League of Justice #0.6: “That Flesh Is Heir To”

Near Smallville, Kansas

Thursday, August 12th

The hot summer night would have been oppressive were it not for the sweeping breezes that swooshed back and forth across the prairies. Kansas was beautiful in the summer: stalks of corn growing to the sky, thousands of stars lighting that sky at deep midnight when the summer sun finally set. The grass grew green under the summer rains, and the dirt turned deep red, rich with clay. One could smell the living earth and hear the countless souls that lived on the prairie: the endless cricks of crickets, the racketing of cicadas on the trees, the singing of the birds, the buzz of lazy flies.

Martha Kent relaxed on the porch of the Kent house, a low modest farmhouse rising out of a Kansas plain. Rocking back and forth in her rocking chair, she sipped on a lemonade, the glass slick with rivulets of sweat as the cool glass condensed the humid air around it. From inside she could hear the gentle clinking of dishes as her husband Jonathan cleaned up from dinner. The steak from last fall’s slaughter was tender and juicy, the corn from last harvest rich, and the greens from the spring garden were crisp. Martha loved eating what Kansas gave her, and what she and her husband had cultivated from Kansas’ bosom. If ever there was a woman of the earth, of simple things, it was Martha Kent.

She had loved her husband from the moment she saw him, an awkward gangly teenager just entering the ninth grade at Smallville High School. He and his family had moved from Metropolis, the midwest’s bustling city. Larger than New York and Gotham, the East Coast’s metropolitan jewels, Metropolis was a shining example of the American dream and prosperity. But things hadn’t worked out so well for the Kent family, and they moved into the country seeking a harder, but more rewarding, life. For his part, Johnny Kent noticed Martha Clark almost immediately: a wispy, but hard prairie girl. Lovely, but not beautiful, graceful, but not delicate. However it took a few years before his big city swagger turned into a country lope. John worked his way through almost every cheerleader and prom princess at the school before his city charms failed him completely. When he came back down to earth, Martha was there, as always, waiting. The two were passionate lovers throughout their final year of high school and married soon after graduation.

Jonathan and Martha moved onto the Clark family farm, at that point overgrown with weeds and neglect as her grandfather could no longer till the large fields. The newlyweds brought a breath of fresh air and blew off the dust of the plains. Soon the fences were mended, the barn painted, and new crops growing. Martha envisioned children, a large family, and a happy ever after. She got everything but the children.

Now nearing her 50s, Martha was content. She and Jonathan had lived a full life, and she loved only him more than Kansas herself. She missed the opportunity to raise her own children, but she became a surrogate mother in Smallville. Active in the community, at the schools, and in church, she always seemed to attract the kids that others didn’t know how to deal with. With the gentle love and persistent care of a farmer, she watered and tended those children until they grew into well-adjusted adults. Living on the plains was a hard life in more ways than one, but the honest labor and consistent love of the Kents softened many a growing heart.

The screen door creaked open and slammed shut behind Jonathan as he joined his wife on the porch. Leaning against the railing, back to the darkening fields, he sighed. He turned his head into the breeze and breathed deep.

“Kitchen’s all cleaned up.” He said just for something to say. That much was obvious.

Martha smiled. “Thank you, dear. It was nice to get off my feet.” John didn’t smile, but his eyes twinkled. To Martha it was the same.

“Beautiful evening.” He said, again to break the air. Martha giggled.

“I know it’s a nice evening. I’m out here enjoying it.” She teased. John wasn’t much for conversation, but he tried and that made Martha feel loved. She set her glass down, now mostly empty, and stood up. In a stride she was in John’s embrace. She relaxed into his chest, and stared off into the corn. As one, they breathed the warm Kansas air. There was no longer any need of conversation. John was relieved, as he had run out of things to say, and Martha was glad to communicate with love instead of awkward words. Some languages said things no words could convey.

*BOOM*

*crack*

Something flashed brightly in the sky before streaking behind the barn. Seconds later a fireball snapped into the blackness and a rumble shook the ground.

