An Unknown Great by Mark Heike

Rice/Cazeuve cover to Men of Mystery #43

Rice/Cazeuve cover to Men of Mystery #43Among the best-remembered artists of the Golden Age of comics, names like Simon and Kirby, Bob Powell, Frank Frazetta, and Paul Gustavson stand out- not just because they were great artists who were very prolific during the early days of comics, but also because they SIGNED their work. It was easy to remember and appreciate their stellar craftsmanship since there was usually a NAME to go with the distinctive style. But there were others, perhaps no less great or prolific that for too long went virtually unknown. One of those is a brilliant storyteller and designer who excelled at action, movement and panel direction by the name of Pierce Rice. Frankly, I wish I knew more about this man’s early background than I do, but his work began appearing in comics sometime in 1939, in the comics put out by Centaur, Fox and Quality. Initially undistinguished and a bit hard to identify, inking and finish-out did not seem to be his strong suit. Rice seemed to come into his own once he got together with the Argentine-born Cazeneuve brothers, Arturo and Louis, while all three briefly worked at the Eisner/Iger studio. Leaving there somtime in 1940, the trio started a small art shop of their own, with the Cazenueve brothers handling most of the inking, while Rice did panel breakdown and penciling. The team-up worked well, as the Cazenueves’ bold, lush brushwork (when they were no too rushed) worked well over Rices’ interesting and eye-catching layouts. The shop worked on a number of Fox Features headline strips including The Eagle, Blue Beetle, Green Mask, The Flame, Samson, and Marga the Panther Woman.  AC has reprinted a number of Rice/Cazeneuve stories in it’s Men Of Mystery Golden Age reprint anthology;  The Eagle in Men of Mystery #7 and 33, and  The Flame in Men of Mystery #43, among others. Rice’s work can usually be distinguished by his preference for odd-shaped panels and irregular page designs; his use of circular panels and large, dynamic figuresEagle splash page, Men of Mystery #7 leaping between panels or from one panel to another.  The trio found their kinetic style in a certain amount of demand, and moved on to features for other punlishers including Harvey Comics ( doing Captain Freedom and The Black Cat) Prize Comics (on Yank and Doodle) and Centuar (Man of War). By the early 1940’s the shop had moved up to DC Comics, working on strips like Aquaman, The Sandman and Boy Commandos.  At this point, it is difficult to be certain whether Rice was still involved, or if the Cazenueves were simply inking the pencils of other staffers. By then, Rice had made another fortuitous association with artist Irv Novick; and began providing layout and pencils for this future great on a number of strips for the pre-Archie MLJ group. As a young MLJ collector myself in the 1970s, I always wondered about two things: how could Irv Novick suddenly go from being a very slick, staid Alex Raymond imitator in his very early Sheild, Bob Phantom and Scarlet Avenger stories in 1940, to a wild, wide open Jack Kirby wannabe by 1942- AND how could he be so darned prolific? His signature (and new style) could be seen on multiple stories of the Sheild, Black Hood, Captain Commando, Steel Sterling, and 3 or 4 other strips seemingly every month. In later years, once I learned that he did those in tandem with Pierce Rice, it began to make sense. When compared to the Fox Features collaborations with the Cazenueve brothers, the approach to panel breakdown was unmistakeable. We began a phone interview with Rice at AC Comics in the late 1990s. Our buddy Jerry DeFuccio put us onto contact info for him in an assited-living facility where he was recovering from a stroke. Initially phone Eagle page from Men of Mystery #33communication with him was difficult, but the longer we talked to him, the more he warmed up to the task. The medical staffers  overseeing him were very accomodating, and felt that his remiscences were very good for his recovery.  When I asked him about his status as somewhat of an unknown, he told me this “I never liked dealing with the business end of things. I much preferred letting Louis or Arturo go out and get the jobs; or later Irv Novick. I preferred to stay at the board and just do the work. If that meant that publishers, editors- or readers, for that matter- didn’t know who I was, well; so be it. It suited me to work that way.” We had to break the attempted interview up into multiple 10-15 minute conversations, as Mr. Rice’s strength would not allow for more.  He proved to be a very thoughtful, articulate and intelligent gentelman and a joy to deal with. Unfortunately, his health took a turn, he had to be moved into another facility, and we lost touch with him. Regrettably, we were never able to conclude the phone interview, and after a time-lag of months,  going back to the tapes of the conversations we did have found them almost impossible to transcribe due to his speech difficulties. In the moment, I was able to use context and inflection to follow him in conversation; going back later my faulty memory was unable to fill in the blanks, so we were never able to run a print version of the interview material. That does not diminish the fact that he was a great comic book artist who added much to the field he worked in for almost two decades. True students and fans of the medium should know and celebrate his great work.

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Comics Fan #1 by Mark Heike

young Jerry DeFuccio by cousin John SeverinJerry DeFuccio was a unique and interesting character. To people who have only heard the name, he was a longtime Associate Editor at Mad Magazine. To those of us who had the privilege of getting to know him a bit, he was someone very special. The son of a prominent New Jersey physician, Jerry grew up at almost exactly the same time as the American comic book did. When Eastern Publications launched Famous Funnies in the mid-1930’s, Jerry was a kid who bought it off the newsstand. When Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson started National Publications, Jerry read those early Pre-DC Comics. As the original Chesler publications were bought out by Everett “Busy” Arnold, Jerry was there. Through the evolution of the 1930’s Cook-Mahon comics into Joe Hardies’ Centaur Publications, Jerry was reading, and became hooked As some have said (and I certainly won’t deny it) Jerry became THE greatest comic book fan of all time. As a youngster, he made a pest of himself by visiting the offices of the Golden Age comic book publishers, trying to track down the artists and writers of the day. (If you’ve ever seen the Jerry Lewis-Dean Martin film “Artist’s and Models” which is actually set against the comic-book industry of the 1950s, you may notice a frog-voiced young comic book fan as a character in it. I’ve never gotten corroboration on this, but I speculate that MAY have been a lampoon of the young Jerry DeFuccio of a few years earlier!) By the mid-1940s, he became good friends with Alex Toth and Joe Kubert, who in turn introduced him to many of their artistic peers. Just about the time Jerry reached adulthood, he broke his father’s heart byHeadless Horseman pastiche quitting premed to take a job as an editorial assistant to Harvey Kutzman at EC Comics that eventually led to a three-decade association with Mad Magazine. Working in the industry never dampened Jerry’s enthusiasm for comic books, and throughout his life he was constantly researching creators, and seeking them out for firsthand interviews and reminiscences. At various times he talked of book projects where he would collect this knowledge to share it with other historians, but he was not on the quest to produce a publication to sell and make money off of, but mostly because HE himself wanted to know everything there was about comic books. Consequently, he never got around to writing that book. But Jerry became known far and wide as a true expert in the field of comic book history, and it’s doubtful that there was a serious book or article on the subject written between 1960 and 2000 that didn’t have input from Jerry. Unfortunately, we at AC Comics didn’t get up with Jerry until late in his life. Sometime in the late 1990s comic art maven Hames Ware put us in contact with Jerry in trying (unsuccessfully, I might add) to line up an interview with Bob Fujitani. Jerry quickly realized we were all kindred spirits, and put himself-and his knowledge at our disposal in helping us put together our Men Of Mystery Golden Age reprint title and other publications on comic book history. Though his health was not good (he was undergoing chemotherapy on and off for some time), he was a frequent correspondent. It was not unusual to get 3-4 letters a week from Jerry; sometimes more than one in a single day’s mail! And, every few weeks the phone would ring, and Jerry would call the office to regale us with stories; some from the comic book industry in general, his days at EC/Mad, or sometimes just his own life. Albert Einstein drawingAnd though his “comic book roots” went back to the beginning, he always kept up with the medium. He certainly gave us his critique of what we did, including on our new material like Femforce. He just loved the concept of telling stories with words and pictures, rendered in ink. For his own amusement (or perhaps to help supplement my income- I was never sure which) he would several times a year commission me to create artwork for him, paying me a decent professional rate (highly generous of him, since he didn’t charge us for the info he provided or the articles he wrote for AC.) to illustrate incidents from his childhood, updated versions of some of his favorite long-defunct comic book characters, or recreate favorite Golden Age covers he remembered, like this Dollman St Peter's Prep School drawingcover that we later used as the cover to AC’s Men of Mystery #64,  Occasionally, these commissions were things he “art-directed” for publications related to favorite charities or causes he supported, but mostly they were simply for his own collection, for his amusement and enjoyment. Mind you, I was not the ONLY artist he so honored, as others who regularly produced “private commissions” for Jerry included Mort Leav, Frank Kelly Freas and Drew Struzman. How I ended up being among a group like that I’ll never know, but it sure was an honor to occasionally receive a compliment on my art from a guy who was a personal friend (and admirer) of the likes of Wallace Wood, Jack Davis, Will Elder, Reed Crandall and George Evans, not to mention Toth and Kubert!! And although Jerry was not much of an artist himself, it certainly did run in his family, as he was a first cousin of John and Marie Severin!. It’s Men of Mystery #64 Dollman coveralmost ten years now (this November) that Jerry has passed on, but my wife Stephanie (who became a great favorite of Jerry’s in phone calls to the AC offices in 2000 ) and I think and speak of him often. Though we never met him in person, we considered him a great friend. We know he was a great person. I’ll never forget one of his favorite sayings; I’ve adopted it myself and often quote it to young artists I work with on AC projects: ” We’re looking for perfection, but we’ll take more.”

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1950’s Media by Mark G. Heike

We’ve recently been enjoying the 2007 CBS Video release of “Suspense- The Lost Episodes: Collection 1” on DVD, re-presenting the 1949-54 television in- carnation of the long- running (1945 shows over 20 years ) classic radio drama anthology of the same name. Our good friend Wayne Markley sent us a used copy of the DVD set of these vintage programs from the early days of television, unseen since their initial broadcast. Never run in syndication, this series was once thought “lost” until enough Kinescopes were unearthed to make this collection a reality. It probably would not appeal to fans of current TV series like Supernatural, The Vampire Diaries, or any of the multitude of various “CSI” dramas- but if you enjoy vintage television, it can be fun.  Early  performances by eventual superstars like Charlton Heston, Paul Newman Rod Steiger, Anne Bancroft and others have been a real treat, but the MAIN reason our buddy Wayne sent us the set was so that we could see the episode entitled “The Comic Strip Murder”, originally aired on September 29, 1949. It starred Lilli Palmer, Dan Briggs and a very young Eva Marie Saint, but the real draw to it (no pun intended ) was that the “comic strip art” mocked up as props for the murder mystery centered around a successful newsparer strip artist and his suspicious wife. The artwork for that show was produced by a very young Dick Ayers, that comic book luminary whose star initially rose at Magazine Enterprise in the early 1950’s, illustrating The Ghost Rider, Calico Kid and other features; and who played a key role as a “bullpen” mainstay in the Marvel Age of the early-to-mid 1960’s, inking Jack Kirby on Fantastic Four, Thor, The Hulk, X-Men, Avengers and others, and doing full art chores on Giant Man, The Human Torch, Sgt. Fury and more- AND who also penciled The FEMFORCE at AC Comics in the 1990’s. It was fascinating to see this early work Dick did while he was still cutting his teeth in the “real” comic book world. But the true “find”of viewing this “Suspense” compilation was stumbling upon ANOTHER comic-related episode which we had not previously heard of. It was “The Crooked Frame”, originally seen on July 29, 1952. It starred Richard Kiley in a drama about an unscrupulous lady comic book writer whose studio “ghost” turns on her. It was not just the plot (about a ficticious publisher called “Terrific Comics”) that was noteworthy, but the set props on the faux comic book company office: instead of hiring some young artist to create phoney drawings (like Dick did in the other episode),Crypt of Horror #11 cover THIS story is replete with ACTUAL original cover art from actual comic books of the era published by The American Comics Group, better known as ACG to it’s fans. The actor playing the “editor” is seen flipping through original cover art from ACG’s long-running Adventures Into The Unknown horror/SF anthology, Operation:Peril and other ACG books. In addition, a large (five foot) blow-up of a cover piece originally drawn by Ogden Whitney is seen, with the main character’s face altered slightly, and bearing the logo of “Terrific Comics” fictional comic- book meal-ticket, Sally Forth.  All this is particularly interesting to the discerning comic book historian, as although the venerable ACG line of comics ran for over 20 years until it closed it’s doors in 1967, it is all but forgotten today.  You won’t find names like Jack Kirby, Frank Frazetta or Neal Adams among the companies’ list of artistic contributors, but the great Alex Toth considered ACG’s mainstay  Whitney one of comicdom’s best ever, and a huge influence on his work. Other art regulars include former Captain Marvel artist Pete Costanza; Paul Reinman, Kurt  (Lois Lane, Superman)Schaffenberger, future Star Wars artist Al Williamson, EC Comics’ great Johnny Craig, and later on Spiderman co-creator Steve Ditko. ACG’s quirky and whimsical approach to fantasy (managed by long-time editor-in-chief and head writer Richard Hughes, who helmed the creation of the Nedor characters at Standard/Better publications in the early 1940’s) ) gave their books a unique flavor. Although some ACG material had been reprinted in Canadian publisher Roger Broughton’s APlus comics in the 1990’s, and others (including the also-ran 1960’s superheroes Nemesis and Magicman, and the iconic Ogden Whitney humor strip, Herbie) by Dark Horse, AC comics has reprinted a number of the best Pre-code ACG horror stories in it’s Crypt of Horror series; with perhaps the best examples in CRYPT OF HORROR# 11.  At any rate, the “Suspense” series was fun and entertaining despite the limited technology of the “live” TV productions of the day. The same can probably be said of the comic book output of the late, great American Comics Group. Certainly ALSO a product of it’s times, it’s creative output can still be of interest to the discriminating collector of today.

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The Golden Age Superhero Champ by Mark Heike

cover to Men of Mystery 11

cover to Men of Mystery 11When comics historians talk about the great superhero artists of the Golden Age, all the familiar names come up-Jack Kirby, Mort Meskin, Reed Crandall, Joe Kubert, Alex Toth- and with good reason. They all did their share to construct the visual mythos that became the great American comic book costumed hero, and no one could question the quality of the artwork they produced. But when the query comes as to what artist drew the most different super types during the early years of the comic book, the answers come up a little different. Arturo Cazeneuve and Ken Battefield, two journeymen types who worked for virtually every publisher and art packager at some point during the 1940s would probably rank pretty high on the list-but don’t quite make it to the top, according to my research. Based on my count, the artist who drew the most different costumed characters during the Golden Age of comics may just be one of my all-time favorites; Bob Fujitani. Breaking in at Will Eisner’s famed Tudor City studio in the days before World War II, he cut his teeth laying out stories for Lou Fine to finish in order to help the slower artist try to meet deadlines. He quickly developed a very atmospheric and distinctive style making his work very easy to recognize once he went out on his one. And the fact that he signed most of the stories he drew with his familiar “B. Fuge” byline didn’t hurt. Bob’s excellent work graced such strips as Shock Gibson and The Zebra for Harvey Comics; Catman, The Reckoner, The Hood and The Gray Mask for Holyoke /Continental; Bulletman and Mr.Scarlet for Fawcett; Captain Truth for Cambridge House; Lash Lightning and The Sword for Ace Publications; The Black Angel , Flying Dutchman and Iron Ace for Hillman; Crimebuster and Black Diamond for Lev Gleason; and perhaps his finest, The Hangman for MLJ. Hood splash page from Men of Mystery #74I myself have noticed Bob’s work on at least one splash of The Green Lama from Spark Publication-obviously pinch-hitting for another perenially-late artist, Mac Raboy. And that isn’t taking into account the numerous strips he worked on as part of a team of artists for Quality in the Tudor City days. Various experts have identified Bob’s hand stories featuring The Ray, Black Condor, Uncle Sam, The Blackhawks and others. If your interested in checking out some of Bob’s riveting early efforts, we’ve run a number of them in AC’s acclaimed Men of Mystery series, like a superb example of his work on The Hood in Men of Mystery #74, Cat-Man and Kitten in MOM #37, The Sword in MOM #81, or Shock Gibson in MOM #83.  And that’s just a handful. Feel free to search Bob’s name in the web shop,  and you’ll find lots more.

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Does Anyone Remember John Giunta by Mark Heike

Duke of Darkness splash pageWhen I was a kid reading comic books off of the stands in the 1960s, one of my least-favorite artists was John Giunta. I perceived him as someone who had a very open, threadbare, slightly awkward style that I found unappealing. If I saw his work show up on a backup story in Thunder Agents or The Fly, I was disappointed. Why couldn’t it have been Wallace Wood, or John Rosenberger instead, I would wonder? Many readers who only knew Giunta from his Silver Age work (he apparently died in 1970) probably held a similar opinion. But one of the wonderful things about working on AC’s Golden Age reprint line is that I’ve been exposed to the creative output of countless artists I’d never seen-or even heard of before, and some of them are quite good. In this case, my eyes were opened to a whole new world when I had a chance to examine the early work of an artists I thought I knew-John Giunta- and was I wrong about him! I wish there was more biographical info on the man himself available; what we do know is sketchy, but interesting. Giunta started out as a comic book fan and reader, as witnessed by his signed contribution to a letters page in one of the very early Cook-Mahon books; the predecessor of Centaur Comics. That fan letter apparently bore fruit, as by Centaur’s Amazing Man #8 (in December of 1939) Giunta’s byline as an artist was appearing there on the “Magician From Mars” strip.Magician From Mars splash page Comic book historians take note here: the “Magician” was actually a girl who wore a costume and exhibited what we would have to consider superpowers. Not only does this predate the first appearance of Wonder Woman by a year, but is an earlier debut than female crimefighters like Miss Victory, Wildfire, Blue Lady, Black Widow, Women in Red, and Pat Patriot-all distaff dare-dolls who appeared in comics before the Amazing Amazon. That means that Giunta MAY have created the FIRST original costumed superheroine in comic book history! That sort of landmark is important around the AC Comics offices! Admittedly, John’s artwork on Magician From Mars was crude-much cruder even than the 1960s work I criticized earlier, but then it was his first professional comic book job after all. He got better in a hurry. Records are not clear in terms of what comic art packaging houses he might have worked through in the early 1940s; if he had unofficially assisted other working professionals or even served in the military during World War II. But when his work started appearing more prominently in the mid-1940s under his “JG” signature, it had matured quite a bit. Flamingo splash pageToiling mainly on features like The Flamingo, Red Cross, Bogey Man, Captain Combat, Mad Hatter and Cisco Kid, produced through the Bernard Bailey Shop, for smaller publishers like Continental, Holyoke and Cambridge House, he sported a bold, new style using lots of dramatic shadows and heavy blacks-the sort of approach that artists like Alex Toth and Frank Miller would be hailed as geniuses for using. Giunta did it first. Being a contemporary of masters of chiaroscuro like Will Eisner and Mort Meskin, he was heavily influenced by them, and while not superior in technique to them, certainly skilled enough to be mentioned in the same discussion. So why don’t any other comic book historians ever talk about him? Well, if he is mentioned at all, it’s usually as a footnote to the career of Frank Frazetta. Fritzi’s first professional job was as an assistant to Giunta. Was it Frazetta’s work that made Giunta’s suddenly look so much better, or did they both get fascinated with using rich, dark shadows at the same time? I can’t say. Likely no one can, since both men are now gone. But it is a fact that Giunta’s unique, black-heavy style was still apparent into the later 1940s, once Frazetta had moved onto apprenticing/assisting Ralph Mayo, the art director at Standard/Nedor Comics. Although Giunta did move on eventually to slightly better-known assignments like Yank and Doodle & The Black Owl at Prize Comics, and The Heap and other features at Hillman; he was often only a penciler or inker in those instances, collaborating with other artists which masked his bold and dramatic approach at the time. His most distinctive work, unfortunately; was on the least-known characters that he worked on, from the very smallest publishers-but it is worthwhile seeing. Men of Mystery #72 coverIf you’ve never experienced the best of John Giunta, check out Men of Mystery #72, for a weird, wild and sort of wacky character called The Duke of Darkness. Imagine DC’s The Specter written as a semi-humorous strip, illustrated by the team of Mort Meskin and Alex Toth, and you might come close to approximating the look and feel of The Duke. Now, as comics evolved through the 1950s, Giunta’s style had to adapt to the market at large, and he slowly but surely moved away from his moody masterpieces, working to render more “realistic” looking scenes as one might see in the E.C. Comics of the early 1950s, and an approach more “open for color” as DC espoused through the later ’50s and into the early 1960s. One can see a similar “de-evolution” (during the same period) in the style of Mort Meskin, who’s 1960s art on DC books is almost unrecognizable compared to his late-1940s work. One can only assume this is what the editors who were hiring them wanted to see. One unnamed DC editor at the time has been qouted as saying “The kids who read the books don’t understand all that black stuff.” So, Giunta was getting better jobs, like mystery stories for Atlas, backups in the Phantom Stranger and inking Big Town at DC, but his creative uniqueness was lost in the necessity to continue to get jobs and maintain a living. Mad Hatter splash pageBut at one time, he was among the very best, even if no one knows it. If you like intense spotting of blacks and interesting approaches to faces and characterization, check out the 1940s comic book artwork of John Giunta.

