Here There Be Monsters
Part 3: "Lest Ye Become a Monster"
Ibac was somewhat reassured when he found that the vacuum and cold of space could be resisted by calling on his powers, plus the shield that Sabbac had given him.
Both his and Sabbac's powers stemmed from the same diabolical source. Both of them had done deals with a fearsome and evil entity, and had been enabled to change into a new, more powerful, and more evil sort of being with the speaking of a word.
In a sense, they were evil Captain Marvels. His power was not quite the equal of Captain Marvel, but it was close enough to that level to allow him to give the World's Mightiest Mortal a tough fight when they met. Sabbac's was more oriented towards the manipulatiion of magic, but he was still mighty enow to duel his enemy, Captain Marvel, Jr., to a standstill.
The last time he had crossed Captain Marvel's path was when he had been allied with Mr. Mind in the first Monster Society of Evil. After that, he had returned to his identity of Stanley Printwhistle, a simple, decently-intentioned street-sweeper, and had stayed thus for over ten years. Printwhistle had come to enjoy being a normal man, a law-abiding one.
Then Dr. Sivana came, and brought with him a man called the Weeper. The Weeper was the son of the first Weeper, both of them enemies of Bulletman, both of them teary-eyed murderers. The Weeper was out to surpass his father's score, even though he had picked up his father's trait of crying for the people he killed. It didn't stop him from killing.
Dr. Sivana had said, "Stanley, we know who you are. We also know who you are when you say your word. Say your word, Stanley. We have a proposition for your other self."
Stanley had protested that he didn't do that sort of stuff anymore. That he was a churchgoing, working-class, simple kind of fellow, and the days in which he jousted with the Marvels were long gone.
Sivana had nodded to the Weeper, and the Weeper had smashed the barrel of his gun across Stanley's face.
It didn't take much more pistol-whipping to make Stanley scream out the word, "IBAC!"
Even Sivana was impressed by what happened next, and the Weeper was flatly terrified.
A burst of green flame had erupted from the ground--from below the ground, actually--and engulfed Stanley Printwhistle from foot to crown of head inside a fraction of a second. A banshee wail had filled the air, like the whining of a damned soul. Printwhistle, in the fire's grip, was not visible.
Then it withdrew, and a different sort of being stood forth.
A bare-chested, hugely-muscled, 6-foot-7 male monster in black toreador pants and a mohawk haircut and prominent teeth. A being whose muscular frame could command the strength of darkness, and powers like unto those of the Shazam trio.
The Weeper was crying his eyes out, on his knees, begging to be forgiven, saying it wasn't personal at all. Ibac had looked on him with disdain.
"You got Printwhistle to let me out again," said Ibac. "I didn't think anyone even remembered me, after this long. Thanks."
Sivana said, "We've got a big job for you, Ibac. I'm putting the Monster Society back together again. This time, we're going to take those three little costumed trolls that have caused us so much grief over the years, and kill them. That's just for starters."
Ibac had grinned a grin with his grotesque teeth like Grecian shields.
"Count me in," he said.
So they had. After a similar meeting with Timothy Karnes to enlist Sabbac in their cause, Ibac had been imbued with a magical booster shot from his partner-in-changes, and all of them loaded into one of Sivana's spaceships and taken to Venus.
There he first laid eyes on the great apparatus that he was now pushing through space.
It was a large parabolic dish, looking a lot like one of the newfangled radio telescope receiving dishes. But this was of Sivana's own design, and it would receive and transmit an energy much greater and much more potent than radio waves.
Ibac was pushing the great dish through space, towards the sun.
He wasn't quite as fast as Captain Marvel. But he didn't have to be. Three days or one day, the job would get done.
And then they could kill the Marvels.
The mightiest man in the universe listened to the phone signalling four rings on the other end of the line. Before the fifth ring, it got picked up.
He recognized the voice. He also figured that the speaker wasn't in the habit of identifying himself unless he had to. "Pepper, this is Marvel," said Cap. "Good to hear from you after all these years."
"Glad to hear you, too, Cap," said Radar. "I know I've been out of touch since the war. Busy times. Got information for you."
"Mr. Atom is gone."
Captain Marvel's expression grew more sober. "How and when, Pep?"
Radar said, "We thought he was deactivated, in the hands of the AEC. Apparently we weren't as thorough with our precautions as we had hoped. There was a blackout in the area. It only took three minutes to get the auxiliary generators working. In that time, somehow, somebody got in there, got him out, and left a bogus robot body in its place. The blackout took place a week ago."
"It took you a week to find out you had a phony robot on your hands?"
"I don't work for the AEC," Radar said, softly.
