Justice Force: The Origin

    Part 4

    by DarkMark

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 cards.”

“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 requests it.”

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 sight.

“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 the situation.

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 that.”

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 big.”

“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 foreign government.”

“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?  You, Atom?”

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 Question?”

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 him?”

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 recruited.”

“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 their whereabouts.”

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 Peacemaker?”

“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 seems.”

“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 have.”

“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 him in?”

“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 guys think?”

“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...