November 4, 1960.
United States Senate Building.
“That’s right, folks, you heard it here first: This is Joe Palinkas at the United States Senate, where Wonder Boy is scheduled to appear before Senator Mike Harrison’s special investigative committee. This is as tense as it gets, folks! Yesterday, the story broke about Wonder Boy’s connection to Nazi Germany, and the possibility that he might actually be some sort of construct! Could he actually be in league with the villainous Techno? Or maybe the nefarious Dr. Dread had a hand in Wonder Boy’s creation, and sent him here to the United States to undermine the most powerful country in the world! The answers are just seconds away, folks! The air is thick with possibility and... holy cripes, folks, he’s here! Wonder Boy is here!”
With barely a sound except for the anxious and excited murmurs from the crowd on the steps below, a graceful, youthful figure descended from the sky to land at the top of the steps, between the immense pillars that seemed strong enough to support the entire considerable weight of Justice. He was a young man, just barely a month over the age of eighteen, with roguishly-mused black hair and a boyish, dimpled face.
During the previous year and a half, that face had graced magazine covers and television airwaves, but it was often smiling, always proud and strong. Now, the self-assuredness seemed lacking in the young man’s face.
He wore a form-fitting costume of cobalt blue, with golden briefs, boots, cape, and a glimmering "W" across his broad chest. He had the lean, slender muscles of a well-toned youth, but moved with the grace and confidence of an older man as he turned from the shouted questions of the reporters and entered through the broad double doors of that most auspicious of edifices in America, the U.S. Senate.
Inside the towering and well-lit halls, uniformed marines with their rifles held professionally at their sides lined the corridor. Anyone not cleared to be in the hall had already been removed. The young man, dubbed "Wonder" Boy by the media on that incredible day in May of 1958, strode purposefully toward the last set of broad oak doors that opened into the Senate Committee to Investigate Superhero Corruption. He caught the eyes of those marines who looked upon them; he heard their breath and heartbeats. He could almost hear their thoughts.
Wonder Boy, one of the brightest shinning examples of American strength and purity. Wonder Boy, possible product of evil Nazi machination.
At the doors that concealed Wonder Boy’s destination, a square-jawed man in a dark suit stood steadfast and poised, as if he expected a sudden attack on the part of the teenaged hero. Truth be told, he fervently wished that Wonder Boy was here in peace, for he knew that there could be no force to save him from Wonder Boy’s fury.
Beside this man was another, older, with dark hair turning grey, round features slowly being dragged to earth by gravity. His suit was threadbare and wrinkled, and he stood with a slight stoop that suggested the hard life he had lived. Upon seeing the superhero approach, he made an effort to stand straight, and a nervous smile came to his lips.
“They’re waiting for you inside, Wonder Boy,” said the government agent beside the door.
Wonder Boy’s eyes had been fixed on the middle-aged man from the moment
entered the hall. Now those eyes, usually soft and charming, yet now hard and
intimidating, turned on the agent.
“Your heart is racing,” said Wonder Boy in an even tone. “Are you afraid of me?”
The government agent made an effort to remain impassive.
Wonder Boy turned fully to face the man, who stood several inches taller. Wonder Boy was nobody’s giant, but even the agent’s advantage in height was of no comfort to him at this particular moment.
“I can smell the sweat on the back of your neck, I can hear every nervous swallow in your throat. I can see the pores of your skin gaping open like the mouths of fish on the beach. Before yesterday, if you were to meet me, you would ask for my autograph, maybe have me hold your child. Now you pray that I don’t kill you.”
Wonder Boy looked suddenly to the middle-aged man, his eyes wide with alarm at hearing his real name spoken.
The middle-aged man shook his head sadly. “We cannot waste time with this,” he said in a thick German accent. “The longer we delay, the harder it shall be.”
Wonder Boy ground his teeth, but forced his frustration to ebb away. He took a step back and waved in a grandiose manner toward the door while looking tothe agent. “By all means,” said the hero. “Let’s go get crucified.”
With a sharp sigh of relief, the government agent hastily opened the door, allowing the hubbub of voices from within to spill out into the hall. The din died down as those within the large room realized that their much-anticipated visitor had arrived.
Wonder Boy looked in toward the crowd. He saw the faces of stodgy old men, men who would look much more at home in smoking parlors with their heavy lips pursed tightly around pipes, their rotund frames encased in velvet smoking jackets. The eyes that looked back regarded him with abject suspicion.
Wonder Boy took a deep breath and stood arrow-straight, his chest swelling with confidence. He held out his hand to the shabby man beside the agent.
“Come, father,” he said.
Senator Mike Harrison was a broad-shouldered man, an Ivy Leaguer, with the general appearance of a hard-nosed detective and the general flair of a Silver Screen protege. He stood up suddenly from behind the panel he shared with eleven other senators and tossed a copy of the previous day’s newspaper down upon the floor.
“And just how do you explain this!” he cried, much to the approval of those fellow politicians and reporters that occupied the mezzanine area of the chamber.
Wonder Boy, standing defiantly in the middle of the floor, looked down at the scattered pages of the newspaper. The headline was one that had already been burned into his mind: “Wonder Boy: American Hero Or Nazi Villain?”
He waited for the excited crowd to settle down, then raised his head toward the committee before him. “I call it a gross misinterpretation of events,” he said. He had rehearsed the line all morning, knowing he would be given the opportunity to use it sooner or later during the hearing.
