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Mighty Crusaders: War With the Wizard

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Post Mon Jan 24, 2005 1:14 am
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Characters in this story are property of Archie Comics Publications. No money is being made from this story, no infringement is intended.


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Part 1

“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.

-MC-

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.”

-MC-

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.

Justice?

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.

-MC-

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?”

She smiled.

“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.”

“Damn it!”

“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.

-MC-

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.

Whammo.

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.

-MC-

“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.”

-MC-

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?”

“Sure.”

“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.”

“Yeah.”

“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.

-MC-

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.”

-MC-

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

Post Mon Jan 24, 2005 1:15 am
darkmark90 User avatar
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Mayor Dearborn chanced a look out his window, just barely. From what he could tell, the three heroes were hard-pressed by their many foemen. The Fly, Fly Girl, and the Jaguar were barely holding their own.

He sensed another presence beside him. Nervously, Dearborn turned his head. He was surprised he hadn't smelled the man before he saw him.

"You're not supposed to be here," he said to Karnak. "Isn't that what the Fly said?"

"Yeah, that's what he said," Karnak acknowledged. He was looking at the battle himself, and any casual observer could have seen him at the window.

"Then what are you doing here? What do you think you can do?"

The sorcerer looked at the three heroes defending themselves against the likes of Mighty Man, Lady Spider, and Lxo III. He felt his palms tingle with the power of magic.

Then an image came to him. The image of the Wizard, and of what had become of their third companion, the last time he saw him.

"I don't know," said Kardak, almost in a whisper. "I just don't know."

Mighty Man was holding onto the Fly's throat as powerfully as he could, resisting the Crusader's blows and heat-radiance by force of arms. No matter what pains he suffered, today he was going to kill a super-hero.

"Two times we've fought already," muttered the villain, who once had been a college professor. "Guess third time's the charm, as the old saying goes."

The Fly was trying to pry his foe's hands away from his throat while bracing his feet against Mighty Man's chest and pushing against him as hard as he could. Meanwhile, he was generating firefly heat radiance to try and burn the bad man into releasing him. Unfortunately, nothing seemed to be working, and his vision was beginning to fog around the edges.

This was a hell of a way to go. Married for a week, and dead at the end of it.

Lxo III, an alien gadgeteer, and Dovi, a villain from the future, shared space in Lxo's craft and watched the proceedings. "See that?" said Dovi. "That's just what I resent. No finesse, no ingenuity, nothing but brute force. And he's going to get to do the Fly. It's disgraceful."

The alien said, "He is more suited for physical combat than we are. Ergo, he was able to engage the enemy directly. Ergo, he gets the honors."

"Then what do we get to do?"

"Sit back and enjoy the show."

"Better than nothing," agreed Dovi.

Fly Girl had tried to train her buzz gun on Mighty Man, only to have Lady Spider knock it out of her hand. The two women had been brawling everywhere-in the sky, on the side of the building, on the ground. Kim had to agree that her foe was the first woman she'd met who could match her blow for blow. But when she tried to go to the aid of the Fly, the Spider's mistress grabbed her in a tackle and dragged her down. "Just stay here," she said, "and watch your lover die."

Kim tried to struggle free, but her enemy had too strong a grasp. She used her wings to create a shattering sound-buzz, but the arachnoid Amazon held fast. She used firefly heat, but Lady Spider still held on. The Jaguar was having his own problems.

And the Fly was being strangled to death.

A hand pointed through a window in city hall.

A number of words in an ancient, mostly unknown language was said.

A bolt of power shot forth from the hand, arced out, struck Mighty Man square in the head, and knocked him unconscious. He dropped from a thirty-foot height like a rock. Luckily, he landed on bottom, cracking the pavement where he hit. The Fly, prying himself loose from his grasp, gasped for air, swallowed, and fingered his neck.

As he did so, he looked up at the building. There, visible in one window, was a man in a shabby overcoat and a few days' growth of beard. Kardak.

The Fly held up his hand in salute, and then shot upward to aid his friends.

"Oh," groused the Spider, punching a control button. "Just scrumptious."

Dodging the web of energy that came from the weapons port of the Spider's craft, the Fly smashed into the transparent dome of the flyer. The impact almost knocked it out of the sky. Lxo III tried hitting him with a tractor beam from his own craft, missed, and snagged the Spider instead.

"May I make a suggestion?" asked Dovi.

"Shutting the up," snapped Lxo.

Red Shark, Roxr, and Bra-Kr had been bedeviling the Jaguar with weapons from their ship. The Fly attacked while their devices were still trained on his friend, got a grip on their craft, and tossed it into the path of Lxo's vessel. The two craft collided with a bang. Despite their seat restraints, the three villains were jostled like beans inside a shaker.

"Sorry to be so late," said the Fly.

"That's okay," the Jaguar reassured him. "Let's go help your girl."

For her part, Fly Girl had broken free of Lady Spider's grasp and was standing to confront her. The villainess wore a cruel smile to go along with her dark outfit. But when the Jaguar and the Fly dropped from the sky to stand beside the heroine, the web-woman's expression got considerably less assured.

"Stay back, boys," said Fly Girl. "She's all mine."

"Don't think we have time for that, honey," said the Fly. "Let's just settle for a quick surrender."

A female voice from above said, "And that will go for all your enemies, as well."

"Who?" asked Fly Girl, as she looked up.

"Oh, I know who," murmured the Jaguar.

Two women dropped from the sky to stand beside the heroes. One had reddish hair and wore a tiger-striped top and blue skirt and boots. The other had white hair and green skin. "We stand with the Jaguar," said Cat Girl.

"And with all his friends," put in Kree-Nal.

"Cat, Kree, nice to see you again," said the Jaguar. "Wish you'd made it here earlier."

"As do we," said Cat Girl. "But we are here now, beloved, and that is what matters."

Kree-Nal began advancing on Lady Spider, who shrank back a step. Even odds were one thing, but it was five to one now. Fly Girl stepped forward, bound to reach her foe before any of the others could.

A grappling hand formed of solid energy reached down, wrapped itself about Lady Spider, and hauled her up. The heroes looked skyward. The hand was produced by the weapons port of the Spider's flying vehicle.

"At them," ordered the Fly, and none of the heroes had to be told twice. All five of them took to the air.

From the Roxr ship, a blast of repulsive energy hit the fivesome and drove them back to the ground. Lxo's craft had already picked up the unconscious Mighty Man and Phantasmon. The Fly and his friends struggled against the force, but it held them flat against the concrete.

Another power-burst came from a lateral direction. From his perspective, the Fly saw it: Kardak had loosed another magic bolt at their foemen. Whether it would be enough to prevail was anyone's guess.

But, apparently, the bad guys had decided on another course of action. First the Spider's ship, and then the other two, whisked away into the late afternoon sky. The quintet of defenders felt the pressure of the energy lessening, but they were still held captive. By the time they could rise, their opponents were long gone.

"With the speed they were making, they could be anywhere," remarked the Jaguar.

"Tell me something good for a change," said the Fly.

"Well, we've got two new allies," pointed out Fly Girl. "And Kardak's apparently learned how to stand up for himself."

"Is that a desirable or undesirable thing?" asked Kree-Nal.

"Perhaps we should ask him," Cat Girl said, and flew up towards the window at which Kardak was standing. The magician was not smiling.

"I've just signed my death warrant," he said. "Now, the Wizard will know where I am."

"He will know we are here as well, if that is true," said Cat Girl. "And if you are a friend, we will defend you to the death."

"I've already defended a friend to the death," said Kardak. "His."

-MC-

Mayor Dearborn had been nonplused by the battle already. But the presence of the two new beauties, along with the other heroes in his office, threw him into a different gear. "Tell me, ladies," he said, "have either of you done secretarial work?"

Cat Girl and Kree-Nal stared at him.

"Uh, mayor, Cat and Kree have jobs of their own," said the Jaguar. "Right now, we'd like to hear what Kardak has to say."

"If we could, I'd like to get in contact with the other Crusaders," said the Fly. "They need to hear this, too."

"Use my phone," said the mayor.

Fly Girl already scooped him, pulling out her communicator and earphone. "Fly Girl calling Web, or anyone listening. Repeat, Fly Girl calling. Can you read me?"

Within a few moments, she heard a voice in her earphone. "This is the Comet, Fly Girl. Go ahead."

"We've got something you should hear. Are you within range of a speakerphone?"

"We're at the FBI office. So, yes, I think we're set for that. Should I give you the number?"

"Please," she said.

A minute later, the connection was set up. "This is the Comet," said the voice from the speaker. "We're all listening, so go ahead."

The mayor sat in his office chair, looking out at the Fly, Fly Girl, the Jaguar, Kree-Nal, Cat Girl, and the homeless man who sat in front of his speakerphone, and wondered what he'd done to deserve this.

Kardak coughed several times, and then began. "Sorry. This is Kardak. Most of you met me in that big brouhaha where a lot of us applied for the Crusaders. After that I went back mostly to being a stage magician. Every now and then we'd have hero reunions for those of us who had met back then. That was how Zambini got ahold of me and Red Rube this last year.

"I don't know if any of you knew Red Rube. He was active in the Forties, like most of us. He didn't make the big blast, but he had magic-based powers, which was good enough for Zambini and I. His real name was Reuben Reuben, and he'd say...well, forget what he'd say. He was a super-hero, and he'd retired, and he showed up for a hero bash.

"Zam, Rube and I got together and started talking shop over some shots and beers. We traded numbers, promised to stay in touch. Well, a couple of months after that, Zambini got hold of both of us, told us about a breaking case that he wanted us in on.

"He said he thought he might have the trail of the Wizard. We'd been wondering about that guy ever since we fought him and the Hangman and almost all of us had gotten killed. Zam said he'd recognize the guy's vibrations in a crowd at Grand Central Station, and, while he was playing a gig in New England, he thought he felt some of his vibes. Real faint, but he said they were there.

"So he asked Rube and I if we'd like to pitch in. I asked him why he didn't call on all of the Mighty Crusaders. He said he would, if we could ascertain it really was the Wizard he was feeling, and if we could find out where he was for certain. Well, that was only part of it. The three of us wanted credit for finding the guy, even if the Crusaders might get the credit for capturing him. If they could.

"Reuben was retired and my gigs were too far apart to suit me, so neither one of us really had problems making time to go up there."

The voice of the original Shield broke in. "Excuse me. I'm sorry to interrupt, Kardak, but I just wanted to get one thing straight. Where was `up there'?"

"Salem," said Kardak. "Salem, Massachusets. Only we didn't know that at first. We had to meet Zambini in Rhode Island, where he'd been doing his act, and he kind of guided us in like a directional radio finder. I've got some abilities along that line, but I'm not as good as Zam."

"Salem. Home of the witch trials," said the Shield. "Okay, please go on."

"Okay. Took us a couple days to find it. Wish, for Rube's sake, it'd taken us a couple of days more. But it was way outside of town, in an old mine shaft. They'd long since closed the mine down, but it wasn't much trick for Reuben to say, `Hey, Rube!', and do his change, and then lift the barricades with his own muscle power. We figured with Rube in the lead, none of us would have any problems.

"Zam and I looked at each other just before we went down. I think he was scared. I know I was, for a fact. But we'd been through a lot thirty years before, and that stuff never leaves you all the way. Both of us had a spell for making things luminescent for a short time, and that's what we used on our good right hands. So we went down there with Rube, both of our hands glowing like a pair of Eveready flashlights.

"Of course, the light would be a giveaway to anybody down there, so when the vibes got too strong, Zam had us put them out. We were down deep then, way deep, probably over a hundred feet. I'm sure you've heard the old song, `It's dark as a dungeon, way down in the mine.' Better believe whoever wrote it must have been in something like we were down in, that day. Not that we could tell it was day, for sure.

"Zambini was getting those vibes so strong now it must have hurt his head. He was in the lead, and Rube was holding his hand, and I was holding Rube's other hand, and that's how we got down there. We were wondering what we were about to stumble onto, when we'd stumble onto it, and what we were going to do once we got there. The plan was just to make sure the Wizard was there, not get seen, and get out. I had a feeling things weren't going to go just to plan.

"I don't know how many more feet we went down before we started to see a bit of light. But we saw it.

"I whispered about as loud as I dared, I said, `Zam, we've seen it. We know he's there, all right? Let's get out and get back to the hotel.'

"But Zam said, `No, no, we've got to make sure he's there. We've got to make sure it's him.' I think he had something like target fascination, at that point. Or maybe he just didn't want to have the Mighty Crusaders come upstate and find, all of a sudden, there was nothing there except, well, something besides the Wizard. But he was dead set on going ahead.

"Rube said, `Kardak's got a point. We know something's down here. It's a bad idea to expose ourselves to unnecessary danger.' That coming from a guy who had more physical super-power than both of us put together. The guy could fly, lift tanks, bust cannonballs on his bare chest, for Pete's sake. And by the way, that's what he had, a bare chest. When he was in uniform, he didn't wear no shirt.

"Zam went, `You two can start back if you want. I'll catch up. I just have to see him, to make sure.'

"There wasn't anything to be done after that but go with him. It may have been like kids daring each other. But it was more like brothers in arms. You never leave a brother alone on the battlefield. That's why we went.

"Couldn't have been more than a hundred yards. Really couldn't. But it must have taken us a good fifteen minutes to sneak up there, and if we could have made it any longer, we would have. The light was coming from a source around a bend. So we stuck our heads around the bend in the wall, must've been looking like the Three Stooges with our heads above each other in a line, and we saw something. We saw a little bit.

"We saw the Wizard.

"We couldn't see all of his setup from where we were. It was probably thirty or so feet from where we were. But we did see him pass by, in that getup he wore when we fought him...the big green hat, the shirt, the black pants, and that long white beard and hair. He was going from one edge of the frame to the other, the way we were looking at it. That was enough for me. We'd seen him, we could get out.

"Zambini didn't see it that way.

"He was sidling down the corridor, back to the dirt wall, bound and determined to have one real good look at the Wizard's setup. I tried grabbing his shirt to hold him back, but he was too far out. I looked at Reuben, and he was looking mighty grim. Didn't dare say anything, but Zambini was too far away from him to grab. So the two of us sidled down after him, keeping very dad-gummed quiet. If Elmer Fudd had been as quiet as us, he'd've been fryin' up Bugs Bunny in a pan by the middle of a cartoon.

"We must've been within eight feet of the opening when Zam stopped. He could see everything, from where he was at. So could the both of us. I wish now we hadn't.

"There are things, ladies and gentlemen, I can't really tell you about. I don't know if I'd even dare tell another magician. But if I did tell one of them, he'd understand. There were things in that big room that made a Hand of Glory look like the Thing from the Addams Family TV show. There were symbols and things drawn and etched in the floor, the walls, the ceiling...I'd only heard of some of them, and I don't want to tell you where I'd heard of them. Some, only a few, I'd seen or heard mentioned in a book that gave you explicit directions to kiss an X on its first page. I managed not to. If you see a book like that, close it right then and there, and get out. Believe it.

"And those symbols and things, my friends, they weren't done in paint, for the most part. What they were done in...it was of human manufacture. Let's leave it at that.

"But it wasn't just magical stuff in that room, not just symbols and books and other stuff of that sort, though it was all there. He had high-tech equipment, too. Computers like I'd never seen, monitors, communicators, all sorts of stuff. If there was a kitchen or bathroom or living room off of that room, I never saw it. But somehow the scientific stuff looked just about as nasty as the mystical setup.

