Here There Be Monsters
Part 7: "Monsters and Marvels"
Dr. Sivana had rarely seen a more satisfying sight than what Ibac and the Acrobat brought back to him that day.
An unconscious, thoroughly beaten Captain Marvel, clasped like a baby under one of Ibac's mighty arms.
The bald scientist's "Heh! Heh! Heh!" was like acid in a wound. He threw back his head and laughed with joy. The Big Red Cheese, helpless. Defeated. Laid out limply by the patrons of his power. He could barely stand it.
"Oh, gracious!" he gasped, as soon as he was able to stem the laughing. "Ibac, Acrobat, please get my children. I don't want them to miss this. No, wait. We have to get him in bondage, first. I know you've totally humiliated him, beaten him like a red-headed stepchild, made him cry ‘Uncle'--"
"He didn't do that," protested Ibac.
"Don't interrupt me!" snapped Sivana. "And thoroughly demolished him thanks to the infusion of power which you got from me, from my genius brain! But we can't count on him staying out forever. Thus: the bonds. Go place him within them, and then summon my children."
The Acrobat said, "Just Junior and Georgia, Doc?"
"All my children," said Sivana, not smiling.
Captain Marvel, Jr. and Mary Marvel were still awed by outer space.
The thought that both of them, no more than teenagers, physically, had the power to escape Earth's boundaries whenever they wished, and to be unaffected by the vacuum and cold of the void beyond the atmosphere...yes, that was a thought to give anyone pause. Even if they shared the Wisdom of Solomon.
They could not communicate verbally, but they could hand-sign to each other. The two of them flew very close, touching hands at times. They wanted intimacy, but they did not dare at the moment. Their comrade-in-arms was lost. Finding him was what mattered now.
Earth had shrunken to a bluish dot behind them. There was only the star-dotted blackness, the sun blazing before them, and another world growing nearer by the second. Their speed exceeded that of light. Only their great power could move the mass their bodies had accumulated now. They did it without seeming effort.
The clouded world of Venus lie ahead of them. It was not the planet of other universes, hot beyond endurance and sloshing with molten metal. This Venus could support life, and did. Dr. Sivana had apparently been the first Earthman to make the voyage to that world, with his first daughter and son. That he did many years before Werner Von Braun built rockets for Hitler.
The two of them had no super-senses to see the surface of the planet far beyond them. All they could do was land there and reconnoiter on their own. Of course, they knew the location of Sivana's old base. That would make matters simpler.
But if Sivana was behind this, and Captain Marvel was his prisoner, it was a fair assumption that he had measures readied for Junior and Mary as well. There was nothing to be done for that. Sometimes, traps had to be sprung by walking into them.
Junior turned his face to Mary, a questioning look on his face. She smiled bravely, and gave him a nod. The two of them touched fingers, and surged forward. Venus was many millions of miles away.
They would make the journey in under three hours.
Magnificus Sivana lifted his gold-tressed head.
"Come out," the black-costumed man in the rodent-like headpiece repeated. He was standing beside the open cell door, a gun in his hand.
"Do I have a choice?" asked Magnificus.
"You have a choice between this," said the Black Rat, gesturing to the open doorway, "or this." He hefted the gun.
The first son of Thaddeus Sivana gave a tight smile. "Don't think you'd use that. My dad wouldn't appreciate you shooting me."
The Rat reached over with surprising speed, grasped Magnificus by the front of his sports shirt, ripping holes in it with his sharply-taloned gloves, and pulled him off his bunk. "Don't press your luck, pretty boy," the Rat rasped. "That only goes so far."
Magnficus suddenly grabbed the Rat's wrists, forced them upward, and slammed into him with his chest, pinning them both to the wall. "How do you like that, Ratso? Still think you're so big and tough? Huh? Still think you can take me on?"
For answer, the Rat shoved forward with his own chest. The young Sivana flew backwards, lurching to the floor of his cell. He looked up, agape. The Rat's strength seemed more than human.
"Yes," said the Black Rat. "I think I can. Now, are you coming?"
