Too Many Long Boxes!
   
   

End of Summer
 

Distrust

by Mark Anderson

The Wannabe Superhero and the Debt Incurred

Events in this story occur between JLA#69 and 71. JLA #70 featured the "lost" Big Guns lineup.

 

Atlantis, Modern Day; above the waves:

 

Above the waves stood the ruins of an Atlantis that never was. In this world at this time, Atlantis was supposed to be a thriving sub-sea nation. The JLA, Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Martian Manhunter, Flash, Green Lantern, and Plastic Man, disappeared while investigating a mystery involving Atlantis and Aquaman, both lost since the Imperiex Invasion. Tempest and Zatanna had kept vigil here since the JLA disappeared, searching for answers to where they were and how to get them back. They also had an ongoing interaction with the new JLA, formed as a contingency by Batman in the event that the JLA should disappear for any length of time.

Zatanna and Tempest were attempting to reopen the portal used by the JLA. Tempest, on bended knee, held the Trident of Poseidon up to the sun. Zatanna, standing behind him, incanted, "TNEDIRT FO NODIESOP DNA SDOG FO THE AES, YB EHT REWOP FO TESPMET DNA EHT REWOP NI EM, NEPOER EHT LATROP EVOBA SITNALTA LIOS, EHT ECNARAEPPASID FO EHT ALJ RUO MIA OT LIOF."

The air above the trident shimmered and began to glow. The sky above Atlantis turned blood red. Black clouds began to ring down the sky. Two huge green eyes stared down on Atlantis from the sky. A voice rolled across the sky like thunder. "TSUJ OS UOY T'NOD EREFRETNI. DNA OS TAHT EREHT ERA ON SESIRPRUS MORF ESOHT UOY ERA GNIHCRAES ROF."

A green flash of lightning struck the ground. Zatanna and Tempest were blasted backward. Zatanna pushed Tempest's unconscious form off her. He had shielded her from the blast. Zatanna rose shakily to her feet. Standing before her was a pale skinned, blonde haired monster in a green cape. In one hand, Neron held the Trident of Poseidon.

Gesturing with the Trident, he said, "I just love the tools of these pagans." Neron smiled. His forked tongue flicked between fanged teeth. "I really like the fishnets too." Neron's leering gaze raked Zatanna's form. "Have you ever considered bearing a hellspawn? HHhhhmmmm?"

"KCAB OT EHT TIP HTIW..." The spell was broken off by a blast of green flame from Neron.

"Now then, since I won't be getting any surprises from those missing Leaguers or these mages punching holes in the astral planes, I need to go and protect my property." Neron slammed the trident into the ground near Zatanna's head. A green mist thickened around Neron and, as the ocean breezes swept it away, Neron was gone.

 

The JLA Watchtower:

 

Major Disaster sat watching the monitors. He sipped his coffee, as he tried to calm down. "So..." he attempted to start some conversation for what felt like the 30th or 40th time "...does the League require two members on monitor duty all the time?"

Green Arrow sighed. He didn't lift the hat tilted down over his eyes. He didn't move his legs from where they were propped up on the edge of the table. "You watch the monitors. I watch you. That's how it works. The Bat and Supes may have given you the green light, but they aren't here, are they? Atom and I will be sharing your duty for the time being. Now shut it and watch the monitors like a good little supervillain trying to change sides."

Major Disaster slowly closed his gaping jaw and turned back to the monitor. He saw a blip on the Atlantis monitor. "Green..." The remainder of the warning didn't clear his throat. Neron's face filled all the screens and the exterior viewport of the Monitor Womb.

"Oh, this is priceless. A damned soul and a hollow for me to play with."

Disaster rose to his feet. "What do you want?"

"Why, to make sure you don't taint that soul of mine. HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA!" The monitors all exploded, showering glass over Disaster and Green Arrow.