“Well, then,” said the senator in a patronizing tone. The microphone before him caught the edge of his tie, making a muffled sound that echoed through the hidden speakers in the room. “Perhaps you would like to explain it to us.”
“I wish I could,” said Wonder Boy. “But I’m not really all that up on science and the like. If you don’t mind, I’d like to introduce the man who can.”
Wonder Boy half-turned and extanded a hand in the direction of the middle-aged man with whom he had entered. The man stood on shaky legs, looking like a sinner called before the Inquisition. With some hesitation, he stepped forward, allowed through the low gate by another of the government agents who stood in the room.
“And who is this?” asked Senator Harrison, a frown furrowing his greying brow.
“I would like to introduce Dr. Emil Fantastisch,” said Wonder Boy. “Also called Dr. Fantastic. He is the man who is responsible for my being here. He is my father.”
An excited murmur swept through the crowd like the crest of a great wave. Senator Harrison knocked his gavel on the table before him several times before order was restored.
The senator’s eyes narrowed as he looked upon the man that now stood beside Wonder Boy. “You look familiar to me,” he said.
Dr. Fantastisch nodded. “Ja,” he said. “No doubt I do. You were a serviceman in Deutschland in 1943. My face is somewhat well-known to those who served in the European theater. It was partly due to my work that Hitler had his Ubermensch Project.”
Yet again, an excited and scandalous murmur consume the crowd. Flashbulbs exploded all around. Harrison slammed his gavel down repeatedly in frustration until all was quiet.
“And why are you here today? You realize, doctor, that your appearance here implies traitorous acts to the United States. We are obligated to hand you over to the authorities of the War Crimes Council.”
Dr. Fantastisch nodded. “That I understand, ja. But I felt it a necessary sacrifice, to save the reputation, and indeed the life, of my only son.”
He glanced back toward Wonder Boy, who fought to conceal his emotions behind a stoic exterior. His father nodded with a sad smile and turned back to the committee.
“What do you have to say to us, Dr... Fantastic,” said Harrison with an air of condescension. The former German doctor seemed unruffled by the senator’s attitude. With a deep breath, Fantastisch began:
“You see, I was once a patriot for my country, until I discovered the horrors that Adolf Hitler was visiting upon the human race. Horrors that, with my work on the Ubermensch Project, I had helped to create. By the close of the war, I had made up my mind to escape Berlin with my wife and infant son, and through some clever forgeries, I was able to come here, to the United States. I found a job as a clerk, and was prepared to live the rest of my life without devoting it to science.
“But I soon discovered that my life would not be easy. My son was becoming crippled from some incurable disease. By the time he was five, he could not walk, nor speak. His was a life of pain and anguish, and he had done nothing to deserve it. The sins of the father, it seemed, had become visited upon the son.
“I vowed to do something about it. I contacted a company, which, for the sake of this hearing, shall remain nameless, and through them, I gained access to some of my technology and equipment. For years I tinkered with the machinery, trying to find some way to use the principles of the Ubermensch Project to cure my son. But time and again I failed, and I grew dispondent. It seemed my son would pay for my crimes.
“But, at the darkest hour, I triumphed! My son was sixteen now, and although his body was withered, his heart was strong. I prayed he could withstand the pain that lay before him, pain unlike anything even he ahd ever known. I had constructed a chamber in which he would lay, and within that chamber, he was subjected to all manner of radioactive energies and chemical processes, designed to reshape his body into something stronger.
“How those screams of pain and terror will haunt me until I die. But it worked! Finally, after having given so much pain to the world, I had triumphed at giving life! You could not imagine my elation at seeing my son, hale and hearty and healthy. Nor could you imagine my surprise when his powers began to manifest themselves.
“Gentlemen of the Senate, my son is not merely a product of twisted
Nazi innovation. He is a product of my rearing, my love, my true
ideals. I came to America because it was the true leader of the world.
I am ever so much more a patriot of this land than I ever was of Nazi Germany.
All that is good and noble and right and just in this great country, you
see here--” he turned and
indicated Wonder Boy.
“--standing before you. If you feel obligated to judge him based on the misguided eye of a single investigative reporter, then let the judgement and the punishment fall where it may: with his father, who tried to recount for past crimes by harboring a true, American, hero.”
Dr. Fantastisch finished his passionate speech and turned slowly back toward his son. Wonder Boy’s facade broke, his face stretched by a smile as a tear rolled down his cheek. Elsewhere, the quiet and hushed voices of those in the mezzanine seemed to echo the sentiment that Wonder Boy felt.
So it seemed.
“A touching story,” said Senator Harrison flippantly. “And convenient. But I am not sure the American people will buy it.”
Wonder Boy frowned over the head of his father. The older man sagged against his son. His heart was palpitating, his breath shallow.
Harrison leaned back and tapped the end of his pen against the corner of his mouth. He looked with an amused air at the two men below him.
“You claim to be a patriot, Dr. Fantastisch,” said Harrison. “But patriotism is not something you can easily transfer from one country to the next. If you were to end up in Mexico, would you behave so vehemently in defense of the Federales? If you were Canadian, would you stand before the Prime Minister? No, doctor, I think your sentiments, endearing though they may be, lack a certain conviction.”
