Characters in this story are property of Archie Comics Publications. No money is being made from this story, no infringement is intended.
“Thomas and Kimberly, I now pronounce you man and wife.”
The words seemed to hang in the air for a very long time, subjectively. Thomas Troy and Kim Brand looked at each other across the span of a very few inches and wondered if this was really true. If, after all this time together and apart, the sight of him in a wedding tux and her in a white gown was only a dream from which the two of them might wake, or a daydream passed in a dull moment at a law office or on a movie set.
The spell was broken, or at least altered, when he said, “You may kiss the bride.” Seems so sexist, Kim thought, despite herself. Why doesn’t he tell me I can kiss the groom? Oh, well...
At any rate, she felt the touch of Tom Troy’s lips on hers a second later, and was very glad to know that it wasn’t a dream.
When the two of them broke the kiss, they separated just far enough, holding each other’s hands, and looked into each other’s eyes again. Both knew what the other was thinking: is it, after all, only illusion? We’ve waited so long...
They bent to kiss each other again, not even conscious of the many people in the church about them, nor the minister smiling as they went for the second go-round. But the prelate saw them hesitate, just once, as their fingers caressed each other’s hands. He assumed it was because they had touched their wedding rings for the first time, and were startled by the unfamiliarity of them.
He was wrong.
Tom and Kim had touched the other kind of ring they always wore, and it brought home to them the thing they had most in common, but could not reveal to the vast majority of people in the crowd. The ones who really mattered, though, knew the import of the rings.
They were marked with the symbol of a fly.
The reception came off without interruption from villains, unless one counted the overpriced caterers as such. Thomas Troy was one of the most famed lawyers in town, though he’d been disbarred for a short time a year back. Kim Brand, an actress who started in TV, moved on to sci-fi and horror flicks, and was now working her way into quality roles, was high enough on the social blip scale for an Entertainment Tonight crew to film her throwing her garter. Neither the press, nor friends, nor relatives, though, was allowed into the room where the Troys had a private reception with less than a dozen others.
Kip Burland was there, looking ill-at-ease in a tux. So was John Dickering, who had recently regrown his mustache; Kim thought he still looked dashing, remembered how he had briefly tried to romance her, once upon a time, and steered her thoughts back to Thomas. Bill Higgins, his father Joe, and family friend Lance Strong sat together and compared notes. Prof. John Raymond fiddled with a piece of cake and chatted with Ralph Hardy, a zoologist who wore the only white tux in the bunch. Dickering’s brother Bob sat with his wife Thelma and looked deep in thought, only tending to the conversation about him perfunctorily. John Sterling smiled, drank hot tea with lemon, and had been among the first of the group to congratulate Tom and Kim.
Outside of Thel Dickering, there were no other women besides Kim in the room. That was understandable.
In other identities, most of those present were members of the Mighty Crusaders.
The Crusaders were a team of super-heroes banded together, ironically enough, by one of their foes, the Spider, as part of a failed plan against Thomas. Several of them had met one another before the team was formed. Thus, they had been well-prepared to work together in a joint effort, even though it took a long time before they had to admit that the best name for the team, the Mighty Crusaders, was the one the Spider had chosen.
“So,” said Ralph, standing before the Troys, “what the hey does Turan have to say about all this? Or have you heard from him lately?”
“Oh, he showed up about a week ago,” said Kim. “You know how he always does. Popped in out of a dimension warp.”
Tom Troy, still holding her slender hand, added, “He said our union was, quote, blessed, unquote, and wished us many strong larva. Those were the words he used.” Kim was turning red, averting her face, and cracking up. “Just can’t get a better imprimatur than that, these days.”
“Oh, Lord, don’t tell that story for a long time, Tom,” gasped Kim. “I just can’t, I just...” She held onto his arm and kept laughing, burying her forehead in his shoulder.
“Jeez, Kim, I’m glad I didn’t tell it before the wedding.”
“Hey, it’ll be better than what’ll happen to me if I get Jill to say yes,” grinned Ralph. “Can you imagine her with a proud litter of cubs?”
Kim threw back her head and howled, sloshing her drink on Tom’s tux. Tom grabbed the hanky out of his jacket and tried to swab it down, then laughed alongside her.
John Dickering shook his head. After all this time, both of them being afraid to marry, and all it took was a short separation to convince them that they really only wanted each other. And to think that he’d once come back to this planet to try and make Kim his wife.
Of course, that was after he’d seen his first wife, an alien, killed by a robot and come back to find out his brother, Bob, had married his old girlfriend Thelma. That was because Bob had thought John was dead, and he would have been, had he not been kidnapped and patched up by his wife’s alien race.
For all of those in this room, life was complicated.
John sat down beside his brother and sister-in-law. “So what’s boiling, Bob? Besides the usual?”
Bob Dickering looked at him. “Is there ever any ‘usual’ for us, John?”
The elder Dickering shook his head. “Not since the Forties, I don’t think. But you’re looking like you had a Big Think or two to unburden yourself of. So what is it?”
Thelma said, “Bob’s been keeping it a secret from even me, John. Maybe you can help.”
Bob looked at his brother, sharply. “It ought to be obvious. Don’t you remember, John? Don’t you remember when I turned into a bad guy?”
Thel’s hand tensed on Bob’s arm. John simply nodded. “Sure, I remember it. None of us could understand why you did it. Especially why you turned on me, your own brother, and tried to kill me. Then you came out of it, and, with our recommendation, you got put on probation and turned into a super-hero again. Did quite well with it, too.” John looked closely at Bob. “You’re trying to figure it out again, aren’t you?”
“Yeah.” Bob sighed. “And I still can’t. It was like...like I didn’t even recognize you, almost. Of course, you had that NBC Peacock hat on, and a new mustache–“
“Hey, let’s not insult costumes here!” grinned John, drawing back his hand as if to smack him.
“–but I recognized you. At least, part of me did. But it was like...when I...when I met the Wizard, it was as though the sane part of me was buried under a burlap bag. Somehow, he got to the monster side of me, John. He made me your enemy, hell, the enemy of all the Crusaders, for about a year there.”
“And then you got better,” said Thelma. She was conscious of the fact that all the party seemed to be listening in on their conversation, now.
Tom Troy, having mopped up most of the wine, put in, “Yeah, you were the Wizard’s partner for a long time. Then you went sane, and he dropped out. I could never figure that, Bob. None of us could.”
“None of that really makes sense,” said Joe Higgins, authoritatively. “I worked with the Wizard back in the Forties. He was a fine, upstanding American. We collaborated on several cases, and our boys, Dusty and Roy, were a regular team. Then this guy who calls himself the Wizard turns up–I’ll take your word for it, I was still in iron then–and doesn’t even look like the guy I knew, and he turns into a super-villain.” Joe considered the Michelob in his hand, then looked up. “Or maybe he always was.”
