Funeral for a Friend
As the Conglomerate pays its last respects to the Beetle, the team wonders if it still has a future together. Meanwhile, what plans does Catherine Cobert have for the JLA, and what is Maxwell Lord up to?
Not so long ago, in a galaxy very nearby:
Thomas Kord sat in silence as the pastor read aloud from the Bible. It had been one week since he had heard the news. His only son Ted had died, killed by the alien known as Despero. (*) Thomas hadn’t even known his son was the hero known as the Beetle. It seemed so unlike him to take risks and run around in tights, and yet he had. Everyone said to him, “Ted died a hero. You should be so very proud of him.” It offered him little comfort. His son was still dead. No parent should ever have to outlive his child, he thought to himself grimly.
[(*) Editor’s note: See Justice League of America: Pyre.]
He looked up while the pastor droned on. To his left was his brother, Jarvis. How he hated that man, and yet he was Thomas’ only living relative now. Ted’s mother, Andrea, had died when Ted was still a little boy. At least Ted is with his mother now.
Thomas was surprised at how many people showed up for Ted Kord’s funeral. He had nearly passed out when Superman himself walked through the door, along with the rest of the Justice League of America.
Seated right behind Thomas Kord were Ted’s teammates: Guy Gardner, Beatriz da Costa (Fire), Tora Olafsdotter (Ice), Sargon the Sorcerer, and Buddy Baker (Animal Man) and his wife Ellen. Thank the Lord that obnoxious General Glory was nowhere to be found.
He turned to his brother. “What the hell do you want, Jarvis?”
“The pastor just asked you to come up and speak.” Would this day never end?
“So whattya say you an me go get a drink after this little shindig is over?” Guy said, looking like a cat after a mouse.
Tora wiped a tear from her eye. “Shut up, Guy. Can’t you at least show a little respect?”
Guy chuckled, “Sorry, babe, but you can’t blame a guy for… owww!”
The assembled guests looked to see Guy jump from his seat. Red-faced, Guy said, “Uh, sorry, folks, I… uh, I hit my knee.” Sitting back down, Guy turned to Fire on his other side. “What the *&^% did you do that for?”
With her best death stare, Beatriz leaned in to whisper to Guy, “You idiota! Maybe Ted didn’t mean anything to you, but he did to me and Tora. Instead of trying to get in Tora’s pants, why don’t you act like a man for a change?”
For once in his life, Guy didn’t know what to say.
Two days later:
“Okay, now explain to me again why we’re doing this?”
Buddy Baker was seated next to Fire at the controls of the Conglomerate Flyer. Old Max Lord had sold most of the Conglomerate’s equipment off at a cheap price, and Thomas Kord decided to buy some of it as a way of remembering his son — a bizarre way, perhaps, but who were they to question it?
Bea looked over at Buddy. “Well, when Mr. Kord read Ted’s will, it seems that Ted wanted to be buried at sea, specifically the middle of the Pacific Ocean.”
Buddy looked perplexed. “Why would he want that?”
“Who knows?” said Bea. “Remember, we’re talking about a guy who collected TV Guides, for God’s sake!”
And back in the passenger compartment, Sargon sat with Mr. Kord, deep in discussion, while Tora was looking out the window. Guy decided to get up and go over to her.
She continued staring out the window. “Go away, Guy.”
“Look, babe, I know you’re mad at me. I don’t blame ya. I was a rude, insensitive, selfish jerk. Will ya forgive me?”
Tora turned to face Guy. He looked like a little lost puppy dog. As much as she wanted to, Tora couldn’t resist that face. She flung her arms around Guy and began to sob. “Oh, Guy…” They held each other for a few moments when Tora suddenly lifted her head, her eyes as wide as saucers. “Guy, is that…?”
Guy’s face widened into a big grin. “Well, whatta ya expect, babe? I mean a big, red-blooded American guy like me holding a beautiful Norwegian hottie like you?” The look on his face suddenly changed from pleasure to pain. “Ohhh… ohh, God!” Guy said as he doubled over. Tora took the opportunity to slap him as well.
“Since there’s no cold shower here, maybe that will slow you down, you, you… pig!” she said as she stormed past Sargon and Mr. Kord into the bathroom and slammed the door.
Thomas Kord turned to see Guy standing there, his lower area encased in ice. At that same moment, Buddy came through the door and saw Guy as well.
“What is…? Oh, my God…” And Buddy Baker began to laugh as Guy used his power ring to melt the ice off his area.
“Bwa-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!” The others looked to see Thomas Kord practically on the floor in hysterics. “I needed that!” At least now they knew where Ted got that laugh of his from.
While the others laughed, Sargon the Sorcerer rolled his eyes. Isn’t it about time for the Ruby of Life to turn me into a criminal again?
An hour later, the Conglomerate flyer was hovering over the Marianas Trench, the deepest part of the Pacific Ocean. The six passengers were standing safely back as Guy used his power ring to bring Ted’s coffin to the door.
“Has it been sealed?”