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Mansion Comics Returns

Screenwriter David Watkins always had one foot in the comic book business, going back to his own independent publishing house Mansion Comics, back in the early 1990’s. His unique take on the standard comic book conventions  (such as his superhero team strip, The Union of Justice) holds a fond place in hearts of many a long-time collector, even though his output may have been lost amidst the release of high-profile independents like Todd MacFarlane’s Spawn, Rob Liefeld’s Youngblood, and all the rest during that hectic period. David never lost his interest in the comic medium, even when he’d moved on to bigger and better things. Witness his recent comic book scripting  for AC in FEMFORCE #151 and  Miss Masque Strikes Back #1. Well, Watkins is back in the comic book world again, bigger and better than ever with a revived version of Mansion Comics, set to debut in October 2012.  Expectations are high, as the modern incarnation of Mansion is going for a mass-market, retail push, bypassing the direct-sales comic shop market completely.  You’ll find some familiar names among Mansion creators as seasoned pros like Mike ( The Flash, Punisher & Nexus) Baron; Len( Justice Society, Malibu Ultravers & Stormy Tempest) and Gordon (Star Trek) Purcell will be along for the ride.  Don’t be disappointed if you don’t find Mansion’s offerings in a discount or convenience store near you, though; as the Mansion  official site will be selling direct to consumers online as well.  Look for more of David’s writing under the AC Comics logo, too- he’ll be scripting a number of Ms. Victory solo stories set to appear in FEMFORCE in 2012.

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N.E.D.O.R. Agents #0 / FEMFORCE #158 by Mark Heike

 

N.E.D.O.R. Agents #0 color coverIf you liked the teaser in FEMFORCE #156, and you loved the first full length installment in FEMFORCE #157, you’ll flip for N.E.D.O.R. Agents#0, which will be a flip book feature with FEMFORCE #158, coming early in 2012! Not only will FF #158 showcase another feature length N.E.D.O.R. Agents adventure by creator/writer/artist Will Meugniot, but the group will make their first color cover appearance (in print) as N.E.D.O.R. Agents #0 will run upside down on the back of Femforce #158. On one side of the binding you’ll get FEMFORCE #158. Flip it over and turn it upside down and you’ll have N.E.D.O.R. Agents #0! Two great books for the price of one!! Since you won’t want to miss this historic issue, be sure to rush on down to your local comic book retailer today and tell him you want to order FEMFORCE #158, DCD item # OCT110756 from the October issue of Diamond Previews, listing items shipping in December. He’ll tell you that orders have closed for that book, but he can still place an advance reorder on it for you, using the product information just listed. Order FF #158/N.E.D.O.R. Agents #0 today!

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Durango Kid – Rough, Tough West

During the Sarasota appearance I invited Jock Mahoney to appear in September, 1980 at ORLANDOcon. A couple months later he called me from North Dakota (or Montana, some state way up north) where he was on location filming “Mountain Men”. He was concerned about conflicting schedules but they finished on time. This film was probably never released. It’s not in Jock’s filmography. I do have a still of him from it somewhere and will post it if I can find it. He called again saying he had been asked to be in a Fred Olen Ray movie. That made me nervous. I love Fabulous Freddy, a Florida boy gone Hollywood where he made good… very good… but his movies, especially at that time, were very… crude. Later in life I learned that actors always want to do another movie, in spite of its bonifides. This film never came about, either. 

Come September Jock Mahoney arrived for OrlandoCon. He brought his beautiful wife, Autumn, an actress who looked familiar to me. Later I placed her as being Autumn Russell, female lead in ZOMBIES OF MORA TAU. Allison Hayes got top billing but Autumn’s was the larger role. Since I was one of the hosts of OrlandoCon I was put in charge of Jocko and spent lots of time with him. I took the Mahoneys out to eat at Florida Festival with my wife, Rebekah, and daughter, Laura. Both of them got the “stand up straight” treatment from big Jock who physically adjusted their posture. His hands on approach left a lasting impression on my girls. To this day when I catch either slouching, I remind them of the “Mahoney adjustment.” All 5 of us had to fit into my Corolla and I apologized for not having a bigger car (Jocko was 6’4”). Autumn laughed, “You should see what he drives back in California!” implying their car was even smaller.

I spoke with Jock at length about working on the Durango Kid series with Charles Starrett. I asked him to explain how the heck he could jump off a building and land in the saddle without crushing the family jewels. He explained that on the way onto the saddle he applied great pressure with his leg muscles on the sides of the horse to ease into position. Jocko was noted for having powerful legs. He was called in to double Errol Flynn in THE ADVENTURES OF DON JUAN (1949) for a scene requiring Flynn to leap flat-footed from a stair case on to the villain. Mahoney was the only man in Hollywood who could leap such a distance.

 

 Jock explained to me that in the series there were THREE horses that played Durango’s white stallion, RAIDER. One who looked great in close-ups, one who ran beautifully and a stunt horse especially trained to do the gags. This horse was pretty smart and after awhile he comprehended that when he was backed into an alley to stand in place that soon thereafter a 200 lb galoot would drop from the roof on to his back. Not liking this, the horse became unruly. Jock did not want to drop from the roof only to have the stunt horse side step at the last moment. So he came up with a solution to steady the anxious critter. He had the director break for lunch dismissing everyone but the camera man, the stunt horse and Jocko on top of the building. After everyone left, the horse calmed down. Jock gave the cameraman the high sign then leapt down into the saddle. Raider took off like a shot. The result was a perfect take and nobody was injured.

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Pyrofolks In N.E.D.O.R. Agents #0 by Mark Heike

Pyroman origin pageCheck out this killer interior page from superstar artist Will Meugniot’s upcoming N.E.D.O.R. Agents #0 story featured in FEMFORCE #158! If you think this example of Will’s pencils and inking looks spectacular, you should see his originals! Will does sell original comic book pages, pinups and private commissions, by the way. They went pretty fast as I understand it, but he may have a few pages left from his stunning FEMFORCE story in FF #156. And there is still time to get in on Will’s FEMFORCE #157 reorder contest where he is giving away three originals. You can always keep up with Will’s latest work on his Facebook page. Don’t forget to order FEMFORCE #158 from your friendly comic book retailer. FF #158 is DCD item #OCT110756, from the October issue of Diamond Previews. Your local store owner will be happy to place an advance reorder for your copy today!.

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Nick Cardy- Still Going Strong by Mark Heike

Nick Cardy photoBe on the lookout for yet another new book showcasing the art of the legendary Nick Cardy, coming from Little Eva Ink Publishing in 2012. Hot on the heels of 2011’s acclaimed “Nick Cardy: The Artist At War ” volume, editor/publisher Renee Witterstaetter is putting together a look at the humorous side of Nick’s career. If you haven’t seen “The Artist At War”, you’ve missed a compelling first-person account of Nick’s own experiences as a tank drive on the Allied front lines in the European theatre late in WWII. Between the stories he relates and the artwork this talented creator produced while he was in combat during the Second World War, it is both a fascinating insight into what shaped one of the top illustrators of our era and a moving “snapshot” illuminating what it was like to be on the ground, in the middle of the fighting in France, circa 1944. I recommend it highly, whether you are interest in comics history, world history, or both. Comic book fans remember Cardy best for his long runs on DC Comic’s  Daniel Boone, Congo Bill, Aquaman and Teen Titans, his own creation Bat Lash, and his numerous covers throughout the early 1970’s. Starting his career alongside of greats like Lou Fine and Reed Crandall as a part of  WillEisner’s famed Tudor City Studio before the war, he was an integral part of DC’s Silver Age art stable, a peer of paragons like Alex Toth, Carmine Infantino, Gil Kane, Mike Sekowsky and all the rest who made that era’s comics shine like no other. Historians interested in a look at some of Nick’s early work should checkout AC’s Men of Mystery #82 for a great reprint of the first episode of his 1940 Fiction House Comics “good girl” art strip, Senorita Rio.  Nick’s career has spanned close to 75 years, and he’s still going strong. During a late-September visit to his home, Nick expressed particular pride in his humor work to me and my wife Stephanie, who is helping Nick do digital editing on some of the artwork he’ll be supplying for the book. Men of Mystery 82 coverIt will include examples of his advertising and commercial art, movie and TV posters and promotional material in addition to comic book, strip and single panel gags. Unpublished material from Nick’s personal sketchbooks will be in abundance, as well as a breath-taking array of full-color illustrations  for an aborted children’s book project, all focusing on the lighter side of Mr. Cardy’s work. Keep an eye peeled- it’s sure to be a spectacular presentation. For more information on Nick Cardy, contact www.theartistschoice.com.

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Meugniot Art Giveaway Goes Live!

N.E.D.O.R. Agents #0 splash artYes, the big N.E.D.O.R. Agents original art contest we’ve all been screaming about is finally underway!! Check out the Diamond Comic Distributors PreviewsWorld Facebook page for all the information about this special promotion, including the official rules, animated and live-action video, and sneak peeks at current and upcoming N.E.D.O.R. Agents artwork by creator Will Meugniot. Find out how you can qualify to win drawings for up to three separate pieces of Will’s original art featuring his great new N.E.D.O.R. Agents feature, currently appearing in the pages of AC’s popular FEMFORCE comic book. Our thanks to Vince Brusio and our good friends at Diamond Comics Distribution for working with Will to arrange this promotion. If you haven’t already got your copy of the ‘Agent’s first full-length story, head on down to your local comics retailer now and have him place a reorder for you for FEMFORCE #157, N.E.D.O.R. Agents #0 Page 3 art(currently on sale) DCD item #JUL110775, from the July Previews. And, as you enjoy the preview pages accompanying this article drawn by Will Meugniot for the N.E.D.O.R. Agents next appearance (their first color cover appearance as the flip-book feature for the issue, N.E.D.O.R. Agents #0) in FEMFORCE #158 (shipping early next year), don’t forget to order THAT comic through your favorite comic shop as well. That’s FEMFORCE #158, DCD item #OCT110756, from the October Previews catalogue, for items shipping in December.

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The Return of MLJ? by Mark Heike

Archie Comics' The Sheild TPB coverI heard an interesting snippet on the radio last week, during the morning “financial minute” of all places. It was an announcement that Archie Comics was planning to revive it’s superhero properties in 2012, for distribution through a digital platform. Unfortunately, I can find nothing referring to this currently on the Archiecomics.com official blog site, but I did talk to someone I know who works for Archie, and I was able to confirm this. Contemporary comic book readers may not be aware of the involvement that the company now known as Archie comics HAD with superhero characters, since the last two incarnations of their costumed-hero line were produced (under license) by DC. Between late 1939 and 1943 (before the creation of Archie), MLJ Comics (named via the first initials of it’s three founders; Morris Coyne, Louis Silberkliet and John Goldwater) was one of the costumed hero/adventure comics heavy-hitters in the industry, presenting the exploits of such stalwarts as The Wizard, The Shield (the FIRST patriotic costumed superhero, predating Captain America by almost a year) The Black Hood, Steel Sterling, The Hangman, Mr. Justice, The Comet, The Firefly, Bob Phantom, Captain Flag, Inferno, Mr. Satan, The Scarlet Avenger, Blackjack and The Web. Though revivals of the characters in the 1960s and 1980s were met with lukewarm receptions, some of the original Golden Age material was quite excellent, much of it in fact produced by comic book greats like Jack Cole, Charles Biro, Mort Meskin, Irv Novick, Mort Leav, Bob Fujitani, Everett Raymond Kinstler, plus the underrated Warren King, Harry Lucey and Sam Cooper. I would like to see King in particular get more credit. He had a very unique and dramatic style, and might have gone on to become highly regarded in the comic book field, had he not left it early on to pursue editorial cartooning. I was first introduced to these characters as the “Mighty Heroes” during their brief mid-60s revival, as drawn by Paul Reinman and Mike Sekowsky, and written by Superman creator Jerry Siegal. Whether their attempt to meld the Stan Lee/Marvel approach with the camp sensibilities of the Batman live-action TV series worked or not is a matter of opinion, but I became fascinated with them, and began collecting the original MLJ’s in the early 1970s. Archie Comics started a small reprinting program in the early 2000s, releasing color trade paperback compilations of their early Silver Age superguy The Fly, the ’60s MLJ revival supergroup The Mighty Crusaders, and the first half-dozen Golden Age stories of The Shield. I was lucky enough to get a chance to do some inking work on the cover of The Shield when the Archie folks hired my wife Stephanie to draw the cover. If you don’t own this volume, you should; and now would be an excellent time to get it, as it is currently priced at $3.99 postpaid in the online store at www.archiecomics.com. Actually, we tried to coordinate art salvaging services for Archie on future MLJ Golden Age projects, since that is one of our specialties here at AC Comics, but were unable to work out an agreement. But what you probably didn’t know is that between official revamps and revivals of the MLJ characters, I “art-directed” an entire, 25-page proposed revival comic book teaming all of the original MLJ characters plus their Silver-Age heroes The Fly, Flygirl and Jaguar against a team of the best of the MLJ Golden Age villains. The Jaguar, Fox, Comet, Captain Flag, Fly & Flygirl plus Mr. Justice by Eric CoileDeveloping it as an outside, freelance project for AC’s regular artists at the time, one chapter each was penciled by Brad Gorby, Eric Coile, Chris Allen, Stephanie (before she was my wife) Sanderson and myself. We drew up the whole thing in finished pencils, I wrote a script for it, and we submitted the whole thing to Richard Goldwater at Archie. We can only assume that they were not interested, as we never got a response. (If you are wondering whatever happened to the material, we re-purposed it as Sentinels of America #1, currently available in the AC Comics store here on the site.) The MLJ heroes are a solid group of supercharacters, somewhat lost in the shuffle of comic book history, overshadowed by the incredible success of Archie himself and all of his supporting cast. I’m glad they are coming back, and I’ll be checking them out online, once they reappear.

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Forgotten Greats of Universal Horror by Mark Heike

Lionel Atwill photoIn our household, the last week in October gets us into the Halloween mode, which means a steady diet of horror movies on video until the big day arrives. Since we’re big fans of the classic Universal monsters, we usually go through the whole library on an annual basis, from the 1931″ Dracula” right on through 1956 “Creature Walks Among Us.” I’d thought I’d seen them all, until we turned one up that was new to me- 1942s “Night Monster.” Starring two of my favorite character actors from the Universal repertory company, Bela Lugosi and Lionel Atwill; it’s interesting and does feature a very different kind of “monster”, but is not really one of the great ones, despite tasteful directing by Ford Beebe. Now everyone remembers Lugosi and his place in the history of great horror cinema, but Atwill’s work seems all but forgotten today, perhaps due to his passing at a relatively early age, in the late 1940s. His clipped British accent and precise manner always livened any film he was in, be it portraying an officious police inspector, arrogant doctor or mad scientist. “Bride of Frankenstein”,”Son of Frankenstein,” “Ghost of Frankenstein,” “House of Frankenstein,” Man Made Monster,” “Doctor X,” “Mark of the Vampire,” “The Gorilla,” “House of Dracula,” and “The Mad Doctor of Market Street” were just some of the genre films Atwill made, for Universal and other studios. If you’re not familiar with his onscreen work, check out or great DVD of the 1942 Captain America” serial, where he plays the villainous Scarab. While it was not his finest hour, he turns in a fine performance as the stories’ villain.

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Free Art From Will Meugniot!

N.E.D.O.R. Agents contest image

No, this is not a scam! To promote his new N.E.D.O.R. Agents series (currently running in every issue of FEMFORCE) Will is running not one, not two, but three separate contests, the prize for winning each being a piece of his own hand drawn (and inked) original comic book art. Check out the color graphic here for the three ways that fans and retailers can qualify to win one of Will’s masterpieces. Of course the one that we at AC Comics like best is the one that involves ordering copies of FEMFORCE #157 (which contains the N.E.D.O.R. Agents first full-length adventure). Tell your retailer you want to order FEMFORCE #157, DCD item #JUL110775, from the July Diamond Previews catalog for items shipping in September. Nightveil explains the N.E.D.O.R. AgentsYour retailer will tell you that particular book has already shipped, which is true, but this contest is for reorders, so simply follow the instructions above and place a reorder for FEMFORCE #157 today. Each copy purchased gives you a chance in the drawing for Will’s original drawing as pictured in the color graphic. Now Will’s pieces usually go for very high prices, if you can find them on sale at all, so we couldn’t even guess what the dollar value of these giveaway pieces might be. Another key fact to remember is this: reorder sales come in much lower than initial sales. If every copy that you buy entitles you to one chance in the drawing for the original,  well anyone who enters this contest will have a ridiculously high chance of winning; and the more copies you order, the better your chances become! It’s simple mathmatics, so you don’t want to miss out on this! Already got your copy of the book?  You can still enter the cosplay contest, or go to your favorite comic book shop with a sign and your digital camera and enter the “I Want My Nedor” sign photo contest. That’ll get your comic shop a little publicity, too! We are currently finalizing the details on just how this promotion will run with Diamond Distribution. As soon as we have that straight, you’ll see the official rules here and on the Diamondcomics.com social media site.

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Jock Mahoney Part 2

Jock Mahony speaking to class at Sarasota School of Performing Arts 1980

Jock Mahony speaking to class at Sarasota School of Performing Arts 1980

During the later years in his life, Jock took to wearing a full beard but his handsome features still shown thru. The ladies at the Sarasota School of Performing Arts loved him! I was impressed at how well he was received by young students who were in diapers when he played TARZAN. The beard, he thought, was an asset to get him character parts since he was past playing the leading man roles. One of the films shown was an episode of the TV show B.J. AND THE BEAR in which Jocko played the villain. He was proud of that saying, “Did you notice how I was in that? …crazed!” The beard helped.

 That night after the school was out, Jocko said, “Hey, let’s see if we can go visit Burt.” Burt Reynolds is a Florida boy (FSU… go ‘Noles!) who has a home (and theater) in Jupiter, Florida, located geographically across the state from Sarasota. Jocko and Burt were good buddies. Burt’s main squeeze was SALLY FIELD who was Jocko’s step-daughter. Reynold’s film about a stuntman (HOOPER) was, in part, based on Jocko’s life. I mean how cool would that have been… David Rothel, Jock Mahoney and I cutting across state to Jupiter (the ONLY way to get there is via Alligator Alley) to see BURT REYNOLDS! Unfortunately, when Jock called, Burt was out of town. Major bummer. And Tarzan missed a shot at fighting a gator… in real life.

Jocko just signed a photo of TARZAN for fan.

Jocko just signed a photo of TARZAN for fan.

 The next day Jocko gave lessons in stunt fighting using the students in his demonstrations. Too bad hand held camcorders had not as yet been invented so all I have is still pictures. Wonder if David Rothel has a copy of the video that his students made? They also ran the films I brought including a DURANGO KID Western in which Jock doubles Charles Starrett. Hopefully I’ll have a clip from a Durango to show you what he routinely did in the series. Jocko told me that stuntmen were paid by the gag so he was always coming up with new and exciting gags for Durango and then selling the director on using them. Jumping from one roof to another would be one gag. Jumping off the roof would be a second gag. Landing in a buckborard and whipping the horses at full speed would be a third. Jocko would string many such gags together and that made Durango one of the most exciting characters in B Westerns.

Student video taping Jocko's lecture.

Student video taping Jocko's lecture.

 Jock went from stuntman to supporting roles to almost co-starring in the DURANGO KID series. In the last couple years of the run he would be third billed after Starrett and comic SMILEY BURNETTE. It was a good training ground for an actor and it led to Mahoney starring in a couple serials for Columbia and the RANGE RIDER TV series for Gene Autry’s Flying A Productions.

The ladies LOVE Jocko!

The ladies LOVE Jocko!

 I befriended Charles Starrett in 1970 when I interviewed him for Paragon magazine. As Durango, he was my number one childhood hero. He made me his “agent” and I vowed to keep Durango riding as long as I live. To that end I’ve reprinted nearly all of the DURANGO KID comic book stories in 3 issues of THE DURANGO KID, 71 issues of BEST OF THE WEST and in many special books like WESTERN TREASURY.

 

Jock Mahony With David Rothel

Jock Mahony With David Rothel

 

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21st Centurions graphic novel in November

All-ages comic book fans will be in for a treat in November with the release of the trade-paperback, graphic novel compilation of artist/writer Stephanie Heike’s self-published 21st Centurions teen superhero/science fiction series, “21st Centurions: New Clear Day”. Six years in the making, this full digital color GN on glossy paper collects issues 0, 1 & 2  of the regular series, with additional never-before seen material and previews for upcoming storylines, and  is being released by Ms. Heike’s own Centurion Premiere Publishing company.  In an industry overwhelmingly dominated by men, Stephanie is a unique multitalent who not only writes and draws her own original creations (currently under review for licensing to other media in Hollywood) with 21st Centurions, but publishes them as well. Plans had tentatively been underway for some time to rework the original 21st Centurions comic book series into a bookshelf volume, but the hectic pace of Stephanie’s freelance schedule ( check out AC’s FEMFORCE #156  for her most recent “outside” scripting job, and virtually EVERY FF issue going back to #137 for a writing, penciling or cover art contribution.), kept pushing it onto the proverbial back burner.  That is, until Diamond Distribution came a-calling with their “Unsung Heroes” promotion for  November 2012, set to give a special push to superhero products from publishers OTHER than Marvel or DC. With a special spotlight from Diamond locked in, it was too good an opportunity to pass up, and Steph made the time to pull the project together. What’s it all about? Heroes in training, mad scientists, super-villain boy bands, killer robot cars and a mysterious mentor with his own hidden agenda. It’s a next generation superhero graphic novel that drives home the “anyone can be a star” vibe of the post-American Idol world. It’s still available for advance reorder from Diamond Distribution through your favorite comic book retailer, using DCD item code SEP110963.