Kim Brand said, “You know, you’ve got a point, Joe. Neither Tom nor I were around to work with the Wizard in the Big One, like you. But it never made sense that a guy as heroic as the old Wizard–who came from a whole line of American Wizards, or so I’ve heard–-would go bad simply because he saw us bring in a lot of recovered loot.”
Joe, Bill’s son, put his hands behind his head. “But you remember what happened when it looked like Wiz and Bob, here, were going to blitz all of us, and all those Crusader wannabes, at the same time. Two of the other magic guys made a time-warp and brought the old Wizard and Roy to the present. And the old Wiz, the one who was trying to kill us, hid his face in his hands and said he couldn’t bear to look into his own eyes.”
“Anybody can say those things, Bill,” said Kip Burland. “It doesn’t mean he really was the old Wizard. He could have been trying to throw us off. And, come to think of it, he did.”
Thelma said, “Wizards, spells...Bob, it doesn’t take an Einstein to know what must have come over you. That guy put you under some kind of spell. He made you into a criminal.”
“That’s it,” said Bob. “That has to be it. Strange that it took us this long to figure it out.”
“Not if he had us under some kind of spell as well,” said Tom. “But this all leads up to another obvious question: Why?”
“No answer,” said John Dickering. “All we know is that, after one last fight with Bill here, the Wiz dropped out of sight and hasn’t been seen since.”
Lancelot Strong spoke. “I wasn’t involved in the Crusaders up until recently. I never met either of the Wizards, if we’re talking two, and not one, here.”
Ralph Hardy nodded. “I only met him that one time, but from what I’ve heard tonight, it seems a safer hypothesis that we’re talking about two Wizards. The original, and an impostor.”
“Who just happens to have as much magical power as the original,” Kip pointed out.
Lance continued, “But if there was any spell-casting laid over you, I’d have missed it. So would Joe, here, since he was still in a metallic state at the time. I will observe a few facts, though. One: you only mentioned him in passing, when I was a member of the group. Two: you never seem to have been interested in investigating him, to find out where he’d gone.”
“Well, lots of times we don’t bother with that,” admitted Bill Higgins. “We whack ‘em when they show up, but if they drop out of sight, they’re out of mind.”
“So if the Wizard has no interest in you finding him, you don’t find him,” Lance pointed out. “And you haven’t found him for, what?”
Slowly, Thomas Troy said, “About ten years. At least.”
After a pause, Lance said, “And what’s he been doing in that time?”
Bob Dickering spoke, in a tone full of barely repressed anger. “We don’t know. But if we’re able to ask the questions at this time...I think we’d better find out.”
Kim Brand looked at them, then back at Tom, apprehensively. The lawyer said, “We wish you the best of luck. And if you need us, call.”
“Understood, Tom,” said John Dickering, putting a hand on his shoulder. “But the both of you have just gotten married. We’ll try to tackle this without the Fly and Fly Girl.”
Thomas Troy had been a boy the first time he became a super-hero. Considering everything that had happened to him beforehand, it was some kind of compensation.
To begin with, Thomas was an orphan. He had never known his parents, knew of no living relatives. All that he had been able to turn up for certain about his origins was that somebody found an abandoned baby crying in a deserted car one night, and they got him to the hospital in time to care for him and save his life. From there he went to an orphanage, where he stayed for the next seven years.
Tommy Troy (for such was the name his guardians had given him) knew no other environiment but that of orphaned boys and girls and their teachers and administration staff at the Westwood Orphanage For Boys. Thankfully, Tommy had a top-notch brain, and pulled down good grades in school. But how could he miss parents, when he never knew what a parent was? Still, he had heard what mothers and fathers were like from the kids who remembered theirs. After hearing a few tales of their lives, he decided he was just as lief good without them.
But Aaron Creacher was a poor substitute for anyone’s parent. He skimped on food for the kids to keep his gambling habit nourished. When he lost at Marco McCoy’s tables, he had a habit of beating the nearest boy for any infraction he could think of. As the months went on, the beatings became more frequent.
A board inspection would, in the future, result in Aaron Creacher’s dismissal from office and his being jailed on several counts of child abuse, misappropriation of funds, and the like. But that was still to come the night Tommy Troy heard Billy, a kid in the next bed, crying.
Tommy had asked Billy why he was crying. Billy angrily denied that he was crying; only babies cry, he said. But he did admit that he was hungry, very hungry.
The others were up by then, and somebody else put in that Mr. Creacher had beaten Billy for not scrubbing the hallway fast enough. They all admitted to hunger. Even Tommy, who had thus far evaded Creacher’s cane. The boys looked around, then looked at Tommy, who seemed to be the only one who they thought might have a plan
“Mister Creacher is in charge of the orphanage,” Tommy said, slowly. “And you know how he is. He wouldn’t listen.”
Then he stood a little taller, and said, “But at least we can try.”
They told him not to do it, that they were supposed to be asleep, that he would only get punished himself for it. “I’ve missed all the beatings so far,” Tommy allowed. “Maybe it’s time for me to see what they’re like.”
So he got dressed and, with a host of boys watching, treaded out the door and down the hall to Mr. Creacher’s office.
The door was closed, but not locked. Tommy heard three voices beyond it, saw three shadows on the opaqued glass of the door. One voice was Aaron Creacher’s. It was tinged with fear and supplication. “I can’t steal anymore out of the orphanage funds,” it said. “The kids are half-starved now.”
The next voice was a far harsher one, a voice Tommy had never heard before: “Who cares? Let ‘em starve! I run a gambling house, not a charity bazaar.”
Then he heard the cracking sound of fist hitting flesh, and the groans and screams of a man in pain. Despite himself, Tommy threw open the door.
A man whom he would later learn to be Marco McCoy was punching Aaron Creacher in the face. He had already bloodied Creacher’s nose and mouth. The superintendent was on his knees, and McCoy, who towered half a foot taller than his prey, was smiling. The other plug-ugly, McCoy’s man Blaster, was also nursing a grin...until he saw the boy at the door.
Both hoods chased Tommy, caught him, drew the attention of the other orphans, and had to fight them all off to take him. The boys were locked away in their dorm by force. Tommy Troy was manhandled, fearful but defiant, into Creacher’s office again. He knew that the next few minutes would decide his fate. They would most likely determine whether he lived or died.
Creacher persuaded McCoy and Blaster not to harm the youth. After all, there would be an investigation if he did that. No, he’d have to be gotten rid of in a different way. Luckily enough, there was just such a way available.
Thomas Troy was hired out as a worker (read: slave) to what Capital City thought of as their own “queer couple”, in the old, arcane sense of the word, one Ben and Abigail Marsh. The two lived in a house which was visited by few people other than the mailman and the meter reader, and they lived on an inheritance of some vague kind. There had been accusations of witchcraft in the town which became Capital City some centuries before, and several accused witches had been hanged.
Both Ben and Abigail Marsh were reputedly descendants of two of those witches.