He leaned forward and jabbed his pen toward the costumed young man. “And you, Wonder Boy!” he said, his voice rising sharply in pitch. The senator’s brow knitted together as he burned his gaze into the young man before him.
“I find it hard to believe you have any true moral motivation. Yes, you act the part, and you play the game of being a superhero, but the true heroes of this country are not created, they are born! Born on American soil, born with American pride! How can we trust a... a thing such as you?”
Anger and frustration overcame Wonder Boy as he listened to the senator’s tirade. Having eased his father to a chair, Wonder Boy whirled back to face the man who had suddenly become his most vehement dnouncer.
“Trust? You want to speak of trust? When I saved eighteen people from the burning Arman Building in New York, do you think they wondered if they could trust me? When I stand between Techno, or the Mad Hatter, or Socothbenoth, and the innocent citizens that are their victims, do you think they wonder if they should trust me to save their lives?”
Wonder Boy floated up in the air amidst a fervor of excited rumblings from the assembly and faced the senator at eye level. “And do you think that if one of those villains were to show up now, that you would not trust me to save yours?”
There was a quiet moment as the two figures, teenaged hero and middle-aged senator, stared each other down. Neither flinched, neither backed down. Flashbulbs popped from the cameramen, and pencils scribbled hastily on notepads.
“We cannot afford even the possibility of a dissenter in the ranks of this country’s superheroes,” breathed the senator. “With a Cold War brewing between America and Russia, with Viet Nam fit to explode into a warzone, with former Nazi scientists living as seemingly normal American citizens, this country does not need the stress of a hero with questionable moral character.”
Wonder Boy glared back at the senator, resisting the urge to plant his fist in the smug and self-righteous man’s face. Instead, he attacked the man on his own level.
“The only person with ‘questionable moral character’ is the one I am looking at,” he sneered.
Senator Harrison’s features changed from righteous anger to genuine surprise. His eyes widened, and he glanced to his fellows, who seemed as shocked by this young man’s bold statement as the senator himself was. He looked back to Wonder Boy and slowly rose, and his face changed once more to that of an incited and thoroughly insulted man.
“You insolent little brat,” he hissed, leaning forward on the table before him. He held his gavel like a weapon.
“It is the judgement of this committee that you, Wonder Boy--” he pronounced the name with distaste. “--be remanded to the custody of the Hyde Island Super-Prison, where you will be held until you have faced and been tried for the crime of treason against the United States of America.”
Wonder Boy’s feature’s changed. He backed away from the senator, a look of disillusionment evident upon his face, a look that was interpreted by others as fear. And it might very well have been, for Senator Harrison’s statement had just branded Wonder Boy as a criminal. The young man turned slowly in the air, his gaze sweeping across the crowd as they leapt to their feet in response to the senator’s proclamation.
Cries of scandal and outrage erupted from the audience, but they were quickly drowned by those of approval and the applause of the stodgy old men who had been so quick to oppose the motives of this young hero. In the blink of an eye, Wonder Boy realized, he had been transformed from beloved to despised. And it had happened so easily.
Triumphantly, Harrison straightened and hammered his gavel on the table before him. His voice roared over those of his supporters.
“Take the old man, too!” he cried, issuing the order to the government agents in the room. “Maybe he thought that by creating a hero he could vindicate himself for his crimes against humanity, but I think the Israelis will have better ideas!”
And suddenly, with the very real threat of the loss of his father, Wonder Boy had had enough.
“No!” he cried loudly. In a blur of movement, he descended to the floor, coming between his father and two of the government agents who approached to detain the doctor. Wonder Boy’s arms flashed quickly, and the two agents were hurled back, thrown bodily through the air to land and slide across the polished floor of the chamber.
A third agent reached into his jacket and withdrew a revolver, but before he could even squeeze his finger around the trigger, a violet beam lanced from Wonder Boy’s eyes, striking the weapon and reducing it in an instant to cold, dark, dust.
The entire room became chaotic, witnessing Wonder Boy’s actions. Any doubters of the senator seemed to be quickly convinced of Wonder Boy’s false pretenses as they witnessed this seemingly patriotic hero attack the very foundations which he stood for.
As men and women cried out and ran for the exists, believing this young
man to be on the rampage, Wonder Boy gathered his frail father into his
arms and tilted his head back toward the ceiling. Another, broader,
more powerful beam of violet energy slashed through the air and toward
the ceiling, reducing a section of it to a gentle rain of ashen debris.
Then, in another moment, Wonder Boy, carrying the clutching form of his
father, rose into the air and was gone,
carried away on the winds of the chilly late autumn sky.
“A shocking and incredible
day, folks! This is Joe Palinkas once again, live
at the United States Senate. In an unbelieveable turn of events, Wonder Boy,
who for the past year and a half seemed to be an icon of all that was good and
right in America, showed his true colors as he insulted the Senate Committee to
Investigate Superhero Corruption, then attacked and wounded at least three
government agents before destroying a portion of the Senate roof and escaping . . .
escaping with a man he claimed was his father, a man who was a self-admitted
Nazi scientist who had worked on Hitler’s notorious Ubermensch Project.
“That’s right, true believers! Wonder Boy, the criminal! Wonder Boy, the
traitor! I’m as shocked as the rest of you, believe you me . . . .”
November 24, 1960.
Just West of Manhattan, over the Hudson River.
