Batman emerged from the shadows and waved the others over. They followed him inside Wayne Manor, where Superman said, “Batman, glad to see someone I know!”
“You’ve experienced the temporal anomalies as well,” noted Batman, nodding. “These two come from an alternate timeline.”
Superman (Bruce Wayne) turned to his redheaded wife Batwoman (Babs Wayne) and said, “It’s true, hon. We’ve somehow entered a timeline not our own. I confirmed it with a super-vision scan. My folks are dead, but your pop isn’t dead.”
“That’s so disturbing,” she gasped. “I couldn’t face him knowing how he died in our history.”
Batman leaned over to Superman and said, “Apparently, this Kryptonian was found and raised by the Waynes. Thus in his world or dimension, Bruce Wayne is Superman. He’s married to that timeline’s Babs Gordon. Her father died at the hands of the gangster who ended my parents’ lives here.” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Secret Origin of Bruce (Superman) Wayne,” Superman #353 (November, 1980), “A Day in the Life of Bruce (Superman) Wayne,” Superman #358 (April, 1981), and “A Night in the Life of Bruce (Superman) Wayne,” Superman #363 (September, 1981).]
“We know that more than mere time travel-type disturbances are occurring,” said Superman. “It’s as if someone was altering laws of the universe, making the impossible suddenly possible.”
“And I have a way to track down the villain, too,” said Batman. “Notice the computer print-out? An energy-reading associated with each arrival was detected. Can your super-senses spot and trace the pattern to its source?”
Superman smiled. “Good thinking as always. I can, indeed. Now that I know what to look for, I can see it leading into space.”
The Superman of the other timeline said, “We want in on this, too.”
Batwoman nodded. “You can’t fight this thing alone. Your costume, modeled after mine, makes me think you must have my skills, but that’s not enough against someone with such power!”
Batman smiled. “Thank you. We welcome your help.”
They soon found themselves in space. The JLA’s space shuttle served them well, and they drew nearer a red spacecraft.
“Great Krypton! I know that vehicle all too well!” said Superman.
Batman nodded grimly. “It’s an older model than the skull-patterned one he currently uses, but it’s still owned by Brainiac!”
The red craft was locked in furious battle with a green-hued flying figure.
“Note that dark cowl and cape? That’s not our G.L. It’s another alternate copy — apparently Bruce Wayne was chosen by the Oans in his timeline!” said Superman, pointing to where a figure wearing a Batman cowl and cape over a green and black Green Lantern uniform blasted away at the ship.
Superman (Bruce Wayne) said, “Let me spell him a bit.” He zoomed through a docking portal and left his wife behind to watch anxiously. He flew toward the red ship, and the Green Lantern nodded in recognition. In his timeline, Superman existed as another member of the Green Lantern Corps.
The ship emitted a sudden pulse of energy, and that Superman screamed in pain, or so it appeared.
“What’s he doing to Bruce?” asked Batwoman.
“That blast seemed to have altered his very molecular structure,” said Superman. “Instead of absorbing and being empowered by solar energy of Earth’s sun, his cells are rejecting it! He’ll be a normal man soon!”
Batman grabbed his friend in mid-motion. “So would you if that ray hit you. Let me reel him back in!” he said. Quickly working a computer, he used a device to lock on to the damaged hero and drew him inside by a tractor beam.
Batwoman rushed to his fallen form. “He’s in a coma!” she said, weeping.
“I can’t stay inside while that fiend kills good men!” said Superman.
The Green Lantern (Bruce Wayne) had tried to protect his ally only to fail when he, too, came under attack. The Bat-Green Lantern fought on, oblivious to the flickering lights that suddenly appeared on the craft’s helm.
“Look! Another death-ray!” said Batman.
The yellow cloud that spread out through the space around the ship began to choke the Green Lantern whose ring could not filter out the yellow toxin.
“He’s stiffening in pain. Got to tractor him inside, too!” said Batman, his fingers racing across the computer.
Superman reappeared in a special suit. “Got to hope this containment suit will keep Brainiac’s ray from altering my cells until I can break into his craft!”
Batman saw Batwoman bury her face in her husband’s chest. “He’s dead,” said Batman softly.
The Green Lantern lived but was in a coma. The ring had preserved his life for now.
“I’ll break through the ship,” vowed Superman.
