DCM Vertigo


Return of the Gods

Beautiful Dreamer
by Bob Young

The alliance was not an easy one, but it was a formidable one. The Shadow wasn't too comfortable working as part of a team. Not even a team like the Avengers League. The power of the Materioptikon on those who had strong dark sides was a matter of some concern but the Cranston family had a long experience in controlling the dark side of their nature. He could handle it. Now if only he could handle this team-up situation.

Batman wasn't overly fond of the team concept himself but he had joined the Avengers League because he knew he was needed. He didn't totally trust the Shadow. Maybe they were too much alike. And Batman had other things bothering him at the moment. One was the effect the Materioptikon was having on him, the way it was bringing out his anger. Also, he'd done some research on the Shadow's legacy, and come to the conclusion that he had some telepathic ability. Batman was not comfortable with that. It's true that his partner J'Onn was a powerful telepath, but he knew J'Onn well enough to know that he did not pry into the personal thoughts of others. He didn't know if the Shadow had that same respect. Batman knew his mind was harder to read than the average mind. He was very disciplined, and his cowl had a material in it that had been know to interfere with telepathy. It would be a task for the Shadow to read his mind, but not impossible.

As for J'Onn J'Onzz, the Martian Manhunter, he was the least uncomfortable. He wasn't suffering from the poisoning darkness of the Materioptikon. Also, he had no problem with teamwork. He could tell from the eye contact and body language of the other two men that they had a negative reaction to each other. The Martian was certain that he'd have to play referee in this trio.

They were on their way to the District Court Building in New York. They had come to the conclusion that the Prince of Lies had hid the Materioptikon in the court of law.

"We should split up," J'Onn said, thinking that Batman and the Shadow might not make a fluid team. "Find different means of ingress. And let's not be seen, in case there are agents of Mephisto watching."

"I agree," Batman said. "J'Onn, you take the upper floors. Shadow, you go to the basement."

"You're taking a lot for granted," the Shadow said.

"Don't be difficult," Batman replied. "Just follow orders."

Batman moved ahead, to find his way inside. The Shadow glared at him. J'Onn noticed. "Don't mind Batman. Every member of the League goes through that. He can he difficult, but he's brilliant. See you inside."

J'Onn left. The Shadow shook his head and then headed into the building.

The trio searched the building from top to bottom without letting anyone know that they were there. J'Onn and the Shadow could make themselves invisible, and Batman could move about as unseen as they. No part of the building was left unsearched.

It was J'Onn who found it first. On one of the upper floors, there was a black box made of a substance that J'Onn couldn't identify. There didn't seem to be any way to open it. He tried to pass through it, and suddenly felt extreme pain! It was like a thousand knives tearing through his body. It was not just physically painful, but mentally as well. He sensed something . . . wrong! Something evil! When he had recovered, he mentally contacted his two allies.

"I'm on the way," Batman said.

"Me too," the Shadow added, surprised at how powerful J'Onn's telepathic power was.

Meanwhile, J'Onn was studying the black box as he waited. Suddenly, flames appeared. J'Onn jumped for cover, since flames are a Martian's weakness. J'Onn looked and saw a creature in the room with him. It was a yellow beast from Hell!

"Man from Mars, so green and brave,
involved in a danger so grave,
he has an adopted world to save,
and the coming chaos he hopes to stave!
Please come and try, Martian man,
to defeat the demon Etrigan!"

Etrigan spit fire from his mouth. J'Onn desperately tried to evade the flames. He flew out through the wall. Etrigan the demon laughed.

"Martian man, fare thee well,
the victory belongs to the demon from Hell!"

J'Onn came in through the wall behind the demon. He hoped to strike him from behind before Etrigan knew he was there. But the demon had seen it all. Etrigan spun around and sliced the Martian with his claws. J'Onn cried out in pain and backed up. The demon was about to cover him with flame when he was distracted by the arrived of Batman, who tossed a smoke bomb.

"Get to cover, J'Onn!" Batman ordered.

Etrigan laughed again . . .

"The great Dark Knight,
the bat-like human,
wants to fight,
the evil demon!
Come then, oh gloomy Batman,
and battle the vile Etrigan!"

Just then, the Shadow entered. He was invisible to human eyes, but not to those of a creature from the netherworld.

"Another hero joins the fray,
looking to beat me and save the day,
He seeks to enter the battle covert,
and the demon he hopes to hinder or hurt!
Not Shadow nor Bat nor alien,
shall overcome savage Etrigan!"

There followed a brief battle where the three heroes realized that the demon was not boasting. He was too powerful for Batman or the Shadow, and his fire could hold off the Martian Manhunter. They couldn't get near the black box. J'Onn decided to telepathically summon assistance. Etrigan wasn't a telepath, but he could smell telepathy and it wasn't hard for him to guess the nature of the message.

