Here There Be Monsters
Part 10: “Family and Society”
Dr. Sivana was so pleased with himself he hadn’t stopped “heh-heh-heh”ing in the last thirty minutes. If he hadn’t been so important to the Monster Society, his associates probably would have squashed him just to shut him up.
But none of them could gainsay the fact that he’d succeeded, where the rest of them had failed. Not only had they trapped the Marvel Family, Cap, Mary, and Junior altogether, but they’d nabbed every aggravating superhero on the face of the planet. Including a couple they didn’t know about...this “Midnight Maid” and “Mister Midnight”.
On top of that, it looked as though Mr. Atom and the new improved Red Crusher were going to make mincemeat of America’s defenses, and a good number of Americans. Those who had worked with Mr. Mind in the original society had to give him credit...anybody who could keep Captain Marvel occupied for two whole years, while being a lowly worm, had to have something going for him. But Thaddeus Bodog Sivana had proven his efficiency. He was the King of the Villains, and had no power going for him at all but the natural ability of his brain.
The Acrobat was talking to some of the others. “All things considered, I think we should show our appreciation to the boss. Name a country after him. Maybe give him a federal treasury–you know, not a big one, just maybe one from some little island somewhere. Get him laid. He’d appreciate that.”
Illyria wrinkled her nose. “There are some things even too sickening for me to contemplate, and that, Acrobat, is one of them. No, thank you.”
Black Beauty, by her side, said, “I agree with Illy. Besides, the boss will have plans of his own for Earth. Let him get what he wants, and we can live on the rest. Like super-powered Rockefellers.”
“The Rockefellers! Hah!” Ibac crashed his knuckles together with an impact that almost made the floor tremble. “I will bury them alive in a pile of their own money.” A thoughtful look, as rare as ice in Arizona, crossed his face. “Then again, that might spoil the money for spending. I suppose I’ll just kill them the easy, efficient way.”
The Weeper sniffled. “Just to think of you killing those innocent rich people...and to contemplate myself breaking the neck of every police officer in America, and crushing all the judges...it’s so sad, so very, very sad.” He began to sob into a handkerchief that was already dripping.
“Will you cut that out!” yelled the Black Rat. “We may have augmented powers, but there’s not power enough in the universe to make me stomach your bawling!”
“Indeed, the aspect’s quite exciting, of all the pyres we’ll be igniting,” interjected the Black Poet. “But ‘fore we peel our last banana, let’s hear from our own Doc Sivana.”
“Last banana?” asked Ibac, a frown on his face.
“Poetic liscence,” said the Poet, patiently.
Trug was holding onto the Ibistick with both hands and giving it all his attention, as he had for the last hour or two. “Ibistick, create an ingot of gold for me and drop it at my feet,” he said. “Ibistick, as a test, just make me a smoked salmon on rye.” Nothing happened.
Sivana, Junior sneered. “I told you it wasn’t likely the stick would work for anybody but Ibis. There are safeguards on it, for Pete’s sake.”
“And I’m getting tired of waiting around,” huffed Georgia, folding her arms. “Daddy, I want my very own disk, and I want it now.”
The bald, wizened scientist gave his daughter an unkind look. “You’ll get your disk when I’m good and ready to give it to you, and not before. Everything in its proper season, daughter.”
“Daddy!” Georgia wailed. “I can’t wait forever to kill Mary Marvel! You’re going to make me an old maid, as far as homicide goes!”
“That will be enough!” raged Sivana. “Shut up, or I won’t let you kill her at all!” The bespectacled offspring of the World’s Wickedest Scientist subsided, although her pout could probably be broadcast over the entire surface of Venus.
“Now, then,” said Sivana, “we’re just about ready to get things underway. Mr. Atom and the Crusher have created enough chaos on Earth for us to make our presence known. In short, we’re about to become television stars.”
“Gosh,” said Black Beauty, clasping her hands. “I always knew I could make it in movies. On the other hand, the movies don’t like it if you do television first. Hey, Doc, could you maybe leave me out of the broadcast?”
