DCM Vertigo


Return of the Gods

by Toby Kernan

"Well," asked Iron Man, a ting of annoyance in his voice as he eyed the three guests, "what do the paranormal priest and the two SHIELD agents know about all the weirdness happening around us?"

"Same crap, different league," mumbled Oliver, rolling his eyes, annoyed at Iron Man's tone. He had barely been in the mansion fifteen minutes and already his past with the League and his bitter leaving were beginning to swell within him.

"Actually," responded John Walker, stepping forward, "neither Oliver or myself are current with SHIELD. I have found my calling elsewhere as an Avatar to the mighty Presence. Oliver is here with Father Craemer and I because he is a trusted friend and his former ties to this organization would grant me greater access and credibility."

"Does this have anything to do with the strange weather?" asked the Wasp, curious. "Or Batman's erratic behavior? Or Quasar's unexpected disappearing act?"

Walker nodded in affirmation. "All of them, most likely. Have any of you heard of Mephisto?"

Martian Manhunter stepped forward. "I have. A former incarnation of the league battled a black magic coven in Montana led by a man named Mephisto. He said he was a devil trapped in man form . . . "

"Yes," interrupted Walker, "that was probably him. Mephisto was one of the first creatures ever brought into existence. He was the Presence's first Angel, a leader. Then he became greedy, and felt the power of the Presence should be his, and so he started the Great War. He lost, and was cast from Heaven and forced to Hell, where his form and mind was twisted, and he became one of the arch-devils.

"A little over thirty years ago, Mephisto and Asmodel, a powerful angel, concocted a scheme to murder all the ‘Gods' which roamed the Earth-including the Asgards, the Olympians, even the Eternals. They would have succeeded, and destroyed the entire universe, but for the actions of one Angel and a group of heroic human magic wielders.

"In punishment for the rebellion, both Mephisto and Asmodel were of their powers, and cast into mortal forms, until the Presence decided otherwise. Mephisto spent his time learning to wield magic, and searching for some spell or artifact that could return his lost powers to him. He finally found it in the Materioptikon."

"What is the Matter-optic-thingy?" asked Hawkeye, trying vainly to keep up with all the crazy conversation.

Martian Manhunter spoke first. "I remember that item. The Purple Man, Zebadiah Killgrave, tried once to use it. It allows the owner to make all his dreams come true. The Avengers League stopped him, with the help of former owner, the Sandman. Then the Sandman took it for safekeeping . . . "

"Yes," continued Walker, "he took it, and gave it to an organization called the Shadow Cabinet, who have kept it in hiding for over a decade. Somehow though, Mephisto discovered its whereabouts, and come into possession. Worse still, instead of using it to go home, he decided to bring home to him . . . "

"So," said Iron Man, confused, "where is the Presence now? Why doesn't he just send some Angels to kick Mephisto's butt, and take the Materioptikon back?"

"Because," continued Walker, trying not to be annoyed by the constant interruption, "the Materioptikon is fueled by a power that may well be older and at least as powerful as the Presence himself. Mephisto had used the Materioptikon to seal Earth off from the heavenly realm. They cannot help us now?"

"So, Hell is on Earth," scoffed Hawkeye. "Then what is wrong with Bats?"

Walker continued, "Hell, and all of it's evil have spilled upon the Earth. It's attraction is very great, and the longer it is upon this plane, the harder it will be for mortals to resist the pull into darkness, madness, and evil. Only those of the purest souls will be able to resist, if it lasts much longer . . . "

Suddenly, Jarvis burst into the room, looking frantic. "Everyone, if you would please, come to the Monitoring Room . . . "

All the people gathered quickly made their way the Monitoring Room. There, thanks to the countless screens before them, they were able to better view the chaos that was ensuing outside. The screens were filled with people rioting and violence in the streets. Fires raged, and demons walk and flew through the streets as if it were an everyday occurrence. Skyscrapers of steel and glass now stood hideously twisted and demonic in form. The world had gone mad.

"We have to get out there and help people," whispered Wasp, watching the screens with sheer horror on her face.

"Agreed," said Martian Manhunter, "but I also think we need more help. I am going to set out an alert to every known hero. Then I think we should split into two teams. I will join Oliver and John Walker. The rest of you will form the second team. Your task will be to go out and see what kind of help you can supply. We will focus on finding a way to get to Mephisto and relive him of the Materioptikon, before it is too late. Let's go people, we have a world to save once again . . . "

As the team of Iron Man, Hawkeye, Wonder Woman, and Wasp left to protect the city, Oliver Queen and Martian Manhunter stood in the Monitoring Room, looking over the video screens and checking with the computers for available heroes and agencies. John Walker and Father Craemer had gone with Jarvis to the kitchen for something to eat.

"Feels strange standing here," commented Oliver. "Been a long time since I've been here."

Manhunter nodded. "It has Oliver, and it is good to see you again. About the way you left . . . "

"To be honest," said Oliver, "I'd rather not speak of it. It was along time ago, and I was a different person then."

