Despero lifted himself off of the Green Lantern, who was lying unconscious on the ground. Around them was a crater of considerable size. Hal Jordan’s ring had absorbed most of the impact, leaving the Emerald Gladiator unconscious but alive. Despero knew it was only a matter of time before the rest of the Justice League showed up, and then his revenge would be complete. First, though, he would make preparations.
Fourteen minutes later, Despero had hurriedly assembled a great many trees and stacked them together. It was not as elegant as the Flame of Pytar on his own world, but it would do. He walked back over to Green Lantern’s unconscious form and reached down to pick up the Emerald Warrior. However, before he could touch the fallen Green Lantern, an arrow pierced his hand, causing Despero to stand up.
“No way, pal. Back up from the Lantern before I put another one through your heart.”
Despero looked to see Green Arrow and Black Canary standing some fifty feet away at the edge of the crater. He was disappointed at first, but then he realized that the others must be waiting to ambush him, waiting for him to rush the relatively weaker members like a fool. They would not have a chance to underestimate him again. Despero took the arrow in his hand and broke it, pulling the ends out from either side of his injured hand. He held his hand up for the Arrow and Canary to see. The wound closed up before their eyes.
“Time for you to die.”
Despero’s third eye opened, and a beam came out, causing the archer and the Canary to scatter. “Show yourselves, Superman, Manhunter, Wonder Woman! You insult me by sending these insects to confront me!”
The Martian Manhunter suddenly became visible. A smile crossed Despero’s lips. Finally, he had a worthy adversary.
“This is J’onn on telepathic link. Everyone assume your position. Katar, Shayera — now!”
From darkening skies, Hawkman and Hawkwoman swooped down, weapons blazing. The laser Hawkman wielded had been seized from the Lord of Time. Hawkwoman was using one of the Key’s many weapons, this one designed to attack the central nervous system. The wind started picking up, but it would not deter the Pinioned Paladins from their task.
As Despero turned his gaze skyward to deal with the attacking Hawks, the Flash came out of nowhere and launched a series of blows against the Kalanorian. Shielded behind a spell of familiarity along with J’onn J’onzz, Zatanna prepared to launch her own attack against Despero. The others were providing her with the time to do so.
“Zatanna, this is J’onn. Are you ready?”
“A few minutes more. Dinah, Oliver, stand ready to back Zatanna up. Ralph, get ready to pull Wally out of there if necessary. Nubia, Hank, if they fail, it will be up to us to take Despero down.”
“We will be victorious, J’onn,” Nubia thought back to him over the telepathic link.
With his third eye shielding him from the attacks of the Hawks, Despero reached out and grabbed the Flash’s arm. The look on Wally West’s face was one of shock and surprise. How could Despero possibly see an arm moving that fast, much less catch it? In that moment of indecision, Despero took Wally’s arm and bent it backward, breaking it.
The Scarlet Speedster screamed in agony, but it was mercifully short-lived, as a blow from Despero’s eye knocked him unconscious. He flung the Flash away from him and then jumped skyward toward the Hawks.
“Zatanna, now would be a good time,” J’onn said over the telepathic link.
“A few more minutes J’onn. I’m almost ready.”
“I can give you that, Zee,” Steel thought over the link as he sprinted out from behind Zatanna’s invisible barrier and rushed Despero as he leaped from the ground.
Disregarding the Manhunter’s orders, the young hero tackled Despero as the Hawks swooped ever skyward. The clouds were now rolling in, and the sky was looking ominous. Crashing on the ground, Despero looked into Steel’s eyes. “This was not your fight, stripling. Walk away, and I may let you live.”
“Not likely, you fin-headed freak,” Hank shot back as he began his assault on Despero.
“J’onn, we cannot let Hank fight alone. We must assist him,” Nubia flashed to J’onn over the link.
“Patience, Nubia. We cannot hope to defeat Despero if we go after him without thought as Hank did. Zatanna’s spell will be the key.”
“So we just leave Steel to Despero’s tender mercies?”
“No, we already have players on the field. Katar, Shayera, your technological weapons are useless. Perhaps your usual choice of weapons will be more effective. Oliver, Dinah, close in and keep Despero off-balance.”
Steel kept up his assault on Despero, but to no avail. He seemed unfazed by even the hero’s strongest blows. From the sky, a solid steel mace flew toward Despero’s head. With a speed to rival the Flash’s, Despero grabbed the mace and hit Steel in the head with it. Off-balance, the young hero staggered backward.
“Say your prayers, child.”
“Back off, scumbag. This time it won’t be your hand that gets skewered.”
Despero looked around. Green Arrow and Black Canary were on one side, the archer’s arrow in the quiver. Hawkman and Hawkwoman were on the other, a crossbow in Shayera’s hand, while Katar was brandishing a slingshot of some sort.
The Kalanoran just looked at the heroes and smiled. He grabbed Steel’s arm, and the assembled heroes heard a sickening sound of metal tearing from flesh.
Zatanna’s voice flashed through their heads, “J’onn, I’m ready.”
