DCM Knights
Detective Comics

Stranger in a Strange Land: Part I
plot by Chip Caroon, Chase Feller, and Casey Feller
script by Black Condor

J'Onn J'Onzz

Some time ago . . .

I had finally tracked down Z'Onn Z'Orr, the renegade Red Martian who had eluded me for so long. I pursued him in flight through the towers of Mars, dodging the floating trams when I could. I had to apprehend the villain before he changed shape and got away again.

I pushed myself to fly at top speed and overtook him. With great effort, I got him into a chokehold and stopped him midair.

Martians with advanced mental powers such as Z'Onn and I could easily adopt many forms. His favorite was a parody of the uni-form of the Martian Elite Police, with magenta-red skin, a black cape, and yellow eyes. I held his magenta form tightly as I stated the Martian Doctrine of Detainment and readied him for processing by my fellow policemen.

He suddenly turned into something that looked like to Y'thurl the Owl Demon, a creature from Martian legend. I had to let him go to avoid being impaled on the spikes that covered his body. His spiky wings flapped as he attempted to get away.

I was an elite shape changer as well. I quickly turned into a giant, sticky protoplasmic creature from Mars' prehistory that instantly enveloped Z'Orr. As soon as he was trapped, I turned into a Red Living Stone and held him deep within me.

Our collective weight caused us to drop quickly to the street below. The hardened sand of the street gave way and formed a huge pit as we struck the ground. We were apparently near the Elite Police Station, because I could sense the telepathic signatures of my partners approaching. Soon I could hear cheers from my fellow Police when they saw I had captured Z'Orr.

Z'Orr and I regained our Martian Elite Police forms. Z'Orr had been weakened from the fall somewhat, while I was able to stand and remove a pair of energy binders from my belt.

I heard a collective click of my comrades' laser pistols as they pointed them at Z'Orr to hold him captive.

All of a sudden, a bright flashing vortex appeared in the sky. It was so bright that we had to block our eyes from it, but I was brave enough to venture a look. Upon closer examination, the vortex appeared to be almost like a tunnel, with a pathway clearly visible in between the bright flashes of light.

Z'Onn Z'Orr saw this as his chance to escape. He wrestled free of my grip, and flew up out of the sandpit into the sky, toward the vortex. Amid the alarmed shouts of my fellow Police, I soared up after him. They fired stun bolts at Z'Orr, but he did not stop racing for the vortex's entrance.

Z'Orr entered the vortex before I did. When I entered it, I felt myself being pulled forward through space, faster than I had ever traveled before. The energy of the vortex was so strong that after a few minutes I stopped fighting it, and let it pull me on to its final destination.

I had some time to think as I let myself be pulled through the vortex. Z'Onn Z'Orr had killed many of my friends, and my entire family, and so it was with little regret that I faced the prospect of never going back to Mars again.

Abruptly, the trip through the vortex ended. In a flash of blinding light, I appeared in a murky, dirty, alleyway in a very primitive city. I scarcely had time to recover when my Martian senses caught sight of three figures rushing toward me.

A rude voice yelled at me in a language I did not understand. I stood up slowly, weakened by my trip through the vortex. The three beings had pale pinkish skin that offended me with its ugliness, but so did the person who was trying to protect me.

At the last moment, he shoved me aside as the three attackers pulled out primitive pellet pistols and shot him until he lay near-death on the cold, hard ground. Instinctively, I lashed out at them with my Martian heat-vision, setting the clothing of one of them afire. The three ran away, cowed by my appearance and my powers.

I was left with my dying protector. He kept saying one word, "Marcia," over and over as he slipped away into death's embrace. I tried to find something to stanch the flow of blood from his projectile wounds, but it was too late.

This man had perished in my defense. Not being able to speak his language, I had no way of finding his family, or this "Marcia," if they existed. I needed to find out what he meant by that word, but I did not have a lot of time. As his life faded away, I used my telepathic powers to see into his mind, and to attempt to learn the structure of his guttural, harsh language before he died and all would be closed to me.