“Beauty, please,” said Illyria.
“Follow me, all of you, to the studio,” said Sivana. “Of course, it’ll take some hours for our broadcast to reach Earth. Even light doesn’t travel fast enough for some purposes. However, by the time it reaches them, we’ll have killed the irritating Marvels, and then the lesser heroes...and they’ll all see it live on their idiot boxes.”
“You mean...you mean we’re going to...” Ibac couldn’t even get the words out. To contemplate such a thing, after all the heartbreak of coming up short against his hated foe, except for the latest time, and now, to be told that he could go ahead and murder Captain Marvel...it was beyond belief. He suspected that this could happen, ever since he made that deal with Prince Lucifer. But to actually know that it would come true...he wanted to weep and sing, “When You Wish Upon a Star.”
“I mean, you’re going to follow me,” said Sivana, turning on his heel. “Trug, put that thing away and come with us.”
The black magician stowed the Ibistick away in his coat pocket and joined the rest. Sooner or later, he’d get the thing to work. Once Ibis was dead, it wouldn’t have a choice.
On the Rock of Eternity, Shazam viewed the developments on Earth and Venus with great grimness.
His proteges were as close to death as they had possibly ever been during his time with them. Not that they hadn’t been in more daunting traps; they’d been gagged and faced buzzsaws, acetylene torches, Nazi maniacs, super-villains, the whole lot. Even the likes of Oggar and Black Adam. All three of his heroes had won out in the end, as they were always fated to.
He had to admit that Sivana’s plan this time went beyond even the episode in which the old wizard himself had almost died, deprived of his Shazamium bracelet.
What if the powers of evil succeeded this time? To whom would Shazam turn then? Assuming there was anyone left in the world who could accept the burden of the powers he had wielded himself in his long-ago youth.
He turned to the god beside him. “The villains draw upon your power, you know.”
“So they do,” agreed Apollo. “But I cannot intervene. Your trio has not asked for my aid directly.”
“They cannot, imprisoned as they are,” said Shazam. “And I, in my ghostly state, cannot offer them succor. Is there none upon this entire rock who can save my charges?”
The sun god shook his head, sadly. “You know the rules, Old Man. Without their request, we cannot help.”
Shazam looked upon his guest, starkly. After a moment, he said, “I may visit Zeus, after this is all done. Tell him my burden has proven too great for me.”
“Your decision,” said Apollo. “But I would wait until all is settled Earthward. Your threesome live, and while there is life...”
“...there is hope,” finished the wizard. “But there is precious little of both right now, I fear.”
There was nothing more to say, so Apollo let himself out and took up the reins of his chariot outside. The horses pulled him into the starry void.
By the time he returned, it would be finished, one way or another. He hoped Shazam wouldn’t do anything too rash. He’d grown to like the old codger, over the millenia.
But that was the problem with mortals.
Just as soon as you started liking them, they up and died on you.
Radar had felt helpless to certain degrees in his career. After all, in his career as a quote-International Policeman-unquote, he’d had to deal with communists, tyrants, plutocrats, trade union bosses, spies, presidents, and the plain citizens of a multitude of countries. Usually, the actors in such affairs were only human, and they were tough enough to move when he was the only force against them, if they had power, and they usually did.
But this was a case in which normal human capacities were useless. His operatives (he didn’t want to use the Squadron of Justice moniker) were gone, swallowed up into whatever had swallowed the Marvel Family. Pep Pepper had a degree of extrasensory perception, as the science boys termed it. Yet, not even that could foretell him what was next to come in this disastrous situation. And that, he counted the most merciful thing in the entire debacle.
Twin giants, one metal and one flesh, were tearing up Canada and entering the United States, and there wasn’t a solitary thing he could do about it.
The phone rang. He reached for it. Radar expected to hear from Eisenhower again, but his second sight (or whatever it was) told him that the president was not on the line. “Yes?” he said.
