Captain Comet had made a brief stop at the small community of Midwest City. Feeling a strange overwhelming nostalgia for the place in which he’d lived as a young man, something now compelled him to return there before joining Nubia and J’onn J’onzz on their own mission. He knew the speed of the Cometeer would enable him to join them easily enough.
Wearing a simple dark suit, Adam Blake smiled pleasantly as he met various passersby. The folks here are okay now, but they all lived through a rather sinister plan by my old enemies, the Plasmen, he thought. It’s still hard to believe those inhuman fiends once took over every citizen and kept them in an ageless stasis for decades in an effort to strike at me! (*) I didn’t even return to Earth until long after their plan was put into motion. I suppose the important thing is that the locals are all free to resume their lives, even if they haven’t aged since the ’50s! That weird plot enabled them to acquire a new lease on life, and it also provided me a chance to reunite with my cousin Zinda! I wish I had time to see her, but at least we managed to chat before I got here.
[(*) Editor’s note: See The Forgotten Heroes: No Place Like Home.]
The brown-haired man took one final walk down Main Street as if memorizing every detail of the quaint town. He sighed as he recalled his first stop an hour earlier. Visiting the graves of my parents and Professor Zackro didn’t give me the sense of peace I usually associate with paying my respects to them, he thought. I haven’t really felt very well since the Marshal passed those memories on to me. Surely my mutant metabolism would have shaken off any alien virus I might have picked up on Kronis.
Leaving the town, he found his rocket, which he’d earlier concealed within an old barn. Moments later, the Cometeer soared over the community as Captain Comet made his way toward Utah, where he had pledged to meet Wonder Woman and the Martian Manhunter.
Guiding his rocket skillfully down to the rendezvous point on the salt flats, he saw that Nubia and J’onn J’onzz were already waiting for him there. Landing the ship on the deserted and barren plains, he emerged to join the heroes.
“Well met, Adam!” cried Nubia.
Captain Comet smiled in return. “I hope I didn’t keep you two waiting too long,” he said. “I had some personal business to take care of first.”
“We understand,” said J’onn. “We each did the same! I know you realize that you do not need to join us on what may be a perilous mission, but we appreciate your valor as always.”
“Like I said, I sort of started this whole thing!” said Comet.
“Thank you,” said J’onn, smiling. “If you will excuse the colloquialism, our ride is here!” He gestured beyond the clear field to where the ghostly outline of a strange structure was slowly materializing.
“Great guns!” cried Captain Comet. “Even though you told me about the shifting tower, seeing is believing!”
“Great Hera! It reminds me of my own lost land!” said Nubia, referring to her home island Mars Isle, which had the capability of moving through dimensional space and time. It was lost to her now, but she had made peace with the loss, since she knew her subjects would one day have a bright civilization and a brave champion. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See Wonder Woman: Time of Change.]
Looming ahead, the weird tower slowly became completely solid. The large windows were devoid of glass, but in some ways the old structure looked like a forgotten or neglected old church.
“Nubia has had more than her share of experience of late with geography that moves of its own accord,” explained J’onn, “but her experiences with Mars Isle were perfect preparation for this unique place! In brief, this building originated on Mars II when that planet was known as Vonn. The original inhabitants fled the planet when invaders known as the Thythen came! The natives literally shifted all matter into what we might call radio waves, and transmitted their home and populace to another world. One old building was caught in a distortion field, and since that time has annually shifted between Vonn and Earth, among other destinations! Superman once found himself transported to Vonn by entering that building!” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Kid Who Saved Superman,” Superman #253 (June, 1972) and “And So My World Begins,” World’s Finest Comics #212 (June, 1972).]
Entering through the gaping doorway, the trio waited as the building’s brief time on Earth drew to a close.
Gesturing toward a small guard station located along the horizon, J’onn explained, “Years ago the JLA made certain the area was secured by the authorities in order to prevent homeless people from trying to sleep in the building, only to awaken on another planet. I called them and cleared our planned visit before we arrived.”
As the building faded from view, the trio found themselves within seconds on the planet now called New Mars.
