Dangerous Toys

Issue #1

Green Lantern Annual #1


the Atom Annual #1

Seven Soldiers of Victory #1

Hawk and Dove
Annual #2

the Secret Society of Super-Villains Annual #1

Supergirl Annual #4

Green Arrow Annual #1

Bad Blood Annual #1

Power Girl Annual #2

Superboy Annual #1

Teen Titans Annual #1

the Justice Society of America Annual #1

All-American Comics Annual #1

Birds of Prey Annual #1

Higher Learning Annual #1

Team Titans Annual #1

Ambush Bug Special
(Special being a relative term here)

 

 

FAUXDC PRESENTS:

DANGEROUS TOYS

#1 - "Prototypes"

by Dale Glaser, David Marshall, and Steve Seinberg


METROPOLIS, USA

Through the years, Metropolis lived up to its reputation in the public's eye as the bright, shining city of tomorrow. Its skyscrapers were not merely tall and straight; their gleaming, modern faces seemed to sweep upwards, straining for the heavens above. Its parks and plazas were open, airy, and kept meticulously clean by tireless city crews who weeded every garden, polished every statue, and repainted every freestanding structure down to the humblest information kiosk on a regular schedule. Its streets and avenues were well-marked and maintained, seamless and unblemished, notwithstanding the occasional giant robot footprint which would be promptly filled with macadam and expertly re-graded shortly after Superman dispatched the mechanical colossus. Metropolis was a city full of life, teeming with activity, and overflowing with energy against a backdrop of white marble foundations and electroplated beams and wide windows reflecting the limitless sky. The skyline was so magnificent as to be transcendent, and so transcendent as to seem ethereal, and so ethereal it glowed with an inner light which left no room for shadows of any kind, anywhere.

But Metropolis had its secrets all along, of course. How could it not? A city of millions, even one which appeared to wear its heart of gold on its sleeve, was still a city of millions, millions who required services from power lines to communication channels to sewage systems, all kept underground, out of sight and out of mind. Awe-inspiring architecture, no matter how luminous, was still composed of solidly opaque walls, forming alleys in the narrow spaces between silvery monoliths. The skyline still rested on foundations which sank deep into the earth, forming basements and sub-basements. The sun did, in fact, set on Metropolis once a day.

Jack Nimball was grateful for those unseemly facets of Metropolis which did not square with the city's public image: nighttime shadows, sewers and sub-basements. So long as no one spared a thought for those places they remained forgotten. In such places Nimball could hide. He needed secret shelter, because he was supposed to be dead, and if found he soon would be. All in all, Nimball preferred the dim and cramped world of Metropolis's underbelly, its entrails of utility tunnels and sewer mains, to the pitch black enclosure of the grave.

Life on the run was not easy. Nimball was never a large man. His stature was short and his build slight, and his habits of evasion had worn him down even further. His limbs were stick-thin, and his skin had become so suffused with muck and filth that it was almost indistinguishable from the tattered remains of costume which covered it. The three points of his black jester's coxcomb drooped pitifully on either side of his long, narrow face and down the back of his pencil-neck. He was a sad physical specimen, an even sadder super-villain, but saddest of all as a Toyman. For what was a Toyman without toys?

His name was the reason Winslow Schott tried to kill him. Schott came horrifically close and left Nimball for dead for the right to be the one, true Toyman of Metropolis. Nimball could hardly believe it except for his own experience as Schott's victim, and even then could not understand it, or anything much about Winslow Schott, with his clown-colored suits and bow-ties and his small business empire and his fixation on children. Nimball lived only to play, cared only for toys in and of themselves. Now he only lived, with neither time nor resources to play.

He tried a few times to comfort himself as best he could. The children of Metropolis weren’t immune from accidents such as dropping a miniature figurine down the drain, nor from the passage of time, which caused them to leave teddy bears and fashion dolls and model cars behind, to be thrown out with the trash. Occasionally a discarded and worn-down plaything found its way to Nimball’s longing hands, but those were dross compared to memories of shiny new toys fresh out of their packages, untouched by any hands but his own.

