The Scarecrow had little regard for his allies, planning his next crime with very little consideration for the previously arranged details worked out back at the hidden warehouse. Although he had drawn Wonder Woman’s name, he had decided to work far from any of her recent sightings. He decided to test a new variety of his fear gas before attempting to steal rare books, punish old enemies, or enrich himself.
Thus, the sinister straw-man was one of many tourists who arrived at a huge convention center full of trade show vendors. The vendors were there to hawk wares ranging from cooking pots to yard tools. This gave the villain the perfect pool of test subjects to experiment upon.
Among those strolling through the convention hall was a threesome more typically found in dramatic settings. Ralph and Sue Dibny wandered through the exhibits with different degrees of interest. They pushed a small stroller with their baby girl, Debbie.
“Ralph, I promise you that if you let us leave now, I won’t buy a pair of shoes for the next three days… unless I spot something real chic!” said Sue. Debbie gurgled merrily as her parents bantered in their normal style.
“Sue, I figured being among all these mysterious and exotic kitchen gizmos would have your mystery-loving nose twitching by now,” quipped Ralph.
Sue rolled her eyes. “Ho-ho. Very droll. A kitchen is not that exotic to this ex-debutante. I do know how to cook.”
Ralph snaked one arm around his wife and patted her gently on the back. “Just teasing. I admit we’ve stumbled into more stimulating places during my epic career as the legendary Elongated Man, but since we’re here, why not enjoy the sights, sounds, and smells?” He carefully took their baby daughter into his arms and said, “Uh, Sue, speaking of smells…”
“What happened to enlightened fatherhood?” asked Sue. “You can change a diaper as well as I can. In fact, I figured this chance would have your fatherhood-loving nose twitching!”
Ralph sighed, “You got me. I shall do the noble thing, but should I fail to return, remember that I loved you.”
Before he could take little Debbie out to their camper, screams filled the building as people ran, falling and yelling and showing total terror.
“Get them off me!” cried one man as he clawed at unseen horrors.
“I’m falling! Yaaagh!” cried a woman who was sitting on the floor.
“The small space is choking me!” gasped a woman who was standing in the middle of the hall.
“Ralph, they’re experiencing phobias!” cried Sue as she found herself suddenly wrapped up inside her elongating husband’s pliable body.
He said nothing as he bounced carefully across the hall in an effort to get his family to freedom before the fear gas could affect them. He had no doubts about what was causing the odd reactions, nor did a man of his experience as a hero have any problem deducing just who the villain of the piece truly was. Still, even Ralph could only move so far so fast. He was trying to avoid running into anyone else as the crowds responded to the gas that filled the hall.
Got to get the source. The Scarecrow. Can’t get the girls out in time, he thought. Releasing them, he stretched his legs until he could see over the entire hall. Office above is where the air-conditioning system is located. Scarecrow is up there, I’ll wager, he thought. He hated to leave Sue and Debbie behind, but the hall was crowded, and there was no time to get them out before someone else suffered. It was the call of a true hero who reluctantly weighed the options before him and placed the greater good above all personal need.
Suddenly, he saw the darting figure of the Scarecrow and gasped. The Scarecrow ignored him. The crowds ignored him. No one paid any attention to the elongating form of the World-Famous Elongated Man. No matter what he did or how he changed his pliable form, no one seemed to care or to notice.
He saw a mirror and frowned as his image caught his eye. He looked normal except for that fact that he lacked any facial features. Nobody knows me, he thought. No one cares about me. I’m nothing. I’m a loser — not even a face in the crowd!
Then, as his fear of being of little value to anyone threatened to overcome him, he thought of his child and his wife. He extended his hands and closed them over the Scarecrow. With the skill of one long used to such actions, his sensitive fingers pried the villain’s mask off his face and exposed him to his own gas.
Crane cackled. “I’m immune to my toxin, you cretin!”
“I figured as much,” the Elongated Man said. “I also figured that you’d carry some antidote on your person in case of an accident. This should be the one. I like a scholar’s attention to detail. Nicely labeled.”
He took a flask from the villain’s straw-lined belt and opened it into the air-conditioning system. He kept one arm tightly wrapped around the Scarecrow while he fanned the cure to the gas around like a huge sail.
Soon, Ralph felt normal again, as did the crowds below. The beaten Scarecrow was helpless in his foe’s elongated grasp. Sue waved to him from below, and he smiled in relief. Being a nobody may be my most obvious fear, but it isn’t my worst fear anymore, he realized. It’s losing my family. The desire to see to their safety motivated me enough to resist the other phobia.
