“Honey, I’m home,” Alexander Luthor said wearily as his boots touched the tiled floor of his Fortress of Science. It had been a long fight, but he had succeeded in saving an oil tanker from Power Ring’s clutches.
“Hey, there,” Alex’s wife greeted him with a smile. Luthor returned the smile when he saw her, standing in the middle of his laboratory. Lois Lane Luthor — she made it all worthwhile. It was for her that he continued the fight.
“Long day?” she asked as Alex took off his helmet.
“I’ll say,” Luthor sighed. “I had to put out six forest fires Power Ring started, and they turned out to be diversions to keep me busy while he stole an oil tanker. I got it away from him, though.”
“You’ve certainly been busy lately,” Lois said. “I hardly get to see you anymore.”
“I know, I know,” Luthor said bitterly as he kissed her on the forehead.
“I’ve been thinking,” Lois said. “On those other Earths you’ve told me about, there are as many heroes as there are villains. But here, it’s just you fighting the good fight. Sure, you’ve had some help recently, but neither Brainiac nor Amazo are in any shape to help you right now.”
“I’ve thought about that, too,” Luthor said, moving to his computer. He had built the mainframe himself, and it rivaled anything currently in use at NORAD. “I’ve fed the computer some facts told me by the Supermen of those other Earths and cross-referenced them with certain facts native to our Earth.”
“You mean you’ve found our world’s version of their heroes?” Lois asked expectantly.
“Not quite,” Luthor said. “The Crime Syndicate is our world’s version of their heroes. And on those Earths, Luthor is a deadly criminal. But taking that into account, I think I may have found some people who can help me.”
Alex Luthor watched the green data flickering across the black computer screen. Perhaps these individuals could help him. Perhaps.
Even though it was the middle of spring, the movie studio was decorated for Christmas. The studio was shooting a Christmas movie, a big-budget, live-action film based on an old animated Christmas TV special, The Year Without A Santa Claus. Despite the film’s title, the real star of the film — and the anticipated audience draw — was the comic actor playing the dual roles of Snow Miser and Heat Miser. It was between takes, and the star reclined in his trailer smoking a large cigar and looking at framed posters of his earlier film hits, such as King Encino, Animal Bodyguard, and The False Face.
In a sudden, shimmering burst of light, Alex Luthor teleported into his trailer.
“Tim Barry?” Luthor asked. The actor leaped out of his chair in an exaggerated move, his rubbery face contorting into several mock expressions of surprise. “Wow — you autograph hounds are sure persistent!” he exclaimed. “Hey, nice suit! I like the L motif. Are they shooting the Laverne & Shirley movie on this lot?”
“My name is Alexander Luthor,” the hero began. “I have come to offer you an opportunity to avenge yourself on Owlman.”
“Avenge myself? Exsqueeze me, L-Sid, but why would I want to do that?” Barry asked, rolling his eyes.
“You are Tim Barry, are you not?” Luthor asked. “Once a normal man, a worker at Allied Chemical Works in Gotham City? Until Owlman tried to rob the place one evening. Everyone ran for their lives. In the panic, you stumbled and fell off a catwalk into a chemical catch basin. By the time you were deposited on a riverbank, the chemicals had turned your skin chalk white and your hair emerald green… and unhinged your mind.”
“Yeah, and the gravy train hasn’t stopped since!” Barry declared. “I should thank Owlman for opening my eyes! Do you know what I was like before the accident? Bor-ring! I never saw the humor in life, the absolute absurdity present in every single moment of our humdrum lives. But the chemicals awakened me to the quiet humor in a school shooting, the knee-slapping guffaws to be found in an earthquake. And I’ve become richer than Midas by showing other people these yuks. So what do I have to avenge myself for? A higher tax bracket?”
Luthor thought for a moment. “Point taken. But think of the fun you’d have showing that gloomy gus, Owlman, the absurdity in life. He thinks he can go anywhere, do anything, commit any crime he likes. Wouldn’t putting a crimp in his plans be good for a laugh?”
Barry stroked his long, white chin in thought. “I gotta admit, Louie, you’ve got a point, there. Yeah, that would be hilarious! Here’s Owlman, about to rob the Seventy-Second National Bank, on top of the world, nothing can stop him. And BOOM! There I am with a pie in his face! That would be beautiful!”
“So you’ll help me, then? Join me in my fight against the Crime Syndicate?”