“If you can breach the hull,” said Batman, “I’ll try something of my own!”
They shook hands, and in seconds Superman streaked toward the red craft. The suit seems to be fooling the craft. It doesn’t know what device to try on me. Makes me think it’s on automatic. Brainiac’s keen mind would have done better had he been linked to the defense system.
Superman flashed through a web of rays and battered the hull. Force-field keeps renewing itself. He’ll have me cold if he analyzes my strength, even with the cloaking suit, he mused. Tearing open a small hole, he fought to outrace its self-repair mechanism.
As he did so, Batman activated a device that sent an electromagnetic pulse to the craft. This disabled the defense system for all of thirty seconds before Brainiac’s superb technology made allowances. Still, that was enough time for the super-fast Man of Steel to enter and smash the controls.
Batman followed him slowly after locking on to the craft, leaving Batwoman behind to grieve for her dead; he could do no more for her now. He joined Superman as they faced a strange sight — a web of coils and cables and netting held as prisoner a green-hued humanoid computer.
“Brainiac’s back in his old form — and appears to be a prisoner of the ship itself,” said Superman. “He’s not behind the attacks, either!”
Suddenly, Batwoman entered the docking bay and raced for the being called Brainiac. “You monster! You killed the love of my life!” she cried.
Batman tackled her and said, “He didn’t kill him. He’s a prisoner, too. In fact, he’s not even Brainiac — not really!”
The green-skinned figure spoke in inhuman tones that expressed no emotion of any type. “Correct, Batman. My calculations proved you two would be most likely to reach me and deduce the truth about my plight. I am not the Brainiac you fought, but the ally you once knew as Brainiac A,” he said.
“Don’t believe his lies! He’s a soulless, heartless machine!” cried Batwoman as she struggled in Batman’s grip.
“While I am a humanoid computer, I assure you that I was not responsible for the actions of the one who directed this ship. I was seeking to stop the Brainiac you have battled in the past. He has greatly altered in form and function since I last encountered him. He overwhelmed me and took command of the offensive weaponry of my ship. This may prove to be his undoing, since it also allowed me to gain a new awareness of his own craft even in its new form.”
“Brainiac A is as different from the Brainiac we are fighting as I am from your husband,” explained Superman. “He was an earlier model of Brainiac who rebelled against the evil Computer Tyrants who created him, then used his ship and shrinking ray to capture cities full of evil men so they could be brought to justice. In this way, he works for justice much as we do. (*) You can trust him.”
[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Invulnerable Super-Enemy,” World’s Finest Comics #158 (June, 1966).]
“Indeed, I am not programmed for deceit,” said Brainiac A as Batman helped him free himself from the wiring.
“I’m sorry,” said Batwoman. “I acted without thinking.”
“That’s natural,” said Batman. “Don’t despair just yet. It’s possible that when the energy that brought you here fades, you’ll return to your own timeline, and the effects of this one will have never happened!”
“Then my Bruce may live!” she gasped.
“I pray you’re right,” said Superman.
“Such an eventuality seems logical,” replied Brainiac A.
Even as he spoke, Batwoman vanished. If he could have seen within the JLA craft, Batman would have noticed what Superman confirmed.
“The other Superman and G.L. are gone, too. I hope they are restored once they return to their proper timeline,” Superman said.
Batman nodded. “In addition to feeling sorrow for their loss, I imagine it was a bit odd seeing another you die.”
Superman agreed readily. “Well, with Brainiac A’s help, let’s put an end to our Brainiac’s tampering before anyone else dies!”
Batman, Superman, and the good Brainiac A soon reached a point in space where the infamous skull-faced ship of the deadly living computer Brainiac hovered in orbit.
“The very stars around that ship are burning at an unnatural rate,” said Superman. “Brainiac has tampered with space at a level I’d have sworn was beyond his means!”
“Brainiac A, can you tell us anything of his plans or his method from the contact you had when his ship took over your own?” asked Batman.
The green-skinned being said, “He seeks what I can only conclude to be what humans call madness! He wants to undo the very fabric of the universe to defeat an entity he calls the Master Programmer. (*) His folly is dire, indeed. As for how he gained such cosmos-altering might, I may only speculate futilely.”
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Rebirth,” Action Comics #544 (June, 1983).]
Superman frowned. “I can’t see inside his craft, either. I guess we do this the hard way.”