“My people avoid the area where the building rests,” said J’onn. “It has certain associations that your people might refer to as ghost stories. That is why it is a perfect means of a quick and unobserved means of reaching New Mars from Earth! Superman, myself, and only one other person knew of its properties!”
Staring out at a lovely sky dominated by twin moons, Nubia said, “New Mars has a stark beauty all its own! I think your people made a wise choice in settling here!”
J’onn took her hand and said, “We worked very hard for years to use the natural resources found here combined with our own Martian science to cultivate a more habitable environment. It is not the Mars I knew, but it will suffice!” Speaking to both of them, he said, “We should be able to slip into the nearest settlement after dark, and I may learn if the remnants of the Red Brotherhood are active as we suspect!”
Nubia frowned as she pointed toward the seemingly deserted desert. “I fear our arrival was not as secret as we might have wished! We are under attack!”
J’onn and Adam also now saw several hulking shapes that slowly lumbered into view and began to march toward the building. “Robo-Chargers!” cried J’onn. “I thought those monstrosities created by the Thythen had been destroyed, but clearly I was wrong!”
Captain Comet moved forward to intercept the closest enemy. Studying the thing with a keen eye, he noticed that the vaguely humanoid giant machines were far more sinister than any ordinary tank or engine of war. “Those machines contain people!” he cried. “They aren’t driving the machines — they’re empowering them!”
J’onn nodded grimly. “The Robo-Chargers are cybernetic war drones, but the living batteries that power them are, in truth, helpless captives and not willing operators! Our goal to stop them is made doubly hard, because we do not wish to harm the people trapped within them. As you can see, many of them are from Earth!”
Nubia dodged a massive metal fist as it smashed down at her feet. Although Wonder Woman lashed out with her sword, she barely dented the metallic juggernaut’s nearest limb. She then ducked as a claw sliced through the air, narrowly missing her head.
Having grabbed one of the war drones, Martian Manhunter struggled to turn it over on its back. “I do not wish to harm the captive!” said J’onn. “His blankly staring eyes reveal his trance-like state all too clearly. Perhaps if I break him free of the device, I may achieve my goal!”
The hero managed to bring the huge machine down to crash on the ground, and to his credit he also managed to make it land on its heavily armored back. The captive human was safely strapped within its front carapace.
Abruptly phasing through the outer shell, J’onn returned to his solid state within. As he touched the human inside the device, he nodded as he gently made telepathic contact with the man, determining that he was indeed from Earth and that his mind was in a state of shock.
The poor man has no idea what he is doing, he thought, carrying the prone figure out of the Robo-Charger. Perhaps that is a kindness in and of itself. I can guide his mind to awareness, but I wonder exactly how long he has been in this condition.
Nearby, Captain Comet had managed to telekinetically deflect one of the giant machines into the path of another. They collided and crashed to the ground.
Nubia was equally busy as she deflected laser beams with her flashing bracelets and hurled her gleaming magic lasso in such a manner that it sent a whirlwind of sand spiraling up to clog the gears in the machine’s treads. Mars made use of countless pawns in his eons of slaughter, but this coldblooded enslavement of helpless victims rivals anything he ever did! she thought, having already been telepathically informed by J’onn of the exact nature of their foes.
The Thythen I spoke of used these machines for war until my people turned them against their makers! J’onn thought. Their living batteries are captives taken from numerous worlds!
“The Red Brotherhood was clever!” J’onn said aloud. “Apparently they abducted those people over the years and used them as a private army to defend this isolated spot. It would make a perfect base for the group, since my people avoid it!”
As dozens of the Robo-Chargers closed in on the trio, J’onn shouted to Comet, “We cannot defeat so many foes. Perhaps we may turn them into allies by awakening their minds!”
Captain Comet nodded, even as he flew out of the path of a falling drone. “I will link our minds, and then we’ll try to make contact with the captives!” he said.
Uniting their remarkable mental powers, the two heroes remained steadfast in the path of their relentless foes. Nubia glanced left and right; she could defend the two men for a while, but not even she could stop an entire army.