“You bet, Louie, ol’ pal! I shall be a bright and shining cymbal clanging in the night. No more shall I be Tim Barry, comedic genius. I shall be–” Barry hopped up on his makeup table and struck a dramatic pose, fists on hips. “–Paleface Wackypants!” Barry looked to Luthor for a reaction, but the heroic scientist merely cocked an eyebrow. “Or,” Barry began, somewhat deflated, “do you think the Clown would be a better name?”
“It’ll do,” Luthor said.
Alex Luthor was working late in his laboratory, trying to perfect a new device that he hoped would neutralize Power Ring’s weapon. He was interrupted by a shimmering golden light. He stared at this nimbus expectantly and watched a tall man materialize within it — a man in a yellow-and-black uniform with bright magenta skin. The man was grim-faced.
“Alexander Luthor,” the man said simply. “I have received your message. I admit curiosity. How did you learn of my existence?”
“I only suspected your existence, Nostromo,” Luthor said. “I beamed that message into space in hopes you would be there to receive it. I am glad my hypothesis was correct.”
“Do not call me that,” the tall man said without malice. “That was the name I used when I was a member of the Scavengers of Qward. I have put that shame behind me.”
Luthor raised an eyebrow. “The Scavengers of Qward? I know nothing of them.”
“How can you know of me but not of the Scavengers? A band of intergalactic criminals, space pirates in the employ of the Weaponers of Qward, armed with yellow energy-producing rings of the Weaponers’ design. In my brash youth I joined their number, but the atrocities they committed soon disgusted me. I turned my back on them, but no one quits the Scavengers. They tried to kill me. Had I not been able to hold onto my own yellow ring, they would have succeeded.”
“I see. And you have since dedicated your life to righting the wrongs committed by the Scavengers?” Luthor asked.
“For one who claims to only have suspected my existence, you know much about me,” the once and former Nostromo said. “Now, it is time for you to answer my question. Why have you tried to contact me — I who now go by the name Yellow Flame?”
“My world has so far escaped the ravages of your Scavengers,” Luthor began. “But we have a criminal here who calls himself Power Ring and has a ring very similar to both yours and those of the Scavengers of Qward. I do not believe he has any connection to these Weaponers of Qward, but his power is great nevertheless. And there are others with power as great as his — his teammates in an evil organization calling itself the Crime Syndicate. They loot my world like pirates on a peaceful freighter. Until now, I have been the only defense against them.”
“And you want my help in routing these criminals,” Yellow Flame said.
“I do,” Luthor replied. “There are five of these powerful villains, and I am only one.”
“Now we are two,” Yellow Flame said simply. “I will join your fight, Luthor. While you spoke, I used my own ring to test the honesty of your words. You speak the truth. Very well. I, too, shall defend your world from this Crime Syndicate.”
Luthor smiled and put out his hand. Yellow Flame looked at it in confusion. “On my world, we shake hands as a gesture of agreement and of friendship,” Luthor explained.
Yellow Flame grasped Luthor’s hand in his and wrung it firmly. He smiled. “An interesting custom,” he said. “It feels… right.”
“Welcome to Earth, Yellow Flame,” Luthor said.
For decades, the Fox Corporation had been run by the family patriarchs. For the past five years, however, there had been no patriarch. The last of them had died without producing a son. He would turn over in his grave if he knew what his daughter was doing with the company. His daughter nearly turned over herself when Alex Luthor materialized inside her office.
“Prosperina Fox?” he asked as her surprise settled down.
“Who are you?” she demanded. “How did you get in here?”
“I am Alexander Luthor,” the heroic scientist said. “Perhaps you’ve seen my picture in the newspapers.”
“Oh, right,” Fox said, calming down. “The scientist who fights the Crime Syndicate. I owe you a debt of thanks, Mr. Luthor. Power Ring was threatening to dump the oil from that tanker on the Alaskan coast if the ransom wasn’t paid.”
“Yes, the Fox Corporation has become quite enviro-friendly since you assumed control, has it not?” Luthor asked.
Prosperina’s pretty face scowled in its frame of golden hair. “Do you know what my father and grandfather did to this planet? How they made their money? They didn’t care who got hurt! Acres of rain forest destroyed, animals hunted down for their pelts, oceans polluted with chemical filth! I put a stop to that, believe me.”
“You’ve done all right by the company, divesting them from those kind of interests,” Luthor said. “And your chain of vegetarian restaurants and line of animal-free designer clothing have become very popular with the twenty-something crowd, I understand.”
“I practice everything I preach,” Proserpina Fox declared. “I haven’t tasted meat in ten years, and everything I’m wearing is cruelty-free.” The young tycoon lifted a shapely leg to demonstrate. “Even these shoes are faux leather. But I have a feeling you didn’t come here to discuss that.”