More than once Nimball considered visiting one of Metropolis's toy stores in the dead of night and sampling their wares, but fear always stopped him. If Schott were looking for him, looking to finish the elimination of his rival to the Toyman name, then surely he watched the toy shops. Nimball kept his distance and kept moving, never staying in the same place for long, wandering Metropolis's subterranean labyrinth. It was merely a happy accident, then, when he discovered The Cache.

Nimball climbed a set of cold and slimy iron rungs to the top of a sewer pipe with a diameter that could accommodate a small car, and strained to lift the access hatch embedded above the ladder. He squeezed his frail body through the gap he was able to open, and found himself in a moderately large storage chamber. Compared to the sewer, the room was bright and clean, but it showed some signs of long neglect. The battery-powered light near the ceiling cast unsteady illumination, and most of the packing containers in the room - cardboard boxes and wooden crates - were opened and empty, save for a few bits of packing Styrofoam or shreds of paper straw. In the center of the room, however, was a massive cargo container, fashioned entirely of a weird orange metal.

He tried to ignore it but curiosity got the better of him. Nimball crossed the room and tried the latch on the container's double doors, finding them swinging open easily as he decoupled rods from the frame. The cargo container was full of pre-assembled standing displays, decorated with images of star fields and nebulae, and the standing displays were full of packages the mere sight of which caused Nimball's heart to leap into his throat in an overexcited flutter: clear plastic shells on bright card backings, containing dynamically posed plastic people. Action figures - brand new, unopened, mint-condition action figures, hundreds of them! The shipment's worth would be thousands of dollars, tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands to collectors if rarities were present, but none of those figures meant anything to Jack Nimball. He imagined only one thing: play. He giggled exuberantly as he savored the thought of opening them all and playing with each one.

Nimball pulled an action figure from the nearest display. The articulated, six-inch-tall figure in the package was muscular and bare-chested except for a harness and medallion, with tights and boots and helmet and cloak and bracers in a purple and gold motif. The name on the package proclaimed the action figure to be "Ibis the Invincible", which gave Nimball a moment's pause. He knew of the adventurer who had used that name in the 1940's, but that Ibis wore a blue double-breasted suit, a red turban and a matching cape. Nimball briefly wondered what kind of company would make action figures combining never before seen looks with old names, before the urge to tear open the plastic clamshell became overwhelming. Nimball popped the action figure open and drew out the majestic Ibis, then carefully detached the plastic staff accessory from the backing. He placed the weapon in the action figure's molded hand and then shouted with wordless glee as he ran around the room, holding Ibis overhead to simulate the figure in flight.

He snatched another figure and again saw a vaguely familiar name above an unfamiliar costume; this one was called "Doctor Poison" but instead of the green and red costumed Nazi spy, the action figure depicted a black and silver clad villain, who looked like an androgynous, wicked leather fetishist. Nimball freed the figure from its package, holding Doctor Poison in one hand and Ibis in the other. "You've plagued me too long, Poison!" Nimball cried, shaking the Ibis figure and trying unsuccessfully to lower his squeaky voice to an imposing register. "Za-pow!"


GATEWAY CITY, USA

A cable car trundled uphill, carrying a full load of sight-seeing tourists and a few locals. The double-ended car wobbled slightly along the track, then rocked severely as something landed on its roof. Several riders rushed to the brass rails, craning their necks to see what struck the top of the car. Their attention was soon diverted to a screaming male voice high overhead.

"You've ... plagued me ... too long ... Poison!" Video recorders and cell phone cameras swiveled up to the sky, where an imposing figure in purple and gold hovered, carrying a glowing staff. Ibis aimed the sacred staff at the cable car and unleashed a slashing bolt of mystic energy. Doctor Poison, standing astride the peak of the car's roof, was thrown to the street, as the cable car itself was blasted off the rails. Doctor Poison shrieked, but the villain's fury was all but drowned out by the terrified screams of the cable car's passengers as it skidded violently on its side into oncoming traffic.

Ibis stared blankly at the carnage below, then suddenly dropped his Ibis-stick.