Wordlessly, Magnificus got to his feet. The Rat let him get as far as the door, then kicked him lightly in the small of the back. The muscular man cried out in pain and fell flat on the stone floor. He counted himself lucky he didn't break any teeth when he hit it.
"That was for your insolence," the Rat snarled. "Now get up. We've got something for you to see."
Magnificus Sivana rubbed his back with one hand and pushed himself up with the other. Clearly, the villain was out of his league, no matter what he looked like. Best cooperate with him for now. Dad might not want him killed, but there was no telling what damage he'd accept.
Once out of the jail compound, Magnificus saw another prisoner, this one held by two women who were unfamiliar to him. "Beautia!" he exclaimed. "They got you too?"
"Hello, Mag," said the blonde beauty who was his sister. "‘Fraid so. Got kidnapped right off of Mulholland and taken to one of Daddy's rockets. Georgia's gang did it. Did Junior get you?"
"Yeah," said Magnificus. "I plan on showing him how much I appreciate it, when I can."
"Less talk," said Illyria, one of the women who held guns on Beautia Sivana. "The boss wants a family reunion. He also wants to show you something."
Magnificus and Beautia looked at each other. Neither was eager to ask what their father had planned for show-and-tell. Silently, they accompanied their captors over the Venusian soil.
The entire compound, as big as it was, was fairly close together. It took time and effort to beat back the Venusian jungle, almost as much as it would in a South American equivalent. Thus, it was not long before the two Sivanas were herded into a metallic building, past several sentry devices, and into the central chamber of the structure. A final door opened, and three familiar figures within turned their heads and looked at the newcomers.
Sivana, Georgia Sivana, and Thaddeus Sivana, Jr., grinned at their relatives.
"Magnificus," said Dr. Sivana. "Beautia. So good of you both to come. Welcome to the first annual Sivana family reunion."
Neither Magnificus nor Beautia were looking at their father, brother, or sister just then. Their attention was drawn to the red-and-yellow-clad man whose body was held pent in metallic bands that encircled his chest, arms, legs, waist, ankles, and neck. Two electrodes protruding from opposite walls held him in something like a stasis field. But how could even those hold Captain Marvel?
"What've you got him in?" asked Magnificus.
Sivana, Jr. answered. "Oh, it's really great. Ironic, too. You see, those metal bonds holding him are made of Marvelium. That's a metal Big Red himself discovered. Only he was able to work it, it was so hard."
"That was before," chortled Georgia. "Before Daddy powered up Ibac and all the rest. It took them a lot of effort, but they managed it."
"The stasis beam prevents him from using his flight power to simply fly off with the Marvelium around him," confided Sivana. "So. At long last, we have a captive Captain Marvel on our hands, without even having to turn him back into Billy Batson."
It was Beautia who hurled herself forward first, claws out.
"You scum-sucking, bottom-feeding, buck-toothed little--!" she yelled at Georgia, just as she hit her. Sivana and Junior were agape as Beautia bore her half-sister to the floor and started pulling hair with her. The Black Rat, Illyria, and Black Beauty, who had been guarding the two, wondered what to do. After all, gunshots could easily hit the boss and his two brats.
"What the heck," said Magnificus, and leaped into the fray. He took Junior in one hand, his father in the other, and banged their heads together with a most satisfying crack.
About that time, he felt the pain of the Black Rat's talons biting into his shoulder. Similarly, Beautia was pulled backward by Black Beauty, and held off the ground a few inches. Beautia elbowed her foe in the belly, and yelped. It was like hitting solid wood.
The three Sivanas who had been on the receiving end started picking themselves up off the floor. Magnificus was held prisoner by the Rat, who had both his wrists pinioned. Some blood was coming out of Junior's nose, and Sivana was still shaking his head. Georgia was enraged. "Daddy, let me kill her! Daddy, I just so want to kill her! Please? Pretty please with sugar on it?"
"No, blast it!" yelled Sivana, grabbing the back of his head. "They're family. All right, take them back to their cells."