"So the great heroes call for aid,
before the dues of battle are paid!
They know they can't beat Etrigan,
the foulest of Hell's demon's!
Thus must I cut the battle short,
and to my master I must report.
The Materioptikon must not be lost,
and I must protect it at any cost!
I thus move the item away,
but Etrigan will meet you on another day!
Until the time when next we fight,
I'll see you in your dreams at night!"

After a quick chant, the demon Etrigan and the black box vanished.

Later, outside the courthouse, the three heroes stood musing over their situation.

"Does anyone have any suggestions where we go from here?" J'Onn asked. "Where do you look for a Materioptikon?"

"We start by finding a pattern to the madness," Batman said. "Even insanity usually has a pattern."

"Most criminal psychologists would agree with you," the Shadow added. "Even in the darkness, we find the light of logic."

Batman was surprised by the Shadow's agreement, and by his insight. "Yes . . . "

J'Onn nodded. "I agree but I must say that I'm having trouble seeing the patterns here."

"It's certainly not easy," Batman said, "but it can be done. Let's step back and look at the big picture. What are we dealing with? Darkness, violent behavior, demons and gods! And the ability to make dreams come true! Where do these things intersect? Is there a nexus of all these things somewhere? A person or place wherein these things usually coexist? If there is, then that would be the best place to go to find information."

"Your logic is flawless," J'Onn said. "I regret that I can't offer any suggestion."

"Nor can I," Batman replied.

"I think I can," the Shadow said, thinking back to an adventure that his grandfather had many years ago. "Back in the forties, there was a criminal called the Psycho Pirate. His power came from something called the Medusa mask. He is dead now but the Medusa mask still exists."

"How does this help us?" Batman asked, wondering what the Shadow knew that he didn't know.

"The Psycho Pirate claimed that he used to get messages from the realm of magic and the subconscious, but it could be used only for evil. It was corrupting and left the wearer with a feeling of false euphoria that seemed to justify any action. The mask had the power to tap into a persons dark side or cause aberrant behavior. It was supposedly created by gods. It fits into our search perimeters."

"Very good," Batman said, with respect and a little envy. "But how do we use it to help us?"

"I'm not sure," the Shadow answered.

"I think I may be able to help in that regard," Martian Manhunter said. "Do you have any idea where the mask is now?"

"Until recently, it was in the home of a Dr. Charles McNider," the Shadow replied. "But I believe he died. I'm not sure what happened to his possessions."

"I can find that out," Batman offered. He had found out a while back that McNider was once Dr. Mid-Nite. McNider no doubt had some sort of security around the mask when he was alive. Many of McNider's things were left to old friends, members of the JSA. It only took a quick phone call to find out that the mask was left to . . .

"Alan Scott, the owner of the Scott communications empire," Batman said, "He inherited it. It's currently in a storage vault in one of his buildings: The original WXYZ building in New York. It's under heavy guard."

Martian Manhunter nodded. "I can handle security. I'll be back soon. Wait here."

Thor, the god of thunder, raised his hammer again and tried to stop the disturbances that were plaguing the world. Thor was a god, born outside the realm of science, master of weather and of war. It was assumed that if any being could stop what was happening, it was the thunder god.

But that wasn't the case. Try as he might, Thor couldn't stop the freak occurrences of nature and of human nature that there causing Chaos. Again and again he made the attempt, only to fail each time. "I am Thor!" he screamed to the heavens. "Son of Odin! Prince of Asgard! God of Thunder! I command you to yield to my will!"

Nearby, Captain America was watching. He was as disappointed as Thor at the Asgardian's failure. Cap had faced many crisis over the years and he was not one to lose hope, but he was started to wonder how on Earth they were going to win this one.

Thor moved to Cap's side. "I am most humbled, good Captain. Thor hath failed! I apologize for being unable to live up to the trust thou hast put in the god of thunder!"

"Don't apologize, Thor. It's not over yet. And you may still be a vital part of the solution of this thing."

"Thor shall do whatever is needed."

"I'm glad you're here, Thor. You were a great ally back in World War Two. I was sorry that you left the Avengers League before I was awoken."

"Aye, as am I, Captain. Thou must tell me one day how thou didst survive unchanged these past decades."

"When this is over, I will. And you must tell me why you quit the League. No one seems to know."

"Tis true. My departure from that glorious fellowship was done in haste. I couldst not say at the time why I needed to go. One day, Thor shall tell thee of the Odinquest, and the adventure of the Godwheel!"

"I'm anxious to hear about it. In the meantime, let's hope we get a break regarding our present problem!"

Martian Manhunter turned himself invisible and intangible. He passed though the walls of the WXYZ building and into the basement vault. There he found a box marked, DO NOT OPEN: EVER!

He opened it and found the Medusa Mask. He put it on. Nothing happened.

