DISCLAIMER: The characters in this story are currently property of DC
Comics, but originally appeared in Charlton Comics in the 1960's.
This story takes place shortly before the Crisis on Infinite Earths.
No money is being made from this story, and no infringement is intended.
The characters herein are NOT the post-Crisis DC versions.
The man in the green robe and hood motioned for his followers to bring their captive closer to his throne.
"You have done well," is all he said to the four acolytes.
Without answering, they pushed the straitjacketed figure closer to their master. The man had a multicolored uniform on under his straitjacket. It was worn and a bit dirty, and the man himself was due for a bath.
He had a black headpiece on that covered the back of his head but left his face revealed. The face told a strange story in its madness. In fact, it told five stories. One for each personality lodged within his brain.
The man gibbered, babbled, sometimes coherently, sometimes asking a question of himself, at other times answering it. He was mad, and enough to drive others to madness.
The quartet finally got him within reach of the enthroned figure in green. He said nothing. His bare hands reached out, and made contact with the raving man's temples.
They had to hold him still, for the first few seconds.
Then the man's struggles lessened, and ceased. The five different personas causing his face-dancing seemed to flee. His spirited trans-self conversation quieted, and his mouth hung open as the man on the throne worked his working.
Within a minute, the man's eyes came into focus, and his mouth closed. He appeared sane, for the first time in years.
The hooded man withdrew his hands. The other looked at him, then all about him, then at the straitjacket which constrained him.
"Release him," said the man in green.
The foursome quickly unbuckled the jacket. The once-insane man lifted his arms to shoulder height, then stretched, then sighed. "Thank you," he said to the hooded man.
"Your name is Dr. Spectro," said the other.
"Yes," said the man, whose uniform was revealed as a form-fitting costume. The part which covered him from the back of his head to his thighs was black, with a shortly flared collar and a white circle-emblem on his chest. His boots were also black, but his sleeves and leggings were divided into multicolored, lengthwise stripes. "Yes, it is. And your name is, sir?"
The other leaned forward. But, somehow, Dr. Spectro could not see within the man's shadowy hood.
"You may call me the Hooded One," he said. "Some years past, your body was atomically divided into four separate, small beings. Your body was reunited in an energy burst, but not your mind. I accomplished the latter."
Spectro, rubbing his wrist, said, "Are you an enemy of Captain Atom?"
"I am certainly not his friend," said the Hooded One.
The bearded Spectro smiled a bit. "In that case, I'm listening."
Peter Cannon was meditating. Tabu hated to disturb him.
The blonde, athletic man in the robe and shorts sat cross-legged on the foam-filled mat in his inner study and enjoyed the benefits of a deep trance. He was not a trendy follower of a transplanted guru, nor an experimenter with Eastern religion. Cannon had learned these precepts at a Himalayan monastery, where he spent fifteen years...from his fifth year through his twentieth.
Many of the things he learned were only taught to one man in a generation. By luck, fate, fitness, or all three, that one had been Peter Cannon.
Tabu, who affected Western dress but rarely went out without a turban, sat on the mat facing him and waited. He knew Peter would sense him before long. While his friend seemed as insensate as a block of wood, Tabu well knew that Cannon could still perceive the presence of others.
Before long, Cannon's blue eyes snapped open and his head came forward. "Tabu," he said. "If it's about another emergency, the answer is no."
"Have you ever considered why we were thrown together, Peter?"
"Because we've been friends ever since we were kids together in the monastery. The answer is still no."
"Peter, I could tell you that the High Abbot sent you into the Western world for just such missions. I could tell you that, perhaps, he sent me along with you to bring certain things to your knowledge--"
"--and to make certain you responded to them. I received reports from certain sources today."
"No, no, no." Peter Cannon got up, tightened his drawstring belt, and began to walk away.
"The reports," said Tabu to his friend's retreating back, "concerned the abduction of the mummy of Evila from a certain museum."
Cannon stopped, but did not turn around.
Tabu continued, "One of the guards who saw them, and was struck down, mentioned that the thieves appeared to be Asiatics."
Peter turned, with a resigned expression on his face. "Which means nothing, in and of itself."
"But which could indicate a connection between the twice-departed lady and one of your deadliest foes."
Peter Cannon sighed and put his hands on his hips. "Show me the reports, Tabu."
"Then you are of the opinion that this might be of interest to Thunderbolt?"
"Show me the reports!"
Tabu grinned, and rushed to get them.
Senator Eden was briefing Captain Atom and Nightshade in his D.C. office and leafing through a loose-leaf notebook filled with reports and photos under plastic covers.
"The asylum in Virginia where we've been storing Spectro was broken into yesterday, and he was liberated," said Eden. "He was still a raving lunatic at the time, with that five-way personality split. Mr. Sybil. But we must assume that whoever kidnapped him has use for him, even in that state."
