Vartox closed his fists and punched the air in front of him, seemingly striking nothing but empty space.
Green Lantern grunted as the alien’s unseen hyper-energy struck him. Nice trick, he thought. Some kind of telekinetic punch! He doesn’t have to touch me to hurt me.
He smiled as his own energy seeped into the grass below them and then erupted into Vartox in a cascade of soil propelled by a giant green platform. And I don’t need to touch him directly to hurt him, either! he thought.
Vartox staggered backward and flew upward to regain his balance. “I assure you that this combat is not of my choosing!” he said. “In fact, all that I’ve done has been designed to avoid such confrontations!”
A high-pitched hum filled the air as Wonder Woman began to whirl her golden lasso above her head in an ever-widening circle. “Your motives are of little concern to me,” said Nubia. “Stopping you is enough for me!”
Wonder Woman cried out in surprise as her expertly aimed magic lasso suddenly stopped in midair and looped around her body like a gleaming serpent.
A majestic woman dropped down in front of the Amazon and swiftly ripped the end of the lasso from her hand. The newcomer had long red hair, a haughty manner, and was wearing a brief green-and-gold-colored costume. “Lesser beings must yield to the wishes of those who rule!” she said as she grasped the rope. “You need not understand. You need only obey the will of royalty. Surrender!”
Nubia began to struggle against the lasso’s hold until the magic inherent within the rope took control of her.
“Maxima, I’d say your twisted worldview has a lot to do with the way your husband is acting!” declared the Martian Manhunter as he elongated one arm and tried to separate the captive Nubia from the alien monarch.
“There is no time for idle words or debate with inferior beings!” said Maxima. “When we have subdued you, you will see that it is for the greater good!”
Green Lantern was resisting his attacker through a series of ingenious indirect attacks, since his ring could not harm the golden glowing Vartox. Still, his efforts were doing little more than slowing down the hyper-powered alien.
Vartox has always been a good guy, but he’s suffered the loss of more than one lover and more than one planet. Maybe he finally snapped, thought Green Lantern. He commanded his ring to generate pulsating rings of energy in an effort to hypnotize Vartox.
Vartox slowed down for a moment before resuming his own attack. “I’m immune to that kind of mind game!” he declared.
Nearby, Steel dived at Vartox but never reached his target, as someone grabbed his leg and swung him into the air. He flailed around for a second before being struck by a super-fast flying girl. She had short brown hair and wore a white skirt and a short-sleeved top with a purple cape and matching boots.
“I’ll try to make this as painless as possible,” she said as she crashed into the ground with Steel beneath her.
He shook his head and began to push her away, but she was stronger, and with three deftly delivered punches, she knocked him out cold.
She turned to face the others but made no effort to interrupt the battles raging around her. Vartox and Maxima gave me a real home and a purpose, she thought. I can’t let them down, even though I would never have acted like this on my homeworld of Torma!
Ren Uoxon had been a super-heroine on the planet Torma under the name of Volar before being exiled when her male-dominated world could not accept the idea of a superior woman. (*) She had attempted to fit in with the Forgotten Heroes, but that group’s sporadic existence had left her feeling alone again. (*) All these thoughts raced through her mind as she resolved to ignore her feelings of uncertainty.
Green Lantern found himself alone as Vartox vanished in the middle of their fight. Before the ring-slinger could react to the teleporting alien, he was caught from the side by a devastating blast of yellow energy.
Vartox caught the stunned hero and lowered him to the ground. “My hyper-blast was more than he could stand, but he won’t be out long,” he said. “He fought as well as my friend Kal-El would have done!” he added sadly.
Maxima had been distracted by J’onn J’onzz’s own disappearance, but she smiled coldly as her mental powers allowed her to track the invisible Martian. She spun around with a stinging kick that knocked him backward and caused him to return into view. “I have no time for this combat!” she said.
J’onn gasped as flames engulfed his body from all sides. He shuddered and then collapsed at her feet as his friends watched in horror.
