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Marny Bannister looked in the mirror. It had always been her enemy … her features were stark, almost skeletal in the way the skin pulled tight around her eyes and mouth. The angioma which marked her features only made them more ghoulish.

She looked at the ancient alchemical parchment spread before her, yellowed and crumbling with age. It had taken her much time to translate it, as her forte was chemistry and not historical research or languages, but perhaps the vial suspended before her was the answer to the problems which had plagued her since she was a small child.

With trembling hands, she brought the vial to her lips and drank deeply. It felt like fire on her tongue and down her throat and in her belly. It felt as if her angioma burst into flame next, and she raised her hands to it and they came away touched with blood. She screamed, and the burning sensation spread to her scalp and the rest of her body.

When she awoke, she touched her face again with a moan, and the blood was gone. She braced her hands on the countertop and lifted herself to stand. Nervously, she looked once more into the mirror. She was rewarded with the visage of a startlingly beautiful, crimson-haired woman. She stared at it, and as she did so, she remembered something that had been long-buried in her subconscious, but which now flickered through her reconfigured mind as if it were the light inside a glowing ember.

She remembered her father's name.

#4: “The Daughter of Satanik”
(with apologies to Bill Finger)

By Mikel Midnight


The heat beat down on the Italian coast, and the young man known as Il Fantasma Jr shielded his eyes from the sun. The red of his tights and cowl mimicked that of his father Tomas de Medici, the crimefighter known as the original Il Fantasma, although his cloak was blue in placement of the original's yellow. His brother in arms Calogero Conti Jr, aka the second generation ultrahero Nembo Kid, was the son of the iconic hero Ciclone; he and Nembo Kid had been raised alongside one another and when they chose to venture out as heroes in their own right, they chose complementary uniforms: Nembo Kid's costume resembled Ciclone's but his blue tights were complemented by a red cape, in placement of his father's overtly patriotic green, white, and red garb.

Nembo Kid's powers were only half that of his father's, and despite the name he had chosen for himself, he lacked the ability to fly; nevertheless, his ultrahuman endurance was enough to render him unaffected by the heat. "The contest ought to be starting soon."

Il Fantasma Jr nodded, pondering the scantily clad girls who were clustered about on the sand in anticipation of the yacht race. "I'm not minding the heat at all." He grinned at his friend.

The pair had gained their own share of notoriety, defeating villains such as the malicious alien Big Sister Sybil and the mad scientist Dr. Sivana among others; consequently they had been asked to judge the race, the proceeds from which were to be donated to charity, largely to rebuild the remains of Desolation Island following its terrible natural disaster.

Their reverie was broken at the sound of a speedboat, racing across the designated lanes and straight towards the pier. Il Fantasma Jr narrowed his eyes suspiciously. "Cal?" he whispered to his friend.

Nembo Kid directed his more-than human eyesight into the intruder. The person riding it wore a black diving suit, emblazoned on which was a white skeleton. "I don't believe it," he whispered, his face turning pale, "it looks like … Satanik."

Il Fantasma Jr shook his head, remembering the tales of the criminal genius who had alone almost defeated both their fathers as well as their allies in the legendary Stormy Six. "That's impossible, Satanik is dead."

Before they could respond, the figure raised a long tube to its mouth, blowing what appeared to be a dart at the startled facilitator. The man's skin began to turn a terrible green, and he keeled over, clutching at his throat in agony.

Nembo Kid leaped out of the judge's booth and began to jog towards the water, followed quickly by his partner. The figure grabbed hold of the large bag containing the donations for the yacht race and began to head out to sea. "Help him," he said, pointing to the facilitator, "I'll go for the villain." Moments later he leaped onto what appeared to be one of the more streamlined yachts, taking off in pursuit.

The figure looked over its shoulder as Nembo Kid sped closer, and reached down beneath its bulkhead. The young hero's eyes widened as he saw the bound, naked form of a woman tossed over the side. He cursed under his breath as he redirected his course in order to rescue the hostage, watching as the figure sped off into the horizon.

He stopped his boat and dove down quickly after her struggling form as she sank helplessly through the water. His powerful arms wrapped around her and he swam quickly towards the surface. She gasped and choked as they broke into the open air, and he swam them back to shore.

Il Fantasma Jr was waiting for them, and quickly he removed his blue cloak and wrapped it concealingly around her. Nembo Kid raised an eyebrow questioningly, and his friend shook his head with a frown, indicating they had failed to save the figure's other victim. He knelt down. "Miss, can you tell me your name?"

"Marny … Marny Bannister. Thank you, you saved my life," she gasped out.


