Justice Force: The Origin
In the skies above New York, a gigantic metal beetle was shocking the
hell out of the populance below.
Inside the Bug, Captain Atom and Nightshade helped the Blue Beetle keep
watch over the monitor screens near the front window. Ted Kord
had designed three mobile cameras, each with a range of about 25 miles,
all powered by the anti-grav system that held the Bug aloft. Each
of them was feeding back a separate picture from different sectors of
the city, but there was too much of New York to scan efficiently.
Mostly, they were hoping for pot luck.
“I might as well go looking under my own power,” said Captain Atom.
The Beetle looked back at him from the pilot’s seat. “If you want
to, go ahead, Cap. We’re not getting much here.”
“Thunderbolt and the Question are vigilantes,” said Nightshade.
“Not government-sponsored, either, to my knowledge. They’ll be
tough to trace.”
The search had been going out from a central point, that of the museum
which Thunderbolt and the Question had liberated from terrorists not
long before. The odds for contact seemed to be working in the
three heroes’ favor; T-Bolt and the faceless hero had never been known
to work together before this incident. But they still had to be
found. It was possible that Atom, the Beetle, and Nightshade
could handle the rumored gathering of villains by themselves, but
Captain Atom, as a military man, knew the value of more even forces.
Abruptly, the Beetle’s gloved finger pointed at one of the monitor
screens. “There,” he said. “Do you see it, too?”
Nightshade and the Captain bent closer for a better look. The
mobile camera was relaying back a picture of a billboard, one of those
which still was allowed to sprout from the roof of an older
hotel. But this one was not advertising a product or service.
Instead, visible fumes were rising from its top edge, and its surface
was emblazoned with only one thing: a large red question mark.
Two figures were also visible, standing on the roof below. Both
of them seemed to be looking up at the camera unit.
“That’s them,” agreed Captain Atom. “Make this Bug hop, Beetle.”
Thunderbolt sat near the edge of the roof, bracing his back against the
corner edge. “Glad you were able to rig that board so quickly,”
he said, idly.
The Question, standing below the billboard, his hands in his pockets,
didn’t look at the other man. “Just lucky I had a supply of the
chemical nearby,” he said. “Had to go after it. I don’t
keep much more on me than I need to change my gear and my calling
“I just hope this doesn’t become any more of a circus than it’s already
shaping up to be,” T-Bolt muttered. “I’m used to working
alone. No offense.”
“None taken, and so am I,” said the man in the blank-featured
mask. “I won’t operate that much in the open, no matter who
Peter Cannon looked at the Question and, momentarily, reflected on how
much a mask kept you from sharing parts of your life with a potential
friend. Just another indication of how unsatisfactory the
Thunderbolt identity was. But the faceless man’s secrets had to
be respected, and T-Bolt’s identity had to be safeguarded. That
was the way of super-heroes.
Even though the whole thing seemed, very often, too stupid for words.
The Question jerked his gaze upward. “Look,” he said.
“Behind you at nine o’ clock.”
Thunderbolt pivoted, quickly, ashamed that he hadn’t sensed it
first. On the horizon, and closing fast, was a sight that even
gave him pause: the huge, metallic, flying Beetle-ship. No matter
what you’d seen on the news, nothing could prepare you quite for that
“I suppose they’re here,” sighed Cannon.
The looky-lous on the street below, and those who were halfway hanging
out of hotel windows, sent up individual cries of awe and recognition,
and pointed upward, raising a forest of fingers. The Bug moved in
close, hovered over the hotel, and shaded the roof with its bulk.
A hole opened in the bottom of what answered to the Bug’s “head”, and a
man whose skin seemed to reflect sunlight like metal clambered through
it and dropped.
“Look out, you fool!” yelled Thunderbolt, involuntarily. But
there was no cause to worry. A jet of silvery particles shot out
from the man’s lower body, blasted gently against the hotel roof, and
cushioned his descent to a safe two-point landing. Neither of the
two of them had to be told who the man was.
“I’m Captain Atom,” he said, holding out a silver-coated hand.
“Thunderbolt, Question, we could use your help.”
“That’s what we were afraid of,” said Thunderbolt. “Could you
keep this under wraps, Captain? Neither of us are that keen on
operating in public.”
“Understood,” said Atom. “For now, let’s just talk.” He
looked at the Question. “That all right with you?”
After a pause, the Question said, “It’ll do. For now.”