Aaron Creacher passed over the caretaking of Thomas Troy to the Marshes for a few bucks a week and the promise that he’d work like Adam’s off-ox, if they saw to it he didn’t talk to other people. They agreed to that. Tommy didn’t have much to say in the matter. He took to his chores and prayed on his knees for the boys left in the orphanage. But after Ben Marsh whacked him upside the head when he caught him on his knees, Tommy made sure he prayed in secret.
Ben Marsh had an upstairs room that was off-limits and always locked. Well, almost always. One night Abigail was out, Ben was sleeping off some absinthe, and Tommy, passing by with a rolled-up rug in hand, looked upstairs...
...and saw the door was partially open.
Curiosity won over prudence, but Tommy made sure he got the rug into the right room and spread it down neatly before he snuck upstairs.
The room was the den of a sorceror.
There was a circle with strange signs painted about it, in the middle of the floor. There were pentagrams and diagrams and ancient tomes and things Tommy didn’t understand but wasn’t sure he really wanted to look at. There was a crystal ball that looked as though it was the granddaddy of all those used by carnival fortune tellers, but Tommy had a feeling that, if he was brave enough to lay hands on the thing, it would really work.
There were also flies, buzzing around the table which bore a locked book, a hoary candle, and a book of matches. On impulse–and Tommy could never say from where that impulse had come–he scratched one of the matches into blazing, and lit the candle, which gave off an odd smell.
The smell was odd enough to make Tommy’s head waver. At one point, he caught sight of a spiderweb between the wall and the table, in which were caught several flies. He couldn’t have told you why, but he reached out, tore the spiderweb loose, and, for some reason, was glad.
At that point, something on the floor caught his sight.
It was a golden ring. He picked it up, examined it, and found the likeness of an insect carved on its surface. A bee?
No, he decided. More like–a fly.
There was nothing left to do but try it on.
Thankfully, for the first few seconds, nothing happened. Tommy decided that, having seen all he wanted to see (and more besides), the time had come to take off the ring, put out the candle, leave the room, and hope that Ben Marsh wasn’t already stumbling around the house downstairs.
That was the last normal moment of Tommy Troy’s life.
A beam of light stabbed out from the fly-surface of the ring and threw an image on the wall. Tommy Troy’s jaw dropped. Could the thing be some kind of miniature projector? With a slide of a science-fiction movie world behind it, an advanced city of flying cars and oddly-shaped buildings and a man in...
...a man in a green costume and a red hooded cape and long, spindly arms and legs and a helmet with a riser on it and large goggles that made his eyes look insectoid, almost, no, definitely...
...and the man stepped through the flat circle of light and into the three-dimensional world, and smiled at Tommy Troy.
“Fear not, young lad of Earth,” said the stranger. “I mean you no harm.”
The only thing that kept Tommy from bolting from the room like a track star off the starting blocks was his inability to make his legs do a single damned thing.
“I am Turan, emissary of the Fly People,” said the man, and Tommy wasn’t sure if he heard the voice through his ears or his brain. “Our world exists on a dimensional plane outside your own.”
“Uh...” said Tommy, approximately.
Turan began to tell his young host of his race’s history, how they had once been magicians of a sort, able to do the most amazing things by focusing their will. But, he lamented, there were evil men among his people, even as there were on Earth. (Tommy seconded the last part of that opinion, at least.) There had been a war of wizards, good versus evil magic, and in the end, a conflagration that touched every one of Turan’s race. Many died. Many escaped to the dimension Turan now called home.
Many were transformed into another form of life, an insect form.
They became flies.
This, Tommy decided, was absurd. Surely something in the candle had addled his mind, or perhaps he’d gone to sleep without knowing it and was dreaming something out of an afternoon’s screening at the Bijou. But Turan was still going on, proclaiming that the misfortune his people had suffered had turned them into cosmic busybodies, setting them against evildoing on their own and other worlds. One of the artifacts they had left behind them were rings, like the one Tommy Troy had found. Until one who was suitable came upon them, the rings would not be activated.
And Turan was saying that Tommy had been found suitable.
To him would be given all the powers of the insect kingdom...the great, proportionate strength of the ant...winged flight, the ability to walk up the side of a building or hang upside-down by his feet from a room’s ceiling...the light- and heat-radiating power of the firefly...sight or perception in all directions...that, and many more powers besides.
“All these powers will be yours, as long as you are deserving,” said Turan. “You have only to rub the magic ring and you will be projected into our dimension. You will assume the identity of the Fly!”
“I–I rub the ring?” Tommy had stammered.
“Even so,” said Turan.
There was nothing left to do, then, but rub it.
And, with that, another person stood in Tommy Troy’s place, with Tommy Troy’s mind, but little else in common.
The new person was an older. A most powerful older. One who wore a strange costume of dark green, skin-tight shirt and pants, yellow hood with goggles, yellow gloves, trunks, boots, and belt, at the side of which a strange gun hung which was not designed for firing bullets. From his shoulders sprang two translucent but strangely powerful wings.
“I’m bigger,” said Tommy, who knew nothing else to say at the moment. “Stronger...another person.”
“Yes,” said Turan. “The Fly. Yeoman in the service of justice.”
With that, the wizard from the Fly World vanished.
The Fly stood there, feeling the strangeness and yet comfort in his new body, knowing, and not knowing how he knew, just what he could do, and just how to do it.
Knowing, moreover, the purpose to which he must put his new powers.
It would first be visited on the heads of those whom he knew deserving of it.
Opening a window, and not caring a whit whether Ben Marsh was awake or not, the Fly leaped into the open air, and flew.
He flew to the orphanage, entered covertly, found the location of Marco McCoy and his gang, went there, and faced a trio of hardened, armed men.
The threesome didn’t stand a chance.
When the police came, in response to an anonymous call, they found the battered and bruised McCoy and his two gunsels bound together by a strange, steely strand, almost a silken rope. Evidence of McCoy’s crimes was in clear sight, scattered on a desk. They finally got McCoy in condition to answer questions, and when they asked him who had done the number on him, he managed to mumble, “The Fly. He called himself the Fly.”
That was how it all began.
Zambini the Miracle Man knew, vaguely, what was coming. In his heyday, during World War II, he’d fought many practitioners of the Craft, agents of the Axis or just plain followers of the left-hand path. He’d been lucky, skillful, and strong enough to win his battles.
But that was years before.
Now, he found himself hanging head downward, above a symbol which no one under Zambini’s level of tutelage could understand. He knew what it signified. It didn’t reassure him.
He had met, once before, the one who had trapped him today. At the outset of their meeting this time, his foe had paralyzed his larynx with a spell Zambini had not yet encountered. Unable to utter a single magical syllable, the wizard-warrior was subdued easily.
Now the man who had bound him was coming nearer, with two objects in his hand. One was an athame, the other was a silver cup. The cup had strange workings on its surface.
The man had a long, white beard and was dressed in a costume which, though odd, was familiar enough to Zambini. He smiled with his mouth, not with his eyes, and said, “Nothing personal, really. It’s just something that has to be done.”