The red-clad hero sighed. "Sorry, Pep. Was there any clue as to how it was done? Any marks of entry or leaving, any vehicles seen leaving? Mr. Atom's not something you can lug out in a lunchbox."
"Not unless your name is Paul Bunyan," allowed Radar. "If there was any sign, we don't know about it. And nobody outside of your power class could get in there and out without permission, or without being shot to pieces by about fifteen different levels of guards. But there's something else. The Red Crusher is gone, too."
Cap was silent.
"Want to hear about him, Cap?"
"I'm listening, Pep."
"What we have on his disappearance is more conventional. After the last set-to you guys had with him, he remained pretty well under wraps. Which is hard for a guy of his size. But recently our contacts in bamboo land informed us that someone was negotiating through go-betweens to have him liased to a third party. We don't know who, only that they were apparently from the West."
Marvel worked his tongue in his cheek. The Red Crusher, an Asian Communist mutant-being the size of a building, had crossed swords with the Marvel Family on several occasions. They thought they'd put him away during the last go-around, but the Marvels didn't kill their enemies. Sometimes that put them at a disadvantage, but they weren't about to change. They were heroes, not executioners.
"You think Sivana is behind this?" said Cap.
Radar replied, "Don't know. He's out, has been for a few weeks. But...we don't know. If you and your two partners can get on the case, we figure you might be able to get some results. There's more, though."
Cap said, "If you're about to tell me about the super-villains who have been broken out of jail, I know about it. Commissioner Woolfolk gave me a call. Do you have any info he doesn't?"
He heard Radar sigh. "Can't keep a lid on anything lately. But there's something else, Cap. Not about bad guys, about good guys."
"Maybe," Radar allowed. "The agency is thinking that we might need a formal team of heroes to countervail the bad guys this time. It's obviously a coordinated effort on the other side. We want to know if you and the other Marvels would join us."
Cap said, "Who do you mean?"
"Some of our old friends," said Radar. "I'd just as soon not say over the phone. You can probably guess some of the names."
"I can probably guess all of them," Cap said. "Pep, you know I'll work with you, as I have before, and with lots of others in our line of business. But Mary, Junior and I work best as a three-man team. The others don't come up to our power level."
"Neither does your Uncle Marvel, from what I hear."
"We make allowances for him," Cap said. "If you get some people together, call me. I think we can work with you. But as for working for you...I think it'd cramp our style."
"I'd prefer you put off making any decisions until the team is formed," said Radar. "If it is formed. This may be too big for us alone, Cap. Maybe even too big for you."
"If it is, that'll be a first," said Marvel. "But we'll keep it in mind. Will you give me a call when you've made arrangements? At least keep a two-way info flow on the bad guy situation from your end?"
"When I get more, I'll try and let you know," said Radar. "If you'll do the same for me."
"I'll try, Pep."
"Thanks, Cap. Out."
"Goodbye." Captain Marvel hung up.
For a second he was lost in memory. A memory set during World War II.
Pep Pepper was not wearing his familiar snap-brim hat and white trenchcoat when Captain Marvel first saw him, in 1944. He had been wearing a floor mop for a wig and a potato sack for a sarong. He had come out during a USO show Billy Batson had been hosting, after Billy had done an intro for Dorothy Lamour.
After the laughs, and after Billy's intervention barely got the clown out of being arrested by the MP's, Pepper, the scion of a circus family, had put on a show of acrobatics and magic tricks that had impressed the soldiers, Billy, and even headliner Bob Hope. Billy had become Captain Marvel to save Pep from falling off a broken trapeze.
On the ground, Pep had insisted on putting on a boxing exhibition with Marvel to cap off the show. Grudgingly, Cap had agreed, pulling his punches to feather softness by his standards. But he needn't have worried, because Pep seemed able to dodge every blow he sent forth, at normal human speed.
It was as if Pep Pepper could read his mind.
As a matter of fact, to a certain degree, he could. And he demonstrated it by turning around and knocking out the referee, Major Stuff. That almost got him in the guardhouse for sure, but Pep had insisted that the Major was a Kraut spy. He was.
Pep had explained to the Captain: "I come from a line of circus folk. My father owned his own show. He was a strong man and an acrobat, and my mother was a mind-reader. Guess I just inherited it!"
Tests showed that Pep did indeed have a high propensity for what normal people called mind-reading, but which the higher-ups in the service called extrasensory perception. Captain Marvel decided that Pep Pepper was the sort of man President Roosevelt had told him he was looking for. Thus, after a little checking, Cap had brought Pep Pepper to a darkened room, where four men with familiar voices gave him a briefing.
They said they were setting up an international police force which would be in charge of helping keep the peace after the war by espionage means. Plain old spying, in other words. They gave him the choice: "If you accept, speak only the name that shall henceforth be yours: Radar."
