the metal of the beam, and his hands, reaching backward, steadied her as well. Isis noted, with concern, that he was shaking. But his trembling seemed to lessen as the seconds went by.
Then he seemed steady, and, indeed, turned to face her, using his flight power to lift him up and place his feet on the arch. But his face bore a look of awe and confusion. She stood and touched him on the chest. “Are you...whole?”
Without a word, he turned to face Cap and Mary, the latter of whom was still lying on the arch on her back. Cap had been rubbing her wrists and ankles, trying to bring her back to full consciousness. Far below them, on the ground, a mass of civilians was growing, talking, pointing fingers and cameras up at them. They took no notice of this.
Mary Marvel’s eyes fluttered, then snapped open. She had an unfocused look about her. “Mary,” said Cap, relieved that she was back with them.
“Mary,” said Captain Marvel, Jr., and his voice held a tone in it that she had not heard for thirty years.
An instant later, she said, “Freddy.”
And an instant after that, they were in each other’s arms.
Captain Marvel and Isis looked at both of them, and then at each other, in surprise. Isis was much less astonished than Cap, who looked almost aghast. “Have they always been this way?” she asked.
“Holey moley, I didn’t know they were ever this way!” he exclaimed.
The clinch was held for a long time, and Cap was almost certain he could hear some soft, subdued sobbing from Mary. Below them, as the crowd started figuring out what was happening, a cheer and some wolf whistles went up. The World’s Mightiest Mortal had to control himself to keep from swooping down and smashing up a mass of still cameras and videocams.
He had to admit that he was angry. He didn’t know why, entirely. But he was. Even the Wisdom of Solomon didn’t cover enough, sometimes.
Isis sat politely, crosslegged, waiting for the hero and heroine to finish their embrace. When they did, they still held onto each other. Mary’s eyes were shining, and Junior’s hardly less so.
“I remembered,” she said. “You did, too.”
“Yeah,” he said. “Oh, yeah. I remembered. I remembered we’re in...”
“We’re in love,” she finished.
Captain Marvel hovered beside them, placing a hand on a shoulder of each of them. “Take it easy, you two. That bolt you took from Darkling has obviously had some after-effects. You’ll probably shake this off in no time, and you’ll be back to your old selves.”
“Cap, can’t you see?” exclaimed Junior. “We are back to our old selves! I remember what I’d forgotten. I didn’t even know I’d forgotten it. But it must have been a, I don’t know, a memory block.”
“Me, too,” Mary agreed, still holding Junior. “Like it was yesterday. Only it was the last case we had in the Fifties, Cap. The one with the Monster Society. Remember that?”
“Sure,” he said. He looked up at Isis. “We fought Sivana and his bunch back in 1954, right before the Suspendium incident.” He turned back to Mary. “What is it that you remember about that?”
“Well, don’t you remember, Bill?” Mary was sitting side-by-side with Junior, now, one arm about his shoulders. “Freddy and I had, well, fallen in love.”
Cap’s face looked stony.
“And we were going to get married,” said Junior, one arm about Mary’s waist. “Once we’d gotten the Old Man to let us age again.”
Isis said, “My congratulations to you both. Truly, this war we find ourselves in is also a time of renewal.”
“Thanks, Isis,” said Captain Marvel, quietly.
“You really don’t remember anything, Billy?” asked Mary. “You don’t recall how you hated the idea of us being in love at first? But how you got over it, and said you’d help us talk to the Old Man about it?”
“What did I say? Or what was I supposed to have said?” Cap crouched on one knee. “Are you sure these aren’t faked memories implanted in you by Darkling?”
Mary and Junior looked at each other. Then Junior said, “There’s some memory faking here all right, Cap. But whoever did it isn’t Darkling.”
“That blast of hers must have dislodged the block,” opined Mary. “Maybe Isis’s magic emanations had something to do with it, too. No...I remember this. It’s real. And I want to keep on remembering it, Billy. I want to remember it for the rest of my life. With Freddy.”
She looked at him and he at her with a love as old as Eden.
Gauging the expression on Captain Marvel’s face, Isis felt a great deal of pity for him. But she held her own counsel.
“We’ll have a talk with the great sir after this is over,” said Cap. “But not till this is over.”
Isis said, gently, “The battle still rages across two worlds, Captain. Our forces are sorely pressed. Even losing ground, perhaps. Without Superman or the Lanterns, they need us.”
“They certainly do,” said Captain Marvel. “Wouldn’t you both agree?”
“Definitely,” said Junior, standing up.
“I agree, too,” said Mary, standing beside him. “And this time, more than ever, we’re fighting for love.”
Captain Marvel launched himself into the sky. The three heroes fell into formation behind him. They went in search of allies to defend and foes to fight, and knew they would not have to travel very long or very far.
And he pitied the first super-villain he’d get his hands on.
Actually, he’d pity the first dozen or so.