“What the hell?” John was already off the porch, running for the barn. A warm glow warned of fire. Martha went the other way, for the farm truck. She opened the door, jumped in, and twisted the spoon. The truck was old and beat to hell. Many years ago the key had broken off in the lock, and rather than fix it, Jonathan had welded an old spoon onto the ignition. The engine was worn, but it roared to life. Martha threw it in gear and sped off towards the glowing night.

She got there just as Jonathan was slapping out the last of the embers with an old blanket. Martha pulled a fire extinguisher from the truck bed and hosed down the grass, just to be sure. Fires weren’t anything to play with on an open field of dry grass and young corn. So intent was she with the putting the fire out, she failed to notice the shining capsule half buried in the dirt twenty yards away until she was returning the fire extinguisher to the truck.

“John: what is that?” Her voice was matter of fact. Being a solid woman of the earth, even the wildly unexpected didn’t usually faze her all that much. What John said next certainly fazed her.

“I don’t know. But there’s a baby inside.”

League of Justice #0.5: “By Opposing, End Them”

Gotham City, November the 15th

“Hahahaha! Eat it, suckers!”

The playground doors opened, and a bunch of middle school students ran out into the winter snow. Frigid temperatures and icy precipitation had come early to Gotham, dusting the usually dreary city in a covering of white fluff. For a time, the grit and filth of Gotham was buried. The pupils of St. Joseph the Apostle didn’t much care about anything but the snow. Recess was a chance to burn off scholastic boredom in a flurry of snow angels, snow men, and winter frivolity. Except today, a few high school students had remained outside during a free period following lunch.

Among the school’s bullies, they had carefully planned their afternoon torment of the smaller kids. They had built a wall of snow across the playground doors. Stockpiling snowballs, into which they had placed shards of ice, they lay in wait. The minute the recess bells rang, shrill in chill air, they armed themselves. Seconds later, the doors opened and kids ran out, expecting fun.

The first few, instead, got pelted. A snowball caught a girl in the eye. She stumbled and slipped on the ice, moaning. Two missiles of snow smacked into a young boy’s face. He screamed, and wiped away snow and blood. The ice inside the snowballs had cut into his face. A few more students ducked and weaved, but were assailed all the same. By now the front running children had scrambled to a stop, forcing the ones behind to run into them. The first wave of students tried to turn and run back into the school but were barred by those behind.

“I am Mr. Freeze!” shouted one of the bullies, standing up from behind the snow wall. He was unidentifiable behind ski goggles and a heavy white parka. “Die, sissies!” He threw more snowballs, most with cruelly accurate aim. He laughed as each snow bomb struck another small kid, forcing a whimper, a wail, or a shout of rage. His cohorts lay in the snow, mostly watching their leader, and lobbing the occasional snowball.

Seemingly from nowhere, a dark figure tore through the crowd and leapt across the snow wall. A blur of action, his long black coat swept behind his furious motion like a gigantic cape. Arms that ended in thick, black leather gloves were clenched into hard fists.

“Fuck you, Freeze!” The specter growled. A flying kick caught one bully in the chin. Kneeling in the ground, he spun and threw a punch into another antagonist’s groin, followed swiftly by a jab to the solar plexus. The boy crumpled into a whimpering ball. Standing up, the fighter faced the kid calling himself Freeze.

“Run!” The kid in black snarled at the kid in white.

“Not a chance, Wayne. Come and get it.” Freeze put up his hands in a mock boxer stance.

Bruce Wayne closed the gap in seconds. His fists blurred as he pummeled Freeze. The kid’s ski goggles cracked, and then were torn from his face. Soon bright red blood spurted from his nose, trickled from his lip, and gushed from a cut above his eye. He went down into the snow. Bruce didn’t let up. He slammed his knee into Freeze’s gut, and continued to smash him in the face. Freeze’s blood smeared across his leather gloves.

Fortunately for Freeze, teachers alerted by the middle school kids had pushed their way through the crowd. They rushed toward the fighting boys, and hauled Bruce away from Freeze.

“Bruce! Stop!” Two of them had to restrain the flailing Wayne. Three more knelt down over Freeze. “Better call an ambulance. This kid’s gonna need stitches.”