As they did so, Captain Marvel opened his eyes, slightly. He had been awake for the last minute or so, and had tested the power of his bonds. They were beyond what he could break. Thus, the best course of action was to keep his ears open, his eyes half-open, and feign unconsciousness. That way, the Sivanas' lips might be looser around him.
He recognized all of the people in the room with him. Some only from photos. Illyria had been an Axis spy-queen, Minute-Man's worst enemy. Black Beauty was a one-time foe of his own. The Black Rat was a foe of Bulletman and Bulletgirl, and hadn't been seen for some years.
Well, that solved one mystery. He knew where the missing villains had gone. More mysteries remained, however. Such as: how did Ibac, the Acrobat, and the others gain their added power?
And what could he do about it?
Even the Wisdom of Solomon drew a blank on those questions, so far.
Sivana, his offspring, and the three villains weren't ten paces out of the building when the Weeper hurried up to them, handkerchief in hand. "Doctor, something simply awful is happening. Oh, I don't know how to tell you...it's just so, so sad." He dabbed tears from the corners of his eyes, then blew his nose with a great honk.
"Disgusting," snapped Georgia.
"What is it?" asked the elder Sivana, the pain only starting to abate in his head.
The Weeper took a look at Magnficus and Beautia. "I, um, don't think I should tell you in mixed company. It might..."
"Oh, all right," said Sivana, angrily. "You two, go with your brother and sister and make sure they're locked up tight. Show me what you're talking about, Weeper."
The sad-eyed sadist trudged over the alien vegetation and loamy soil to the building in which Sivana's monitoring equipment had been installed. He pointed at a video screen. "There," he said.
"Ah," Sivana acknowledged.
The image was dim, but the satellite he had sent into orbit around the planet was relaying back a televised image of two flying figures in space.
He noted the space-sector being covered by the camera. "We'll dispatch a welcome party for the two remaining Cheeses," said Sivana. "Give them a taste of what the Big Red Cheese got. Good work, Weeper."
The bald man left, and the Weeper broke into tears. He wasn't quite sure what he was sad about, but he was confident he'd find something before long.
The two remaining Marvels were close enough to Venus to begin discerning features in its surface by now. They were about to hit its atmosphere. Whether it had been Earthlike before Sivana came there, or he had made it so after he arrived, was something they knew not. Nor did it matter.
Mary held up one finger, then two, with a questioning look in her eyes. It meant, Do we stick together, or split up, once we make the planet.
Grimly, Junior held up one finger. Mary guessed that his reason was two-Marvels-are-better-than-one. Since one Marvel had already gotten himself trapped, apparently, she could see the logic behind his decision.
The two held their hands pointed before them like divers. Within minutes, they reached Venus's exosphere. Then it grew denser, until they felt air pressure in their ears and on their faces, felt the sun's heat collected and reflecting from their bodies, and heard the wind of their passage.
"Can you hear me, Mary?" said Junior.
"You're coming through okay, Fred," she said. "Want to try a frontal assault on Sivana's place? Or something sneakier?"
"Let's try a little recon on the sly," said the World's Mightiest Boy. "Though I'm not sure how much ‘sly' we can put on it. Sivana's bound to have radar equipment around his place."
"So what do we do? Go in and play it by ear?"
"Sounds about like the best thing, given what little we have to work with," he acknowledged. "Got your bearings on it, yet?"
"Sure, no big problem," said Mary. Tracking Sivana's lair even from this distance was no problem, given her mental abilities. She flashed down like a red-and-white javelin towards the planet's surface. Junior jackknifed and followed.
Venus was a strange world, indeed. Alien, spiky vegetation, blackish soil, giant frogs inhabiting the wilderness, volcanoes spouting off periodically. And in the midst of it all, a clearing which had been claimed by Thaddeus Bodog Sivana. Several spaceships were visible, and the installation itself looked much bigger than on their last visit.
"He's been here, all right," murmured Junior. "Let's crash a few buildings, Mary."
"One thing first, Junior," said Mary. "Doesn't it seem strange that we don't see anyone around? Not even a lousy guard or two?"
He nodded, slowly. "Either deserted, or...they're waiting for us."