The sound of a terrific impact echoed through the air like the explosion of an anti-aircraft shell high in the sky. A moment later, a figure streaked from the sky and impacted with the wall of a dockside warehouse, crashing through it with a terrific sound of shattered wood and crumpling steel, exploding glass the pulverized concrete.
Workers on the third shift ran for cover and looked up to see the source of this sudden and terrible attack, but were surprised to see a streak of blue and gold fly out of the warehouse and back into the dark night sky, where another figure could just barely be seen.
“Why are you attacking me?” shouted Wonder Boy as he returned to the sky. His impact with the warehouse seemed to have had little effect on him.
His attacker was an impressive, broad-shouldered man, clad in an indigo bodysuit emblazoned with the conspicuous symbol of the Stars and Stripes down his right arm. A large white star graced his back and decorated the forehead of his full mask, and white bands were visible around his wrists and ankles.
“I have to take you in, Wonder Boy!” shouted the powerful hero known as Patriot. “You’re a menace to society!”
Wonder Boy looked plaintive. He would think later, in retrospect, that he must have had the same expression on his face that Caesar wore when he was stabbed by Brutus.
“I’ve never done anything wrong!” he cried. “All I want to do is help people! Why can’t you people just let it be!”
“Yeah?” retorted Patriot, raising his hand above his head. All around them, the skies began to churn as they transformed from a cold November day to a violent, powerful storm. “Whose people? Mine, or the Fuhrer’s?”
Wonder Boy was barely able to dodge out of the way as a bolt of lightning lanced down from the sky above him, slicing with the speed of light through the exact point in their air where he had just been. The bolt was still close enough, however, that he felt the muscles in his right leg suddenly tense painfully. He dipped in his arc of flight, but came back up beneath the man who had once been an ally, but was now his enemy.
Patriot let out a grunt as Wonder Boy’s fists slammed into his gut. He had forgotten the boy’s speed and realized, for the first time, how it felt to be on the receiving end of someone who had that speed matched with great strength.
“Don’t give me that!” yelled Wonder Boy, fueled by frustrated righteousness.
“We’ve fought side-by-side, Patriot! You know what kind of man I am!”
“Wrong, kid!” snarled Patriot, hammering back with a powerful blow that cracked across Wonder Boy’s jaw. “I know that hundreds of thousands of Americans died fighting Hitler and the monsters your father helped to create!”
Wonder Boy responded with a devastating punch into Patriot’s midsection, making the veterna hero double over.
“You’re just like Harrison!” screamed Wonder Boy. His fist flashed at blinding speed and hammered the back of Patriot’s head. “And all the others! You only see what you want to see! You never listen to the truth!”
Wonder Boy punctuated his statement with an uppercut that sent Patriot flying backward, his head snapped back, blood spurting from his mouth. The Original American Hero winced, his head swimming, but he shook his head, stopping his trajectory, and forced the threat of unconsciousness to fade away.
Wonder Boy did not press his attack. He stabbed an accusatory finger at the figure who had once been his idol and one-time teacher.
“You taught me a lot, Patriot, but this time you have to learn something! The world is not as easy as you, and Senator Harrison, and President Kennedy want it to be!”
“Maybe this world ain’t perfect, kid,” responded Patriot, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. Damn, that kid could hit! “But it ain’t up to you to change it.”
“I don’t want to change it!” yelled Wonder Boy, clenching his fists in anger.
“I just want someone to believe me! Socothbenoth--”
“I ain’t in the mood for anymore lies,” snapped Patriot. He clapped his hands together, and suddenly, Wonder Boy was engulfed in a vicious torrent of powerful winds that whipped about him, clutching and pulling and garbbing at him like a thousand unseen hands. The world around him became a blur, and he felt his equilibrium vanish. Up became down, left became right, the sky became liquid and the ground became vast and empty.
Then came the blow, the powerful, devastating punch that knocked him free from the winds. He cried out with a sharp cry, feeling his nose shatter, his eyes water, his head swim and darken. He felt himself moving, flying backward, and then the impact with... water?
Wonder Boy gasped, almost taking in air, but he had enough sense to expel the water from his mouth. The shock of the cold Hudson River revived him, made him realize where he was. He winced at the feeling of his pulverized nose, but already, he felt himself healing.
In the sky above the river, Patriot floated in the air, staring down at the rings of water as they separated and floated outward. He stared for a long moment, wondering if he had hit Wonder Boy too hard. Maybe he was a Nazi, but he was still a human being and a former brother-in- arms. Patriot didn’t want to kill him if he didn’t have to.
His attention was diverted, however, as a brilliant flash of crimson radiance illuminated the night sky from somewhere to his left. He snapped his gaze around, trying to pinpoint the source of the flash, and saw, in the distance, a softer reddish glow in the sky above that most famous of New York monuments, the Empire State Building.
“What the devil--?” began Patriot, but he was interrupted as Wonder Boy suddenly launched himself from the depths of the tempestuous river, a cry of rage tearing forth from his lungs. Patriot was stunned for a moment by the sheer ferocity evident on the young man’s face, a look he had never thought Wonder Boy would be capable of.
The impact of the two men shattered the air around them. They grappled in the air, hammering at each other like bare-knuckle brawlers on a bar room floor. Patriot was unprepared for the unpridled fury of his opponent, and took several punches from his young foe before he had a chance to react.
“Wonder -- uhf!”
“I’m only--” Wham!