“It’s not the first time, eh, old chum?” said Batman.
Superman smiled ruefully. “True enough, pal!”
As they neared Brainiac’s ship, a shattering effect rocked them all. Suddenly, they floated in space protected only by a force-field created by Brainiac A.
“He atomized the JLA shuttle! He’s certainly playing for keeps!” said Superman.
Brainiac A moved them nearer the skull ship and warped them inside. “He must allow this, or I could not pierce his craft’s shielding,” said Brainiac A.
“He wants us inside. He is fearless in his cold, clinic way,” said Batman.
Superman pointed ahead. “He has help — unwilling, but still deadly,” he said, indicating a prone woman within a clear tube. Her flowing red hair reached her waist, and she wore a gown that reflected twinkling stars in some odd manner beyond normal clothing.
“Her name is Blackstarr,” said Superman, “and she has power enough to manipulate the very stuff of which the universe is formed. Kara battled her before, as did I in the midst of the Crisis!” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Into the Valley of the Shadow,” DC Comics Presents #86 (October, 1985).]
“That explains how he acquired the power to alter reality,” said Batman. “Blackstarr’s file indicated her powers were not completely recorded and could evolve to include such capabilities.”
“The Crisis itself altered much of space,” added Brainiac A. “Who is to say it did not alter her powers, too?”
“Analysis: The Master Programmer’s agents are within my craft. Forecast: Their immediate destruction,” echoed a voice from the computerized walls of the spacecraft.
“That’s right, Brainiac!” vowed Superman. “We’re here, and we will stop you!”
Suddenly, Superman fell forward as Blackstarr gazed at him, and the atmosphere immediately around his body altered on a molecular level. “Red sun! I’m powerless!” he realized.
Batman indicated a control to Brainiac A and whispered orders. The green humanoid nodded and plugged into the craft. “Brainiac, curse you, you unfeeling machine! Leave him alone!” he said, stalling for time. “You can’t defeat the Master Programmer by killing his agents. You need to strike directly at the source.”
Superman frowned. I may be powerless, but I won’t stand by while he destroys the universe, he vowed inwardly. The temporal anomalies were just side effects from whatever he’s having Blackstarr do to the universe. Funny, they led us to him. It’s as if the universe itself wanted us to stop him. He slammed into a console, and sparks flew off as he reeled back in pain.
“Blackstarr, think about the natural order of the cosmos,” said Batman. “You know more about it than anyone else. Don’t let him rape the very matter of the universe with his manipulations! Fight back!” He noticed a spider-like object nestled within the woman’s red hair. Cybernetic mind-control. Possibly via the very electrical impulses of the brain, mused the detective.
Brainiac himself emerged from the ship. His silvery form was totally altered from the green-complexioned form he had worn years before, which Brainiac A still resembled. “Human emotions cannot alter the course of my programmed responses. Blackstarr has no choice regardless of the weakness of feeling you appeal to,” he said.
Brainiac A smiled. “Perhaps not. But I am able to learn from what I absorbed of your ship’s workings before. I may block the cyber-signal and thus do what Batman’s words could not.”
Blackstarr’s eyes widened, and she broke free of the tube. “That fiend used me. He ambushed me after the Crisis and has probed my body and mind ever since. Now you’ve freed me from his control, and I’ll pay him back!” she shrieked.
Superman rose renewed, as his old powers returned now that Blackstarr was no longer under Brainiac’s power. He grabbed Batman and Brainiac A and flew away as the robotic hero activated his force-field. The skull-craft vanished as a black hole opened and swallowed it entirely. No sign remained of the ship or its two battling occupants.
“The stars are normal,” said Batman, smiling. “She must have defeated him or at least cut off his manipulation of the universe. I’d say the anomalies will cease, too. We owe you a debt of thanks, Brainiac A!”
Superman patted the green figure on the back. “Right! You saved the day — or days — to come!” he joked.
They returned to Earth secure in the knowledge that all was well with the universe again. They weren’t entirely correct.
A beautiful woman smiled coldly at shadowy figures in a spaceship all her own. Her artificial blonde hair flowed over her shoulders, and her alien form was attractive and capable.
“I did it! I secured these anomalies even after the cosmos was restored. They will serve me well, or my designation is not Genia!” she said, smirking.
Continued in Justice League of America: Genia Returns