They heard the roar of airborne objects hurtling towards them at great speed and had time to turn, individually, towards the two directions the sound was coming from. The two Marvels didn't know what was coming, but they braced for impact.
When it came, it knocked the two of them apart. It also bore them in two different directions, and before they could halt their progress, they were miles away from Sivana's site, and from each other.
Mary Marvel hovered before two flying women. She had never faced either of them in her life. Captain Marvel could have told her about one of them. She was Black Beauty, a mistress of the underworld in more ways than one, who had used her feminine wiles to bedevil the World's Mightiest Mortal for a time. She wore a black bathing suit and boots, and looked as though she could win a Miss America pageant. But her body was tense, and she was looking at Mary Marvel with vicious intent.
The other was Illyria, who wore a white suit that covered as little as Black Beauty's. She had been an enemy of Minute Man's, an Axis spy-seductress who had encountered him several times in that hero's career. She was deadly, she was beautiful, and she, like Black Beauty, had only possessed human power until recently. Now, the both of them faced the World's Mightiest Girl, and were apparently out to challenge her for the title.
"Two superwomen," said Mary, hovering in a fighting stance. "Fine. I've hardly ever encountered girls I can duke it out with. What'll it be, honeys, two out of three falls?"
Black Beauty snapped, "Don't be so smartmouthed before the fight, honey. Save it till after...if you're alive!"
Illyria added, "And after the first fall, weakling girl, there will be no need for another." For some reason, her manner almost made Mary Marvel flinch.
But that was put aside. The slim girl rocketed forward, her tiny fists outstretched and eager to contact the jaws of the two flying beauties. She didn't anticipate that much trouble with them.
Black Beauty grabbed one of her wrists and Illyria grabbed the other. Then they swung their own free fists into Mary's face, almost in unison.
That was the miraculous thing, to Mary: it hurt!
"Still think you're going to get off easy, little girl?" sneered Illyria as she brought her knee up into Mary's breadbasket. The brunette heroine grunted and doubled over. This was not going as planned. She had to rally somehow, had to get back into this fight--
Black Beauty grabbed her from behind by the hair, and swung her around at hyperspeed. When she let go, the Shazam Girl volplanned straight into the side of a mountain. She left an imprint. Mary gasped, not hurt by the impact but by the manhandling. She peeled herself away from the granite rock face and turned to counterattack her foes.
She tried a bit of fancy flying as she approached the two, guessing--correctly--that the women would be a lot less experienced with aerial manuvers than herself. Illyria and Black Beauty tried to track her, but ended up almost colliding themselves. "Watch where you're going, you idiot!" yelled Illyria to her partner.
"Oh, get your rear in gear and take some flying lessons yourself, why don't you?" riposted the black-haired Beauty.
Mary took advantage of their argument to sneak behind them, tap both on the shoulder, and land punches to their faces when they turned. She was gratified to see both women reeling with the impact. She continued to fire blows at them, hoping to pummel the villainesses into insensibility.
But such wasn't the case. Black Beauty drew her booted foot back and kicked Mary Marvel hard in the jaw.
The short-skirted girl fell back helplessly, her senses swimming from the powerful kick. She felt herself descending, and fought to stay aloft. Illyria helped out a bit with that, involuntarily: she flew over and, smiling, launched a terrific kick that caught Mary in the stomach and propelled her upward.
"What a pity that, with all that power, you never learned properly how to catfight," said Illyria to her opponent.
Black Beauty was next, grappling Mary from behind and twisting her into a painful headlock that she'd learned watching women wrestlers on TV. Mary elbowed her hard in the stomach, but the Beauty didn't ease up. Worse, she wound her beautiful but powerful legs around Mary's stomach, crossed her ankles, and began squeezing her ribcage with a powerful body scissors. The red-and-gold-clad heroine groaned, unable to believe the pain she was experiencing.
Illyria hovered closer, contemplated the embattled heroine, and raked her claws across Mary's eyes. Then she slapped her viciously, first on one side of her face and then the other. The girl's head swung with every blow. Black Beauty had eased her headlock to allow Illyria the leeway she wanted with her blows. They were taking their toll on the girl.