“--Boy -- oomf!”
“--gonna say--” Slam!
“--hold on -- agck!”
“--this once--” Crack!
“--look -- huff!”
“--I--” Thud! “--am--” Smash! “--a--” Thwam! “--Hero!” Wham!
The final blowsent Patriot spiralling down, into the same waters he had sent Wonder Boy into just moments before. Wonder Boy hesitated a brief moment as the splash hurled a geyser of water fifty feet into the air, then dove after, searching in the murky and shadowy depths for Patriot.
The waters had barely become still when Wonder Boy erupted from the water again, dragging a dazed and stunned Patriot in his fist. He flew to the roof of a nearby warehouse and deposited America’s Hero roughly on the dented and rusted tin material.
“I didn’t want to hurt you,” said Wonder Boy, still out of breath. “But you wouldn’t listen--”
“Wonder Boy,” gasped Patriot, struggling to gain his feet. He sagged forward, massaging his bruised jaw, but managed to wave an arm in the general direction of the Empire State Building.
Wonder Boy frowned, but looked, and noticed the crimson glow in the sky, now having grown to over twice its former size. His face registered surprise, but then his eyes narrowed, and the distance between he and the building, a matter of miles, became next to nothing, and Wonder Boy saw as if he was standing just across the street.
What he saw made his heart pound and his blood boil. A single name slipped from his lips:
“Yeah,” sputtered Patriot, kneeling on the roof of the warehouse. He seemed to be regaining his strength. “I figured it would have to be him. We’ve heard rumors coming from the Harbinger’s Guild that he was planning something ‘round Thanksgiving.”
Wonder Boy turned an alarmed look to Patriot. “You knew about this?” he yelled.
Patriot looked up, annoyed. “’Course I didn’t know, kid,” he said. “We didn’t have any definate proof.”
“I did!” said Wonder Boy viciously, jabbing his thumb into his chest. “What do you think I’ve been doing for the past twenty days? Socothbenoth sent that reporter on my tail! He knew who my father was, but he needed a respectable way to leak it! He figured I would be too busy fighting for my freedom to stop him!”
Patriot pushed himself laboriously to his feet. “Stop him from what?”
“He’s got the Sorceror’s Stone,” said Wonder Boy evenly.
Patriot was quiet, staring into Wonder Boy’s face. Patriot knew what the Sorceror’s Stone was; one of the most powerful of all magical talismans, rumored to have come from Atlantis millenia before. Its powers were unknown, but it was said that it had the energy to lay waste to entire cities and to even sunder the barrier between worlds.
“Why didn’t you--”
Wonder Boy shot Patriot a warning look. “Don’t finish that,” he said.
Patriot stopped and pursed his lips. “We have to stop him.”
“So you believe me, then?”
Patriot took a deep breath and looked toward the growing crimson glow that had now transformed almost the entire skyline over New York into a purplish radiance. Did he believe Wonder Boy? Maybe. But did he trust him...?
Did he have a choice?
With a heavy sigh, Patriot nodded. “Yeah, kid. I believe you,” he said.
Wonder Boy looked as if he was stunned. “It’s about freakin’ time.”
The demons were everywhere. They came in all varieties, snarling dark masses of fangs and claws and wings and horns, swarming in the air and crawling about on the observation deck of the Empire State Building. The bodies of their victims lay about like broken dolls, some of them still hanging tenuously to the bonds of life.
Wonder Boy had never seen anything like this. His most frightening nightmares could never compare to the brutal carnage he witnessed, the unabashed frenzy of bloodshed that was being visited upon the good people of the city he had sworn to protect. It filled him with revulsion and horror...
Patriot was already busy with a pack of winged creatures, and Wonder Boy had taken it upon himself to deal with those demons on the observation deck. He descended like an avenging angel into their midst, and unlike with the mortal foes he had fought with in the past, he did not hold his punches. These beasts gave no quarter, and Wonder Boy felt it only appropriate to respond in kind.
A single blow shattered the skull of one of the creatures, a tall, lanky, spindly-armed figure with dagger-like claws that was poised to strike over the prone and helpless form of a young woman. The demon was hurled back by the force of the blow, ichor spewing from its mouth, and toppled over the edge of the building.
Wonder Boy’s arrival gained the attention of the est of the demonic ilk, and they turned upon him, attacking en masse. Wonder Boy found the combat a convenient and much-needed vent for the anger, frustration and rage he had been feeling over the past three weeks. Despite his convictions, he found that he was actually enjoying the opportunity to cut loose and use his full power.
Above the carnage upon the observation deck, a single figure hovered in the air at the apex of the building. The Empire State’s antenna had been converted into a support for the large, circular framework of metal that glowed with a baleful crimson light. Imbedded in the frame was a large red crystal that pulsed with energy and light. Through this pulsating portal spewed the demons that ravaged the city below, and the man beside it howled in triumphant laughter.
He was a tall man, imposing in his costume of crimson and black. The mask that obscured his face showed only glowing red eyeslits that bespoke limitless evil. His crimson cloak spread out around him, whipping back and forth as if it had a mind of its own. All around him, the air seemed charged with an unholy electricity that arced off the framework of the gate. It cascaded over the figure’s body, engulfing him every few moments, but it seemed to bother him not in the least. He was enjoying himself. This was the the culmination of his life’s work, the physical realization of everything he had spent his life trying to achieve.