The battle was a mental one, and it was fought with determination and the precision of a surgeon as the heroes drew upon their years of experience to bring their combined mental prowess into play against a seemingly impossible and delicate task. They sought to free dozens of sleeping minds without harming them. The fact that the captives came from various planets made it all the more difficult.
Finally, mere moments before the heroes would have been overwhelmed, they achieved victory.
The dazed captives awakened and began to slowly extricate themselves from their metallic shells. Comet tried to project additional information and some form of reassurance to help them recover from their ordeal, but even he could only do so much.
Just as Nubia began helping some of the awakened captives to freedom, she spotted several large humanoid figures bounding over the sands of New Mars. They were not more Robo-Chargers, but she was at a loss to determine their exact nature.
J’onn turned as he lifted a pale blonde woman to safety. “Mandrills! They’ve trained a pack of wild Martian mandrills!” he said, recognizing the savage ape-like beasts as they charged at them. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Menace of the Martian Mandrills,” Detective Comics #285 (November, 1960).]
“The captives are defenseless and confused!” cried Nubia. “They will be slaughtered unless we defeat these monsters!”
“They are nearly mindless beasts!” said Captain Comet, trying to read their minds. “They look like gorillas! Where is their trainer?”
Scanning the area with his Martian vision, J’onn said, “On that far slope I see an armored figure who must have unleashed them! Clearly the Brotherhood expected us! They must have a spy within our own satellite!”
As Captain Comet struck one of the furry beasts, he thought, They have all of a typical Martian’s strength, plus a savageness that defies belief! Blocking a raking claw, he knocked the creature aside, only to confront another mandrill.
Nubia drew her sword and said, “I will subdue their master!” Leaping into the air, Wonder Woman raced toward the armored trainer above them. As she crossed the red sand with the speed and grace of the warrior she was, J’onn could only marvel at her beauty and power, even in their peril.
Although he swiftly used his Martian breath to blast several of the creatures into one another, he noticed that, for each one he delayed, another rose up to fight. “Fire weakens them, but it would also do the same to me, and I have no doubt the Red Brotherhood prepared other defenses!” he said.
“I think the cavalry just arrived!” said Comet, nodding to where a tiny orange figure sprang into view, generating waves of freezing cold as he approached. The little being laughed and clapped his small hands with obvious pleasure as his sub-zero temperatures immobilized the pack of mandrills.
“Zook! I can’t believe my eyes!” shouted J’onn.
The little orange alien with a shock of black hair atop his head leaped into the Martian’s arms and hugged him as he cried, “Manhunter returned! Manhunter come home! Zook knew it was you! Zook missed you so much!”
J’onn J’onzz smiled broadly as he set the little alien down and knelt down to speak to him. “Zook, you are a welcome sight!” he said. “I have missed you, too, my friend! How did you know I was here?”
The tiny orange alien capered wildly and said, “Zook’s antennae told him you were back! Zook knew you’d come, ’cause somebody told him! It’s a big secret, though!”
Nubia returned, dragging a stunned Martian behind her. “I bested the trainer, but I see my efforts weren’t needed! The beasts are frozen solid!”
Turning to her and Comet, J’onn said, “Thanks to Zook, here! He saved the day!”
An elderly-looking Martian couple appeared and joined the group. “I had just put the little fellow to bed when he insisted that you were here!” explained the old Martian man. “Knowing how his antennae can track beings he had had contact with, your mother and I followed as fast as we could!”
J’onn embraced them warmly and said, “I am very glad to see you both! Nubia, these are my parents, and this is my little buddy, Zook!”
Nubia smiled as she greeted them. “I saw some figures fleeing in the darkness!” she said to J’onn. “I think we are safe from the Brotherhood for now.”
“They clearly no longer care about secrecy,” noted J’onn, “or they would never have attacked us with such force!”
The elder J’onzz said, “My son, you and your friends must return to our home. We have much to discuss. Clearly your homecoming was motivated by more than sentiment!”
J’onn glanced over at the now empty Robo-Chargers and the crowd of freed victims. “Indeed, father, we have much to discuss,” he said.