Angrily, Mary used her flight power and slammed her head into Illyria's stomach. The villainess groaned and doubled. But Black Beauty tightened her headlock again, and redoubled the pressure on her body scissors. Worse yet, she had learned enough about flying to use her own abilities to hold Mary there, resisting the Shazam girl's power.
The heroine struggled, resisted Black Beauty's crushing grip, almost managed to pry her foe's legs loose. But not quite. The embattled brunette managed to hang on, doggedly, while Illyria recovered from the stomach blow. When the woman-spy straightened up, she had nothing but malice in the look she gave to the red-clad girl.
"This has gone on long enough," she said, and grabbed Mary by the hair. The girl tried to turn her head away. But she wasn't able to avoid the oncoming knee to her face.
She never thought another woman could knock her unconscious.
But, as the pain registered just ahead of the blackness, she realized that one of them finally had.
Captain Marvel, Jr. finally arrested his backwards motion, shoved forward, and propelled his foemen a quarter mile away from him. That gave him time to wipe his mouth and run a visual i.d. on them.
One of them he knew personally. A bald, toothy guy in a robe, who had a lot more power than his looks indicated. His name was Sabbac. His civilian name was Timothy Karnes. Junior knew that he had bargained with dark powers for some power of his own...probably the same entity that created Ibac. And Sabbac's powers, though more running to magic than strength, were no less deadly than the big bruiser's. Junior had fought him several times, but not for some years.
Another one just looked like a Middle Eastern guy in a business suit and turban. He had never encountered such a character before. It took the Wisdom of Solomon running through various newspaper stories he'd read, radio broadcasts he'd heard, and tales he'd caught from other heroes when they met, to make a possible match with this guy and a name. It could be that he was Trug, one of Prince Ibis's oldest foes, a powerful black magician. But that wasn't for sure.
The third of the crew was unknown to him, but dressed in a black suit with opera cape. His face betrayed madness, from his slicked-back ebon hair to his bulging eyes to his fanglike teeth. Captain Marvel, Jr. didn't know who he was, but there wasn't time to try and identify him just then.
The bit was, these three had hit him hard. Almost as hard as Cap himself could do. Even Sabbac never had quite that power before. Where had they gotten it?
The guy in the black suit was speaking.
"Since you cannot beforehand know it,
My name I'll give you: the Black Poet.
And now with Trug and Sabbac's aid,
I'll soon begin this promenade!"
"Hope you don't expect to get paid for that," said Junior, launching himself forward at hyper-speed.
It worked, to an extent. He bowled the three of his skyborne antagonists apart and rocketed past them. He guessed that Trug and the Poet, at least, were unused to super-powers of his sort. Any other time, he'd have been eager to take advantage of their rookieness and try to clobber them. But Captain Marvel was missing, and he'd been separated from Mary. Best to evade these three, and find the other two.
It wasn't going to be that easy, he discovered. Somehow, Sabbac had him by the ankles. He hadn't nearly been fast enough to do that in their last encounter.
And now, a fiery energy was blasting its way painfully through his body. Sabbac's magic powers must also have been hyped. Junior clamped his teeth shut against a cry of pain, and smashed a blow down at Sabbac. It connected, knocking the villain away, but not out.
As Captain Marvel, Jr., he was unused to pain. Achilles's invulnerability usually took care of all that, and he didn't even have a vulnerable heel. But he had to try to soldier on, and it looked as though he was going to have to make a stand against the three of them.
Trug spoke an incantation. A bolt of black force leaped from his fingers and struck Junior in the chest. The World's Mightiest Boy gasped. Freezing coldness paralyzed his lungs and spread through his body.
The Black Poet flew nearer and clouted the youth on the head, joyously. He had never been in this power league before. Junior, straining, brought up his own arm and smashed the Poet in the face.
By that time, Sabbac was back on him, battering him with physical and mystic means. Trug joined in, and Junior was forced back into a defensive posture.
It wasn't enough.
Five minutes later, the three of them were flying Junior's limp body back towards Sivana's lair.