METROPOLIS, USA

Jack Nimball let the Ibis the Invincible and Doctor Poison figures fall carelessly to the floor, the impact dislodging the plastic staff from Ibis's grip. Nimball reached into the cargo container and pulled out another action figure, this one appearing to be a Red Tornado variant called "Red Volcano", similar to the Justice League's android but devoid of blue in its costume and fitted with a rubbery cape that was modeled after molten lava. Nimball tore open the plastic sheath, scanning in passing the text that hailed Red Volcano's geo-kinetic abilities. Nimball skipped over to an empty wooden crate and stood Red Volcano atop it. "The world will tremble when my wrath ERUPTS!" Nimball hooted deliriously. He grabbed a handful of pink Styrofoam peanuts from the crate and threw them in the air, mouthing the sounds of explosions as they fluttered down around Red Volcano.


IPANEMA, BRAZIL

Beatriz DaCosta lay on a chaise lounge on the beach, her skin slowly bronzing under the equatorial sun, except for the very small areas covered by a lemon-yellow string bikini. Her lush, long green hair was piled atop her head, and a pair of mirrored sunglasses shaded her closed eyes. On a small plastic table near her chair rested a daiquiri and a paperback novel, but for the moment Bea was content to leave them there and focus completely on relaxing. A vacation back home in Brazil was exactly what she needed, and there was no reason not to indulge, especially since she and her fellow members of Detroit's super-team, Extreme Justice, decided to go their separate ways. The warm sunshine and coastal breezes were so soothing that her tenure of essentially babysitting Blue Beetle, Booster Gold and the others seemed a distant memory, or possibly a dream.

Her pleasant reverie was suddenly interrupted by a harsh electronic voice. "The world ... will tremble ... when ... my wrath ... erupts!" a robotic announcement echoed across the beach. Bea sat up, turned around, and lifted her sunglasses. Standing high on the roof of La Hermanita Hotel was Red Tornado ... or so Bea thought, until she noticed that the T-symbols on his costume had been replaced with inverted V's, and his cape was a sheet of fiery magma. The red android raised its arms, and a wave of flaming boulders burst out of the ground, a swelling surge that extended outward from the hotel and tore the beach asunder. Sun worshippers wailed as they fled the scene of volcanic chaos.

"Oh you have GOT to be kidding me," Bea groaned, even as she rose to her feet and her entire body burned a brilliant green, transforming her into Fire. She flew into the air, trailing viridian tongues of flame, and soared toward the robot on the hotel roof with fury in her glowing eyes.


METROPOLIS, USA

Jack Nimball cackled in glee. No more would he settle for misfit playthings and lost or discarded childhood treasures to water the parched ground of his imagination. Whether by fate or blind luck he stumbled upon an unexpected cache of bubble-wrapped joy and wasn’t going to waste the opportunity to play. He tore through brightly-colored blister packs in rapid-fire succession like a child on Christmas Day. Discarded remnants of open toys gathered in a growing pile at his feet. He kicked aside the torn cards and empty plastic bubbles and shuffled through the plastic euphoria still stowed away inside the container. He stopped to admire the detail on a character named Danny the Brick. One could almost see the hulking figure move within its package! And the Sasha Bordeaux with the OMAC battle gear was even more magnificent!

“What have we here?” Nimball asked himself as he reached for a figure of a young girl wearing a Batman-influenced costume. Her hair was red like Batgirl’s but her mask was an open-faced, oversized bandit variety in blue. A black swath resembling the letter “M” was emblazoned upon her chest like a bat in flight. Her torso-length cape was blue on the outside like the Caped Crusader’s but bright yellow on the inside, bringing to mind his younger partner Robin. Curiously the remainder of her outfit – a blue denim skirt, black leggings and black canvas tennis shoes – seemed out of place for a superhero costume. Nimball couldn’t imagine the World’s Finest shopping for their gear at the local Goodwill, but he had been underground for some time. Perhaps it was the new rage in superhero chic. And the figure’s name? What kind of moniker was Misfit?

It didn’t matter. Nimball ripped the bubble from the card and removed the figure. He posed her high upon the edge of a tall wooden crate. It was surrounded by crates of various sizes. Their proximity to the room’s lone battery-powered light cast long shadows over the floor. It was easy to imagine the young Misfit on the rooftops of Gotham City as she patrolled the night.