Supergirl and Superboy flew lower in the sky, with Kara still holding onto Blackstarr’s almost-limp body. The villainess was beginning to drool, and was staring at everything and nothing in partcular. Kara didn’t like to look at her.
Kal flew very close to her. “It was something you had to do, Kara,” he said. “I understand, I mean.”
“Kal, I don’t want to talk about it right now,” she said. “Just let’s concentrate on what we still have to do, okay?”
He half-laughed. “Just like out of the comic books.”
She shot him a look. “This isn’t a comic book, Kal. Eclipso is a deadly enemy. I’ve never fought him, but I’ve spoken with a number of heroes who have. They all counted themselves lucky just to foil his plans. Beating him concisively is something that nobody seems to have quite done, so far.”
“This is crazy,” he said. “But I’m getting the hang of it. I hope.”
“I’ll take point on this,” she said. “But I’ll need you on backup. His main weapon is a black gem. He focuses his energy through it. That’s the main thing to watch out for.”
“His secret identity’s Bruce Gordon,” said Superboy. “Got scratched by a gem in the hand of a priest called Mophir, which put Eclipso’s self in Bruce’s body. Whenever there’s an eclipse, Eclipso comes out. When there’s another eclipse, it puts him back in.”
She gave him an appraising look. “You learned all that from reading comic books, huh?”
“Turned out to be a pretty good education, didn’t it?”
“Well, just remember: there’s a lot they don’t put in the comics. And you’re going to learn it.”
With that, the Maid of Might descended to the ground outside the UN Building, Superboy beside her, and lay Blackstarr gently on a bench. What few people were outside, mainly guards in fascistic uniforms and people who seemed to have business they would rather have avoided, gaped open-mouthed at the flying figures. Supergirl guessed that, in this world, she and Kal might be in comic books, too.
“Everyone, clear the area,” said Supergirl, in a voice strong enough to be heard by all. “We’re about to enter battle. Until it’s over–we cannot guarantee your safety.”
A cop came up to her and said, “Say, what’s the idea around here, any–“
Out of time and patience, Kara sucked in a whooshing breath of air and expelled it, sending the man head-over-heels down the sidewalk. Superboy grinned and gave her a thumbs-up. Then she crouched, sprang, and flew upward towards the top floor of the United Nations building. As she leapt, she used her super-vision to probe the structure.
Eclipso was there, in his office, apparently aware of her. He was fitting his black gem to his unmarked eye, ready to unleash a blast of force. That was fine by her. She’d survived far worse.
But as she smashed through the window and sent reinforced bulletproof glass flying everywhere, she noticed that he had fitted a loupe of green between his eye and the gem.
When the eye-blast hit her, it hurt like hell. No, worse.
It hurt like Kryptonite.
The impact knocked Supergirl out of the room, sending her back through the window, knocking out more glass on the way. She struggled to breathe, having taken the burst in the chest. Mr. Two-Tone had taken precautions, all right. And they were sending her falling back out of the window.
A whooshing noise below her barely preceded the two strong, blue-sleeved arms that caught her. Superboy looked at her in concern and dismay. “Kara, are you all right?”
Supergirl dragged in a breath and fought back the pain and numbness. “I’ve been worse, Kal. We’re going to have to hit him hard, fast, and carefully, from opposite directions. He’s got a Kryptonite filter over that black diamond of his.”
“Kryptonite?” Superboy looked, for a second, frightened. “You mean, the stuff that’s supposed to kill us? It actually exists?”
“It sure as blazes does. I want you to keep out of the way of his blasts. In a second, I’m going to try to draw his attention from the front while you go and hit him from the back. But if he whirls and points that thing at you, get out of there. That’s an order.”
Superboy looked up and said, “Uh, Kara, I think we might not have a second.”
She looked upward.
Eclipso was leaning out of the hole in the office wall, holding onto a metal dividing strip between the windows, and focusing his power through the black gem again. This time, though, he wasn’t using the Kryptonite loupe. He was just exerting his own power through his “eclipsed” eye, and something horrible was coming from the gem.
“Of course,” breathed Kara, leaping out of Kal’s arms. “Even Blackstarr and the other villains wouldn’t be enough to make him dominate this world. Darkseid assigned these demons to him!”
“Then let’s hit ‘em!” snapped Superboy, rushing to the attack.
“Wait, Kal!” cried Supergirl, but failed to grab his cape as he flew away. Instead, she hurled herself after him, only an instant behind him. All it meant was that he ran into the freezing, soul-chilling grip of one of the shadows first, and cried out in unanticipated pain.
Kara blasted at the shadow with her heat-vision, shattering it for long enough to pry him free. His costume was icy where it had grabbed him. Others were attacking. “I tried to tell you, Kal. Now, do something for me, and do it now. With super-speed.” She put her mouth to his ear and whispered an order. With only an iota of hesitation, Superboy turned and sped off. Some of the shadows tried to trail him, but even they couldn’t match his velocity.