J'Onn wondered how to use it. If an insane man could master it, then so could he. Insane! he thought. That was the secret. No rational mind could master a weapon of the Gods meant to warp the mind. Only an insane man could use this. There was only one thing to do.

Martians were shapeshifters, and had the ability to transform their bodies, or any part of it, into any shape they desire. J'Onn decided to alter the shape of his brain. By shrinking the rational, analytical left hemisphere of the brain and enlarging the irrational right hemisphere, he was able to subdue all logical thoughts and open his mind to the dark reaches of the unconscious, intuitive mind.

J'Onn began to chuckle. Suddenly the whole situation struck him as funny. All the chaos and danger seemed to make perfect sense to him. It was actually fun.

No! he quickly ordered himself. He couldn't allow himself to be overwhelmed by his new dementia. It was a tool to use, not to be controlled by. He had to focus and do what he came to do.

J'Onn concentrated and images began to form in his mind. One image was of a beautiful woman, sleeping. The second was of some kind of portal. The third was of a regal looking man with a beard.

J'Onn tossed off the mask and changed his brain shape back into it's normal proportions. He winced, thinking of how horrible the feeling of insanity seemed now. But at least he had some clues to work with. If only he knew what they meant.

Back at the Hall of Justice, the three detectives were joined by Captain America and Thor. They were all looking at the drawings rendered by the Martian Manhunter of his visions. Thor took a close look at the one depicting the portal. "This object doth look most familiar. It fairly looks like the phenomenon called the Boom Tube."

"Boom tube?" J'Onn asked.

"Tis a device used by the inhabitants of New Genesis. They are called the New Gods. They doth use a device called the Mother Box to open portals in space."

"One of these New Gods must be on Earth," Batman concluded.

"And if the Martian Manhunter saw it in a vision, his arrival must be important," the Shadow said.

Captain America looked at the picture of the bearded man. "Is that the New God? He looks familiar. Regardless, we have to find him. Any suggestions?"

"I think we have sufficient technology that our sensors, combined with the dimension spanning powers of Thor's hammer, can bring us to the location where this 'Boom Tube' opened."

"Do it!" Cap ordered, "I need to stay here and organize things between the League, the government and others involved. The rest of you, go for it. And good luck."

The cabin in the woods was rather elaborate, as cabins go. As if it was built by someone who wanted to hide, but who liked luxury. Thor, J'Onn, Batman and the Shadow moved cautiously towards the cabin.

"We should be ready for anything," Batman said.

"I agree," the Shadow said. "If there is an angry God inside . . . "

"Angry God!" Thor cried. "If thou doth wish to see an angry God, then behold!"

Thor marched forward and knocked down the door.

"So much for being subtle . . . " J'Onn said.

Thor was bounced off a force field. Angrily, he got up and struck at the field. It was no match for his strength. He stepped inside. Laser beams were fired by the man inside, but Thor would not be stopped. He still moved forward against the beam. J'Onn and the Shadow had entered, invisible. The Shadow knocked the laser from the man's hand and J'Onn flattened him with a powerful punch. Everyone was surprised when he fell, unconscious. They were expecting someone with the power of a God.

"I didn't mean to hurt him," J'Onn said.

"He is no God," Thor said. "He is known to me. His name is Vandal Savage, a villain most foul! He is an immortal, but not a god."

"No, he's not," Batman said, pointing. "But maybe she is."

He was pointing into a second room. Inside was a beautiful woman.

"That's the woman in my vision," J'Onn said.

"She doth look familiar," Thor said.

Batman shook her. "She's not waking up. If we're going to get answers, we'll have to get them from Savage!"

Soon, the immortal named Vandal Savage was seated on a chair next to the bed where the woman lay. The four heroes surrounded them.

"We know you, Savage," Batman said. "You're a monster. You've lived a million years and murdered a million people. But you may have the answers we need."

"Can you tell us anything about the bizarre phenomenon that it affecting the world?" J'Onn asked. "We have reason to believe that either you, or she, or both, are involved."

"Answer!" Thor demanded.

"If we are involved," Vandal Savage replied, "it is as victims. My lady fell into this endless sleep just as all this started."

"Who is she?" the Shadow asked.

"Her name is Beautiful Dreamer. She is one of the Forever people. I met her on a previous trip to Earth. At first she also thought I was a monster. But she saw something in me. She kept coming back. We've been lovers for years. She appeared on Earth just after this whole Pandora's box opened. She fell asleep and I haven't been able to wake her. I've been doctoring her but to no avail. If I can do something to help you, I will. I want her to wake up."

"Sleep," Batman said. "The demon said 'I'll see you in your dreams at night.' And Materioptikon is supposed to make 'dreams' come true. Everything leads back to dreams."