From the Bug, a long cable with a handle dropped. Atom gestured
towards it. “You’ll have to grab onto that and be hauled into the
ship. One at a time.”
Without a word, Thunderbolt grasped the handle with both hands.
The reel holding the cable began retraction, hauling the
red-and-blue-costumed hero off the surface of the roof, through the
air, and within the Bug inside of ten seconds. A few moments
later, the handle descended again.
“My turn?” asked the Question.
Atom nodded, and watched him take the handle.
The Bug had taken to higher altitudes now that the two passengers were
gathered. Now, with the craft on hover, the Blue Beetle,
Nightshade, Captain Atom, the Question, and Thunderbolt assembled
around a table in the Bug’s “body” and took stock of each other, and of
Each of the five respected the others’ reputations. Atom and
Nightshade, already partners, had already made bonds with the
Beetle. The Question and Thunderbolt, having fought side-by-side,
were on terms with each other. But, unknown to four of them,
there was another connection. Vic Sage had worked with the Blue
Beetle on a case against an art vandal known as “Our Man”. From
that, he respected the Beetle as a brother in arms. But that
could never be revealed.
“All right,” said Atom. “From what we’ve heard, it isn’t hard to
put the pieces together. Each of us have heard of the jailbreaks
around the country. They’re linked together both by the
perpetrators, who appear to be Asians, and by the inmates who they’ve
chosen to free: your enemies, our enemies. Anybody we’ve faced
who had a costume and a funny name.”
The Beetle chuckled. “Not that anybody here could be accused of
Thunderbolt said, “I have an idea of who’s probably behind it. An
old foe of mine, the Hooded One. I doubt any of you have faced
him before. He’s a Tibetan. Very capable, and...he thinks
“Does he have the resources to pull together an army of Oriental
crooks?” asked Nightshade.
“If anyone could, he could,” said Thunderbolt. “Certain other
matters I’ve noted seem to indicate his hand. I doubt he’d ever
take a subordinate role in any undertaking. My guess: the Hooded
One is behind this operation.”
“What’s his story?” asked the Blue Beetle.
“We have a history,” said Thunderbolt. “Simply put,
our—abilities—result from the same studies. I was allowed to
continue where he was blocked. For that, he’s always carried a
grudge against me. He usually works through pawns. We
haven’t fought directly, but I’ve stopped several of his undertakings.”
“Does he have any, well, special powers?” asked Nightshade. “If
you have something that’s out of the ordinary...”
Sighing, Thunderbolt said, “I’m just a normal human being,
Nightshade. The only quality I have apart from the common herd is
what I learned from the ancient scrolls. I can harness the power
of my entire mind, bring it to focus, hype my body’s strength, speed,
and endurance beyond that which are held as the regular limits of human
performance. It’s a matter of will. But...”
The Question said, “But what?”, in his mask-muffled manner.
“But the scrolls are only the basis of each student’s training. A
student must make his own path from them, and each path is
different. Some abilities are held in common, others are
developed thru individual training and inquest. I have some
abilities that the Hooded One doesn’t, thanks to my more complete
education. He left the monastery where we both were
nurtured. On his own, he must have learned...other things.”
“Such as?” asked Captain Atom.
“I can only guess. Scientific secrets beyond what we know.
Perhaps psychic abilities, even mysticism. Without the abbots to
be his guides, he would have been free to take in learning from any
source he could find. My guess is that the sources he chose were
very, very dark.”
“I’m familiar with the darkness,” said Nightshade.
“Not all of it,” Thunderbolt answered.
“Well, whoever this...’Hooded One’ is, he’s got resources,” Blue Beetle
put in. “Breakouts at several federal pens, hooking up with
characters like the Madmen, the Squids, the Fiery-Icer, this Dr.
Whatchamacalit that Cap fought, that doesn’t come cheap. We’re
probably looking at a cost outlay of millions of dollars.”
The Question spoke again. “That indicates something in excess of
your usual bank robbery plots. It’s possible that the objective
here involves national security. Possibly even at the behest of a
“Head of the class, Question,” said Atom. “At least on your first
assessment. But I don’t think they’re being bankrolled by Russia
or China. Am I right, T-Bolt?”
The blonde man shook his head. “The Hooded One doesn’t work for
anyone but himself. But conquest isn’t outside of his
ambitions. In fact, it’s quite central to them.”