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N.E.D.O.R. Agents

Will Meugniot is one of the biggest names in TV and theatrical animation. If you don’t believe that, just check out his credits, but you’d better have some time, as they run about a mile long.  G.I. Joe, Jem, X-Men, Ultimate Avengers and the Real Ghostbusters are just a handful of the series and features he’s been at the helm of. Deep down, he always thought of himself as a comic book artist- and in our opinion, one of the very BEST, particularly in terms of the “good girl” art genre of glamorous, pin-up style interpretations of female characters. When he got back in touch with us last fall (he had drawn a particularly well-remembered run of FEMFORCE covers between  back in 1990, like the FEMFORCE #26 pictured here.) after a two-decades-plus “sabbatical” working on some of the most successful video and movie properties around, we were thrilled that he volunteered to illustrate an issue of FEMFORCE for us, and the #156 that he did earlier this year already stands out as one of our all-time best FFs ever. When he pitched us on his concept for a new superhero group, utilizing some of the Golden Age Standard/Nedor heroes we’d revived in the ’90’s, but setting his “alternate take” on them in the mid-1960’s, with an eye to giving the strip a classic  Wallace  Wood/Tower Comics/Thunder Agents kind of “feel”, we were intrigued. But in NO WAY were we prepared for how good it actually came out!! Will’s N.E.D.O.R. Agents strip has already caused a sensation online, even though their first full-length adventure is not even out yet!! N.E.D.O.R. Agents 0 cover pencils(That would be in Femforce #157. Unfortunately, the NA story hadn’t even been finalized when we had to solicit FF #157 through Diamond Previews, so we were not able to mention the story in the Previews listing. FF #157 will ship in the third week of October, but if you haven’t ordered it, there is still time. Tell your favorite comic book retailer that you want AC’s Femforce #157, DCD Item Code #JUL110775, and he can back-order it for you.) Will’s ‘Agents will be back in a big way in Femforce #158, as well- getting their OWN cover and another feature-length adventure as N.E.D.O.R. Agents #0 will be a flip-book special, sharing binding with FF #158. It will be listed in the November issue of Diamond Previews (although AGAIN, we had to have our Previews text in to Diamond BEFORE we were certain that we’d be including the N.E.D.O.R. Agents, so you WON’T see this mentioned in the Previews listing,  but there will be a special promo on the Diamond Comics media site within a few days. Be sure to look for FF #158 in  the October 2011 Previews and order it at your local retailer. There is still time to put in your order with your local comic book retailer; just tell him you want a copy of FEMFORCE #158, DCD Item # OCT110756, in the October Diamond Previews, for items shipping in December. Of course, all regular AC readers know that if its SOLICITED as a Diamond December product, it’ll actually be in your hands in late January. In the meantime, don’t miss out on the big original art giveaway contest Will is running.  You’ll be able to get details on the particulars here as they develope, on Will’s Facebook page, and in the pages of FEMFORCE #157, which will shipped to Diamond Distribution (and is available in our own AC Comics web store ) on October i9th. Check it out and get in on the fun. Once you’ve seen the strip, let us (and Will ) know if you’d like to see the N.E.D.O.R. Agents in a book of their OWN in 2012!!

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Jock Mahoney


Currently on Saturdays on Turner Classic Movies, they are running the TARZAN movies one each week. Recently they showed TARZAN GOES TO INDIA and that got me to thinking about the film’s star, JOCK MAHONEY, whom I met back in 1980. Jocko was coming to Florida to appear at the Sarasota School of Performing Arts. Arthur David Rothel, whom I knew, was hosting the event and invited me to attend. David knew I was a fan of Jocko’s and collected his films. I loaded films in the car and drove down to the West Coast where David and I met the 6’4” actor at the airport. This was a splendid opportunity to spend time one on one with a favorite actor I had admired for years. After a session at the school I drove Jocko to his hotel where we chatted and he signed a big 11” X 14” photo of himself as TV’s RANGE RIDER. Cool!

 I first knew of Jock Mahoney (actually Jacques O’Mahoney) as “Jack” Mahoney, actor featured in Charles Starrett’s DURANGO KID series at Columbia (1947 – 1952). I later learned Jocko had begun his film career as stuntman doubling for Durango (More on this later). He then starred in over 100 episodes of RANGE RIDER (1951-1953), the most action packed, stunt filled series ever made for television. For several years he was under contract to Universal starring in THE LAND UNKNOWN, LAST OF THE FAST GUNS, SLIM CARTER and many other features. He returned to TV starring as YANCY DERRINGER (1959), a sophisticated Mississippi Riverboat gambler.

 In 1960, Jocko began a long association with the TARZAN character appearing a villain Coy Banton, son of evil John Carradine in one of the best in the series, TARZAN THE MAGNIFICENT (1960). Producer Sy Weintraub liked Jock and cast him as Tarzan No. 13 in TARZAN GOES TO INDIA which, like the filmmakers two earlier entries was filmed on location. More on this later.

 As RANGE RIDER, Jock Mahoney starred in his own comic book. AC Comics has reprinted several RR tales the most recent of which are found in WESTERN TREASURY Vol. 1 and 2.  AC’s BEST OF THE WEST features DURANGO KID stories in all 71 issues.

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Gargantarama-The Comic Book 20

Gargantarama 20 cover

Price: $9.95

 

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Cover feature DINOSAUR GIRL faces off with an Asian giantess determined to swing World War II in favor of the Axis by controlling the Pacific Theater. If she can prevail against DG, there well may be more titanic distaff terrors created from the “Blood Of The Giantess”; a 17-page battle royal written and drawn by Rock Baker, with ink embellishment by Jeff Austin. Then, turn the clock back to the Middle Ages that never were for another wacky adventure with ROWENA, the gentle giantess. An extreme cold snap turns out to be the work of CRYONIA, another visiting giantess; and ROWENA must find a way to persuade her to move on before she and her human-sized charges become icicles. Written by Eric Lindberg, penciled by Rock Baker and inked by Jeff Austin. Then, flip the book over, turn it upside down and check out FEMFORCE #157! With Synn’s reality-warping powers seemingly out of control, the FEMFORCE have taken her to The Colorado Project for a medical intervention. But it’s not always wise to leave your health in the hands of a doctor who comes from another planet, with a couple of assistants who happen to be giantesses. The therapy they concoct is definitely “outside of the box”! PARAGON’S sightlessness becomes ever more puzzling, NIGHTVEIL is barred from using her magic, and SHE-CAT goes looking for a mysterious person out of her past, only to end up tangling with ATOMAN, CARBONATOR and SPEEDBOLT of the doltish JUSTICE SQUAD. Meanwhile, SYNN just mopes and waits for whatever is going to happen to happen. All this and more in “Living In Synn, Part 1”- plot by Stephanie and Mark Heike (with a script by Mark Heike), pencils by Chris Allen and Rock Baker, and inks by Jeff Austin. Then-hang onto your hats for the first full-length adventure with the GREATEST new super-team series since…well, since The FEMFORCE was created! Make way for the New Earth Defense Organization Reserve- N.E.D.O.R. Agents! In an alternate version of Earth (as is told in this tale narrated by the FF’s NIGHTVEIL), it’s 1965, and a group of super-powered champions (based on the characters from the long-defunct Standard/Nedor/Better publishing group of the 1940s) has spent 20 years in readiness for a terrible event, which now is almost upon them. World War II veteran heroes Black Terror, Fighting Yank, American Eagle, Doc Strange, Liberator, Woman In Red, The Grim Reaper, Commando Cubs, American Crusader, Tygra, Princess Pantha and Miss Masque are joined by second-generation heroines (and uber-babes) Candi Future, Pyrogirl and Fighting Tank, Jr.as they learn the truth about what REALLY threatens the world in “Everlasting Battle” a 25-page retro-revisionist epic that’s fast-moving, sexy and action-packed. Created, written and drawn by WILL MEUGNIOT, the feature that we teased in FF #156 kicks into high-gear this issue-and will be soaring to even greater glories in FF #158! Plus- N.E.D.O.R. Agents pin-ups by Rick Hoberg, Gerry Acerno and Keith Tucker, AND info on a special original art contest giveaway by Will himself! In total, 84 pages of all-new, never-before-seen story and art; black & white interiors with full color covers. Still the best value in comicdom! (Please note: This book has exactly the SAME contents as FEMFORCE #157.)

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Yankee Girl: Stars and Stripes Forever Shipping February 2012

Yankee Girl: Stars and Stripes Forever

Writers and Artist’s Names: Writers include: Bill Black, Rock Baker, Frank Tra, Chris Allen and Mark Heike. Artists include Will Meugniot, Eric Colie, Rock Baker, Jeff Austin, Scott Shriver, Dave Roberts, Mark Heike, Chris Allen and Bill Black
Cover by Will Meugniot.
Intended Audience: All-ages fans and readers who like Silver-Age superheroics as well as fans of classic “good girl” art and superhero comics with a slightly humorous twist in general.
Format: Standard comic book size; saddle-stitched, 96 page collector’s edition format; black and white interiors with color covers.
Retail Price: $19.95
Synopsis: Lauren Mason never wanted to be a heroine, but when Merlin gave her super-powers, what choice did she have? See the buxom, brunette and somewhat bumbling YANKEE GIRL in this special volume featuring THREE all new adventures, plus several out-of-print stories from the 1990’s and other YG rarities.
Special Notes: YANKEE GIRL is an actual Golden Age heroine( from a long-defunct publisher) who made two- that’s right, TWO actual appearances in print in the 1940’s. Since AC “revived” her in 1990, she has gone on to become one of our most popular, most requested guest-stars and back-up features, appearing in dozens of stories across numerous titles. As the good-hearted “fish out of water” in the hero game who tries hard but never gets it quite right, she has really resonated with our readers. In addition to NEW adventures (one plotted by AC publisher Bill Black himself) illustrated by “girl art” masters Eric Coile and Rock Baker, this volume will features number of rare YANKEE GIRL items, including her FIRST AC solo story from 1991, out of print and unseen since the mid-1990’s!!

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Bizarre Thrills – The Paragon Publications Story Shipping February 2012

Bizarre Thrills- The Paragon Publications Story

Writers and Artist’s Names: Writers include: Bill Black, Martin Greim, Bob Cosgrove, Gary Brown and Adriana Gomez. Artists Include: Bill Black, Jerry Ordway, Marc Hempel, Dan Adkins, Mike Royer, Steve Vance, Tom Lyle, Joe Staton and John Beatty.
Cover by Joe Staton & Bill Black.
Intended Audience: Fans of classic comic-related material of the 1970’s; AC Comics readers interested in the early inspirations for the AC Universe, and those who follow the Bill Schelly books covering the history of comics fan and prozines; and anyone interested in “good girl” art, science-fiction, horror or superhero comics in general.
Format: Standard comic book size, perfect-bound 200-plus page trade paperback; black and white interiors with full color covers.
Retail Price: $29.95
Synopsis: A compendium of BILL BLACK’s legendary PARAGON PUBLICATIONS line of comics “prozines” of the 1970’s!! Chock full of outrageous “good girl” art, steely-eyed heroics and macabre horror!! See what the AC COMICS empire was built on, with never-before-reprinted stories starring SYNN, TARA, PARAGON, SCARLET SCORPION, The SHADE and more!!!
Special Notes: The original printings of Bill Black’s 1970’s PARAGON PUBLICATIONS magazines such as PARAGON PRESENTS, FEM FANTASTIQUE, PARAGON SUPERHEROES, BIZARRE THRILLS, PARAGON ILLUSTRATED, MACABRE WESTERN and the original GOLDEN AGE GREATS all command obscene after-market prices on eBay and among collectors- if you can find the books at all!! Produced more than thirty years ago, in an era before the concept of independent comic book publishers or a direct-sales distribution system existed, Bill Black wanted to create a line of comic-book based periodicals that incorporated the idea of design and featuring his own original characters in ongoing, interconnected stories- a universe, if you will; of superheroes and adventurers. From roughly 1970-1980, PARAGON did that, fueled not only by Black’s tasteful sense of visuals, but also a healthy dose of the one aspect fairly rare in the “mainstream” newstand comics of the day- and that is strong FEMALE characters. Bill’s personal fascination with the classic “good girl” art of the 1940’s led him to create a pantheon of beautiful, glamorous, strong and capable heroines able to stand toe-to-toe with his heroes. And that creative vision must’ve been well-realized, as many of those characters are still appearing today in the AC Comics line; in FEMFORCE and other titles. Although Bill did most of the artwork himself, he occasionally rung in friends like Dan Adkins, Jim Steranko, and Mike Royer to help out with some of the art. In addition, he started the careers of then-budding creators like Tom(Spiderman)Lyle, Steve(Simpsons)Vance and Marc (Mars, Tug & Buster)Hempel, giving their work early exposure .This volume collects the best of the early PARAGON material, virtually NONE of it seen anywhere in more than three decades. When the PARAGON books were originally circulated as a mail-order product sold through fanzine ads, they sold a ridiculously-high number of copies; in some cases, more than a number of mainstream comics sell today. Whoever bought the magazine-sized original releases must have liked them, since despite the fact that they sold in high volume, very few find their way into the collector’s market; hence the inflated prices when they do. Among regular AC fans and readers, few things have been MORE requested over the years than an opportunity to see this great stuff again. This superb volume provides that, at a bargain price compared to the cost of trying to obtain the originals. The success of Bill Schelly and his Hamster Press books chronicling the history of the fan movement of the 1960’s-1970’s indicates that there is some considerable interest in this material. Add in the factors that PARAGON featured much more polished material than similar publications of it’s times AND has a direct tie-in to the ongoing series at AC Comics today make this book compelling reading.

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Golden Age Greats Spotlight 8 – Outrageous Good Girl Art Comics Shipping January 2012

Golden Age Greats Spotlight #8 –
Outrageous Good Girl Art Comics

Writer’s and Artist’s Names: Artists include Matt Baker, Frank Frazetta, Bill Ward, Bob Lubbers, Bob Powell, Jim Mooney, Dan DeCarlo, Ed Good, Ray Gotto and Jack Kamen.
Intended Audience: Fans and collectors of pin-up style “good girl art” and glamour material of all eras. Suggested for a mature audience, as some brief nudity and/or adult situations may be inferred.
Format: Standard comic book size; saddle-stitched, ULTRA-THICK 150 pages, black & white interiors with color covers.
Retail Price: $29.95
Synopsis: Reprinting THE wildest “good girl art” comics of all time! Glamour and gorgeous pulchritude are celebrated with RULAH, TORCHY, MITZI In HOLLYWOOD, PUSSYCAT, DAGAR, SOUTH SEA GIRL, OZARK IKE, JAGUAR BOND, SKY GIRL, LONG SAM, PHANTOM LADY, Katy Of The Chorus and more, as rendered by Frazetta, Baker, Powell, Ward, Mooney, Kamen and others!!
Special Notes: Comics focusing on sexy girls have always been a solid seller; no one knows that better than those of us at AC Comics. This issue of GAG Spotlight widens the scope to look at the phenomenon of “good girl art” glamour comics material that is a little more far-ranging. From the classic “Seduction of The Innocent” exhibits of Fox Features PHANTOM LADY, DAGAR and RULAH “headlights” heroines, through the goofball humor of “cheesecake” strips like SKY GIRL and MITZI in HOLLYWOOD, to comic book adaptations of newspaper strips whose appeal sprung from their pretty girl characters like OZARK IKE and LONG SAM- they’re all here in full-story, high quality reprintings. Beyond that, this volume will offer GGA comic book material that appeared in slick magazines, like PUSSYCAT, and the seldom-seen JAGUAR BOND. Three decades’ worth of beautiful women drawn by some of the greatest glamour artists of all time- much of it never before reprinted anywhere at any time. A “good girl art” extravaganza!!

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Femforce 158 – N.E.D.O.R. Agents #0 Shipping December 2011

Femforce 158

Writer’s and Artist’s Names: Writers include Bill Black, Mark & Stephanie Sanderson, Eric Johnson,   and David Watkins. Artists include Will Meugniot, Jeff Austin, Rock Baker, Eric Coile, Scott Shriver and Dan Gorman. Cover painting by John Nadeau.
Intended Audience: All ages fans and readers who like Silver-Age style superheroics as well as fans of classic “good girl” art and superhero comics in general.
Format: Standard comic book size, saddle-stitched; TRIPLE THICK 84 page length, black & white interiors with full color covers. All stories, no ads.
Retail Price: $9.95
Synopsis: Trapped at submicroscopic size inside SYNN’s body, NIGHTVEIL, STARDUST and MS. VICTORY defeat a foe of unimaginable menace, as SHE-CAT finds a face out of her past. Then- no sooner is ONE evil opponent dispatched, when a new villainess appears – from the ranks of the undead!! 84 all-new pages of FEMFORCE!!
Special Notes: The long-awaited conclusion to the “Living In Synn” storyline was so big, it HAD to spill into another issue- so here it is!! Behind the spectacular digital cover painting by long-time Dark Horse STAR WARS artist and AC Comics discovery before that) John Nadeau, Femfans will finally learn the source of SYNN’s vacillations, and the terrible price that must be paid to end them. Then, in a second big lead feature, the FF team is torn by a new kind of threat, one that perhaps even superpowers cannot combat, as the 84-page supersized FEMFORCE comic book continues to evolve. Backup feature STORMY TEMPEST returns, as her ongoing serial of outer-space adventures in the far-flung future continues this issue, scripted by creator & AC Comics head honcho Bill Black. First, Femfans asked for longer FF stories, and we gave them that. Then, they asked us to bring back some of the great AC creators from years back, and we gave them THAT. Then they asked for MORE pages of actual FF adventures in every issue, and starting with FF 158, we deliver on THAT one. You won’t find any other comic on the market that gives you MORE great comic book entertainment for the price than AC’s FEMFORCE!! In addition, this issue’s special flip-book feature will be Will (Ultimate Avengers 2) Meugniot’s N.E.D.O.R. Agents #0!! The vigilant heroes (and their second-generation super-progeny) launch into the interstellar battle in a big way as the story continues from FF #157! Featuring a brand-new cover my Meugniot!!

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Crypt of Horror Volume 13 Shipping November 2011

Crypt of Horror Volume 13

Writer’s and Artist’s Names: Artists include Dick Ayers, Chic Stone, Carl Burgos, Bob Powell and Myron Fass.
Intended Audience: All-ages fans of classic horror comics material; comics historians and fans of vintage reprint material of all kinds.
Format: Standard comic book size; saddle-stitched, ULTRA-THICK 120 pages, black & white interiors with color covers.
Retail Price: $29.95
Synopsis: GOREFEST SPECIAL!! Homage to Myron Fass’ EERIE PUBLICATIONS! Spotlight on 6 bloody Dick Ayers stories, including his favorite, “I Chopped Off Her Head”; “A Corpse For The Coffin”, “The Hungry Ghoul”, “Witches’ Revenge”, “Swamp Monsters” and “The Corpse”. Also “Cats Of Doom”, “Vampire’s Bride”, “Fiend of the Undead” and more!!
Special Notes: Much talk has been circulating in fan circles of late relating to Myron Fass’ tasteless, uncensored line of gruesome horror comic magazines, EERIE PUBLICATIONS. Fass’ line-up of publications (HORROR TALES, TERROR TALES, TERRORS OF DRACULA, TALES OF VOODOO, WITCHES’ TALES, TALES FROM THE TOMB and WEIRD WORLDS) pushed the boundaries of comics gore and mayhem far beyond the newstand norm. By releasing his books as magazine-size, 50-cent publications, Eerie avoided the rerstrictions of the comics code, and took full advantage of that. Crypt of Horror 13 is a special homage issue to Eerie pubs, featuring a number of their wildest stories not previously reprinted – including a particular focus on the Eerie Pubs artwork of comics legend Dick Ayers. At Eerie, Dick was convinced to work for Editor Fass after seeing how public tastes regarding blood and gore had changed when they told Ayers to go and see Sam Peckinpah’s film “The Wild Bunch”. Dick went on to put far more gore into his Eerie stories than other artists, specializing in chopping off heads and eyeballs bursting from their sockets. But COH Volume 13’s Eerie section is just a part of the picture- there’s lots MORE Pre-Code horror comics gems from long-defunct 1950’s publishers, as in all issues of this great horror comics reprint/nostalgia anthology series.

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Men of Mystery 86 Shipping October 2011

Men of Mystery #86
bookshelf format!!

Writer’s and Artist’s Names: Writers include France Herron, Otto Binder, Carl Formes and Bill Woolfolk. Artists include Dan Barry, Charles Sultan, Emil Gershwin, Al Plastino. Bob Fujitani and others.
Intended Audience: All-ages fans of Golden Age superhero reprint material; art aficionados, comics historians, collectors of bookshelf compilations and fans of classic action, adventure and superhero material of all kinds.
Format: Standard comic book dimensions, 150-page TPB. Black & white interiors with full color covers.
Retail Price: $29.95
Synopsis: Superhero stars of FAWCETT in the spotlight this issue, with not one but TWO full reprintings of complete Golden Age comics- the ultra-rare MINUTE MAN #1 (Fawcett’s answer to CAPTAIN AMERICA) and SPY SMASHER #5- plus additional stories starring COMMANDO YANK and MR. SCARLET!! Virtually ALL never previously reprinted !!
Special Notes: Fawcett Publications was a comic book powerhouse during the Golden Age, with total circulation and sales making them THE biggest comic book producer at times during the 1940-53 period. Bolstered by the incredible success of their Marvel Family characters, they were able to parlay that reader popularity into the creation of a solid second-line of costumed stars whose market recognition and units sold was far in excess of many other companies’ headliners. This volume of MEN OF MYSTERY focuses on them. Using the approach of presenting entire whole issues of vintage classic comics reprinted in sharp detail, MOM presents a pair of extremely hard-to-find Fawcett superhero extravaganzas from what many consider the company’s heyday- the early-40’s run, during the time that Fawcett comics art was produced by the legendary Harry “A” Chesler shop, and their team of cerators heavily influenced by (if not flat-out imitating) the great Lou Fine. The books in question are MINUTE MAN #1 (originally published in the spring of 1941) and SPY SMASHER #5, (originally published in June, 1942.) Additionally, this all-Fawcett volume will be rounded out with stories from later in the 1940’s, showcasing other Fawcett champions including COMMANDO YANK (with art by Dan Barry) and MR. SCARLET (with art by Bob Fujitani). Some of the best-produced material coming from one of the highest-quality publishing houses of the era, and all extremely rare & virtually unseen since it’s original publication in the 1940’s.

