March 19, 1986:
An odd foursome sat together in a quaint diner in Central City. The diner was something of a landmark in some ways. The decor spoke of a simpler time denoted by a gentle, middle-class elegance and optimism that had not entirely vanished, even from the more cynical and materialistic 1980s. The little diner was almost empty except for the foursome and one or two separate customers. This private party liked it that way, with the exception of one more attention-craving member of the group.
Ralph Dibny fought the urge to help himself to the sugar on the counter several feet across the room. Smiling ruefully, he decided to walk over and get it like an ordinary Joe. No need to call attention to the group; he knew Wally liked his privacy.
He glanced at Wally West, who sat across from him. The young man had always valued privacy apart from his heroic role. He used to even dye his hair before going out as Kid Flash so no one would associate the Midwestern youth with the colorfully clad young hero. Ralph could not imagine going to such lengths. Why hadn’t the kid just worn a costume that covered his hair? Still, Ralph had himself used a mask in the early days of his career as the famous, or rather world-famous Elongated Man. He listened as Wally’s voice, though low, grew more passionate, and his entire demeanor became more animated as his subject raised his spirits.
“And he turned to me and said, ‘Today, you’re my hero’!”
Hal Jordan, a handsome man sitting next to Ralph, nodded. “I can hear Barry saying that,” said Hal. “He thought the world of you. The way you’ve handled your money by setting up scholarships in his name and in Iris’, while continuing your own education, would really touch him.”
Wally smiled sadly. “Thanks for coming here. Today’s a special, if sad day for me. Talking about Barry on his birthday helps a lot.”
The raven-haired beauty sitting next to Wally touched his arm. “Wally, your uncle and I grew close in the last few years, and I can tell you there was no finer man around!” said Zatanna. “He combined a sense of compassion with courage and humor. He genuinely cared about people, and I think you honor his memory with all you do.”
A tired waitress passed by with a tray and accidentally tipped it over as her mind wandered. Using his super-speed, Wally caught every item in midair and returned them to their proper places before anyone could even notice they had tipped over.
The waitress popped her gum and resumed her work. Wally smiled and said, explaining in a whisper, “She’s used to that — been here for years!” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Mystery of the Human Thunderbolt,” Showcase #4 (September-October, 1956).]
Hal nodded. “I remember her. Barry and I used to come here a lot. He loved this place. It’s so… Barry!”
Ralph grinned. “Yes, it is. I’ll drink to that.” He raised his soda can. “To Barry!”
“To Barry!” the others echoed.
The warm moment shared with this handful of Justice League of America members would not last long, as sinister figures gathered outside the diner. They were not looking for a good meal by any means.
“The target is inside,” said their leader. “Prepare to attack at my signal.”
Elsewhere, a pale figure paced within a lab, gazing out at the stars. “They say you control our destinies,” he chuckled. “I hope in this case I shall employ you to master my own fate, to unlock my fullest potential, shall we say.”
He rubbed his arms, although the night was warm, and frowned. “I’m getting worse. Time is precious. Surely, they can save me.”
Closing his door, he returned to the lab. A gleaming device in the center of the room provided some illumination.
Caressing it, he whispered, “Soon…”
Hal Jordan smiled as he recalled some of his past adventures with Barry Allen. He had become closer to the earnest Midwesterner than he was to his own siblings in some ways. This may have only been because he shared the foibles and the pleasures of the heroic life with the late Flash in ways that his pal Tom Kalmaku or his brothers could never understand.
He still wondered if in some way he could have done more for Barry during his trial and his loss of Iris Allen and near-loss of Fiona Webb. But he had been going through changes in his own life during those days. He carried regrets but refused to let them shake his normal, unswerving determination. He also wondered just how close Zatanna had been to Barry. They had formed a friendship with hints of the possibility of romance. (*) Just what might have been had never been shared with Hal by either of them. “A gentleman doesn’t kiss and tell.” That would have been Barry’s stalwart reply had such a topic come up. Hal grinned. If he had discussed all the women and jobs he had known in his life, even a super-speedster might have wished for more time.
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Proteus Says, ‘All Things Must Change,'” Justice League of America #187 (February, 1981).]
Hal frowned when four costumed figures entered the diner, but Wally was already on his feet as the archer of the group fired a series of shafts toward the startled Justice Leaguers.
Wally deflected all of them at super-speed and changed into the identity of the Flash before anyone could notice his behavior.
An emerald flash altered Hal’s clothing, too. As Green Lantern, he noticed that the staff of the diner stood frozen and unseeing. No need to worry about secret identities, he mused. The staff can’t see, thanks to something these goons have done, and this odd foursome sure didn’t come here for the shortcake!
Ralph stretched his arm across the room and gasped as the yellow-hued figure in the front closed powerful pincers across his rubbery limb.
Zatanna cried, “Ria enogeb!” and her backward-spoken spell drew all the oxygen away from the immediate area where the horned third man stood. But he charged her with no sign of slowing down. “These things don’t breathe!” she gasped.
The Flash vibrated with stunning force as he shattered the archer’s bow and connected with a left hook. “You really are a green arrow if you think you have a chance at hitting me!” he joked.
The silent archer turned and punched out at the Flash, missing by inches. He is fast! Weird! And they don’t breathe! Robots? he mused. He spun around, and the whirlwind he generated slammed his foes together.
Green Lantern’s green energy smothered the woman whose shining eyes had dazzled the staffers. “Sorry, Bright-Eyes, but those peepers of yours are closed for business as of now!” he joked.
She hissed in anger and called out, “Cancer! Help me!” The crab man turned from the Elongated Man and swung his claws at Green Lantern.
Green Lantern frowned and ducked the blow as it sliced through his energy field and freed the woman. Yellow — typical. Not worth much consideration these days! he thought.
Scopping a vat of ketchup, he turned it over the crab man. As his yellow armor turned red, Green Lantern cracked it apart with energy pinchers. “Halfwit on a half-shell!” he said.
The Flash grinned and stood over the fallen archer. “Sagittarius, right?” he asked.
Ralph grinned and wrapped himself around the hypnotic woman. “Yep, and this woman is Virgo. They are all Zodiac motifs. I noticed that right off!”
Zatanna gestured, and the ram-like man’s charge bounced off Ralph’s rubbery form. He stunned his captive partner Virgo and landed hard as she brought down the roof over his exact spot. “I’ll fix it later!” she said, shrugging.
“My ring says they are made of stellar energy,” said Green Lantern. “Living energy constructs!”
Ralph frowned. “The stars, my hesitation?”
“They’re fading out!” said the Flash. “It’s like the energy composing them is being removed! I can see a pattern!”
The JLAers rushed off in pursuit of the fading trail.