The voice was familiar to him, and he sat at attention upon hearing it.
“Radar?”, said Dag Hammarskjold.
“Yessir,” said the white-coated UN agent.
“You have a television set?”
“Yes, sir,” Radar answered. “An Admiral, sir.”
“Have you been watching it of late?”
“No, sir, not in the last few minutes,” Radar admitted.
“Turn it on,” directed the secretary-general. “We can talk afterward. That is all.”
“Yes, sir,” agreed Radar. “That is all.” He heard the phone on the other end click off.
As quickly as he could, Pep Pepper went into the other room, switched on the set, and expected to see Douglas Edwards or some other talking head giving a special report about the situation on the border. The blamed TV took at least thirty seconds to warm up. Just a tiny phosphor dot, then a line of light, then finally it opened up into what passed for a picture.
As it firmed into view, Radar inadvertently swore.
The face filling the screen was anything but that of Douglas Edwards.
The grinning visage of Dr. Sivana smiled out upon the television viewers of Earth, making those who were waiting for Uncle Miltie sit up in shock.
“Greetings to the populance of the United States, Canada, Mexico, Europe, and anyone else fortunate enough to have a set,” sneered the scientist. “This message is pretaped and was broadcast from the surface of Venus some hours ago, by your reckoning. My name is Sivana. Dr. Thaddeus Bodog Sivana. Soon to be known to all as the Rightful Ruler of the Universe, and by one other name as well. But we’ll get to that later.
“I claim credit for the twin menaces your world is now facing, for the giant Red Crusher and Mr. Atom. I also claim credit for the springing from jail of many criminals who are now my associates. We call ourselves the Monster Society of Evil, and I’d like to thank the dear, departed Mr. Mind for giving us that cognomen. You’ll be hearing it more often in the days to come, I assure you. Finally, I claim credit for the news they’re undoubtedly trying to keep from you if they can, the capture of Captain Marvel, Captain Marvel, Jr., and Mary Marvel. That last should legitimize our status, if nothing else. But of course, there’ll be a lot else. A lot, indeed.
“My associates, who will appear with me in our next broadcast, were men of power–at least some of them were. But even those who had no power at all have gained power enough to challenge the Three Cheesy Marvels, and those who had power before have acquired the might to beat them. And they did. All of this was done by a power we tap every day, to warm our bones, to raise our crops, to keep the chlorophyll producing oxygen for all life to exist on Earth.
“The power of the sun.
“I devised a method of directly tapping the great energy of the sun, through a lattice of receiver-transmitters we installed at a point near enough to the sun to be efficient for our purposes. Don’t worry, men of Earth, it’s far beyond your capacities to reach. I don’t feel insecure about revealing its existence. The receivers empower my associates. As a result, the Monster Society of Evil have become monsters beyond your greatest nightmares. Even those of Hitler, Tojo, and Stalin. But not, perhaps, beyond mine.
“Mr. Atom and the Red Crusher will continue having their way with your planet for the present. They’re merely a shock force of two. When you receive my next transmission, you will be privileged to behold the execution of the Marvel Family themselves, followed by the deaths of those nonentities who followed them here. Parents, you might send your children out of the room when that happens, unless of course you’d consider it an educational experience. Which it will be.
“As for myself, I consider this a great relief. After fifteen years of nothing but frustration, beating my head against a wall colored in red and yellow...sometimes blue and yellow, mustn’t forget the Little Blue Cheese...I finally find closure. Or at least I will find it, in a few hours, when I will be known to the world as Sivana, Murderer of the Marvels. Following which, of course, we will come to Earth and conquer you in short order. Those who surrender will be spared–probably–and those who do not, we’ll have fun with. Well, that just about covers it. Until later, farewell.”
The image of Sivana dissolved in snow, and was replaced by that of Milton Berle in a dress and makeup. Not too many paid that much attention to the latter.