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Golden Age Greats Spotlight 7 – Roy Rogers Western Movie Hero 100th Anniversary Special Shipping September 2011

Golden Age Greats Spotlight #7 –
Roy Rogers Western Movie Hero 100th Anniversary Special
Format: Standard comic book dimensions, but in a special 150-plus page squarebound bookshelf format TPB.
Black & white interiors with full color covers.
$29.95

Writer’s and Artist’s Names: Writers include Bill Black, Paul S. Newman, Ray Krank, and Joe Gill. Artists include Frank Frazetta, Al Williamson, Alex Toth, Steve Ditko, John Buscema, Russ Manning, Doug Wildey, Dick Giordano and Vince Alascia.
Intended Audience: All-ages fans of Golden Age reprint material, art aficionados, comics historians, and fans of classic action, adventure and Western material of all kinds.
Synopsis: Celebrating ROY ROGERS’ 100th birthday this year, a comprehensive rundown of the best Western comic book features on the 1940’s-1960’s, with lots of full-story reprints starring your favorite cowboys (including many never previously reprinted) focusing on the best artists of the era, with a special emphasis on ROY ROGERS.
Special Notes: With AC Comics long association with the ROY ROGERS franchise, Roy’s 100th birthday seemed a fitting time to release a special volume commemorating the man and his influence on the Western genre in comic books as part of our pop culture heritage. Historian and Western comics expert Bill Black (who also happens to be our publisher) penned THE most comprehensive historical rundown of the classic era of Western comic books (the 1940’s-1960’s) in his 1997 tome ROY ROGERS AND THE SILVER SCREEN COWBOYS, and that extended text overview is revisited here, along with even MORE information, including full-story reprints and features on Western stars that were left out of THE SILVER SCREEN COWBOYS due to space limitations, including WILD BILL ELLIOTT, JOHNNY MACK BROWN and MONTE HALE. More than a dozen full-story reprints in all, plus coverage on EVERY movie-related cowboy that ever had a comic book series!!

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Femforce 157 – Gargantarama 20 Shipping September 2011

Femforce #157 – Gargantarama #20
$9.95, DOUBLE THICK 84 pages, extra-thick, saddle-stitched
Black & white interiors with full color covers.

Writer’s and Artist’s Names: Writers include Bill Black, Mark & Stephanie Heike, Eric Lindberg and Eric Johnson. Artists include Rock Baker, Eric Coile, Will Meugniot, Mark & Stephanie Heike, Jeff Austin and Eric Allen Nelson.
Intended Audience: All-ages fans and readers who like Silver-Age style superheroics as well as fans of classic “good girl” art and superhero comics in general.
Synopsis: The FEMFORCE shrinks to microscopic size and enters SYNN’S body to bring her reality-warping powers under control only to confront an unexpected menace there in the novel-length conclusion of “Living In Synn”!! Plus- STORMY TEMPEST, ROWENA, DINOSAUR GIRL and 1-900-GIANTESS!! Cover by WILL MEUGNIOT!! 84 PAGES!! ALL NEW!!
Special Notes: The longer stories that we have been able to produce since we have switched FEMFORCE to it’s current double-sized format have been a great hit with our fans, and this issue will continue that newfound tradition as we wrap up the mystery of SYNN’s out-of-control powers, a serial that has been running since FF #151. The extra-long conclusion will be illustrated by the FF’s top art team of penciler Rock Baker and inker Jeff Austin- a team of illustrators whose stock is rising industry-wide, as their client list continues to grow, evidenced by their recent Domino Lady issue over at Moonstone and forays into the commercial art realm doing DVD packaging. And speaking of hot artists, Eric Allen Nelson will be back. After drawing a couple of stories for AC last year, he’s gone on to Avatar where he’s made quite a name for himself. This issue, he illustrates writer Eric Johnson’s way-out and wacky heroine-for-hire Fantasia in a 1-900-GIANTESS adventure, and we think it’s his best work yet. Our other regular line-up of back-up features will be included in this issue as well, including the adventuress from the future, STORMY TEMPEST; by Bill Black & Eric Coile, And ROWENA and DINOSAUR GIRL, both illustrated by the aforementioned art team of Baker and Austin. As always, FEMFORCE remains the greatest value in comic books today, with all-new art and story throughout, not a single reprint!!

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Gargantarama- The Comic Book 19

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Check out GARGANTARAMA- THE COMIC BOOK #19!! Beyond a great GTS cover drawn by Stephanie and Mark Heike, you’ll find a double-length DINOSAUR GIRL episode wherin DinoGirl battles her own doppleganger in “Mirror Image”, written & drawn by Rock Baker, with inks by Mark Heike, followed by the return of the towering GAMMAZON HOUSEWIFE in “Maternal Insticts”, written by Eric Johnson, penciled by yet ANOTHER old-time AC great- Chris Allen, and inked by contemporary AC great Jeff Austin. What happens when a giant-sized Gammazon marries a normal human male? Eventually, their is a baby. See what that portends in THIS universe!! Finally, the latest installment in the saga of ROWENA, gentle giantess of the Middle Ages-” The Goblin’s Army”, written by creator Eric Lindberg, penciled by Rock Baker and inked by Paul Wills. Then, flip the book over, turn it upside down, and read Femforce #156!!It’s finally here! 84 pages of all-new art & story!! Perhaps THE most-awaited issue of FEMFORCE in years!! NOW it can be told- the true events that led to SYNN’S exile into the Limbo Void decades ago. As NIGHTVEIL frets over SYNN’S spiralling-out-of-control powers, she thinks back to similar circumstances early in SYNN’S FF career, and we finally learn the truth about that incident in “The Lady Who Said She Could Fly”, a 21-page comic novella written by Stephanie S. Heike and penciled and inked by guest-artist extraordinare, WILL MEUGNIOT!! See Synn go-go dancing at Club Paragon! See guest-star BLONDE BOMBER!! See the FF dropped into Leningrad, Russia at the height of the Cold War!!! See a power-mad “freedom fighter” make a hellish alliance with monsters from another dimension!!! See the awful aftermath of an inexperiened SYNN’S attempt to “fix” everything in one fell swoop!! And see some of THE sexiest females ever to have graced the pages of FF as rendered by comics great turned animation master Will Meugniot !! Then, while NIGHTVEIL ruminates on the past, giant-sized jungle girl TARA FREMONT fights to save her best friend Janis Lawson in the present, kidnapped in the mysterious land of Taragonia, in “Jungle Triangle”, a 21-page co-lead feature written by e. t. Dollman, with art by Rock Baker and Jeff Austin. Then STORMY TEMPEST is back- but in the first installment of a whole NEW ST series penciled by another old FF great, Eric Coile; and written & inked by none other than WILD BILL BLACK himself!! That’s right, the ol’ head honcho is back in the saddle again on the creative side of the comic book, helming an ST backup series designed to more closely mirror the STORMY live-action video movies he’s been producing. See STORMY here meet up with Clayton the Sleeper in “Wanted: Dead or Alive!!” But wait- there’s MORE !! Check out the 3-page teaser for a stunning NEW SERIES set for a full-length intro in FF #157: written & drawn by Will Meugniot, it’s N.E.D.O.R. Agents; a great new “alternate universe”superhero team concept putting the Standard/Nedor heroes (of the 1940’s) together on a crimefighting team in 1965!! Miss Masque, Black Terror, Pyroman, PyroGIRL (yes, you read that right) Fighting Yank, American Crusader and others team up to fight- well, you’ll learn WHO they will be fighting next issue!! This issue ! Standard comic- book size, black & white interiors with full color covers. Printed in 2011.( Please note, this book has EXACTLY the same contents as FEMFORCE #156)

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Gargantarama-The Comic Book 18

Gargantarama-The Comic Book 18 cover art

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  In this big issue of Gargantarama- The Comic Book, DINOSAUR GIRL stars in a double-length WWII blockbuster, “The Last Giantess”, which introduces a “new” retro all-girl team The War Birds!! Written & drawn by Rock Baker, with ink finishes by Jeff Austin. ROWENA’S naive cousin is in the spotlight this go-around, as the Gentle Giantess must sort out GTS high jinx gone wrong in “Sera’s Day Out”, written by Eric Lindberg, with art by Rock Baker & Jeff Austin. Finally, MARLA ALLISON (a.k.a. HUMONGA ) returns in “Making A Big Scene” as a villainess’ tampering changes the script in Marla’s latest giant-woman movie, with GARGANTA herself teleported onto the set for a battle royal in front of the cameras. Written by Eric Johnson, with art by the team of Baker and Austin.  And, in the FEMFORCE #155 flip-book half of the issue,you’ll learn strange new facts relating to Synn’s ever-increasing loss of control, and what the FF may have to do about it, in a story titled “Illusions In G-Major” (guest-starring PARAGON), with script & art by Mark & Stephanie Heike. Then, learn what CAT-MAN and KITTEN did for their anniversary celebration when the US Government WOULDN’T let them use the Time Triangle to go back to 1947 in “Kitten’s Biggest Adventure”, by Rock Baker & Jeff Austin. Next, it’s a previously-untold wartime exploit starring YANKEE GIRL (guest-featuring LADY FAIRPLAY and a NEW heroine, FREEDOM GALE), “The Menace of Baroness Von Schreck”!! See why the death of Hitler might NOT have ended the Axis menace in WWII- if not for YG and friends. Plotted & layed out by Gianluca Ceritelli, Scripted by Eric Johnson, with finished art by Jeff Austin. Then, the latest installment in the ongoing saga of the time-tossed adventuress STORMY TEMPEST, as an old friend from the future returns as a menace in our present in a story written by Len Strazewski, and illustrated by Scott Larson.  Without a single reprint in sight, FF #155 is STILL the best value in comics, even at $9.95. 84 all-new, never-before-seen pages in black & white, with full color covers. Standard comic book size, saddle-stitched. Printed in 2011. (Please note: this book has exactly the same contents as FEMFORCE #155.)

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Gargantarama- The Comic Book 17

Garganta-The Comic Book 17Price: $9.95

 

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This issue, ALI BASTUR and her 40 FT brings back more wild fantasy, the “gentle giantess” ROWENA returns in another wacky adventure, and a double-length DINOSAUR GIRL story takes us back to the war-torn Pacific Theatre of 1943. Flip the book over, turn it around and get even MORE great comics entertainment reading our regular flip-book feature,FEMFORECE #154!!his issue, ALI BASTUR and her 40 FT brings back more wild fantasy, the “gentle giantess” ROWENA returns in another wacky adventure, and a double-length DINOSAUR GIRL story takes us back to the war-torn Pacific Theatre of 1943. Flip the book over, turn it around and get even MORE great comics entertainment reading our regular flip-book feature,FEMFORECE #154!!ll SYNN have to be permanently banished or will STARDUST’s risky solution be the answer? And where do PARAGON’s “imaginary monsters” fit in? As TARA is called to Jungle Island and NIGHTVEIL and MS. VICTORY face danger fighting solo in this issue’s 4-chapter lead story. Fan-favorite artist BRAD GORBY returns!! Another SUPER-SIZED 84-page landmark extravaganza, as all-time FEMFORCE fan favorite BRAD GORBY returns to pencil a chapter this issue, as well as illustrate the spectacular color cover. Brad’s atmospheric and evocative artwork on the title during the 1990’s is considered the high-water mark of the entire series by long-time fans, and anyone interested enough to look back on those issues will understand why Brad was Todd McFarlane’s first choice to replace himself on Image Comics’ SPAWN series during it’s heyday. After a decade out of the comics business, Brad makes his triumphant return here. But as always, story trumps art in FF as the lead feature begins to tie divergent plot elements together as a previously-dispensed-with menace will return to threaten the FEMFORCE. And with more than 80 pages to work with, fascinating back-up features abound, as STORMY TEMPEST (straight out of Bill Black’s live-action SMARTY PANTS ENTERTAINMENT DVD video series) continues her life undercover in contemprary times; and Mauricio Hunt’s distaff teen avenger KINETICS returns.  Writers include Mark & Stephanie Heike, Chad Halcom, Len Strazewski, Eric Jonson and Rock Baker. Artists include Gorby, Jeff Austin, Scott Larson, Rock Baker, Bill Maus, and Mark & Stephanie Heike. Almost FOUR TIMES as many pages (84 including both FEMFORCE and GARGANTARAMA- The Comic Book )of all-new, never-before-seen story and artwork than in any standard comic book- not a SINGLE reprint!! The best value in all of comics! Color covers with black & white interiors, standard comic book size, saddle-stitched. Released in 2010 (Please note: This book has exactly the same contents as FEMFORCE #154.)

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Gargantarama-The Comic Book 16

Gargantarama -The Comic Book #16 cover art

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Inside a familiar-looking cover, you’ll find the best in way-out GTS action, starting with the conlusion of the latest adventure of ROWENA, the gentle giantess of the middle ages, as she reaches the climax of her pitched battle versus Dagmar the fire-breathing dragon AND her evil stepsister Melina. See how her normal-sized husband Cedric turns the tables on the towering titans and saves the day. A double-dose of ROWENA wraps up this plotline; with both tales scripted by Eric Lindberg, drawn by Rock Baker and inked by Jeff Austin. Then, the too-tall heroine of World EWar II is back, facing down the Axis forces as the edict comes down from Hitler himself- “Kill Dinosaur Girl!!” wriitten and drawn by Rock Baker, with inks by Jeff Austin. Finally, in a most contemporary tale, an on-the-scene cameraman “falls” for a grad student -turned giantess in “Growing Feelings”, written by Chad Halcom, and illustrated by Eric Alan Nelson. Then, flip the book over, turn it upside down and delve into FEMFORCE #153!!The secret mission of the mysterious Calavera is finally revealed, and an awesome new villainess is unveiled to battle MS. VICTORY and SHE-CAT in the 5-chapter FEMFORCE action/mystery novelette “Illusions”, written by Mark G. Heike & Enrico Teodorani, with art by Jeff Austin, Scott Larson, Antonio Gerardo Ceglia, Giacomo Pilato and Mark G. Heike, Then learn how the fates of AC’s TWO time-tossed cowgirls, The BLACK PHANTOM and BUCKAROO BETTY are linked as SYNN and TARA show them the value of “Perfect Timing”, written and penciled by Rock Baker, with inks by Jeff Austin. Next, NIGHTVEIL finds herself bereft of powers, costume, and perhaps even hope in a timeless dimension in “Zombie”, the latest installment in the current NV serial, written and illustrated by Mark Glidden. Then it’s the wrap-up of guest feature KINETICS as the teen heroine manages to ecape the clutches of her mysterious captors, in a tale written by creator Mauricio Hunt and illustrated by Adriano Santos. Over 50 pages of FEMFORCE fun, glamor and excitement!!   In total it’s 80 pages of never-before-seen, all-new comics excitement- the best value in comicdom!! Black & white interiors with color covers, standard comic book size, printed in 2010.

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Gargantarama- The Comic Book 15

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ANOTHER blockbuster 84-page issue of all-new stories, art and surprises!!
Issue # 15 leads off with a return-engagement with Eric Johnson’s professional GTS heroine Fantasia, in 1-900-Giantess: Service Outage. When a hostage situation erupts in a no-service area for Fantasia’s cell-phone, she must get creative with the locals to conjure up enough super-types to save the day. Script by Eric Johnson, with art by Giancarlo Carcuzzo. Then, it’s a double-dose of that gentle giantess, ROWENA as she continues on her quest to return to her homeland of Lornak. In Chapter 2 (with script by Eric Lindberg, and art by Rock Baker and Richard Scott) of “The Eye of Imir”, she makes an ally in the faerie kingdom of Keelah; while in Chapter 3, ( written by Eric Lindberg, with art by Rock Baker and Mark & Stephanie Heike ) she comes face-to-face with the terrifying dragon, Dagmar Ironhide!! Finally, WW II’s most beatiful, giant-sized axis-buster DINOSAUR GIRL uncovers a ruthless gang of nazi giantesses with a fiendish plot to dust the Allied countries with a chemical powder fatal to all male humans in “South Seas Sabotage”, with story and art by Rock Baker, and inks by Jeff Austin. In total, it’s 84 pages of all-new black & white story and art inside a pair of full-color covers, standard comic book sized and saddle-stitched. You’d THINK that would be enough for ONE comic book package, but not for your friends at AC- turn the book over and get ready for GARGANTARAMA’S flip-book companion title. FEMFORCE #152!! First off, a simple trip to the grocery store turns into an all-out brawl between Ms. VICTORY and SHE-CAT when the leader of the FF learns the truth about ‘Cat’s newest conquest. SYNN tries to be the peacemaker, but when her powers go horribly out of control, lives are threatened in “Breakdown”, scripted by Stephanie Sanderson-Heike, with full art by Jeff Austin. Then, a recovering STARDUST returns to her consulting job at NASA, with orders from Ms. V to avoid any unsupervised hero work until she is completely recovered from her recent ordeal offplanet. But, when the lumbering Macheteer escapes from prison, it’s STARDUST to the rescue in “Back On The Job”, written by Mark G. Heik, penciled by Rik(Captain America)Levins, and inked by Jeff Austin. And, when an alien civilzation asks Earth to be diplomatic mediators in a dispute over colonization with another life form; MS. V, Dusty, SHE-CAT, and TARA- along with guest-stars GARGANTA. JET GIRL and MICROMAN go across the galaxy as peacemakers in “A Matter of Scale”, written by Eric Johnson; with art by Chris Allen and Jeff Austin. Then, it’s a blast from the past with a previously-untold “retro” story of the FF from WWII, as they meet up with guest-writer David Watkin’s super-group, The Union Of Justice, in a story titled “And A Vulture Shall Kill Them”, with art by Scott Larson and Jeff Austin. STORMY TEMPEST returns this issue, in the debut episode of a great new solo series, written by comics great Len Stazewski, and art by the aforementioned team of Larson and Austin. After her attemted assasination of Richard Gordon in FF #149, the vigilante from the future is sprung from prison by a mysterious, unknown benefactor in “Living In The Past”. Plus, Mauricio Hunt’s teenage superheroine Kinetics is back, as she loses in pitched battle to an armored, female opponent, and is captured by a mysterious cabal.   Released in 2010.

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Gargantarama- The Comic Book 14

Gargantarama- The Comic Bokk 14 cover art

Gargantarama- The Comic Bokk 14 cover artPrice: $9.95

 

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  Cover painting by Scott Larson!! Everybody’s clamoring for the return of the alien bad girl giantess, so here it is- the “Return of Queen Drusilla”; story by Eric Johnson, pencils by Outrageous Jeff Osgood and inks by Jumpin’ Jeff Austin. Then, it’s the start of a whole new story arc for that gentle giantess of the Middle Ages, ROWENA as her vindictive sister Melina plots again her in “ The Eye of Imir”. Story by Eric Lindberg, pencils by Raucous Rock Baker and inks by Jousting Jeff Austin! But wait- there’s more!! The other-worldly giantess-next-door, Ka’Ri returns in “Gammazon Housewife”; story by Eric Johnson, pencils by Javier Lugo, with inks by Jet-Set Jeff Austin! WWII’s DINOSAUR GIRL breaks up a secret weapons base behind enemy lines in “Battle at Frankenstein” Story and art by Ready Rock Baker and Just plain Jeff Austin. (ALL of the previous stories are lettered by the astounding alien letterer, Extraterrestrial E.T. Dollman! We don’t know how he does it all, either !!) Finally, that super-sized superheroine, THREETA is back in “Size Matters part three” Story and letters by Percival Constantine (yes, that IS his name) with pencils and inks by Eric A. Nelson .Then, turn the book over, flip it upside down, and thrill to FEMFORCE #151!!”Recovery” opens this issue, as the long-missing STARDUST is back, and TARA FREMONT is revoring from her wounds, so the FF is all back together, but not at full strength! Written by Mark G. Heike, art by Scott Larson and Jeff Austin. Then, SHE-CAT has a new boy-toy and you’ll never guess who it is! “Rendezvous” is written by Mark G. Heike with art by Brad Gorby and Jeff Austin. SYNN volunteers for a solo mission to bring in a mysterious mercenary for questioning, in “Regrets”. Plot by Enrico Tedorani, script by Mark G. Heike, pencils by Valeria Campoli; with inks by the ever-jovial Jeff Austin. NIGHTVEIL is off on an interdimensional quest to defat a demon with FIVE separate personalities in “Die Mention Wars”; story and art by Mark Glidden. Next; it’s a trio of special FF features. In a tale out of the past, learn the hitherto “unkown origin” of the BLUE BULLETEER’S costume in “Date Night”; written by JohnJG with art by Rock Baker and inks by Jeff Austin. Then, another untold retro story, starring the glamorous MISS MASQUE! A weathly sportsman is framed to clear the way for a sleazy gigolo in “The Deadly Disc”- story and pencils by Rockin’ Rock Baker and Jammin’ Jeff Austin! Finally, A guest appearance by Mauricio Hunt’s teen superheroine, KINETICS as she faces down a pair of deadly cyborgs! Script by Hunt with art by Adrianno Santos. Then, flip the book over, turn it upside-down, and get a double-dose of giant woman thrills with the 14th BIG issue of GARGANTARAMA-The Comic Book, the great flip-book feature that shares it’s run with FF!! As mentioned earlier, this regular issue continues the new format starting with Femforce #150 !From here on out, EVERY issue will be 84 pages, meaning TWICE as much FEMFORCE “good girl art” action AND TWICE as much GTS highjinx as before!! This issue is 84 pages,black & white interiors with full color covers, in standard comic book format, saddle-stitched. Printed in 2010.(PLEASE NOTE: This book contains EXACTLY the same material as in FEMFORCE #151. )

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AWFUL GREEN THINGS FROM OUTER SPACE by Fred Wong

Hidden behind the dark side of the moon and away from the detection of telescopes and satellites, a small fleet of alien starships orbited the shadowy path around the Earth. Inside the command ship, Fleet Commander Crigen convened a final meeting to brief his battle plan to pillage the Earth. The alien force was none other than the evil Nyrians, long time opponents of the planet Rur, the homeworld of FemForce heroine Stardust.