Nightshade perched on the arm of her chair, her legs crossed and her
hands holding her knee. “I’ve got a suggestion, group.”
“Floor is yours, Nightshade,” said Captain Atom, gesturing towards her.
“Since none of us have worked together that I know of, why don’t we
fill each other in on our old enemies? If they’re really
operating as a unit now, we have to know something about the bad guys
each of us hasn’t gone up against. What do you think?”
“Good idea,” opined Blue Beetle. “Who wants to go first?
The atomic warrior scratched his head, then smiled. “Okay.
To begin with, Dr. Spectro. He’s one of my most powerful
enemies. Used to be a psychologist with a thing about using color
rays to heal. Problem was, they seemed to get turned on him and
made him insane. He had two wrist-bands of colored jewels, each
of which had a different power...heat radiance, cold, emotional
control, et cetera. He could also sap energy that was used
against him, like my atomic fireball, and use it to power
himself. The first time we fought, he either gained or used up
too much power and disintegrated. Later on, he reintegrated in
five tiny bodies. Don’t laugh, he almost beat me like that.
He tried to reintegrate into one body, and he did. But I bollixed
it enough to where he wound up in one body with a personality split
five different ways. He wasn’t a threat that way. But if
he’s been broken out of prison, I have a feeling whoever is behind it
might have found a way of putting his mind back together, or Spectro
would be no use at all to him.
“We haven’t heard from the Ghost in this one, but I’ll give you the
details just in case he shows up. He used to be a guy named Alec
Rois. He stole a teleportaton device that allows him to teleport
in and out of places like a ghost, hence the name. Nightshade and
I fought him about three times. The last we heard of him, he was
in another dimension, on a world called Sunuria, where they made him a
guest of honor as the ‘Faceless One’, whatever that meant. We
haven’t heard of him being involved in this caper, but you never know.
“Next, there was Iron Arms. As you might have guessed, he was a
character with mechanical arms and a backpack to power them. He
was the guy I fought when I had my power reduced, and he gave me a
battle. But the Fiery-Icer, who came a little later, was even
tougher. He wears a uniform that allows him to shoot flames or
ice, at will. Both of these guys have apparently been sprung from
jail. I’ve fought a few others, but they were usually spies or
aliens. Want to tell them about Punch and Jewelee, Nightshade?”
The girl in the mesh-eyed mask spoke. “Punch and Jewelee took
their names from the Punch and Judy characters in a puppet show, as
you’ve probably already guessed. They’re not tough, but they do
have some gimmicks they took from a crashed alien spaceship. I
know that sounds absurd, but like Cap just told you, aliens do
exist. We both put Punch in jail once and I put Jewelee in there
later myself. Now they’re apparently both out.
“I also fought a spy called the Image. He wears a uniform that
enables him to step through mirrors by some kind of space-warp.
He’s also a pretty good martial artist. But I was better.”
She smiled. “That’s pretty well it for me. Who’s next?”
The Beetle smiled. “I’ll try. The first ‘name’ guy I ever
fought was the Masked Marauder. But I don’t think he’s important
enough to bother with, so I’ll go on to the Squids. They were a
gang of bad guys who wore costumes with suction cups that let them
climb up walls. They also had breathing apparatus built in so
they could function underwater. Their ringleader was a character
called Todd Van III, and apparently he’s been busted loose.
“Then there were the Madmen. They were another gang of crooks in
uniforms, but these uniforms...gah! They had more colors than the
NBC peacock. They were half-acrobats and half-clowns, but they
stole my Beetle-Gun and had a lot of folks worried for awhile.
They didn’t know it was just a flash gun. The head Madman was
named Frank Fleeter, and we know he’s been sprung.
“After that I went up against an art vandal called Our Man, who hasn’t
been heard of since we tangled, and I doubt he will be. Also I
fought the Specter, but he’s dead. So I guess the Madman and the
Squid will do it for me.”
Thunderbolt asked, “What became of the first Blue Beetle, by the way?”
The Beetle looked at him evenly. “He died.”
“Oh,” said Peter Cannon, awkwardly. “Sorry, Beetle.”
Shrugging, Ted Kord said, “You couldn’t have known.”