"I saw there was a hook, screwed into the ceiling, and a rope hanging from it, ending in a noose. There was a basin set into the floor under it, with a draining trough that went somewhere. I didn't have to ask myself very long what that was for. Or what would hang from that rope.

"That was when Zambini finally decided he'd had enough. He stopped being a sightseer, and started sidling back down the way. The two of us sidled along in front of him, all of us pressed with our backs up against the wall, trying not to even breathe too deeply. I felt more scared that moment than the time I penetrated Hitler's Berchtesgarten, let me tell you.

"But that wasn't nothing compared to what was to come.

"The Wizard stopped, then, right in the middle of his lair, right in front of the opening to the mine shaft. He looked straight into the shaft, and he said this. He said, `Good afternoon, gentlemen. You don't think I didn't feel you down here after all...did you?'

"And that was when it hit the fan, boys.

"Red Rube was the first one out and at him, what with his speed and power. He leaped out of that mineshaft like he was a cannon shell, and didn't hit the floor until he was right on top of the Wizard, bringing him down, trying to punch him in the face. We were on the run, too, hopping out of that shaft opening and getting ready to spell some spells. But the Wizard...

"...The Wizard, even though he was on his back, just reached up and grabbed Rube's chest with his left hand, right over the heart. And from where I was standing, I could see white fire, or white energy, just pouring out of his hand and going into Rube's chest. I've never heard a scream like that one Reuben screamed. It wasn't out of fear, ladies and gentlemen, let me assure you of that. Even where he was, Rube wouldn't have screamed in fear. It was out of pain.

"Rube tore himself loose and backed off, trying to get his wind back, and the two of us had our hands up and were throwin' bolts at the Wizard. He was already in a crouch. And he was grinnin'. Grinnin' with a grin he must've taken from the Devil himself. He just reached up his hand and caught both of our bolts in it, and ate it up like it was taffy mints.

"Then he sent it right back at the both of us, and knocked us over like two pieces of paper in a wind tunnel, and it hurt like blazes. It knocked me square over some of those symbols in the floor, and I mean to tell you, where I contacted them...it burned. Burned like hellfire, and that isn't a phrase I use lightly. We were up against the wall, feelin' like a log bridge a Sherman tank had gone across.

"Rube managed to pull himself together enough to charge the Wizard again. That man was one brave, brave hero, let me tell you. If he hadn't done what he did, I doubt that I'd be here to tell you the tale today. I doubt that any of you that I'm talking to knew him. That's your misfortune, I can assure you.

"But Rube attacked again. He hit the Wizard with everything he had, one good solid right hand, and it lifted the Wizard up and hurled him against the back wall, toppling over a couple of things in the process. It looked like he might have had him then. He rushed up at him, and I don't doubt that he would have given him a one-two that would have put him away, if he'd only been able to. In some other timeline, maybe he did. But not in ours.

"The Wizard just reached up an instant before Rube could have struck him, and grabbed him by the chin. There wasn't any white energy then. Not so's you could see. But I could sense something, something maybe you non-magics can't. Reuben's fist was just frozen there, in mid-air, like he was a Greek statue of an Olympic athlete. The Wizard got to his feet, and he was just holding Rube there, with Rube's feet a few inches off the ground. I could see Rube's eyes. There was terror in them.

"And the Wizard...the Wizard picked him up with both arms, knowing both of us were too dazed to do anything about it. And he took him over to that noose, hanging from the hook, and he...he brought the noose down a ways, looped it around Rube's feet, and hauled him up, so that he was head downward, his arms danglin', his...

"I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I've got to finish it. The two of us were watching. We were just about as paralyzed as Reuben. But Reuben wasn't unconscious, do you understand? He knew what was going on. He felt what was going to happen, when it happened.

"The Wizard went to a table and...took a knife. But it wasn't just any old knife. It was what you'd call an athame. It's used in...our trade. And he took it and slit...he...

"He cut Reuben open like a fish.

"The stuff...the stuff started dripping into the basin, and the...

"I don't want to tell you all of it. You can do without those pictures in your minds. God knows, I wish I didn't have them in mine. But I do have to tell you something else. The Wizard bent down to that basin. He put his face in it.

"And he drank what came out of Reuben.

"He brought his head up out of it, after a long moment. His face was mostly covered with...Reuben. And he was grinning. Worse than he'd grinned before. Much worse.

"That was when Zambini and I found our feet, put them under us, used `em to get us back in the mine shaft, and ran.

"We didn't look back. At least I know I didn't, and I doubt he did, either. If either of us had been Orpheus, we would have made it back with Eurydice that day, no problem. But we weren't far enough away to be out of range of the Wizard's voice.

"He was laughing. He told us to run. To run as far as we wanted, as long as we wanted. But whenever we used our magic, he could find us. And when he found us, he would have us.

"We heard him laughing. My God, we heard him laughing. I think we heard it a long time after we could have heard it with our ears.

"Don't ask me how both of us got out of that mine. Over a hundred feet down, and neither one of us using our magic to make our hands light up. We stumbled and tripped and fell and got up and kept going. I know both of us were praying, and it wasn't any magic prayer, ladies and gentlemen. Among other things, we prayed the Our Father. Maybe that was how we got out.

"We got back in the car and we drove. We drove like blazes. We didn't even stop to use the bathroom, or to get water or food, or anything else. We just drove, as fast as we could. Zam was at the wheel and he was floorboarding it. We were better than a hundred and fifty miles away before a speed cop caught up to us. By that time, we were glad of it.

"It gave both of us a chance to tell him about the mine shaft outside of Salem. He said they'd check it out, but I don't know if they did or not. I certainly hope they didn't, now. All that they'd get was death. The Wizard could have moved operations anywhere. I'm certain of that.

"We paid a speeding fine, got released, and got back in the car. After that, we gassed up, got eats and a bathroom break, and tried to figure out when either one of us would be able to sleep again.

"Zambini said we needed to split up. Said we'd have to go into hiding. I asked, what about the Crusaders? He said, `You really want them to go up against that, now?' I had to admit I didn't. I also have something to admit to you now, ladies and gentlemen: the both of us were just plain scared. Terrified. Out of our brains. We didn't want to go back there, and we didn't want to even know it was there.

"But Zam said something else to me then. He said, `I may never use my magic again. But if I do, Kardak, it'll be for one reason. I know your aura. If he catches up to me, before I die, I'll send you a pulse. A psychic pulse. You'll know I'm dead then. That's the time for you to contact the Crusaders. If you can. That'll mean that there's nothing left to stop him, but them.'

"And after that night, we split up. I didn't do my magician gigs anymore. Just pulled my money out of the bank and went on the run. It's been not quite a year since then, and I don't want to go through all the stuff that's happened to me in that time. Not important, anyway.

"But last week, I felt the pulse. Don't ask me how I knew what it was, because if you felt it, you'd know, yourself. It was Zambini. I could feel him, as if he was standing next to me, or maybe laying on top of that concrete table I was lying under at the roadside stop. I felt him strong, for a moment, and then I felt him fade. And as I felt him fade, even though it was through a filter, I felt his pain. And his fear.

"That's why I hitched my way to Capital City, ladies and gentlemen. That's why I ended up using my magic, to save the Fly.

"And now that I have, I don't think there's any magic that'll be able to save me."

-MC-

Eight costumed men stood in the strewn mess of Darla Lang's apartment. Captain Flag broke the silence. "Looks like that mind-message you got was right after all, Fox."

The black-clad hero nodded. "Somebody found her. No small trick. Question is, who?"

Bob Phantom, hovering in lotus position two feet off the floor, said, "We will know that when we find her."

Firefly scoffed. "No spit, Spurlock. The question is, how do we find her?"

"She is a mystic," said Bob. "I know her essence. From her emanations, I can track her down."

"Seriously?"

"Without a doubt," the ghost-man said.

"Then lead us to her, spookface," said Black Jack, smacking his fist into his palm. "After all this time in retirement, I'm ready to start bustin' heads."

Inferno said, "Brave words, Jack. I'll remember them. I just hope we don't have to put them on your tombstone."

The Guardians of Justice had never functioned as a team before. All of them were pushing fifty or had already pushed it, and, despite keeping themselves in shape, they were a bit past their prime. But that didn't stop them from being a force to reckon with.

Captain Flag took over as operative leader of the group. Bob Phantom played guide. The Fox, Inferno, Fireball, Firefly, and Black Jack filled out the ranks. The six who weren't living ghosts piled into two cars and followed the phantom in the sky. A couple of times, the Fox had to get on the communicator to him and tell him, "Stick to the roads! Stop going as the crow flies!"

"How many hidden bad-guy lairs have you been into, kid?" asked Fireball. "Counting the War, I mean."

"All of `em in the War," said Firefly. "I don't know. Six or seven, at least. Maybe eight. If you mean real all-out mad scientist or Nazi operative affairs. I don't count plain old crook hideouts."

"I don't either," said Fireball. "Those things are so run-of-the-mill. How about you, `Ferno?"

Inferno stretched himself and scratched his chest, in the back seat. "Stopped counting around twelve. Most of them thought they had to build underground. It would've been hell on a claustrophobe."

"Tell me why we're doing this after thirty years," Firefly said with a grin.

"Well, for one thing, you're still wearing the costume," Inferno said.

"Point one."

"And, for another, we've got a lady friend in distress. She's one of us. So..."

"...we don't leave our own in danger," finished Fireball. "Even if we're making payments for our kids' tuition in college. That's all."

"You've got kids in school, FB?"

"Oh, yeah. Jim and Jennifer. Told them if they didn't keep up their GPA, not only would I cut off their funds, I'd melt their cars."

"That's the way!"

In the Foxmobile, the Fox, Captain Flag, and Black Jack kept Bob Phantom in sight, and tracked him with a directional finder tuned to a transmitter they had given him. "What do you think, Cap'n?" asked the black-clad Fox, at the wheel.

"Shouldn't be too far from the sea," opined Flag. "None of us are equipped for scuba action."

"Well, at least Bobby there can get in and get a look at things, if she's underwater," said Black Jack, playing solitaire in the back seat. "Then maybe we can make arrangements."

"Who with?" asked the Fox.

"Lloyd freaking Bridges. How should I know?"

The Fox sighed. "Think it's too late to get Steel Sterling?"

"Just keep driving, Fox," advised Captain Flag.

The Fox considered things. Here he was, Paul Paxton, a reporter and photographer in his secret i.d., running around in an all-black, fox-eared costume as he had been, off and on, for the past three decades. At least he didn't look his age. His choreographer girlfriend would have told him, if he did.

But he and his crew were definitely undermanned, as far as super-powers went. He, Black Jack, and Captain Flag only had their dukes and acrobatic ability. Firefly could set off blasts of light from his body. Inferno, a former circus actor, breathed flame. Fireball radiated fire. Of their number, the only really impressive one seemed to be Bob Phantom, and they knew he wasn't up in Mr. Justice's class as a ghost-hero.

Yet, Darkling was one of their teammates. She was in danger.

The seven of them would have to do.

As it turned out, the trail led to a smallish seaside town which had seen better days, as such things go. The inhabitants who were out and about at night were agape at the two stylized cars that went swiftly through their environs. A motorcycle cop thought about stopping them just for the hell of it, but his radar showed them as under the speed limit, so he didn't bother.

More of them were amazed by the sight of the flying man in green. But few of them saw him swoop down and phase through the roof of an ancient bait shed built on a piling over the water. The Fox's and Fireball's cars pulled up in front of the place and the sextet of heroes got out.

"Think we should wait for Bob?" asked the Fox.

"I'm not waiting for anything," said Fireball, kicking the door open.

The six of them entered the shed, which looked as though it hadn't seen occupancy since Lyndon Johnson's term. They looked around, tested the floor with stomps, wondering where the Secret Door was. Bob Phantom came up from the floor, his head and shoulders protruding above the wood. "Down here," he said.

"Um. Thanks, Bob," said the Fox.

"Back off, all of you," said Fireball, herding the rest back with his arms. Then he pointed his hands and sent a blast of flame at the floor. It scorched, burned, fell through in moments. Inferno moved forward to swallow the excess flame, inhaling it into his body.

"Do you always have to grandstand like that?" griped Firefly.

Fireball shrugged. "It's been so long between jobs, I grab any chance to use it."

Opened before them was a sizable hole uncovering a flight of collapsible stairs. The walls around the stairs looked fairly new. The Fox estimated that this part had been attached or built on recently, and reminded himself that was no big deduction. "Well, gents," he said, "looks like the Guardians of Justice have their first gig."

"Go for it, Fox," said Black Jack. "Let's find the girl and bash some bad guys."

The seven descended the stairway and proceeded through a tunnel, its walls of plastic and metal. Leading the way was Bob Phantom, floating in the air before them. The men stayed silent, not wanting to give their presence away if they were still undetected. But they'd faced enough enemies already not to bank on that.

"Maybe we should have contacted the cops, and had them call the Crusaders," said Inferno. "Then somebody would know we were down here."

"I imagine the police already know we are," Captain Flag answered. "Saving Darkling is up to us. It's a little late to call in reinforcements now."

"Pipe down, guys," said Black Jack. "Up ahead. See it? The door."

A double door of the same material as the walls ended the tunnel, with both parts of the door joined together. Flag and Fox reached it first. Each of them put their fingers against the edge of one of the door halves and tried to pull it back. They were resisted.

The Fox panted, "None of us have super-strength, right?"

"Not unless somebody's developed it in the last five minutes," grunted Captain Flag.

Fireball stepped up. "Out of the way, boys. I'll melt the thing for you."

"Wouldn't advise that," said the Fox. "We're bound to be underwater by now. If you heat this thing hot enough to melt it, it could affect the walls around it as well. If they're breached, all of us have to do a quick dog-paddle."

"Besides which, it'd give us away, if we aren't already detected," said Flag. "How's about easing your mouth, and giving us a hand with your muscles?"

Just then, with a whirring noise, the door halves split and spread apart. A hallway was visible within. So was Bob Phantom.

"The controls were on the other side of the door," he explained.

"Awful handy of you," said the Fox. "Thanks."

The heroes entered the hallway, warily looking down both ends of the corridor, checking the plastic and metal doors lining it. They had encountered no defensive devices as of yet. That was not reassuring.

"Think the Wiz is hereabouts?" asked Firefly.

"Don't know what to think," said Fireball. "Let's concentrate on finding Darkling."

Before anyone else could respond, Bob Phantom stood motionless in the air, in a stance of warning. "Beware," he said. "I sense another..."

That was when an entire section of the hall opened up, to reveal a huge chamber beyond. It was festooned with hyperscientific equipment, monitors, high-tech furnishings, and a swivel-throne in the midst of all of it.

In the throne sat a shortish man in grey tunic, yellow kilt and boots, red pants, sleeves, and high-collared cape, white belt, and a crystalline dome that encased his cranium. He was bald, evil-featured, and smiling malevolently. He was unknown to all of the invaders, except one.

"It's the Brain Emperor!" exclaimed the Fox. "Hit him, boys! Hit him hard!"

Fireball and Inferno loosed great bursts of flame at their foe simultaneously. Firefly tried to blind him with a light-burst. Bob Phantom streaked at the Emperor, fist outstretched. The Fox, Captain Flag, and Black Jack waited till the flames would die down to attack him physically.