"Demons haunt our dreams," the Shadow said. "Demons of the subconscious mind, demons of fear, of doubt, of hate and of jealousy. And if those demons can enter our dreams . . . "

" . . . Then maybe a real demon can," J'Onn finished. "It makes sense. He wanted to hide the Materioptikon in a place where no one would find it. So he hid it in the dream world."

"And now that we know, how do we get to it?" the Shadow asked.

"I can help you," Savage said.

Savage led them to an underground lab, and to a VR simulator. "I designed this to enter the dream realm, to find her. So far, I've had no luck. Maybe you can use this to find the thing you're looking for. And if you do, maybe Beautiful Dreamer will wake up."

The heroes agreed. There were only three VR headsets. They decided that Savage should monitor the machines and that Thor should monitor Savage. Batman, J'Onn and the Shadow put on the headsets.

"Is my headset working?" the Shadow asked. "It's pitch dark."

"I'll switch them on in a moment," Savage said, "When I throw the master switch, your minds will be in contact with another realm of existence. You'll be able to see and touch the ideosphere, the landscape of ideas and imagination . . . And dreams! Good luck!"

Savage pulled the lever. Suddenly, the three heroes found themselves in a dimension of images and abstract concepts.

"We're swimming in an ocean of raw and naked consciousness!" J'Onn said, impressed. "Follow me. I'm a manhunter! I have an instinct for tracking things down. And in a place like this, instinct is as powerful and tangible as any weapon."

They followed J'Onn for a time, floating through the dreamrealm. Soon the images were replaced by numbers and letters.

"This must be the area that corresponds to the brains centers dealing with language, communication and numbers," the Shadow said.

Batman was looking ahead. "It looks like there's turbulence ahead. I suspect that that's the strata of conceptual space where human emotions reign."

"That's where we should look," the Shadow said. "Demons love to play with people's emotions."

J'Onn was studying some strange looking things that were floating past. Some of them seemed to be moving. "I wonder if this ocean of ideas we're navigating through has it's own form of marine life."

"You mean the conceptual equivalent of sharks?" Batman asked.

"Something like that."

As if in answer to J'Onn's question, large creatures appeared. Horrible looking creatures. They roared and headed straight for the three visitors.

"These must be the stuff of nightmares!" the Shadow exclaimed.

"And they don't look friendly!" J'Onn added.

"Stop talking and get ready to defend yourselves!" Batman ordered.

The nightmare-sharks attacked.

The Demon appeared in the lab of Vandal Savage. Savage was startled. The demon smiled at him.

"So the heroes are not yet beat,
and have not the sense to retreat.
They are getting much too near,
and so I must end this game of fear.
I slay them while they're helpless thus,
without any undo fuss.
And so now I strike the deathblow,
and bring the curtain down on this show."

"You can't do that!" Savage yelled, "I need them!"

"I care not for your need,
Your pleas I will not heed,
and so your only recourse,
is to try and stop me by force.
That's something no human can do,
not even an immortal like you!"

"What, then, about me?" a powerful voice asked. Thor stepped out of the shadows. The Demon stepped back, his confidence fading. Thor held up his hammer. "So foul demon, thou wouldst kill the allies of Thor, wouldst thee? Before thou canst try, thou must first do battle with the god of thunder!"

Thor threw his hammer, which sent Etrigan up through the roof and out into the open sky. The hammer returned to Thor's hand, and he ordered lightning to come down and strike the Demon. Etrigan was hurt. He was used to pain, but not used to being battered like this. He knew he was no match for Thor.

"Bravo, Asgardian, the white flag is tossed.
Only a fool fights a battle already lost.
There will be a time once again,
when you will feel the wrath of Etrigan!"

The demon fled. Thor was satisfied with his victory but concerned about his three friends.

In the dreamworld, the three heroes were battling the nightmare sharks, using inventions of their own minds. They conjured weapons out of thought and used them to defeat the monsters. J'Onn pointed at something in the distance. He saw the black box floating.

"There it is!" he cried.

They got to it just as Etrigan reappeared. He was favoring his right arm and seemed to be hurt. Unlike the others, he wasn't there in a VR form. His real body had entered dreams.

"I congratulate you on finding my hiding place,
it was a thrilling, merry chase,
but I cannot let you past.
Try and you will breath your last."

The trio all noticed his body language. "He's hurt!" they all yelled.

"He's trying to bluff us!" the Shadow said. "We can probably take him now."

"Especially with the dream powers we now possess," Batman added.

"Let's take him!" J'Onn ordered, and led the charge.

The demon was surprised that his bluff failed. Knowing he was in no condition to fight, he grabbed the black box and fled again.

"Damn it!" Batman growled.

The three heroes took off their VR helmets. Dejected they faced Vandal Savage and Thor.

"We failed," J'Onn said. "But we haven't given up. Somehow, someway, we'll win!"