"Or that they can somehow fuse his personality," said Captain Atom. "Dr. Spectro was a tough foe when I had all my powers. If he comes back...no, I think we have to say when he comes back...he'll probably be all that I can handle."
Nightshade, a beautiful woman in a metal facemask and a black, short-skirted costume, said, "Maybe not more than two of us can handle, Cap. He's never run into one of my takedowns, or my black light."
"You've never run into his power-beams," replied the white-haired, metallic-suited hero. "He can induce emotional changes with them, or sap power, ingest it, and redirect it. It's not like we're facing the Ghost here."
Eden said, "I don't like playing ‘Captain Midnight' with you two anymore than you like me playing it. We've had reports of other prison breakouts in the past month that seemed to be dedicated to freeing former supercriminals. Some of them are your enemies, such as Jewelee. Others I'm not at all sure of, and that's your business, anyway."
"What do you expect us to do about it, Senator?" asked Atom.
The senator looked up. "I'm going to hand you over to somebody the internal-affairs boys reccommended to me. He's been briefed, and he ‘ll be your liason."
"Who is he?" said Nightshade, and wondered, not for the first time, if Eden could tell she was his daughter.
For answer, Eden pushed a button on his phone. "Send him in," he barked to a secretary.
The door to the outer office opened and a six-foot-one man with black crew-cut hair, a scar along one cheek, a blue business suit, and a bulge under his coat which Captain Atom guessed bespoke a filled shoulder holster.
"Hello," he said. "Captain Atom and Nightshade. It's a privelage to meet you both."
"Likewise, I'm sure," said Atom. "Mister...?"
"Steel," said the man, shaking Atom's hand, then Nightshade's. "Sarge Steel. Let me give you what I've got, then let's talk counterforce measures."
And as he shook her hand, Nightshade noticed that the hand he wasn't shaking with was made of metal.
Vic Sage was not the kind of man who preferred shades of grey, or working with others, except with his crew of assistants who helped put together his television news and commentary show. The writings of Ayn Rand were his bible, and he wouldn't have voted for a Democrat who ran for dogcatcher.
It had been hard, sometimes, to find sponsors for his show. But a drug manufacturer had liked Sage's style, and underwrote his show on a more-or-less permanent basis. Network head Sam Starr liked Sage, too, which put him at odds with quite a few others who wanted to see Sage dumped. The latter included Starr's son Syd and his daughter, Celia. But his WWB show, The Sage Report, drew high enough ratings to keep Sage's job secure. For the moment.
Everyone on television lived on a ratings tightrope. But Sage would have gone on doing what he did even if he had to pay for it himself. He would have found a way.
One time, he had come across Professor Emil Rodor in the course of investigating a crime story. Rodor was an Iron Curtain refugee who was, if anything, even less in love with the Left than Sage was. But the Reds wanted Rodor's genius on their side, and they had kidnapped his son to force him back into their camp.
The old man had spilled the details to Sage, in anguish. Within 24 hours, the youth would be dead, if Rodor did not agree to emigrate. "Perhaps, if I kill myself," he mused aloud, "my son will be freed. They would not need him, then."
"More likely, they'd kill him as well," said Sage. "Forget the talk of suicide, Professor. What inventions are the Commies interested in, in particular?"
Rodor had shown Sage a plastic life-mask that covered the face, but was porous enough to breathe through. It was blank-featured, an eyeless, mouthless, mannequin's mask. But that was deceptive, because the area that covered the eyes was transparent on the inside, while appearing opaque on the outside.
The mask could be manufactured to duplicate the features of any person, and would be cemented on the face by a gas of Rodor's invention, which also altered the colors of a suit. Even up close, the mask was indistinguishable from skin, and could not be removed except by a second application of the gas. "You would have to cut the face off to cut the mask off," Rodor testified. Even in his sorrow, his pride of accomplishment showed through.
Vic Sage made a decision. "Give me the mask and the gas, Professor. In 24 hours, I'll have your son back, or they'll have me."
That night, in a daring one-man raid, a blank-faced man in a light blue business suit had invaded a safe house, fought off a host of guards, broken out Rodor's son, and reunited him with his father. It made for a colorful episode on The Sage Report. Vic had closed the segment by saying, "As for the identity of the man who freed Rudolf Rodor...it may remain forever an unanswered question."
By the time of the mystery man's second exploit, bringing in a counterfeiting ring, the newspapers had dubbed Vic Sage's other identity The Question. Sage approved of it, saying to Rodor, "The only real question is the choice every man makes, every day of his life: good or evil?" They had fashioned a "business card" for him, which looked blank until exposed to the air for ten seconds. After that, it revealed a huge red question mark.