He'd said the word.
Shortly after that, the lights had come on, and Captain Marvel and Radar found themselves alone. Their guests had gone. They might only have been there in the form of two-way radio hookups which were now absent. But whatever the case, Pep Pepper now had a new name, and a new duty.
Captain Marvel didn't know all the details. But he did know that Radar had been fighting the good fight against the Axis and the Communists from that day forward, and that he had done his job well.
He thought about getting in touch with Mary and Junior directly, and letting them know what was going on. A glance at the clock told him that it was too late for that right now. He'd have to wait till after the evening broadcast.
He said his own word.
A bolt of lightning, a sound of thunder.
A few seconds later, Billy Batson opened the door and stepped into the outer office. "Hi, Joan," he said. "Any big stories in tonight's pile?"
She looked at him. "Pretty normal stuff," she said. "Unless you know something we don't."
He smiled at her more wryly than a sixteen-year-old should be able to, and walked out the outer door.
Magnificus didn't like to use his last name, except when he legally had to. The upscale Vic Tanny-style health spa he ran was known as Magnificus Studio, the name plate on his desk read MAGNIFICUS, and the checks he signed bore the name of Magnificus S., but they were cashed just the same.
Still, he hadn't changed his last name. One wondered if he dared to.
He looked like a combo of a Greek god and Charles Atlas, and pointed up the image sometimes by posing in trunks, a headband with white-painted metal wings, and sneakers with wings glued onto the sides. Magnificus had made a damned good living doing what he did, and had done so ever since the early Forties when he and his sister had broken off from their father.
Magnificus had never married. He had never had to. It was possible he had sired children, though nobody had come up to him with a paternity suit yet and that was fine by him. If they had, he would have made them take a blood test, and, if it checked out, paid up. He was decent in that sort of way. He also never despoiled anyone whom he thought could not handle it, either from age, maturity, or character.
Sometimes he wondered how his sister made out, but he never asked her.
Beautia was a female counterpart to himself, a magnificent blonde woman much in demand by Hollywood for window dressing. She couldn't act, but if there was a part in a movie that didn't call for that, she was called for it. She did modelling and pin-up work and had graced almost as many barracks in World War II as had Betty Grable. Significantly, Grable had never matched legs with her.
How their father had managed to manufacture them, he had never been certain. He had reportedly given their mother a shot of something, with her concession, that would produce magnificent physical speciments in their offspring. Mom had agreed to it. After all, who doesn't want beautiful children? But Magnificus's birth had taxed her, and she never quite recovered from bearing Beautia. Within two months of the girl's birth, their mother was dead.
He figured that had something to do with how his father turned out in later years. That, and the perpetual wall of NO his father had run into, every time he tried to sell his new theories of industry to the barons of commerce and manufacturing.
Magnificus had no idea of where his brother and his other sister had come from. They were not his mother's children. They were everything like his father, in younger form. Magnificus and Beautia were nothing like him, in physical structure, in intellect, or in temperament, though they had helped further his schemes in the early days.
In fact, he had never met his other siblings. He had seen pictures of them, seen them in newsreels, but had no desire to meet them. They unnerved him, as did his father, now.
But he was not contemplating things such as that on this fine afternoon, as he sat in short-sleeved shirt and blue pants at his desk, thumbing through ledgers and girlie mags with equal devotion to detail. His secretary buzzed him. "A Mr. Engram to see you," she said.
He hid the girlie mags in his top drawer. "What about, Suzie?"
"Investments, he says," she reported.
"Okay, send him in," he answered, shutting the drawer and watching the cover picture of Bettie Page vanish like a Cheshire cat.
The door had opened and a rather short, redhaired man stepped through. Magnificus had risen from his seat, strode across the green carpet, and shown a smileful of perfect, uncapped, gleaming teeth as he extended his hand to the newcomer. "Hi, Mr. Engram," he said. "They call me Magnificus. What can I do for you?"
The other had not shaken hands with him.
He merely reached in a lapel pocket and handed Magnificus a very small photo.
The picture was of his sister, Beautia, tied to a chair and with a gag in her mouth, looking very terrified. This was understandable. A person whose face was out of camera range had a gun pointed at her.
When he looked up at the man, he saw a three-dimensional revolver pointed at him.
"It's what I can do for you, Mr. Sivana," said the other. "Please. Come with me. And if you don't want anything to happen to your sister, don't try anything foolish like attempting to overpower me. You wouldn't enjoy it. Neither would she."
"I--" He faltered. "Who are you? Why the hell are you doing this?"
"You will learn," he said. "Please walk in front of me. Give your secretary a big smile as we leave."
So he walked through the door as the little man opened it for him, and did indeed give the secretary a big smile, so big that she wondered if something was wrong. He assured her that nothing was, which, in five minutes' time, made her call the police.