Green Arrow kicked his chair over backwards, rolled and came up with an arrow notched and aimed at where the monitor station used to be. He saw the spider web of cracks running through the viewport, marring the view of the moon surface visible beyond. Green Arrow switched arrows rapidly, spun and fired a cable arrow down the hallway from the Monitor Womb. The cable wrapped around a column. Green Arrow slapped the restraining end of the cable around his bow. Holding it tightly, he reached back for Major Disaster. "Grab on kid. Things are about to get hairy." Green Arrow grabbed Major Disaster just as the viewport exploded outward, allowing the moon's void in and the Watchtower's atmosphere out.

In a dark room with a fireplace sputtering but never going out, a man with reddish hair sat with steepled fingers against his forehead. The moment the viewport exploded outward on the Watchtower, Jason Blood snapped upright. The light of the fireplace caught the prominent white streak in his hair. Under his breath, he asked, "Neron, what are you doing?" Rising quickly, Jason Blood, the man who held the Demon Etrigan in place, moved to a nearby table. He hit a communicator tab on a side table. "Nightwing, Jason Blood calling. We have a situation on the Watchtower."

 

Bludhaven:

 

A police car sat in the shadows of a side street. The tip sounded too good to be true, big drug deal on their beat. With all the trouble in Bludhaven caused by the recent corruption investigations, a big drug bust might be enough to cover the dirt stuck to these two.

A van pulled to the front of the watched building. A garage door slid up. The van pulled inside. The door slid shut.

The cops stepped out of the car, guns drawn. They began to make their way down the street.

On top of a building directly across the street from the car a bat-like shadow fell. A hand-held device was raised and aimed at the police car. A finger squeezed the trigger. A missile screamed down, striking the patrol car. The explosion knocked the two policemen to the ground. Windows up and down the street shattered raining glass.

Swinging down into the street behind the policemen came Batman. There was a secondary explosion from the car. The fire lit the street up. One of the cops, looking up, exclaimed, "You're not Batman."

The red uniformed, purple caped figure stepped forward. "No, I'm not Batman. I am the Wrath. I am the Wrath of every innocent victim you ever hurt or killed. I am..." He raised a gun from under his cape. The Wrath pressed the gun against the patrolman's head and squeezed the trigger. The patrolman fell over deal, "...the Wrath!"

The other patrolman went for his .38. As his gun cleared the holster, the Wrath fired a baton cable at him, which wrapped around the gun. A button on the baton electrified the cable. T-ZAK! The cop released the gun and bounced back as shocking power came through the cable and gun. Rubbing his hand, the cop jumped to his feet and began to run down the street.

The garage that the crooked cops were staking out opened. He saw a family getting into the van hurriedly. The van pulled out onto the street and drove away. He thought, "It was all a setup just to get us out here on the street so this freak could kill us. No drugs, just a family."

The patrolman was trying to make it to the busy well-lighted street. He was trying. He was trying. Something hit him in the back of the legs. Bolos wrapped his legs up. He fell.

The Wrath stepped up. A blood red Batman stared down at the crooked policeman. The Wrath lifted his hand, bringing the gun to bear on the patrolman. His finger tightened on the trigger.

A swooshing sound heralded a black boot hitting the Wrath in the face. The gun clattered away from the Wrath. The Wrath hit and rolled coming back to his feet.

Nightwing somersaulted from the end of his bat-rope and landed facing the Wrath.

Nightwing cocked his head to the side. "Hhhhmmm, the Wrath. Wannabe Batman whose criminal mother and father were killed by law enforcement, an assassin who specialized in law enforcement officers. Only thing is... you're supposed to be dead."

The Wrath fired a baton whip, which wrapped around Nightwing's leg. He yanked and dropped Nightwing onto his back. "I got better. Batman was lucky, Junior Varsity. You won't be." Six shuriken fired from the Wrath's gauntlet.