The Nyrians were a warlike race, possessing a large, rotund appearance with green, slimy skin and hostile looking visages and bearing one eye. Renowned and priding themselves throughout the galaxy as male chauvinists of the highest degree of obnoxiousness known, skirmishes between them and the warrior women of Rur was frequent throughout history. Here and now, however, they focused their attention on the small, third world from the sun in a section of the Milky Way galaxy known as Earth.

“All is ready, sir,” said the Nyrian officer.

“Good,” bellowed Commander Crigen as he stood tall to brief his field officers, pointing to a three-dimensional hologram generated that illustrated his battle plan.

“As you know, we have identified a window in between Earth satellites and radar systems, a virtual surveillance dead zone. An advanced strike party will land there, a small island off the coast of a place the Earthlings call ‘the Pacific Ocean’, to establish our base. From there, we will be able to send down the heavier battle machines to establish our foothold for us to drive deep into the Earth’s core, drawing out its geothermal energy into our power cells,” said Crigen. “Within a few days, we’ll be tapping Earth’s core of primal energy.”

“Excellent,” agreed the other Nyrian officers. “With Earth’s resources we will have all the energy we need to obliterate Rur once and for all.”

* * *

Tara Fremont and Dr. Carol Hessler arrived at a small, uninhabited island in the Pacific Ocean, as Tara landed the FemForce air cruiser down gently to prevent agitating the local wildlife. Dr. Hessler, better known to the world at large as the heroine Garganta, was the first to disembark, dressed in a simple set of beige khakis shorts, t-shirt, and hiking boots while Tara wore pretty much the same with the exception of her t-shirt being dark green.

“Well, here we are,” said Tara as she savored the crisp, ocean air.

“It’s beautiful,” commented Garganta. “I wonder why no one ever settled here.”

“It’s too small,” answered Tara. “Some ancient Polynesian tribes may have stopped here for rest as part of longer journey, but the island is less than a half mile in diameter. None of the trees here grow any fruit, either.”

“Well, when you put it that way I can see why no one stayed here long,” replied Garganta. “But you said that there’s something valuable here?”

“Yes,” said Tara. “You see, Carol, I recently read in a report translating old Polynesian chronicles telling about a wondrous herb that cured the sick. I printed off a scan of what the plant allegedly looks like, and was wondering if you could test a sample to see what kind of healing properties it had.”

“The ancient Egyptians discovered the healing properties of aloe, and even today we’re discovering rare plants in South America to treat cancer,” stated Garganta as she nodded to Tara. “Lead on.”

The two ventured into the jungle, searching for the elusive plant mentioned in Polynesian records dating hundreds of years ago.

“Why the interest in this island?” asked Garganta. “We must’ve passed another two on the way here.”

“They’re populated and being researched as we speak,” explained Tara. “But more importantly, this island is a prime candidate for being a new bomb test site for the Navy. It’s not an archeological site nor is it populated, making it a valuable commodity out here for the Pacific Fleet’s maneuvers.”

“And you want to make sure a possible cure for a disease isn’t blown to kingdom come,” said Garganta.

“Exactly.” said Tara as she momentarily stopped, visibly confused over a strange odor she suddenly detected.

“Do you smell that?” asked Tara.

“Smell what?” said Garganta.

“It’s like…petroleum…” replied Tara awkwardly. “Machines.”

“You said this place wasn’t inhabited,” said Garganta. “And the nearest Navy ship’s hundreds of miles away. Who could it be?”

“I’m not sure,” said Tara as she quickly removed her outer garb to her camouflaged bikini. “Wait here, I’ll check it out.”

While Garganta hid behind some trees and bushes, Tara stealthily worked her way through the surround jungle flora, concealing herself amidst the leaves as she climbed up the side of tree on a vine. Tara caught a glimpse through the leaves to see what was below, seeing what appeared to be an alien space ship around two hundred yards in length with strange, green, brutish looking aliens coming in and out of it as they were constructing something that looked like a generator of some kind.

“What on earth?” thought Tara as she eyes lit up. Suddenly, laser blasts riddled the tree as an alien on a rocket pack zoomed by, opening fire.

“INTRUDERS!” bellowed the Nyrian guard.

“Nyrians!” thought Tara as she leaped from the branch and grabbed a vine, swinging deeper into the forest to avoid detection. Tara had remembered seeing images of them from Stardust, but never thought they’d be on Earth.

Seeing more aliens rocket out of their starship in pursuit of Tara, Garganta immediately activated her powers, growing to around 50 feet as she stood towering over the palm trees and jungle flora. Garganta swatted away four Nyrians as they flew by in their rocket packs, knocking them down as they crashed down to the jungle canopy stunned.

“SIR! THE INTRUDERS! THEY’RE….GIANTESSES!” exclaimed another Nyrian guard.

“Hmm…superheroes, I believe they’re called on this world,” commented Crigen. “I want them alive…perhaps we can disect them to see that gives them their powers.”

“Yes sir,” said the Nyrian as he sent out the commands to the other Nyrian soldiers as they rocketed out the ship with their jetpacks to subdue Garganta. Setting their lasers to stun, several flew by Garganta and opened fire, raining beams of low-level energy that slowly began wearing her down.

“GET HER! SHE’S JUST A WOMAN!!!!” yelled a passing Nyrian.

“JUST a woman? Wrong statement, buster!” asserted Garganta as she knocked a few more Nyrians out of the sky. Tara then activated her own growth powers, rising to an intimidating 25 feet tall and began knocking the Nyrians around as well.

“Two of them?” said Crigen as he observed through the monitor as he ordered, “Activate the ship’s lasers and open fire, set for stun. Send in two more strike teams.”

As Tara and Garganta knocked several more Nyrian soldiers down, the barrage of stun lasers were starting to take effect as they were getting more and more worn down. What was even worse was that the weapons mounted on the ship activated and opened fire, releasing a smothering stream of stun lasers. Tara took the brunt of the blasts, dropping to her knees in fatigue as she struggled to fight off their debilitating effects.

“TARA!” exclaimed Garganta when suddenly another group of Nyrians emerged and opened fire, shooting streams of yellow energy that ensnared Garganta and Tara.

Tara and Garganta battle aliens by Fed Wong“UGH! TOO MANY OF THEM!!!!” grunted Garganta as the more and more energy bonds entangled around her, followed by another volley of stun lasers.

“GET….OFF…!!!!” yelled Tara as she kicked off two more Nyrians until finally another volley struck her, knocking her out cold as her powers deactivated, shrinking herself back down to normal size.

“AAARRRRGHHH!!!!” grunted Garganta as she strained to get free, until volley after volley of stun lasers impacted her, knocking her out as well as she reduced back to normal size. Tara and Garganta were sprawled out on the jungle floor below, as the Nyrians encircled around them.

taragarg“Bring them inside,” ordered Crigen. “And see to it that they do not escape.”

* * *

Over two hours passed as the effects of the stun lasers finally wore off on Tara and Garganta.

“Unnnnhhhh…” groaned Tara as she awoke, finding herself restrained to some type of lab table. Tara scanned around, realizing that she was inside the Nyrian vessel as Garganta began regaining consciousness.

“Ohhhhhh, my head,” muttered Garganta as she revived. “…where are we?”

“The alien starship, I think,” said Tara. “I can’t get out of these restraints…you?”

“No, I feel weak as a kitten,” replied Garganta. “They must have hit us with some kind of stun ray.”

Fleet Commander Crigen and his team of Nyrian scientists and guards entered. Tara and Garganta reviled at their hideous appearance and even more disgusting odor, turning their heads away in disgust.

“Oh, gross!” said Tara. “Slime creatures from outer space….”

“Silence, Earth woman! We are in charge now!” bellowed Crigen. “I am Fleet Commander Crigen of the planet Nyr, and you are our helpless prisoners!”

“How about untying us and we’ll show you first hand of just how helpless we really are!” retorted Garganta.

“I said silence, or do you wish to force me to stick an apple in your mouth?” asserted Crigen.

“Why are you here, Crigen?” asked Tara sternly. “Your group is too small for an invasion.”

“A wise observation, for a woman,” said Crigen. “But you are correct. We are not here to conquer, we are here to pillage, and in a short matter of your Earth days our construction will be complete, building our energy siphon to tap into the raw power of the Earth’s core.”

“You monster…” said Garganta bitterly.

“Sir,” said a Nyrian soldier as he entered, bringing in a console piece taken from the FemForce air cruiser Tara and Garganta used. “This was removed from their ship located on the other side of the island. Some of the technology indicates Rurian design.”

“RURIANS????!!!” roared Crigen emphatically as he turned, glaring at Tara and Garganta. “Where did you get this technology?”

“We stole it,” said Tara.

“You’re lying,” replied Crigen. “I have seen your kind before on this planet. You are heroines and do not steal.”

“Who said we were heroines?” replied Garganta, building on Tara’s hastily concocted story. “We’re on the run from the law and stole that ship as a getaway vehicle. Why else would we be on this remote island?”

“Hmmm….your words ring some truth, but I still do not believe you,” stated Crigen as he turned and looked at his two guards and two scientists. “Keep them here and begin your preliminary tests.”

“Yes sir,” replied the four Nyrians as Crigen left for the ship’s bridge.

The two Nyrian scientists began powering up their various pieces of examination equipment inside the ship laboratory. Cold sweat formed on both Tara and Garganta, seeing the various needles, probes, and blades being prepared by the Nyrian scientists as they sadistically grinned in eager anticipation.

Without warning, the lights went out in the laboratory, going completely black as Tara and Garganta struggled against the restraints, overhearing the sounds of punching and something slamming hard into the metal wall of the ship’s lab. When the lights reactivated, Tara and Garganta were surprised to see none other than She-Cat standing on top of the unconscious Nyrian guards and scientists, wiping off the slime from her hands with a cloth.

“Gross, couldn’t you have been captured by someone clean for a change?” replied She-Cat as she freed them.

“We’ll take that under advisement next time,” replied Tara as she sat up and got off the table.

* * *

Outside, Stardust and Ms. Victory were spearheading a surprise attack on the Nyrians. Stardust shot apart the ship’s weapon systems with a barrage of well-placed starbolts while Ms. Victory shredded the energy siphon components as she knocked the Nyrians back with large chunks of machinery.

Nightveil was flying overhead as well, unleashing a rain of magic blasts that shorted out the Nyrian’s rocket packs, making them crash back onto the ground like broken toy planes. Rayda hurtled a barrage of lightning at the ship’s engines, blasting it to slag within minutes followed by their communication antenna.

“SIR!” exclaimed a beleaguered Nyrian soldier. “Our defenses are completely down and have no way of talking to the rest of the fleet! What do we do?”

“Scramble all remaining teams for a counter strike,” ordered Crigen.

“Sir, we have NOTHING left!” said the Nyrian as the front console shorted out. “Our soldiers have been beaten and the ship’s weapons are destroyed….!”

Crigen glared bitterly out the window, seeing Stardust, a hated Rurian, fly again and again past them as she fired another starbolt against the remaining Nyrians. Crigen could also hear the exterior hull being ripped apart as Ms. Victory was forcing her way inside.

“We have no choice,” said Crigen angrily as he pulled out a small tool and tied a white cloth to it. Following what he knew of Earth customs, Crigen waved his makeshift white flag outside the canopy for all to see.

* * *

For the next several hours the Nyrians were being escorted to a small escape pod to be returned to their fleet under the eye of FemForce and a small retinue of troops called in from Rur. Crigen said nothing, ashamed by how badly beaten he and his forces were at the hands of some super-powered Earth women.

“So how did you get here so fast?” asked Tara. “We weren’t supposed to report in for hours.”

“Well, when those aliens found your cruiser, they must’ve tinkered with it, because a silent alarm kicked off and transmitted a distress signal back to headquarters,” explained Ms. Victory. “It didn’t take long to scramble a team together for Nightveil to teleport us over here.”

“So that’s how She-Cat got inside,” deduced Garganta. “I was wondering how it happened.”

“Well, whatever the case, they won’t be bothering Earth,” stated Stardust.

“Good. It’s going to take me at least an hour in the tub to get the stink off of me,” replied She-Cat.

“She-Cat, you actually touched one of those slimy Nyrians?” asked Stardust.

“Yeah, why?” asked She-Cat.

“Then I was wrong about you,” teased Stardust. “You really do have a stronger stomach than I.”

THE END

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Staying the Course by Fred Wong

General Roberta Strock always reported in for duty at FemForce Headquarters a little bit before 7 AM, well before anyone else. Her first order of business was virtually the same every day, almost like a boring routine, consisting of checking her massive litany of email messages received overnight from various military agencies and groups. While reviewing all of them, General Strock was often irritated by the fact that the majority were frivolous nonsense from staff officers with nothing better to do with their time.

Today was different, though. Significantly different, for as General Strock passed through the security checkpoint and parked, she found a small entourage of four U.S. government sedans had already parked and waiting for her. General Strock exited her car, walked towards FemForce Headquarters and was greeted by a familiar face: General Richard Brennan, one of the top senior officers with the Inspector General.

“Hello, Rick,” said General Strock. “What brings you here this early?”

“We need to talk, Roberta,” replied General Brennan quietly. “In private.”

General Strock didn’t say a word as they walked towards her office, followed by an entourage of a few lieutenant colonels, a couple of full colonels, and several majors. She had served with General Brennan before, who was a well-respected officer with a generally reserved demeanor, almost to the point that he was cold and calculating on some occasions. It was the ideal trait for an Inspector General officer, charged with investigating and policing the Army from within its own ranks.

Once inside, it was just General Brennan and General Strock, while the rest of the staff waited outside.

“Coffee?” offered General Strock.

“No thanks,” replied General Brennan. “Maybe later.”

“So why are you here, Rick?” asked General Strock. “With a full staff, no less.”

“Roberta, you’re not under investigation,” explained General Brennan. “But what I’m about to tell you is classified to the highest levels. No one outside this building must know what I’m about to divulge.”

“What?” inquired General Strock.

“The current Ms. Victory, Jennifer Burke, was railroaded into the project through the manipulations of General Gordon and Captain Kelly,” explained General Brennan. “It’s all here from your review. Her husband David Burke’s firing, the cancellation of his insurance, his so-called ‘work accident’; it’s all there. Initiated and authorized by General Gordon himself and executed by Captain Kelly.”

“It’s shocking. I almost can’t believe it,” said General Strock as she reviewed the documents, consisting of memorandums, email exchanges, and transcripts from phone conversations between Captain Kelly and General Gordon. “I never liked Gordon and thought he was a blowhard, but I never thought he was dirty. Not to this extent, at least.”

“Captain Kelly hated his guts, too, but still followed his orders,” added General Brennan. “I think deep down inside he wanted the new Ms. Victory project to work as badly as Gordon did.”

“So what now? Where are they?” asked General Strock.

“Fort Leavenworth penitentiary,” answered General Brennan. “Several weeks ago we arrested them and tried them in a military tribunal for a court martial. To this day it’s still being suppressed for security reasons; it hasn’t been reported by any civilian or military news media.”

“And the verdict was..?” asked General Strock.

“Captain Kelly worked a plea bargain and only received 10 years at Leavenworth, in addition to the standard punishment of reduction in rank to E-1 and forfeiture of all pay, benefits, and entitlements as part of his court martial. Gordon, on the other hand, was found guilty by the military tribunal and sentenced for life at Leavenworth; the only daylight he’ll ever see will be his one hour a day in a small courtyard for exercise.”

“My God,” thought General Strock, thinking about Ms. Victory, and the living nightmare she had to endure.

“This report is for your files, Roberta,” said General Brennan. “But I don’t envy where you’re sitting right now.”

“Why’s that?” asked General Strock.

“Because I’m not the one who’s going to tell Ms. Victory everything,” replied General Brennan.

* * *

General Strock mulled over this for two days. Throughout her military career General Strock had the solemn task of informing spouses that their husbands were killed in action, and had counseled soldiers suffering the psychological effects of battle fatigue. However, nothing she ever did before prepared her for this, as the prevailing question haunted her:

How do you tell someone that her life was a lie created by the same government you swore an oath to protect?

* * *

On the third day General Strock sat quietly in the empty pews of her church. She made arrangements the day before with the minister and his staff to allow her access well before it opened for regular hours. Ms. Victory arrived as well, dressed in regular clothes as she entered and sat down next to General Strock, visibly concerned over the cryptic message she received on her answering machine the night before.

“How do you like my church?” asked General Strock. “I practically grew up here as a kid, you know. My mother sang in the choir and used to light up the whole congregation. She had some pipes.”

“It was very nice,” replied Ms. Victory. “A much better experience than when I was little.”

“You’re always welcome to join me again,” offered General Strock. “I think the congregation took a liking to you, also.”

“Thanks, that’d be nice,” replied Ms. Victory. “Why’d you call me here, anyway?”

“Did you ever sit alone in the pews after services?” asked General Strock. “Or when church isn’t in session?”

“No, I can’t say I have,” said Ms. Victory.

“My Dad used to do it, and sometimes he’d take me along,” explained General Strock. “He’d just sit in the pews, quietly thinking. No music. No prayers. Not a word. Just reflecting. In a strange way, though, it seemed like he felt a presence that uplifted him each time.”

“And now?” asked Ms. Victory.

“He and I still come here now and then to reflect, although nowadays I’ve been coming here myself,” said General Strock. “What I’m about to tell you isn’t easy for me, Jen, which was why I came here.”

“What are you talking about?” asked Ms. Victory.

“I read your background. You didn’t want to be the next Ms. Victory, but as the daughter of the original one, you were the only person who could take the V-47 formula, and General Gordon knew that,” said General Strock. “Even though you turned them down at first, you eventually accepted, because you and your family were practically destitute at that point.”

“I remember,” said Ms. Victory. “Those were hard times.”

“Jen, General Gordon and Captain Kelly manipulated your life to force you into this. I found this out three days ago by the Inspector General’s Office, and Gordon and Kelly are now in prison,” said General Strock.

“W-what…..?” said Ms. Victory in disbelief.

“Yes, Gordon and Kelly used their government connections to make you join. David Burke’s accident, the increased bills, everything, all driven by them,” explained General Strock. “They lied to you, and committed the most grievous of crimes in robbing you of your life.”

“Jason…” whispered Ms. Victory sadly. “…so what now?”

“Jen, the government has awarded you $10 million dollars for what’s happened,” said General Strock. “It’ll never measure up to the crimes committed against you, and for that I am truly sorry. If you leave FemForce, no one will question your reasons why, but I want you to stay.”

“Why….? What good am I to anyone? I only got this because of my mother. I didn’t want this responsibility. I’ve lost my husband…my son….” replied Ms. Victory coldly.

“Jen, you are the team’s leader. You’ve proven yourself again and again, and no one can question your loyalty or your leadership,” said General Strock. “You have no idea how much you impact all of us, both in your triumphs, and from your sacrifices. I can’t think of a better person I would want standing by me than you. Stay with us, Jen. Stay the course.”

Ms. Victory said nothing as she hugged General Strock and quietly wept.

* * *

Two days later, all was quiet at FemForce Headquarters as Rayda and Nightveil sat in front of the large network of computer systems while on monitor duty.

“Say, has Ms. Victory been assigned a new case? I haven’t seen her around,” commented Rayda.

“General Strock told me that Ms. Victory’s taken a temporary leave of absence. That’s all I know,” answered Nightveil.

“Weird. You don’t suppose she’s leaving the team after what’s happened, do you?” asked Rayda.

“I don’t know,” replied Nightveil solemnly. “If she did, I wouldn’t blame her.”

“Why the glum faces?” asked Ms. Victory humorously as she snuck up behind the two of them. “Can’t a girl take a couple days off?”

“JEN!” said Nightveil excitedly. “You’re back!”

“Well, technically I never really quit, but yeah, you’re stuck with me,” replied Ms. Victory.

“We wouldn’t have it any other way, kiddo,” said Rayda.

THE END

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Redemption by Fred Wong

Ms. Victory was among the most powerful beings on the planet, possessing paranormal strength and invulnerability on an epic scale. No bullet ever pierced her skin; no knife ever cut her flesh. Behind the mask, though, she was still Jennifer Wayne Burke, a woman, like everyone else, with a heart, like everyone else, and with feelings, like everyone else.

Ms. Victory tossed and turned all night, restless in her bed as she awoke breathing heavily with a cold sweat again and again. It was 3 AM, and nothing worked. Warm milk, sleeping pills, and soothing music did nothing for her as she restlessly lay in bed, tossing and turning. Ms. Victory’s heart raced, as she wanted to scream but cried on her pillow.

It was a little after 5 AM when Ms. Victory finally got out of bed, barely sleeping more than fifteen continuous minutes at a time the night before, evident in her visibly bloodshot eyes. This was the day she dreaded more than anything other in the world, and was already sick to her stomach before the sunrise.

It was her son Jason’s birthday.

It was a little over a year since he died that fateful day. At the time her own mother, Joan Wayne, was corrupted into being the villainess Rad, with Jennifer leading the FemForce to restore her back to her true form. In the ensuing battle a stray piece of rubble fell, killing the young Jason Burke. It was a tragedy that wasn’t her fault, but was something that still haunted Jennifer Wayne Burke.

