Legion of Super-Heroes: Live Long and Die, Chapter 5: The Unliving

by Libbylawrence

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“Zadron? I can’t say that I know anything about the place,” declared Sun Boy as he piloted a Legion Cruiser into orbit over the small planet. “It sure doesn’t look like it will give Ventura a run for its credits when it comes to attracting tourists.”

“I’ve been here before,” said Mon-El. “The people are pleasant enough. Tharok’s notoriety pretty much put the place on the astro-chart, so to speak. I don’t blame the Chamber of Commerce and Trade for trying to downplay the fact that the leader of the Fatal Five came from here.”

“He was just a petty thief back then, until an accident left half of his body vaporized,” said Shadow Lass. “The local authorities patched him up by creating a crude-looking cyborg body to replace one side of his body. They saved his life, but left him embittered against the universe and capable of acting upon that malice through the use of the weapons his new body contained.”

Star Boy shrugged. “If they had known their efforts would reap such bitter fruit, perhaps they would have left him to die.”

“He’s a creep,” said Sun Boy. “He always was a thug. I don’t think his metal makeover changed his basic nature that much.”

Saturn Girl crossed her legs and said, “I wonder about that. We know that one of the scientists who treated him after the accident also cloned him. That clone gained weird, vampire-like powers and has since called himself the Dark Man. He disappeared along with Tharok when they clashed during our last encounter with them.”

“Yeah, even if Tharok is dead now,” said Timber Wolf, “I’d like to get a second chance to teach the Dark Man some manners! I still get sore when I remember how that monster tried to kill Ayla!”

Lightning Lass shivered as she listened. She said nothing, but she also still remembered the chill of the Dark Man’s touch and how she had felt when he had attempted to kill her. She was a brave girl, but some things were better off forgotten or suppressed.

Saturn Girl stood up and said, “I’ve found them! Mon-El’s detector was accurate. I sense Jan and the others directly below us! They appear to be in some type of abandoned munitions plant!”

Sun Boy nodded and said, “Sure, that makes perfect sense. Tharok’s original crime all those years ago was stealing a pocket nuke!”

Mon-El nodded and held out a small device he had put together back at their headquarters. “Quislet’s a rather unique guy,” he said. “His energy signature is one of a kind, at least in this part of the universe.”

As the Cruiser drew closer to a landing, Mon-El, Saturn Girl, Shadow Lass, Timber Wolf, and Lightning Lass flew out via their flight rings. Sun Boy and Star Boy remained behind long enough to land the craft.

Mon-El raced ahead of the others, vibrating through the wall at super-speed. He shattered the energy field that held Quislet, then smashed open the clear cases in which Polar Boy and Element Lad were imprisoned. He inhaled the vapors that kept them unconscious and turned to face the startled crooks. He reached out for the Empress and frowned as his hand passed through a shimmering green illusion.

The Emerald Eye of Ekron blasted him with a blazing barrage of emerald fire as he whirled around at super-speed and tried to send the real villains reeling. Clever, thought Mon-El. The Empress had her pet Eye create a distortion effect so she and her pals appear to be where they are not.

Darkness blanketed the room as Shadow Lass entered along with the other Legionnaires. The shapely girl from Talok VIII could generate inky shadows that prevented any light from escaping. She knew her powers would not do much to stop the villains, but she could buy Mon-El some time.

Shadow Lass rushed over to help Element Lad get to his feet. He was still dazed from the gas, but he was fighting to shake off its effects. “Jan, you’re OK now! Can you do anything to help?” she asked.

The blond sole survivor of Trom nodded and said, “They ambushed us!” Jan Arrah gestured, and the air around the Eye turned into pure inertron. “That will at least delay their attack!”

Polar Boy nodded as Saturn Girl eased him to his feet and tried to help him clear his thoughts with her mental power. “Thanks, Imra,” said Brek Bannin. “They hit us from out of nowhere!”

Saturn Girl nodded and tried to reassure the former Substitute Hero. He was still desperately eager to justify his place on the team, and she wanted to do as much as she could to build his esteem. “It could have happened to any of us, Brek,” she said.

She smiled as she saw Lightning Lass standing defiantly before the Persuader. The spirited girl from Winath was generating bolts of lightning that held the enforcer back but failed to penetrate his armor.

“Bah! My axe will soon cleave your pretty sparks, and then remove your pretty head as well!” he barked.