I ended the telepathic link with a slight understanding of this planet's language, but I soon realized that I should take his body away from this place. It was a Martian custom to bestow the Desert Death of Honor upon renowned warriors, as those who had died without fear could not fear the fiery desert ceremony, and H'ronmeer's fiery embrace.

So I rolled up his body with his coat and my cape, and soared into the sky. If this world were anything like my own, there would be a desert close by.

As I soared into the sky, I marveled at the differences between this world and my own. Here, the sky was blue, and where there was vegetation, it was green, and rather tame compared to the kinds of plants we had on Mars. Mostly there were primitive structures, and ground vehicles that made a great deal of noise and a mess.

Finally I arrived at a sandy area where I could perform the ceremony. As I prepared his body for it, I thought of one last gift I could give this stranger who had saved my life. I knew already that I was very different from the people on this world, and they would never accept me, especially in any of the normal forms we Martians took.

For a time, it would be best to take on John Jones' form as a disguise. So before I lit his corpse afire, I used my shape-changing powers to mimic his appearance exactly.

With one blast of my Martian vision, his corpse took light. It was said that the bravest caught fire the fastest, because their souls were most worthy of going to the afterworld. I stood for a while, as night fell, and his remains burned down to embers in the desert.

I spent a great deal of time becoming acquainted with my new home. On a card in the man's wallet, there was his name, John Jones, and an address. I went there, and it turned out to be his office. As I went through the primitive paper documents on his desk, I figured out that John Jones had an occupation similar to mine when I was on Mars. He was like a policeman, in that it seemed that he spent most of his time solving crimes, but he did not work at the police department. He was apparently a good "detective," as was the word for his kind on this world.

Although his intellect was inferior to mine (there were some cases he had left unsolved that I figured out in a few minutes), there were some flashes of brilliance here and there in his work. I was saddened somewhat by the fact that the man who had died saving my life was so good at his craft. I would have to work to do him justice if I were to continue in this identity.

I was frustrated, however, by the fact that there were no insta-communicators anywhere. We used them extensively on Mars. They were of many sizes, and included a screen upon which you could see someone who was communicating with you, as well as obtain information from the planetwide Mars Source. All I could find in John Jones' office was a primitive digital number machine that could only do the simplest equations. I would have to remedy this situation if I were to not be bored to tears. I would have to get the components to make my own insta-communicator.

I found a place called a "Pawn Shop," where I was able to get rid of some useless trinkets that John had lying around his office for the return of crinkle paper, which the people of this planet used as money. I obtained enough "cash" to purchase a very primitive machine similar to an insta-communicator. Upon dissecting this machine, I found some processor components and circuits that were actually quite useful.

A few days later, I was on the verge of hooking up some important components when someone came to my office unannounced.

"Hello, stranger!"

I turned and saw a female human with long yellow hair tied into braids. From what I had learned about this planet so far, she would have been considered "foxy." From the paper-based images John Jones had around, I could tell that this was "Marcia." She wore a light green tunic and magenta slacks. Her shoes had enormous heels that raised her height about 4 inches.


"Yes, that's my name." She giggled a little bit.

"You haven't come by for a few days, John." She came in and walked close to my desk. "I was beginning to wonder if you were mad or something." She gave me an inquisitive look.

I did not know that I was supposed to regularly visit this woman. I made a mental note of this fact, so that I could perpetuate my disguise.

"No, I'm not mad."

"Well, good." She smiled, and for a moment, I saw across the differences between our species to where she was actually attractive, for a human. "Wanna pick me up for lunch tomorrow?"

"Of course. Where should I 'pick you up'?" These humans used so many slang phrases that it was hard to keep up with the true meanings of their words.

"You sure are acting freaky, John." She put her hand on my forehead. "Pick me up from work, silly! You know, the nuclear power plant!"

