Here There Be Monsters
Part 9: "Monsters and Heroes"
"Ibistick! Protect me from Trug!"
The wand of Ibis the Invincible never needed to be told twice. The ancient Egyptian magic it embodied quickly surrounded its bearer with a shield of glowing energy. For most opponents, that would be enough.
But Trug, Ibis's greatest foe, merely sneered. "Think that's good enough against me now? Watch this!"
And, with a gesture of his outstretched hand, red fire blazed forth, struck Ibis's shield, and dented it. The Egyptian mage gasped.
"Our own natural powers have been increased by multiple factors," said
Trug, matter-of-factly. "You're about to find out that your wand
has its limits...and our limits have been moved further outward."
Bulletman and Bulletgirl hurtled themselves towards the Black Rat, their old enemy, who wore his familiar rat costume. Both were empowered by the gravity helmets they wore, and the sera that coursed through their bodies. The Black Rat only had his clawlike finger extensions to rely on.
At least, that was what the heroes thought before they bounced off his body like rubber balls.
"Trug ain't the only one who's gotten powers!" declared Black Rat. "Right now, I could probably tear those stupid helmets off your head and shove ‘em down your throats. And I just might."
The Bullet Twins got up from the spots where they had landed, looked at their foemen, and wondered what had turned them into such dynamos of power. "Where did you acquire your new powers?" asked Bulletman, stalling for time.
The Weeper, dressed in a civilian suit and hat, stepped up. "That is immaterial, Bulletman. Actually, what's important is what we can do with our new powers. Such as--"
Spy Smasher and Pinky were charging him as he spoke.
"--this," finished the Weeper, and caught the two in the throats with a forearm as they got close enough. The pair of heroes fell to the ground, clutching their throats. Mr. Scarlet, seeing it, was livid.
"You hurt Pinky!" he yelled, uncontrollably. "You hit my--partner!" He was already in motion, his hands balled into fists.
Minute Man, a better strategian than his friend, tried to grab Scarlet by the cape. It came off in his hand. "Hold it, Mr. S," he said. "If these guys have super-powers now..."
He didn't need to finish the sentence. Scarlet was close enough for the Weeper to reach, and that's just what the villain did, grabbing him by the jaw and holding him aloft, just off the ground. Then the Weeper pitched Scarlet away, throwing him ten feet before he contacted Venus's surface. It didn't look like much of an effort.
"We're so much stronger than them," said the Weeper. "It's simply not fair. We'll be able to kill them without a fight." He began to cry.
Sabbac, that bald-headed, green-robed magical enemy of Captain Marvel, Jr.'s, lifted his hand and joined Trug in blasting away at Ibis's magical shield. The turbaned magician hero stared back at them with grim intensity. No matter how many times he told the Ibistick to strengthen his force-field, it would soon crumble. The two villains looked as though they knew it.
What had increased their power?
The Black Poet, another business-suited foe, rubbed his hands together. "It's time I tried my own powers out for size. Come on, and the extent of them I'll realize."
Mister Midnight and Midnight Maid reached in their belt-pouches and came up with weapons. Chuck's was the blackout device, Joyce held the Torch. She activated hers a second before his and blasted the Poet's eyes with a ray of intense brightness. A second later, Chuck's gimmick projected a cone of blackness, engulfing their foe.
"Confound it!" griped the Poet, floundering about. "They didn't give me a power to deal with this!"
A second later, Bulletman and Bulletgirl had to fly both of the Midnights out of the grasp of the Black Rat, who was coming for them from behind with his claws outstretched. "Watch your back," advised Bulletman.
"Thanks," offered Chuck. "Apologies for the mistake. You'd think I'd have learned by now."
"We're experienced adventurers, but rookie costumed heroes," said Joyce.
"Don't worry, dear," said Bulletgirl, clasping Midnight Maid about the waist with one arm. "Us so-called ‘veterans' aren't coping much better."
The Phantom Eagle and Minute Man stood side by side, facing two opponents. "Illyria," said Minute Man. "Never thought I'd see you again, but I was hoping."