The Bell Telephone System later reported the greatest strain on their equipment since D-Day, a few moments afterward. And most of those who were called, answered, “Yeah, I saw it too.”
In Africa, Nyoka Gordon heard a radio report of Sivana’s speech, and was glad for the moment she lived where she did, though she wasn’t sure how long even her continent would be spared the menace.
In Washington and Moscow, two rulers whose flunkies stood ready to dial the other party at a moment’s order waited, and waited, and waited, and found a way to mentally blame Dr. Sivana on each other.
In New York, the UN Security Council monitored the situation and made what plans they could for a counteroffensive. Most opined that the best course of action was probably surrender. Then they continued to plan as though they had a chance.
In China, Mao Tse-Tung condemned the Crusher as a counterrevolutionary sellout to a bald, undersized imperialist, and warned the politburo against collaborating with giant robots.
And in Fawcett City, Sterling Morris, Dudley Batson, Edith Bromfield, Dexter Knox, Jives, and many others offered up prayers for the Marvel Family, and wondered if the time-lag between worlds would not make such prayers too late.
But they, and many others, prayed anyway.
Bulletman had been among the first of the Squadron to waken. He felt a woman’s hands on him and assumed it was Susan Barr’s. She was shaking him. “Hold on, honey,” he groaned. “Even through this helmet, my head’s hurting.”
“I can understand that, Mr. Bulletman,” said an unfamiliar woman’s voice.
He snapped his eyes open and looked into the face of an enticing blonde. “You,” he said. “Sivana’s daughter, the...good-looking one. I...I’ve seen you before.”
She made a face. “Probably in that presidential campaign Daddy had me mixed up in. Come on, help us wake up the others.”
The Flying Detective glanced about him. He was in a stone cell, as inviting as any at Sing Sing. It was large enough to accomodate what he saw to be a mass of fallen heroes, the ones who had come with him to Venus. Bulletgirl and Ibis and Phantom Eagle and Scarlet and Pinky and all the rest. A handsome young man was shaking Bulletgirl by the shoulders. Bulletman sprang up, thrusting Beautia from him, and grabbed Magnificus so forcefully it made his own head hurt again. “Keep your hands off my...partner, young man,” he snapped.
“Sorry,” said Magnificus Sivana, reasonably. “I was just trying to wake her up. I’m Magnificus. I’m Sivana’s other son.”
Bulletgirl, woozily, said, “What’s going on? Jim, why are you putting this gorgeous guy in a bearhug?”
“Gorgeous?” Bulletman’s eyes widened with an expression that said, We’re going to have a talk about this later, Susan.
“Reasonably gorgeous,” said Susan Barr. “I, um, take it we lost.”
“We all did,” acknowledged Beautia. “I’m Beautia Sivana. This whole mess is my daddy’s plan.”
Magnificus was released from Bulletman’s grip. “Do you have any idea what the plan entails, young lady?”, asked Bulletman.
“What’s it always entail?” asked the male Sivana. “He wants to conquer the Earth and kill the Marvels. Same as always. Only this time, he’s gotten a lot further along with it than before.”
“Oh, come on, Mag, there’s been a few times before,” Beautia grated. “Like when the kid, Billy, got amnesia and couldn’t remember his word, or when Daddy and our two brat siblings got the drop on them with some Atlantean secrets, or when he made that crazy Robot Z to fight him, or...”
“Spare me, sis,” said Magnificus, rubbing his sore ribs. “I know all the history, just like you.”
Bulletgirl got to her feet, leaning against a wall. “So the Marvel Family aren’t dead yet?”
“Probably not,” said Beautia. “If they were, I can bet that Daddy’d be down here with Junior and Georgia to rub it all in our faces.”
“But the fact that we’re still here argues that the Marvels aren’t free,” said Bulletman. “And if that’s the case...”
“They’ll be coming for us, afterward,” finished Bulletgirl. “But I can’t believe he’d kill both of you, too.”
“He might not,” said Magnificus. “He said he mainly wanted us here to have to watch.”
