Justice League of America: The Martian Chronicles, Chapter 1: Mars Sub Rosa

by Libbylawrence

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Captain Comet glanced at the control panels within his sleek spacecraft, the Cometeer. Of course, the mutant hero really had little need for mechanized instrumentation, since his advanced mind enabled him to pilot the rocket and react to any challenge with greatly enhanced reflexes and super-swift reaction times. Still, the handsome, brown-haired Adam Blake shook his head as the rocket drew closer to the rather desolate-looking planetoid.

No matter how many times I come here to Kronis the prison planet, I never get used to how stark and isolated it seems, he thought. I know Warden Sargoes and Commander Praydar provide compassionate and humane care for their inmates, but there’s something about an underground facility that creates the sensation of a dungeon!

The security spy satellites had already registered his presence and permitted him passage. Both he and the Cometeer were well-known and admired throughout the cosmos. Had he been denied entry, the rocket would have been attacked by weaponry drawn from numerous alien cultures, including such now largely lost societies like that which had once thrived on Krypton.

Captain Comet had visited Kronis the prison planet many times in his long career as a super-hero. As one of the first costumed champions to emerge during the post-World War II era on his native Earth, the man of destiny had been his planet’s primary defender against alien threats in the early 1950s. And even after his original departure from his world in the summer of 1954, the seemingly ageless Comet had continued to not only encounter but also triumph over various evil beings. Many of the villains he’d captured had ended up as prisoners on the barren planetoid.

Guiding the craft to an expert landing, Comet waited as a crew of blue-and-white-uniformed security guards emerged from the underground facility, preparing to board his ship and take custody of his latest two prisoners. Recognizing most of the guards, he smiled pleasantly enough as he made small talk and welcomed them aboard the ship.

The head guard was a Calorian who moved with the easy agility of his race, which was appropriate since, to the eyes of an Earthman, the alien resembled an intelligent gorilla.

As they escorted a scowling pink-hued insectoid being and a blue-hued female with multiple arms from the Cometeer, the guards thanked the hero, who shrugged modestly.

“I certainly never knew Grax had a sister, nor did I ever imagine she would form a partnership with Kanjar Ro!” Comet said with a grin.

The bulky Calorian guard bared his fangs in the simian equivalent of a smile. “Graxana is worse than Grax,” said Garrock. “She lacks his cool and calculating brain, but makes up for it with sheer brutality. As for Kanjar Ro, here, he’s one of our worst repeat offenders! The universe owes you great thanks for bringing them to justice!”

Comet nodded as he thought, I spent a couple of years trying to help several costumed criminals reform with my Rehab Squad. (*) I’d like to think I accomplished some good, even though not all of them remained honest! It was satisfying to see that a few of them turn their lives around, though.

[(*) Editor’s note: See Captain Comet’s Rehab Squad: Suicide Mission.]

A younger female guard watched Captain Comet with open admiration. He’s the one who stopped Starbreaker’s last feeding frenzy! she thought. (*) He seems so normal and approachable, but you can tell that he’s a real hero!

[(*) Editor’s note: See Captain Comet’s Rehab Squad: Maxima Impact.]

Captain Comet looked down as her thoughts were all too clear to his mutant brain. He was always careful not to read minds or wrongfully intrude upon another sentient being’s consciousness, but the ardent female was practically broadcasting her every emotion and thought.

She’s pretty; reminds me a bit of Willow, he thought. As possessive as Willow is of me, she certainly seemed resigned to the fact that I had to leave Thanagar to bring these two to Kronis. (*) She insisted that she knew it was my destiny! Perhaps she just wanted to spend some quality time with her son, Jacques. Considering how his unique mutant metabolism has aged him in just a period of months, I can sure understand her feelings. It’s hard to believe he’s a teen already!

[(*) Editor’s note: See Captain Comet: A Higher Calling and Hawkman and Hawkwoman: Liberty or Death.]

Captain Comet was thinking of the enigmatic alien woman known only as Willow. (*) The green-skinned martial artist was a widow, and she had asked Comet to help her raise her infant son, who was a mutant with potentially great powers. Comet had agreed, and over the months since they’d first met, he had developed a real affection for both mother and child.

[(*) Editor’s note: See “Return from Forever,” Justice League of America #142 (May, 1977).]

As the ruggedly handsome head of security Commander Praydar came into view, Captain Comet greeted him with a firm handshake. No matter how far he traveled, Comet still retained many of the mannerisms of the determined, yet self-effacing Midwesterner that he’d originally been during his youth on Earth.

Comet knew a lot about Praydar, and admired the Hakawee’s courageous effort to defy the barbaric customs of his savage race to stand for mercy and order in the universe. “Good to see you, Commander Praydar,” he said. “You’ll find the data concerning their plot on the message I sent to your computer system upon arrival!”

Commander Praydar nodded respectfully. He liked Comet and appreciated the way the Man of the Future didn’t automatically judge him based on the characteristics of his warlike race.