Then he did something to Zambini’s throat with one of the things he carried and caught what came out of it with the other. Following that, he drank from the cup. He went back for seconds, and thirds.
The last thing Zambini saw, with his failing vision, was part of his internal redness spilling into the cup.
That which missed the cup struck the symbol beneath him and sent up individual, terrible steams and hissings.
And the last thing he heard was the Wizard’s laugh.
Ralph Hardy stood at the balcony of his high-rise apartment and talked to the animals.
“Aren’t you done yet?” asked Jill.
“Barely begun,” said Ralph, softly, both his eyes closed.
It was a sight Jill, his secretary and lover, had almost gotten used to in the years that she’d known him. In a way, she envied him. After all, she loved animals almost as much as he did (well, not counting snakes, which she’d never gotten used to, poisonous or not). But he was the one who could communicate with them telepathically.
He could still draw on that much of his power without changing physically into the Jaguar.
After another few seconds, she said, “What are they saying, Ralph?”
The mustached, black-haired man sighed and opened his eyes. “So much, Jill. So very, very much.”
“Nuts,” she grumped.
“There’s so much I need to do for them, Jill,” he said, turning to face her. “So many of them being poisoned, stalked, shot, driven from their homes...or just needing comfort. They give me so much, and I can’t give enough back.”
“Speaking of needing comfort, Ralph.”
“I’m sorry, Jill. I know I’ve been neglectful, lately.”
She stepped outside in her short dress and bare feet and wrapped her arms about him. “It’s not like I don’t know who you are, Ralph. But you’ve got to put up some barriers, you know. You’re the Jaguar, not Dr. Doolittle.”
“Yes,” he said. “He had it easier.”
Jill pressed herself against him. “Care to try some of that animal magnetism on me, tiger?”
“Don’t think I could resist. But you know how it is, Jill. Most vets, or zookeepers, even, they only have to deal with the animals people bring to them, or the ones they keep. And we do. But to be aware of all the fauna kingdom out there...to be able to talk to them.”
“Oh, hell,” she groused, stiffening a bit. “Are you going to start getting sentimental over a pond of frogs some developer drained again?”
He smiled. “Sometimes it’s hard to distinguish your friends on two legs from the ones with more than that.”
“Each to his own species, Ralph. Which we are, in case you’ve forgotten.”
“They expect so much from the Jaguar. They’ve got a right to.”
“I’ve got a right to expect something from you, too.”
“So you want to get married, too, Jill?”
“All right,” said Ralph. “Just as soon as we finish up this case.”
She stopped smiling.
“Jill,” he said. “This is important. We’ve just discovered that parts of our memories may have been tampered with.”
“Oh, I can believe it, Ralph,” she said. “Like your memories of me, for instance. Remember? Jill Monroe, girl Friday, secretary, and the gal who warms your bed whenever you’re home long enough to warm it?” She stood away from him. “Or maybe you don’t care about me because I’ve only got two legs?”
“Come on. I care about you more than anything else. And your two legs are the best I’ve ever seen.”
Jill tried to smile but couldn’t. “Ralph. I know it’s a cliche, I know, but when are you going to make more time for us? I have needs, too, you know. I’m not just talking about ..”
“I know, Jill. So do I, believe me. But the world has needs, too. Not just the people in it, either.”
“Oh? And I suppose Kim and Tom are going to have to make time on their honeymoon for all the orphaned flies in the city?”
“You’d have to ask them about that.”
“Don’t bother.” She turned and walked into the house.
“Jill,” Ralph called after her.
She pivoted, and her look was not kind. “Ralph. Do your stupid change. Turn into the Jaguar. I don’t care. I’m getting my things and I’m staying somewhere else tonight. And if you really care about me, I’d better not see some hoot-owl outside my window keeping tabs on me.”
He moved towards her, too quickly. She shrank back. “Don’t come closer.”
“What do you expect me to do?” he snapped. “First you want me to make love to you, then you put up a wall and tell me you’re leaving. I swear, female ocelots are a hell of a lot easier to understand than you.”
“Fine. Get one of them for your mate.” Jill turned again, stamped off to her room, and slammed and locked the door.
He knocked on it, twice. “Jill, come on. We can talk about it.”
“Tomorrow we can talk about it,” she said from within. “Go away, Ralph. I don’t want you there when I come out. I’ll give you a call tomorrow. Go do what I told you to do earlier. The animals are waiting.”
“Go away, Ralph!”
He waited silently for several seconds. Then he stepped away, loosened the belt he wore around his regular pants, and laid his hands on the very special one that lay below it. As he did so, he spoke two words.
“The Jaguar,” he said.
There was a moment of transit and then a red-costumed figure, borne on the power of two jets attached to the belt about his waist, flew from the balcony into the sky with a speed so great few could have tracked him with their eyes.
The Jaguar, master of the animal kingdom, was on the prowl.
Even Ralph Hardy had to admit that it sounded like a dream. He sometimes doubted his own memories of the event. But they were so vivid, and the outcome so concrete, that he had to finally admit to himself that it had to be all true.
He had been in Peru at the time when It Happened. The nation was noted for its earthquakes, and had obliged him by having one while he was there. Of all things, a dinosaur had emerged from one of the crevasses. How it had gotten there, he had no idea, but the notion always reminded him of Groucho’s line about shooting an elephant in his pajamas, and how it got in his pajamas, he’d never know.
When one sees a dinosaur liberated from a crevasse, the best course of action is to go where it isn’t. Ralph Hardy had run his legs off. The dinosaur followed.
To this day, he wasn’t certain that the dinosaur didn’t end up herding him in the direction of the ancient Inca temple. All he knew was that it was a pretty good place to hide out from a hungry saurian, so he sprinted inside it. The dinosaur, still wanting lunch, howled outside, thrust its maw against the doorway, and waited for its meal to come outside.
The thing was, Ralph Hardy found a belt inside the temple, as if the thing had been calling to him. Which, all considered, it well might have been.
The belt was made of some mysterious sort of material that wasn’t quite leather, wasn’t quite plastic, wasn’t quite animal hide, and felt something like a cross between all three. It had strange little metal tubes at its sides, and was imprinted with something in an alien language on its reverse side.
Somehow, touching the belt translated the language for Ralph, mentally. It was an efficient sort of Berlitz course. The inscription told him that the belt had been created by the great Primal Powers, who had ruled animals before the era of Man, and that, if he wished, he could gain supreme powers over all the animals in Creation by holding the belt and saying the words, “The Jaguar.”
Why “the Jaguar”? Why not “the Owl”, or “the Camel”, or “the Australian Duckbilled Platypus”? Ralph never knew. But the belt said “the Jaguar”, so “The Jaguar” is what Ralph said. It stood to reason that power over all the animals in Creation might be of good use against Mr. Ugly poking his snout into the door.