What the Fox knew of the Emperor raced through his mind in an instant. He was an alien from another world, populated by a race of mental giants. But the Emperor's mutant brain gave him psi-powers beyond all that of his race. He enslaved his people for a time, until they found a way of imprisoning him. When he escaped, a failsafe weapon prevented him from returning to his homeworld, and he came to Earth in search of conquest. He nearly got it, too, by mentally dominating the Mighty Crusaders, until the Comet defeated him by a trick and sent him packing.

In more recent days, the Emperor had fought the Crusaders twice more, and teamed with other villains to attack the Fox alone. The Fox had stood with the Crusaders during their last battle against the Emperor, in which Darkling had been brain-blasted and sent to another dimension. He had been unseen from that time to this.

Knowing they faced him, instead of the Wizard, wasn't much comfort.

Suddenly, Bob Phantom was hurled back through the flames that Fireball and Inferno had concocted, an expression of pain on his face. He looked like a tennis ball bouncing off a backboard. The flames, instead of incinerating the Emperor, batched together before him, formed a giant fireball, and shot forward at the Guardians. The heroes scattered amidst a wave of yells.

The Fox and Flag regained their feet first and sprinted at the Emperor, grimly gambling on reaching him before he could react. They lost.

Against their will, Flag and the Fox turned towards each other and began delivering powerful punches at each other's jaw and body. Black Jack, grunting in an effort to resist, joined the brawl to make it a three-way. Firefly desperately flared up for another white-light burst. Two fists caught him on either side of the head, one belonging to Inferno, the other to Fireball. He went down, unconscious, after which Fireball and Inferno began battering one another.

"Flag, we've got to stop," rasped the Fox, through numbed lips.

"I know we've got to, Fox," said Captain Flag, throwing another punch. "But I can't!"

Bob Phantom rallied, hurtled forward again, stretching out a hand to attack the Emperor with waves of mystic power rather than a fist. The Emperor seemed bowed by the effort for a moment. The six puppets under his power fought to regain their volition. Then, snarling, the crystal-domed villain put forth more mental effort, reasserted his control, and battered back Bob Phantom's offense. The ghost-man's eyes widened within his green mask.

The spectral hero turned to escape and summon help. "I think not," said the Emperor, and put his mind even more to the task.

The weird warrior strove to stay in a standing position, solid enough to walk on the floor. Then his hands went to his temples and he cried out in pain, throwing his head back. Battered to his knees, and then prone, by the mental assault, Bob Phantom resisted as much as he could. But, at the end, he could not. He went limp on the floor.

The Fox saw it a moment before Captain Flag's crashing right robbed him of consciousness. After that, the Emperor's mind-blast put Flag in the same state. He had been the last of the septet to stay on his feet.

Now, there were none.

"Third Unit, come forth," ordered the Brain Emperor.

A pair of doors behind him slid open. The Gadgeteer, Dr. Demon, Elasto, the Monster-Master, and Dr. Evil emerged, trying to hide their awe of what their commander had just accomplished.

"They came for the one called Darkling," the Emperor observed. "Place them in stasis cells beside her. Then make ready to join your fellows. The Crusaders will inevitably be on their trail."

-MC-

After Kardak's last sentence, the Comet was the one to break the silence. "That may not be true, Kardak," he said. "You haven't been attacked yet. We can pledge the power of the Crusaders to keep you safe, as much as we can."

"Yeah," said Kardak, glumly. "As much as you can. How good has that been, so far?"

"Okay, pops," put in the Black Hood, over the long-distance connection. "So he's put us on our backs a time or two. So what? Are we supposed to roll over and die because this guy has a few tricks? The way you told it, your pal the Red Dude went down fighting. Isn't that what you think he'd want us to do?"

"Pretty sure it is," allowed Kardak. "That's why I'm going with you against him. I may be scared as hell. But I'm going down facing that son of a bitch. He's going to be the last thing I see, and I'll be stuffing a magic bolt down his throat."

"Or maybe you will be the last thing that he sees," said Kree-Nal. "Do not underestimate your power, old one. Or our own."

Mayor Dearborn drew a deep breath. "Gentlemen," he said, "just in case this, um, Wizard decides to counterattack...would you..."

The Fly said, "We'll be out of here before long, your honor. We don't want to endanger anyone else by our presence. You're right."

The first Shield's voice came through the speakerphone. "So, Kardak, do you think the Wizard's still in that cavern outside of Salem? After all these months?"

Kardak shrugged. "It's as good a guess as any. Right now, it's the only clue we've got. I'll help you find him and fight him, if he's there."

"Well said, brother," said the Fly, putting a hand on Kardak's shoulder. "You're in with us on this, as long as you want. Kree-Nal and Cat Girl, too, if they'll stand with us."

The green woman said, "Though my water-world is not yet endangered, I cannot rely on that if this Wizard prevails. Also, he threatens the Jaguar, who is my friend. I will stay."

"I shall, also," said Cat Girl. "You may rely on my powers, Jaguar."

"Thanks, ladies," said the Jaguar. "Sincerely. But you haven't fought this guy before. I have, and even I don't think I know what I'm in for."

"So what's our plan now?" asked Fly Girl. "Should we go straight to Salem, or hook up with you boys first?"

The Web said, "I think the second idea is best. If you meet us in Boston, it'll give us a chance for planning and a night to sleep before we enter battle. In case he's actually there, of course. What do the rest of you think?"

"That'll give him another night to prepare, too," the Fly pointed out.

"Fly, he's been prepared, for a lot more than one night," came the Hangman's voice. "I know him well enough to tell you that."

The Insect Warrior rubbed the back of his neck. "Okay, Hangman. We'll meet up with you in Boston. Stay put, and stay in contact. Anything else?"

"Nothing else," said the Comet. "Except-Godspeed."

"You too," said the Jaguar. "Out."

Kardak looked at his allies. "So," he said, "do we go straight to Boston?"

The Fly shook his head, smiling. "No, John. First we're going to get you a bath, a new set of clothes, and a meal. Then we'll go to Boston."

For the first time in too long, Kardak smiled. "Best words I've heard in months," he said.

-MC-

The Gadgeteer, a weapons-wielding brigand, fought off a shudder as he manhandled Bob Phantom into a stasis tube and clamped it shut. It as amazing the hero was material enough for him to do that.

"Don't be such a pantywaist," advised the white-faced Dr. Evil, who bore more than a little resemblance to a Universal Pictures vampire of the 1940's. "He may be part ghost, but he's as cold as a mackerel."

"Just wish I had your assurance," said the Gadgeteer. He watched as a paralyzing gas filled the chamber and condensed. "I've never fought this guy before and I'm not eager to."

Evil scoffed. "With that kind of spirit, you might as well forget about taking on the Crusaders when they come."

"Nah, I'm on with them. I've fought their kind of hero before. Bring `em on!"

A rubbery hand tapped him on the shoulder. The Gadgeteer cried out and whirled. The one who had tapped him stood a full ten feet away, and his arm had stretched across the entire space between. Elasto laughed cruelly. Dr. Evil was almost bent over with laughter. The Gadgeteer's face turned red.

"If we weren't on the same side," he said. "If we weren't supposed to be allies..."

"Hey, why not try me?" came a voice from above. "I'm not an ally."

All three of them looked up, a little too late.

A blonde, powerful figure, in red short-sleeved shirt and leggings and blue trunks and boots, was dropping from the metal rafters above. He landed on the Gadgeteer like a bomb, flattening him, his hand pinning the villains' wrist to keep the weapon in his hand away. Elasto's arms were already snaking towards him, and Dr. Evil had drawn a blaster from his cloak.

Steel Sterling was already in motion.

He somersaulted over, landing on his hands, springing up out of the range of Elasto's elongated hands, and kicking Evil in the face with both feet. The bad man's weapon went flying. Dr. Evil struggled to remain conscious, but it was a losing fight. Steel Sterling's body had been amalgamated with the power of steel itself. Unaided, no man could stand before him for long.

A solid right hand came up and contacted Dr. Evil's jaw. He slumped to the floor, uncaring and unconscious.

But Elasto was on Steel at once, his python-like limbs encircling the hero's body, pinning his arms to his sides, and his throat, squeezing away at Steel's windpipe. Steel struggled to keep air in his lungs. Elasto wasn't a pushover by any means, and his strength seemed to rival Sterling's.

"You, I don't think I'll put in stasis," chortled the stretching villain. "I doubt the Emperor will mind very much if I just kill you."

Steel Sterling lowered his jaws to Elasto's encircling arm where it was most solid, and bit him.

Elasto cried out in pain, trying to make his entrapped limb flow away from Steel's teeth. But the hero kept biting down on the rubbery flesh, his teeth meeting and bringing spurts of blood. The malleable menace screamed in pain, loosening his other arm, battering at Steel's head. The pain was too great to bear.

With the coils of flesh no longer encircling him, Steel opened his jaws, leapt away, hit the floor, rolled over the unconscious Dr. Evil, and came up, pointing the villain's weapon at Elasto. The elongated evildoer was caught half between trying to stretch to the exit door and half between trying to attack Steel again.

Steel didn't give him that much time. He triggered the weapon, not knowing what it would do, but guessing it would be more effective than using his fists against a head of rubber.

A blast of electrical energy struck Elasto and made him scream once again, his eyes going saucer-wide, his hair standing on end. After another second, he fell flat on his face. Steel lowered Dr. Evil's weapon, nudged him with his foot, checked his breathing, and judged him out cold.

Then he looked upon the eight hero-occupied tubes before him, and decided which one to open.

His hands went to the tube containing Bob Phantom and wrenched it open.

The green-clad hero fell into his arms, breathing in untainted air. Steel set him aside on the floor, gathered up Elasto, stuffed him in the stasis tube, and shut it once again.

Within a short time, Bob Phantom was conscious once again. "Steel," he said, loggily. "How did you find us?"

Steel smiled. "Good to see you, too, Bob. Darkling issued me an invitation, remember? Once I got free, I went to your meeting room, picked up one of your directional finders, and followed you. Sorry I was late."

"From my viewpoint, you're just in time," said Bob. "Let's free the others."

The blonde man shook his head. "That'd take too long. We need to get word to the Mighty Crusaders. If you point me in the right direction, you can come back and free the rest while I'm sending the signal. That okay with you?"

"I'll come with you," Bob said. "If the Emperor shows, you'll need a helping hand."

The phantasmal hero quickly found a communications room, manned by Dr. Demon. Steel quickly rendered the ex-Nazi senseless, lay him aside, and tuned a device to the Crusader's belt-radio frequencies. "Steel Sterling here," he said. "If any of the Crusaders are on, speak up. Pronto."

After a moment, he heard the voice of the third Shield. "This is Shield III, Steel. What's up? Over."

Steel breathed in relief. "I'm in the Brain Emperor's hideout, Shield. Let me fill you in." He proceeded to give them their
location and a short version of what had come to pass. His narrative was cut short by one word from Bob Phantom, in a warning tone: "Steel!"

He lunged back just in time to miss a bullet that hit the microphone he had been using and blasted it to bits.

The two heroes found themselves facing Radiation Rogue, the Knave, Martial Law, the Magnetic Menace, and the Monster-Master, whose gun was still smoking.

Steel smacked Bob Phantom on the shoulder. "Free the others, Bob. Go. I'll handle these by myself." He shot forward like a bullet.

Bob Phantom phased through the wall, allowing himself one look back. The Magnetic Menace had Steel in his power and was spinning him around like a top.

Closing his eyes to it, the ghost-man sped towards the place where the Guardians lie captive.

And as he flew, he prayed.

"That settles it," said the Fly. "Saddle up, guys. We'll meet you upstate."

"Roger that," said the first Shield. "Out."

The winged hero turned to his allies, Fly Girl, Jaguar, Kree-Nal, Cat Girl, and Kardak. All of them were standing on the roof of a Capital City skyscraper. "I guess you heard as much as I did," he said. "Kree, Cat, Kardak, none of you have fought the Brain Emperor before. He's a mutant with highly developed psi-powers. Telepathy, mind-control, telekinesis. Also alien weaponry. He's going to be tough."

"So are we," said Fly Girl. Her right fist bunched, unconsciously.

"We shall be ready," asserted Kree-Nal, the beautiful green water-girl. "But will we be in time?"

The Jaguar said, "I've summoned a Crusader-Craft by remote control. It'll fly faster than the Flies or I can, Kree. We'll either be on time to help them, or...to avenge them."

Kardak was bathed, fed, and dressed in fresh shirt, windbreaker, pants, and shoes. "Got to admit, I feel more like a human being with you folks around. More like, well, what I used to be."

"A hero?" asked Fly Girl.

He nodded. "Yeah. But we'll see. I've been a coward too long. It's time I got back in the fight. Thanks for letting me be part of it."

Cat Girl stood before him. "There are times, Kardak, when fear is wise. When one faces odds one cannot overcome, retreat is sensible. But at times when courage is required, fear should only be regarded as a warning. If your fear has delivered you to us at the time we most need you, I would hardly say it was wrong to feel it."

The magician smiled. "Thank you, ma'am. Don't worry about being scared, either. Right now, I'm scared enough for all six of us."

The Jaguar put a hand to his belt communicator. "Getting a signal, group. I think our ride is just about here."

Fly Girl looked into the sky. It just wasn't fair, and she knew it would not be fair. She and Thomas had barely a week to enjoy their married status without being called into action. Without having to rub the rings and say the magic words. Not even that long, before the idiots on the other side went on the attack again. And even with all the heroes that were on their side, they still had to call the Flies back into action.

But she had wanted to keep being a heroine, as long as she was up to it. She had just hoped and prayed for a little more time off. Now, she reflected that she might have to rethink the entire hero thing. Whether she wanted to or not.

She glanced at the Fly, saw he was looking at her, and wondered if he had similar thoughts.

Kree-Nal said, "I believe it is there," and pointed. The others looked in that direction and saw a silver sliver in the sky, getting larger.

"That's it, crew," said the Fly. "Get ready to strap in. Once we start those Altroxian engines, it'll be a fast ride."

-MC-

The Comet, at the helm of the other Crusader-Craft, checked the digital clock in the control panel. "We'll be there within twenty minutes," he said. "Now, if they can only hold out that long."

Lance Strong, sitting beside him in the co-pilot's seat, said, "It's possible the bad guys won't be trying to kill them. After all, Steel said they were just put in tubes before."

"That was when they were fighting the Emperor, Lance," said Bill Higgins, the second Shield. "He could afford to go easy on them. He's using them as bait for us, most likely."

"My thinking too, son," Joe Higgins said, sitting beside him in the second tier of seats. "Which means our enemies will probably forget about the kid gloves when we get there. Or maybe before."

The Black Hood shoved more armament into his Pepperbox. "Let `em. I'm more used to playing with gloves that have a horseshoe inside."

"Ease up, Kip." The Web kept his tone deliberately calm. "Most likely we'll be facing the Eliminators and that motley crew the Emperor has assembled, both. If we get overconfident, most likely we'll get hurt."

The Hangman said, "I guess the only good thing so far is that the Wizard hasn't shown his face around there. Maybe he's just content for Braino to do his dirty work. Although I wouldn't count on that."

"Still going to use your special rope, Bob?" asked the Hood.

The blue-masked man held the end of his coil of rope and watched it writhe in the air at his mental command. "As long as I can, Hood. As long as I can."

The Web placed his hands together, thoughtfully. "Strange how this came up, just when we learned the Wizard's probable whereabouts. Almost as if it was a delaying tactic."

