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
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
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
Ibis stared blankly at the carnage below, then suddenly dropped
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.
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.
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
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…
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
“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
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
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
“Teleportation, huh?” the stranger asked thoughtfully. “That explains
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 buried his face in his palm and mumbled. “I could still kill
her. I could still kill her.”
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
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
“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
“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.”
“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
“So...this is your basic ‘I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore’
“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,”
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
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
“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.”
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
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
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!