Still something wasn’t right. Misfit looked alone on the precipice! Like an addict on a high Nimball returned to the cache and browsed the carded figures with haste. He discovered another female figure, this one dressed in a black and red harlequin costume. Her face was painted white like the Joker with her features outlined in black. The packaging identified her as Harley Quinn. Perhaps she would do…

No wait! What was this?

Beneath the Harley Quinn a mysterious-looking figure caught Nimball’s eye. The packaging simply read, “Hush”.

“Hush little baby don’t you cry….” Nimball sang as he tore into the packaging. The figure’s head was wrapped in linen like a mummy, but that’s where the comparison ended. He wore a long, brown trench coat and matching pants and shirt underneath. And oh, the glorious accessories! The menacing M1911.45 caliber pistols in each hand left little doubt as to which side of the law Hush favored.

The intimidating figure quickly joined Misfit on the crate. Nimball placed it behind her and inched it closer as she scoured the city.

“Shouldn’t you be in bed little girl?” the Hush figured asked.


GOTHAM CITY, USA

Misfit was confused. One minute she was sharing a laugh with Zinda and Helena at the Birds’ new facility in Platinum Flats and the next she was on a Gotham rooftop overlooking the city. One thing she did know - she didn’t bounce to Gotham on her own.

“Shouldn’t you be in bed little girl?”

Misfit turned to face the intimidating voice. It sounded for the world like Batman but the figure who stepped into the pallid light looked nothing like the Dark Knight, unless he recently traded his bat fetish for a mummy one.

Though the stranger unnerved her, Misfit could think of nothing she wanted more than to fight him. “But mummy dearest, can’t a girl get a drink of water?”

Misfit had no idea what made her say such a stupid thing. The unknown man wasn’t the kind she needed to piss off but for some reason she couldn’t stop herself.

The stranger raised a pistol and pointed it at her. Instinctively Misfit looked past the gun’s dark barrel and watched the gunman’s trigger finger. The second his finger flinched, she teleported away from danger. Score one for Barbara’s intense training regimen!

“What the hell?” her mysterious foe asked.

From the safety of her bounce zone Misfit watched her attacker holster his gun to investigate her sudden disappearance. It was just the move she hoped for. Though the bounce zone felt like she was swimming in maple syrup, she finally reappeared behind him and kicked him behind his right knee. The unexpected blow dropped him to the ground.

Misfit pumped her fist victoriously. Score one for Huntress as well! Unfortunately her confidence was short-lived and unmerited. Though she excelled in hand-to-hand combat training, it ill-prepared her for her opponent’s next move. He broke his fall and swept her legs from under her within milliseconds.

Misfit landed on her back. The hard fall forced the breath from her lungs. Try as she might she couldn’t breathe. It was as if there was no more oxygen left in the world. Remembering she was in a fight she struggled to her hands and knees and was staring down the barrel of not one but two guns.

“I can’t miss you at this range,” the man warned. “Say goodnight… I…I…”

The man seemed confused like his thoughts vanished into some haze.

Misfit knew she was outclassed but couldn’t bounce away. She simply didn’t possess the strength to wade through the peculiar mechanics of the bounce zone again so soon. And what happened to her healing factor? Why was it so slow to kick in after merely having the breath knocked out of her? She’d bounced back faster from bullet wounds. What was happening to her powers?

Her adversary holstered his guns. “Please accept my apologies young lady.” He bent down and placed a hand on her back. “Medically speaking, you’re experiencing a pressure variance in your diaphragm which causes its nerves to spasm. Control your panic and everything will return to normal shortly.”

At last Misfit was able to speak. “Are you going to kill me or play McSpooky?” she asked.

“I don’t know,” the man answered, missing the Grey’s Anatomy reference. “Right now I see no reason for us to fight.”

Misfit couldn’t believe her luck. “So you aren’t going to kill me?”

“Let’s not rush to conclusions,” the man replied. “However, something isn’t right. Why are we fighting? How did we get here? Are you disoriented too?”

Misfit rubbed her aching backside. “Duh, hello! You just slammed me to the ground you big jerk! What do you think?”