"I tend to agree, John," said the Comet, steering the flying ship with a touch of his gloved fingers. "Must be some part of the picture that isn't quite filled in yet. But we really don't have any choice. Those are our friends down there."

"Think we'll get a chance to crash between fights?" asked Bill Higgins.

"Wouldn't count on it, son," said Joe. "Just keep drinking coffee."

-MC-

Bob Phantom barely had time to tear open three of the stasis tubes before the enemy arrived. But he had chosen well. Darkling, Fireball, and Inferno were out and awake by the time Dr. Demon, Dragonfly, Sting, Death-Monger, and Buzzard made their entrance.

"Murder them," advised Dr. Demon, pointing a hollow steel finger at them and triggering a mini-missle.

Darkling swirled her cloak, stepped forward, caught the missle in the folds of her cape, and teleported it to another dimension. "Now that's done," she said, and turned to face Dragonfly, "let's see about you."

"Suits me fine, witch-bitch," said the villainess, assuming a defensive stance. The two began to circle.

Death-Monger, seeing Bob Phantom break open more tubes, snapped, "Enough of this!" He pulled a cylinder from a pouch in his shirt and tossed it at the green-clad ghost-man. Inferno belched out flame, caught the cylinder on the fly, and watched it detonate in mid-air. Fireball pointed his hands and shot out more fire, herding their foes back. The Buzzard flapped his wings, left the ground, vaulted over the flames, and came down towards the heroes.

The hand of Black Jack closed on his ankle. "Flight school's over, Junior Birdman," he grated. With a sudden effort, he swung the flying foe around and smashed his head against the wall. The Buzzard dropped to the floor.

Unfortunately, Sting was already in the air.

Sting was a skull-masked, winged, costumed villain whose claw-tipped fingers, spiked elbow guards, and knife-edged boots could all deliver enough venom to kill a man. He was part of the Eraser's Riot Squad, and he had no love whatever for heroes. He buzzed over the dying flames and stretched his claws out towards Black Jack's back.

Bob Phantom had just released and revived Captain Flag. Seeing Sting's attack, he started to intervene. "No," said Flag, pushing him back. "Leave him to me."

With that, the American Guardian threw himself forward on his hands, sprang upward, landed on Sting's back, locked his legs around his foe's midsection, and brought both his hands around in a powerful double-chop to the villain's throat. Sting choked, gasped, and saw stars. He tried to reach backward, but Flag's fingers were already at a pressure point in his neck. Before much more could be done, both of them plummeted to the floor. Captain Flag rolled away, unhurt.

Black Jack stuck his thumb in the air. "One I owe ya, Flagman."

"No problem, Jack," said the Captain.

But Dr. Demon, swearing in German, was already in their midst, swinging his metal arm like a battle axe. The heroes backed away from its powerful swiping, even if he wasn't firing any more armament from his finger. Firefly said, "This one's mine," and, placing himself in front of Demon, flared up with a multi-candlepower light blast.

Demon threw his normal arm in front of his eyes and called Firefly a "very damned lightning bug" in German. Firefly grabbed his arm, pulled it away from his face, and hung one on his jaw. Demon went over backwards, hit his head on the floor, and lay still.

Death-Monger found that blasting away at Bob Phantom was of little use, since the hero could become as unsolid as the air. He decided to try for an easier target, like the Fox. Before he could manage that, the phantom paladin solidified a hand, grabbed him by the shirt front, and slammed him into a wall. After three more such slams, Death-Monger was unconscious.

That left Darkling and Dragonfly, who had been chopping, kicking, elbowing, twisting, and throwing each other around like a pair of stunt girls from a chop-socky film. Darkling had knocked a couple of weapons out of Dragonfly's grasp and, with her opponent disarmed, didn't deign to use her teleporting cloak against her. But she let her guard down at an inappropriate time, and a hard, booted kick made contact with her bare midsection. "UMPH!" went Darkling, doubling and bumping up against the wall.

A wicked backhand from Dragonfly slammed against the side of Darkling's face. The brunette beauty went down on the floor. Black Jack started forward, but the Fox grabbed his arm. "Wait just a second," he asked. "Give the gal just one more chance."

Smiling wickedly, Dragonfly got Darkling's head in the crook of her elbow and prepared to give it a neck-breaking wrench. The others might have failed, but at least she could claim a dead hero.

That was when Darkling's own hard elbow caught her in the gut, knocking the wind out of her. The female Guardian pushed out of Dragonfly's grasp, faced her, and sent a savate kick into her jaw with full impact. Dragonfly's head banged off the wall in reaction, and Darkling stepped out of the way. The masked villainess pitched forward, flat on her face.

Darkling sighed and rubbed her sore gut muscles. The Fox made his way to her, grabbed her right wrist, and held her arm high. "The winnah!" he announced. Darkling grinned, wearily.

"Thanks, Fox...?"

The Fox heard the question that she ended her sentence with and looked in the direction she was looking. Most of the others were looking that way as well. Three new players had been added to the game. The Fox knew two of them from his last battles with the Crusaders. The third one he knew a bit more intimately.

One of the trio towered high above the other two, an inhuman, oblong-headed mass of red animated mineral matter, who could reshape his stony body in any way he pleased. This was Redstone. The Fox well knew this being was capable of tearing any or all of them apart, except maybe Bob Phantom, and would have no qualms about doing it.

The second was human, a white-costumed black man whose hands glowed with destructive energy. He smiled wrathfully at the Guardians. "Hi, there," said Deadly Force. "Just call us the Aces in the Hole."

The third was a woman. She was clad in a red form-fitting garment and wore a full-face crimson mask, behind which her long black hair flowed out and was tied in a ponytail. The Fox wasn't certain, but he could swear her movements seemed somewhat different than the last time he had seen her. No less quick, but...perhaps a little robotic.

The big thing was that she had a submachine pistol in her hand.

The Fox couldn't stop himself from saying, "She-Fox! It's you!" before she opened up on them with it.

-MC-

John Whitney made sure he had his old Navy service revolver with him when he answered the door. The way things were going, you couldn't be too sure.

Thankfully, the man standing on his doorstep looked friendly enough, in his late forties or early fifties, in a business suit, hair reddish but shot through with grey. "Hello," he said. "John Whitney?"

"The same," said John, sticking out his hand and shaking his visitor's. "And you'd be Danny?"

"Dan Simmons, that's right," the other man said. "Can I come in?"

"May as well," said John. "Everybody else has been lately, friend or foe."

Dan looked at his host and his smile faded a bit. "You know, Joe looks younger than either one of us. And he's probably older than you," he said, stepping inside.

Whitney nodded, shutting and locking the door. "All those hero-types do. Kind of like that American Bandstand feller. Have a beer?"

"Don't mind if I do. But don't tell Joe." Dan Simmons found his way to the couch and sat down. John came back from the kitchen with a pair of opened Michelobs. "All I ask is that you don't bring any more of those super-villains with you. I had my share of that a couple days ago, with those other Crusaders."

Taking the beer, Dan said, "Thanks. Are they still in town?"

"Don't think so," said Whitney. "From what the television said, they took off in one of those flying bathtubs of theirs today and left. Didn't tell me or anybody in the news business where they were going."

"Damn," said Dan. "I wanted to help. Don't know that I could, but..." He sighed, took a sip of beer, and continued. "I thought if they were in town, that might mean your brother was back. Maybe Roy, too."

"I believe they told me Roy was in hiding," said John, sitting before him. "We had an unexpected visitor while they were here, too."

"Who?"

"Guy who called himself the Wizard. But I don't think he was my brother."

Dan held the beer thoughtfully between his hands. "Okay. You mean the criminal Wizard attacked you guys here?"

"That's right."

"And you don't think he was the Wizard that I used to know?"

"Can't say for certain. But I doubt it."

"So what happened to the real Wizard?"

"I've been asking myself that question for better than thirty years," said John.

Dan Simmons sat back, silent and thinking.

"Mind if I ask you a question, Mr. Simmons?"

Looking up, Dan said, "What? I mean, no. Go right ahead."

"Don't think you've been in contact with your old partner. You know, the old Shield. The one I met, way-back-when. Or either of these new Shields, for that matter. Why not?"

Dan shook his head. "It's a long story, Mr. Whitney."

"Call me John, please. At my age, I'm used to long stories."

"How much do you know about me?"

"I know you were the Shield's partner. I guess you can start from there."

Dan Simmons sat back and looked towards the ceiling.

"I was born in 1927. Mom died when I was six, of cancer. My dad died in 1940. That was the year I met the Shield. I pulled him out of a burning plane. Like something out of a boy's magazine, but I really did it. That's how I ended up getting the costume, and the name, Dusty. I was twelve years old when I started. I was twenty when I quit.

"I probably don't have to go into all the guys we fought. The Vulture, Boroff, the Hun, Dr. Wang, the Strangler...heck, we even ran into Hitler a time or two. That's all past. The Shield got married, and he adopted me. That was great, I thought. But it was 1947 by that time, and I was already out of school. I still didn't know what I wanted to do with my life. The only thing I'd ever been was a kid partner to a super-hero. I knew just about zilch, apart from that.

"Then the Shield and his wife had a son, and then...it's hard for me to tell it. Good Lord, I don't like to talk about it."

"Take your time," advised John Whitney, quietly.

"I don't like to make it sound like a big brother-baby brother thing. But in a way, it was. The Shield had a son of his own, now. What did he need with me? I was as nice to the kid as I knew how. It wasn't his fault he got born, any more than it was my fault my daddy died. But I knew from then on that the number one spot in the Shield's heart...or maybe number two, after his wife...was going to be his real son. He didn't treat me badly, don't worry. But that was the way I felt.

"But there was more to it than that. This was the late Forti

Post Mon Jan 24, 2005 1:16 am
darkmark90 User avatar
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Posts: 11

Mighty Crusaders meta

ANTI-FLY LEAGUE: Group of enemies of the Fly and Fly Girl, banded
together to oppose their common foes. Current members include the
Spider, Lady Spider, Lxo III, Roxr, Bra-Kr, Dovi, and new members
Phantasmon and the Red Shark; former members include the second Metal
Master and Karl Rance. Intro: ADVENTURES OF THE FLY #21.

BLACK HOOD (Matthew Kipling "Kip" Burland): A New York patrolman
framed by the Skull, who subsequently shot him. Burland was rescued
by a man known as the Hermit, who nursed him back to health and
trained him to become the Black Hood, latest of a line of Black
Hoods. Recently, he was killed by the Eraser. Intro: TOP-NOTCH
COMICS #9.

BLACK HOOD (Thomas Kipling "Kip" Burland): A police detective who,
when thwarted by regulations while trying to apprehend criminals, was
told of his heritage as the heir of the Black Hood line by his uncle
Matthew. Kip subsequently became the modern Black Hood, and has
lately sworn to bring the Eraser to justice for his uncle's murder.
Intro: ARCHIE'S SUPER-HERO DIGEST #2.

BLACK JACK (Jack Jones): A detective and inveterate blackjack player
who was captured by criminals and was presumed dead. Jones escaped
and assumed the guise of Black Jack to operate undercover. Member of
the Guardians of Justice. Intro: ZIP COMICS #20.

BOB PHANTOM (Walt Whitney): Former stage magician and reporter with
ghostly powers. His origin has never been revealed. Member of the
Guardians of Justice. Intro: TOP-NOTCH COMICS #2.

BRAIN EMPEROR, THE: An alien villain from the planet K-Shazor, whose
mutant brain gave him psi-powers of telepathy, mind-control, and
telekinesis, along with great intellect that enabled him to create
spacecraft and high-tech weaponry. Defeated and exiled from his
homeworld, the Brain Emperor came to Earth to conquer it, but ran
afoul of the Mighty Crusaders. He was defeated in two other
encounters with the heroes. Intro: MIGHTY CRUSADERS (1st series) #1.

BRA-KR: A four-armed green-skinned alien from the planet Gxau, where
he manufactured munitions. Bra-Kr hoped to deceive the Fly and Fly
Girl into helping him foment war on alien planets against Earth,
thereby enabling him to sell more weapons, but was foiled. Member of
the Anti-Fly League. Intro: ADVENTURES OF THE FLY #16.

BRONTOSAURUS: An "undead" behemoth of incredible size and strength.
Member of the Eliminators. Intro: MIGHTY CRUSADERS (2nd series) #4.

CAPTAIN FLAG (Tom Townsend): Patriotic costumed hero who fought Nazis
in World War II and criminals thereafter. Tom Townsend's father, a
scientist, was strangled to death by a criminal as Tom watched. He
was rescued by an eagle who one day brought him an American flag,
prompting him to assume the Captain Flag identity. Former member of
the Ultra-Men, current member of the Guardians of Justice. Intro:
BLUE RIBBON COMICS #16.

CAT GIRL: A "cat-goddess" who was the original model for the Sphinx
of ancient Egypt and who has cat-like powers and control of all
feline animals. Originally a foe of the Fly, she later became an
enemy and then a friend to the Jaguar. Intro: ADVENTURES OF THE FLY
#9.

COMET, THE (John Dickering): A scientist who discovered a gas that
gave him the powers of flight and disintegrating vision. He was
sought as a criminal after accidentally killing policemen, though he
fought crime. He was shot by criminals and believed killed, but
instead was brought to the planet Altrox where his life was saved and
he was put to work destroying the Mecks, criminal robots. After he
married and his wife was subsequently killed, the Comet, whose powers
were suppressed by the Altroxian atmosphere, adopted a new costume
and power-gloves and returned to Earth. Later his original powers
returned for a time, but faded, prompting him to return to his Altrox
gear. Brother of the Hangman and member of the Mighty Crusaders.
Intro: PEP COMICS #1.

DARKLING (Darla Lang): Intro: MIGHTY CRUSADERS (2nd series) #3.

DEADLY FORCE: A super-villain with energy-blasting powers. Intro:
MIGHTY CRUSADERS (2nd series) #13.

DR. DEMON: An ex-Nazi scientist with a metal arm, who joined with
Shiwan Khan to attempt to defeat the Shadow. Intro: THE SHADOW #4.

DR. EVIL: A chalk-white-faced criminal from a future era who came to
the 20th Century in order to free the Monster-Master from captivity
and to battle Steel Sterling and the Black Hood. His main weapon is
a "multi-effect power ring". Intro: MIGHTY COMICS #49.

DOVI: A murderer from the year 2261 who killed a scientist to steal
his well-armed time machine and brought it back to the 20th Century
to search for a hidden treasure, whereupon he encountered and battled
the Fly. Member of the Anti-Fly League. Intro: ADVENTURES OF THE
FLY #13.

DRAGONFLY, THE: A costumed female agent of PERIL who uses martial
arts and gimmicks in her crimes, and who crossed the path of Shield
III twice. Intro: MIGHTY COMICS #44.

DREAM-DEMON: A villainess and witch who has lived centuries and who
murdered Darkling's mentress. She has illusion powers, among other
abilities, and is a member of the Eliminators. Intro: MIGHTY
CRUSADERS (2nd series) #4.

DUSTY (Daniel Simmons): Young partner of the Shield in the 1940's,
whose father died and who was subsequently taken on as a ward by Joe
Higgins. Dusty was given a costume and secret identity as the
Shield's partner and became part of a two-boy team, the Boy Buddies,
with the Wizard's partner Roy. Dusty later left the Higgins family
mysteriously after graduation, and was not found until much later.
Intro: PEP COMICS #11.