But that was far too long a time.
Ingram, gun in his coat pocket, had walked Magnificus out of the health spa and had him enter a coffee-colored Chevrolet parked at the curb. Three other persons, none of them looking very reassuring, were already in the vehicle. They made him sit in the back, between two of them. Ingram had gotten in the front, and the car had taken off.
"Where are we going?" he shouted. "Why are you doing this? Who are you?"
"Shut up," said one of the men sitting beside him, not looking up from cleaning his nails with a switchblade knife.
Ingram had reached beneath his chin and peeled something up for a few seconds.
There are no examples of the mask-maker's art which, as far as we know, can deceive the human eye. Such things as perfect likenesses of the human face which can be put on to fool another person into thinking he is really looking at flesh and bone features, rather than a plastic simulacrum, are beyond current capabilities.
Nonetheless, the mask Ingram had on was far beyond current capabilities.
Magnificus, he of the Grecian god's form and face, knew fear then, as he had not known it hitherto.
The face beneath the mask was a younger version of his father's own visage.
Then the mask was smoothed back over the face below it and tucked into the man's collar. "Satisfied?", said Thaddeus Bodog Sivana, Jr., with a grin.
Magnificus said nothing for the rest of the ride.
It was 7:30 by the time Freddy had gotten everything shut down for the evening. Luckily, Ma Potter always had something waiting in his room for him, usually on an aluminum foil-covered plate. Right now, he was looking forward to it.
As he locked the front part of his stand up, Freddy glanced up. There had been a familiar sound above.
There was a familiar figure, above, too.
He watched it vanish between two buildings, heard a muffled boom of thunder, and waited for the inevitable. A few seconds later, Billy Batson emerged from the alleyway and walked across the street towards him.
"Hey, Freddy," said Billy. "Wish I could have come earlier, but I didn't get the news until way late."
"What news is that?" asked Freddy, warily.
Billy got close enough to him to speak sotto voce. "Mr. Atom. The Red Crusher. They're in action again. Maybe some others. Looks like we're needed."
"Mary, too," confirmed Billy.
Freddy steadied himself with his cane. "All right. You going to let me eat before we go?"
"If Ma Potter has it all ready for you, I expect so."
"Okay," Freddy sighed. "Who gave you the news."
"Radar," said Billy.
Freddy gave him a wary eye. "Really? We haven't heard from him in years."
Freddy's look of irritation vanished. If the guy in the white trenchcoat had called Billy, it must be serious. "Should we do it?"
"Yeah," said Billy.
Both of them walked to the same alley Billy had emerged from. Shortly thereafter, two more muffled booms were heard, and two more flashes of light were manifested, though possibly none were present to see them.
Captain Marvel and Captain Marvel, Jr. flew into the window of Freddy's room at the Potter's boarding house faster than human eye could have seen. They emerged an instant later.
The blue-clad boy had a covered plate of fried chicken, peas, and mashed potatoes in one hand, a fork in the other.
He ate in the air, on the way to Mary Batson's.
Dr. Sivana contemplated the Venusian sky again, and looked towards the sun as long as he dared. Even through the clouds around this world, it might not be wise to chance retina damage.
Still, if Ibac completed his mission, the operation would still be on the boards without alteration. If the big idiot flubbed it, they'd just try something else. He always had something else to try.
A succession of pistol shots were heard. He jerked his way in their direction.
It was his daughter. Georgia was holding a smoking automatic. Before her were three scarecrows, planted in the alien soil, dressed in makeshift uniforms to resemble Captain Marvel, Captain Marvel, Jr., and Mary Marvel.
All of them had their heads shot off.
The Mary Marvel scarecrow was also dribbling stuffing through its stomach area.
"Just practicing, Dad," she called out.
He nodded. "Wish you wouldn't do that when I'm outside," he said. "Ruins my concentration. Have you heard from your brother?"
"Not yet," she said. "When they bring Beautia here, Dad, can I kill her? Please?"
"No. Don't you have any sense of family?"
"Oh." Georgia, who always looked like a Basil Wolverton cartoon from Life magazine, looked a bit crestfallen. Then she said, "What about the Little Red Cheese bitch? Can I do her?"
Sivana looked at his daughter. He waited a long time before speaking.
"When the time comes, we'll see about it," he finally said.
"Goody!" She turned around and emptied her gun into what was left of the Mary Marvel figure, which was nearly nonexistent afterward.
Sivana trudged away, going back to the compound. Where in the hell had he gone wrong with her and Junior?
All she thought of was killing Mary Marvel, as painfully as possible, as quickly as possible.
Why had they never learned the value of patience?
To the Golden Age Fanfiction Site