"Oh, I was hoping for just such an occasion," smiled the Axis girl-spy. "And now I have the power I need to make it an even better occasion."
"And who might you be, Betty Page?" asked the Phantom Eagle of the other woman.
"They call me ‘Black Beauty', and I don't care for horse jokes," she said. "We just put Mary Marvel away not long ago. I don't think we'll have that much trouble with you."
Valiantly, the two males swung punches, one which caromed off Black Beauty's jaw, the other of which fizzled out against Illyria's midsection. The two women looked at their foes with pitying expressions.
Minute Man and Phantom Eagle looked at each other, then began to run.
Before they had gotten a hundred yards away, their path was blocked by Black Beauty, who dropped from the sky onto a spot in front of them. "We have powers similar to Captain Marvel's," she said. "We can fly, too."
"You can say that again," said Illyria, who dropped down behind the two heroes.
Then, without further words, the two swung punches which were a tad more effective than the heroes', and watched the costumed pair crumple onto the Venusian topsoil.
Illyria smiled. "I think we've got a pretty good team going here, Black."
"A hell of a lot better than theirs," allowed Black Beauty, nudging the Eagle with her foot.
Elsewhere, Ibis's force-field was buckled inward to the point that it almost touched his chest. He looked outward at Trug, his mustached, smiling arch-enemy, and seethed with frustration. The evil energies coming from him and Sabbac would soon breach his defenses. Another tactic had to be tried.
"Ibistick!" he cried. "Take us to Captain Marvel!"
Trug's eyes widened. A second later, he cursed as he saw Ibis fading from sight, along with his fellow heroes, both fallen and still conscious. Another instant and the Egyptian would have been his!
He turned to Sabbac. "What are you waiting for? We have to catch them?"
For his part, Sabbac merely folded his green-cloaked arms and smiled. "Don't worry, Trug. You see...it's already been taken care of."
A nanoinstant after fading from sight, Ibis, Bulletman, Bulletgirl, the Midnights, and the fallen Phantom Eagle, Spy Smasher, Mr. Scarlet, Pinky, Minute Man, and Phantom Eagle reappeared on the floor of a strange chamber. Quarters were close enough with their materialization, but the five conscious heroes were easily able to see the forms of Captain Marvel, Captain Marvel, Jr., and Mary Marvel, held to metal tables by bonds powerful enough to restrain even them.
Quickly, Ibis said, "Ibistick. Free..."
A huge hand reached out and slapped him across the side of his face. Ibis spiralled against the wall, striking it hard and losing his wand and consciousness. Bulletman and Bulletgirl quickly used their gravity helmets to shoot themselves forward at their foe, but he merely splayed his hands before him, grabbed both of them by the helmets, and banged their heads together with a resounding clang. The Barrs slumped, senseless.
With only a second of hesitation, Mister Midnight charged at their adversary, while Joyce ran for the nearest table containing a hero, in this case Captain Marvel, Jr. She tried to find a way to release his bonds, or at least to cut off the strange beam overhead. But as she leaned full into its beam, she found herself unable to move.
Joyce was lucky.
Midnight received three whacks from their foe, each of which ratcheted his head in a different direction. The bruiser looked like he was enjoying it, but not that he was putting much effort into the blows. Valiantly, Chuck tried to retain awareness, but the white-on-black lights were all he could see. He sagged like a sack of potatoes.
The villain nonchalantly dumped him and went over to the table where Midnight Maid stood paralyzed over Captain Marvel, Jr. Catching her by a leg, which was not within the stasis beam, he pulled her out from under it. She had her torch in hand and pointed at him as she regained her mobility.
"Relax, doll," he said, and, with his forefinger and thumb, flicked her into oblivion.
Regarding her and the rest of the heroes decorating the floor, Ibac leaned back against the metal table, though not within range of the paralyzing beam. "Shoulda known, kids. You shoulda known we wouldn't leave Big Red and company unguarded."
Captain Marvel, Jr. had heard all, but he was unable to even move his eyes. He had seen the woman in the unfamiliar costume lean over his table and become paralyzed, then be taken away. He had also heard the sounds of carnage. His memory, strengthened by Solomon's wisdom, matched some of the sounds and voices to people he knew: Bulletman, Bulletgirl, and Ibis.