"Oh, yes. Of course. Noon is when you have lunch?"

"Yes, 'noon is when I have lunch', Mr. Freak." She gave me a confused look as she walked to the door. "See you tomorrow, sweetie."

As she left, I marveled that this world had not moved beyond nuclear power. We had used the same means of powering various devices, but a disaster had prompted our development of a safer form of energy. Hopefully the nuclear disaster that occurred on Mars would not happen on this planet, too.

The next day, I arrived at the nuclear plant in John Jones' car. I had spent some time trying to figure out a good place to take Marcia for lunch. I would have to remember to not spit out the greasy, tasteless food these humans ate, as I usually did.

It was hard to figure out how to treat Marcia. She was somewhat similar to Martian women, in that she was extremely intelligent, and challenging. But there was an urge to distinguish herself from everyone else that I couldn't relate to.

Z'Onn Z'Orr was such a criminal on Mars because of his selfishness. There was plenty of crime on Mars, but for the most part, my people took great pride mostly in what they gave to the common good, not on what they achieved for themselves. My telepathy allowed me to sense in Marcia both great tension against the way things were, and a little bit of distrust for me.

I saw her waiting outside the main gate of the plant. She threw her cigarette to the ground and squashed it out with her shoe. It was hard for me to get used to the polluting habits of this planet's natives.

"John! How are you, sweetie?" she asked as I opened the passenger door for her. At that moment, I felt a telepathic presence that I had not felt in a long time. At that same moment, the general alarm for the nuclear plant sounded.

"What's going on?" Marcia asked. "Is it a meltdown or something?"

The workers around the plant entrance were alarmed, but they had emergency procedures that they followed quite well.

Marcia began to panic. "Oh, my God! My friends are all in there! If it explodes--"

"If it explodes, we will all die," I said. The choice was before me. If I chose to take Marcia and run away, I would keep my identity safe. If I chose to use my Martian powers, I would reveal who I really was, but I could save hundreds of lives. I would not let the nuclear disaster that had taken place on Mars take place here.

"Marcia, drive my car to a safe place," I ordered. "I'm going to see what the problem is." At that, I shapeshifted into the form I wore when I was a Martian Elite Policeman.

Marcia was shocked. "Who? What are you?"

"It doesn't matter now. John Jones gave his life for me, and I chose to honor his sacrifice by walking amongst you humans as him. He was a lucky man." I put my hand on her shoulder, then lifted off into the sky to fly toward the plant entrance.

When I reached the entrance, I ran through the front door to the security gate.

The guard was puzzled to see someone like me, but the alarm was clearly occupying him.

"I'm here to help," I said. "Where is the alarm coming from?"

The guard looked at me in surprise, then showed me a map of the facility, with a light where the alarm had originated.

"I don't get it," he said. "That area is just Dr. Erdel's office. There's no equipment or radioactive materials there, except when he's tinkering with something."

"Perhaps he is in trouble," I remarked. I read the map of the facility on the security guard's desk. I would have to remember the precise location of Dr. Erdel's office, if I were to help him. His office was three floors down from the lobby, and the fastest way down there would be to phase through the floors. Hopefully I would not phase into anything solid when I reached my destination.

I turned myself intangible and began to 'walk' down through the solid concrete, down to the third sub-basement where Dr. Erdel's office was.

I heard a familiar voice booming from the office.

"You will tell me the secret of the vortex, little man! No matter what alarm you sound, no one will be able to save you from my power!"

I raced to the office, and looked inside to see a very frightened Dr. Erdel, and my enemy, Z'Onn Z'Orr. He was as surprised to see me as I was to see him.

"Found me at last, have you, J'Onzz?" he asked. "You will be of little help to this frail man after I am done with you!"

I got ready to blast him with my Martian vision, but something was preventing me from using it. Z'Orr laughed, and prepared to blast me to pieces with his own Martian vision.

Continued next issue!