In a brief nimbus of light, Ralph Hardy was transformed into a powerful man (minus Ralph’s trademark mustache) wearing a skin-tight red costume with a jaguar’s eyes and mouth on the chest. His muscles bulged with the power of a hundred elephants, give or take a couple. He had a sense of smell that would shame a dog, hearing that could pick up and interpret the pleas of a mouse, the speed of a dozen cheetahs, and all sorts of nifty animalistic powers. Plus the little tubes on the side of his belt were jets. He could activate them mentally.
The Jaguar flew outside and gave the dinosaur a punch in the nose. The dino slumped unconscious. That made it a lot easier for the Jaguar to bundle him into the crevasse and seal it up again. Later, Ralph came back to America and decided to become a super-hero because, well, it just seemed like the thing to do when this sort of thing happened. After all, there had been the first wave with the Shield and the Web and the Comet and all of them. Now there were these two second-wave guys, the Fly and the new Shield, and with powers like these, he could justifiably hobnob with them.
Well, the new Shield didn’t stay around long enough for Ralph to meet him back then. But he did, in time, meet with the Fly and Fly-Girl, and hit it off well with them. They had an insect thing, he had an animal thing. They understood each other. By that time, of course, the Jaguar had battled his share of super-villains and alien invaders and had made a name for himself. He had also collected a couple of recurring villainesses, namely the Cat-Girl and Kree-Nal, one of whom was an ancient sorceress who had been the model for the Sphinx, the other of whom was a green-skinned mer-woman. Both of them had great legs and were nifty distractions from his secretary, Jill Monroe.
Eventually things cooled down with Cat and Kree and heated up with Jill, and she moved in with him. He had crashed a Mighty Crusaders meeting once because just about every hero in America was doing so, got to meet a bunch of other super-heroes, and, like them, almost got killed by the Wizard and the Hangman. When that case wound up, the five Crusaders told the others to get packing. The Jaguar joined a three-man group that went nowhere fast. Finally, when the Crusaders made a comeback years later, he was asked to join and did so.
Those were fun days, fighting the Brain Emperor and all the rest. Hanging out with the Black Hood, the Comet, two Shields, and the Web, as well as Fly and Fly-Girl. But he always had his solo life to go back to, and it was hard–sometimes very hard–to make Jill understand when he had to get up and answer the summons of a mama rabbit who was having trouble with a breech birth.
To be the Jaguar, you had to be on call to help more than just humans.
It was this unique perspective that Jill Monroe never got her mind around, even though she was always there to help him splint a dog’s leg or help a foundering cow. He tried to give her the analogy of a doctor’s wife having to put up with emergency calls in the middle of the night, but she didn’t want to buy it.
He had tried to serve both communities well, the humans by fighting supercrime and the animals by doing what he could when he needed them. He had saved German shepherds from being sacrificed by a weird cult. He had liberated a tribe of gorillas from neo-Nazis who wanted to experiment on them. He had, on occasion, opened the back of a dogcatcher’s wagon when nobody had seen him, after ascertaining that none of its occupants was rabid.
But there were things the animals couldn’t understand, either. Such as why, if animals had to be experimented upon by scientists for human benefits, humans could not be experimented upon for animal benefits. None of them seemed to like the idea of Dolly the sheep when he told them about her. At times, he was accused of being speciesist. He had come to a working accommodation with them all, and found that George Orwell’s Animal Farm was of no help in understanding their politics.
He went on being the Jaguar. No other seemed willing or capable to be the bridge between two-legs and four-or-more. Nobody else even seemed to give a damn about it.
But when it got too frustrating, he could usually find a gang of crooks to pound into the ground. Thinking of new animal powers to employ was also a trip. Slapping the ground with the force of ten thousand beaver tails, for instance, or hanging from a tree with the power of a regiment of opossums.
And yet, and yet...
Jill had told him that if she ever caught him taking a whiz to mark the boundaries of his property, she was leaving, no questions asked.
It was tough to be the Jaguar.
“Okay, Shield–Joe–you knew him when. Where do you think we should start?”
The Comet, John Dickering, was the one who had spoken. He was wearing his red-and-white uniform now, the one with the rainbow helmet from his days on the planet Altrox. The man he addressed was the elder Shield, Joe Higgins, in a red-white-and-blue uniform with an impenetrable metal chest plate. His son Bill wore a duplicate of the uniform. Lance Strong, who also, confusingly enough, called himself the Shield, wore a different costume with, naturally, the same colors. All of them were assembled in the Crusaders’ HQ, along with the Black Hood, John’s brother the Hangman, and the Web.
“The last time we worked together, the Wiz was operating out of Boston,” said the first Shield. “I doubt that he’s listed in the phone book, though. My best guess is, contact the coroner’s office and see if anybody named Blaine Whitney kicked off in the last forty years. That’s the Wizard’s real name.”
The Web, alias criminology professor John Raymond, turned to the Hangman. “Bob, you worked with the criminal Wizard for a long time when he had that mind-spell on you. Ever find out where he lived?”
The Hangman, in green-and-blue costume and blue mask, shook his head and toyed with his rope. “We didn’t exactly mix socially in between our crimes,” he said. “When the Wiz wanted me for a job, he either popped up out of nowhere or gave me a mind-message. After that last fight he had with Fly-Man, I didn’t hear from him again. That’s when I kinda came out of my trance.”
The Web stroked his chin. “City records ought to tell us where Blaine lived, when he stopped living there, and so on. Somebody must still be there who knows him. We’ll have to do the detective bit.”
“Before we do that,” suggested the Black Hood, who was a cop in his civilian i.d., “try this for size. You remember when Zambini and Kardak brought back the Wizard’s kid partner through that time-warp, and the kid brought back the old Wizard to fight the new one? What if he’s still around?”
Bill Higgins, the Mark III Shield, snapped his fingers. “Hey, you got it! Roy the Super-Boy! We never did find out what happened to him. Funny–we never tried.”
“Not so funny,” put in Lancelot Strong. “The evil Wizard was damping down your curiosity. What was Roy’s last name?”
“Rossman,” answered Shield I. “He used to pal around with my partner, Dusty. They had a two-man, well, two-boy team going, called themselves the Boy Buddies. And before you ask, no, I don’t know where Dusty is right now.”
“I have a feeling that before this thing is over, we’ll learn, Pop,” said Bill, who had met a time-travelling Dusty in the aforementioned Crusaders case. “The thing is...”
“Yes, son?” asked Joe Higgins, patiently.
“Okay,” said Bill. “If we’re positing the Wizard had a line into our minds back then, was perhaps feeding us a mental tap or something, how do we know he doesn’t still have it in there? How do we know he isn’t tapping us, right now?”
“We don’t,” said the Comet, quietly.
After a few moments, Joe said, “Let’s see if we can track down Roy Rossman.”