Later, the two youths sat in the living room of retired police inspector Giovanni Mercier. Mercier scowled as he looked over the photographs Il Fantasma Jr had taken with his utility belt camera. "I recognise the symptoms," he said. "Mjanico, called the 'green death', an Amazonian poison and a favourite weapon of Satanik. Yes, somehow, it appears he is back. I never did see a body after the final battle."

Mercier shuddered, remembering: Satanik had disguised himself as Mercier, back when he fought crime under the name and costume of the Legionary, and attempted to infiltrate the headquarters of the Stormy Six. Satanik had almost killed Il Fantasma's sidekick, L’Aquilotto, with a poisoned dart. It was only the skills of Carlo Sirianni, aka the Listener, who recognised the difference in the men's heartbeats which revealed him, and Mercury's godlike speed intercepted the deadly artefact. Even then, Satanik might have escaped had it not been for Usil's keen arrows and Zatara's magic.

Il Fantasma Jr nodded, remembering his Uncle Gio's stories. "So did he have any preferred hideout, or place that he habitually returned to?"

"Unfortunately not," Mercier replied. "Even though I foiled many of his schemes, I never saw his true face, only an endless series of lifelike masks. And after all these years, I have no idea what scheme he'd be working on next."

"I am going to interview Marny … I mean, Miss Bannister," Nembo Kid said. "She may know something."

Il Fantasma Jr grinned at him.

Mercier hrmed thoughtfully. "Let me see that profile photo you took of her once more?" He peered at the small photograph, turning it to various angles. "She looks familiar, I have seen someone who looked like her before, but I can't place where. It's probably not important."


Lights illuminated the basement headquarters of the Evil Society.

"That was even more loot than I expected," Eva Destruction said, running her fingers through the jewellery stolen from the safe deposit boxes of Rome's Petra Bank.

"That foolish so-called Son of Vulcan will know better next time than to tangle with us," sneered Il Calimari.

"I told you it would be a good raid," the Fate Bandit nodded, "and I'm always right."

Eva Destruction laughed. "I can't believe you guys just left him in a puddle of slime like that, it was totally brilliant."

From the darkness of the corner came the soft sound of applause. "I'm sure it was," said a mysterious voice.

Il Calimari peered into the corner, and the squidlike criminal began to extend his tentacles in its direction. "Who goes there?" he said angrily. "Do you know whom you're dealing with? We're the Evil Society!"

"Are you now," said the voice. A figure stepped forward, features disguised behind a skull-like mask. "Not that it matters." The figure raised its hand, and a net dropped from the ceiling, encasing the trio, and when the hand was lowered, 50,000 volts of electricity charged through it. They didn’t even have time to scream.

Once the electrical flow was ceased, the figure walked over to their remains. "And you're right, it was a good raid."


Inspector Mercier picked up his telephone and dialled a number he knew as well as his own. "Lt. Trent please," he said.

After a series of clicks, he heard the voice on the other side, and said, "Trent, it's Mercier. Oh, I'm fine. Listen, I need you to do some research for me. Go to my old Satanik files, and look for photographs of his assistant, a woman who went by the name Dana. Can you e-mail me whatever you have? Yes. Thank you Trent … I'll let you know if this turns out to be anything."

He held the photo of Marny Bannister up to the light, turning it to and fro, narrowing his ageing eyes and wondering whether they had deceived him once again.


Elsewhere, another woman's voice came through the another phone line. "Luisa Lanci, Daily Star newsroom, speak your mind."

"Ciao Mom, it's Cal," Nembo Kid said into the pay phone, "is Dad around? He didn't pick up his desk phone."

"No, I'm sorry, hon." Her voice lowered to a whisper. "He's off visiting the Ciclone of Earth-2. Is there anything I can help you with?"

He shook his head, then realised she wouldn't be able to see the gesture. "No … that's okay … it was just … guy talk, you know. I'll be home tonight for dinner."

Her smile was audible, "I understand. Be safe out there, kiddo. Love you."

"Love you too. 'bye Mom." Nembo Kid peered up at the building which hosted the science lab with which Marny Bannister was evidently associated. He inhaled deeply, and walked through the entrance.

He took the stairs to the fourth floor, and made his way to the laboratory where she worked. He saw a red-headed figure working amongst the test tubes. "Miss Bannister?" he said.

She turned around to look at the speaker. "Ah, Nembo Kid," she said, practically purring at him. "I never did get a chance to thank you properly for saving my life, I was so distressed at the time." She approached closer and wrapped her arms around his shoulders, and pressed her lips softly to his. He felt himself warm in response to her own body's heat.

She released him after several seconds. "Oh my," she said, and fanned herself with her hand, blushing slightly. "I don’t think you came here for that, and I'm quite sorry if I interrupted whatever you were going to say. So, now, how can I help you?"