Twenty minutes later, Bruce Wayne was standing on the school steps, hunched in his black coat against the winter wind. A large Bentley turned into the school parking lot and pulled up to the front door. Bruce waited for a few seconds, but it soon became obvious that he had to let himself into the car. He walked down the steps and yanked open the back seat door. Swiftly he got in and slammed the door. He didn’t look up to see Alfred Pennyworth’s stern glare in the rearview mirror.

“Early release today, Master Wayne?” Somehow the old butler managed to make the casual observation into a sarcastic joke. Obviously he knew that his charge had been expelled for bad behavior.

“Yeah, snow day, Alfred.” Bruce still didn’t look up. After a few moments silence, during which the car remained motionless, Bruce looked up. His eyes met those of his butler’s. Alfred always appeared refined and gentle, but today there was a fire smoldering behind those eyes.

“You’re better than this, Master Wayne. Your father would be ashamed to have his son expelled for brawling.”

“I had to do something, Alfred. There were bullies -”

“There will always be bullies, Master Wayne. The trick is to stop them without being a bully yourself. Today you were no better than he was.”

Alfred turned back to the steering wheel. His foot pressed the accelerator, and the Bentley crunched snow and sidewalk salt as it pulled away from the school.

Bruce hung his head in shame. He’d beaten Freeze, but had lost the battle.

League of Justice #0.4: “Slings and Arrows”

A streak of green light flashed across Krypton’s dark sky. Jor-El, head bowed in thought as he walked, did not see it. He did, however, hear the gentle whumph behind him. Slowly he turned. Standing before him, clad in green robes and a darker green cloak, was Maskill, of the Green Corps. Maskill was the Lantern whose jurisdiction included Krypton. Like the Kryptonians, he was humanoid. He was an old man, worn and tired.

Jor-El bowed to him. “Hail, Lantern.”

Maskill bowed back. “Hail, Jor of the House of El.”

Pleasantries aside, the confrontation began. Jor-El exploded quietly.

“What the hell are you doing, Maskill? The Black Corps stands ready to destroy Krypton! Is this justice? You know I don’t agree with the expansion, not in the way it was handled, but Krypton is a democratic society. I was overruled! Certainly there are many millions more who are innocent of the havoc our emissaries visited on the galaxy. Should they die to pay for the injustice of a few?”

Maskill stood quietly, absorbing Jor-El’s anger.

“Perhaps General Zod was wrong to refuse the Green Corps’ overture of peace, but is it a crime to fight for one’s sovereignty? Now that the Black Corps has forced us back to our own planet, have we not felt our punishment? You know the Black Corps will only stop once every last Kryptonian is dead. Where is the justice of the Lanterns?”

Maskill waited for the fury to dissipate into the night.

“The White Lantern has spoken. The crimes of Krypton’s children are too great to be pardoned. You stole what was not yours to steal. Your excessive mining operations severely damaged the progress of many worlds. Who can say how long you have doomed them to primitive dwelling in your lust for consumption?”

“The time for that argument is long past, Maskill! Your White Lantern is a fool if he cannot see that wiping out an entire planet for its sins is not justice. It is genocide.”

Jor-El had unconsciously strode forward, closing the distance between himself and Maskill.

“Regardless of what was decided, our end is at hand. The Black Corps will destroy us! Will you stand by and let it happen?”

Maskill regarded Jor-El silently.

“It is not for the Green Corps to interfere once the White Lantern has ruled. What was decreed shall be.”

“Damn the White Lantern! Damn his decree! My wife is with child, yet unborn. Shall he die without tasting life to satisfy the justice of the Lantern?”

For the first time, Maskill betrayed emotion. A flicker of sorrow tightened his brow, if only for an instant.

“I did not know your wife was pregnant. But the White Lantern will not relent over one life. The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one, especially one who is unborn. The unborn die on countless worlds in countless numbers. This is the way of life. Even those who taste the air of their spheres do not often taste it for long.”