“You’re too late, Wonder Boy!” he shouted in mad glee to the combatting figure below. “The Vengeance Gate is already open! Soon, this entire world will be consumed by the fires of the Abyss!”
The words barely registered in Wonder Boy’s ears, enmeshed in ferocious combat as he was. He had managed to divert the attention of the demons from their more vulnerable prey, and those people still alive rushed to the building’s elevators to escape this demonic madness.
“I have succeeded!” cried the figure, tilting his head back to laugh once again.
“I... don’t... think... so!” grunted Wonder Boy, grabbing the leg of one of his inhuman attackers and using the creature as a club to slam a full half-dozen of the demons into and through the wall of the observation deck. They screamed in pain and rage as they fell into a jumbled heap of twisted and broken limbs. The action gave Wonder Boy the break he needed. With a look of grim determination, he launched himself into the air at his opponent, fully intending to visit the same sort of punishment upon him as he had upon the demons.
“Your game is up, Socoth!” cried Wonder Boy. “I’m taking you out for good!”
Socothbenoth tilted his head back down and watched as the form of his hated enemy rocketed toward him. He made no effort to move out of Wonder Boy’s intended path.
“Indeed?” asked Socothbenoth rhetorically. “I think not!”
From his outstretched hand was launched a stream of green flame that scourged through the air and engulfed Wonder Boy in a torrent of otherworldly heat. The teen hero cried out in pain and doubled over, feeling his body consumed by the flames. Fire had rarely been a trouble to him in the past, but this was more than mere fire. It attacked him physically and magically, burning him to the core. It was pain unlike anything he had ever felt before.
Socothbenoth roared in maniacal laughter as his helfire washed over the advancing hero. The fire obscured his foe from view, and Socothbenoth poured on the power for several seconds more. Finally, he let up on the assualt and looked to where Wonder Boy had been.
All the remained was a charred and tattered strip of the hero’s cape, which floated away on the winds like the remnants of a banner after the Thanksgiving Day Parade.
Socothbenoth stared in surprise. Could it be...? Was his hated enemy so easily slain? Had the power of the Sorceror’s Stone enhanced his magic so much?
“Farewell, Wonder Boy,” hissed the mad sorceror. “You died bravely.”
“Not hardly, laughing boy,” came a voice beside him. Socothbenoth let out a grunt of pain as he felt the first impact in his stomach. He doubled over, the breath forced from his lungs. The second hit smashed across his jaw, snapping his ehad back with nearly enough force to break his neck. He tumbled backward through the air, but righted himself quickly, looking back along his path.
The air shimmered slightly, and Wonder Boy appeared in the air. He was scarred and burned, wounded to be sure, but far from dead. And on the young man’s face was a look of such pure and complete hatred that even Socothbenoth was forced to give pause for a moment.
But only a moment.
“You will never take me, Wonder Boy!” cried the sorceror. “My domination of this world is nearly complete! I have given my soul to the demon-lord Mephistopheles, and he, in exchange, has given me absolute power!”
This time, the attack came in the form of a bolt of pure blackness that shot through the air between the two men like a cannonball. It slammed into Wonder Boy’s chest, forcing him back, and seemed to wrap itself around him. Wonder Boy fought back against this strange new attack, but even his speed did not seem to be enough the shred the inky tendrils that threatened to smother him.
“Yes! Fight it, Wonder Boy! Fight it! The more you struggle, the tighter it becomes! Yield now, and I will see to it that your death is swift!”
Socothbenoth erupted in insane laughter once more as he watched his hated enemy struggle with the unearthly force that swallowed him.
“You know, every time I hear that, it sounds like famous last words.”
Socothbenoth stopped his laughter abruptly, looking up to see the new form that hovered over him. Patriot’s image was suddenly burned into his mind as a bolt of powerful lightning lanced down from the sky, burning into and through the sorceror’s body. He screamed in pain and convulsed, feeling his skin char and his muscles spasm. He fell back through the sky, landing with considerable impact upon the roof of the Empire State Building.
Patriot turned his attention to his struggling young comrade. Another bolt of lightning flashed down from the tempestuous sky, this one carefully calculated to sear through only the outer edge of the black mass that swallowed Wonder Boy up. The darkness recoiled as if it were a living thing, and that was all the opening Wonder Boy needed to finish it off. A pinpoint burst of Disintegration Vision sliced through the creature to the core, separating it into two halves that fell away and abruptly vanished like morning dew.
“Kid!” yelled Patriot. “You all right?”
Wonder Boy shook his head to clear it, then nodded slowly. His attention turned to what Socothbenoth had termed the Vengeance Gate, still spitting forth a horde of demons upon the populace of New York.
“We have to destroy it!” yelled Wonder Boy, flying through the air toward the gate. The demons seemed not to notice this strangely-garbed figure as it approached the gate. They were too intent on wreaking havoc on the city below.
“Hold on, Wonder Boy!” cried Patriot. He had happened to glance to where Socothbenoth had fallen, and saw only a dented and seared section of the roof of the building. The sorceror was not defeated, after all.
But Patriot’s cries fell on deaf ears. Wonder Boy was focused on reaching the gate, and the Sorceror’s Stone imbedded into it. All he had to do was rip the stone free, and the gate would collapse. Then would come the task of dispatching the demons.