The Hakawee base every life decision upon prophecies made at the time each child is born, thought Comet. The Star Seer literally determines the newborn’s fate based on a series of cryptic stellar signs and constellations. (*) Praydar’s reading said he would be both their greatest hero and their worst traitor. When he broke away from the military unit he was leading on an invasion of Earth, he was branded a traitor, but he refused to fight against Earth once he realized the planet was peaceful. He defied the stars and was exiled forever. I’m glad he ended up here as head of security. He’s a good man!

[(*) Editor’s note: See “Bride of the Stars,” Superman Family #177 (July, 1976).]

He recalled his own birth and how a comet had blazed across the skies that evening. His father had declared that the omen meant young Adam Blake would become an important man. However, his wiser mother had merely whispered her prayer that he would be able to live an ordinary life.

Ma was right in what she wished for me, he mused. While Pa relished seeing me develop super-powers and do things like read and memorize the entire set of encyclopedias in a couple of hours, or break every athletic and academic record the schools had, Ma saw how being different made me feel. I felt like a freak or an outcast, and I was! I was a lonely kid, and that sadness only grew after my folks died, and I found myself at college. I was suddenly able to move things with my mind, and in those Cold War days anything that was out of the ordinary was looked on with suspicion. I had no friends until I met Professor Zackro! He taught me that I was a mutant with the abilities that normal humans wouldn’t develop for centuries. He enabled me to use my powers for all of humanity, but it was my own desire for normalcy that led me to adopt the identity of Captain Comet. The helmet I wore in those days helped me keep my identity a secret for a while. (*) Finally, I decided to seek my destiny in space, so I suppose my life was more influenced by the stars than I thought!

[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Origin of Captain Comet,” Strange Adventures #9 (June, 1951).]

He ended his reflections as Praydar spoke in a crisp and commanding tone. “Captain Comet, this is highly irregular, but we’ve had a request from one of the inmates that you may be able to assist us in fulfilling,” he said. “He wants to speak to one of Earth’s champions, and since you are one of the planet’s heroes and a friend to the famous Justice League, perhaps you could speak to him. We did have two guards from Earth recently, but one of them has already returned to your world, while the other has no plans to ever return, so I’m unable to ask either of them. (*) Normally, we wouldn’t be overly concerned with such a request, but he has been a model prisoner, and something about his demeanor makes me think he might have something worthwhile to say. He’s not one of those raving maniacs like Amalak!”

[(*) Editor’s note: See Super-Stars of Space: The Universe and Mr. Leiber, Chapter 12: When Bizarros Attack.]

“I’ll talk to him,” replied Captain Comet. “Who is he?”

“His name is C’yk Eda,” replied Commander Praydar, “but his followers called him the Marshal when he led two separate attempted invasions of Earth a few years back!”

Comet nodded grimly, recalling the two incidents all too well. “The Marshal was a genetically altered Martian who managed to rally a radical group of younger warriors to his side in a foolish attempt to invade Earth. J’onn J’onzz, the heroic Martian Manhunter, came to Earth and warned his fellow Justice Leaguers about the invasion in time for the team to defeat them and repel them! (*) Peace was restored, but not for very long! The Marshal came back and tried again!”

[(*) Editor’s note: See “War of the Worlds 1984,” Justice League of America #228 (July, 1984), “War of the Worlds 1984, Part Two,” Justice League of America #229 (August, 1984), “War of the Worlds 1984: Part Three: Blessed is the Peacemaker,” Justice League of America #230 (September, 1984).]

Hawkman told me all about that case, he thought. Of course, I knew about it from the news as well. The Marshal had allied himself with a renegade Atlantean, and between them they tried to take over Earth only a week after the first invasion of the Alien Alliance. (*) The JLA defeated them, and the Marshal was left behind when his defeated people agreed to the terms of peace the Leaguers offered them. Apparently, they viewed the Marshal as a shamed outcast, since he was soundly beaten by the Martian Manhunter during their duel. I guess he’s been here ever since that battle! (*)

[(*) Editor’s note: See Captain Comet’s Rehab Squad: Strange Visitors and Justice League of America: Between Sea and Sky.]

They passed by rows of confinement cells in which many bizarre beings sat, slept, or merely glared at them. A silvery haired female guard wafted into view, floating as was the norm with members of the Phantos race. Hovering nearby, she busied herself with some kind of electronic scanning device that she held in one delicate hand.

Each cell is designed to counter its occupant’s natural powers, and many of these aliens have remarkable abilities! Captain Comet mused, automatically noting the location and origin of each one. Instantaneous, total recall was one of his own powers, and he never forgot anything he observed.

He stopped in front of a cell in which a hulking green humanoid stood in brooding silence. The being was clearly a Martian, but even for that shape-shifting race, he was a rare specimen in his normal form. He towered over both men as they stood outside the cell, and both of them were tall to begin with.

“Naturally, he was sprayed with Formula Z6 upon arrival,” explained Praydar. “That formula prevents Martians from using their natural powers while invisible or in another form!”

Captain Comet nodded and said, “Actually, I invented that formula and shared it with the Martian authorities shortly before I first left Earth, when criminality started appearing on Mars following the generations-long period called the Great Evolution. During that golden age, crime was almost unknown on Mars!”