Thomas Troy and Kim Brand were traipsing across one of the beaches of Tahiti, which took a considerable amount of money for each traipse. He considered it worth every dime of his and Kim’s money to be there, ogling her in the black bikini she’d worn in Tenth Configuration, his favorite one of her flicks. From the way her arm around his back kept its hand straying towards his hips, he figured she’d found something to admire as well. Lucky for him.
The only things they wore besides their bathing suits were their rings. Both pair of them.
“Mrs. Thomas Troy,” she said. “Mrs. Kim Brand Troy. Mrs. Kim Troy. Nope. I don’t like the last two. Can I just be Mrs. Kim Brand?”
“You can be anything you want, as long as you keep sharing space with me,” he said. “As long as I don’t get introduced as Mr. Kim Brand.”
She grabbed the belt of his trunks and grinned. “You should live so long. Tom, tell me one thing.”
“I’m finished with the other girl. I’ve let her know. I let you know. Is that it?”
“No. No, it’s not.” She walked with him a few more paces. “How much longer can we keep on being the Flies?”
“Um.” He looked straight ahead, glad the beach was as uninhabited as it was at that point. “As long as we want to, I guess. Are you, uh, thinking of quitting?”
“No. Not yet. Maybe.” She said. “Women have babies, you know. I want to have one of those between two of my pictures.”
“Well, if you don’t, it won’t be from lack of trying.”
“If last night was any indication, Tom, I’m probably already underway.”
He smiled, looked at her briefly, and kept his arm about her shoulders.
“But I’m worried about something more now, Tom. Can I tell you?”
“You won’t get mad?”
“Try not to. What is it?”
She didn’t look at him as she said, “It’s occurred to me now that you might get killed.”
They stopped, right there on the sand.
Thomas Troy looked at his bride. “It’s occurred to me, a few times over the years, that you might, too.”
“As we both darn near did, multiple times.”
“Yeah,” she said, softly.
“So, now you’re worried about–“
“Now I’m worried about having a husband that I can come home to between shoots, Tom, and that you will have a wife to come home to at the end of the day. Also that our children will still have parents. Does that make sense, Tom?”
“Yes. Oh, yes. Definitely. But I’m not ready to stop being the Fly.”
She propelled them back into a forward walk with a pressure of her arm against his back. “Don’t know that I want to quit being Fly Girl, Tom. That’s the bad part about it.”
“That’s supposed to be bad?”
“Uh huh. Living for the battles, risking our rear ends every time we get called out, spending time with the Crusaders. I...well, I’m not big on fighting idiots with names like the Brain Emperor or Phantasmon and his Alieog-Laboids, but I...”
“Listen, if I have to fight something called an Alieog-Laboid again, I’m getting out of the business! I wouldn’t be able to stop laughing long enough to aim my buzz gun.”
“You and me both! But at the same time, Tom, I...dammit, I like it. I like that rush of power every time I rub the ring. I like that feel of being able to bust bricks in my hands. I love, my God, I love flying. Even the stuff like firefly radiance, and spinning the steel cocoons, and leaping over buildings like a girl grasshopper...it must be like coke addiction. I’m a ring addict, Tom. I really am.”
“Know what you mean,” he said. He held up his hand, the one with the fly ring on it. “This thing helped me survive the orphanage, got me through school, gave me the courage to do all those things. Helped me become a lawyer. All of that, because I knew if I could be the Fly, I could be anything.”
“Oh, yeah,” she said. “Then you saved me from that monster, when I was just plain old Kim Brand–“
“Plain old Kim Brand, right. Hollywood starlet, daughter of the Brands of San Diego, plain old Kim Brand. Like the Taj Mahal is a hot dog stand.”
“You’re sweet, Tom. But then, right afterward, Turan showed up and gave me the ring. He said you needed me to help stop a problem while you were taking care of something else, in another place. That’s why he said he did it. But I don’t think that’s why he really did it.”
Tom hesitated. “So tell me.”
“I think he really did it because he knew you’d fallen in love with me. And that maybe I was in love with the Fly. Because he didn’t want you to be alone.”
His arm tightened a bit on her shoulder. “Well, if he really did that, Kim, for that reason...though I think he did, indeed, want an aide to the Fly, too...don’t you think he made a wise choice?”
“I do, Tom. More than anything else in the world, I do.”
He stopped, halting her as well. He looked around, at sand, sea, and sky, and saw no one besides themselves. Looking at him, she knew what he was considering.
“We won’t have this to ourselves forever,” she breathed. “Somebody’ll show up.”
“We can manage,” he said, his hands at the back of her bikini top.
“Tom, wait.” She pushed him away, gently. “I want to try something.”
His hands went to his waist, tentatively. “Such as?”
“We’ve made it as...as ourselves. Aren’t you curious to know what it’d be like if we made it as the Flies?”
His eyebrows raised, briefly. Then he smiled.
They rubbed their rings, briefly, and said the names of their other selves.
If there had been observers, they would have seen the half-naked forms of Thomas Troy and Kim Brand becoming clothed again, in yellow and green skin-tight garments. Clothing which was known, over a large portion of the world, as the uniforms of the Fly and Fly Girl.
Then these, too, were shucked, buried quickly under the sand, the tips of the wings sticking out of the yellow grains a bit. Their owners were busy with other things.
Hero and heroine fell into one another’s arms, and occupied themselves with the doings of a man and woman who have just been married.
In her peak of passion, Kim Brand would have testified that she heard a strong, insectoid buzz.
She wasn’t sure which of them it came from.
There was a mystery the Shield had never been able to figure out, and it disturbed him mightily.
In the 1940's, his greatest enemy had been the Hun. That Nazi paragon, the deputy of Adolf Hitler himself, who wielded powers given to him by the shade of Attila the Hun himself, who wielded a shield of his own with a swastika emblazoned on it. Many times had the Hun fought the Shield and Dusty, and just as many times had he been beaten. Then, finally, the Hun had died. His son had succeeded him, and died as well.
So how was it that, in recent years, the Hun came back to battle the first Shield?
No answer could be fitted to that question, even when the Shield beat him again and had him imprisoned. The Hun would not answer any questions as to how he had come back from the dead, even when threatened or bribed.
Then, after a month or two in jail, he died. His corpse rotted almost before it could be enbalmed. The authorities made doubly sure that the Hun was dead, placed him in the ground, and that was that.
Except that a hooded figure made a trip to the potter’s field, exhumed him under the mantle of a dark knight and a catatonic guard, and made off with the Hun’s body.
Now, that same clay was on a table, surrounded by rune chalkings and various articles of necromancy. Necromancy, the magic of the dead.
The necromancer himself said things, did things. He said, “As I raised you before, so I raise you anew. You live for me. You serve me. And in this, you serve yourself. Is that not so, Hermann von Hesse, who is called the Hun?”
The putrid flesh had ceased to smell.
The skin, muscle, nerve fiber, and all the rest of the tissues reknitted themselves over realigned bone. Blood pumped through the arteries and veins. At least, it was something like blood.
The Hun, with some effort, opened his eyes.