ELASTO: An ex-FBI scientist given stretching powers and an evil
nature due to a chemical accident, who nevertheless regrets his
criminal doings. A foe of the Shadow. Intro: THE SHADOW #8.

ERASER, THE: Criminal scientist and masked hitman who, in the late
Forties, used a ray of his own making to turn the first Shield into
an iron statue. In the 1960's, he was defeated and sent to another
dimension by the second Shield. Later, he returned to Earth,
amnesiac, but had his memory restored by the Brain Emperor. He then
incorporated dimensional-transport devices into his gloves, enabling
him to "erase" things by touching them, and killed the Black Hood
(Matt Burland). Intro: MIGHTY CRUSADERS (1st series) #1.

EVILO THE TEMPTER: A sorcerer from ancient Egypt with fantastic
magical powers who was entombed in suspended animation and revived in
the 1960's in America. He fought the Comet and Shield but was
mummified by contact with his nemesis, Ozbane. Intro: FLY MAN #34.

FIREBALL (Ted Tyler): Super-hero with fire-emitting powers, which he
gained after being bathed with chemicals in a fire. Member of the
Guardians of Justice. Intro: PEP COMICS #12.

FIREFLY, THE (Harley Hudson): Super-hero with light-radiating
powers. Harley Hudson, a biochemist, discovered a chemical which
gave him that power. Member of the Guardians of Justice. Intro: TOP-
NOTCH COMICS #8.

FLY, THE (Thomas Troy; formerly FLY MAN): Originally a youth given a
magic fly ring by Turan, emissary of the Fly World. The ring enabled
Tommy Troy to magically change into the Fly, a hero with the powers
of the insect world. He later grew up and became a lawyer. Husband
of Fly Girl and member of the Mighty Crusaders. Intro: DOUBLE LIFE
OF PRIVATE STRONG #1.

FLY GIRL (Kim Brand Troy): An actress given a ring like the Fly's by
Turan to become his partner. Wife of the Fly and member of the
Mighty Crusaders. Intro: ADVENTURES OF THE FLY #13.

FOX, THE, II (Paul Patton, Jr.): Costumed hero who wears an all-black
outfit with a foxlike mask. A news reporter and photographer in his
civilian identity. The current Fox is the son of Paul Patton, Sr.,
the original Fox, who assumed his costumed identity as a reporter to
help fight crime. Former member of the Ultra-Men and Mighty
Crusaders, currently a member of the Guardians of Justice. Intro:
BLUE RIBBON COMICS #4.

GADGETEER, THE: A small-time crook who stumbled upon a computer
invented by a subterranean race, which he used to give himself
incredible weapons with which to fight the first Black Hood. The
weaponry later dissolved, but the Gadgeteer has designed new weaponry
to take its place. Intro: MIGHTY COMICS #44.

HANGMAN, THE (Bob Dickering): Super-hero and member of the Mighty
Crusaders. Bob Dickering became the Hangman, a rope-wielding hero,
to avenge the supposed death of his brother, the Comet, at the hands
of gangsters. Later, in the Sixties, he was given a magic rope that
would obey his mental commands. He became a villain for a time under
the mental influence of the Wizard, but later reformed. Intro: PEP
COMICS #17.

HUN, THE: Nazi super-villain who stumbled upon the shield of Attila
the Hun which gave him great strength and powers. He died in battle
with the Shield during the 1940's, but was revived by the Wizard for
another try. Intro: SHIELD-WIZARD COMICS #7.

INFERNO (Frank Verrano): A mutant with the power to eat, generate,
and regurgitate fire. Member of the Guardians of Justice. Intro:
ZIP COMICS #10.

JAGUAR, THE (Ralph Hardy): An archaeologist and zoologist who
discovered a magic jaguar belt which gave him the powers of the
animal kingdom while in a Peruvian temple. Intro: ADVENTURES OF THE
JAGUAR #1.

KARDAK (John Cardy): A crime-fighting magician. Intro: TOP-NOTCH
COMICS #1.

KNAVE, THE: An all-star athlete who became a costumed criminal and
battled Shield III. Intro: MIGHTY COMICS #41.

KREE-NAL: A green-skinned, white-haired mer-woman who has command
over sea life and who is an ally of the Jaguar. Intro: ADVENTURES OF
THE JAGUAR #3.

LADY SPIDER (Linda Drake): Super-villainess and enemy of Fly Girl.
Originally Linda Drake, leader of the criminal Amazon Gang, she found
Fly Girl's ring and used it to temporarily give herself and her gang
members fly powers. Later, she became the Spider's mistress and was
given spider-like super-powers by scientific means. Member of the
Anti-Fly League. Intro: ADVENTURES OF THE FLY #20.

LODESTONE: Super-villain with magnetic powers, and enemy to the
Mighty Crusaders. Intro: MIGHTY CRUSADERS (2nd series) #4.

LXO III: A Martian criminal scientist who originally sought to
duplicate the powers of the Fly, but was foiled by Fly Girl. Member
of the Anti-Fly League. Intro: ADVENTURES OF THE FLY #19.

MAGNETIC MENACE, THE: A criminal scientist who originally fought
Steel Sterling with the aid of a "magno-scooter" that utilized
magnetic force and more conventional weapons. He was dragged into
the upper atmosphere when he stole Steel's anti-gravity belt, but
managed to return to Earth and has modified it and joined it with
other devices to allow him greater magnetic and flight abilities.
Intro: MIGHTY COMICS #46.

MARTIAL LAW (formerly THE GASSER): A criminal master of martial arts
who began as a gas-wielding foe of the Fox. Intro: MIGHTY COMICS #49.

MIGHTY CRUSADERS: A team of super-heroes originally brought together
during one of Fly Man's battles with the Spider, who gave them their
name. Current members are the Black Hood (Thomas Kipling Burland),
the Comet, the Fly, Fly Girl, the Jaguar, Shield I, Shield II, Shield
III, and the Web; former members include the Fox and the late Black
Hood (Matthew Kipling Burland). Intro: FLY MAN #31; team formally
banded together in MIGHTY CRUSADERS (1st series) #1.

MIGHTY MAN (Prof. James Stoker): A super-villain and former college
professor who gave himself super-strength and became an enemy of Fly-
Man. Intro: FLY MAN #36.

MR. JUSTICE (Prince James): Ghost hero with Spectre-like powers. A
prince of medieval Britain, James was killed by his enemies, the
Rogers clan. But his ghost rose and slew his murderers, then fell
into a centuries-long sleep until his ancestral castle was taken to
America and rebuilt in the 1940's. Former member of the Terrific
Three, now a member of the Guardians of Justice. Intro: BLUE RIBBON
COMICS #9.

PHANTASMON: A sorcerer from another world who rides a flying black
horse and who once battled Fly-Man and Fly Girl. Member of the Anti-
Fly League. Intro: FLY MAN #35.

RADIATION ROGUE (Hans Gerling): A scientist employed by Shiwan Khan
who gained radiation-emitting powers after being accidentally
irradiated, and who wears a protective suit to shield others from
unintentional harm. As Radiation Rogue, he was a foe of the Shadow.
Intro: THE SHADOW #5.

RED RUBE, THE (Reuben Reuben): A reporter for the Daily Sun who could
invoke his ancestral super-powers, including super-strength, speed,
and flight, by yelling, "Hey, Rube!" Killed by the Wizard. Intro:
ZIP COMICS #39.

RED SHARK, THE (Scar Morrea): A Communist villain and costumed
criminal who sought refuge in Cuba and, in return, was charged by
Fidel Castro with destroying Cuban exiles who made raids on their
homeland, until the Fly defeated him. Member of the Anti-Fly
League. Intro: ADVENTURES OF THE FLY #28.

REDSTONE: A huge android with body-morphing powers. Intro: MIGHTY
CRUSADERS (2nd series) #13.

ROGUE STAR: Super-villain with stellar powers. Member of the
Eliminators. Intro: MIGHTY CRUSADERS (2nd series) #4.

ROXR: A treelike animated being who ruled a world of intelligent
plants. He came to Earth with others of his race to destroy humanity
and overrun the planet, but was stopped by the Fly. Member of the
Anti-Fly League. Intro: ADVENTURES OF THE FLY #16.

ROY THE SUPER-BOY (Roy Rossman): Junior partner to the Wizard and
partner to Dusty in the Boy Buddies. He was adopted by the Wizard's
girlfriend Jerry after the hero left on secret assignment in the
1940's and eventually married and settled down. Intro: TOP-NOTCH
COMICS #8.

SHADOW, THE (Lamont Cranston): Super-hero with advanced powers of
hypnosis and a few gimmicks. He discovered his powers in the Orient
and soon came into conflict with the evil mastermind Shiwan Khan.
Now married to Margo Lane. Intro: THE SHADOW #1.

SHE-FOX (Delilah Monaco): Costumed heroine and self-appointed partner
of the Fox, unknowing that in his civilian identity, he is actually
her lover, Paul Patton. The Brain Emperor secretly planted the idea
of becoming the She-Fox in her mind, and left the seed for his mental
control within her. Intro: MIGHTY COMICS #49.

SHIELD I, THE (Joe Higgins): The son of an FBI agent killed by enemy
spies, Joe Higgins uncovered his father's secret formula which would
transform a normal human into a super-being and used it on himself.
He also constructed a costume which proved invulnerable to most
forces. In 1948, he was turned into an iron statue by the Eraser,
but was eventually returned to normal by the Comet. Father of the
Shield II, mentor of Dusty, and member of the Mighty Crusaders.
Intro: PEP COMICS #1.

SHIELD II, THE (Lancelot Strong): Intro: DOUBLE LIFE OF PRIVATE
STRONG #1.

SHIELD III, THE (Bill Higgins): Intro: FLY MAN #31.

SKULL, THE: A murderous costumed criminal in a skull-mask who was
responsible for Kip Burland becoming the Black Hood in the 1940's.
He had no super-powers, but was eventually executed for his crimes.
He was revived by the evil Wizard. Intro: TOP-NOTCH COMICS #9.

SKULL II, THE (aka SON OF THE SKULL): The son of the original Skull,
who vowed to continue in his father's stead after the first Skull
died in the electric chair. Intro: JACKPOT COMICS #6.

SPIDER, THE (Simon Spry): A criminal scientist and arch-foe of the
Fly and Fly Girl, a master at inventing heavy high-tech weaponry. He
was the first foe of the assembled heroes who became the Mighty
Crusaders. Intro: ADVENTURES OF THE FLY #1.

STERLING, STEEL (John Sterling): A super-hero with great strength and
durability due to the fact that he dipped his body into an
experimental steel alloy of his own design. Former member of the
Terrific Three, now member of the Guardians of Justice. Intro: ZIP
COMICS #1.

WEB, THE (John Raymond): Costumed hero and criminologist who was
inspired to fight crime directly when his convict brother became
ensnared in a "web" of his own making. Former member of the Ultra-
Men, now member of the Mighty Crusaders. Intro: ZIP COMICS #27.

WIZARD, THE (Hans Martz): Nazi sorcerer who defeated and killed the
heroic Wizard (Blaine Whitney) in battle, then impersonated him to
battle the Mighty Crusaders. Intro: FLY MAN #33.

WIZARD, THE (Blaine Whitney): Super-hero magician and descendant of a
line of Wizards who originated around the time of the Revolutionary
War. Died in combat with Hitler's Wizard during World War II.
Intro: TOP-NOTCH COMICS #1.

ZAMBINI (Zachary Zambini): A crime-fighting magician. Intro: ZIP
COMICS #1.


The Black Hood

Fly Man No. 35
January 1966
Story: “The Origin of the Black Hood” (6 pages)
Editor: Richard Goldwater
Writer: Jerry Siegel
Artist: Paul Reinman
Feature Character: The Black Hood (last chronological appearance in PEP COMICS #60; next chronological appearance in ADVENTURES OF THE FLY #7)
GA: The Fly (mistakenly called Fly Man in this story; chronologically between first and second stories in ADVENTURES OF THE FLY #7)
Supporting Characters: Sgt. McGinty, Barbara (last appearance for both in ?; last appearance for both)
Intro: The Mighty Minstrel
Villains: The Green Gargoyle and his gang, Dr. Macabre, a gang of crooks (first and only appearance for all)
Synopsis: Tricked by an enemy into drinking a potion that renders him invisible and immaterial, the Black Hood must spend over a decade as a living, unaging ghost.

Mighty Comics No. 42
January 1967
Cover: Black Hood vs. Karate Master and Ghost Cyclist (four vignettes) //Paul Reinman
Story: “The Ghost Cyclist” (11 pages)
Editor: Richard Goldwater
Writer: Jerry Siegel
Artist: Paul Reinman
Feature Character: The Black Hood (last appearance in Shield story in last issue)
Intro: An alien (dies in this story)
Villain: The Ghost Cyclist (Lou Krawl; first appearance; dies in this story), the Schemer and his gang (first and only appearance)
Synopsis: An old foe of the Black Hood’s gains an other-dimensional motorcycle which gives him great powers, and uses it against the hero as the Ghost Cyclist.

Story: “The Black Hood Pledge” (2 pages)
Editor: Richard Goldwater
Writer: Jerry Siegel
Artist: Paul Reinman
Feature Character: The Black Hood
Villains: Mr. Invulnerable, an alien (first and only appearance for all), PERIL (first appearance; next appear in issue #44)
Comment: This story is a Black Hood featurette.

Story: “The Karate Master” (11 pages)
Editor: Richard Goldwater
Writer: Jerry Siegel
Artist: Paul Reinman
Feature Character: The Black Hood (next chronological appearance in issue #44)
Villain: The Karate Master, various crooks (first and only appearance for all)
Synopsis: The Black Hood is forced to take part in a death match against the Karate Master, a villain hired by the underworld to wipe the hooded hero out.

Mighty Comics No. 43
February 1967
Story: “The Black Hood and His Secret Ordeal” (3 pages)
Editor: Richard Goldwater
Writer: Jerry Siegel
Artist: Paul Reinman
Feature Character: The Black Hood (appears isochronally with issue #50)
Supporting Characters: Elizabeth Rawlings, Mark Brodie, Gerald Crandall (first appearance for all; all appear isochronally with issue #50)
Intro: Pete Hannigan (dies in this story), Mark Brodie (only appearance)
Villains: Bulgy-Eyes, the Horned Toad (Snaggletooth Snarker; first appearance for both; both appear isochronally with issue #50)
Comment: This story is actually a preview of the story which appears in issue #50, and takes place isochronally with that story.
Synopsis: Kip Burland is framed for the murder of a fellow policeman, and must remain in his Black Hood identity until he finds Bulgy-Eyes, the real murderer, who yet eludes him.

Mighty Comics No. 44
March 1967
Cover: Black Hood vs. Mad Gadgeteer; Steel Sterling vs. various villains (four vignettes) //Paul Reinman
Story: “The Mad Gadgeteer” (12 pages)
Editor: Richard Goldwater
Writer: Jerry Siegel
Artist: Paul Reinman
Feature Character: The Black Hood (last chronological appearance in issue #42; next appears in issue #46)
Supporting Characters: Gerald Crandall, Mark Brodie (first chronological appearance for both; both next chronologically appear in issues #43 / 50)
Villain: The Mad Gadgeteer (first and only appearance)
Synopsis: The Black Hood fights a gadget-wielding adversary.