“Dammit, Maskill. Will you do nothing? You have been my friend and mentor since I was a young lad. I’ve always heeded your advice, your counsel. Will you abandon me now?”

“I have already spoken, Jor. The Green Corps cannot interfere. One lantern does not assail another. To invite infighting is to invite chaos.”

Jor-El whirled suddenly, pacing back up the street, then down towards Maskill. He grabbed the Green Lantern by the shoulder and stared into his eyes.

“Will you do nothing? Not the Green Corps, you. Will you allow an evil thing to pass because another has deemed it in a greater good?”

Maskill said nothing. He stared back into Jor-El’s eyes. Moments passed, the air charged with emotion as the two men waged silent war. At long last, Maskill spoke, putting a hand or Jor-El’s shoulder.

“I will not abandon you, Jor of the House of El. Long we have been friends. I will plead your case before the White Lantern. It may be that he will relent and recall the Black Corps. Only his word can stop their destruction.”

Jor-El sighed mightily. He pulled Maskill close for an embrace.

“Thank you, my old friend.”

The moment was shattered by the roar of retro-rockets. The men parted to stare up into the sky. A small craft was descending through the sky. It’s markings identified it as belonging to the Kryptonian navy.

“Zod!” Jor-El breathed. Turning to Maskill, he spoke urgently. “You’d better leave before he lands. Zod has no love for any lantern. He will kill you.”

Maskill smiled playfully. “I’d rather like to see him try, actually.”

Jor-El was in no mood for humor. “I do not jest! Lanterns can die. Zod has personally accounted for many Black Lanterns in this war already. One old Green Lantern would not delay his wrath for long.”

Maskill stood his ground, shrugging, but saying nothing.

Before either could act, the descending vessel opened its bay doors, and five dark shapes leaped towards the ground. Commandos. In an instant, Jor-El and Maskill were surrounded. The commandos were encased in armor, the heads hidden behind dark helmets. Jor-El tried to take command of the situation.

“I am Jor of the House of El, an elder on the Council of Free Peoples. What is your business here? You may not accost citizens without charge.”

One of the five stepped forward, his face mask sliding upwards as he did, revealing the scarred visage of Krypton’s greatest warrior: Zod.

“You may be free to wander dark streets alone, but the green one is named a criminal against Krypton and is a mortal enemy of her people. Are you claiming allegiance to an enemy?”

“Zod, Maskill the Green Lantern is guiltless here. It is the Black Corps that threatens us, not the Green.”

Zod roared. “ONE CORPS! ONE THREAT! I care not for colors and shades of morality. THEY attacked US. Their black knife is at our throat. I am charged with defending Krypton to my last breath. Move aside, Jor, or suffer his fate. Decide immediately.”

Zod lunged forward, battle knife drawn.

League of Justice #0.3: “In the Mind to Suffer”

The constant beeping of the medical monitors intruded into what was an otherwise serene hospital room. A young man around 15 years old stood at the foot of a patient bed, watching. The patient was an older gentleman. His features were strong, noble. His dark hair was flecked with grey at the temples, and streaks of grey mottled otherwise uniformly black locks. His eyes were closed. His breathing was regular and strong, which wasn’t surprising as it was machine regulated. The youth was very much a younger version of the man in the bed. His hair hung long around his shoulders, but otherwise their faces could have been mirror images.

The Martha Wayne Long Term Care wing of Gotham General Hospital was named in honor of Gotham’s beloved first lady. Martha Wayne hadn’t been a politician’s wife, or anyone of any royal bloodline. What she had been was nurturing, caring, and completely selfless. While her husband, Thomas Wayne, ran his multi-billion dollar corporation and worked at Gotham General as a surgeon, Martha cared for the gutter dwellers of Gotham. The nation’s most populous city, Gotham was also knee deep in poverty, crime, and suffering. Martha had devoted every second of her time to bringing hope to a destitute population. Her bright light was snapped off in an instant. Everyone in Gotham knew the tragic story: a family caught in a mugging, a nervous and desperate gunman, and Martha was slain. One of the very souls she tried daily to save snatched her away.