“Killing you is still on the table,” the man warned.

“Duly noted,” Misfit replied. “But yes, my head’s been wonky ever since I arrived.”

The man rolled his eyes. “I would never use the term ‘wonky’ but we share this disorientation. I suggest we stick together until we understand what’s happening.”

Was the stranger a complete bozo? “Are you insane? You tried to kill me!”

The man shrugged. “Suit yourself, kid, but you need me much more than I need you.”

“How do you figure?” Misfit asked. “I can teleport anywhere I want.”

“Teleportation, huh?” the stranger asked thoughtfully. “That explains a lot.”

Misfit hoped she hadn’t said too much. She hated to use the term bounce after the spooky man made fun of her for saying wonky. Besides, Barbara often told her “Plastic Man bounces. You teleport,” so she hoped her slip of the tongue was no biggie. “You were about to explain why I need you.”

“I’m from Gotham and that skyline isn’t right,” the man replied.

“Really?” Misfit asked. “I’m from Gotham too!” Once again she hoped she hadn’t said too much but took comfort in their shared citizenry. She inspected the sea of decaying buildings closely. The depressed arches, flying buttresses, and pointed gables seemed right, as did the gargoyles keeping watch over the city. It certainly looked like Gotham until she spotted St. Mark’s Cathedral.

“This skyline is pre-quake,” the man explained. “You may not be old enough to remember it but I do. Many of these buildings were destroyed. Alan Napier Parkway is still standing. It was leveled in the first aftershock and wasn’t rebuilt because the active fault line beneath it caused sinkholes to appear during construction. This may be Gotham, but not our Gotham”

Misfit didn’t trust the oddly-garbed man but being alone in a strange world seemed even less appealing. “I’m Misfit.”

“Hush,” the man replied.

“Excuse me?” Misfit shot back. “You have some nerve!”

“Hush is my name,” the man explained.

Misfit rolled the name around her mind. “Hush - that’s just weird.”

“Says the girl who calls herself Misfit,” Hush countered.

Misfit thought about it for a moment and smiled. “Touche, Mr. Hush!”

Hush buried his face in his palm and mumbled. “I could still kill her. I could still kill her.”


METROPOLIS, USA

The opportunities for exciting play seemed boundless! Here: match up opposites. Fire-villain versus ice-hero! Energy-producer versus energy-absorber! Magic type versus immune-to-magic type!

Jack Nimball’s head felt ready to spin off its moorings, so giddy was he with his newfound treasures.

And what about squaring off similar types against each other!

“My battle-staff is neater than yours: it has a dragon-head at the top, and yours is just a boring old stick! And my friend here has a bigger gun than your friend does!”

“Ah-ha, but my staff glows, and shoots big, bright blasts of energy, and my friend has two guns to your friend’s one! Have at thee, ha ha ha-ha!”

Twitchy, elongated shadows danced on the walls of the chamber as Jack Nimball orchestrated his fevered bouts of action figure-combat, his delighted cackling setting the teeth of the local rats on edge...


BLUE VALLEY, NEBRASKA, USA

“...and my friend has...two guns to...your friend’s one! Have at...thee...?”

Kate Spencer – the hard-hitting crime-stopper know as the Manhunter – found herself laughing uncertainly, disoriented, and with no clear idea where she was, how she’d come to be there, why she was spouting bad dialogue, or who the people arrayed nearby might be.

The last thing she recalled was hanging up the phone after saying good-night to her son, Ramsey, after telephonically tucking him in. This was a ritual she insisted on whenever Ramsey stayed at his father’s house (and truth be told, Ramsey was still young enough that he enjoyed these exchanges as much as Kate did...although she dreaded the time when he’d inevitably start pulling away from such “apron string-y” dynamics, as her ex-husband, Peter, referred to them). She’d been at her home in Los Angeles then, not far from bed herself, with the bathrobe and slippers on to prove it.