Adam Strange reached the JLA teleport tube. “Thank God it’s operational!” Adam selected his destination as the JLA Satellite and punched in his access code. The tube hummed to life, and Adam vanished. Although he was not aware of it, he was the last person to leave Australia before an invading Alien Alliance encased the entire continent within an impenetrable energy shield only moments after his departure. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See Captain Comet’s Rehab Squad: Strange Visitors, Chapter 2: Meta-Human Task Force .]
Materializing in the teleport tube in the JLA Satellite in orbit 22,300 miles above the Earth, Adam was shocked by what he saw. Shattered glass lay everywhere, and only a force-field was holding in the atmosphere. Adam knew he was too late. Despero was already here.
Glancing down at the controls, Adam noticed that they were set for Atlanta, Georgia, and the last member to use the tube before him was Hawkman. How ironic. Adam touched the control pad and once again dissolved into nothingness.
Ten miles south of Macon, Georgia:
The storm clouds started gathering in force as the JLA squared off against the villain from Kalanor.
Taking the mechanical arm that he ripped off of Steel, Despero used it as a bat, swinging it at the four heroes facing him. Hawkman and Hawkwoman were able to fly out of the way, and Black Canary rolled, but the appendage stuck Green Arrow, sending Oliver Queen flying.
“Ollie!” Dinah Lance yelled as she regained her footing. Facing Despero, Black Canary stood defiantly and let loose her sonic scream. Despero dropped Steel’s arm and covered his ears, moving slowly toward the Black Canary.
A stream of backwards magic flowed from Zatanna’s lips, some ancient language her father had learned from Doctor Fate. The mistress of magic raised her arms, and ebon-like beams flowed from her fingertips, reminiscent of the Shade’s power.
Staggering through the sound waves, Despero grabbed Black Canary by her throat, cutting the sonic scream off. He squeezed harder. Dinah’s eyes bulged, and she began gasping for air as Despero lifted her off the ground. Without warning, a mace hit the villain squarely in the back of his head. This distraction was all that Hawkwoman needed to safely whisk the Canary away from Despero’s grasp. Hawkman quickly took skyward as he saw Zatanna’s spell coming to fruition.
The cold dark tendrils made their way toward their target. Despero’s third eye opened, and the beam made contact with Zatanna’s magic.
“Zatanna, are you all right?”
“He’s fighting the spell, J’onn. I don’t know if–“
Suddenly, a bright white light exploded, and when the heroes regained their sight, Zatanna was covered in the ebon substance, unmoving. J’onn was unable to reestablish his link with the young sorceress.
Taking advantage of the distraction, Despero leaped into the air and landed on Hawkman, quickly shredding his wings. When Shayera swooped in to help her spouse, Despero made short work of her as well and ripped off their antigravity belts, causing both Thanagarians to crash to the ground below.
Despero then landed himself mere feet away from the Martian Manhunter and Wonder Woman. “This is not going as I planned, Nubia. Despero has made fools of us.”
After Adam Strange arrived in the JLA teleporter tube in Atlanta, he learned from a news report about the impact ten miles south of Macon and guessed it might be Despero. He also saw another report covering the sightings of an alien fleet that had just appeared in the skies. He was surprised to note that the spacecraft had Thanagarian markings and wondered what connection this had with Despero’s arrival. Had the Thanagarians decided to follow Despero to Earth after he destroyed several of their planet’s communications satellites?
Shaking his mind of these thoughts, he used his jetpack to quickly fly south and eventually found the Justice League. They were in bad shape. It was then that he began receiving telepathic images from the Martian Manhunter telling him how the team had arrived at this point.
As J’onn Jonzz’s consciousness now started to fade, the images Adam experienced became more fragmented. He saw J’onn and the new Wonder Woman attack Despero. For the first time, the JLA appeared to have him on the defensive. J’onn and Despero traded blows as the villain grabbed Nubia and sent her flying. In the midst of all this, the Elongated Man — who had been waiting by the sidelines until now — entered the fray, wrapping himself around Despero as J’onn landed a series of blows across Despero’s face. Despero suddenly whirled around at high speed and began peeling the Elongated Man off of himself, knocking J’onn away in the process. Using his third eye, Despero sent Ralph into unconsciousness, his elongated body spinning out of control across the littered landscape.
As the sky darkened and the storm clouds gathered in intensity, J’onn and Nubia came at Despero from opposite directions. He merely smiled, returning to the heroes as good as he gave. Finally, Despero once again employed his third eye, only this time the beam that came out seemed to be heat-vision, and it scorched the Martian Manhunter, setting his uniform ablaze. Despero then landed a punch directly in J’onn’s midriff, sending the Martian flying. Nubia continued to trade blows with Despero, but in the end, he was too much even for her Amazon strength, and she too fell. Despero took his boot on the back of her head and ground it into the scorched soil.
This was where Adam came in.
J’onn collapsed, his injuries taking their toll, while Adam stood up and surveyed the area. There was no movement except for the bodies of the JLA and that strange wood pile. Adam heard a footfall behind him. It was the last thing he heard.