He coughed, trying not to show his discomfiture. "You had been captured by Satanik the day he robbed the yacht race. Have you remembered anything else since that day? Anything that might give us any clues about where he is, or what his overall plan is?"

"No, I … " She shuddered. "Nothing more than what I told the polizia. I was going to be attending the race, and making a donation on the part of my office. We had all pooled funds. Someone grabbed me from behind and held something to my face that knocked me out. Next thing I knew I was … as you found me," she blushed again at the memory, "and it was the shock of the water that woke me up. The next thing I knew … you were there."

He grinned impulsively. "It was my pleasure, believe me."

She flicked her tongue against her lower lip, unsurely. "It was my pleasure, too." She leaned closer to him once again, and took his hand, slipping it under her white labcoat so the she could feel her braless breast underneath her blouse. He lowered his head and kissed her again.


Later, in the underground Fantasma-cave, Il Fantasma Jr waited for Nembo Kid to join him. "How're you doing, Cal?" he said.

Nembo Kid grinned a 'cat that ate the canary' grin. "Just ultra, Tomas. How is the investigation going on your side?"

"I've been speaking to Mercier ." Il Fantasma Jr pursed his lips. "He gave me this; look familiar?" He pulled out a series of photos and handed them to Nembo Kid.

Peering at the photos, Nembo Kid scratched his head in puzzlement. "She … kind of looks like Marny, I mean, Miss Bannister, maybe. Is this her mother or something?"

"The woman is known only as Dana," Il Fantasma Jr replied. "She was Satanik's lover."

"Just what are you suggesting, exactly?"

"That there may be some connection between Miss Bannister and Satanik's return."

"No, I refuse to believe that! Marny is completely innocent of … "

"Cal, are you letting your personal feelings influence the investigation?" As the son of the original Fantasma, he had been lectured extensively against the dangers of such entanglements, by his father and even by the family butler, Alfredo.

"I'm doing no such thing! I don't know what sort of paranoid conspiracy theory you're working on, maybe Inspector Mercier's head has gone soft in his old age, but Marny was nothing but a victim of Satanik!"

"I think you're losing your objectivity here … "

Nembo Kid shrugged dismissively. "Something's gotten under your skin about Marny, and I can only guess what it is. I'm out of here … I'll solve this case on my own, you can do what you want." Without another word, he jogged out of the headquarter, leaving his former partner alone.


Lights from the paparazzi illuminated the podium as Marny Bannister waved, her bright face beaming. Her lover and bodyguard, Nembo Kid, stood by her side. She was to be cast in a film detailing the history of many of the Roman empresses. The film director Piero Vivarelli was on the podium with them, speaking into the microphone. "And in honor of Miss Bannister's role, she is wearing an ancient necklace originally worn by the character she portrays. This has been loaned to us by the museum of … "

He was interrupted as one of the charioteers, who had been parading before the podium, lowered his helmet guard to reveal a skull-like mask. Marny Bannister shrieked in terror as some form of magnetic attraction seemed to pull the necklace from her and into the chariot. Nembo Kid scowled, "Satanik! You can't believe you're going to get away with this?"

He leaped off the podium and started to jog after the chariot as it raced down the street. "Little junior ultrahero," said a muffled voice from behind the mask, "you can catch me or you can stop the bomb which is going to blow up or pretty girlfriend." A latch in the back of the chariot released, and a metal sphere rolled out, straight towards the podium.

Nembo Kid figured he would have time to cover the blast with his body and still catch the villain, so he landed on it only to be surprised by an agonising and familiar pain. He barely recognised a familiar pair of crimson boots as they landed aside him. Il Fantasma Jr knelt down, placing a hand on the shoulder of his childhood friend. "Cal, what happened?"

"Vegetanite," Nembo Kid gasped out, his skin turning green in response to exposure to the radioactive material which was the last remains of his father's native planet.

Il Fantasma Jr watched as Satanik's chariot disappeared down the roadway. He ground his teeth silently at what was starting to become an annoying pattern. "I'll get you to the Fortress of Solitude," he said, "your father will be able to help. And then I'd going to track down Satanik on my own."


Ciclone peered at his son as he lay in the hidden fortress in the mountains outside Rome. He had worked at ultra-speed to remove the miniscule radioactive fragments from his son's body, working as quickly as precision would allow. Finally, remains of the exploded planet Vegata were deposited in a lead case, and Ciclone peeled off his lead-lined surgical suit.

"Tomas Jr told me what happened," Ciclone said.

Nembo Kid looked abashed. "I know, I fell for a simple ambush. I got cocky."