“And we’d have to watch them kill you all,” added Beautia.
Silence for a moment.
Then Bulletman said, “I’ll get Ibis up and moving. The rest of you, see to the others.”
There was only one way left as an out for Captain Marvel, and he did not know, even through the wisdom of Solomon, if he would have enough time for it.
He had been bending his efforts in that direction ever since he thought of it, and wished that one of his powers had been telepathy, that he might send the idea to Junior and Mary. But they commanded the same brainpower he did, and they might not be far behind him in thinking of it, if at all.
Then he heard the footsteps outside the door to the chamber. He couldn’t turn his head, but he could discern the direction from which they came and the person to which each set of footsteps belonged.
The door banged open. Sivana’s voice rang out. “And now, dear audience, the thrill you’ve been waiting for, the final payoff, the piece de resistance...the doom of the Marvel Family!”
The multiple footsteps shuffled closer, until, finally, the bald, beak-nosed little man in the white smock and horn-rimmed glasses loomed into his field of vision. There were others just beyond him, Sivana, Jr., Georgia, the Black Poet, the Weeper, Trug, Sabbac, Black Beauty, Illyria, and the rest, plus Ibac, who seemed disgruntled, holding a camera-like contraption with its lens pointed at Captain Marvel himself.
“Good evening, dear Captain,” said Sivana. “It’s a shame you cannot properly speak with me, give a last statement to the viewers at home, and all that. But it would probably be unspeakably boring. Your day of destiny has come. As has mine.”
“And mine,” said Sivana, Jr.
“And mine!” shouted Georgia, twirling on her tiptoes and cracking her knuckles with her hands behind her back. “Let me at her, Daddy!”
“Georgia, hush,” directed Sivana. “Observe, Mr. Big Red Cheese. The token of your destruction.” From his pocket, he pulled a thick metallic disk, and held it before Captain Marvel’s eyes.
“This is the weapon that has brought you low, oh Captain, my Captain. This is the latest, and possibly the greatest, invention of Thaddeus B. Sivana, though I must admit that the invention of Sivanium, the perfection of interplanetary flight, the process of making myself immaterial, and all the rest still really rank. This is a disk such as my other associates wear. This is the Sun Disk, which draws its very power from the sun itself. It transmits said power into the body of the user, making a mortal man a match for the World’s Mightiest Mortal, and making the likes of Ibac and Sabbac here more than your equal. A single one of these would power all the cars in the United States for an entire year, if a way could be found to do it. Oh, well, I’ll find a way if I have to. And this disk, and its two mates, which are borne by my children Thaddeus, Jr. and Georgia, are double-strength. When we attach these to our bodies, the Sivana Family will gain more than enough power to destroy the Marvels, and right here before a live audience, to boot. Er...that is, live in the sense of several hours delay. Even my signal-boosters can’t do much better than that. Then again, without them, it would take days, even months, for the thing to be seen. Oh, well, enough of that.
“When I give the word, after we have applied our disks, my associate the Acrobat will shut down the power for your paralysis ray only, Captain Marvel. And while Ibac and Sabbac restrain you, possibly with the help of my twin offspring, I will grasp your head in these two very hands–“ Sivana held his mitts up before the camera, theatrically. “–and tear it from your shoulders. Or maybe just strangle you. Whatever springs to mind at the moment. At any rate, you will be dead. Followed by the deaths of the Small Blue Cheese and the Small Red Cheese, in that order.”
“I wanna go first!” wailed Georgia.
“You heard Daddy, it’s me first,” asserted Sivana, Jr. “Me. Me. Me!”
“Shut up, the both of you!” thundered Sivana. “You’ll excuse me, viewers at home. I’m sure enough of you out there have problems with your own children. Well, then, Ibac, if you’ll give the camera to the Poet there, that’s a good man. And now...now...”
He held the disk between his thumb and forefinger, drawing in a shuddering breath of ecstasy. He wanted to wait on the cusp of this moment as long as possible.