So the other heroes of America had come to their rescue, but ended up needing more rescue than the Marvel Family themselves.
If Ibac would only lean just an inch or two more back, and hit the beam. Not that it'd free Junior, but it'd be satisfying to see that big bruiser paralyzed until somebody came and freed him.
His thoughts restlessly turned to his partners. What of Mary? What of Cap? Both of them were beside him, he sensed, but they might have been a galaxy away for all the good he could do them. Worse yet, the Sivanas had bragged of a new Earth-threatening plan already in motion.
The powers of Hercules, Achilles, Zeus, Atlas, and Mercury might be of no avail right now, but he still had Solomon's wisdom to use. Perhaps that would be enough to find a way out of this trap. It had to be.
But Captain Marvel possessed the same power, and, though Mary got her abilities from a different set of legendary gods, she was as smart as either of them. Neither of them had gotten free, either.
There always had to be a "not yet".
That was what Captain Marvel, Jr. kept telling himself.
"They're simply gone? And you can't tell me what's become of them?"
Sterling Morris, on the floor of WHIZ-TV, sighed as he tried to wrench order out of chaos 30 minutes before the dinnertime news broadcast. "Mr. Batson, I can't tell you, the cops can't tell you, and if the FBI can tell you, they certainly haven't told me. I know you're concerned. So am I. But--"
"But Billy, and Mary, and Freddy! They're all vanished! And right in the midst of this crisis, Mr. Morris. It can't be coincidental."
Sterling Morris stepped very close to his number-one kiddie-show host, towering over him by six inches. "Mr. Batson. If you think that the disappearance of a boy who is one of my fondest associates, and a valued reporter, does not cause me great distress, you are simply, utterly wrong. But. As you are no doubt aware, there is a situation in Canada that's drawing the attention of the nation, and the world at large. Mr. Atom is loose again, and he has the Red Crusher with him. Both of them, sir, are threatening to destroy huge numbers of people if not stopped. So far, the Marvel Family has not appeared to stop them. The armies of the U.S. and Canada are preparing to make war against two--beings. You have heard our news bulletins, haven't you?"
"Well, yes, I should say so." Dudley Batson, who had changed his last name upon being "adopted" by Billy and Mary, worked at WHIZ hosting a children's show in the afternoon. He had finished his stint about an hour ago. But even his half-hour had been disrupted by the special bulletins on the Canada situation.
"Then you understand that I've got much to worry about," said Morris. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got a newscast to oversee."
Dudley grasped at Morris's sleeve as the station owner turned away. "But Mr. Morris. You'll tell me if any news is heard, won't you? Any bit of news concerning their situation?"
"Yes, Dudley, absolutely. Now, please. Go have dinner, go home, go to bed, and leave the rest to us. And God."
Reluctantly, the old, short, rotund man turned away. There was so little he could do. Honestly, he had to tell himself, the distance between what he could do and nothing was infitesimal.
He trudged to the men's room, turned on a faucet, splashed water on his face, and regarded the miserable man in the mirror. Then he looked around, saw no feet in the stalls, and, briefly, unbuttoned his shirt.
Below it was a red-and-yellow uniform similar to Captain Marvel's. He wore it during his kid's show, and he wore it when the Marvel Family let him tag along on their missions. Sometimes he had even been of help.
But either as Dudley Batson or Uncle Marvel, he had no powers. Absolutely no powers at all.
"Just another old man," he muttered to himself, buttoning the shirt again. "Another old man who can't cut the mustard anymore. If he ever could."
He recalled how he'd literally conned his way into the Marvel Family, getting a Marvel suit made up for himself and pretending that he was their Uncle Marvel, whose lack of powers he chalked up to "Shazambago". Mary Marvel had seen through him almost immediately, but she'd liked him so well that she let the masquerade continue. Even Captain Marvels Junior and Senior had accepted him, albeit in a lesser role. Now all of them, himself included, knew that he had never been a Marvel, but he had aided them somewhat in more than a few cases.
And he had been proud to call them his friends.