The bound Nubia cursed and cried out, “You witch! If I was free, I would make you pay for that!”
“He is not harmed, in truth,” replied Maxima. “It was a mere psychosomatic reaction to my hypnotic suggestion that he was aflame.”
Vartox nodded and turned to the younger girl in purple and white. “Ren, you acquitted yourself well,” he said. “I am glad you agreed to join our crusade!”
The girl once called Volar nodded and said, “I am yours to command. You’ve both been wonderful to me! I feel this world has a place for me as part of your cause.”
“Your powers make you worthy of being part of our cause, as does your respect for nobility!” said Maxima.
“I take no pride in what we did to these stalwart champions,” said Vartox, “but I could not allow them to interfere, since time is so crucial for our purposes. Nothing can delay us at this moment when the gathering is at last complete!”
He frowned as he looked around the fields at the fallen heroes. “Torrid suns!” he cried. “The one called Elongated Man slipped away during the fight!”
Meanwhile, within the massive complex, the Elongated Man’s pliable form had easily slipped under and through small openings that would have prevented others from entering.
He shook his head in dismay as he noticed row after row of captive humans within crystalline containers. They appeared to be in a form of suspended animation. These containers lined the walls, and no obvious end of them could be seen.
Great Scott! This is no fortress or invasion-launching station — it’s a prison! he thought. Vartox has imprisoned Lola and countless others within this place! Why would he do it? He’s a hero. I’m sure of that!
Before he could touch the nearest crystalline sheath, a powerful-looking young man with long, reddish-blond hair and a purple costume touched his shoulder.
“Ralph, you should not have come here!” he said. “You don’t know what you’re messing with by being here!”
Ralph recognized the superhuman from past encounters. “Ultraa?” he said. “I know you’ve been Australia’s super-hero for a while now, but I’m shocked to see you here in New Zealand. What’s going on?”
“I’ll explain,” said Ultraa. “Just don’t make any rash moves! Vartox and Maxima settled here after they lost their homeworlds to Starbreaker. (*) You know that much, I guess. Well, they found me in Australia, and Vartox explained his real mission here. Being a super-hero for New Zealand was never his real purpose. When he told me what was going to happen, I agreed to help him.”
[(*) Editor’s note: See Justice League of America: To Conquer the Stars.]
“You’ve become a kidnapper!” said Ralph. “All these folks were abducted, weren’t they? From the sheer number of them, I’d say this has been going on since Vartox first settled on Earth!”
At that moment, Vartox entered with Maxima and Ren. The stunned forms of Green Lantern, Martian Manhunter, Steel, and Wonder Woman were dropped to the ground as the aliens approached.
“Allow me to deal with him, my love!” said Maxima.
“No, beloved!” cried Vartox. “He cannot stop us, but he is a man of reason. It is time to reveal the truth! He may understand.”
“OK, I’ll listen to you, but not her,” said Ralph. “I mean, a woman will lie about anything just to stay in practice!”
Maxima scowled and said, “You laughable cur!”
Ralph shrugged and said, “I’m just quoting Raymond Chandler.”
Vartox nodded and said, “We have indeed been gathering individuals from around the globe and placing them in stasis. I assure you they are unharmed, and from their perspective no time has passed since they were brought here. I did pose as Superman to make the gathering easier. The world trusts my old friend, and his mere image was enough to persuade most to join me here.”
“You came to Earth with Lady Maxima when your worlds were destroyed,” said Ralph. “I know that much, but what led you to do this?”
Vartox gestured to an odd machine and said, “This device is called a timescan scope. It allows the user to view possible futures. By empowering it with my hyper-energy, I can see visions of the most likely turn of events for any situation. I was a discouraged man when I came to Earth. I felt as though I was cursed to always lose those I sought to protect. I needed guidance before I could make any decision. Thus I build the machine based on designs I had used on Valeron.”
“It’s a TV!” remarked Ralph. “I mean, it looks like the kind of TV George Jetson might own!”