Sage never thought of himself as a super-hero, nor of his mask and business suit as a costume. The Question was an identity he used when measures had to be taken in more direct fashion than a reporter could manage. He used it effectively, as many an imprisoned gang boss would testify. The only costumed hero he had ever met was the Blue Beetle, during the "Our Man" case, and he had aided the Beetle as Sage, not as The Question.
In all his battles, he had dealt with no more than two costumed villains. One was "Our Man", a nihilist dressed up as a work of soulless modern art. The other was the Banshee, a green-garbed hood who flew by means of a gas-filled cape created by a scientist he had killed. Neither had reappeared after their first battle with the Question.
Not until now.
Nora Pine, one of Vic's assistants, had brought in a police report. It indicated that Max Bine, the Banshee's other identity, had been seen in the company of a number of Asiatic criminals in the home city of Thunderbolt.
Quickly, Vic had come to a decision. "Book me a flight, Nora," he said. "I have some unfinished business to take care of."
To himself, he admitted that the Question would probably do the caretaking.
Tracey Kord walked in on her husband Ted in his lab while the latter was perusing some papers that had nothing to do with his profession of science. "What's so interesting?", she asked.
"Plenty." Ted, a brown-haired six-footer, shoved the newspapers across the countertop to her. Several articles had been outlined in black Magic Marker. "Check this. Todd Van III and Frank Fleeter, both out of jail in two separate jailbreaks. Remember them?"
Tracey took the pile of papers in hand and sifted through them. "The head Squid and the head Madman," she said. "Sure, I remember them. Who are these characters in the other stories?"
"They're what we in the trade call ‘name' villains," said Kord, straddling a lab stool. "Punch and Jewellee. The Fiery-Icer. Dr. Spectro. Those were enemies of Captain Atom. All of these crooks were freed over the last year. More than once, eyewitnesses reported a squad of Asians were involved."
She put down the papers. "Ted, look. If this is some plot of the Chinese Mafia, you don't need to be involved."
"With Fleeter and Van loose, I am involved," said Ted. "With those others being free, others should be involved, if they aren't already. Also, I doubt that the Yakuza or the Triad are involved in this thing. They do well enough already without guys in funny costumes."
Tracy took Ted's arm. "But if a whole bunch of these types are involved, and some of them have crazy powers, it's way out of your power level, Ted. You know that."
"I do," he said. "That's why I don't propose to do this alone. Help me get the Bug ready, Tracey. I'm going to Washington, D.C. to find Captain Atom."
"Ted," she said, softly. "I'm going to have a baby."
He held her head between his hands. "I know that, honey. Don't have him before I come back."
Even though he hugged her afterwards, she couldn't put much warmth into her embrace.
After all, one man had already gotten killed being the Blue Beetle.
Christopher Smith was also in Washington, D.C. He was not wearing a superhero uniform. Since he was a diplomat and a peace envoy, his present attire consisted of a pair of blue pants with a bit of thin red piping up the sides, dark socks, black shoes which cost more than the average American workingman's weekly paycheck, and a white ruffled shirt. His dress coat was lying on the bed of his room at the Watergate. When he was in town, he liked to stay there, just for the nostalgiac indecency of it.
Smith was a quiet man, standing six foot one with his shoes off. He was in his mid-forties, though his temples had gone white in his mid-thirties. The rest of his hair was imposingly jet-black, and threatened to remain so to the end of his days. His eyes were blue and penetrating, but gave little of himself away. As a diplomat, he had learned how to project a decent poker face. He just grafted a slight smile onto it.
He had been born to money, into a family of international bankers. But his father had died in the Middle East during one of the seemingly-endless Arab / Israeli conflicts. It wasn't directed at Winston Everett Smith specifically. He just happened to be in the way when a terrorist detonated a bomb. Then the elder Smith wasn't there anymore.
Christopher Smith had been studying for his law degree at Harvard then. At the end of his father's funeral, he remained behind, standing over the new grave, his mother, brother, and sisters waiting for him in the limo. He lifted his head to the grey skies and asked God one question.
At least verbally, God did not answer back.
That was the point of junction at which the switch was thrown to head Christopher Smith's life down another track. He studied for a degree in political science as well as in law, and managed to get both of them. Through his family connections, he made his way as a young graduate into internship positions in American embassies abroad. He was a man with a mission.
"My father died," he said to his aide Nora O'Rourke, many years later, "as a side-effect of a war. A civilian casualty. I could, academically, understand the reason for soldiers dying in the damnable things, even if I couldn't accept it. But I cannot understand, accept, or condone the deaths of people who didn't have a damned thing to do with the war in the first place, except to be there when it happened."