Nightwing flipped onto his feet. The shuriken thudded into the pavement where his chest had been. Nightwing followed this with a snap karate punch to the chest. Wrath spun a roundhouse kick into the side of Nightwing's head. Nightwing went down; using his momentum, he kicked the Wrath's legs out from under him. Nightwing let his momentum carry him around and delivered a hard right cross, expending the kinetic energy of the spin into the Wrath's jaw. The Wrath fell, started to rise, then fell back unconscious.

"Nightwing, Jason Blood calling. We have a situation at the Watchtower." Nightwing reached toward his belt.

"No, let's not do that." The crooked cop wiped blood from the side of his mouth and held the Wrath's gun aimed at Nightwing, "I figure the Wrath killed you and my partner and then I killed him. I come out smelling like roses."

Nightwing flicked his wrist. A smoke bomb went off. The Wrath's gun fired twice. BANG! BANG! SMACK!

When the smoke cleared, the dirty cop lay prone with Nightwing standing over him. Nightwing thought, "Sometimes the classics work best."

Touching his communicator, he said, "Jason, Nightwing, go."

"Trouble in the Watchtower. Magical in nature. Believe it to be Neron."

"All members, this is Nightwing. Priority Alert. Do not beam directly to the Watchtower, Rally Point Q. One hour. Nightwing out."

 

Ivy Town University:

Ronnie Raymond burst from class, running down the hallway and out across the commons. He entered the building where Professor Ray Palmer's office was. He knocked. He knocked again. Ronnie Raymond opened the door and went in. "Professor Palmer, we got a ca..." Raymond stopped and blushed blood red.

A topless female student walked past him, putting her top back on. She called back over her shoulder, "We'll continue this sometime when we won't be interrupted."

Ray Palmer, a.k.a. the Atom, sat behind his desk. "It's not what you think."

Ronnie smiled. "A student came by to talk to you about her grade, but after she got here she took her top off while trying to seduce you and influence her grade. And I walked in just as you were about to explain to her that seducing you wouldn't help. And possibly suggest that she seek some counseling."

Ray replied with his head in his hands, "Okay, it was what you thought it was. Come on, let's get going."

Two flashes of atomic energy later, Firestorm and the Atom flew off the roof of the building headed for the rendezvous.

 

St. Roch:

 

Kendra Saunders stood at the head of a flight of stairs in the Stonechat Museum.

"Where is that hair brush?" She spun and went back down the hallway to her room. Searching the dresser top for the fifth time, she said, "I can't believe I lost it. The only thing that Carter has given me and I lost it. I wish I could figure out what the hell it is about that man." Kendra sat troubled as much by the man as by the brush... truth be known, more troubled by the man than the brush.

Kendra sat facing away from the open door. A British-accented voice called from the hallway, "Ms. Saunders, I believe this is what you were looking for."

Turning, Kendra saw the brush sitting on an end table near the door. "Thank you! Where did you find it at?"

Still coming from the hallway, the voice replied, "Oh, it's hard for anything to stay hidden from me when I really want to find it."

Going to the door and looking into the hallway, she sought her helper to thank him in person, but there was no one there. From where the voice came from she was sure that the person would have had to walk past the open door to get back to the stairs, but there was no one there. There was a cold spot near the door of her room, penetrating and almost supernatural.

Her JLA communicator went off, causing her to jump. "All members, this is Nightwing. Priority Alert. Do not beam directly to the Watchtower, Rally Point Q. One hour. Nightwing out."

 

Rally Point Q, STAR Labs, Philadelphia:

 

Jason Blood stood apart from the group.

Nightwing, Atom and Firestorm were standing together when Hawkgirl arrived. "Where's Faith?" she asked.

Nightwing shrugged. " I don't know. Her signal device activated but there was no response. If Jason is right about what's up there, we can't wait."