He reached out toward the stone, feeling the otherworldly energies being emitted by the gate pummel him, push him, repel him. But Wonder Boy focused, and pushed forward, his fingers reaching... reaching...
The single word struck Wonder Boy almost like a physical blow, forcing him to momentarilly succumb to the force pouring out of the gate. He was hurled back, but he managed to stop his flight almost immediately. But he was still a good thirty or forty feet from the gate, wth the stream of demons gushing out like water through the Hoover Dam.
The source of the voice became suddenly, glaringly, frighteningly revealed. Hovering in the air, towering above the gate, was the fom of Socothbenoth, increased to more than a dozen times his normal size. He crackled with evil, sorcerous energy, his eyes pulsating like stars as he looked down upon Wonder Boy. The teen hero stared up with a mixture of fear and wonder at his arch-enemy. How could he do that?
“The spell is nearly complete!” roared Socothbenoth. “Mephistopheles
is coming! Soon, this world will be ours!”
Wonder Boy felt his heart sink. He was so close, he could feel it. All he had to do was reach the stone...
He had but one chance. It was all he had.
Now or never, Andrew, thought Wonder Boy. Now or never...
Socothbenoth’s eyes grew wide in horror as he realized what Wonder Boy was about to do. He began to cry out in alarm, but it was too late. The violet beam of Wonder Boy’s Disintegration Vision sliced like a scalpel through the air, its target the glowing crimson gem called the Sorceror’s Stone. For millenia it had been the ultimate focus of magic, coveted by mages and wizards the world over.
But now, in a brief moment, it became nothing but dust.
Socothbenoth’s cries were drowned out as a sudden devastating explosion shattered the night sky over Manhattan. A wave of energy flashed out, seeming to threaten to engulf the whole of the island and all of its inhabitants. But almost instantly, the crimson wave folded back on itself, the energy sucked back through the Venegance Gate, along with the scores of demons who had already poured through. Windows for miles around were shattered or cracked as shockwaves buffetted the city. Then, there was one last, great explosion in the air, and a
single figure streaked down from the sky to impact with the ground. Socothbenoth shrunk back to his normal size as he fell, screaming, to earth. The impact was enough to create a crater in Fifth Avenue the size of a baseball diamond...
...and to end the mad sorceror’s life.
Patriot hovered in the air, bleeding from a dozen wounds. yet he was alive, and he would recover. He looked around at the world, seeing the first few rays of dawn sunlight beginning to appear over the eastern horizon. He looked to the observation deck of the Empire State Building. Even those demons who had been slain were gone. Perhaps, he thought, they still had some kind of connection to the Abyss, or Hell, or wherever it was they had come from, and would never have fully existed on earth.
Patriot could care less about such philosophical matters. The good guys had won. The bad guys were dead. All was good.
Where was Wonder Boy?
Patriot looked around furtively, searching for any sign of the hero who had just saved the world. But there was no trace. The twisted, blackened wreck of metal that had been the Venegance Gate sat cold and lifeless upon its frame. The powerful smell of sulphur filled the air, but was already beginning to dissipate rapidly. Within weeks, Patriot knew, Manhattan would continue on with life. There would be little left to remind anyone of what had happened here today.
Including, he realized, Wonder Boy himself.
His eye was caught by the fluttering of a strip of charred-edged fabric that had attached itself to the radio antenna of the Empire State Building. Patriot stared at it, realizing it was a piece of Wonder Boy’s cape. He flew down to it, his hand reaching out. But he stopped himself from taking it.
Let it be, thought Patriot. Just let it be.
October 24, 2000.
Laboratory antechamber within Independent Research Facility.
Chaos reigned supreme throughout the facility. Mercenaries had attacked the place, leading to explosions and a temporary loss of power. But the reserves had kicked in, which was a good thing for Viktor Muldewoski.
But there was much he had to do to keep years of research from being lost.
“Reroute main power grids two and five!” he shouted in his native Polish.
The young man beside him moved frantically to do as he was told.
Sparks showered as the generators were overloaded. The man cried
out, but his fear of Schreck kept him from leaving his post.
Muldewoski cursed. “We must shunt!” he cried.
The assistant stared in horror at his superior’s words. “We cannot shunt! It has never been proven to work!”
“Nevertheless, we must try! It is our only chance!” yelled Muldewoski. “If we do not, then this place will make Chernobyl look like a firecracker!” He stepped to his computer terminal and began frantically tapping on the keyboard.
“Keep your eye on the oscillator guage!” shouted Muldewoski. His fingers continued to fly as the seconds ticked by. More sparks showered from a battery of electronics along the far wall.
“Doctor!” yelled the assistant hysterically. “The device has been activated!”
Muldewoski shook his head. That vainglorious idiot Schreck, he thought. The man is a
“Then we must find a matching gravtic signature somewhere so that we can form a conduit.” yelled Muldewoski. “Find anything!”
The assistant darted to his own computer as Muldewoski continued to operate his own. Both men seemed lost in their own worlds for several seconds, looks of intense concentration on their faces.
“Gerwazy...,” said Muldewoski warningly. He watched anxiously as the power grid shown on his computer climbed to dangerously high levels.
Gerwazy, the assistant, said nothing. He tapped frantically on the keyboard of his computer, searching... searching...
“Gerwazy, any moment now...”
“Almost... there! Got one! I am registering a massive energy spike... my God!”
Muldewoski snapped his head up in alarm. “What is it?”