Now, suddenly here she was – well, “here” being no more specific to her than somewhere outdoors, still nighttime, with a few houses nearby, looking overall like a region somewhere between suburban and semi-rural, and which definitely wasn’t her home in Los Angeles – and she was all decked out in her Manhunter battle-gear: her red combat suit on, her spiked gauntlets donned, and her battle-staff outthrust and glowing, ready to spit concussive blasts with extreme prejudice. She was standing off some tall woman with a staff of her own: the woman’s was gold to Kate’s silver one, and it was capped with a dragon’s head. The woman also wore green and red body armor, and her dark brown hair fell in a long, heavy-looking, braided ponytail to her waist in the back, while her long bangs up front were as white as bleached snow.

There were also two other people nearby, but Kate didn’t feel she could spare them much of a look at the moment, as she had no intention of being force-fed that big gold dragon’s head for supper while distracted. All she could tell was that the two other strangers were oriented toward each other in a stand-off of their own, and they seemed to be aiming firearms at each other, based on the rough silhouettes and postures of same that Kate could make out in the periphery of her vision. Also, there was a deep-red smoke or fog seeping across the vicinity, which probably wasn’t a good thing...

Kate’s disorientation continued, pulsing in waves, and the only blessing she could find in that was that her staff-wielding opponent – who identified herself as “Shiv” – and the two gunslingers nearby seemed to share in the vertigo, confusion, and mid-level nausea. Kate and Shiv waltzed a bit, although Kate could tell that while Shiv was a fairly seasoned warrior-type, her heart wasn’t really in this particular tussle.

Sure enough, when those strange red mists rose even higher and thicker, and several successive bursts of gunfire erupted from the two strangers adjacent to Kate’s own little combat zone, Shiv used the distractions to issue forth a huge belch of flame from the dragon’s head on her staff, and she then disappeared into the darkness surrounding them all while Kate was still seeing spots from the flash.

Kate wanted to follow, but she stopped when a bullet scored the earth near her foot.

She turned to see one of the gunfighters advancing on her, an imposing-looking African-American woman with her hair tied back into a generous thatch of long, thin braids that fell to her shoulders. She had an antique pistol clenched firmly in each red-gloved hand, both of them aimed unerringly at Kate’s heart, despite the fact that their owner wore a blood-red bandage tied over her eyes – this probably should have impaired her vision at least the littlest bit, yet it didn’t seem to be doing so at all. The final participant in this baffling scenario seemed to have taken a page from Shiv’s playbook, and departed with similar haste.

“Your playmate took a powder, too, didn’t he? Or did you put him down?” Kate still held onto her glowing battle-staff, but was careful not to move, not to twitch.

“He bolted. I can always chase him down later. First, I want answers.”

“Join the club, lady. Last thing I knew, I was at home, off-duty, and about to go to bed - in Los Angeles, by the way! I don’t know where the hell we are, who you are, who those people were, or why we’re all here. I was hoping one of you could tell me.”

“I heard that woman call you the Manhunter.”

“Yeah, that’s right.”

“I’ve heard of you. You track down meta-criminals.”

Kate noticed the careful phrasing: not ‘You’re a hero.’

“Yeah. I do. I’ll be adding that Shiv character to my hunting list, too, unless you’re planning to end my career here and now.” Kate harbored no illusions about outdrawing the gunslinger in front of her, who was already in firing position – if this woman wanted her dead, Kate had probably already wished Ramsey their last good-night.

“I’m not sure. I don’t think so, though. Not just yet.”

“I notice you’re still holding me at gunpoint, though.”

“Set your weapon down – slowly.”

Kate complied, not liking it much, but liking it better than being ventilated at close range. “Who was your opposite number there, by the way?”

“I believe that was the sniper-for-hire known as the Black Spider. He wore a spider motif, anyway, and carried a rifle just like the Black Spider is said to. Again, we can worry about him later. I shot his rifle to pieces before he scampered, so he’s probably the least of our problems at the moment.”

“I can’t help but notice the ‘we’ and the ‘our’ there. Maybe you can tell me who you are, what you want with me, and anything else about our situation here that you might care to share?”

“I’m called the Crimson Avenger. Like you, I hunt down criminals, and like you, I’m not above using lethal force while doing it. I have no idea what roles the Spider and Shiv might play in all this, but I suspect they’re no more responsible for our current situation than you or I. I don’t know where we are or how we got here, but I think we had better find out. Because I don’t think we’re at home anymore.”