Looking over the group, Nightwing said, "We split into two teams. We have to find Arrow and Disaster. And neutralize the invader. According to Jason, the threat may be Neron or someone from his corner of the universe, so here is the plan. Atom, Firestorm, and Hawkgirl are going in through the main transporters. Blood and I will enter through the cargo transporters in the freight area. Your team needs to sweep the Meeting Room, Monitor Womb and Trophy Room. We will search the Med Section, Comm Array, common areas, and quarters. Contact me on the communicator when you find something."

Atom nodded. He leapt shrinking and landed on Hawkgirl's shoulder.

She flinched. "Sorry, I'm just not used to having little men land on me."

Atom smiled, "It's okay. The only person who didn't flinch the first time I did this was Batman." He activated his signal device. A recognition signal came from the Watchtower. The three heroes disappeared.

Nightwing turned to Jason Blood as he signaled the Watchtower for beam up. "Our first big test as a team. I hope you're wrong about it being Neron."

As they disappeared, Jason said, "I just hope my plan works."

Nightwing shook his head slightly. "Well that's comforting."

 

JLA Watchtower, Teleporter Chamber:

 

The first team materialized in the transporter tubes. Stepping out, they found the room empty. The Meeting Room was empty. Main power seemed to be out. Air scrubbers and conditioners appeared to still be working though.

As they moved toward the Monitor Womb, an acrid, rotten, musky smell permeated the hallway.

Atom motioned the team to stop. Using hand signs, Atom ordered Hawkgirl and Firestorm to stand ready and wait. Atom leapt from Hawkgirl's shoulder. Shrinking down, he caught a draft from the air conditioning system and surfed the air into the Monitor Womb.

One whole wall of the room was gone. Instead of being open to space, the wall was plugged by a large fleshy mass with blonde hair and the remnants of a Robin Hood-style uniform. This was the source of the smell.

Atom's hand went to his mouth. "Ollie?" He rode the air current to the wall. Increasing his size, he landed near Green Arrow's eyes. "Ollie, can you hear me?"

A look of alarm was in Green Arrow's eyes. His voice came from multiple mouths. "Get out of here Palmer, before he..."

An ice-cold voice that seemed to come from everywhere echoed at the Atom. "So, one of your little friends has decided to put in an appearance."

Atom tried to change size but he couldn't. A pale white hand snatched the Atom off of the wall made of Green Arrow's flesh. Lifted by one leg, Neron dangled the Atom over his head. Atom saw a figure beyond Neron. He yelled, "Disaster is this it... is this how you betray the new League?"

Neron laughed. "Maybe you should take a closer look at the wannabe superhero." Still carrying the Atom by one leg, Neron turned and walked into the room where Disaster was.

Disaster was stuck to the wall by mounds of a green and yellow substance. His mouth was sealed by one. His eyes were glazed over.

"Major Disaster is mine. We have a contract. I just can't have him playing this hero redemption game. His soul is mine and will remain so." Neron held Atom up to Disaster. "Hhhhmmm, let's see. You're from Ivy Town, correct? Hhhhmmm." Neron threw Atom at the wall and spit on him. A large green loogey splattered Atom as he hit the wall and stuck him tight.

Atom thought, "<EXPLETIVE>, he spit a <EXPLETIVE>ing loogey at me. I can't <EXPLETIVE>ing believe this <EXPLETIVE>. Why couldn't I have been turned into a wall of putrid flesh or something, anything but this? <EXPLETIVE>. Gross, it's starting to harden." And Atom's eyes began to glaze over.

Turning to the one unshattered screen in the room, Neron gestured and it lighted up with a map of the world. The map scrolled and locked onto Ivy Town, magnifying until the map of the city filled the screen.

"Watch closely, little man. And if you keep thinking like that we may need to wash that brain of yours out with soap." Neron turned and slapped Disaster. "Wake up, you worthless bastard. Daddy has work for you to do." Neron's hands grasped Disaster's head from both sides. Green energy leapt from Major Disaster's eyes, striking the map. "HA, HA, HA, HA, HA, HA." Neron stepped away from Disaster "Now let's watch it happen." A mock innocent look on his face, Neron turned to the Atom. "I hope that you don't have any loved ones in Ivy Town."