“Ja, Wizard,” he agreed, in a sepulchral voice. “It is so.”
The man who answered the doorbell wasn’t somebody who would easily be taken for a superhero. But he recognized one of the foursome who stood on his doorstep. All of them were dressed in civilian clothes, but even after all these years, one of them was familiar to him.
“Shield!” Roy Rossman exclaimed. “It’s you!”
“Yep, Roy, it’s me,” smiled Joe Higgins. “This is my son Bill, and my friends John and Lance. Can we step inside?”
“Why, certainly,” said Roy. He was past fifty years of age now, and looked it. Most of his blonde hair had receded from the top of his head. The blue leisure suit he wore was a far cry from the mask, striped shirt, and shorts he had worn as a kid hero in the Forties.
But in the eyes, Joe Higgins still saw something of the one they used to call Roy, the Super-Boy.
Roy Rossman let the four of them into his modest home. A voice called out from the kitchen: “Who is it, Roy?”
“Some old friends, Myrna,” he answered. “Come on out.”
“Might be better if she stayed away, Roy,” said Bill Higgins.
“We could talk business privately after we meet her,” said Lance Strong. “But it would be impolite of us not to say hello to the Mrs.”
Myrna Rossman, a bespectacled housewife in a dress, apron, and flats, came out of the kitchen with her hands still wet from dishwater. “Oh,” she said. “Hello, everyone. Roy, you didn’t tell me we were having company today.”
“I wasn’t expecting anyone,” said Roy. “But I’m glad to see them. Myrna, meet Joe Higgins. He was a friend of mine during the war.”
“How do, Mrs. Rossman,” said Joe, offering his hand for a shake.
“Oh, Joe Higgins!” exclaimed Myrna, taking his hand. “Roy told me so much about you. Especially when he...well, when he thought you were dead.”
Roy grimaced. Joe grinned, slightly. “Well, considering I probably thought of myself as dead during those years, that’s acceptible.”
“Uh, Roy,” said Bill. “Does she, uh...”
“Oh, I know he was Roy the Super-Boy,” said Myrna. “And Mr. Higgins here is the Shield. Which one are you?”
“He’s my son, Mrs. Rossman,” said Joe. “Bill, you’ve met Roy before, very briefly.”
“I wouldn’t call it ‘met’,” said Bill. “More like, ‘saw him for a few seconds from about 50 feet away’. That’s what we want to talk to you about.”
“We have to talk to you about the Wizard, Roy,” said John Dickering.
Roy sobered. “Why? Is he back?”
“We have to assume he is,” said Lance. “And we have to assume that you may be in danger.”
Joe Higgins didn’t intend the Shield to become a dynasty or a franchise. It just happened that way.
It began back in the late ‘20's, when his father, Tom Higgins, a Justice Department investigator, had died in the line of duty. The elder Higgins had been checking out a munitions warehouse in Jersey. The place had blown up on him, and it wasn’t hard to figure out that enemy agents were responsible.
Tom Higgins’s wife was dead, so the only ones by his bedside as Tom passed away were Tom’s son Joe and his best friend, John Edgar Hoover. Joe swore that he’d find every one of the spies that did this to his father, and then kill them.
But J. Edgar had said, sternly, “No, you won’t. What you will do is go to school, be the best that you can be, and then come see me.”
So Joe did.
He got out of college in 1939 as one of the country’s top chemists with a minor in law, and had kept in touch with Mr. Hoover all through the interim. He also made friends in the Bureau, and that was where he learned that Boroff, the top suspect in the warehouse explosion, had been seen in town. Joe, all of 22 years old, went out alone, full of fury, lusting for vengeance.
It didn’t turn out to be enough. The gang of spies beat him and left him for dead. They set off another explosion, which they figured would finish the job if they hadn’t.
But Joe Higgins managed to revive and drag himself away from the building before the blast went up. Through his pain, he knew he’d learned a valuable lesson that day. If he was going to take on Boroff and his men alone, and win...he’d need an edge.
And America needed something, too. It needed a shield against Boroff and his kind.
Joe had been working on a formula to strengthen the human body to an unbelievable degree, making it durable enough to withstand the impact of a small shell, and strong enough to lift over a thousand pounds. He’d also perfected a costume with a chestplate of almost impenetrable steel. He treated himself with the formula and lay in the costume beneath a ray which forced it to interact with the systems of his body. It took over 24 hours of lying under the ray, but in the end, he rose from the table as a superman.
The Higgins Formula was designed to work with specific parts of the human corpus, which he made into an acrostic because it pleased him: Sacrum, Heart, Innervation, Eyes, Lymph, and Derma. From this, from the shield-shaped chestplate of his costume, and from his belief that he must defend his nation from those who menaced it from within, he derived the name he would use in his crusade: the Shield.
The uniform he created was red, white, and blue, festooned with the Stars and Stripes wherever he could manage it. America might not have been in the war at the time, but in the war he was joining, he intended to shove the flag right in the face of those who would dishonor it.
Within days, Joe Higgins passed his FBI exam and was admitted. Within days after that, he was told by the Director of a plot by Klotz, one of Boroff’s lieutenants. Klotz had a horde of robots which he intended to use to bring down one of America’s financial centers. The Shield turned up to smash the robots into random gears and scrap with his gloved fists. The bullets of the enemy bounced off his chest- and backplate.
The hero threw his defiant response at them: “There’s a new day dawning, Klotz! America has a Shield against your kind!”
He was successful in that case, as in many others. During one of those cases, he was almost killed in the burning wreck of an aircraft. But he was pulled from the wreckage by a boy of no more than 12 years...a boy named Dusty Simmons. He was an orphan, and a big fan of the Shield. He also proved to have enough moxie to be an aid to the guy in the stars and stripes, so, wondering if he wasn’t still shell-shocked from the impact of the plane, the Shield took him on as a partner and gave him a costume. From then on, the Shield and Dusty were a team.
The Shield had also teamed with the Wizard a few times, fighting the Axis powers in Europe. The Wizard had a boy partner of his own, Roy, aka Roy the Super-Boy. Roy and Dusty got along even better than their mentors, and, on the spot, formed a partnership they called the Boy Buddies. The kids handled more than a few cases on their own, successfully.
In time, the Shield met up with Boroff.
The enemy agent sought to destroy the Shield with a ray of his own design. He didn’t quite manage it, but the bombardment destroyed the effects of Joe Higgins’s SHIELD formula. From then on, the Shield’s super-powers were gone, but his fighting prowess and his aim of fighting anti-American forces remained. Considering he and Dusty had encountered Hitler’s strangest and deadliest costumed operative, the Hun, by then, that was a good thing. But the Hun died, and was replaced by his son, who also died. By that time, the War was almost over. The Shield and Dusty figured that they’d seen the last of the Huns.
