by Martin Maenza
In a small hidden laboratory in Central City, Sam Scudder slipped inside. The man known as Mirror Master closed the door behind him and tossed the hat he wore across the room. “Damn it!” he said aloud, and glanced at the headlines of the newspaper tucked under his arm. He had read the text a number of times from the box on the corner until here, but he looked again. Maybe it all was a dream.
More like a nightmare. The headline boldly said CITY MOURNS HERO, with a full three columns of text on the front page detailing the story. It included the face of a man Scudder knew all too well. The Flash, Barry Allen, was dead.
“Aaargh!” Scudder tossed the paper aside; its pages showered out as they fell to the floor.
Scudder turned to one of the many mirrors mounted on the walls. He looked at his own face in the glass. His brown hair was getting longer. His nose was still bruised. His cheeks and under his chin still had deep scars from the attack on Oa. He looked like hell.
“Well, this is certainly a reversal of fortune,” he said aloud to his reflection. “Here I went to all this trouble to cheat death to get back here, and my old sparring partner is gone! He’s probably standing at the pearly gates right now, laughing away with old St. Peter.” Sam Scudder half-expected his reflection to say something, but it did not.
He shook his head. “That’s that, then,” he said. “No point in hanging out here any longer. What’s the draw of Central City without the Flash to challenge?” Like so many of his fellow members of the Rogues Gallery, Mirror Master got a true kick out of sparring with the Scarlet Speedster. After all, what villain in their right mind would mess with the Fastest Man Alive without realizing there was a high probability they’d lose? That was the challenge — the thrill when you actually managed to pull one over on him.
As he started to gather up the fallen newspaper pages, one photo gave him pause. It was of the Flash Museum, the building in Central City that honored the exploits of her greatest hero. For a second, Sam Scudder considered dropping in there to pay his respects, of sorts, to a fallen, worthy adversary. Then he shook his head. “No, not a good idea,” he said aloud. “Too likely someone will recognize me.”
Sam couldn’t help but wonder how the rest of the Rogues Gallery had paid tribute to their fallen foe. He smiled a bit, thinking it was probably like the sendoff they had given the Top many years ago. They probably got a cheap wooden box, swiped a mannequin from a department store, and got Gambi to cobble them up a makeshift Flash costume for it. Cold would have made some crack about the icy hands of death finally catching hold of the speedster. Boomerang, the doubting Thomas, would have probably insisted that the Flash would return when we least expected. Weather Wizard no doubt made sure the mood outside matched that inside — gloomy and gray. Trickster would’ve managed to stuff a rubber chicken in the casket. The Piper, with his soft heart, probably blew taps, while Heat Wave shed a tear. Then, in the end, they’d each draw weapons to give the Flash a twenty-one-gun salute, right into the mock body!
Sam nodded. “That’s something I would have liked to have been a part of.” And he was sure, too, that they’d all be griping about the fact that he didn’t show up for it. Would they have cared to try to find him? Did they wonder if he, too, were dead? He toyed with the idea of looking them up for old times’ sake.
But then his mind nagged him with the reminder of why he was alive again. The Rogues were always competitive with one another, seeing who would be the first to off the Flash or who could pull the better crime. Still, if he had to deliver some victims to Neron, he was hesitant to add Len, Digger, Mark, James, Hartley, and Mick to that list. They were brothers-in-arms, his longtime colleagues. He’d spare them of that.
Taking the pages of the newspaper over to his workbench, he gathered a discarded box and placed it on the table. “Best just to pack this stuff up and get moving,” he said, opening the drawers to the workbench and beginning to remove items. Some were finished weapons he hadn’t used yet. Others were ones he had been working on before his untimely death.
As he opened the middle drawer and started to pull out various tools, something caused the drawer to stick a little. Scudder bent down and stuck his arm all the way in. After fishing around for a few moments, he withdrew the troubling item. He held it up for a moment and gave pause.
It was a pass card, one he had discarded in the back of that drawer years ago. It was to a long-forgotten place. “The Sinister Citadel,” he muttered. That was the old headquarters of the Secret Society of Super-Villains out in San Francisco, a group that, contrary to expectations, had gone out with a fizzle rather than a bang. “I wonder…”
The scene shifted, jumping ahead to months later. Sam Scudder rode up a familiar elevator in the Loman Building, putting his pass card into the slot to allow the exclusive access to the uppermost floor of the tall building. He took a deep breath as the doors opened.
The place was dark. He felt the walls for a light switch and turned them on.
It was just as he remembered it. The air was stale, having been closed up for so long, but everything was in fantastic shape. He’d give the entire place the once over, after he checked to see if the computer systems were still intact and functioning.
“Time to look up some old friends,” he said.
Shift ahead again, many more months. Sam Scudder had managed to get a brand-new costume exactly like his older one. Paul Gambi was a whiz with a needle and thread, as well as someone who knew how to keep quiet. The tailor would keep Scudder’s recent visit to him a secret.