“Indeed, no. I’ve come to offer you a chance to strike back at a group of people who’ve raped the planet even more than your predecessors did.”
Fox raised an eyebrow. “The Crime Syndicate?”
“Indeed. I could certainly use some help in fighting them. It’s a big job for one man.”
“I’m flattered, Mr. Luthor, but what could I possibly do? I’m a businesswoman, not a — what did the Daily Planet call you? A super-hero?”
“You’re more than just a desk jockey, I know,” Luthor said. “I know you tried out for — and made — the Olympic decathlon team when you were sixteen. You used a fake name to prevent your father from finding out. Atalanta Jones — quite imaginative, really.”
The young tycoon pouted. “My father did find out, however, and kept me from competing.”
“I know you’ve kept in shape, too. And I know you’ve studied all the animals you protect, learned their habits, their ways of protecting what’s theirs from those who would take it.” Luthor paused. “I could supply you with weaponry of my own design to mimic those animal defense mechanisms. Armed with those and your own skills and desire to protect the innocent, you could be a formidable foe of the Crime Syndicate.”
Prosperina’s eyes narrowed as she thought about the idea. “Can I get back to you on that, Mr. Luthor?” she asked finally.
Luthor smiled. “Of course. Here’s my card.” He handed the businesswoman a small plastic card with blinking lights on it. “When you want to contact me, hold your left thumb over the big blue light there for about ten seconds.”
“I’ll be in touch. Thank you for your offer.”
Luthor smiled at her and faded away in a shimmer of light. For long minutes, Prosperina Fox turned the card over and over in her fingers, and stared at nothing at all, just thinking.
“The Jaguar? No. The Cheetah? No. Wait… the Lynx! Yeah!”
The town of Sapphire City sparkled like a brilliant jewel on the Maryland coast. One section of this city boasted houses built over a hundred years ago in grand Victorian style. It was in the drawing-room of one of these houses that Alex Luthor sat drinking tea with a man in black, talking. The man smiled wryly at Luthor’s words.
“You intrigue me, Mr. Luthor, you really do,” the man in black said. “I can’t imagine how you learned of my — shall we say — talents. How did you find me? I have taken great care to keep that secret these last hundred and fifty years.”
“You would probably find the answer very strange, Mr. Knox,” Luthor said. “Tell me, have you ever heard of the theory of parallel universes?”
“The idea that there are other worlds like our own, but with histories somewhat different?” Knox asked. “Actually, yes. I discussed that theory with a charming young student at New York University sometime in the ’20s. Let me see, his name was Isaac something…”
“Well, to make a long story short, Mr. Knox, the theory is true. There are other worlds, other Earths, in other dimensions. Other Luthors, other Ultramen, although they sometimes go by different names and sometimes take… different paths.”
Knox’s dark eyes glittered with delight. “And other men like myself? I’m sure their true name is no more Wilfred Knox than mine is. I’m sure they’ve used many different names over the years as I have. And you knew about me from learning about them? This is simply too wonderful, Mr. Luthor.”
“It was on one world in particular where I found a gentleman like yourself,” Luthor continued. “Like yourself, he gained special talents relating to darkness and shadows. Like yourself, he has lived a life of hedonism since then, sometimes saint, sometimes rogue. Your paths are almost identical, except in one respect. On his world, this man — who calls himself the Shade — spends a lot of time dueling with a certain Scarlet Speedster.”
“I did that once, too,” Knox admitted. “It was four years ago. The oafish Johnny Quick came to my Sapphire to steal a giant diamond on display at Knight University here. I stopped him, but he never knew it was me. I worked from behind the scenes, creating shadow-demons to frighten him away.” Knox paused to take a sip of tea. “The Shade, you say? How deliciously melodramatic.”
“I have been fighting the Crime Syndicate,” Luthor went on. “It’s a hard fight, one man against five super-powered champions. I have lately decided that I need help. I have found others, men and women willing to share my fight. I would like you to join our number.”
“A clandestine band of privateers warring against the forces of evil?” Knox asked. “A league of extraordinary gentlemen, if you will? A secret society of super-heroes?”
“Something like that,” Luthor said. “Are you interested?”
“My dear Alexander — may I call you that? You couldn’t keep me away.”
“You won’t regret it, Mr. Knox,” Luthor said, rising from his chair. “Thank you for the tea. We will be meeting at my old Metropolis laboratory next Friday night at eleven to discuss strategies.”
“Doctor Shadow will be there,” Knox said, smiling wryly.