Her husband was also cut down that day. But Thomas Wayne hadn’t died. The gunman’s bullet bored a hole straight through his brain, leaving him alive, but in a coma. Thomas rested in his wife’s loving arms as a long term patient in her wing. Bruce, now a teenager, was orphaned that night in the alley. He buried his mother in the ground and his father in the hospital. Neither would see him grow into a man.

Bruce watched his father breathe and thought dark thoughts. As it did every week when he visited, the sight of his father fueled a growing rage in the young man’s heart. In his head, his parents’ murders played on an endless loop. A scraggly beard. A ragged man. Booming gunshots. Blood. The senseless nature of the act stabbed in Bruce’s brain like an ice pick. The violence of the act burned in his soul like a churning volcano. The gunman had never been caught. Alfred told him later that his parents’s murderer ran past him as Alfred sprinted into the alley. Waiting in the car, he had heard the gunshots. But Alfred was more concerned with his charges than running down a fugitive that night. The police response, though rapid, was poorly coordinated. The panic over Gotham’s most prominent family being murdered overshadowed police procedure. The gunman simply disappeared into the overgrown fraternity of crime. Bruce seethed at the law enforcement ineptitude that allowed a killer to escape justice. He cursed them for their failure, their inability to provide safety at the Opera House and their inability to provide legal closure.

It became too much. Bruce turned abruptly and nearly ran out of his father’s hospital room. He ignored nurses and doctors who nodded or offered greetings on his way out. Though the Gotham day was bright and crisp, all Bruce saw was darkness. All he felt was the gnawing bite of injustice.

In his room, at midnight, on the night of his parents’ death, Bruce vowed vengeance. He was only a boy when he left for the Opera, but he returned a man. He promised the world that he would avenge his parents and that he would never let anyone suffer that pain again. But it galled Bruce to wait. He was only a boy, then. He could do nothing. He was powerless, weak, and small. And so he waited. He grew, he aged, and he matured. As a teenager his childish impatience hardened into careful preparation. He studied everything he could. He buried himself in school, in athletics, in the Gotham Central Library stacks.

Bruce knew that the secret to fighting evil lay in forging the perfect weapon. Having nothing but himself, Bruce dedicated every minute to forging himself into the perfect weapon. Outwardly, everyone saw a young man living life for the parents that he lost. They saw a star football player, a gifted baseball player, a devastating wrestler. They watched a master debater, a chess champion, an artistic prodigy. They saw a young Wayne emerging from tragedy to be every inch his father with all the heart of his mother. That Wayne was a lie, a disguise, an alter ego for the monster of anger, rage, and vengeance that was his true self.

Only Alfred saw both sides of Bruce. The loyal butler cared for his charge as best he could as surrogate parent, guardian, and caregiver. He heard Bruce’s nightmares. He heard Bruce’s fits of rage. He heard Bruce’s sobs of sorrow. Bruce would never openly betray the depth of his feelings to Alfred, but he did relax a bit of his facade at home. More than anyone, Alfred saw the real Bruce Wayne. As much as Bruce loved the family valet, he kept him and everyone else at a distance. Alfred also understood, to an extent, the depth of Bruce’s feelings. He gave the boy space to find himself again, to remake his life. Alfred saw the opportunity to mold a man out of the boy who suffered, and ever so gently and patiently, Alfred guided Bruce’s evolution. As crudely as Bruce built himself into a weapon, it was Alfred who tempered the process, refined the build, and sharpened the edges.

Bruce exited the hospital through whooshing automatic doors. Across the drop-off circle, Alfred was standing patiently next to the family Bentley.

“How is your father today, Master Bruce?”
“He’s still dead, Alfred.”
“The dead only sleep, Master Bruce.”
“Whatever you say.”

Alfred opened the door for Bruce, and the young man slid into the backseat. Entering the driver’s seat, Alfred regarded his ward in the rearview mirror. Bruce’s eyes flashed behind his hair. His face was grim.

“Where to, Master Bruce?”
“Home. I have work to do.”
“Very well.”

Alfred engaged his turn signal and gently pressed the accelerator. The large luxury car purred and pulled forward into the road.