Inside the office he established for himself in the Sinister Citadel, Mirror Master sat across from a close associate. Unlike the Rogues whom he’d worked with for years, Mirror Master somehow felt this particular person could be trusted to keep things a secret. Guys like Boomerang and the Trickster tended to flap their jaws a bit too much. They’d be more than happy to blab about his return. Mirror Master felt confident with his first chosen ally, the serpentine costumed thief.
“Ssso Crazy-Quilt ssscrewed it up! I had a feeling he would,” Copperhead spat.
“Yes, so you did,” Mirror Master agreed. “But that is what initiation tests are for — to test the untested and see how well they perform.”
“Are you concccerned about him sssinging to the policcce?”
“Not at all. Let’s reflect on the facts, shall we? First of all, he responded to our rather unique advertisement. Second, we never met with him face to face — all communications were done so without leaving a trace. Third, he has no idea why we asked him to pull that particular heist. That which is secret remains so.”
“True, but hisss ssscrew-up meansss we don’t have that experimental lassser to play with!”
“The prize this time was incidental.”
“How about those heroesss ssshowing up?” Copperhead asked. “We gonna have to worry about them now, too?”
“I don’t think so.”
“But they’re Titansss!”
“No, they’re Titans West,” Mirror Master corrected. “Big difference! It’s not like they are polished like Nightwing, Wonder Girl, or the Flash!” That last name was spat out like venom. He didn’t particularly like the idea that the former sidekick had taken on his mentor’s name and costume. Still, he wasn’t about to risk his new operations over petty revenge. “No, these are heroes who are strictly second-stringers — all image and nothing beneath the surface. They’ll pose no threat to us.” He paused for one moment. “And should by some strange chance they do, we’ll crush them!”
“Worksss for me,” Copperhead hissed. “Ssso, who’sss next on the list?”
Mirror Master went back to the computer screen. “I think we can find some suitable candidates for our new Secret Society. Just a matter of patience, my friend.” He pulled up a file on a woman named Lydia Anastasios and scrolled down to the bottom, where he’d made a recent entry. His network of informants had tipped him off that she was involved with the Rocco Marchetti murder. That and the fact she also was seen many times at the grave of Abel Tarrant made her someone he was interested in pursuing. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See Showcase: The Tattooed Man: Times Past, 1982: Love Inks.]
Just then, there was a knock at the door. It began to open. “It’s me, Sam,” said the Greek woman.
Neron snatched up the crystal ball and tucked it into his jacket once more. “Speak of the devil,” he chuckled softly under his breath.
“Lydia?” the startled Mirror Master said.
As she stepped in the room, Lydia Anastasios realized that her lover wasn’t alone. “Oh, sorry,” she said. “I didn’t know you were in a meeting.” She eyed the well-dressed blond man sitting in the leader’s chair suspiciously.
“Where’s my manners?” the blond man said as he rose and crossed the room quickly. He took the woman’s hand and gently gave it a kiss. “Nathan Nero, attorney-at-law.”
Lydia was surprised by this. She took her kissed hand and held it with her other. “I… uh… a pleasure to meet you.” She turned to her teammate in orange and green. “Mirror Master, do we have need of a lawyer?”
“Well…” Mirror Master started to say as he was formulating a lie.
“Mirror Master, here, thought it would be a good idea to have an attorney on retainer,” Nathan Nero said quickly. “You never know when one might need legal representation, right, M.M.?”
Mirror Master nodded. “Yes, of course. Just like we have Dr. Quinzel on staff as well.”
“Oh,” Lydia said, biting her lip. “Uh, Mirror Master, can we talk in private for a second?” She gestured for him to join her out in the hallway. He followed.
“Something you needed?” Mirror Master asked softly.
“Nothing important,” Lydia whispered back. Still, she couldn’t take her eyes off the lawyer. She had a weird feeling about him. “That Nero fellow — he seems, I don’t know, a bit slimy to me.”
“They’re all like that,” Mirror Master said, actually referring to the man’s demonic nature.
Lydia took it to mean lawyers. “I assume, like Dr. Quinzel, that he is sworn to a confidential relationship.”
“Yes,” Mirror Master said. “Attorney/client relationship. He’s good at keeping things in confidence.” Of that, the Reflective Rogue was certain. “Still, I’d better get back in there and finish up with him. The sooner he’s gone, the sooner we can get back onto normal things.”
“All right,” Lydia said. “I will come back when he is gone.”
Mirror Master gave her a kiss on the cheek before she went off. He returned to the office, closed the door, and this time locked it. “That should end the interruptions,” he said.
Nathan Nero sat upon the edge of the large oak desk. “Well, now,” he said, licking his lips. “Now there’s one tasty little thing. It’ll be a pleasure to have my way with that one.”
The fire ran quickly to Mirror Master’s face. “You keep your hands off of her!” he barked. “I’ll decide who I turn over to you when the time comes! She’s off-limits, do you understand?”