Mighty Comics No. 46
May 1967
Story: “The Return of the Skull” (2 pages)
Editor: Richard Goldwater
Writer: Jerry Siegel
Artist: Paul Reinman
Feature Character: The Black Hood (last appearance in issue #44)
Cameo appearance: Mr. Justice
Villain: The Skull (last appearance in ?), Dr. Krawl, the Monstroid (first and only appearance for both)
Comment: This is a Black Hood featurette, previewing next issue’s story.
Synopsis: The Skull, Black Hood’s greatest foe, finds he must save his enemy from another menace.

Mighty Comics No. 47
June 1967
Cover: Black Hood vs. the Skull; Mr. Justice vs. demons (two vignettes) //Paul Reinman
Story: “The Nightmare World of the Skull” (12 pages)
Editor: Richard Goldwater
Writer: Jerry Siegel
Artist: Paul Reinman
Feature Character: The Black Hood (next appears in issue #49)
Villains: The Skull (last appearance), the Abominable Schemer, various crooks (first and only appearance for all)
Synopsis: The Skull acquires a way to kill the Black Hood through his dreams.

Mighty Comics No. 50
October 1967
Cover: Black Hood vs. Bulgy-Eyes; Web vignette //Paul Reinman
Story: “The Mod Monster” (12 pages)
Editor: Richard Goldwater
Writer: Jerry Siegel
Artist: Paul Reinman
Feature Character: The Black Hood (appears isochronally with issue #43; possibly next appears in MIGHTY CRUSADERS (2nd series) #11)
Supporting Characters: Elizabeth Rawlings, Mark Brodie (both appear isochronally with issue #43; last appearance for both)
Intro: The Mod Monster (a rock star; only appearance)
Other character: Pete Hannigan (appears isochronally with issue #43; dies in this story)
Villains: Bulgy-Eyes, the Horned Toad (both appear isochronally with issue #43; last appearance for both), Schemer Bashby (first and only appearance)
Comment: This story takes place isochronally with its preview in issue #43. The plot of Black Hood clearing his name and capturing Bulgy-Eyes is never resolved. It is unknown whether or not this Black Hood is “Uncle Matt”, the one who passes on the Hood to Kip Burland II in ARCHIE’S SUPER-HERO DIGEST #2 (and unlikely, since “Uncle Matt”) is shown to be a Western hero), but it is possible that he is the Black Hood who later dies in MIGHTY CRUSADERS (2nd series) #11.
Synopsis: Kip Burland is framed for the murder of a fellow policeman, and must remain in his Black Hood identity until he finds Bulgy-Eyes, the real murderer, who yet eludes him.

Black Hood II

Archie’s Super-Hero Digest No. 2
1979
Cover: Black Hood vs. crooks //Neal Adams? / Dick Giordano?
Story: [untitled] ( 8 pages)
Editor:
Writer, artist, letterer: Grey Morrow
Feature Character: Black Hood II (Kip Burland; 1st appearance and origin)
Intro: Black Hood I (Matt Burland; see Comment below), Faye Traynor, Marla Traynor (first and only appearance for both)
Supporting Character: Doyle Demian (first appearance)
Cameo appearances: Two other Black Hoods (ancestors of the current Black Hoods; first and only appearance for both)
Villains: A gang of crooks (first and only appearance)
Comment: The Black Hood of the original Mighty Crusaders is not mentioned in this story. Matt Burland is mentioned as operating as a “Western” Black Hood in 1937 and is apparently not the same as the Black Hood who appeared in the 1940's and ‘60's. This conundrum is not resolved.
Synopsis: Seeking a better way of fighting crooks, police detective Kip Burland is passed on the legacy of the Black Hood from his uncle.

Story: “It’s Murder to Beat the Odds” (5 pages)
Editor: Gray Morrow
Writer: Marvin Channing
Artist: Al McWilliams
Feature Character: Black Hood II
Supporting Character: Doyle Demian
Villains: Lefty Burkett and his gang (first and only appearance for all)
Synopsis: The Black Hood takes out a gang of crooked gamblers.

Story: “Life’s Not Like a Comic Book”
Editor, plotter: Gray Morrow
Scripter, penciller: Neal Adams
Inker: Dick Giordano
Feature Character: Black Hood II
Intro: Rhonda Lee (dies in this story), Deborah Wiachek (only appearance)
Villains: A gang of crooks (first appearance; all die in this story)
Synopsis: After witnessing an abduction, the Black Hood tries to rescue the victim.

Story: “The Black Hood Hits a Sour Note” (4 pages)
Editor: Gray Morrow
Writer: Marvin Channing
Artist: Al McWilliams
Feature Character: Black Hood II (next appears in MIGHTY CRUSADERS (2nd series) #1)
Supporting Character: Doyle Damian
Intro: Sir Oland Manders (only appearance)
Villains: Sir Oland Manders, Dennis Gordon, and their gang (first and only appearance for all)
Comment: Sometime after this story the Black Hood helps the Mighty Crusaders fight the Brain Emperor in MIGHTY CRUSADERS (2nd series) #1-3.
Synopsis: The Black Hood gets involved when gangsters appear to kidnap a symphony orchestra.


Black Hood No. 1
June 1983
Cover: Black Hood saving girl from crooks //Alex Toth (signed)
Story: “The Mask and the Man” (18 pages)
Editor: Robin Snyder
Writer: Cary Burkett
Artist: Gray Morrow
Colorist: Barry Grossman
Feature Character: Black Hood II (last appearance in MIGHTY CRUSADERS (2nd series) #3)
Supporting Character: Phil Martin
Intro: Blaine Farrell
Cameo appearance: Carolyn Farrell (in flashback)
Villains: Death-Monger (Jason Strang), Cyrene (first appearance for both; both next appear in MIGHTY CRUSADERS (2nd series) #4), Nails Garson and his gang (including Al; first and only appearance for all; some die in this story)

Black Hood No. 2
August 1983
Cover: Black Hood vs. crooks; Fox vignette //Alex Toth (signed)
Story: “The Dark Destroyer” (12 pages)
Editor: Bill DuBay
Writer: Gary Cohn
Artist, letterer: Pat Boyette
Feature Character: Black Hood
Intro: Ellie and her father (only appearance for both), Bart Taylor (in flashback; dies in this story)
Villains: Jakey Chandler (first appearance; dies in this story), Clyde, Billy-Bob (first and only appearance for both)
Synopsis: In a small town, the Black Hood encounters a mutant monster with a semi-truck.

Story: “Candle in the Wind” (10 pages)
Editor: Bill DuBay
Plotter: John Carbonaro
Scripter: Rich Margopoulos
Artist: Dan Spiegle
Letterer: Carrie McCarthy
Colorist: Barry Grossman
Feature Character: Black Hood
Other Character: Carolyn Farrell (in flashback)
Villains: Tony Geovelli, a hitman (both in flashback; first appearance for both; both die in this story)
Synopsis: The Black Hood remembers a woman he once loved, and how he brought justice to the mobster who had her killed.

Black Hood No. 3
October 1983
Cover: Black Hood vs. crooks; Fox vignette //Alex Toth (signed)
Story: “The Skywind Massacre” (16 pages)
Editor: Bill DuBay
Writer: Steve Ringgenberg
Artist, letterer: Gray Morrow
Colorist: Don Warfield
Feature character: Black Hood (next appears in MIGHTY CRUSADERS (2nd series) #4)
GA: Matt Burland (in flashback)
Cameo appearance: The Grissom Gang (first and only appearance; in flashback)
Villains: Col. Vulanov (first appearance; dies in this story), Ace, Gregor, Cherenkov, Pyotr, Dzubin, Leshko, various mercenaries (first and only appearance for all)
Comment: The further appearances of the Black Hood are tracked in the Mighty Crusaders index.
Synopsis: The Black Hood foils an attempt by the Russians to steal a blimp.

Blue Ribbon Comics V. 2 No. 11
August 1984
Cover: Black Hood trapped in video game //Rich Buckler (signed)
Story: “The Billon-Dollar Ripoff” (11 pages)
Editor, co-writer: Rich Buckler
Co-writer: Stan Timmons
Penciller: Dick Ayers
Inker: Chic Stone
Letterer: Bill Yoshida
Colorist: Barry Grossman
Feature Character: Black Hood II (last appearance in MIGHTY CRUSADERS (2nd series) #8)
Intro: Russell Howe (dies in this story), Mrs. Howe, Mickey Hart, Mrs. Hart (only appearance for all)
Villain: Mr. Ferrett (first and only appearance)
Synopsis: The Black Hood investigates the apparent suicide of a video games employee, which may have been murder.

Story: “The Face Behind the Mask”
Editor: Rich Buckler
Writer: David Allikas
Penciller: Carmine Infantino
Inker: Eduardo Barretto
Feature Character: Black Hood IV (Matt Regis; first and only appearance and origin)
Intro: Sam Ratner, Nancy Regis, Marvin Teisman (only appearance for all)
Villains: Harry, Ray Angelo (first and only appearance for both)
Comment: Despite the claim on page 1, this is not the “original” Black Hood.
Synopsis: Gangsters are opposed by a new Black Hood, who turns out secretly to be their boss.



The Comet

Mighty Crusaders No. 2
January 1966
Story: “The Origin of the Comet” (5 pages)
Editor: Richard Goldwater
Writer: Jerry Siegel
Artist: Paul Reinman
Feature Character: The Comet (last chronological appearance in ?; next chronological appearance in ADVENTURES OF THE FLY #30)
Intro: Naija (dies in this story), Altroxians (only appearance)
Cameo appearance: Fly Man, Fly Girl, Shield, Black Hood
Villains: The Mecks (first appearance; all destroyed in this story)
Synopsis: The Comet is snatched away from Earth to save the Altroxians from metallic marauders. But after the queen he marries is killed by the last surviving Meck, the Comet loses his powers, adopts a new costume, and returns to his homeworld.


The Comet No. 1
1983
Cover: Comet and Naija vs. Mecks //Alex Nino
Story: [untitled] (19 pages)
Editor, writer: Bill DuBay
Penciller: Carmine Infantino
Inkers: Alex Nino
Letterers: Billy DuBay, Jr. (pgs. 1-19), ? (pgs. 20-
Colorist: Tom Ziuko (pgs. 1-19), Barry Grossman (pgs. 20-
Feature Character: The Comet (last appearance in MIGHTY CRUSADERS (2nd series) #3; origin retold in detail)
GS: The Shield (last appearance in MIGHTY CRUSADERS (2nd series) #3), the Hangman (in flashback)
Supporting Character: Thelma Gordon Dickering (in flashback; last appearance in ?), Naija (in flashback)
Intro: Flavius (only appearance; in flashback), Timmy and his mother (only appearance for both)
Cameo appearances: Black Hood, Steel Sterling
Other Character: Allen Lucas (in flashback; isochronally with PEP COMICS #1)
Cameo appearances: “Satan” (from PEP COMICS #2), Zadar (from PEP COMICS #3), the Hunchback (all in flashback)
Villains: Doc Archer (in flashback; isochronally with PEP COMICS #1; dies in this story) and his gang (last appearance for all; one dies in this story; in flashback; isochronally with PEP COMICS #1), Gorgon (in flashback; first appearance; destroyed in this story), the Mecks (in flashback; all destroyed in this story), Big Boy Malone (in flashback)
Synopsis: Driven by guilt over the men he has killed, the Comet recounts his history to his roommate, the Shield.

The Comet No. 2
1983
Cover: Comet, cops, and Lisa looking at Hangman holding body //Carmine Infantino / Rudy Nebres
Story: [untitled] (30 pages)
Editor, writer: Bill DuBay
Penciller: Carmine Infantino
Inker: Alex Nino
Letterer: Adam Kubert
Colorist: Barry Grossman
Feature Character: The Comet (origin details revealed)
GS: The Hangman II (next appears in MIGHTY CRUSADERS #?), Hangman I (dies in this story), Shield
Supporting Characters: Lori, Thelma Dickering, Naija (in flashback; dies in this story)
Other Characters: Flavius (in flashback), Timmy Carpenter (last appearance)
Villains: Mecks (in flashback; destroyed in this story), Mrs. Carpenter (last appearance)
Comment: This story explains how the Comet survived his apparent death in PEP COMICS #16.
Even though this series is billed as a six-part mini-series, this is the last published issue.
Synopsis: At his brother’s deathbed, the Comet relates how he was taken back to Altrox after being shot, was saved by their science, married, and lost his wife there to a robot attack. Meanwhile, the Hangman’s son tries and fails to save a young patient from his mother’s abuse.

The Fly

Adventures of the Fly No. 1
August 1959
Cover: The Fly vs. Spider Spry //Jack Kirby / Joe Simon
Story: “The Strange New World of the Fly” (part 1; 6 pages)
Part 2: “The Fly Strikes” (2 pages)
Editor: John Goldwater
Writers: Jack Kirby, Joe Simon
Penciller: Jack Kirby
Inker: Joe Simon
Feature Character: The Fly (Thomas Troy; first chronological appearance; origin)
Supporting Characters: Turan, Ben Marsh, Abigail Marsh (first appearance for all)
Villains: Creacher, McCoy, Blaster (first and only appearance for all)
Comment: As shown in issue #5, this story takes place 8 years in the past, probably in 1951.
Synopsis: After stumbling onto an evil scheme run by the owner of the orphanage in which he lives, Tommy Troy is sent to live with Ben and Abigail March, reputed wizards. In their home he finds a magic ring, from whose beam Turan, a being from the Fly World, appears. Turan explains that he is from another dimension, but that his people who remained on Earth devolved into flies, and that he has come to grant Tommy great insect-based powers to use against crime and injustice. Tommy is transformed into the Fly by rubbing the ring and saying the words, “The Fly”, and transformed back into Thomas Troy by speaking his civilian name. As the Fly, he captures Creacher, the orphanage owner, and his two gangster cohorts.

Story: “The Fly Discovers His Buzz Gun” (5 pages)
Editor: John Goldwater
Writers: Jack Kirby, Joe Simon
Penciller: Jack Kirby
Inker: Joe Simon
Feature Character: The Fly
Supporting Characters: Ben Marsh (called Ezra Marsh in this story), Abigail Marsh, Dolly Lake (first appearance)
Villains: A gang of crooks (first and only appearance)
Synopsis: While defeating a gang of crooks, the Fly learns that his buzz gun can put the villains to sleep with special stingers.

Story: “Come Into My Parlor” (7 pages)
Editor: John Goldwater
Writers: Jack Kirby, Joe Simon
Penciller: Jack Kirby
Inker: Joe Simon
Feature Character: The Fly
Villains: Spider Spry (called The Spider in later appearances; first appearance; next appears in issue #5), Bruiser (first and only appearance)
Comment: This issue features the first “Wide-Angle Scream” double-page splash.
In this story, the Fly’s weakness for bright lights is revealed. He loses this weakness in later stories.
Synopsis: The Fly tangles with Spider Spry, a costumed criminal genius who makes use of nets.

Story: “The Search” (2 pages)
Editor: John Goldwater
Writers: Jack Kirby, Joe Simon
Penciller: Jack Kirby
Inker: Joe Simon
Feature Character: The Shield (Lancelot Strong; last appearance in THE DOUBLE LIFE OF PRIVATE STRONG #2)
GA: The Fly
Villain: A spy (first and only appearance)
Synopsis: The Shield captures a spy.