The Black Canary showed no fear of the dark as the Blonde Bombshell prowled through the Star City Museum and dispatched a trio of robbers with ease and style. The beauty in fishnets laughed as she dodged two charging foes and allowed their momentum to carry them directly into one another. She crouched low and jumped up to deliver stunning blows to each man. “As robbers, you boys make good Girl Scouts,” she joked.
She scanned the darkened museum and saw only the typical displays until her practiced eye spotted their partner. He was hiding behind a suit of armor, and he was obviously scared to death. She fluffed her blonde wig and turned as if to leave. “Well, my work is done,” Black Canary said in a slightly artificial tone. “I suppose I should just turn these poor boys over to the police and call it a night.”
As she departed from the immediate area, the final thug emerged from hiding and began to quietly slip away. He glanced right and left and, seeing nothing, prepared to round the corner.
“Gotcha!” cried the waiting Black Canary as one high kick dropped him to the floor. She laughed and tilted her head slightly. “These robbers weren’t much of a challenge.”
Cold hands suddenly closed around her hips as a shadowy form seemed to detach itself from the walls. “Maybe I’ll be more worthy of your time!” sneered the Shadow-Thief.
Black Canary sighed to herself and thought, Stupid! I’d say it was a typical blonde moment if I was truly a blonde. Those thugs were deliberately obvious in entering as I patrolled. Sands, here, wanted me to come inside. She flipped back and rolled free of his grip even as he faded into darkness. He’s not solid. I nearly took his ugly head off his shoulders, but it went right through him!
Rolling forward across the floor, she jumped up to spin around suddenly and kick as the Shadow-Thief clutched her from behind. He gasped and fell backward again.
“See, you can only touch me by becoming solid, and when you do, I’ll clock you!” she cried.
He loomed up above her and said, “Sooner or later, I’ll get the advantage!”
Black Canary knew he was right. He could render his body insubstantial at will. Thus, even her best martial arts moves were of no use. He could merely tire her out, then strike from the darkness that hid his altered form.
She smiled confidently and waited with both hands placed defiantly on her hips. She waited for a moment or two, then sang. The Shadow-Thief fell forward and gasped in pain. Moving like an Olympian, she slammed both palms into his suddenly solid face.
As he fell stunned into her arms, she smiled again. “I knew if you could see and breathe while in shadow form, you could also hear. And in hearing, you could fall victim to my canary cry!”
Ronnie Raymond was not thinking about a canary cry. He was recalling the cry of a pretty young woman. His girlfriend, Doreen Day, had been annoyed that he had missed so many of their dates of late. He had to think of a way to make it up to her.
Now, the young man paced the campus of Vandermeer University, seeking a distraction from his romantic woes. He was so absorbed in his thoughts that he did not notice the altered condition of the campus as the grass gradually became increasingly high and the plants around the school seemed to move with a strange vitality.
He frowned as he fell over a tangled growth of weeds and briars and gasped as the same fibers wrapped themselves around him in a tight embrace. “What shop of horrors have I stumbled into?” he said as he struggled with the weeds.
A woman laughed, and he glimpsed slim ankles in green slippers. He looked up and saw a striking pair of legs in green hosiery. “Poison Ivy!” he said.
The attractive woman smiled approvingly. “Right! And they say today’s college students are all RTV-obsessed losers!” She bent down and murmured to the plants and then caressed his face.
Ronnie pulled back as the touch of her strong perfume seemed to affect his senses. His eyes watered, and he began to feel hot and feverish.
“I was told that you would be worthy of a fight. Seems I was wrong. Pity. You are a pretty-boy,” she said, recalling the manner in which Time Commander had told her where to find her foe and what he looked like. His hourglass had revealed that much of Ronnie’s secret; the Time Commander had shared it with Ivy alone.
Ronnie realized that Batman’s seductive foe was attacking him deliberately. He also noticed the jungle-like forest of weeds and vines hid them from the view of anyone passing by. No need to be coy if this Michelle Pfeiffer of the philodendron set knows my business! he thought.
He concentrated and transformed himself into the Nuclear Man called Firestorm. But his raw strength was not enough to destroy the altered vines.
“Ronald, that’s Poison Ivy! She’s toxic! Her control of plants, be it natural, a mutation, or by technological means, is legendary,” said the voice of Professor Martin Stein in Firestorm’s mind. Whenever Ronnie Raymond called upon the power of Firestorm, he and the professor merged into the nuclear-powered hero. While Ronnie controlled the hero’s movements, the professor acted as his advisor.
You get tops marks as usual, Prof, but our powers won’t work on organic matter, thought Firestorm. And these mutants vines fit that description.
He heard Poison Ivy laugh and saw her move back a bit. “Those pretty flames on your head might hurt my darlings, so I’d better be a good mother and just kill you now!” she vowed. She approached him with a strange gourd and allowed it to release a cloud of some form of spores.