C’yk Eda glared at them and then said, “Who are you to speak of the golden age of Mars? Your puny race was in its infancy when Mars was unchallenged in its glory! Of course, even an Earthling knows how far the once-proud Martian race has fallen over the last few years as your race measures time! We’ve lost both our ancestral home and our sense of military supremacy. I suppose I have no reason to take offense at any claim, be it made by Terran or not!”

“His bark is worse than his bite,” said Commander Praydar. “He doesn’t realize that you’re here because I’m granting his request to speak to an Earthling!”

C’yk Eda’s attitude changed abruptly, as a broad smile crossed his face and he nodded. “I do apologize. You are one of the heroes of Earth — Captain Comet! I should have recognized the colorful costume. Most of your kind favor such garments! I want to make a confession of sorts. I want you to take my message to your fellow champions, the members of the Justice League!”

“What is it you want to say?” asked Captain Comet. “If it’s some kind of pardon you’re looking for, I’m not the person you need to see.”

The Marshal smiled and said, “I want no pardon. I have no regrets for my past actions. In fact, if I could do so, I would gladly do my best to see your planet conquered or destroyed. However, that goal is not within my reach. Freedom isn’t within my reach, either. My people have abandoned me here. None of my former followers — not even the woman I once called my lover — have made any effort to liberate me. I’ve waited here and waited, but no one has tried to visit or free me!”

“I think your people have begun to learn from their recent mistakes,” replied Comet. “They are trying to live peacefully with the rest of the universe.”

“Oh, I am certain that those sheep who now rule Mars II or New Mars — as the abomination known as Vonn is now called — do want peace,” replied the Marshal. “Many of them were weak when I led them, and they have grown weaker still with the passage of time. It is neither the ruling council nor the official government of New Mars that I speak of. I am warning you of what might be called Mars Sub Rosa, or the unknown Mars by your people!”

At that moment, some instinct born of years of experience warned Captain Comet of danger, and he leaped forward. Commander Praydar followed suit, following his warrior’s instincts.

Comet shoved the hulking Marshal away as a burst of energy blazed through the air to graze the big alien’s side. Nearby, Praydar had whirled around in time to tackle the Phantosian guard and grab her blaster as she aimed it again.

The gun went off, and she fell to the ground. Praydar frowned in concern as he cradled the still form of the guard in his arms. “She’s dead!” he said. “I’ve know Phaedra for years, and during all that time she’s been an exemplary officer. Why would she try to kill him?”

“I don’t know, but she failed,” replied Comet. “He was struck a glancing blow, but he’s still breathing. I suppose the fact that he was genetically altered to be some kind of super-Martian saved his life.”

The Marshal groaned but gestured for them to lean closer.

“You’ll be fine. We’ll get help for you,” assured Comet as Praydar activated an alarm.

“That guard must have been one of them!” said the Marshal. “The danger I was warning you about is already everywhere around us. They began spreading across the galaxy years ago!”

“Are you trying to tell us there is some cult or secret society based on Mars II?” said Praydar. “Why not alert the officials there?”

“I do not care about anyone on Vonn,” said the Marshal. “I am angry about this neglect. I want to gain some measure of revenge upon my fickle race! Now I’d rather hurt them than hurt your people! I want to expose a plot that has been kept secret from most of the universe for far longer than anyone would imagine! If you and the other heroes stop the plot, then my so-called people will suffer shame and capture, and they will know the agony I’ve experienced during my own time of captivity.”

Touching Comet’s forehead, he said, “Memory transfer is the easiest way. You will see all I know. You will realize it is true, since the memories were sacred, and were passed to me by my late father, R’es Eda! (*) He knew the truth, since he was one of them!”

[(*) Editor’s note: See “Mission: Catch a Killer,” Adventure Comics #449 (January-February, 1977) and “Today Mars, Tomorrow the Universe,” World’s Finest Comics #245 (June-July, 1977).]

Captain Comet frowned as he leaned closer to the Martian prisoner. He was fearless as always, but there was something about this Martian that disturbed him. He shrugged off the feeling and asserted his disbelief in omens as he received the rush of memories from the wounded alien.

As he processed the information, he continued to question the Martian. “Exactly what kind of plot are you describing?” he asked. “Are your people planning another invasion?”

“Only a faction of this group was ever really part of the organized military I commanded,” replied the Marshal. “They are an older and more insidious organization, and their goals may soon be accomplished, because the invasion you speak of already occurred long ago!”

“Great Scott!” cried Captain Comet. “I’d better tell the JLA. They’ll need to know about it. J’onn J’onzz will be especially concerned! He’s remained on Earth in exile since he stopped your first invasion attempt and his people turned on him!”

Even though he was wounded and in pain, C’yk Eda’s smile grew wider as he relished what he was about to say next. “That brings me to the most delightful part of my message to your world!” he said, nearly shouting in response. “The great and noble J’onn J’onzz already knows about the cult — because he has always been part of it!”

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