After the war, Joe Higgins met up with Ellie Cranton, the woman he wound up marrying. They were able to adopt Dusty, and a new addition came along in 1947 when Ellie birthed Bill. Not long after that, Joe discovered a way to restore his powers with a new bombardment of rays and a different Shield uniform. The super-powered Shield was back in business.
But not for long.
The underworld hired a costumed assassin known as the Eraser to rub out the Shield. The hero was lured to a wax museum one night in 1948. The Shield figured that he’d faced deadlier foes by far in the persons of the Hun, the Strangler, the Fang, Boroff, and all the rest.
But none of them had the cyclotronic gun that the Eraser wielded. A gun whose ray changed the Shield into an unmoving statue of iron.
When the job was done, the Eraser left his calling card: a rubber eraser, wedged under the foot of the metallic Shield.
The FBI tried to find the Eraser. It failed. So did Dusty and the grieving Ellie. In time, Ellie died. The Shield statue was kept in the basement of the Higgins’s house. Almost every night, Bill Higgins swore he’d find the Eraser and bring him to justice, and, if there was a way to bring his father back to life, to do that as well.
To manage that, he’d have to become the Shield.
In between, though, another Shield appeared.
Roger Fleming had been born in 1940 to Professor Albert Fleming and a wife who did not survive the birthing. Roger barely managed to survive himself, and, after his son was pulled through, Professor Fleming vowed to make the boy into the world’s most perfect human, a man who could endure things which would kill a normal man. Roger would be, in a real sense, a human guinea pig. But Albert Fleming told himself that it was for the best.
The radiation treatments, electrical stimuli, exercises, and special environiment Albert subjected Roger to turned him into a superboy of sorts. He could increase the power of his body’s natural electric field and hurl bolts of static electricity. He could adapt to almost any extreme of heat and cold. He could adjust his eyes to perceive infra-red light, and thus see in the dark. And his strength and speed were greater than the human norm.
But the reporters who learned of Fleming’s experiment agreed that the professor’s ministrations were a form of mistreatment, and that a boy ought not to be treated as something on a petri dish. They blew the cover on the professor’s work, and promised that the authorities would be around to take Roger out of his hands. The professor quickly packed himself, his son, and certain of his apparati and notes into a large van, and went on the run.
The problem was that others had learned of Fleming’s experiments as well, and some of those were agents of hostile powers.
Klotz was such an agent, and his men ran Fleming’s van off a mountain road. Albert Fleming died in the crash, his machines wrecked and his notes consumed by a gasoline fire. But Roger, the boy, survived and crawled to safety. He managed to make his way to a nearby farm, where he was taken in by one Abel and Martha Strong. They adopted him, and gave him a name Martha had picked from an old book about King Arthur and his knights. They named him Lancelot.
By 1959, Lance Strong had graduated the local high school and was wondering what course to take next in his life. For the first time, he and a friend came upon what remained of the wreckage of Albert Fleming’s van. From it, he took a strange, red-white-and-blue costume which fit him perfectly, as if he had been intended to wear it when he came of age. He also learned from a book of notes, which had survived the burning, that the uniform was meant for someone with “special powers” who would use them to benefit mankind. It had a mask, and Lance’s friend Spud commented that it reminded him of pictures he’d seen of that old hero, the Shield.
About that time, Lance and Spud spotted a forest fire. The youth in the three-colored uniform took off with a speed that left Spud incredulous, and the two of them soon found themselves confronted by an alien being whose crashed spacecraft had started the blaze. Without consciously knowing what he was doing, Lance Strong raised his hands and pointed them at the invader.
Both he and Spud gaped as bolts of power emerged from them and struck the alien. They staggered the enemy, but didn’t fell him. After a brief but deadly battle, Lance managed to subdue their foe, and turned him over to the police. Then he turned and ran away. One cop protested that he couldn’t do that, and what were they supposed to call him, anyway?
Lance didn’t feel like giving his real name. His foster parents had enough trouble just keeping the farm in the black. He turned his head, briefly, and said, “Shield will do. Just call me the Shield.”
Since nobody else was using the name at the time, they found it acceptible.
Young Bill Higgins didn’t like it a bit, when he saw it in the paper. But there was little he could do about it, at the time.
Unfortunately, Lance found that his friend Spud had perished in the forest fire. The only other person who knew that the new Shield and Lance Strong were the same was gone. Lance asked himself if he could continue in the costume. The decision was made for him when he discovered the same spy ring which had killed his father attempting to loot the wreckage of Professor Fleming’s truck. The Shield was there to thwart them, and bring them to justice.
As far as Lance was concerned, that was enough justification. The Shield would continue.
Then Lance got his draft notice from Uncle Sam.
It was 1959, long before America’s escalation of involvement in Vietnam. Serving in the Army was seen by most, including Lance and his parents, as a duty and an honor. So he went, and became Private Lancelot Strong, and acted as the Shield in secret, when necessity presented itself.
The Fly made his first appearance at about the same time, and the new Shield found himself partnered with the insect-powered hero several times. Before long, though, the Army and the government learned of Lance Strong’s secret. They offered him the chance to work in Army intelligence, and he accepted. But for undercover work, they stipulated that he put aside his Shield costume.
So, for the remainder of his long military stint, Lancelot Strong gave up the identity of the second Shield.
Thus it had remained through most of the Vietnam era, though most of Lance’s operations took place in places other than Southeast Asia. For that, he was grateful.
A few years later, it became 1965, and Bill Higgins was ready to take action.
A third Shield appeared on the scene, in the same sort of uniform the first one had worn, looking in the photographs to be almost a double of the one who had been reported turned into a statue. After busting up a few gangland operations, the Shield came to the attention of the mob which had paid the Eraser to rub him out. Their orders: do the job again, and get it right, or have the same thing done to yourself.
So the Eraser had challenged the Shield, and the Shield met the challenge. He kicked the villain into the path of a dimensional displacement ray which had been brought along to use against the Shield. The ray banished the Eraser from Earth, seemingly forever.
That night, Bill Higgins, the third Shield, stood before the iron remains of his father and felt that part of his burden had been lifted. But only part.
If there was a way to bring his father back to life, he would find it.
In the meantime, he continued as the Shield, though the trust fund from his father’s estate had run out. He soon rescued the Fly-Man from minions of the Spider, and struck up a new partnership with him, the Black Hood, and the Comet. Fly-Girl later joined the ad hoc, nameless group, and the five of them had long, acrimonious debates over what they were to call themselves. One of the choices was the Mighty Crusaders, a name that had been dreamed up by the Spider himself. For that reason, there was a lot of disagreement about using it.
But in the end, they agreed that none of them could think of a better name. So they wound up using it.
Bill Higgins ran into difficulties of another sort. His entire life, up to this point, had been dedicated to becoming another Shield and avenging his father. He assumed that, aside from that, his life would take care of itself.
He assumed wrongly.
Bill had no money with which to attend college, and no particular job training or scientific expertise. He failed the FBI exam and didn’t want to become a common cop, thinking it would restrain him in his crime-fighting a