Story: “Magic Eye” (4 pages)
Editor: John Goldwater
Writers: Jack Kirby, Joe Simon
Penciller: Jack Kirby
Inker: Joe Simon
Feature Character: The Fly (next appears in THE DOUBLE LIFE OF PRIVATE STRONG #1)
Supporting Character: Dolly Lake
Intro: Mr. Lighthouse (only appearance)
Villain: Glen Glim (a robot; first and only appearance)
Synopsis: The Fly must capture a rampant human-looking robot, but first he must learn which of two persons the robot really is.

The Double Life of Private Strong No. 1
June 1959
Story: “The Hide-Out” (2 pages)
Editor: John Goldwater
Writers: Jack Kirby, Joe Simon
Penciller: Jack Kirby
Inker: Joe Simon
Feature Character: The Fly (first appearance; last chronological appearance in ADVENTURES OF THE FLY #1)
Villains: Mike, Stooge (first and only appearance for both)
Synopsis: The Fly captures two robbers atop a 40-story building.

The Double Life of Private Strong No. 2
August 1959
Story: “The Boy Sentinels’ Assignment: Find Tommy Troy” (2 pages)
Editor: John Goldwater
Writer, artist: Joe Simon
Feature Character: The Fly (next appearance in ADVENTURES OF THE FLY #2)
Intro: The Boy Sentinels (only appearance)
Villains: Various crooks (first and only appearance)
Synopsis: The children of Mr. Creacher’s orphanage ask the Fly to return Tommy Troy to them, but he admits that is a task he cannot do.

Adventures of the Fly No. 2
September 1959
Cover: The Fly vs. Tim O’Casey and his robots //Joe Simon
Story: “Tim O’Casey’s Wrecking Crew” (6 pages)
Editor: John Goldwater
Writer: Joe Simon
Penciller: Dick Ayers
Inker: Paul Reinman
Feature Character: The Fly (last appearance in THE SECRET LIFE OF PRIVATE STRONG #2)
Supporting Character: Ben Marsh (called March in this story)
Intro: Alec Drews, Bertrand (only appearance for both)
Villains: Tim O’Casey and his robots (first and only appearance for all)
Synopsis: A leprechaun is out to wreck the city with his robots unless a man turns over the treasure of Finn McCool to him.

Story: “One of Our Skyscrapers Is Missing” (4 pages)
Editor: John Goldwater
Writer: Joe Simon
Artist: Al Williamson
Feature Character: The Fly
Supporting character: Dolly Lake
Villains: A subterranean race (first and only appearance)
Synopsis: The Fly crosses the path of subterranean conquerors when he investigates the mystery of a vanished skyscraper.

Story: “Marco’s Eyes” (8 pages)
Editor: John Goldwater
Writers: Jack Kirby, Joe Simon
Penciller: Jack Kirby
Inker: Joe Simon
Feature Character: The Fly
Supporting Character: Dolly Lake
Villains: Marco and his gang
Synopsis: The Fly battles a hypnotist who mesmerizes the entire city into giving him money.

Story: “The Master of Junk-Ri-La” (6 pages)
Editor: John Goldwater
Writers: Jack Kirby, Joe Simon
Penciller: Jack Kirby
Inker: Joe Simon
Feature Character: The Fly
Supporting Characters: Ben Marsh
Villains: Hans Yunkmann and his gang (first and only appearance for all)
Synopsis: A junk dealer perfects an electromagnet that can attract metal from all over the city, and the Fly goes to stop him.

Adventures of the Fly No. 3
November 1959
Cover: The Fly //Joe Simon
Story: “The Overblown Marshal of Spire City” (6 pages)
Editor: John Goldwater
Writer, inker: Joe Simon
Penciller: Jack Davis
Feature Character: The Fly
Supporting Character: Dolly Lake
Intro: Farm Commissioner Daley (only appearance)
Villains: Marshal Bruno and his lieutenant (first and only appearance for both)
Synopsis: A South American general comes to Spire City to use a serum that turns children into giants under his command, but runs afoul of the Fly.

Story: “How an Orphan Boy Became the Fearsome Fly” (2 pages)
Editor: John Goldwater
Writer, artist: Joe Simon
Origin: The Fly (retold)
Cameo appearances: Mr. Creacher, McCoy, Blaster, Ben and Abigail March, Turan (all in flashback)
Comment: This is a retelling of the Fly’s origin story.

Story: “The House of Solid Nothing” (5 pages)
Editor: John Goldwater
Writer, penciller: Joe Simon
Inker: Bob Powell
Supporting Characters: Turan (next appears in issue #14), Dolly Lake
Intro: Ezra Clump (only appearance)
Villain: Clinton and his gang (first and only appearance for all)
Comment: Since, as is demonstrated in issue #5, the early Fly stories take place in 1951, 15 years could not have passed since the first atomic bomb test and this story. Probably only six years passed.
Synopsis: When a man emerges from a bomb shelter after several years within it and learns he entered it by mistake, thinking a factory whistle is an air-ride siren, he apparently goes mad and becomes a thief. But the Fly discovers who the real thief is.

Story: “The Twenty Ton Man” (7 pages)
Editor: John Goldwater
Writer, penciller: Joe Simon
Inker: Bob Powell
Feature Character: The Fly
Supporting Characters: Ben March, Dolly Lake, Alice Lake (first appearance; Dolly’s sister)
Intro: Harry, Charlie (only appearance for both)
Villains: The 20 Ton Man (Enoch Spindle), Prof. Spartan, Murphy (first and only appearance for all)
Synopsis: A scientist turns a thin accountant into a 20-ton unstoppable thief, whom the Fly has to find a way of halting.

Story: “The Justice of Chen Fang” (6 pages)
Editor: John Goldwater
Writer: Joe Simon
Artist: Paul Reinman
Feature Character: The Fly
Supporting Characters: Mrs. Lake (first appearance; Dolly’s and Alice’s mother), Dolly Lake, Alice Lake
Villains: Chen Fang and his men (first and only appearance for all)
Synopsis: The Fly goes to an Asian nation called Shang-Ri-La to rescue Alice Lake and to overthrow that country’s tyrannical ruler.

Adventures of the Fly No. 4
January 1960
Cover: The Fly watching Muggsy paint picture //Joe Simon
Story: “Duped By the Dazzler” (8 pages)
Editor: John Goldwater
Writer: Joe Simon
Penciller: Ted Galindo
Inker: Chic Stone
Feature Character: The Fly
Supporting Character: Ben March, Abigail March
Intro: Joshua Flint (only appearance)
Villains: The Dazzler (Daniel Domino) and his gang (first and only appearance)
Synopsis: The city is dazzled by the advent of one Daniel Domino, who appears to be one of the wealthiest men around, but the Fly discovers that much of his money is counterfeit.



Story: “Muggsy’s Masterpieces” (9 pages)
Editor: John Goldwater
Writer, artist: Joe Simon studio (one panel drawn by Neal Adams)
Feature Character: The Fly
Supporting Character: Dolly Lake, Ben March, Abigail March
Villains: Mugsy Malone, various crooks (first and only appearance for all)
Synopsis: The Fly must learn why crooks are trying to stop ex-con Mugsy Malone from a career as an artist.



Story: “Slide Rule’s Challenge” (8 pages)
Editor: John Goldwater
Writer: Joe Simon
Penciller: Sol Brodsky
Inker: Bob Powell
Feature Character: The Fly
Supporting Characters: Dolly Lake (last appearance), Ben March, Abigail March (both next appear in THE FLY #2)
Villains: Slide Rule, the Nutty Jokers (first and only appearance)
Synopsis: The Fly tangles with a gang of crooks commanded by Slide Rule, a criminal scientist and planner.

Adventures of the Fly No. 5
March 1960
Cover: The Fly vs. The Spider //Bill Vigoda
Story: “Return of the Spider” (8 pages)
Editor: John Goldwater
Writer: Robert Bernstein
Artist: Bill Vigoda
Letterer: Martin Epp
Feature Character: The Fly (origin retold in flashback)
Intro: Hobbie (only appearance)
Cameo: Turan (in flashback)
Villains: The Spider (between issues #1 / 10) and his gang (first and only appearance), T. C. Krall (a robot; first appearance; destroyed in this story)
Comments: Thomas Troy is pictured as an older in this story and begins his career as a lawyer. He says that he has not become the Fly in nine years, which pushes the stories in issues #1-4 back to circa 1951.
As drawn in this story, the Spider neither resembles Spider Spry in issue #1 or the Spider in later issues.
Synopsis: The Spider uses a robot double of himself to lure the Fly into a deathtrap of insecticide.

Story: “The Fly Meets the Bat” (12 pages)
Editor: John Goldwater
Writer: Robert Bernstein
Artist: Bill Vigoda
Letterer: Martin Epp
Feature Character: The Fly
Cameo appearance: Dr. Jekyll (misspelled “Jekyl”) and Mr. Hyde
Intro: Ed Dorne (only appearance)
Villains: Kokau (Rocky Diamond), Smith, Jerry, Mme. Lola, other crooks (first and only appearance for all)
Synopsis: After the Fly cracks down on a group of voodoo-faking gangsters, his efforts seem to be countered by a super-criminal called the Bat.

Story: “The Fly Versus Thomas Troy” (6 pages)
Editor: John Goldwater
Writer: Robert Bernstein
Artist: Bill Vigoda
Letterer: Martin Epp
Feature Character: The Fly
Intro: Mike Grogan (dies before this story opens), Karen Morse (only appearance)
Villains: Tony Tyson, Little Pete Porter and his gang, Red Grogan and his gang (first and only appearance for all)
Synopsis: Thomas Troy must prove that gangster Tony Tyson is innocent of a murder of which he is accused, and, as the Fly, round up the killers who are really responsible.

Adventures of the Fly No. 6
May 1960
Cover: Countess Di Finoza and the Fly //John Giunta
Story: “The Lady and the Fly” (6 pages)
Editor: John Goldwater
Writer: Robert Bernstein
Artist: John Giunta
Letterer: Martin Epp
Feature Character: The Fly
Supporting Character: Donna Morse
Intro: “Prince Ali Pasha”, “Countess De Finoza” (only appearance for both)
Villains: Lady Alice Dunswitch, Henry (first and only appearance for both)
Synopsis: Donna Morse gets a chance to substitute for a “countess” at a ball, and thinks she is helping stop a jewelry theft, but is in reality facilitating it.

Story: “The Fly Versus the Moon Men” (12 pages)
Editor: John Goldwater
Writer: Robert Bernstein
Artist: John Giunta
Letterer: Martin Epp
Feature Character: The Fly
Supporting Character: Donna Morse
Intro: Varga (only appearance)
Villains: Dr. Xavier, the “Moon Men” (first and only appearance for all)
Synopsis: On an island, the Fly battles a host of invaders who appear to have come from a flying saucer.

Story: “The Turntable of Death” (8 pages)
Editor: John Goldwater
Writer: Robert Bernstein (possibly Bill Finger?)
Artist: John Giunta
Letterer: Martin Epp
Feature Character: The Fly
Intro: Cat Caton (only appearance)
Villains: Payne, Mary, a Cat Caton impersonator, and their gang (first and only appearance for all)
Synopsis: Thomas Troy goes undercover as a radio announcer to trap gangsters who have framed another deejay for a crime.

Adventures of the Fly No. 7
July 1960
Cover: Thomas Troy donning Larry Drugig mask //John Giunta
Story: “The Haunted Yacht” (8 pages)
Editor: John Goldwater
Writer: Robert Bernstein
Penciller: John Giunta
Inker: Dan DeCarlo
Feature Character: The Fly (next chronological appearance in Black Hood story in FLY MAN #35)
Supporting Character: Donna Morse
Intro: S. B. Soames (in flashback; dies in this story), Abbott (only appearance)
Villains: Carl Brill (first and only appearance), the Sea Spirit (a haunted yacht; first appearance; destroyed in this story)
Comment: Shortly after this story the Fly is seen fighting a crook by the Black Hood, as shown in flashback in FLY MAN #35.
Synopsis: The Fly sets out to investigate the mystery of a haunted yacht.

Story: “The Fly and the Black Hood Join Forces” (12 pages)
Editor: John Goldwater
Writer: Robert Bernstein
Artist: John Giunta
Feature Character: The Fly (last chronological appearance in FLY MAN #35)
GS: Black Hood (last chronological appearance in FLY MAN #35; next appears in issue #10)
Villains: Eva and her gang of spies (first and only appearance for all)
Comment: In this story, the Fly and the Black Hood learn each other’s secret identities.
This is the first Black Hood appearance since the Golden Age.
Synopsis: In Germany, the Fly and the Black Hood meet by chance and tanle with a spy ring who are seeking chemical formulae carried by Thomas Troy.

Story: “Tommy Troy, Gangster” (5 pages)
Editor: John Goldwater
Writer: Robert Bernstein
Penciller: John Giunta
Inker: Dan DeCarlo
Feature Character: The Fly
Intro: Larry Drusig (dies in this story)
Villains: Joe Roxa and his gang (first and only appearance for all)
Synopsis: When his client, a criminal wrongly convicted of murder, is killed by the gangsters who framed him, Thomas Troy masquerades as the victim to try and bring his killers to justice.

Adventures of the Fly No. 8
September 1960
Cover: The Fly saving Valeria from charioteer in arena as Taxus watches //John Giunta
Story: “The Monster Gang” (8 pages)
Editor: John Goldwater
Writer: Robert Bernstein
Artist: John Giunta
Letterer: Martin Epp
Feature Character: The Fly
GS: The Shield (Lancelot Strong; last appearance in issue #4)
Villain: Pascal (first appearance; next appears in THE FLY #3), the Monster Gang (including Joe, Quinn, and others; first and only appearance), a robot Monster Gang (first appearance; destroyed in this story)
Synopsis: A disfigured crook defies the Fly and the Shield with a gang which appears to be composed of monsters.

Story: “The Fly Versus Taxus the Tyrant” (12 pages)
Editor: John Goldwater
Writer: Robert Bernstein
Artist: John Giunta
Letterer: Martin Epp
Feature Character: The Fly
Supporting Character: Donna Morse
Intro: Petra, Valeria, Dr. Kabez (only appearance for all)
Villain: Taxus (first and only appearance)
Synopsis: The Fly passes thru a time warp to 3rd Century Persia, where he battles the tyrannic Roman governor, Taxus.

Story: “The Puppet Fly” (6 pages)
Editor: John Goldwater
Writer: Robert Bernstein
Artist: John Giunta
Letterer: Martin Epp
Feature Character: The Fly
Supporting Character: Donna Morse
Intro: The Puppet-Master (only appearance)
Villains: Salex and his gang (first and only appearance for all)
Synopsis: A criminal hypnotist mesmerizes the Fly in order to kill him.

Adventures of the Fly No. 9
November 1960
Cover: Fly versus Cat Girl and wildcats //John Giunta
Story: “A Date With Death” (6 pages)
Editor: John Goldwater
Writer: Robert Bernstein
Artist: John Giunta
Letterer: Martin Epp
Feature Character: The Fly
Supporting character: Donna Morse (next appears in issue #29)
Villains: Bud Kent and his gang (first and only appearance for all)
Synopsis: Thomas Troy’s secretary accompanies him to Cuba to find American gangsters in hiding and is endangered several times, but is protected from harm by an unseen benefactor.