Jennifer took a long, hard look at the arrangement of photos she had framed on her wall as the first morning’s light trickled inside and shone on the display. Her son Jason was a good kid who always tried to give more than he took, and had more dreams than stars in the evening sky. Jason was everything Jennifer wanted in a son, the embodiment of her love, hope, and faith. It all came to a halt on that tragic day.

Jennifer still missed his smile in the morning. Whether he was two or nine, Jason always awoke with a smile on his face, rain or shine, snow or sleet. Regardless of how rough a time Jennifer had at work the day before, seeing Jason shining smile revitalized her. There was something special about him that made people around him want to become better, a unique trait that made its way to his little league team, going from 2 wins and 10 losses to 9 and 3 and in the championship game the following season. Jennifer remembered that game and more importantly, what happened afterwards. She remembered walking back with him to the car; he was covered in dust and was feeling down in the dumps after losing 4 to 3 in the final inning of play. Even though he went 3 for 3 that day and made a spectacular catch to prevent a run from scoring, Jason was still down since the team lost but didn’t blame anyone at all or make excuses like some of his teammates did; Jennifer was never more proud of him than that moment.

It really didn’t seem all that long ago he was still in diapers, or when she was chasing him as a toddler around the house for bath time, or his championship little league game. Jennifer missed those simpler days, and wished she could have them again, if only to remind her of how special those times were.

But wishes weren’t reality, as Jennifer reflected somberly as she showered and then changed into a simple long sleeve blouse and jeans. Breakfast was quick, some toast and orange juice as she headed out the door, barely saying a word to fellow members She-Cat and Stardust as she passed them abruptly in the main entranceway.

“What’s gotten into her?” blurted out She-Cat. “Does she have a stick up her…oh, wait…”

“I know. I had almost forgotten, too,” commented Stardust. “We threw a surprise party for him in this same building two years ago.”

It took Ms. Victory a little over an hour to reach the cemetery where her son was buried. Ms. Victory parked her car and walked to his well kept gravesite, placing a birthday card, a small U.S. flag, and a happy birthday balloon around his grave.

“Hello, Jason,” said Ms. Victory quietly. “Happy Birthday.”

Ms. Victory wiped away her tears and took a deep breath. “Your cousin Bobby’s due to rotate back home from Enduring Freedom soon…not sure where the Army’ll send him next. Hurry up and wait some more, I suppose. Your cousin Samantha is halfway through freshman year in high school, and will make honor roll. Not much else has happened in the family since I was last here.”

She thought back to Jason seeing his cousin Bobby after he finished Army basic and advanced individual training, decked out in his formal green Class A uniform. Bobby was a brand new Private First Class with a shiny Expert marksmanship badge and the Army Service Ribbon on his chest, and remembered how Jason looked up to him and wanted to be like him rather than some conceited professional baseball player on television.

“I miss you, Jason,” said Ms. Victory. “I miss your smile. I miss your imagination. I miss having you there to cheer me up. Your father and I loved you so much…I’ve never been the same without you.”

“Are you expecting him to say something?” said a voice.

“WHO SAID THAT?” exclaimed Ms. Victory as she immediately sprang to her feet, seeing nothing around at first.

“ANSWER ME, DAMMIT!” asserted Ms. Victory.

“Just an old friend to say hello,” said Alizarin Crimson, emerging from behind a small stone monument. “Nice to see you again with your little boy pushing up the daisies.”

“HIS NAME WAS JASON!!!!!” roared Ms. Victory as she delivered a devastating punch that hit Alizarin so quickly that she couldn’t raise a force field in time, sending her flying across the cemetery as she slammed hard onto the ground.

“My, my…aren’t we a little miffed this morning,” teased Alizarin as she dusted herself off and activated her magical force field. Ms. Victory pressed her attack, delivering another two punches that were absorbed by the field.

“Are you going to cry now, Ms. Victory? Are you?” mocked Alizarin as she fired a magic blast at Ms. Victory, knocking her to the ground. “You should thank me; in a few moments you’ll be joining your dead little brat.”

“RAAAAAGHHHH!” screamed Ms. Victory as she grabbed a hold of the magical force field, shredding the mystical energy apart with her bare hands. Ms. Victory grabbed Alizarin and piledrivered her into the ground, picked her up again, then slammed her hard on the ground a second time before straddling over her to pin her down. Ms. Victory’s hands reached around Alizarin’s throat, as fear echoed in the bruised and bloodied Alizarin’s eyes.

“Give me one reason why I shouldn’t shatter your spine,” said Ms. Victory bitterly.

Another magic blast surged out of nowhere and struck Ms. Victory in the back, knocking her off of Alizarin as the evil sorceress Gorgana emerged. Alizarin Crimson was not alone, and had come with backup.

“The Fear Force is back,” cackled Gorgana. “And we’re taking out the FemForce, starting with you.”

“You want some? Come get some,” retorted Ms. Victory as she dodged Gorgana’s magic blast and delivered a well-placed kick, sending her reeling. Alizarin was still too weak to stand, let alone cast a spell as Ms. Victory tracked her down and delivered another hard kick.

“Where’re the rest of you?” replied Ms. Victory bitterly. “You picked the wrong day and the wrong woman to mess with.”

“I wouldn’t say that. Right, Valkyra?” commented Darkfire.

“Ya, Darkfire,” added Valkyra as she slammed into Ms. Victory with a shoulder tackle. Darkfire fired a psionic blast from her helmet at Ms. Victory, striking her down as Valkyra continued pummeling her. Ms. Victory, outnumbered four to one, could only hold up her arms in defense to shield herself from the onslaught.

“POUR IT ON!” yelled Alizarin as she and Gorgana bombarded Ms. Victory with a deadly volley of magic blasts. “WE HAVE HER NOW!”

Seraph by Fed Wong“ENOUGH!!!!” echoed a voice from the sky above. Gorgana, Alizarin Crimson, Valkyra, and Darkfire looked up, seeing what appeared to be a winged warrior in futuristic armor hovering above them.

seraph“Who’s he?” asked Darkfire.

“Who cares, just shoot him up and let God sort the mess out,” replied Alizarin as she blasted him with a spell. Surprisingly, the spell had no effect.

“My turn,” replied the winged warrior as he hurtled a spear of lightning at Alizarin Crimson, shattering her mystical defenses. Darkfire attempted to fire a psionic blast from her helmet, but was struck with a shard of lightning first. Darkfire’s helmet shattered in two, leaving her powerless.

“BAH! I WILL FIX THIS!” roared Valkyra as she leaped into the air and grabbed him, bearhugging him around his waist in an attempt to drag him down on the ground. The winged warrior flew higher and higher into the sky as Valkyra punched his kidneys again and again, but had no visible effect on him.

“I said, enough,” said the winged warrior sternly as he touched Valkyra, searing her with a flame that forced her to let him go. Valkyra fell several dozen feet before impacting on the ground below, knocking herself out.

The severely beaten, bruised, and bloodied Alizarin crawled over to Gorgana. By themselves, they were too weak to summon a spell, but together they had enough strength remaining to create a dimensional portal through which to escape. The winged warrior threw another lightning spear that missed as the four villainesses disappeared.

Ms. Victory got back to her feet and began dusting herself off, as she sustained a few cuts and perhaps some bruised ribs. Her blouse was covered with dirt and grime, and was soaked in sweat.

“Are you all right?” asked the winged warrior.

“Yes, thanks,” responded Ms. Victory. “I’m Jennifer Burke. Who are you?”

“I am Seraph,” said Seraph. “I am sorry that I allowed them to escape, for they will strike again once their regain their power. Do you need medical assistance?”

“No, I’ll be all right,” replied Ms. Victory. “I guess I’m tougher than I thought.”

“Good. I am sure that I will be seeing you soon,” said Seraph cryptically as he took to the air and flew away.

“Wait! I….I…” added Ms. Victory as Seraph disappeared from sight.

* * *

Hours later Ms. Victory had cleaned up, bandaged, and had finished her debriefing with the other FemForce members. It was only a few weeks since they defeated Fear Force and imprisoned their leader, Proxima, but even leaderless they remained a deadly threat.

“I wonder who’s calling the shots with Proxima still locked up in prison,” commented Rayda. “Alizarin Crimson maybe?”

“She’s too individualistic,” said Nightveil, who had fought her on many occasions and knew her powers and tactics inside and out. “Based on what you told us, there was no direction or teamwork in their attack. They all sorted of piled on you.”

“I’ll say,” said Ms. Victory. “I think I was beaten within an inch of my life.”

“Proxima’s ruthless as they come, but she is well educated in the science, and art, of war,” added Stardust. “I never would have guessed she was so vital to that group’s ability to function as a unit.”

“Well, who ELSE do you know is strong enough to stomach Gorgana’s ugly face and be willing to shave Valkyra’s back on a regular basis? Not me, that’s for sure,” replied She-Cat sarcastically.

“Well, hygiene and appearance notwithstanding, I’d like to know a little more about this ‘Seraph’ individual who helped Ms. Victory,” said Colt as she inputted the description Ms. Victory gave into her portable laptop computer. “There’s no record of him whatsoever in any database.”

“A new hero?” said Rayda.

“I don’t know,” said Ms. Victory. “He didn’t maneuver like some rookie, more like a seasoned veteran. He was so calm, and yet so forceful during the fight. I mean, he shrugged off shots from Alizarin Crimson and Valkyra like a gentle rain.”

“Was he cute?” asked She-Cat.

“I didn’t really get a good look at his face, but he did seem familiar in a strange way,” recalled Ms. Victory. “Are you sure he’s not listed anywhere? Somebody that powerful doesn’t go unnoticed.”

Colt checked again and shook her head ‘no’ as she replied, “No, nothing. The other heroes, and even ex-villains I came across, don’t fit the description at all.”

“Curiouser and curiouser,” commented Nightveil.

* * *

At a seedy hotel room across town, Fear Force members Alizarin Crimson, Gorgana, Darkfire, and Valkyra were nursing their wounds with plenty of antiseptic spray and bandages. Darkfire was repairing her helmet, soddering the circuitry while also using Krazy glue to re-attach some components.

“What just happened this morning?” cursed Alizarin Crimson, wincing as she sprayed some antiseptic mist onto her scrapped and cut legs. “We had Ms. Victory right where we wanted her, like a babe to the slaughter, and came up empty handed.”

“Ya, we got our butts kicked,” replied Valkyra as she applied another ice pack onto her shoulder, which was her third as an ice pack was already on her knee and another on her lower back.

“It was because of that winged freak,” cackled Gorgana. “I’ve never seen him before.”

“Nor have I,” added Alizarin Crimson. “But we will have our revenge on him soon enough.”

“WILL YOU THREE KEEP IT DOWN!!! I’M TRYING TO WORK, HERE!” yelled Darkfire as she accidentally Krazy glued her fingers together.

* * *

“How you holding up?” asked General Robert Strock.

“Excuse me?” replied Ms. Victory.

“I was asking how’re you holding up,” reiterated General Strock politely.

“Fine, I guess,” answered Ms. Victory.

“Do you have some time? A walk outside, perhaps?” offered General Strock.

“I suppose,” agreed Ms. Victory.

General Strock and Ms. Victory took a leisurely walk outside, with the warm sun and cool breeze blowing by them. The lush, green trees surrounding FemForce Headquarters had an aura of serenity amidst a world of growing instability as the two walked under the shade along the sidewalk.

“It never goes away, does it? The pain. The loss. It’s a like a hole in your chest that can’t be filled,” said General Strock. “I lost some close friends during Desert Storm, and have lost some more as Iraqi Freedom continues. I miss them still, and always think about them when I hear ‘Taps’ being played.”

“So what makes you keep going?” asked Ms. Victory.

“Pride, I think, or maybe arrogance,” described General Strock. “People always argue about not wanting soldiers dying for nothing, but they don’t know what they’re talking about. I didn’t follow politics about U.S. policy back then; I just led my men as best I could to keep them alive and strong on the battlefield. We didn’t bleed or lose our friends over oil, or for making the world safe for democracy; my men and I fought and died for each other against an enemy that wanted us dead. I believe that, because I choose to believe that. It’s about faith.”

“Faith…” said Ms. Victory. “I can’t remember the last time I had such a thing. I mean, I believe that Jason’s in heaven, but I just don’t understand why he had to die, or why did I fail him like that. I mean, I’m his mother…I brought him into this world and I couldn’t even protect him. What good am I to anyone?”

“Jen, no one blames you for what happened,” asserted General Strock. “No one. And you shouldn’t blame yourself. You’ve sacrificed more than anyone should endure, and through your strength we became stronger as well.”

“I don’t feel very strong right now,” admitted Ms. Victory quietly.

“I’m attending services at my church tomorrow,” suggested General Strock. “Why don’t you come along? It might bolster your spirits.”

“I’ll pass, thanks,” replied Ms. Victory.

“Suit yourself, but the invitation’s still open,” said General Strock as the two continued walking.

* * *

Three days later an emergency alert resonated in FemForce Headquarters. Ms. Victory called in She-Cat, Nightveil, Stardust, and Colt. Rayda, Tara, and Synn were unavailable, committed to another case outside Florida.

“What’s up?” asked Colt as Ms. Victory powered up the tactical display, presenting a three dimensional computer schematic of a hotel building.

“We’ve received a tip from law enforcement in Tampa that the Fear Force has been hiding out here, in room 202, at this hotel,” explained Ms. Victory. “They’re quietly isolating the area and evacuating the guests using undercover police, leaving them open for us to take them down.”

“Ugh, that dump’s in the armpit of Tampa,” muttered She-Cat. “I’ll bet they feel right at home…”

“She-Cat, I want you on the ground with Colt,” ordered Ms. Victory. “If they make a break for it, intercept their escape route as we converge on them. Nightveil, you and Stardust fly overwatch above the hotel. They’ll be flushed out like roaches and be itching for a fight.”

“And where will you be positioned?” asked Nightveil.

“I’m doing the flushing,” stated Ms. Victory.

* * *

“There, it’s done,” said Darkfire as she finished the last of the repair on her helmet.

“It’s about time,” commented Alizarin. “I’m surprised you didn’t start using duct tape.”

“You have a problem?” threatened Darkfire.

“Yes, I do,” retorted Alizarin. “We’ve been cooped up in this smelly hotel lying low for over three days, eating cheap pizza and Chinese takeout. I want VENGEANCE! I want CONQUEST! I want it NOW!”

“Ya, time for hiding is over. Let us strike the FemForce and crush them like worms,” agreed Valkyra.

“And who put YOU in charge?” blurted out Darkfire. “It was YOUR idea to try to take out Ms. Victory first and got us into this mess to begin with! As for you, Valkyra, you can’t even remember to leave the $%^^%$@ toilet seat down!”

“I agree with Darkfire,” hissed Gorgana.

“Oh, and I suppose we’re supposed to follow an uncharismatic bore like you, Gorgana?” retorted Alizarin. “It’s no wonder she doesn’t want to leave, she’s right at home amidst all this filth! And as for you, Darkfire, I don’t know why we still allow you to remain; without that silly tinker toy on your head you’re about as strong as a used Kleenex!”

“Take that back…” said Darkfire sternly.

“Make me,” threatened Alizarin.

Without warning two gloved hands penetrated up from underneath the floor, grabbing hold of Darkfire’s ankles as they pulled through to the level below.

“HEEEEEEEEEELP!!!” screamed Darkfire as the dust clouds filled the room.

“THE FEMFORCE!” yelled Valkyra as she ripped apart a section of the floor below and jumped down. Standing in front of her was Ms. Victory, holding Darkfire’s helmet while Darkfire was pinned against the wall, wrapped up in extension cords and metal frame of the bed. Ms. Victory compressed her hands, crushing Darkfire’s helmet like a used soda pop can.

“DON’T JUST STAND THERE GAWKING AT HER, YOU IMBECILE!!!” yelled Darkfire. “GET HER!!!”

“BRRRRAAAGH!!” yelled Valkyra as she charged Ms. Victory. Ms. Victory jumped out of the way and delivered a hard back hand punch followed up by a fierce uppercut, stunning Valkyra as she threw her out the window.

“Now, what?” cackled Gorgana.

“We run,” said Alizarin as the two sorceresses scurried out the door and jumped outside to the fire escape. Outside hovering the air before them was Nightveil and Stardust, who greeted them with a blinding volley of magic blasts and star bolts.

“HEY!!! COME BACK HERE!!! HELP ME!!!!” protested Darkfire.

As Nightveil and Stardust rained energy beams over Alizarin Crimson and Gorgana, the battle between Valkyra and Ms. Victory was reaching fever pitch. Valkyra ripped out a lamp post and connected with a wild swing, knocking Ms. Victory into a brick wall. Ms. Victory sprang back and delivered a spinning kick, forcing Valkyra back as she dropped the lamp post.

“It’s over, Valkyra, surrender,” ordered Ms. Victory.

“BAH! YOU AMERICANS TALK TOO MUCH!” bellowed Valkyra as she caught Ms. Victory off guard, tackling her onto the street and began choking her. Ms. Victory coughed and gasped as she kicked Valkyra off, then rolled to the side before returning to her feet.

Ms. Victory picked up a lead pipe as she replied, “C’mon, let’s go.”

“By all means, let’s…” said Valkyra with a grin as she picked up a tire iron.

Strength met strength as Ms. Victory and Valkyra delivered blow after blow against each other. Seconds later they discarded their makeshift weapon, as Ms. Victory slammed a garbage dumpster onto Valkyra. Valkyra lifted it off her body and threw it away, picking up an old car and hurtled it above Ms. Victory, striking the side of a building. The rubble from the dilapidated building and car instantly collapsed onto Ms. Victory, pinning her down as she strained to escape underneath the massive weight.

Valkyra, covered in dirt, blood, and garbage, sauntered over towards the helpless Ms. Victory, and picked up a long piece of twisted metal. Valkyra’s right eye was swollen eye as blood trickled down from her neck and mouth.

“I have waited so long for this moment,” said Valkyra.

“NNNRRRRRR!!!!” yelled Ms. Victory as she strained to push off the massive rubble.

“And now, the death blow…” boasted Valkyra as she raised the metal shard. Lightning then struck the metal, using it as a conductor as the stream of rampant electricity surged throughout Valkyra’s body. Valkyra’s screams echoed throughout the city street as the lightning flashed and swirled around her. As the electrical fury subsided, Valkyra dropped the metal, her face covered in black soot with her golden blonde hair singed down to her roots.

“Gott,” muttered Valkyra as she collapsed on the street unconscious.

Seraph descended from the sky above to the street below, removing the excess rubble as he pulled Ms. Victory free from it.

“S-Seraph…” said Ms. Victory as she slipped unconscious.

Meanwhile, back inside the hotel Darkfire managed to wiggle out of the improvised bonds Ms. Victory put her in earlier and snuck out through another fire escape with a small duffel bag. It was full of the remaining cash the Fear Force had, a little over $2000 in small bills.

“Those backstabbing **!!^@@ losers, leaving me trapped like that,” thought Darkfire as she ran down a dark, unlit alley. “If I can make to the other lot, I can steal a car and slip out from underneath their noses.”

“Ahem,” said a voice. Darkfire turned around and saw She-Cat and Colt standing nearby, with Colt’s machine pistol pointed squarely at her.

“And where do you think you’re going, bub?” asked She-Cat.

Darkfire dropped the bag and held her hands up.

“This isn’t a stickup, is it?” said Darkfire begrudgingly.

Within the few minutes the police moved into the area en masse, while Nightveil, Stardust, Colt, and She-Cat reconsolidated in the general location of where Ms. Victory and Valkyra fought. As the four members of Fear Force were being taken into police custody, the FemForce members searched around with the underlying thought, “Where’s Jen?” .

* * *

Ms. Victory stirred. She remembered seeing Seraph save her again and Valkyra collapsing, but everything after that seemed like a blur to her. Ms. Victory awoke and opened her eyes, finding herself at what looked like a small baseball field. Ms. Victory checked herself out, finding her costume ripped and dirty but oddly enough, she had no wounds and the light injuries she sustained three days earlier were completely gone. She looked around and saw a large bread roll that appeared to be half eaten.

“The bread of life can heal all mortal wounds,” stated Seraph. “You are healed, yes?”

“I…I believe so,” said Ms. Victory awkwardly. “Thank you for saving me, again.”

“You are welcome,” said Seraph formally.

Ms. Victory scanned around, a bit perplexed on her new surroundings.

“Why did you bring me here?” asked Ms. Victory.

“I haven’t been here in a long time, and wanted to see how much of it changed. I told Gabriel and Michael that I used to hit close to .600 here, but they didn’t believe me,” explained Seraph. “I guess it’s because we lost the championship game 4 to 3 at this same place.”

Ms. Victory was speechless. Seraph’s voice, once so formal, had softened, but not to just anyone’s, but to Jason’s.

“You…are you…?” gasped Ms. Victory.

“Yes,” said Seraph. “It’s me, Mom. I’m Jason.”

An aura of light shimmered around him, as Seraph’s once commanding form changed into that of her young son, Jason Burke.

Ms. Victory immediately hugged him as tears rolled down her eyes.

“H-how…?” asked Ms. Victory.

“I can’t explain how it all works, Mom,” said Jason. “So for the sake of time, let’s just call it a miracle.”

“Yes…yes!!!!” said Ms. Victory as she hugged him again. “Jason, I am so sorry for what happened…I am so sorry I failed you…”

“No, Mom, you didn’t. You never, ever failed me,” said Jason as he hugged back. “What happened…it was all part of a bigger plan…it just gets kind of hard to understand at times.”

“Are you staying?” asked Ms. Victory.

“You know I can’t,” said Jason, a little saddened over that reality. “But I’m always with you, Mom, just like you were always with me.”

“Thank you, Jason, I love you,” said Ms. Victory.

“I love you, too, Mom,” replied Jason as the two stood up. Jason again shimmered in an aura of light, transforming back to his warrior form as Seraph.