Manhunter smiled. "We all are. Speaking of which, how is Carol?"

"She is wonderful," smiled Oliver. "Life without superheroics has been good to her. She has two wonderful sons, and her Danvers Corporation is raising millions for cancer and AIDS research."

"Have you seen her lately?" asked Manhunter.

"Not as much," Oliver replied honestly, "as I should. I was heading out that direction actually, before this whole ‘Hell on Earth' crap started. That was one of the reasons I left SHIELD. I am tired of the whole superspy, world saving, secret agent lifestyle. I just want to load up the SUV, and get out on the road for a while. Be a Nomad. See the world without having to fight Hydra or Ultimatum to do it. Enjoy life for a while."

"Sounds nice," smiled Manhunter, "I guess. This whole superhero thing is in my blood though. Your's too. We both have been doing it for a very long time. Do you even know how to live without it?"

Oliver pondered, then slowly responded, "I don't know J'Onn . . . but I am finally willing to give it a try."

Oliver and J'Onn's conversation was suddenly interrupted by a phone ring. It was the League priority line, which only heroes and top government officials had access to. J'Onn pick up the receiver, had a quick conversation, and with an anxious look, turned to Oliver.

"That was Wesley Dodds," said Manhunter. "He says that his house is under attack from demons and he needs some help."

Oliver nodded. "I'll get Walker and Father Craemer. Let's go . . . "

The three heroes made their way to the address that Wesley had provided them. At first, Oliver had thought finding one house, amongst all the demonic confusion which now loomed, would be difficult. It wasn't. Dodds' house was easy to find - it was the only one on the block in flames.

As the three men flew closer - Martian Manhunter flying on his own accord, Oliver and Avatar sharing a skysled - two figures could be seen outside the home. One was tall and skinny, the other one tall and fat, and both were very demonic in nature, complete with horns and split, flickering tongues.

The two seemed to sense the heroes arrivals, and quickly turned to confront them.

"Look, Bloodstain," screamed the tall and fat green skinned one. "More meat to play with."

"Indeed, Thunderspawn," bellowed the tall and skinny, red skinned Bloodstain. "Let's kill them for kicks while Goreguts finds Dodds."

Suddenly blasts of electrical lightning shot from the eyes of Thunderspawn at the incoming Martian Manhunter. Manhunter became intangible, and the bolt passed right through him. Meanwhile Bloodstain let out a scream towards Oliver and Avatar, a piercing wail that made Oliver lose control of the skysled, and forced them to crash upon the ground.

Martian Manhunter made his way to Thunderspawn and changed his density to much harder, and punched the creature straight in the face. Blood spewed everywhere as the creature fell to the ground with a harsh thud.

Oliver pulled himself from the crashed skysled and was about to fire his pistol, when he felt the hand of John Walker touch his shoulder. Suddenly, he felt a blast of white light pass above his shoulder, hitting Thunderspawn squarely in the chest. The creature screamed, seemingly in horrific pain, then disappeared into nothing more than a pile of ashes.

"Nice power," commented Oliver, turning to look at his old friend.

"I am the Avatar of God," said Walker, winking. "Smiting evil is a heckuva perk!"

The two watched as noise and activity permeating near the front of the burning house. Suddenly, a man jumped from the flames, his clothes on fire. Not far behind him sprang a demonic creature, with gigantic, horrific looking horns. The demon seemed intent on smashing into the burning man. In a blur of motion the demon was suddenly whisked into the air, and before any of the humans could figure out what was happening, Martian Manhunter had snapped the creature over his knee, the bones in his back crackling like firecrackers on the Fourth of July. The creature then dropped to the ground, dead, and turned to dust.

Oliver and Avatar made their way to the burning man, who had thrown himself upon the lawn, and was attempting to stop the burning of his clothes. Avatar placed himself, at his knees, next to the man, and Oliver watched as white light flowed from his hands, and covered the man on the ground.

The man then sat straight up, and pushed away from Avatar, just as Martian Manhunter made his way back to the group.

"That is unnecessary," said Wesley Dodds, pulling the burning rags from himself. "I am an immortal. Your white lighter powers hold no comfort for me. I am a little burnt, but I will survive. Damn demons, damn Mephisto, damn Materioptikon. All I want to do is live a calm, normal life. But no, I must be dragged, once more, into another battle . . . "

Oliver could scarcely control his anger. "Look around you fool. The entire city, maybe the world, has been transformed into Hell. More still, you are partially to blame. From what I gather, you were the one who told Mephisto where to get this cursed contraption. So the way I see it, you damn sure better help us get it back from him and set everything right."

"And how," asked Wesley Dodds, "am I going to do that?"

Avatar took that opportunity to speak up, "We must find Mephisto and take the Materioptikon back from his possession."

Dodds scoffed. "The four of us?"

"Yes," said Avatar, "but we'll need a little more help . . . "

"Indeed," sighed Martian Manhunter, "and I think I know where we need to go and get it . . . "