Story: “Wizard of Nightmares” (12 pages)
Editor: John Goldwater
Writer: Robert Bernstein
Artist: John Giunta
Letterer: Martin Epp
Feature Character: The Fly
GS: The Shield (Lancelot Strong; next appears in MIGHTY CRUSADERS (2nd series) #1)
Villains: Yogi Shimar and his gang, Hadji (first and only appearance for all)
Synopsis: The Fly and the Shield appear helpless to thwart the thefts of a stage magician who appears to use real magic against them.

Story: “The Fly Meets the Cat Girl” (8 pages)
Editor: John Goldwater
Writer: Robert Bernstein
Artist: John Giunta
Letterer: Martin Epp
Feature Character: The Fly
Villain: The Cat Girl (the Sphinx; first appearance)
Synopsis: The Fly encounters a woman who can command all catlike animals to do her biddng.

Adventures of the Fly No. 10
January 1961
Cover: The Fly and the Black Hood beneath giant gorilla’s foot //John Giunta
Story: “The Spider Strikes” (8 pages)
Editor: John Goldwater
Writer: Robert Bernstein
Artist: John Giunta
Letterer: Martin Epp
Feature Character: The Fly
Villain: The Spider (between issues #5 / 15) and his gang (first and only appearance)
Comment: The Spider returns to his “Spider Spry” appearance in this story.
Synopsis: The Spider breaks jail with the help of a double, and sets out to lure the Fly into another deathtrap.

Story: “The World of the Giant Gorillas” (12 pages)
Editor: John Goldwater
Writer: Robert Bernstein
Artist: John Giunta
Letterer: Martin Epp
Feature Character: The Fly
GS: Black Hood (last appearance in issue #7; next appears in LAUGH COMICS #134)
Intro: Prof. Alex Burland (the Black Hood’s uncle; first and only appearance)
Villains: A tribe of giant gorillas (first and only appearance for all)
Synopsis: The Black Hood enlists the aid of the Fly to help locate his lost uncle in Africa, but both of them cross a time-warp and find themselves prisoners of a giant gorilla tribe.

Story: “The Statue of Gold” (6 pages)
Editor: John Goldwater
Writer: Robert Bernstein?
Artist: John Giunta
Feature Character: The Fly
Intro: The Adventurers’ Club (first and only appearance)
Villain: The Cat Girl (next appears in ADVENTURES OF THE JAGUAR #4)
Synopsis: When the Fly is trapped by a gang of apparent crooks posing as a group of adventurers in the desert, the Cat Girl comes to his rescue. But she only spares him in hopes that he will reveal the whereabouts of the Statue of Gold.

Adventures of the Fly No. 11
March 1961
Cover: Fly vs. two-headed monster //John Rosenberger
Story: “Sir Fly” (8 pages)
Editor: John Goldwater
Writer: Robert Bernstein
Artist: John Rosenberger
Letterer: Duffy Mohler
Feature Character: The Fly
Intro: Roger Gresham, King Arthur, Merlin, Round Table Knights (all of Earth-MLJ; only appearance for all)
Villains: Sir Maged and his men (first and only appearance)
Synopsis: Thrown back in time (apparently) by strange mists in a castle room, the Fly finds himself in the times of King Arthur and his knights, who prove to need a helping hand from the hero.

Story: “The Invasion of the Rock-Men” (12 pages)
Editor: John Goldwater
Writer: Robert Bernstein
Artist: John Rosenberger
Feature Character: The Fly
Intro: Joe, Dr. Ruiz, Bill, a two-headed monster (only appearance for all)
Villains: Alien invaders (first and only appearance)
Synopsis: The Fly must deal with a flame-breathing two-headed monster and an alien invasion simultaneously.

Story: “The Drinker of Doom” (6 pages)
Editor: John Goldwater
Writer: Robert Bernstein
Artist: John Rosenberger
Feature Character: The Fly
Intro: Dr. Pike, Emma and her family (only appearance for all)
Villain: Aqua (a robot; first appearance; destroyed in this story)
Synopsis: The Fly must combat a water-hunting robot gone berserk.

Adventures of the Fly No. 12
May 1961
Cover: Fly vs. giant sabre-toothed tiger //John Rosenberger
Story: “The Cyclops From Space” (8 pages)
Editor: John Goldwater
Writer: Robert Bernstein
Artist: John Rosenberger
Feature Character: The Fly
Villains: The Cyclops from Space (a robot; first appearance; destroyed in this story), alien invaders (first and only appearance)
Synopsis: The Fly must battle a one-eyed robot invader from space.

Story: “Battle of the Brute Invaders” (12 pages)
Editor: John Goldwater
Writer: Robert Bernstein
Artist: John Rosenberger
Feature Character: The Fly
Villains: Pxivo and other aliens, a gang of crooks (first and only appearance for all)
Synopsis: After falling into a gangster’s trap that weakens him with chlordane gas, the Fly is captured by an alien invasion force.

Story: “Menace of the Blob” (6 pages)
Editor: John Goldwater
Writer: Robert Bernstein
Artist: John Rosenberger
Feature Character: The Fly
Villain: The Carbon Monster (first appearance; destroyed in this story)
Synopsis: The Fly must battle a monstrous sentient blob spawned by air pollution.

Adventures of the Fly No. 13
July 1961
Cover: The Fly and Kim Brand vs. monster //John Rosenberger
Story: “The Tiger Genie” (8 pages)
Editor: John Goldwater
Writer: Robert Bernstein
Artist: John Rosenberger
Feature Character: The Fly
Cameo appearance: Fly Girl (first appearance; in an ad)
Villains: The Tiger Genie (first and only appearance), Karl Rance (first appearance; next appears in issue #21)
Synopsis: A crook comes across a bottle containing a genie in the shape of a tiger, and sets it against the Fly.

Story: “The Lady and the Monster” (12 pages)
Editor: John Goldwater
Writer: Robert Bernstein
Artist: John Rosenberger
Feature Character: The Fly
Intro: Kim Brand (the future Fly Girl; first actual appearance), Prof. Jahlke (dies in this story)
Villain: A robot creature (first appearance; destroyed in this story)
Synopsis: The Fly and actress Kim Brand are menaced by a scientist’s berserk robot beast.

Story: “The Villain From the Future” (6 pages)
Editor: John Goldwater
Writer: Robert Bernstein
Artist: John Rosenberger
Feature Character: The Fly
Villain: Dovi (first appearance; next appears in issue #21)
Synopsis: A murderer comes back from the future to 1961 to find a buried treasure, and locks horns with the Fly.

Adventures of the Fly No. 14
September 1961
Cover: The Fly and Fly Girl vs. giant robot fly //John Rosenberger
Story: “The Menace of the Metal Monster” (part 1; 8 pages)
Part 2: “The Secret of the Fly Girl” (12 pages)
Editor: John Goldwater
Writer: Robert Bernstein
Artist: John Rosenberger
Feature Character: The Fly
Intro: Fly Girl (Kim Brand; origin)
Supporting Character: Turan (last appearance in issue #3)
Villains: The Metal-Master (first appearance; dies in this story; a second Metal Master first appears in issue #21), Bud Brack and his henchman (first and only appearance for both)
Synopsis: When a metal-controlling alien attacks Earth, Turan gives actress Kim Brand a fly ring that enables her to become the Fly Girl and aid the Fly in defeating their enemy.

Story: “The Scourge of the Mesas” (6 pages)
Editor: John Goldwater
Writer: Robert Bernstein
Artist: John Rosenberger
Feature Character: The Fly
Synopsis: Oil prospectors inadvertently release a prehistoric monster from suspended animation, and the Fly must battle it.

Adventures of the Fly No. 15
October 1961
Cover: Fly vs. 6th Dimensional villain //John Rosenberger
Story: “The Invincible Spider Machine” (8 pages)
Editor: John Goldwater
Writer: Robert Bernstein
Artist: John Rosenberger
Feature Character: The Fly
Intro: Bob and another guard (only appearance for both)
Villain: The Spider (between issues #10 / 21) and his gang (first and only appearance)
Synopsis: The Spider strikes again with a machine designed to duplicate the Fly’s powers.

Story: “The Master of Disaster” (12 pages)
Editor: John Goldwater
Writer: Robert Bernstein
Artist: John Rosenberger
Feature Character: The Fly
GS: Fly Girl
Supporting Character: Turan (next appears in issue #18)
Intro: Duplicates of the Fly and Fly Girl (only appearance for both)
Villains: A 6th Dimensional villain (first and only appearance), a giant toad, Diamond Men (first appearance for all; all destroyed in this story)
Synopsis: The Fly and Fly Girl have their hands full battling a host of monsters who appear to duplicate creatures seen on a science fiction TV show.

Story: “The Prey of the Shark Men” (5 pages)
Editor: John Goldwater
Writer: Robert Bernstein
Artist: John Rosenberger
Feature Character: The Fly
Intro: Shark-Men (only appearance)
Villains: Dr. Hoyt, Jim Carter (first and only appearance for both)
Synopsis: The Fly must defend a group of explorers from a tribe of shark-men who are out to liberate the one of their people who has been captured.

Adventures of the Fly No. 16
November 1961
Cover: The Fly and Fly Girl vs. Bra-Kr and natives of Trcq //John Rosenberger
Story: “The Menace of the Killer Plants” (8 pages)
Editor: John Goldwater
Writer: Robert Bernstein
Artist: John Rosenberger
Feature Character: The Fly
Villain: Roxr (first appearance; next appears in issue #21), other plant beings (first appearance; destroyed in this story)
Synopsis: The Fly is lured to another planet where sentient plants plot his doom.

Story: “The War of the Worlds” (12 pages)
Editor: John Goldwater
Writer: Robert Bernstein
Artist: John Rosenberger
Feature Character: The Fly
GS: Fly Girl
Intro: Inhabitants of Xpi, Zakkk 6, and Trcq (only appearance for all)
Villain: Bra-Kr (first appearance; next appears in issue #21)
Synopsis: The Fly and Fly Girl are convinced by an alien to become peace ambassadors with him on a tour of other worlds, but their insect abilities are triggered without their willing it and cause chaos.

Story: “The Giant Shawabtis” (5 pages)
Editor: John Goldwater
Writer: Robert Bernstein
Artist: John Rosenberger
Feature Character: The Fly (next appears in PEP #151)
Villains: The Shawabtis (a gang of crooks; first and only appearance)
Synopsis: In an ancient Egyptian tomb, the Fly is beset by what appear to be mythological monsters.

Pep No. 151
November 1961
Story: “Terror In Fly Land” (5 pages)
Editor: John Goldwater
Writer: Robert Bernstein
Artist: John Giunta
Letterer: Martin Epp
Feature Character: The Fly (last appearance in ADVENTURES OF THE FLY #16; next appears in LAUGH #128)
Intro: Mr. Kean (only appearance)
Villains: A gang of crooks (first and only appearance)
Synopsis: The Fly turns up for opening ceremonies at the Fly Land amusement park, not knowing crooks are there to lure him into a deathtrap.

Laugh No. 128
November 1961
Story: “The Tyranny of the Cobra-God” (5 pages)
Editor: John Goldwater
Writer: Robert Bernstein
Artist: John Giunta
Letterer: Martin Epp
Feature Character: The Fly (last appearance in PEP #151)
Villain: Ganza the Great (first appearance; dies in this story)
Synopsis: The Fly faces an Indian sorceror reincarnated in the body of a cobra-god statue, who plans to destroy everyone on Earth with an ancient bomb.

Laugh No. 129
December 1961
Story: “The Prey of the Giant Bird-Men” (5 pages)
Editor: John Goldwater
Writer: Robert Bernstein
Artist: John Giunta
Letterer: Martin Epp
Feature Character: The Fly (next appears in ADVENTURES OF THE FLY #17)
Intro: Pedro, Tim, a race of bird-men (only appearance for all)
Villains: Bird-man criminals (first and only appearance for all)
Synopsis: An aircraft Thomas Troy is riding on is attacked by a band of bird-men.

Adventures of the Fly No. 17
January 1962
Cover: The Fly and Fly Girl in test tube held by Grq //John Rosenberger
Story: “The Menace of the Mythological Monsters” (8 pages)
Editor: John Goldwater
Writer: Robert Bernstein
Artist: John Rosenberger
Feature Character: The Fly (last appearance in LAUGH #129)
Intro: Mr. Peake (only appearance)
Villains: Prof. Karl Royer, the Kraken, the Minotaur, Scylla, Charybdis (first and only appearance for all)
Synopsis: Thomas Troy, trying to get a movie-monster creator to sign a contract for a client, finds that the man is in command of real mythological monsters.

Story: “The Test Tube Flies” (12 pages)
Editor: John Goldwater
Writer: Robert Bernstein
Artist: John Rosenberger
Feature Character: The Fly
GS: Fly Girl
Intro: Insect people of Pxam, ice people of Lllyx (only appearance for all)
Villain: Grq (first and only appearance; possibly dies in this story)
Synopsis: The Fly and Fly Girl are shrunk to tiny size by a Martian who shrinks planets and places them in test tubes.

Story: “The Creature Who Invaded Capital City” (5 pages)
Editor: John Goldwater
Writer: Robert Bernstein
Artist: John Rosenberger
Feature Character: The Fly
GS: Fly Girl
Synopsis: The Fly fights a birdlike creature that appears to have every power he possesses.

Adventures of the Fly No. 18
March 1962
Cover: The Fly and Fly Girl vs. Horse of Horrors //John Rosenberger
Story: “The Fly’s Visit To the Fly World” (8 pages)
Editor: John Goldwater
Writer: Robert Bernstein
Artist: John Rosenberger
Feature Character: The Fly
GS: Fly Girl
Supporting Character: Turan (between issues #15 / 22)
Villains: The Mice People (first appearance; die in this story)
Synopsis: The Fly and Fly Girl respond to a summons to the Fly World from a being who appears to be Turan, but is in reality one of the fly race’s enemies, the Mouse People.

Story: “Horse of Horrors” (12 pages)
Editor: John Goldwater
Writer: Robert Bernstein
Artist: John Rosenberger
Feature Character: The Fly
GS: Fly Girl
Intro: John Holt (only appearance)
Villains: Lawson, centaurs (first and only appearance for all)
Synopsis: The Fly and Fly Girl must battle centaurs who have come back to terrorize Earth after thousands of years in space, with the help of a giant flying mechanical horse.

Story: “The Monster Fly” (6 pages)
Editor: John Goldwater
Writer: Robert Bernstein
Artist: John Rosenberger
Feature Character: The Fly (next appears in LAUGH #132)
GA: Fly Girl (next appears in PEP #153)
Villains: Kwymo and the School For Monsters (first and only appearance for all)
Synopsis: A group of villainous aliens plans to capture the Fly and turn him into a fly-like monster under their control.

Pep No. 153
March 1962
Story: “Prisoner of Planet X” (6 pages)
Editor: John Goldwater
Writer: Bill Finger
Artist: John Giunta
Letterer: Martin Epp
Feature Character: Fly Girl (between ADVENTURES OF THE FLY #18 / 19)
Villain: Borg (first and only appearance)
Comment: This is the first solo Fly Girl story.
Synopsis: After Fly Girl unwittingly tries to defend an escaped alien convict from his pursuers, she is captured and incarcerated on a prison planet.

Laugh No. 132
March 1962
Story: “The Eyes in the Sky” (6 pages)
Editor: John Goldwater
Writer: Bill Finger
Artist: John Giunta
Feature Character: The Fly (between


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