“So what’d you think of my moves? Pretty neat, huh, Mom?” asked Jason.

“Very impressive, Jason,” said Ms. Victory with a chuckle. “I think you can go ten rounds with Paragon, but I still don’t think you can beat Rayda at video games yet.”

“Well, that’s because she knows all the cheat codes and programs them in to give her guys a million lives,” replied Jason humorously as he briefly looked up to the night sky.

“I need to go, Mom, but I’m glad I had the chance to see you in person one more time,” said Jason as he hugged her one final time. Ms. Victory warmly embraced her son as he shimmered and bathed them in a globe of light before fading away and disappearing.

“I love you too, Jason,” said Ms. Victory. “And thank you.”

* * *

The next morning General Roberta Strock entered her sedan, dressed in a conservative spring dress as she put her Bible near the dashboard as she prepared to depart for church. After allowing the car to warm up for about a minute, General Strock backed out of her parking spot and started to slowly drive past FemForce Headquarters on her way out, and saw Ms. Victory standing along the curbside in a simple, conservative outfit. General Strock pulled up along the curb, and rolled down the car window.

“Room for one more?” asked Ms. Victory.

“Always,” said General Strock. “Hop in.”

THE END

Continue Reading

The Bet by Fred Wong

Author’s Note: This story’s inspired by and dedicated to the babysitter perils my friends Helen and Marcy dealt with in high school and college, respectively.

“Thanks again for having us over for dinner, Laura,” thanked Rayda as she and Colt entered her modest house not far from FemForce headquarters. “This is my first time over, how about you, Val?”

“First time here also,” said Colt. “The last time was at Laura’s family estate, wasn’t it? A mansion?”

“Yes, very old money looking,” commented Nightveil as she brought out a small tray of hors d’ouvres. “Way too large for one person to live in alone. This is much cozier.”

“Yes, there’s a certain charm to it,” said Rayda with a smile. “I wouldn’t expect it from the world’s most powerful sorceress.”

“So I’ve heard,” replied Nightveil as opened the bottle of white wine. “Half of the fan letters I’ve received ask if I live in some Gothic castle or a house of Gingerbread.”

“Are you serious?” said Colt with a laugh. “I can understand the castle but a Gingerbread house? What, do they think you try to cook little boys and girls into stew in your off-time when you’re not fighting Alizarin Crimson?”

Nightveil shrugged as Rayda laughed before sampling some hors d’ouvres.

“Dinner’ll be ready in about 40 minutes,” said Nightveil. “It’s still roasting in the oven. Why don’t you put on some music? I just got a new collection of CDs.”

“Okay,” said Rayda as she previewed Nightveil’s CD collection, a bit surprised on what she saw, as they were all big band orchestra music or jazz performers like Elle Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington, and Louie Armstrong.

“Is there a problem, Dyna?” asked Nightveil.

“No, not at all,” replied Rayda as she put in a Duke Ellington CD. “Classic jazz is fine, but I was wondering if you had any music made in the last 20 years, perhaps?”

“What do you mean?” commented Nightveil with an awkward smile. “Are you implying that I’m out of touch?”

“Hold on, hold on,” interrupted Colt. “Dyna, Nightveil was originally the Blue Bulleteer during World War II and got teleported into another dimension to train in the mystic arts. She didn’t return until much later.”

“That explains a lot about the tastes,” said Rayda.

“You didn’t answer my question,” teased Nightveil. “Do you think I’m out of touch with the modern world?”

“Um…kinda, yes,” replied Rayda awkwardly. “I mean, the way you decorate your home, the way you dress when not in costume, and the music…it’s like I’m visiting my grandparents. One time, when they asked one of the other grandchildren what he was saving his allowance money for, he told them it was for a Sony Playstation, and they thought he wanted a jungle gym.”

“I am fully aware of all the latest gadgets today’s children are into,” asserted Nightveil humorously. “I’m just not willing to succumb to every fad that comes out, that’s all.”

“I still have my doubts,” joked Rayda.

* * *

About an hour and a half later Nightveil, Rayda, and Colt had finished the majority of their meal and were shooting the breeze at the dining room table with another round of wine while enjoying their dessert.

“I tell you what,” suggested Rayda. “You want to prove to me that you’re still with it, right? Well, I’ve got a wager for you. You interested?”

“Depends,” said Nightveil as she took another sip of her wine. “What is it?”

“I’m chaperoning a birthday party for my baby cousin Jimmy who’s turning eight this weekend,” explained Rayda. “If you help out and successfully keep them in line, then you win. Let’s say, I wash your car any time you want for a month.”

“And if I lose?” said Nightveil.

“I get you to dress you in the latest fashions for a month,” replied Rayda.

“Easy enough,” chuckled Nightveil confidently.

“Wait a second, I’m not through yet,” added Rayda. “No powers. No magic spells. No showing up in costume to dazzle the kids with lure of meeting Nightveil; just plain ol’ Laura Wright. Still willing to wager?”

“Of course,” asserted Nightveil humorously. “But who’ll be the judge of this contest?”

“I guess that’d be me,” commented Colt. “I didn’t have anything special planned this weekend, anyhow.”

“So, we have a deal?” said Rayda.

“Yep, consider it done.” said Nightveil with a confident smile as they shook hands to seal the deal.

* * *

The weekend of truth soon arrived, as Rayda and Colt picked up Nightveil and took her to Rayda’s sister’s home. The party wasn’t to start for about an hour, giving them time to freshen up and finish setting up. Rayda and Colt were dressed fairly casually, with a comfortable mock turtleneck longsleeve shirt and jeans while Nightveil was in a light spring dress

“What’d you bring?” asked Rayda, a little surprised to see Nightveil ride with them with a large paper bag.

“Oh, just some party games, like pin the tail on the donkey, a small pinata, and some others,” explained Nightveil, noticing strange looks from Rayda and Colt.

“Laura, no one really plays pin the tail of the donkey anymore,” said Colt, “But then again, I was kind of a tomboy growing up, and played football at my parties.”

“I just bought these yesterday at the party store in town,” replied Nightveil.

“Where? Don’s Party Store?” asked Rayda.

“Yes, I think so,” answered Nightveil. “Why?”

“Most of what he sells is clearance party supplies from years ago,” explained Rayda. “Look at the copyright on it…1970.”

“Well, what do you have planned then?” asked Nightveil as she put the items back in the bag.

“Follow me,” said Rayda.

“Don’t get too down, Laura, we might use them later,” suggested Colt as Rayda led them to the main living room, where three large big screen televisions were on display.

“What are those for? You’re showing movies for the party?” asked Nightveil.

“Hardly,” said Rayda as she pulled out some black boxes. “I rented these three televisions along with three sets of the hottest new video game system; we’re having a video game tournament.”

“You’re kidding,” said Colt in disbelief.

“Not at all. I got the idea from another birthday party I helped out in a couple of months ago,” commented Rayda. “For that one the family rented the whole video arcade for the afternoon, which cost them an arm and a leg. This cost a third of what they paid.”

“Aren’t the newest games for that system tailored towards teens?” asked Nightveil. “They’re awfully violent and graphic.”

“Got it covered,” said Rayda. “My sister and I picked out a cool racing car game and tested it out. It’s called Daytona 5000 and they can use either modern or futuristic racing cars. Just cool cars and lots of speed.”

Nightveil picked up the controller, a bit perplexed by the number of buttons.

“Isn’t this kind of advanced for an eight year old?” asked Nightveil. “Wouldn’t a simpler video game system like an Atari be easier?”

Rayda looked up confused and said, “What’s an Atari?”

* * *

An hour later the kids arrived, and including the guest of honor, Jimmy, the total was twelve little boys as they exchanged high-fives and placed their gifts on the main table. Nightveil and Jimmy’s Mom, Sheila, were in the kitchen were finished heating up some pizza rolls and placed them on the tray, while Colt and Rayda were still connecting all the video game systems together and setting up the tournament rules.

“The natives are getting restless,” joked Rayda, overhearing Jimmy and his friends running around, laughing and screaming while impersonating their favorite television superheroes.

“I still need to clean up some things here,” said Sheila. “Laura, why don’t you entertain the kids until Dyna and Val finish up in the living room. There’re plenty of toys in the rec room.”

“Okay,” agreed Laura as she herded the kids into the rec room.

“Hello, everyone, I’m Laura,” greeted Nightveil.

“Hello, Miss Laura,” replied the kids in unison.

“Would you like to play a game?” offered Nightveil.

“Sure!” said Todd happily, one of Jimmy’s friends.

“What game, then?” asked Nightveil.

Todd and Jimmy’s other friend Kyle whispered a suggestion into Jimmy’s ear, as Jimmy nodded yes as he said, “How about the Perils of Penelope?”

“Um, okay…” replied Nightveil. “I’ve never heard of that game before.”

“That’s okay, we’ll teach you how,” said Kyle.

* * *

About ten minutes passed as Rayda and Colt had everything set up while all the food for the party was ready to go. Rayda had written down how the tournament was to go, so everyone had a chance to play plenty of times throughout the day.

“Well, it’s all set up,” commented Rayda. “Let’s reel them in.”

As Sheila got out some more napkins and small paper plates, Rayda and Colt went to the recreation to check on Nightveil and start the video racing game tournament. When they arrived, Rayda and Colt wound Nightveil tied to a chair with an excessive amount of rope and gagged with a cloth!

“What’ll it be, Penelope? The buzzsaw or the bomb?” teased Kyle in a funny voice, using an old tablecloth as a cloak.

“MMPH!” protested Nightveil.

“What on earth….?” said Colt in disbelief.

“Oh my,” added Rayda, trying hard not to laugh. “I wouldn’t expect this to happen to the world’s most powerful sorceress!”

“What do we do?” asked Colt.

“I’ll take care of it,” assured Rayda.

“Okay, Hooded Claw…” called out Rayda. “Let’s fast forward from damsel in distress land to the racing pit, shall we? Are any of you ready to race?”

“YEAH!” cheered the kids.

“All righty then, let’s go!” replied Rayda, imitating Donald Duck’s voice. The kids put the toys back on the shelf and followed Rayda to the living room to start the tournament. Colt remained behind in the recreation room and started to untie Nightveil, removing the gag first.

“Are you okay?” asked Colt as she began untying the knots.

“DOES IT LOOK LIKE I’M OKAY????” blurted out Nightveil. “I CAN’T BELIEVE THOSE LITTLE HEATHENS DID THIS TO ME!!! I’M GOING TO PUT THOSE BRATS ON MY KNEES AND…NO, WAIT! I’M GOING TO WASH OUT THEIR MOUTHS WITH SOAP!!!!”

“Easy, Laura, easy…” replied Colt. “You really can’t spank or punish other people’s kids nowadays…”

“I know, I know…” answered Nightveil as she took a couple of deep breaths and calmed down. “I just can’t believe this happened. I mean, I’ve gone toe to toe against the Black Shroud and just got tricked into being tied up by a bunch of seven year olds!”

“Well, there IS a difference,” commented Colt as she removed some more rope. “The seven year olds are smarter…”

* * *

About an hour later the party was well under way with Rayda and Jimmy’s Mom Sheila were running the video game tournament as the kids rotated in and out for snacks. Inside the kitchen Nightveil and Colt were serving food and cleaning up the occasional spill that occurred.

“What’s the matter, Laura?” asked Colt.

“I’m just grimacing about Dyna winning our bet,” pouted Nightveil. “She’s going to try and dress me up like Britney Spears or someone worse.”

“The party’s barely started, Laura, you’re doing fine,” assured Colt. “I’m the judge in this, after all.”

“Are you kidding me? Look at her and look at me!” replied Nightveil. “Dyna has them eating out of her hands and me, well, you SAW what happened to me! Tied up like a some damsel in distress in the silent movies.”

“Well, the mischievous whim of trying to tie up the babysitter is in all little boys,” pointed out Colt, hiding her smile.

“You say that as if you know from experience,” replied Nightveil skeptically.

“Like I said, Laura, I was a tomboy growing up,” reminded Colt. “I played the same games the boys down the street played; I’ll leave it at that.”

* * *

Meanwhile, outside the once clear skies over Florida turned cloudy as a thunderstorm quickly loomed in overhead. Within another half hour a steady rain was coming down, followed by flashing lightning and booming thunder. As the weather took a turn for the worse, another flash of lightning struck and impacted the local power grid, as power failed within a several block radius.

“Uh-oh…” muttered Rayda.

“Aw, man, the power’s out!” muttered Kyle along with the other kids attending the party.

“Now what do we do?” asked Todd.

“I want to go home…” whispered Eric.

Nightveil’s eyes lit up instantly as she came out and put up the donkey poster on the wall as she said, “Well, you all did okay on the video games, but I think it’s time you all get a real test of dexterity. Pin the tail on the donkey.”

“What’re you talking about, Miss Laura? Pin the tail on the donkey’s the easiest game in the world,” insisted Jason, a party guest.

“Great, then you’ll go first and show us how easy it is,” replied Laura as she covered his eyes with a blindfold and then spun him around clockwise, then counterclockwise, and then maneuvered him around the room a bit before spinning him around a few more times.

“Now, no help from the outsiders, got it?” ordered Nightveil and Colt flashed the “Shhh” signal with her finger over her mouth.

Jason stumbled about, extremely disoriented as he cast the tail. Upon removing the blindfold. everyone laughed in the fact that Jason missed the donkey’s body by at least four whole feet.

“Not as easy, is it?” giggled Nightveil.

“Here, let me give it shot!” insisted Kyle.

“No, me!” blurted out Eric.

“One moment, one moment. You’ll all get a chance,” stated Nightveil politely as she blindfolded Jimmy next.

* * *

About two hours later the power was restored as the party drew to a close, as young Jimmy blew out the candles and opened his gifts with his friends by candlelight that gave the room a magical aura. Not long after the cake was served it was time to go, as parents soon arrived to pick up their kids. As the last of the party guests left, Nightveil, Rayda, and Colt helped clean up while Sheila and Jimmy were saying goodbye.

“Fun party,” commented Colt. “I think the kids had a blast.”

“So, have you reached a decision?” asked Rayda as she wiped off some dishes.

“Well, I haven’t really given it much thought yet,” admitted Colt.

“Rayda won,” muttered Nightveil. “I was the one who got tied up by them and had to get rescued. Dyna corralled them up and had control the entire time with the high-tech toys she got.”

“I wouldn’t go that far, Laura,” admitted Rayda. “I really didn’t know what to do when the power went out and those party games you ran were a real hit. That pinata was amazing; there’s something to be said about that old-fashioned style of yours.”

“Well, I believe you’ve already settled it then,” said Colt with a smile.

“What do you mean? Who won?” asked Rayda.

“You both did,” answered Colt. “Both of you had your hiccups, but you pretty much had things under control the entire time. You don’t see Sheila complaining, do you?”

Laura smiled as she said to Rayda, “Dyna, I’d like my interior vacuumed also after you wash my car tomorrow, please.”

Rayda smiled also as she fired back, “Sure, and you can drive us straight to the mall afterwards; Express Internationale and The Limited are having storewide sales.”

The End

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Power Run Amok by Fred Wong

After a long hiatus, Colt was glad to be back with FemForce again. Following years of working solo for the majority of her career and after briefly serving as the team’s leader, Colt finally realized that there was a certain quality of being on this team that she missed when she left all those months ago.

Loading up a fresh cache of ammunition, Colt warmed up her motorcycle to do a routine patrol and cruise around the area. Unknown to her, overhead several dozen feet was a small camera probe that was following her every move after she left headquarters.

“Well, there she is. Our first test subject,” commented Greg as he observed the monitor screen. “Colt, the Weapons Mistress, according to this file I found from hacking into the Pentagon’s information database.”

“Hmmm…not bad. She’ll do for a start,” added Peter as he propped his feet up on the computer console. “Who do you think can take her? Any bets?”

“How about Dreamslayer? He’s big, nasty, mean, and oozing with power,” suggested Bobby before taking a bite into some pizza.

“No way, that’s overkill!” interrupted Greg. “How about a villain WITHOUT supernatural powers?”

“Okay, okay, okay…how about Professor Gizmo? Colt’s got weapons, he’s got weapons, fair enough?” said Peter.

“Yeah, Gizmo! Gizmo! Gizmo!” cheered Bobby.

“Professor Gizmo it is!” said Greg and he typed in the commands into the keyboard, hacking into the master control system of Dr. Jimenez’s time and dimensional travel device as it remains locked away and under heavy guard in a secret location at a government research facility. The massive time triangle device momentarily activated to release a stream of energy before deactivating, avoiding detection by any monitoring sensors.

“Here we go…” said Greg excitedly.

* * *

“HELP! SOMEBODY HELP!” cried out a man’s voice from an old, deserted building.

“Who could that be? A homeless guy?” thought Colt as she pulled her motorcycle over and cautiously entered the old building.

“Hello? Is anyone there?” called out Colt. “I’m here to help.”

Colt by Marat MychaelsWithout warning, a laser beam darted by Colt as she dodged the small burst of energy that knocked off her hat. In a flash Colt drew her machine pistol and automatic pistol, ready for anything.

“Who’s there? Show yourself,” ordered Colt. “You can either make this easy, or make this hard. Your choice.”

“Hello, little Colt, it’s nice to see you,” said the evil Professor Gizmo as he emerged from the shadows holding a remote control box. “Say hello to Mr. Chuckles!”

“CRUSH….KILL….DESTROY!!!!” resonated the 7 foot tall robot known as Mr. Chuckles as it thundered down the old room and delivered a body block into Colt before she could open fire, knocking her clear out of the building through an old boarded up window.

Colt quickly got up and opened fire with her automatic pistol and machine pistol! The bullets fell harmlessly to the ground after impacting Mr. Chuckles’ chassis.

“Surprised?” said Professor Gizmo. “Mr. Chuckles is protected by a special magnetic field that renders your armor piercing bullets useless.”

Colt aimed her pistol at Professor Gizmo’s remote control device, firing one shot that blasted it into pieces on impact. Without the device to feed Mr. Chuckles energy and guidance, the once fearsome robot slumped down and deactivated like a hump of hi-tech refuse.

Colt re-entered the old building, with her pistol pointed squarely at Professor Gizmo.

“I’m not going to ask you again,” said Colt sternly. Before Colt could do anything else, Professor Gizmo disappeared in a flash of light, along with his robot.

“What on earth?” thought Colt as she put her weapons back in their holsters and recovered her hat. Colt cautiously searched the immediate area, finding nothing as she returned to her cycle to call in a report.

* * *

mmcolt“Man, Professor Gizmo STINKS!” cursed Bobby as he observed the fight from the monitor screen. “I told you we should’ve gotten Dreamslayer.”

“Relax, Bobby,” replied Greg. “It’s still early; who do you want next? And no, you cannot pick Dreamslayer.”

“Fine,” muttered Bobby as he pouted. “How about Omegakhron…no wait, how about Candyman?”

“Why not both?” suggested Peter.

“I like how this guy thinks,” said Greg as he again hacked into the research facility’s computer systems to access Dr. Jimenez’s time and dimensional device to summon the villains of their choice, teleporting them from wherever they are to the present time.

* * *

“That’s all I know, Nightveil,” said Colt as she finished out her status report to headquarters.

“I’ll be at your location shortly to help check things out,” replied Nightveil. “The last time villains were popping in and out in teleportation vortexes, the Black Shroud was involved. I’ll try to raise Tara for some backup, too.”

“Roger. I’ll be standing by,” replied Colt as she reloaded her weapons. As Colt finished putting fresh ammunition magazines in, a fragrant aroma filled the air, a stark contrast to the smell of old wood, brick, and garbage in that dilapidated part of town.

Colt turned around and saw none other than the deranged robot creation of her nemesis Professor Montague Moon: Candyman. The insane Candyman robot standing before her with its bright pink and white metallic chassis and red laced armor enhancements, a crazed metallic version of the Gingerbread man from fairy tales.

“Hee-hee-hee-hee-hee…” giggled Candyman as it fired a volley of globs of sticky pink bubble gum at Colt. Colt immediately dodged out of the way behind an old car parked nearby as the pink orbs struck her motorcycle, covering it with a pink, rubbery glop.

Colt gritted her teeth in frustration, having just cleaned her motorcycle that morning, as she sprang on the other side of the car and opened fire with her machine pistol, shooting apart Candyman’s knees with four well placed bursts of armor piercing bullets. The robot collapsed on its back and floundered like a disoriented turtle as Colt cautiously walked over to it.

“Who’s behind this? Professor Moon? Is he working with Professor Gizmo now?” questioned Colt. “ANSWER ME!”

Candyman then disappeared before Colt’s eyes when suddenly a giant net landed on top of her, entangling her as she fell onto the ground. Colt looked up and saw a heavily armored man in technological armor descending down towards her: Omegakhron, a super powered mercenary even more powerful than Battlezone.

“Target neutralized,” said Omegakhron.

“Think again,” replied Colt as she crawled out of the net and opened fire with her pistol and machine pistol, as a hail of bullets struck Omegakhron squarely in the chest.

“Damage, minimal. Countermeasures initiated.” responded Omegakhron as he fired a series of laser blasts at Colt. Colt dodged behind an old brick wall as lasers riddled against it before she returned fire with another massive barrage, with the bullets inflicting negligible damage. Omegakhron fired another volley of lasers, slowly reducing the brick wall she was hiding behind for cover to dust.

“I’m way outgunned,” thought Colt as she quickly reloaded her pistol with a magazine of high-explosive rounds. “Here goes everything…”

Colt swung around the side and opened fire, with the first three bullets striking Omegakhron squarely in the chest as sparks and small explosions erupted on his metallic chassis, visibly damaging the seemingly impregnable defense. Colt fired the remaining three bullets in the magazine at Omegakhron’s weapon systems, blowing apart his laser blaster.