Then he felt the trembling of the floor beneath him.
“Eh?” He blinked. This part of the planet never had Venusquakes. This trembling didn’t make any sense. He glanced at the other villains. All of them were looking at each other, and at him, waiting for someone to tell them what was happening.
“Uh, boss, I’m having problems holding the camera steady here,” said the Acrobat. “Do you think we could maybe stop broadcasting till this passes, you know, put up a ‘Please Stand By’ and...”
“Shut up! Shut up!” raged Sivana. This couldn’t be happening. This plan was too, too fully formed. True, every time he’d faced the Marvels they’d always had one last desperate chance that had gotten them out of trouble, one last idiot burst of luck, but this time, the last chance just had to have run out. It just had to. Because there was no way his plan could fail this time...
...except through one really, really last desperate chance.
“Illyria!” he snapped. “Increase the power of the paralysis ray!”
“How do I do that?” she asked.
“How do I know? Get another rat to run in the generator! You all expect me to do your thinking for you! You all expect–“
There was a sound of rending metal that drowned out the rest of his sentence.
The assembled villains, aghast, looked on as the entirety of the metal table holding Captain Marvel prisoner underneath the paralysis ray bent, warped, slowly and then very, very quickly, and, with a final wrench, pulled itself off its fastenings and rocketed across the room, bowling over the Weeper and the Black Rat, stopping with a smash against the nearby wall.
“Oh, dear,” said the Weeper, pulling out his handkerchief and wringing it. “Oh, my.”
“Oh, hell,” offered the Rat.
Sabbac reacted first of all of them. From his hands, a burst of green flame erupted. It might have been enough to harm even the World’s Mightiest Mortal, if it had made contact.
Before the spurt of evil magic could bridge the gap, Captain Marvel exerted his mighty muscles. The bonds of metal flew apart as shrapnel, and the Sivanas had to dodge the fragments. He leapt from the horizontal prison that had held him for so long, and landed in a certain part of the floor just long enough to stamp his gold-booted foot through its concrete surface.
It smashed through a power conduit, blacking out some of the lights above and all of the power to the paralysis beams.
There was a quantity of sparks from each of the other devices over Mary and Junior’s bodies, followed by the sounds of metal clamps being shredded and that of two youthful forms landing upright.
Sivana’s hand shook. He dropped his disk. He couldn’t have dropped his disk. It just wasn’t possible. At a time like this–
He tried to jump on it, just before he saw a gold-booted toe cover it. Sivana looked up into the face of a coldly smiling superhero. “No, you can’t,” he begged. “You really can’t. Please. It’s just–“
“It’s just too late, Sivana,” said Captain Marvel, and ground the disk to powder.
He glanced at Junior and Mary and saw that they had followed his lead, prying the other disks from the hands of Sivana, Jr. and Georgia, and crushing them in their fists.
“I’ll have to give you credit, Sivana,” acknowledged Marvel. “This one had me stumped for a while. A beam that paralyzed all my muscular actions, strong enough to affect me–well, that’s something new for you. Except that you forgot about one thing. But don’t feel bad, I forgot about it, too, until just recently.
“My flight power isn’t really a muscular attribute at all. It’s a combination of mental and magical energies acting upon each other. It’s no more affected by my muscles than is the wisdom of Solomon...which, if I’d been using beforehand, I might have gotten out a lot earlier. Your table is built of an alloy not unlike Marvelium. You did a good job on it. I almost didn’t escape. But all I had to do, in the end, was use my flight power to its fullest extent. For about an hour, to be precise. If you hadn’t been so intent on making a long speech, you could probably have gotten me.”
Ibac lurched forward. “And if you’re finished with your long speech, Redlegs, I’m ready to get you!”
“Kill them! Kill them!” screeched Sivana, stumbling behind the Black Rat, who scowled at him. Junior and Mary were standing beside Captain Marvel now, and both looked even madder than he did.
“That’s just what we aim to do,” muttered Sabbac.