"I've fallen prey to Vegetanite traps often enough in my time," Ciclone said with a rueful grin. "Your mother saved me from several of them, which was fair I suppose given her penchant for falling off buildings and out of airplanes back then. Il Fantasma saved me a couple times, too."

Nembo Kid rubbed his face. "I know."

"I know you're very interested in this Bannister woman," Ciclone continued, "and having seen her photos, I understand why. But if you're going to wear that shield," and he pointed to the emblem on Nembo Kid's chest which resembled the one on Ciclone's own uniform, "you're going to have to live up to its responsibilities. You can't let your romance interfere with your investigations, and you can't let your feelings interfere with your analysis of evidence. That's vital in our line of work, Cal, and it can save lives."

"I'm going to go over to Ma- I mean, Miss Bannister's house now. If there is a connection between her and Satanik, I'll find it."

"Do you want me, or maybe your cousin Nembo Star, to go with you?"

"No thanks. This is my mess, it's my responsibility to clean it up."


Nembo Kid arrived later at Marny Bannister's house on Ponzoni Boulevard. His senses were not as heightened as his father's due to his half-human heritage, but they were still far more acute than an ordinary human's. He trod through the grounds carefully, narrowing his eyes. There, he thought … there's a miniscule indentation in the yard, almost undetectable. He knelt down, steel-hard fingers searching, and found the outline of a hatch, which he pried upwards to reveal an underground passageway. Heart aching, he descended into the darkness.

He gasped as he saw Il Fantasma Jr, bound and bleeding, the woman he knew as Marny Bannister standing over him with implements of torture in her hands. Satanik was seated in the corner, watching the events from beneath his skull-faced mask. "Marny?"

The woman turned around. "Calogero!" she cried out. She dropped the steel-tipped flogger and ran over to him, sinking into his arms. "Thank god you're here, Satanik was forcing me to … "

"Forget it, Marny," he said. He picked up the flogger and, before she could react, jogged over to Satanik and swung the device at his head, decapitating the mannequin. "You led my friend here into a trap, and manipulated me, and have killed god knows how many people." Another sweep sliced through Il Fantasma Jr's manacles, freeing his wrists. "I'm taking you in."

"Like hell," she said, drawing a small, hand-held device. "Your parents left me an orphan, and I figured it was right to give them a taste of what it was like to lose everything. There's enough Vegetanite in the bomb underneath this house to destroy you and everyone on the block."

"It doesn’t have to be this way," Nembo Kid said softly. "We can fly away together, start somewhere fresh, just the two of us. I know places where even Ciclone wouldn’t be able to find us."

"It was fun having you around for stud service," Marny admitted, "but if I'm to make my name as the new Satanik, I need to start off with a bang, and I can't think of a better way to do it than taking out the so-called 'Ultra Sons.'" Her thumb pressed down on the control panel, and the crouched down. "What?" she said, the panel she was standing on having failed to open up into its escape tunnel.

"Thank the Fantasma whammer-jammer," Il Fantasma Jr croaked out, utility belt in hand. The woman reached down for her flogger, but a flick from Nembo Kid's fingertips against her skull sent her crumpled to the ground.

"How are you Tomas?" Nembo Kid knelt down next to his friend. "I'm sorry I let things get out of hand."

"Nothing hurts so much as my pride. I can't believe I fell for her trap. I ought to have read more on Stormy Six's case files before trying to capture Satanik." Il Fantasma Jr rubbed his sore wrists.

"It's all over now," Nembo Kid said, relief and sorrow mixed on his features. "I can't believe someone so lovely as that could be so twisted by hate."

"It's easy to underestimate her. Our parents probably underestimated her father, too. We won’t make that mistake again."

NOTES:

This Earth is notable in that Italy sided with the Allies in World War Two, and went on to become both a major superpower and to host the majority of its costumed crimefighters; the characters used to populate this Earth are either renamed versions of American heroes from Italian translations (Superman = Ciclone and Nembo Kid, Batman & Robin = Il Fantasma & L’Aquilotto, Supergirl = Nembo Star), or DC characters with ties to Italy. Wonder Woman with her patriotic uniform is still active in the United States, Aquaman in Atlantis, and the Archer of the Alps in Switzerland. Thank you to Marcello Vaccari and Jean-Marc Lofficier for help with some of the Italian continuity.

Stormy Six: Ciclone, Il Fantasma, The Listener, Mercury, Usil, Zatara

Others (older generation): The Dart, The Legionary, Ciclone of Earth-2 http://www.internationalhero.co.uk/c/ciclone.htm

Others (younger generation): Nembo Kid, Il Fantasma Jr, Alpha Centurion, Nembo Star, Son of Vulcan, Zatanna

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