“Made myself intangible and slipped through the vines. Couldn’t hurt or alter them, but I can sure control my own density,” said Firestorm as he emerged to confront the woman in leafy green.
I’d better try a new tactic. Cut her off from her babies and see if they return to normal once her influence is cut off, he thought, and as he concentrated, the air around the shapely woman changed to huge box.
“Ronald, she’ll die without air!” warned Professor Stein.
Not if I add a few holes to allow her just enough air to stay in a nice, peaceful coma, Firestorm replied as he waited seconds and then altered his creation.
“The plants are still again. I’d say you’ve done it!” said Stein.
Firestorm smiled and said, “You know, for a psychotic killer who values plants above human life, she was a babe!”
“Ah, yes, as was Killer Frost, I suppose,” said Stein.
Firestorm shrugged. “I see your point. Don’t judge the villainess by her curves!”
At that moment, as the Red Tornado stood over a fallen Fadeaway Man, the latest member of this Injustice Gang to meet defeat at the hands of a Justice Leaguer, another costumed man watched in consternation.
“Bah! Even though the Scarecrow failed to confront Wonder Woman as we’d planned, he did encounter a super-hero by pure chance,” he said. “Thus, he also unwittingly served my purpose, as did all of my so-called allies in the newest Injustice Gang.”
The man’s name was John Starr, but he was better known as the Time Commander. He studied the screens in his new lair and reflected upon his success.
“When Mirror Master recruited me for his little group, he saw me as just a Chronos substitute,” he said. “Little did he know that I could form plans of my own. I used my hourglass to see the near future, and I saw how we would all meet defeat. Thus I remained silent and played my role dutifully while taking certain steps to protect myself and enhance my own power. And so I used the hourglass before I set off for Central City. I bathed myself in its energies and took in enough chronal energy to teleport me to freedom from my cell within minutes of my arrival.”
He laughed bitterly. “Little did Ivy and Scarecrow and the rest suspect that I used their battles for my own good. I drained pure chronal energy from each of them when they were at their most active. The energies I’ve stolen from the heroes and villains will feed and power my new creation.”
The Time Commander walked over to a huge golden humanoid and smiled with pride as it slowly moved and emerged from the electronic web that surrounded its hulking form. “Cosmo II lives!” he shouted, recalling the original Cosmo that he had once built to battle both Green Lantern and Batman in his second battle with those two. (*) “I shall use him to slay Green Lantern, Batman, Dr. Carruthers, and all who dared mock or scorn the great John Starr!”
[(*) Editor’s note: See “War of the Cosmic Avenger,” The Brave and the Bold #69 (December, 1966-January, 1967).]
“Well, we might have something to say about that!” said Superman.
The Man of Steel and the Flash had vibrated through the wall at super-speed, closely followed by Firestorm, Red Tornado, Black Canary, and the Elongated Man.
“Thanks for creating that hole for us non-super-fast types!” said Elongated Man.
“No sweat!” said Firestorm.
The Time Commander gasped as the Black Canary’s cry shattered his precious hourglass.
“Time’s up! I can’t believe I said that!” joked Flash as he wrestled the Commander to the ground.
“But how?” whined the villain.
“The Central City police alerted the Flash to your escape,” explained the Red Tornado, “and he had already spoken to another member of the League about his battle with you. Batman quickly tipped him off to your likely hideaway. It was merely logical for us to realize that we were dealing with a new grouping of the old Injustice Gang based on powers and choice of members.”
Superman added, “Starr, the fact that you alone escaped while Ivy and the rest remained in jail after their defeats was like a neon sign alerting us to the need to guess your motives.”
“Plus, they had no real motive for attacking those of us whom they had never fought,” said the Flash. “Petty revenge is too small a motive for big players like them!”
The Time Commander cursed. “I owe Batman for this! He alone knew that I once worked here!”
Black Canary smiled. “We work together. We communicate with each other. That lack of teamwork brought down your group and ruined your plan.”
The Time Commander cried, “Cosmo II, avenge your master!”
The hulking gold humanoid spoke in halting words. “No. I live thanks to the stolen energies of these heroes and their foes. The nobility of the heroes is greater than the malice of their enemies. Thus I am motivated by a desire to do good. I leave you to suffer your well-earned punishment while I depart through the mists of time to seek a fate of my own. I wish you well, Justice League. I hope to make you proud of your small part in my creation.” He vanished and left them alone with the angry Time Commander.
“Well, how nice,” said Black Canary.
Superman grinned. “Yes. I feel like a proud father!”
The Flash merely frowned as he recalled the possible future with a pregnant and married Frances. He was not ready to join in their normal banter.