“Yeah, no kidding. I just said I’m from Los Angeles, and this doesn’t look anything like L.A. This looks more like some yokel town in Middle America, actually.”

“I don’t mean that. I mean we’re not at home anymore. I don’t...I don’t think this is our world.”

“Say what?”

“I’m a teleporter. I have some experience with stepping in and out of our home plane. It has a certain...taste to it, a certain texture. It registers to me in a certain way. And this doesn’t feel right.”

“So...this is your basic ‘I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore’ scenario?”

“Worse. I don’t even think Kansas is in Kansas anymore here. And I think that...well, without going into too much detail about my abilities...I think this is all a part of something very bad. Much worse than just us maybe wanting to get back home. I think I might need your help, actually. It may take me a little while to sort some things out, but...yes. I think I could possibly use your help.”

Kate finally realized that the red mist was somehow something that was being generated by this spooky woman. The Crimson Avenger wore a long trench-coat, and the mist seemed to swirl up around her from it without abating. Now that Kate had time to notice, she saw that the woman’s white half-shirt also hosted what looked to be a fresh, wet, very large bloodstain in the center of her chest.

“Hey, did that Spider guy tag you?” She gestured at the bloodstain.

“What?” The Avenger dipped her head slightly as if to look toward the wound. “Oh, that. No, that’s always there. Always bleeding. Again: we have much bigger problems. Will you help me?”

“Well...how about if you take your guns off me and then ask me again. You know, like regular people.”

The Avenger seemed to have to exert herself to do it, but she at last lowered her guns.

“Great,” Kate allowed. “That’s a start, alright...”


KACKAR MOUNTAIN, TURKEY

“Greetings,” said Zauriel. “Your arrival was expected.”

“Then you know why I’m here,” replied the Phantom Stranger.

Zauriel shrugged, a gesture which encompassed the idyllic scenery around them on the peak overlooking the Black Sea, the glacier-carved grassy valley dotted with small groves of conifers. “I only assume that you are here for the same reason I am,” the warrior of heaven stated. With his alabaster skin, huge feathery wings and golden armor, there could be no doubt that Zauriel was a true angel. Some had whispered through the years that the Phantom Stranger was also an angel, though his midnight-blue cape and matching fedora, which kept his face perpetually shadowed, contradicted that notion, or at least hid it well. Zauriel went on, “Evil forces are at play here on Earth, causing a grave disturbance in the fabric of reality. I sensed as much even in my deep-space exile, and I returned as swiftly as I could. Once I made planetfall I was drawn here … whatever this place may be.”

“Once this was the site of the hidden city of the Homo Magi,” the Stranger explained. “But long ago the Medulla Jewel shifted that civilization to another dimension. You must sense the residual mystical harmonics permeating this mountain vale, which are agitated by the disturbance you seek.”

“The disturbance you seek, as well,” Zauriel pointed out, but the Phantom Stranger gave no acknowledgement. Undeterred, Zauriel pressed on, “Even though I do not fully understand what is causing the disturbance, I have alerted both the Justice League and the Justice Society to be watchful and ready.”

The Phantom Stranger appeared grim as ever. “They will fail.”

“Do not underestimate my colleagues when the universe is at stake,” Zauriel countered.

As if in answer, the Stranger held open the folds of his cape. An unbelievable scene unfolded in the mists within its shadowy folds. The setting was outside a warehouse near the Star City docks in the wee hours of the morning. Green Arrow, Black Canary, and Speedy faced off against the gang responsible for introducing Red K to the archer’s home city. The designer drug was named for the variety of kryptonite known to have adverse affects on Superman. Likewise, Red K users rolled the dice with their sanity. The lucky ones found unbridled bliss in the euphoria of drug-induced stupor. The less fortunate spent the rest of their days locked away in special care facilities and fed a maddening drip at a time.

Green Arrow and his young sidekick retrieved explosive arrows from their quivers and strung their bows in perfect synchronization. Two shafts of cold steel, one a gleaming emerald and the other a dull crimson, whistled through the warm, summer air and slammed their twin payloads into the stylized graffiti sprawled across the warehouse’s eastern wall.