Before he could continue his boastful attack, he was bowled over by a speeding Timber Wolf. Brin Londo grappled with the older man and managed to twist his deadly Atomic Axe out of his hand. “You dropped it. You didn’t throw it. It’s not coming back to you!” he said in a determined manner as he stepped forward and shoved the bald man backward.

“I don’t require that weapon to handle a punk like you!” growled the Persuader.

Timber Wolf punched him in the face and said, “Prove it!”

Meanwhile, Mano had charged the heroes with his deadly hand uncovered. One touch from the disk on his palm could stun a grown man. A prolonged touch could reduce a man to ashes. Still, the lethal touch could not hurt anyone if the owner could not lift his arm. Before he could reach the heroes, Mano fell under the gravity-increasing power of Star Boy as that hero swooped inside along with Sun Boy.

“Mano, what’s wrong?” taunted Sun Boy. “Could it be you’re just a bit heavy-handed?” Star Boy grinned as his friend created a ring of fire around the angry Mano.

“I can still make my own way out of here, punk!” said Mano as he allowed his hand to touch the ground beneath him. It crumbled apart, and he plunged out of view as the Legionnaires rushed forward to track his movements.

“Don’t let him get away!” yelled Star Boy.

Above them, the furious Emerald Empress shrieked as Shadow Lass darted forward and connected with a series of stinging jabs. She crumpled to the floor as Shadow Lass stood over her fallen form. “Without the Eye, she’s not much of a fighter!” declared Tasmia Mallor.

Element Lad sighed in relief. “You took care of her just in time,” he said. “I can sense my inertron ball was starting to melt under the Eye’s power.”

Saturn Girl broadcast directions to Star Boy and Sun Boy as they trailed Mano’s flight. “I sense his mind near the left corner of the building!” she communicated. “He’s getting ready to emerge!”

“Well, when he does, he’ll get a warm reception!” said Sun Boy, creating a web of flame that covered the floor and left Mano surrounded when he blasted his way back up through the old factory’s floor.

Quislet had been strangely silent. His ordeal had slightly dampened his customary high spirit, but the little energy being recovered suddenly and used his amazing power of matter animation to enter the floor and surge up as a crushing fist around Mano’s darting body. Mano gasped within his helmet as his every move met continual resistance.

Meanwhile, Mon-El had slapped the Persuader across the room into the waiting arms of Timber Wolf and Polar Boy. “We’ve got them!” announced Star Boy as he glanced around the room and saw his friends standing over the beaten villains.

“Maybe not!” gasped Shadow Lass as green light filled the room.

“The Empress is awake again!” cried Saturn Girl as she scanned the green-haired woman’s mind. “That’s impossible! I don’t detect any sign that she has recovered!”

“That’s not the Eye’s fire!” said Mon-El. “That’s the power of a Green Lantern!”

The Legionnaires waited as the green light dimmed enough to allow them to see two unusual figures. The first man wore the black and green uniform of the famous law-enforcement agency known as the Green Lantern Corps. He was humanoid, with pale green skin, darker green hair, and had two antennae, as well as long, arched eyebrows.

“I am Xenofobe, the Green Lantern of the sector of space that includes Earth,” he said. (*) “Though I am not based on your world, since Earthgov forbids G.L.s on Earth, ever since my predecessor went rogue. (*) I came here to offer you help and information, since defending Earth has fallen to your little group for the past few years now.”

[(*) Editor’s note: See “Costume, Costume, Who’s Got the Costume?” Superman #295 (January, 1976) and “The Origin of the Universe File,” Legion of Super-Heroes v2 #295 (January, 1983).]

“‘Little group’?” said Star Boy. “We may not be as large or as long-lived as the Green Lantern Corps, but we’re hardly inexperienced. We welcome your information, but we don’t need any help!”

Xenofobe smiled and said, “Well put. I admire your spirit. Forgive me my cranky manner; I rarely work with others and often neglect societal niceties. I’m here because the sole remaining Guardian of the Universe who is still on Oa has learned that an ancient and dire evil now threatens the cosmos! The menace will focus its malice upon Earth!”

“Nekron!” cried Saturn Girl. “I sense the name of this threat! Nekron the Unliving!”

Xenofobe nodded and said, “The name is on my mind, since he almost claimed me on my way here. I’ve been protecting the one man he wants to see destroyed, and that has made me a marked man!” The Green Lantern gestured to the second figure who had remained behind the hero. The green glow from his power ring made it hard for the heroes to see him clearly.