“Vartox saw a vision of a great disaster that would result in the loss of all your world’s heroes, including Superman,” explained Ultraa. “The peril would arise from this part of the world, although no exact location or source could be determined.”
“Exactly,” said Vartox. “I feared to involve Superman or tell him of the vision I saw. I could not place him in peril. He has been too good a friend to me. I could not risk involving your JLA. Thus I wrestled with my sense of morality and, for the greater good, vowed to save this world even though I lost my soul!”
“Beloved, noblesse oblige dictates that royalty must ever act in the interest of lesser beings even when they neither understand nor appreciate it,” said Maxima.
Vartox kissed her passionately and then said, “I love you. Your love has given me solace when nothing else could.”
“You settled here to be close to whatever this vague crisis was,” prompted Ralph.
Vartox nodded and said, “Correct. I thought it to be the invasion at first, and I helped with the efforts to defend this planet against the Alien Alliance, but that proved to be nothing on the scale of the disaster my device foretold.” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See DC Universe: Invasion, Book 2, Chapter 9: Stalag.]
At that moment, J’onn J’onzz groaned, and Green Lantern and Wonder Woman began to stir.
“The JLAers are waking up!” said Ren.
“Time grows short,” said Vartox. “Ralph, I was able to use my hyper-powers to construct this containment center and to safeguard it. I began to gather people from around the world who seemed to be connected with the threat. You see, I managed to learn that a particular energy is associated with those who will play some role in the peril to come. I tracked them down, and one by one, I brought them here and placed them in stasis. I will protect them from the one who seeks to use them to achieve his goal and bring ruin upon this planet!”
“He speaks the truth. I can sense as much!” said the Martian Manhunter, standing up suddenly. “I faked much of my slumber.”
Green Lantern regained his feet and helped Nubia and Steel regain awareness. “Vartox, I heard some of your story, too,” said Green Lantern. “Your machine showed you a vision of global destruction, but nothing more? Perhaps my power ring could boost the machine’s hyper-energy and achieve something more direct.”
“It is too late to fight you,” said Vartox. “You must believe me that I only fought you or took these poor people for the greater good. I won’t lose another planet! I swear it!”
“Vartox found and secured the final subject when he took Lola Barnett,” said Ren. “She has the energy found in all the others. That energy is linked to the threat that is to come.”
“This energy you speak of makes no sense to me,” said Nubia. “None of them are superhuman, or are they?”
“No,” Vartox said. “All have a weird energy signature that separates them from the common walk of humanity. Why they have it, I cannot say. Lola and her sibling Mark have a limited low-level telepathy. They sense when one another are in jeopardy. I wager that all of these people have the potential for some type of mutation. I secured them so that they can’t be used for any dire purpose.”
The complex shook as a wall shattered and a massive growing tree with huge roots shattered the thick outer walls.
“Torrid suns! The peril must be upon us!” cried Vartox.
Wonder Woman pointed as four colorful beings entered through the opening. A man with shaggy green hair and little clothing beyond a green loincloth rode in on the foliage that he apparently commanded.
“Tane! I recognize him!” said Green Lantern.
Tane laughed and gestured to an incredibly sexy blonde woman in a purple sarong. “Most men think of fair Mauri before recalling Ku or Rongo or myself!” he said.
Mauri pursed her pink lips and blew a kiss toward Green Lantern. “I remember you fondly, handsome one!” she said.
“Who are these freaks?” asked Steel. “That dude looks like a space jester or something!”
Rongo laughed as his motley garb jingled as he danced around. “I am a jester! I am the clown of Oceania. Just as Mauri is our love goddess, Tane is lord of greenery, and Ku is warlord of mortal combat!” He nodded toward a swordsman with an Oriental look to his features and weapons.
“They are lost gods of an ancient sunken island called Oceania,” explained Green Lantern. “We once battled them. They are incredibly powerful!” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Fiend with Five Faces,” Justice League of America #156 (July, 1978).]