Sargon turned to Thomas Kord. “It has. It should withstand the pressure of even the deepest ocean.”
“That’s what they said about the Titanic, pal,” Guy replied with a smirk.
Thomas rested his hand on the coffin. “Goodbye, son.”
Sargon touched the coffin as well but said nothing. Bea and Tora came forward, but Tora was crying almost too much to speak. “Vaya con Dios, mi amigo,” said Bea.
Buddy was next. “We’ll miss you, Ted.”
“You can’t miss him until he’s gone, so…” With an unceremonious shove of his power ring, Ted Kord’s coffin dropped from the flyer and hit the water below. The door closed, and the heroes headed back to the United States.
If they’d have looked back, they would’ve seen Ted’s coffin resurface, carried by a blue whale.
“Where should I put this, swimmer?”
Aquaman appeared next to the whale, which dwarfed him in size. “Somewhere on land. I’ll let you choose.” With that, the whale was off as Aquaman treaded water for a moment. I’m glad I attended that funeral. No offense to Ted, but I’m tired of the surface world dropping their discards in mine. Kotto will drop that coffin off on a deserted island somewhere where it won’t bother anyone… especially me.
Paris, France, weeks later:
In her office, Catherine Cobert was busy shuffling papers. How she loathed this part of her job. Someone knocked at her door.
“Come in,” she said in French.
“Madame Cobert. The issue of the Daily Planet, as you requested.”
Catherine took the paper from her assistant, “Thank you, Jacques. That will be all.”
She opened the paper to page three. The headline read Funeral for a Friend and showed the assembled heroes gathered at the funeral for Ted Kord, the Beetle. She lightly rubbed her finger over the group in the second row: her Justice League International. Of course, there was still the matter of getting the Martian to agree to her use of the name. She pressed a button on her desk.
“Jacques, call the Nabisco people for me and have a case of Oreos delivered to the JLA Headquarters in Happy Harbor, Rhode Island, USA.”
She opened the sealed file on her desk, and several pictures popped out: To have an effective group, I must have a minimum of eight members. Since Doctor Mist and his Global Guardians have proven… resistant to my idea, perhaps some of these heroes will do.
The photos showed a blurred silhouette believed to be France’s mysterious Crimson Fox; Kimiyo Hoshi, Japan’s Doctor Light; a promotional poster of the great American escape artist, Mister Miracle, his wife Barda, and their diminutive assistant, Oberon; and a man who looked like a Russian cosmonaut, with the words The Rocket Red Project stamped on the photo.
“One way or another, my JLI will come into existence.”
And somewhere in the French countryside, a sound vaguely like, “Bwa-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!” could be heard.
A few weeks after that:
Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name, and they’re always glad you came. If that’s the case, just turn on your TV set, and Cheers is bound to be on one of those cable channels. This wasn’t one of those places.
On Gotham City’s Lower East Side, it sat nestled among the rest of the filth and vermin. It was a refuge for those who wanted to lose themselves and never be found. In fact, it didn’t even have a name. The sign just read B R. The A was burnt out.
Toward the back of the B R, a red-haired man sat at a filthy table drinking warm beer from a filthy glass. At first glance, he seemed like all the others — dirty, poor, and alone. It took a moment to realize that he wasn’t sitting on a normal chair. His had wheels.
He stared blankly at the far wall, watching the roaches crawl, when someone sat down at the table across from him.
“You’re a hard man to find.”
He blinked and then realized the man was talking to him, only this man didn’t belong here. He was wearing clean clothes, and he had all his teeth. He was definitely not the type of patron you’d normally find in this bar.
“Who the $%&# are you? And what the $%&# do you want?”
The stranger smiled. “Me? I just came in to get a drink at my friendly neighborhood bar.”
“Yeah, right, and my mother loves me, too. Just get out of my face.”
Two surly looking types came over to the table, refugees from a Post-Apocalyptic biker movie gone bad. “Youse want we should rough him up a little?”
The stranger turned to the two bikers, straightening his two-hundred-and-fifty-dollar silk tie, “Go play in the street.” And strangely enough, they did just that. “Now where were we, Mace?”
Mace Gardner stared at the man in disbelief. “Awright, you know who I am. What the $%&# do you want?”
“What I want is to help you out of that wheelchair, Mace. I know both your parents are alcoholics. Your brother is a famous super-hero, and he acts like you don’t exist. Seems to me like you have nothing to lose by letting me help you.”
“Well, how’d you find me, anyway? As far as Guy or anyone knows, I’m still in the hospital in a coma. Not like he cared. Never came to visit me once,” Mace said, taking a swig from his beer.
“Maxwell Lord is nothing, if not a resourceful man.”
A truck suddenly squealed its brakes outside, and a loud thud was heard, followed by a cry for help.
“So are you interested, Mace?”
“Yeah. It’s time Mace Gardner stood on his own two feet again. Let’s get the hell out of this dive. It’s time I started living my life and stopped wishing this was my funeral.”