Slowly, a bald head and a face divided neatly in half between human features and a robotic creation came into view. “Great galaxies!” said Star Boy. “That’s the real Tharok!”

The Legionnaires gathered around the newcomers and marveled at the sight of the cyborg rogue as he stood behind the Green Lantern. “We meet again, Legionnaires,” he said. “I can’t say it is a pleasure. I also see you’ve dealt rather roughly with my old allies. They never could stand against you without my leadership!”

“How do we know that’s not the Dark Man?” said Lightning Lass. “It could be a trick!”

“I scanned his mind,” said Saturn Girl. “This is indeed the one, original Tharok.”

“Time is precious,” said Xenofobe. “Let me secure your foes, and let’s get moving!”

“Wait!” said Shadow Lass. “Where do you want us to go?”

Tharok smiled and said, “Why, we go to battle my evil double! We go to slay the Dark Man!”

Saturn Girl nodded and said, “Of course! Your old mental link to your clone allows you to track him.”

“And, more to the point, Imra Ranzz, that link allows him to hunt me!” said Tharok. “It allows that soulless fiend to stalk me across the universe!”

“We’ll come with you, but tell us everything,” said Star Boy.

Tharok inclined his head in agreement and began his strange story. “When last I saw the Dark Man, I was locked in mortal combat with him,” he said. “His evil mind had been controlling me for a long time. It was his hatred that drove me to have Validus kill your Invisible Kid. It was that same unreasoning love of death that left me a shell of my once-perfect self. My mind was dulled, and my will was sapped. He used me like a puppet. When I learned of his origin and his true nature, I fought him, and our mere contact ripped us out of your universe and stranded us in a place more suited to one such as him. The land of the unloving was a limbo between life and death. We fought our battle there, and neither of us aged or grew weary, until one moment we were contacted by that foul realm’s master.”

“Nekron!” declared Saturn Girl. “He’s the skull. I saw his skeletal visage when I tried to read the Dark Man’s mind! Nekron is the master of the undead!” (*)

[(*) Editor’s note: See “Challenge,” Tales of the Green Lantern Corps #1 (May, 1981), “Defeat,” Tales of the Green Lantern Corps #2 (June, 1981), and “Triumph,” Tales of the Green Lantern Corps #3 (July, 1981).]

“You mean he is a vampire like the Dark Man?” said Star Boy. “No wonder they hit it off!”

“You simplify the situation, but in essence you speak the truth,” said Tharok. “Nekron favored my double and vowed to increase his power along with his unholy appetite, until the Dark Man gained the ability to actually absorb the life energies of immortal beings. He fed off that force and channeled the rest directly to Nekron himself.”

“He killed the whole race of Amazons,” said Mon-El. “Just who else has he killed?”

“Tharok, here, told me that his double killed several immortals across the universe before turning his attention to Earth,” explained the Green Lantern Xenofobe. “He ended the long lives of beings with names like Evil Star, the Rondor, Gavyn of the Crown Imperial, and then he came to Earth. He killed former criminals named Hector Hammond and Multi-Man. He killed a former heroine who was once called Celsius. He murdered her companion, who called himself General Immortus. Now he wants to slay the remaining Guardian on Oa!”

“But most of all, he wants to kill me!” said Tharok. “I feel his rage. He knows I’m free! He has been mad with anger since the Guardian sent his agents to free me as well. You see, while Nekron released the Dark Man, he desired to keep me in his limbo. I was only freed because of the sacrifice of several Green Lanterns!”

Xenofobe nodded as he said, “Many brave men and women died to buy your freedom. You owe it to them to stop their killer!” The Green Lantern concentrated, and his power ring now transported the group across space to Oa itself.

“It is here we will make our stand,” said Xenofobe. “Nekron was originally defeated by Green Lanterns, and he has never recovered his former power. He can only act indirectly for now. Once he could have dared to enter our universe from his cold limbo. Now he can act through others! If the Dark Man’s rampage continues, then eventually Nekron will acquire enough immortal life force to breach the dimensional walls, and then death will reign!”

Timber Wolf scowled and said, “This is it, huh? Showdown on Oa?”

“Exactly,” said Tharok. “He’ll come here now to feed and to try to claim me!”

“And we’ll be here to stop him or die trying!” vowed Star Boy.

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