“My regrets, too, Beetle,” said Captain Atom. “I never worked
with the old Beetle, but I heard of his exploits. He carried
himself with honor. Well, who’s next? Thunderbolt or
Thunderbolt raised one gloved hand. “I’ll go. My primary
foe is, and always has been, the Hooded One. I’ve told you about
all I can tell you of him without compromising my identity. Let
me just reemphasize: he’s superior in both scientific and mystic
knowledge. He seems to have some psychic ability. I don’t
know if his physical capacity is up to mine, but it won’t be far
behind, if it isn’t. And yes, he does have the capacity to
organize and lead, and he bears a grudge against the Western
world. Mainly because my parents and I, who he believes cheated
him of sacred knowledge, came from there.
“My other enemies, sad to say, are dead. None, thankfully, by my
own hand. Except one: Evila. She was an ancient Egyptian
princess, reborn from her own mummy. Once she was revived, she
started her own criminal empire in my city. Evila had some
abilities that might be classed as psychic or magical. But when
she faced me, her powers apparently malfunctioned. She returned
to her mummified state. I would have told you she was still dead,
a week ago. Now...I’m not so certain. That’s all for me.”
After a pause, the Question began. “I don’t usually fight men
with costumes or code names. The only criminal I ever went
against in that category was called the Banshee. He was Max Bine,
a carnival performer who killed a man named Dundo to possess his
invention. Said invention was a suit that could be inflated with
gas, allowing him to fly. Bine pulled off a string of robberies,
until I met with him. He ended up being swept out to sea by a
strong wind. Never heard of him after that, but the word is that
he may be back.”
Captain Atom was sitting down again. “So. That seems to be
the list of possible suspects. Unless there are some new faces in
the old crowd, we’ve got a pretty good idea of the lineup. But
what about the ones your, ah, predecessor faced, Beetle? Are any
of them active?”
The Blue Beetle said, “Not to my knowledge, Atom. I never fought
any of the first Beetle’s enemies, and I haven’t heard of any of them
being liberated. Not that I paid them much attention in the first
place, of course.”
“There’s also the Son of Vulcan,” said Thunderbolt. “But he
hasn’t been heard from in years. Anyone know what happened to
Atom shook his head. “Not a trace. Nobody I know of ever
worked with him, anyway. As for some of the other
independents...that bunch they called the Sentinels, for example...they
haven’t been heard from in awhile, either, and I don’t know anybody
they fought. It seems that just our old enemies have been
“Nice to know,” said Nightshade. “And we’re still thinking of
this Hooded One as the top man in the outfit?”
“Unless he, as well as the others, are working under some unknown
agency,” said the Question. “There is always that possibility.”
“True enough, Question, but let’s just settle for the known quantities
at this point,” Atom said. “Our next step, I suppose, is to learn
The Question tented his hands and, with his blank-featured mask, looked
straight at Captain Atom. But he said nothing.
Catching the nuance, the Beetle made a save. “Question, that may
be a really obvious statement. But for right now, stating broad
strategy is one of the first things we have to do.”
“Indeed,” said the Question. Looking at him, Nightshade was
prepared not to like him.
The ambiance was broken by a tone that came through the Bug’s intercom
system. “Incoming,” said the Blue Beetle, and bolted for the
cockpit. The others were close behind him.
After the conversation, most of them expected to see the face of a
super-villain in the windshield “eyes” of the Bug. Perhaps Dr.
Spectro, or even the Banshee, the latter of whom would have been easy
enough to take. Instead, they saw a white-helmeted man held aloft
by jets in his belt. His shirt was brown with a dove insignia
inside a shield; his pants were white; and the helmet looked like an
updated Greek soldier’s helmet redone in plastic and metal.
He was smiling, somewhat.
“Correct me if I’m wrong,” said the Beetle, “but isn’t that the
“I’ve seen photos of him before,” said Captain Atom. “That’s
him. If you want to let him board...”
“Be careful,” cautioned the Question. “He might not be what he
“If he isn’t,” stated Nightshade, “I’ll feed him his helmet, piece by
piece. Want to let him in, Beetle?”
The blue-clad hero pushed a lever on the control board. The
control seat moved to the side, against the cockpit wall, and the
portal hole was exposed. A pointed finger indicated to the
Peacemaker which way he should enter. Within seconds, the
newcomer was inside. The Beetle moved his seat back in place.
“Good afternoon,” said the Peacemaker, pleasantly enough. “Let’s
see. I recognize Captain Atom, the Blue Beetle, and
Thunderbolt. You, sir, would be the Question, am I correct?”
The featureless man nodded.
“And you, miss, are...?”