The map changed to a satellite-like projection. Clouds built rapidly in the Ivy Town area. The clouds exploded with dangerous lightning. Ripping winds and torrential rains tore into the city.

A voice from the door called, "Well, I've seen enough. What about you guys?"

From the across the room, another called, "Yeah, I think so. Hit him."

Two batarangs popped Neron in the head. A fluttering of wings followed, and Neron spun just in time to be hit in the head with a mace. Once, twice, thrice, and Hawkgirl flew back out of the way. Firestorm blasted the air about Neron, transmuting the elements in the air into a solid cake of sulfur. Jason Blood stepped forward. He lit a green candle, incanted a spell, and jammed the candle into the sulfur surrounding Neron. A hole in the firmament opened, dropping Neron back into the infernal regions where he came from.

As Neron disappeared, the storm over Ivy Town dissipated. Major Disaster slumped against his bonds, out cold. The snot bonds holding Major Disaster and the Atom faded away.

Firestorm smiled and tapped his communicator. "Good thing we coordinated our attack after Atom went in."

The dazed Atom stood on Firestorm's shoulder, holding on to his collar. "I'm just glad you remembered the molecular structure of sulfur for Blood's spell."

 

JLA Watchtower, later, Nightwing on Monitor Duty:

 

"The Watchtower's self-repairing circuitry healed the Monitor Womb. And though Green Arrow bitched and moaned about how long it took, Jason Blood and Zatanna together managed to return him to his normal form. Atom still doesn't trust Disaster. It's an extra set of eyes on him, just in case. Faith checked in about an hour after Neron's defeat. She had some personal situation that she couldn't escape from... said she was sure we could handle the problem. Almost sounded like she knew what was going down. I received word that the Wrath escaped the police before they got him into custody. Maybe he is Batman's red and purple side. End JLA Casebook File, Volume 5, Number 3, Nightwing reporting."

THE END.

 

BACKSTORY:

This story takes place between JLA #69 and #71, during "The Obsidian Age". The stars of this story are the new lineup JLA brought onboard as a contingency by Batman when the "Big Guns" lineup went missing in action. This story takes place before the new lineup's first officially recorded adventure.

Aquaman has been missing and, by some, assumed dead since the events of Our Worlds at War that ran through the DC books in Summer 2001. (JLA: Our Worlds at War #1)

Zatanna's magic works through backward spoken incantations.

Neron was the primary antagonist in the Underworld Unleashed crossover event from 1995. He is a demon of Hell, who in exchange for villain's souls amped up their powers. He also took part in the war between Heaven and Hell in JLA #6 which first introduced Zauriel the Angel, who following those events became a member of the League for a short time.

The Wrath attempted to assassinate Commissioner Gordon in Batman Special #1 (1984). The Wrath was revealed to have been the son of a pair of thieves who while attempting a robbery in Gotham City ran afoul of a young patrolman, Jim Gordon. They fired on Gordon while attempting to get away. After ordering them to halt, Gordon had to return fire. Both of the Wrath's parents died in the confrontation. The Wrath had snuck out and was following his parents around. The child who would become the Wrath vowed revenge on all law enforcement officers after seeing his parents gunned down. The Wrath appeared years later, having become an assassin in the intervening time. The Wrath was back to avenge his parents murder by killing Jim Gordon. He ran afoul of Batman. In the "trying too hard to make a connection" department, the writer of that appearance had the Wrath's parents be killed on the same night as Bruce Wayne's. The Wrath's real name was never revealed. The Wrath was believed to have perished in his final confrontation with Batman. The Wrath has no super powers. He is skilled in all known systems of combat. The Wrath makes use of many weapons of his own unique design.

Watch for appearances by this mysterious Englishman in upcoming issues of Hawkman.

 
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