Nero’s mouth pierced. “Oh, really?”
With hardly a blink, the whole office was gone. The two men were somewhere else, on the edge of a barren rocky crag over looking an abyss. The hot, stinging wind whipped up and around them; Mirror Master could barely keep his balance.
Neron was now dressed in a white uniform with green boots. His green cape and blonde hair whipped about in the wind.
“You’re in no position to make threats to me!” Neron yelled above the howl of the wind. “Do you understand? I crush beings mightier than you for breakfast!” With a gesture, Mirror Master was pulled from his standing point and yanked across the air toward the mighty blond mystic. The Reflective Rogue struggled against invisible bonds as he was brought face-to-face with Neron.
“I hold all the cards here!” Neron said. “It’s your sole purpose to fulfill your end of the agreement! If not, you might as well kiss this mortal coil goodbye! Got me?”
Mirror Master said nothing.
Neron smiled. “I see you get my point!”
With another blink, the two were back in the office in the Sinister Citadel. Mirror Master fell to the floor. He barely had time to rise to his knees when Neron, now dressed as Nathan Nero once more, started to walk past confidently.
“Don’t bother to get up,” Nero said. “I’ll show myself out.” He reached for the knob. “I’ll be in touch when the time is right. I’ll expect payment at that time, as we agreed upon.” And with that, the man was on his way out.
Mirror Master’s head sank. What had he done?
He was still kneeling on the floor when he heard a knock on the office doorframe. He turned around as he saw Funky Flashman enter the room. “Drop a contact lens in the carpet, fearless leader?” the con man asked.
“Flashman, what the hell do you want?” he asked coldly.
“Good news for you, Sammy,” the mustached man said, smiling. “Been keeping my peepers pasted to the daily news broadcasts for you. Thought one particular story would spark your interest.”
Mirror Master stood up. “Just spit it out or shove off!” He wasn’t in the mood for any more games today.
Flashman nodded. “It’s about the dopey doppelgänger of yours,” he said. “You know, the one jailed by the JLA recently.” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See Justice League of America: Time and Consequences.]
Mirror Master hesitated. He was angry — very angry. Perhaps an outlet for his frustrations would help. “Go on…”
A couple days later in Metropolis, just a few blocks from the courthouse, two armed guards escorted a blond man in cuffs back toward their transport van. “I hate arraignment duty,” one of the guards said to the other. “A lot of coming and going with waiting around in between.”
“I hear that,” the other guard said.
“You boys in blue been working too hard,” a voice called from the alleyway. The two guards spun around, startled. “Maybe you need to chill out a bit!”
Suddenly, there was a loud piercing sound as the two men found their legs encased in ice. “Who the–?!” They started to reach for their guns, only to have the holsters around their waists also encased in ice.
The prisoner glanced at his would-be rescuer. It was a man dressed in a blue parka with white trim, despite the rather warm spring day. He smiled. “Well, well, well, this is a nice surprise,” he said, running down the alleyway to join his costumed parole officer. “C’mon, Cold, let’s get out here!”
The two started to run around the corner, but then Captain Cold stopped and faced the man. “Turn around!” Cold ordered. As the man complied, Cold fired at the cuffs and encased them in ice. Then he raised his boot, shattered the brittle metal, and knocked the man forward.
The man hit the wall with his left shoulder. “Easy there, buddy!” the man said, rubbing his wrists. “Is that any way to treat one of your fellow Rogues Gallery members?”
Cold glared at him. “You aren’t one of the Rogues! You never were, and you never will be! You’re a fake, a phony, sponging off the reputation of a great man! You’re nothing but a pale reflection at best!”
“Hey, don’t get all defensive with me!” the man said. “What’ve I ever done to you?”
Cold smiled and touched his left wrist.
Suddenly, the air shimmered around him. Gone was the man in the blue parka. In his place stood a man in a very familiar orange and green costume. “You stole my reputation!” the real Mirror Master said. “And for that, you’ve got to pay!”
“No!” said the man who had posed as the Reflective Rogue. The second Mirror Master cowered back against the wall, realizing he had no weapons to defend himself. “Can’t we talk this over?”
Mirror Master shook his head. “Nope!” With that, he thrust up a special mirror and aimed it at the man. A flash of energy shot from it, engulfing Floyd Ventris, the criminal once called Mirror-Man who was also known under the alias of Angus McCulloch. It then withdrew back into the mirror, taking with it the man.
The real Mirror Master turned the mirror to look at it. Within the special reflective surface, he could see the shocked criminal. The man pounded on the barrier, hoping it would yield. It did not. Mirror Master smiled. “If I’ve got to sacrifice anyone to Neron, it might as well be someone I can’t stand!”
And with that, he touched his wrist again. The image-maker device changed his appearance once more, turning it into that of an elderly man. He walked down the street confidently.