The resulting explosion rocked the pier and collapsed at least a third of the wall.

“My turn,” Black Canary huffed as she stepped in front of the archers. “We don’t have all night.”

“All night?” Green Arrow shot back. “A few more arrows and the whole building will…”

The Emerald Archer’s voice was drowned out by Black Canary’s ear-splitting sonic cry. The metal frame building proved no match for the onslaught of sound. When the cacophony ended, the building lay twisted as if an F5 tornado tore through it.

For a brief moment the docks were so quiet you could hear the proverbial pin drop.

Speedy finally broke the silence. “Avon calling!”

Green Arrow wasn’t as impressed. “So much for evidence!”

“You’re welcome!” Canary shot back. “Since when do you care about evidence? Were you really going to drag these thugs to jail?”

“Maybe,” Green Arrow protested weakly.

“We both know that’s a lie,” Canary countered. “Your plan was to do what you always do – charge in and beat the crap out of the perps and ask questions later! All I did was save you the …”

Green Arrow held up a hand to interrupt Canary. “Where’s Speedy?”

“She’s…” Canary looked around. “I don’t know. She was here only seconds ago.”

The Emerald Archer and his wife searched the docks in vain for his young sidekick. After a few minutes they were so desperate they began to call her name.

“Mia! Where are you?” Green Arrow yelled.

“This is insane,” said Black Canary. “She couldn’t have just disappeared!”

“I’d be a rich man if I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard that,” Green Arrow replied.

“You are a rich man,” Black Canary answered.

“Just sayin’, Green Arrow replied.

The scene within the shadows of the Phantom Stranger’s cape swirled into vaporous nothingness as he closed his cape around him. “On and on it continues with heroes and villains alike. Each one is a manifestation of the disturbance which beckoned you to return to Earth.”

“I do not recognize the girl,” said Zauriel.

“Those events transpired on another dimension of existence,” the Stranger explained. “The Green Arrow and Black Canary were not the ones you know either.”

“Where is the girl now?” Zauriel asked.

“On this earth,” the Phantom Stranger answered. “Each time one of these individuals appears here it feeds a great power.”

“To what end?” Zauriel questioned.

The Phantom Stranger shook his head. “I do not know but it is mystical in nature.”

“So this problem plagues the multiverse?” Zauriel asked.

The Phantom Stranger nodded. “Indeed it does, but it is this earth that will suffer most if you fail to act.”

Zauriel took up his Flaming Sword “Then speak, Stranger. Tell me what I must do.”

The Stranger disappeared into the folds of his cape. “Heed these instructions carefully, Angel of the Host. You must assemble the following individuals to your side. Failure to do so means certain death for all on this plane.”


METROPOLIS, USA

Jack Nimball stood ankle-deep in action figures, and he was not yet done opening packages. Tiny red scrapes on his knuckles and the pads of his fingers stood out from the sewer muck coloration of the rest of his skin, but Nimball’s unflagging enthusiasm showed no signs of acknowledging any physical pain or fatigue. He popped open his latest selection, a sinewy figure in classical Greek trappings including an intimidating bronze helmet, named on the package as Warkiller.

As the action figure emerged in the Toyman’s hand, Nimball was unaware of the ripples generated by the figurine. Palpitations fundamentally beyond human senses surged through the fabric of reality, a sympathetic vibration along a single strand of the universe’s very essence, imperceptible and yet ominously significant. Nimball remained blissfully ignorant of the phenomenon, lacking the ability to observe it in any way.

But the fretting of the weave of existence did not go entirely unobserved. Eyes which were possessed of deeper kinds of sight made note of the cosmic oscillations racing away from the likeness of the Gargarean as the Toyman fitted plastic spear to plastic fist. Those same eyes had followed the progress and echoes of every racing wave propagated from every action figure and terminating beyond possibility itself. And now, those same eyes shone with malevolent satisfaction while regarding Jack Nimball, for unwitting as he may be he served well in the task he had been given. All boded well …

TO BE CONTINUED!

 

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