“It is a temporal anamoly!”
“A time distortion?” asked Muldewoski, surprised and interested. “But how... oh, never mind! We can use it, that is all that matters! Calibrate the gyroscopic accelerator for... for that energy signature.”
Gerwazy rapidly tapped on the keyboard for another two seconds. Muldewoski’s computer told him they had only nine seconds before critical meltdown. He entered the data.
Muldewoski’s mind was awhirl with the implications. Time travel? How could that be possible? But he did not waste time with metaphysical analyses. He was more focused on survival.
He stabbed his keyboard triumphantly, then shouted for his assistant to grab the other rest handle that was opposite the one Muldewoski now grabbed, mounted to a large electronics bank.
“Now!” yelled Muldewoski.
November 27, 2000.
St. Mary’s Metropolitan Hospital.
Intensive Care Ward.
Virginia Mason had seen a lot in her life. Living in New York city for most of her fifty-four years, she had come to accept various superhuman activities as a way of life. A collapsing building here, a fire-throwing villain there... all in a day’s events, she mused.
So when the paramedics arrived with a badly burned young man, dressed in the shredded and charred remains of what was probably some kind of costume, she was only mildly surprised. As the only resident of the E.R. currently on staff (Dominguez was probably fooling around with one of the interns again), she had first dibs on the new arrival, and she took it.
“E.R. four!” she had yelled. “Move! And get those damn cameramen outta here!”
As security rushed to fend off the invading swarm of curious reporters and TV camera crews, Virginia took her first look at this unusual young man.
And her heart literally skipped a beat.
Now two days later, she stared at him again. It was the same boyish face, the same roguish dark hair and dimpled cheeks, the lean, muscular body... he had always seemed much taller, now that she thought of it. Of course, the one and only time she had seen him, she had been a blushing little girl of only thirteen. But from that moment, she knew she was in love.
Like so many of her friends, she sent him letters and drawings, clipped newspaper articles about him and pasted them into a scrapbook. When he had come to her school that April day in 1959, she had shaken his hand and almost melted when those gorgeous brown eyes looked into hers. She was hooked. One day, she vowed, she would be his wife.
Virginia sighed. How forty years can change things. Or some things, anyway.
How the devil is he here? And how is it that he doesn’t seem to be a single day older? He still looks like... well, like a kid.
The events of November 24, 1960, had long ago been committed to memory. She knew every detail of that last, fateful encounter. When the newspapers had run the story that Wonder Boy was dead, she had stayed home from school for a week, crying and refusing to come out. Wonder Boy was her hero, her knight in shinning armor. She refused to believe he was some Nazi spy or communist something-or-other. Wonder Boy was a hero. Period. She knew that.
But she knew everything about that day, mainly because she had researched it so completely in the hopeless belief that her hero had somehow managed to escape. Maybe he was living in California, where people didn’t know him as well. Maybe he had just decided to live a quiet life after the events at Capitol Hill.
It seemed to strange a coincidence that Wonder Boy had reappeared in the sky just about exactly forty years after his disappearance, in the exact same place and landing in the exact same spot on Fifth Avenue, the same spot that had served as Socothbenoth’s temporary grave in 1960.
What did it mean? Wonder Boy had evidently cheated death, but how? Did the Sorceror’s Stone have something to do with it?
Virginia shook her head. It was too much to think about. Like it or not, she would have to wait until Wonder Boy woke... up...
The faint groan coming from the young man stirred Virginia’s heart. She stood suddenly, forgetting for the moment that she was a fifty-four-year-old doctor and not a fourteen-year-old girl. She rushed to her hero’s side, placing her hands on either side of the handsome young man’s face.
“Wonder Boy?” she asked. “Can you hear me?”
Wonder Boy felt groggy and weak. His vision was blurry, his head was foggy, his throat was dry. He barely had any strength at all. But he made the effort to sit up, aided by this woman who knelt over him.
He kept his eyes closed for several long moments, taking deep breaths. Then, finally, he opened his eyes and looked around.
A hospital room, he thought. Looks a little different, smells a little different. He glanced to the machines he was hooked up to. Now that’s different, he thought. Amazing what they can do with plastics. People have been saying that plastics are the future...
He finally focused on the middle-aged woman beside him. She had the classy looks of a woman who had gotten used to being independent. She still had much of the beauty of her younger days in her face and build, but lines were pronounced at her eyes and around the corners of her mouth, gained from a lifetime of smoking. She had blonde hair going grey and wore wire-framed glasses over green eyes. Wonder Boy was a little amazed to see that she wore the white lab coat that was usually reserved for doctors.
A woman doctor?
“Wonder Boy?” she asked in a voice that did not seem to be her own.
“Yeah, yeah,” he said groggily, pinching the bridge of his nose. He looked back up at her and smiled that ready, easy smile that had once made Virginia’s knees tremble. It almost had that same effect again.
“Oh, Jesus,” she said with a nervous laugh.
“I guess I won,” said Wonder Boy. “What happened to Socothbenoth? Where’s Patriot?”
Virginia’s smile faded as she looked on him. Realization of the situation sank in hard, and she sat down on a chair she dragged over from the wall of the tiny room.
“What’s wrong?” asked Wonder Boy.
“Um...,” began Virginia, pressing her knees together and leaning forward on her elbows. “This is going to take a little explaining...”
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