Thus, Christopher Smith had become a peace envoy, and one of Uncle Sam's ambassadors. He was anything but an "ugly American." He tried to mediate conflicts as best he could, to bring reason and some sort of compassion to the negotiating tables. But all too often, it just wasn't enough.
Christopher Smith had another hobby. He designed weapons. Not the kind that would devastate cities in nuclear blasts, but the kinds which would help a man defend himself. Often, they were nonlethal, but very effective. He made the weapons in such a fashion as to be concealed on a man's person, even if the clothing he wore was tight, indeed. Sometimes he thought he had seen one too many Man From UNCLE episodes, and gave a tight smile. But it was a secret sin of his, perhaps a necessary release valve from his duties as a peacemaker.
Then had come the day that he had been at a party at which Emil Bork, a merchant of death, had appeared.
Bork was, if anything, the Ugly European. He was intent on stirring up a brushfire war in Europe between two nations, both of which he had supplied with weapons. He openly boasted about it to Smith, almost as if daring the diplomat to do something about it.
Smith had already tried to negotiate with both powers in the conflict. They weren't in a mood for it.
Something had to be done, but Smith realized that regular diplomacy wouldn't do it.
In the news that night, a clip had been run featuring Captain Atom in action. It was when the hero was wearing his old gold-and-orange suit, flying with a sparkling trail behind him. Smith wondered if the man was trailing poison, but decided that the sparkling stuff was probably harmless, or Atom would have done something about it. Captain Atom was bringing down some absurdly-named villain, the Yellow Jaundice, for all Smith cared.
Yet, in that, there was a bit of inspiration.
If a man could go out in a costume and be a running dog, or a crusader, for the United States government (depending on your viewpoint), why couldn't another man conceal his identity with a mask and costume, use tools he had created himself, and perhaps stave off the impending conflict? Or at least bring to justice the man responsible?
Days after that, a new hero emerged, and went to war on Emil Bork.
He wore a brown, short-sleeved shirt of nonflammable, body-armoring material, with a peace-dove symbol on his chest. His pants were white, his gloves and boots were black, and he wore a gunlike weapon belted at his waist that fired a variety of projectiles. On his back was a jetpack which allowed him to fly. On his head was a rounded white helmet with a cutout that exposed his nose and mouth, plus a tubular riser which served to shield his cranium from impacts. On the forehead of the helmet was a circular lens from which, whenever he triggered it, there emerged a laser ray. There were other weapons in the suit, none of them obvious.
Christopher Smith had become the Peacemaker.
He had beaten Bork in his first exploit, and averted war. Christopher Smith came home, put aside his costume, and assumed that would be the Peacemaker's only appearance. Such was not the case. Crises of various kinds erupted, and the Peacemaker had to be brought out of the mothballs repeatedly. Eventually Christopher Smith realized that his alter ego was there on a more or less permanent basis.
So the Peacemaker joined the roster of the world's short supply of super-heroes.
He had once changed his helmet's design, but went back to the old one, preferring it. Now, he saw an image on the TV screen which caused him to flashback to the first time he had seen Captain Atom on television. Atom was there, all right, and so were some others.
That was all the world needed. A summit meeting of supermen.
Still, there was some cachet to it. And if a crisis big enough to require more than one hero had arisen...for the mystery men of his world rarely worked with each other...then it might be big enough to require all hands available for duty.
He sighed. Christopher Smith was more at home mingling with heads of state than with people in brilliantly-colored underwear.
There was nothing more to be done about it. Smith reached over to the side of his bed, hefted the attache case lying there, opened the combination lock, and took from it the brown shirt with the dove emblazoned in a yellow shield on the front of it.
The scene Christopher Smith had watched on his television came about in this manner:
A gigantic, hovering, blue beetle-shaped craft had flown into the heart of Washington, D.C. Nobody seemed to know where it came from, and some speculated it had been brought in on a truck of some sort. But the Secret Service had run a quick confirmation on it and, with help from the FBI, confirmed that it was the vehicle of the crimefighter known as the Blue Beetle, usually based in a burg called Hub City.
Once the ship was in position, over the large pool near the Washington Monument, the great metal beetle stopped and hovered. An amplified voice rang out from a speaker in its head.
"Captain Atom. This is the Blue Beetle. I request a meeting with you. Please acknowledge. Captain Atom. This is the Blue Beetle. I request a meeting with you. Please acknowledge."
The tape loop was played at five-minute intervals, and the Bug didn't go anywhere while it was being done. The print and TV newsies had time enough to turn up at the site with Keystone Kops efficiency, point the cameras in the right direction, and break in on soap operas with a special bulletin.
Within the hour, two figures, one of them riding on the other's back, flew towards the flying beetle.
"This is Captain Atom," barked the one who was doing the flying. "And this is my partner, Nightshade. Turn that blasted thing off, let me in, and let's talk."