“I’m Nightshade,” she said. “You’re the Peacemaker. We’ve
heard of you, too.”
“Well, I’m pleased,” he said. “Such an august crew, and to think
we’ve never met before this. I couldn’t get to Hub City fast
enough to meet you there, but I’m glad I was in time to track you down
here. May I offer my services?”
Captain Atom smiled. “We’re not refusing any helping hands here,
Peacemaker. Welcome to the club. I trust there are no
objections?” He looked at the other four. Nobody said
anything, but there weren’t exactly any spontaneous expressions of
greetings or goodwill, either. Well, thought Atom, what the
hell. It wasn’t the first time he’d had to shape up a unit where
one soldier or another didn’t seem to fit in.
Atom caught himself. This wasn’t a military unit he could easily
order about. It was a free association of independents, and that
was going to take some mental readjustment.
“You’re in,” announced Atom.
“Pleasure to be here,” said Peacemaker. “Now, I understand you’ve
banded together to deal with a number of your old enemies.”
“You understand correctly,” said Thunderbolt. “Got any of your
own? Live ones, that is?”
“Actually, no. But I’ll be pleased to help you with the ones you
“Guess that’ll do,” said Nightshade. “But I don’t want to run
through the list of bad-guy names again. Can someone else fill
“Oh, that won’t be necessary,” said the man in the helmet. “I
believe you’re speaking of the Banshee, Punch, Jewelee, the, ah,
Fiery-Icer, Iron Arms, Dr. Spectro, the Squids, the Madmen, and
possibly even the Ghost and Thirteen. Am I close to the target?”
Captain Atom was taken aback. “With one or two exceptions, you’re
on it. How did you get that list?”
The Peacemaker smiled. “I do research.”
The Blue Beetle extended his hand. “Welcome to the club,
Maker. Even though we haven’t got a name yet.”
The Peacemaker shook the Beetle’s gloved hand. The Question,
leaning against the cockpit wall, said, “For the group? Why would
we need a name? We’re only associated for this case.”
“Well, it could help morale,” said Captain Atom. “If someone has
a suggestion, let’s hear it.”
Nightshade huffed. “I’m not going to waste the rest of the
evening thinking up a name when we should be putting a tail on our
villains. Let somebody else do it.”
“As a matter of fact,” said Peacemaker, “I have already thought of one.”
“Let’s hear it,” said Thunderbolt, laconically.
After a pause, the Peacemaker said, “All six of us have been brought
together, as it were, as an extraordinary force for justice. Why
not call ourselves that? The Force of Justice?”
“Seems a little highfalutin to me,” said the Beetle. “What do you
“I prefer not to think of myself as a ‘force’,” said Thunderbolt.
“I wouldn’t be arrogant enough to think of myself as Justice, either.”
“But it’s got something,” said Atom. “What if we shortened it a
bit? Just made it Justice Force? Any objections to that?”
“Not really,” said Nightshade. “What about you, Question?
You’re the only one we haven’t heard from.”
“I do not care,” said the blank-masked hero. “We’ll only be using
it for one time, anyway.”
“That’s optimism for you,” said the Beetle. “I guess that carries
it. Justice Force we are.”
“I’d like to place the first motion on the table of the just-named
Justice Force,” said Nightshade, raising her hand.
“Go ahead, Night,” said Thunderbolt. “What’s on your mind?”
“Dinner,” she said.
Captain Atom smiled. “I think we can accomodate that. If we
find a big enough parking lot for this thing, that is.”
In his lair, the Hooded One smiled, though it was difficult to see it
beneath the shadows of his headgear.
Tracking the Blue Beetle’s vehicle was hardly a challenge. Given
the open nature of Captain Atom, and the heroes’ necessity for making a
public summoning, a blind man would have been able to keep tabs on the
enemy. If Thunderbolt, or perhaps the faceless Question, had been
in charge, things might have been more clandestine. Cannon knew
the Hooded One’s capabilities, and the Question seemed clandestine and
tactical. Luckily, they were only players in this matter.
Let them organize. He had already stolen a march on them.
The plan was in motion, and discovering it would be a hard matter of
work for them. But not impossible, perhaps. That was why a
strike would be made against them. And that, soon.
But Thunderbolt would have to be spared, if possible.
The Hooded One wanted Cannon to witness his claiming the destiny of
which he had been cheated, by Cannon and his parents.
Then he would kill him.
To be continued...