Now they were all in trouble, God only knew where. Most other heroes in America had been inactive for years, except for Ibis, and he hadn't shown up. What could he do? What could one powerless old man do?
Suddenly, he flashed on another line of thought. Inactive heroes?
Dudley barged out of the WHIZ offices, hurried to the corner phone booth, and thumbed a dime into the pay slot. Then he dialed a long-distance number, and was glad he had a couple of quarters to cover it. Finally, the connection was made. The sound on the line told him the phone was ringing on the other end. Pick it up...pick it up...
A voice, clear with a Texas accent, came through. "Howdy. This is Bill Batson."
In relief, Dudley sighed. "Bill, this is your uncle Dudley."
"Uncle Dudley?" The man on the other end had only met him once.
"You know--your marvelous uncle Dudley."
"Oh. Oh! How are y'all, uncle? What's been up with the family? Haven't heard from them inna month'a Sundays."
"I'm afraid they're in a bit of a jam," confided Dudley. "Probably connected with the mess in Canada. Can you get the other two together and meet me in Fawcett?"
"Well, I can," said Tall Billy. "But is Little Billy around? Unless he's there to, y'know, kinda give us the word, we can't do much on our own."
"He's...he's not here, Bill. I don't know where he is. But it'd certainly make me feel better if you were here."
A pause. "That serious, huh?"
"In that case, I'll try," said the Texan. "I can't vouch for the other two, but I'll call ‘em and I'll try to book a plane pronto. That be all right?"
"That'll be perfect, Bill. Thank you very much."
"Welcome, podner. Adios." The man he knew as Tall Billy hung up. Dudley sank against the wall of the phone booth and drew another heavy breath. He was right...without the first Billy Batson to say their word with, the three Lieutenants were probably powerless. But at least they'd all be together.
If the world had to be conquered, at least he'd be with friends.
In Canada, barely across the border from the United States, the massed forces of two nations were trying to resist the most undesired immigration of all time, and finding themselves inadequate to stop them.
One of their foemen was human, or appeared to be, if one could discount
his fifty-foot height. He was dressed in the uniform of a North Korean
Communist army officer, and he wielded a spiked mace on a chain many times
the size of a wrecking ball. This was the Red Crusher, an old foe
of Captain Marvel's. As a regular-sized villain, he had been trouble
enough. But Sivana had found the formula that the Communists had
used to expand one of their soldiers, Mong, to titanic size some months
ago, dosed the Crusher with it, and endowed him with a ball-weapon in proportion
to his new height. Moreover, one of Sivana's disks had given him
added power. His eyes burned bright with the desire to use it, as
he had already, on buildings, vehicles, bridges, dams, forests, and anything
that had stood in his path. He intended to keep using it. Especially
against these UN swine, who had recently managed the accursed negotiations
that had ended the Korean War.
They might not be Captain Marvel, but the Canadians and Americans would do.
Beside him, much slighter in height but not in menace, stood a figure off of an old science fiction pulp cover, brought to life: Mr. Atom. A gleaming, metal, atomic-powered robot who had turned on its creator and sought to destroy the human race, with only Captain Marvel to stop him. The World's Mightiest Mortal had succeeded in doing so, but could not destroy him. Mr. Atom had returned several times, and just as many times had been balked. The last time, he had been deactivated and sent to Washington for study. Now Sivana had liberated him, brought him to Venus, and sent him back to Earth, with a new mandate: Destroy everything in your path, to weaken the world for our conquest.
The two of them were advancing towards a mass of soldiers and tanks before them. They looked about as concerned as a football player stepping on a mass of roaches.
Corporal Bill Battle, nicknamed the "one-man Army" for his exploits in Korea, had been ordered to the site to help in the effort. He nodded towards his commander, Gen. "Inch" Wade, who had gained his moniker from his oft-repeated refusal to give "one inch" of territory to the North Koreans. "Orders, sir?"
Gen. Wade raised a bullhorn to his lips. "Attention. You are approaching the border between Canada and the United States. Turn back and surrender, or face retaliation."