Supergirl took a shadow-touch in the chest, right over the Kryptonite-stricken area. It hurt badly. She drew in breath and expelled it in a super-shout, shattering several more windows and the shadow-being. Another one was coming for her, but it only managed to touch her cape before she flew out of its grasp. She swung her head in an arc, lancing through more of the creatures with her heat-vision.
More of them were emerging from Eclipso’s gem by the second. He was smiling. He finally said something.
“Give up, Supergirl, and finish this farce. I can blot out the sun with these which Darkseid gave me.”
“Then you’re gonna have to do it, creep,” said Kara, and, flying out of the shadows’ grasp for a moment, turned her heat-vision on the floor below him and burned a hole in it. Eclipso fell with a cry to the floor below. He hit hard. The gem tumbled from his grasp.
But before she could reach him or the gem, a wall of shadows appeared before her. She sought to press her way through the insubstantial mass, but it was cold...so cold...
By the time she’d gotten through it and pulled herself through the window and onto the floor, Supergirl felt she knew the meaning of Frozen Hell. Her body was covered with the soul-frost of the creatures through which she had passed. They were still reaching out for her. But she would not be stopped. She had to reach Eclipso, had to take that damnable gem from him—
Eclipso fit the black jewel to his eye again and fired.
It blew her back through the shadows and out the window. She didn’t stop falling until she hit the concrete below with a terrific crunch.
She looked up, half-dazed, and saw the shadow-beings separating from their wall-self, turning into individual entities again, and flying down at her.
She also saw something else.
A blue bullet zooming back over the horizon towards them, an indistinct burden under one arm, probably traveling as quickly as he ever had up to this point.
If he were just in time.
Supergirl pulled herself together, stood, and flew at the agents of darkness, using her heat-vision to momentarily disperse them, but knowing they’d reform and counterattack in seconds. Unless she could somehow get to Eclipso in time, it was in Kal’s hands. Well, that and those of the one he had brought with him.
Superboy pulled up before the broken office window, through which Eclipso was still ejecting demons. The evil side of Bruce Gordon had time enough to notice him, and time enough to identify the man whom Superboy had brought back with him at a rate just under the speed of light. He almost had time to unleash a burst of blackness.
But not before Captain Atom pointed his hands and sent forth a dazzling, blinding burst of light.
Eclipso cried out. He writhed in agony, struck by his great weakness, and fell to the floor of the office. Normally, such a lightburst would have merged him with his Bruce Gordon self. But Gordon, Kara judged, was probably a dimension or two away.
The shadow-demons were hesitant, wondering what to do, with the mind of their director clouded by pain. She didn’t know how long that status would last, but she intended to take advantage of it.
Still covered with frost, Supergirl hurtled past the shadows, into the office. She quickly grabbed Eclipso by the shirtfront, dragged him to his feet, and didn’t even give him time to look at the cold fury in her eyes before she unleashed a terrific jab with a fist of steel.
The force propelled him clear across the room and halfway into the wall. There was no way Eclipso could have stayed conscious under the impact. So he didn’t.
The black diamond fell from his fingers and rolled for a few inches on the carpet, coming to a rest against a file cabinet. As Kara leaned against a wall to steady herself, she saw the shadow-demons coming in a rush, and prepared to fight them off.
But it wasn’t necessary. They homed in on the black gem and, compressing themselves into a line, reentered it, as they had evidently been programmed to. Within a minute’s time, the ebon creatures were nowhere to be seen. All that remained was a wrecked office, a beaten villain, and a tired heroine.
Superboy and Captain Atom touched down just inside the opened windowspace. Supergirl picked up the black gem, rolled it over in her hand, tentatively, and then pulled her cape in front of herself long enough to stash the thing in her cape pouch.
“Let me help with the thawing, Supergirl,” said Atom, emitting mild nuclear heat from his fingertips. It helped clear the frost from her skin and costume.
“Me, too,” chimed in Kal, and used his heat-vision to abet the Captain. Supergirl used her own vision-powers to finish up the job. The shadows’ freeze-power seemed to extend a bit beyond just the physical realm. But she felt better when they were done.
“Thanks,” she said. “To both of you. We’re going to take these two with us, but D’reema and Harbinger have to go as well. Cap, you and your group should stay here and complete the liberation of your world. I’m sure there’s more to do.”
“Well, first off, you’re welcome,” said Captain Atom. “And although we haven’t agreed to your directorship–this is our world, after all–I agree that we need to get our Earth back on an even keel. Still, I think one of us should go with you to represent our team in the battle. I’ll let you choose which one, as a courtesy.”
“If the Son of Vulcan wants to go with us, he’s welcome,” said Kara. “I’ll take it on faith that your power will be enough to hold the line on this world. If it isn’t, we’ll be back with reinforcements.”
“So,” Superboy said, “where do we go from here, Kara?”
She looked at him and rubbed her warming wrists. “First, we check in on Earth-One.
“And then, we’re going to New Genesis.”