The Red Crusher laughed, swung his ball-mace in a circle, and said something in his native language. Both Battle and Wade understood him, and knew it was anything but an agreement to their terms. They hadn't expected it to be. Mr. Atom kept advancing, one clanking step at a time. For some reason, he seemed the scarier of the two.
The general used the bullhorn once again. "Commence firing!"
The Canadians and Americans didn't need a second prompting. Tank turrets unleashed explosive shells at the pair. Bazookamen fired rockets. Cannons blasted away at the twosome, and regular soldiers opened up with what appeared to be a solid wall of bullets. The only thing in their favor was the size of their targets; practically none of them missed.
The bullets rebounded. The shells exploded without much effect. The rockets' red glare fizzled into ineffectiveness.
A few of the soldiers had seen the movie, War of the Worlds, a year ago. Those who had flashed on some of the scenes in it, and grew cold, internally.
The great mace-ball of the Red Crusher lashed out, came down, and pulverized tanks and their occupants. Mr. Atom's hands came up, and from the tips of his fingers horrible, searing, poisonous rays coursed, burning, melting, disfiguring, killing.
Bill Battle's mouth dropped open. An instant later, he charged forward, shooting his rifle at the foe, ready to do anything but fall down and die.
General Wade issued another bullhorn order. "Fall back! Fall back! Fall ba--"
Mr. Atom's hand pointed in his direction. Seconds later, there was only a charred figure left seated in the jeep, with the melted remnants of a bullhorn in his hand.
Bill Battle didn't see what happened to the general. He was still running at the gigantic Korean, his teeth bared, blasting away, determined that the fight he had started half a world away should not end so near the soil of his country.
A great shadow fell over him.
Bill Battle looked up, saw something that looked almost the size of a planet coming towards him, and gaped.
That was his last human action before the ball-mace crushed him.
The Crusher's mace fell again and again. Many of the warriors evaded his wrath. Many others did not. Mr. Atom strode forward, kicking a tank out of his way, blasting any who remained standing, and more than a few who did not.
Within fifteen minutes, Atom and Crusher left behind the disdained remains of the combined Canadian and American forces and, striding forward, set their first steps on American soil.
They were lost to sight over the horizon by the time an observer who survived got through to the White House on a telephone. President Eisenhower took the call, listened, thanked the observer and gave him orders to keep out of harm's way but see if he could keep tabs, and hung up. Then he turned to an advisor.
"Well, Mr. President?" asked the advisor.
"Well, Higby, we'll try an aerial bombardment. And hope the robot can't fry our planes in the sky."
"What if that doesn't work?"
The president rubbed the back of his neck. "Then we'll have the U2s keep monitoring them, until we can find a place sparsely populated enough for us to drop the Bomb."
Higby swallowed. "Very well, sir."
"Not a word of this, Higby. To anyone."
"Have we heard anything from Radar yet? Or about the Marvels?"
Higby placed his hands behind his back to conceal their trembling. "Radar, at last word, told us the Squadron was already on Venus. He hasn't heard anything from them since. As for the Marvel Family, sir...not word one."
"I see. Thank you, Higby. Keep me informed."
"Yes, sir. Most definitely."
The advisor left. The president rested his arms on his desk, and his head on them, for a moment. He recalled what Harry Truman had told him about dropping the Bomb on Japan: that he'd gone to bed afterwards, and slept a satisfying sleep.
But if he'd had to drop it on Missouri, Ike doubted that Harry would have slept a wink for the rest of his life.
Captain Marvel felt as though his muscles were cramped, as well they might be. The Marvelium bonds had held him prisoner for a good while, now. The knowledge that Junior and Mary were his fellow prisoners, and that the other heroes of Earth had tried and failed to rescue them, wasn't contributing to his peace of mind.
All of it, every last bit of it, at the hands of Sivana. His enemies given power beyond his own, and his homeworld threatened with conquest. Or destruction.
But was there a way to escape? Could there, possibly, be a way to manage a break from these bonds, a stilling of the ray above him?
He drew on every erg of the wisdom of Solomon, whose name gave him the first letter of the SHAZAM anagram.
After awhile, he had his answer.
If it could only be done in time...