“No more Mister Nice Guy,” said Omegakhron as he lunged at Colt knocking her across the street as she slammed against the wall. Omegakhron picked up her pistol and machine gun pistol, crushing it as he followed up with another hard punch, knocking the wind out her.

“Effort was worthy, but your resistance proved futile,” replied Omegakhron. “Victory is mine.”

“GET AWAY FROM HER!” yelled Nightveil as she fired a magic blast at Omegakhron, shattering a sizeable chunk of the back of his armor. Sparks flew as Nightveil caught him off guard and off balance. Nightveil released a rapid barrage of magic blasts that overloaded his defenses, forcing him away from Colt. The blasts pinned him against a wall as he held his arms in front of his face in a desperate attempt to deflect them.

“Now, for the finishing touch…” said Nightveil as she cast a final spell, teleporting Omegakhron out of his armor to the outside. Omegakhron’s eyes opened wide with shock as he appeared on the city street in his regular clothes and no longer piloting his formidable armor suit.

“Now, let’s start with the beginning,” stated Nightveil when in a flash Omegakhron and Candyman both disappeared, as if plucked out of reality and vanishing away.

“What the…?” blurted out Nightveil as she helped up Colt. Nightveil walked Colt back to Colt’s motorcycle, finding it covered in slimy, pink bubblegum. “Are you okay?”

“A couple nasty bruises and a few small cuts; not bad,” replied Colt as she peeled away some of the bubble gum glop to access her first aid kit. Colt applied some antiseptic spray and Band-Aids to her wounds. “Thanks for backing me up.”

“No problem. This is strange; I’m not detecting any residual magic here…however they came and went, it wasn’t from magic,” said Nightveil as she completed a mystic scan of the immediate area.

“No non-supernatural villain we’ve encountered can teleport like that,” said Colt as she opened her compartment to retrieve her spare machine pistol. “A new enemy, perhaps?”

“I’m not sure,” said Nightveil. “Tara’s on her way over in the jump ship, and maybe we’ll get some more insight from the equipment we have on board.”

“How long will it take?” asked Colt.

“About twenty minutes, I think,” responded Nightveil.

Colt subtlely gestured to her bubblegum covered motorcycle as she said, “Think you can do something about that?”

“Done.” replied Nightveil with a smile as she cast a spell to dissolve the bubblegum substance.

* * *

Meanwhile, Greg, Peter, and Bobby watched in disappointment as two more villains they summoned from hacking into Dr. Jimenez’s time and dimensional travel device were beaten soundly, forcing them to pluck and send them back where they came from initially.

“Those guys STUNK!” muttered Bobby. “Nightveil’s there, NOW can we bring in Dreamslayer?”

“I’m inclined to agree,” added Peter. “It would be kind of neat to see Dreamslayer go at it against the two of them at once.”

“Fine, fine. Let’s do it,” agreed Greg finally as he inputted the commands, transporting Dreamslayer into the deserted city street where Nightveil and Colt awaited the arrival of Tara.

Back at the city street Nightveil momentarily grew dizzy.

“Nightveil, what’s wrong?” asked Colt.

“Something weird just happened to me,” said Nightveil as she regained her composure. “Like someone just walked on my grave or something…”

Colt and Nightveil caught wind of the smell of burnt brimstone as they both turned around, seeing down the street the supernatural overlord known as Dreamslayer, a hideous melding of super science and sorcery as he hovered before them in golden colored cybernetic armor and coruscating energy where a face would be. Dreamslayer crackled with scarlet energy emanating from him like an unholy aura of dark powers.

“Dreamslayer…” gasped Nightveil.

“Who?” muttered Colt as she drew her weapons.

“The Green Lama and Dr. Weir told me about him; a supernatural force of destruction they banished years ago…” explained Nightveil, visibly concerned.

“I see raw power stirring within you, little one,” said Dreamslayer with an evil grin as he gazed straight at Nightveil. “Your Cloak of Darkness would be a great addition to my dominion.”

“Not going to happen, bucko,” barked Colt as she opened fire with a burst of armor piercing bullets that bounced harmless off of Dreamslayer’s cybernetic armor.

“Amusing,” said Dreamslayer. “For your attempt at humor, I shall give you the serene peace of oblivion…”

The wind picked up and the sky turned a blood red as Dreamslayer released a deadly stream of scarlet lightning at Colt. Nightveil summoned forth a mystic shield that surrounded them both as the bolt struck. The force of the blast knocked Nightveil back a couple of feet, as the mystic shield flickered, diminishing in power.

“Get more backup, I’ll hold him off,” ordered Nightveil as she fired a blast of magic energy at Dreamslayer that impacted him, having minimal effect.

“Child, your magic is so elementary to me,” replied Dreamslayer wickedly. “You do not need the Cloak of Darkness. Give it to me and I will spare your life.”

“Fat chance, fat head!” said Nightveil defiantly as she cast another spell, entangling Dreamslayer in a whirlwind of magical energy chains to pin him down as she rained shards of mystic energy onto him.

“Tara, this is Colt,” said Colt on her communicator. “We got a situation here. Radio Stardust, Rayda, and Ms. Victory…we’re going to need some more firepower on this one.”

“You got it,” said Tara.

“BAHAHAHAHA!!!!!” roared Dreamslayer as he broke free of the mystic energy chains and slowly advanced towards Nightveil as she took to the air. Dreamslayer hurtled another scarlet lightning bolt at Nightveil as she reactivated her defenses. Nightveil’s mystic shield barely held, as she continued casting every spell she knew at Dreamslayer with minimal effect on slowing him down. Colt opened fire again with her high explosive bullets, again having no effect.

“How’d they defeat him the first time?” yelled Colt as she fired again, seeing the bullets bounce harmlessly off.

“They didn’t…! They barely teleported him back to the netherworld!” answered Nightveil as she weathered another devastating blast from Dreamslayer. “I don’t remember them saying anything about him having power armor, either!”

“Can’t you whip another spell to do the same?!” said Colt.

“It’s not that simple…it takes time to create a spell powerful enough to move such an unwilling entity from one dimension to another!” replied Nightveil as she dodged another lightning bolt.

“Swell…” muttered Colt as she reloaded.

“Enough,” replied Dreamslayer as he cast a spell of his own! Two giant demon hands sprang out from the road surface and grabbed Colt and Nightveil, holding them tight in their grasp.

“ARRRRGHHHH!!!!” screamed Colt.

“CAN’T….BREATHE!” gasped Nightveil as the hand squeezed the air out of her, making it easy for Dreamslayer to cast a final spell on Nightveil. Heavily drained mentally from Dreamslayer’s onslaught, Nightveil quickly succumbed to his sleep spell as she slumped out cold in the demon hand’s grip.

“Bravo…bravo…” said a woman’s voice from the distance.

“Show yourself,” ordered Dreamslayer as, from the shadows, Nightveil’s longtime nemesis, Alizarin Crimson, emerged.

“And you are?” said Dreamslayer.

“Alizarin Crimson, great one,” said Alizarin Crimson.

* * *

“NO WAY! NO WAY!!!!” cheered Bobby as he watched the giant monitor screen. “WHERE’D SHE COME FROM?”

“I don’t know,” said Greg. “I didn’t summon here.”

“Who cares? She’s there now, this is getting even better!” said Peter.

* * *

“I can read your thoughts; they are an open book to me,” stated Dreamslayer. “You want the Cloak of Darkness for yourself, and seek to trick me into giving it to you. I will not.”

“Very well, then,” threatened Alizarin Crimson. “I will take what you will not give.”

Alizarin Crimson summoned her arcane magic and released a massive bolt of magical energy that struck Dreamslayer directly as a small explosion erupted blasting dirt and broken macadam into the air. As the cloud of dust and burnt carbon cleared Dreamslayer remained hovering, unfazed from one of Alizarin Crimson’s most powerful attacks.

“It…it cannot be!” said Alizarin Crimson in disbelief.

“It can. It will,” replied Dreamslayer as he unleashed a flurry of ebony black energy blasts that pummeled Alizarin Crimson. Her magic force field only lasted mere seconds as she was soon brought to her knees from him.

“What…are…you?” said Alizarin Crimson weakly.

“I am power incarnate, I am Dreamslayer…” said Dreamslayer.

* * *

“OH MY GAWD! OH MY GAWD! DID YOU SEE THAT???” yelled Bobby. “Dreamslayer took down Colt, Nightveil, AND Alizarin Crimson!!! That is just SO cool!”

“Grandpa Brady wasn’t kidding when he told us that Dreamslayer’s the most powerful villain that ever walked the Earth!” said Peter. “But I think we’d better send him back.”

“Bobby?” asked Greg.

“Actually, yeah, Peter’s right,” agreed Bobby reluctantly. “He’s gonna blow up the world at this rate!”

“Okay, okay, I’ll send him back,” said Greg as he typed in the commands. Moments later and as unexpectedly as he arrived, Dreamslayer was gone! With him gone, the spells he cast dissipated as the giant demonic hands disappeared, releasing Colt and Nightveil from its grip.

Alizarin Crimson recovered as well, deciding that discretion was the better part of valor as she quickly activated a teleportation spell to slip away.

“Another time, Nightveil…another time…” said Alizarin Crimson as she disappeared.

“WHAT is going on here?” said a frustrated Colt. “One second we’re on our way to buying the farm from Dreamslayer and now he’s gone? What gives???”

“I have no idea…” said Nightveil as she got up and began dusting herself off. “Where’s Tara?”

* * *

“That was just so cool, Greg!” exclaimed Peter. “Who do we summon next? Chromo? Killer Clown? Professor Moon? Valkyra?”

“Does it matter? The sky’s the limit!” said Greg.

“Ahem,” said a voice behind them. Greg, Peter, and Bobby turned around, finding Tara, Rayda, and Ms. Victory standing behind them.

“Uh-oh……” muttered Greg, Peter, and Bobby.

* * *

It didn’t take long for Ms. Victory, Tara, and Rayda to dismantle Greg, Peter, and Bobby’s computers and take them into custody, turning in their hardware for study since they were able to access a top secret location and its assets through a remote location. Back at FemForce Headquarters, Ms. Victory debriefed everyone on the day’s unusual events.

“You mean to tell me that whole mess in that old industrial park in town was concocted by three zit-faced teenage fanboys????” said She-Cat.

“I’m afraid so,” said Ms. Victory.

“How’d you track them?” asked Colt.

“It was easy,” explained Tara. “When I was flying towards you in the jump ship I was picking up these unusual energy signatures from this residential area immediately followed by some type of distortion where you were. Since you and Nightveil were dealing with what was coming out of that distortion, I radioed Ms. Victory and Rayda and we triangulated the energy residue to where they were; like tracing a phone call.”

“@**@^%$$ punks…” cursed She-Cat quietly.

“Punks or not, those three were able to hack into a heavily guarded installation and use one of the most powerful inventions on the planet,” stated Nightveil. “And summon one of the most fearsome entities ever known.”

“Maybe we ought to give them a job and put them on the payroll,” suggested Colt sarcastically. “We can take it out of General Gordon’s salary.”

Everyone laughed.

The End

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Dinner on the Town by Fred Wong

Ms. Victory, Stardust, Tara, and Synn were glad to be home. When they told fellow members Nightveil, Colt, She-Cat, and Rayda about the whole thing their friends almost couldn’t believe their eyes, but when they saw Dr. Heinrich Rittmeist in custody, all doubts disappeared.

“So you were in that parallel universe all that time, and you didn’t get any of us a souvenir?” teased Colt.

Synn shrugged as she said, “I would’ve, but Ms. Victory was being such a tightwad. We were at this planetarium, and she didn’t want to buy a single thing at the gift shop!”

“Well, I felt bad,” replied Ms. Victory. “It wasn’t our money, it was what Galaxy Ranger lent us while she and Stardust were trying to find us a way home. It didn’t feel right spending every penny she gave us.”

“You did the right thing, Jen,” added Tara. “Synn’s just razzing you because you’re so straight laced sometimes.”

“Galaxy Ranger sounded like a nice person, and a tough heroine,” commented Nightveil. “I’m sure we could’ve use someone like her to shore up our ranks.”

“Yes, she was very intelligent, intense, and possessed a considerable balance of speed, strength, and firepower,” said Stardust. “And she accomplished the impossible.”

“How’s that?” asked She-Cat.

“She got all of us to share the same bathroom in a neat and organized manner,” stated Stardust.

“No way,” replied She-Cat in disbelief. “You’ve GOT to be kidding me.”

“No, she really did. Sincerely!” insisted Synn. “She made us draw straws.”

“Cute,” said Rayda as she and the rest got a chuckle.

“Overall, though, in our timeline you were only gone for a few hours after your skirmish with Battlezone,” said Nightveil. “How long were you in that parallel world?”

“About a day, I think,” answered Ms. Victory. “So many things there were identical to ours, and yet, so many things were different.”

“Well, we’re glad you’re all back, and having Rittmeist in custody is an added bonus,” said Colt.

* * *

The rest of the day was some private time for the respective FemForce members. She-Cat worked out in the headquarters gym, Ms. Victory went with Nightveil for some shopping at some arcane and supernatural themed stores as a change of pace, Rayda headed out to meet with her agent, Colt practiced firing on the weapons range, Synn relaxed in her room watching soap operas, and Stardust was practicing in the FemForce danger room.

It was about 4 PM when She-Cat passed by the danger room, seeing Stardust successfully complete a combat scenario. She-Cat was wiping off the sweat with a towel and popped her head inside as Stardust landed.

“Hey, Dusty, what’re you doing for dinner?” asked She-Cat.

“I had not thought that far ahead, why?” replied Stardust.

“Why don’t you come with me to that new Italian place that opened up, Salvatore’s?” offered She-Cat. “It’s not far from here.”

“There are dozens of places like that in town. Why that one in particular?” asked Stardust.

“Well, it’s got culture, yeah, that’s it, it’s really chic and the food’s really good there, too,” explained She-Cat.

“How would you know? It has just opened and from the tone of your voice, it implies that you have never been there before,” reminded Stardust politely.

“Ah, shoot, ya got me, Dusty,” said She-Cat with a giggle. “I got a promo offer that says that if I bring a friend I get 50% off my meal at Salvatore’s.”

“That sounds more like it,” said Stardust with a smile. “I’ll meet you in the headquarters lobby in an hour.”

* * *

At about 5 PM She-Cat and Stardust were dressed to impress enroute to Salvatore’s in She-Cat’s car, a high-powered, sanguine red Dodge Stealth as she zoomed down the expressway at a high speed.

“Jessica, please drive defensively,” said Stardust as she held onto the armrest tightly.

“You know, Dusty, the best defense is a good offense,” replied She-Cat as she hit the accelerator again to pass a couple more cars. “YEEEEEEHAAAAAAA!!!!”

“I knew I should’ve insisted more on driving…” thought Stardust.

Minutes later, She-Cat and Stardust pulled into the parking lot of Salvatore’s, where the valets greeted them and opened the car doors for Stardust and She-Cat.

“Here ya go, kid,” said She-Cat as she tossed him the keys, her fiery eyes flashing directly into his. “Don’t even think about joy-riding in my wheels, get me?”

“Yes, ma’am,” said the valet as he momentarily quivered.

Both were a bit surprised at the outward appearance of Salvatore’s, which really was a high class restaurant that made She-Cat feel a little bit of the bum’s rush as they opened the front door and unrolled the red carpet for them.

“Good evening,” greeted the headwaiter. “Welcome to Salvatore’s. How many in your party?”

“Two,” answered She-Cat.

“Right this way. A table on the balcony, perhaps?”

“Um…sure,” replied Stardust as the head waiter led them up the grand concourse to a second tier array of tables, allowing them to overlook the entire restaurant and observe the beautiful paintings and Italian art decorating the restaurant, including the ceiling itself.

“Enjoy your dining experience,” said the headwaiter pleasantly as he handed them the menu and wine list. “Your waiter will be with you shortly.”

“What do you think?” said She-Cat.

“Extremely high class,” commented Stardust as she observed the various art decorations. “I just hope the food matches the ambience.”

As another waiter passed by their table, Stardust briefly motioned her over for a question.

“Excuse me, those art pieces you have on display in this restaurant, are they the originals or replicas?” asked Stardust.

“Those are the originals, ma’am. But don’t worry, they’re all wired into an alarm system, so they won’t get stolen,” explained the waiter.

“Interesting.” said Stardust.

* * *

“You sure you can bring all that stuff out at once, Tom? That’s a big load of pasta,” said Chris, one of the waiters as Tom mounted several plates of Italian dishes onto his tray and raised them up on his shoulder.

“Yeah, no problem. I brought out twice this amount earlier this week for the lunch crowd,” replied Tom confidently as he walked out onto the restaurant floor with the oversized tray filled with exotic pasta dishes.

“Aw, nuts!” commented a customer at a nearby table as he accidentally spilled his glass goblet of ice water. The majority of the water spilled on the table and soaked the tablecloth as a few ice cubes rolled onto the floor.

“No problem, sir. We’ll move you and your family to a new table,” said another waiter as he helped the customer and his family move while another began policing up the small mess.

As Tom passed by the table, he avoided the family as they walked to another table, the other two waiters, but slipped on the ice cubes.

“OH NO…..!!!!” cried out Tom as he lost his balance and fell forward, as the massive tray of Italian pasta dishes flew across and landed en masse onto one of the artifact pieces kept on display in the restaurant, a bronze mask. The bronze mask began to glow with a strange green light, as the pasta noodles, sauce, and meats began coalescing into a body as arms, legs, and torso of pasta of all shapes and sizes formed.

“AAAAAAHHHH!!!!!” shrieked Tom in terror as he fled into the kitchen. “IT’S ALIVE!!! IT’S ALIVE!!!”

“Dusty, do you see what I see?” muttered She-Cat in partial disbelief as she noticed the man-sized pasta monster taking shape.

“I see it, but I do not believe it,” replied Stardust.

“BRAAAAAAAAAAAGGGHHH!!!!” roared the pasta monster.

“Okay, now I believe it,” said Stardust.

“I’ll get him outside into the parking lot. You finish him off,” said She-Cat.

“Understood,” answered Stardust as the two got up from their table. She-Cat removed her high heels and ripped her skirt partially, allowing her legs free range of motion as Stardust simply went out the fire escape and took to the air as the restaurant employees and customers fled out the other emergency exits.

“OUT YOU GO!” yelled out She-Cat as she picked up a table and charged the pasta monster, pressing the wide area surface against him as she shoved, and forced him out of the restaurant doors to the outside parking lot, where Stardust was overhead.

“NOW, DUSTY! NAIL ‘EM!” said She-Cat as Stardust fired an energy blast straight into the pasta monster. Instead of blowing it up, though, her star energy somehow supercharged it as it grew from about a 4 feet tall to a staggering 20 feet tall!

“BWAH-HA-HA-HA-HA!!!!!” bellowed the pasta monster.

“Oh dear,” muttered Stardust embarrassingly.

“@@**!^^%$$$##!!!!!!” cursed She-Cat over the turn of events.

“RRRRAAAAGGGGHHHH!!!!” roared the giant pasta monster as it grabbed She-Cat, ensnaring her with its sinewy body of noodles.

“HEY! LEMME GO, YOU OVERSIZED BLOB OF LINGUINI!!!!” protested She-Cat.

“SHE-CAT!!!!” yelled out Stardust as she instinctively fired another energy blast at the giant pasta monster, foolishly forgetting what the effect was momentarily as the creature grew even more, and was now 30 feet tall!

“WILL YA STOP FEEDIN’ HIM, DUSTY??!!!!” screamed She-Cat as she clawed away as the pasta, freeing her hands.

“Sorry!” said Stardust. “We need to find its power source! The artifact!”

“Ugh…this ain’t gonna be pretty…” muttered She-Cat as she slipped out of the giant pasta monster’s grip and dove into its chest cavity, scrapping, cutting, even eating her way through to try and find the artifact.

“HO-HO-HO!!!!” bellowed the pasta monster as it engulfed She-Cat.

“NO!!!!” yelled out Stardust as she powerlessly hovered over the lumbering giant pasta monster, knowing all too well her powers would only make it larger.

Just then She-Cat lunged out of the massive pasta monster’s torso, clutching the magic artifact that started the whole mess to begin with as she fell downward and was caught by Stardust. Separated from the artifact, the giant pasta monster shrunk and collapsed into a messy pile of sauce and wet noodles.

“Thanks, Dusty,” said She-Cat with a measure of mischief as the two heroines began shaking off the messy globs of pasta and sauce from their bodies. “So, what do you think?”

“The encounter at this restaurant is a persuasive argument for the low-carbohydrate diet Earthlings have been raving about,” replied Stardust sternly. “I will leave it at that.”

* * *

It was about 9 PM back at FemForce Headquarters when She-Cat and Stardust closed things out at Salvatore’s and cleaned themselves up. Both were in bathrobes in the lounge when Colt sauntered by, catching their latest escapade on a news special report.

“Well, at least you didn’t destroy anything this time,” teased Colt.

“Funny, runt,” replied She-Cat.

“Was the place any good?” asked Colt.

“I really do not know,” answered Stardust. “The monster appeared just as our meal arrived, so we never had a chance to eat it between fighting and cleaning up. The aroma was enticing, though.”

“Don’t worry, we’ll get another chance,” said She-Cat.

“How’s that?” asked Colt.

“I do not understand, either,” said Stardust.

“Well, it turns out our little run-in brought some big-name publicity for the place, so much so the owners gave us free dinners at Salvatore’s and guaranteed reservations for a year,” explained She-Cat.

Colt threw her arms up and laughed as she said, “Why am I not surprised…?”

The End

Continue Reading

Strange New World by Fred Wong

Part I

“HOLD IT RIGHT THERE, BATTLEZONE!” yelled out Ms. Victory as she soared to the sky to intercept the hi-tech mercenary Battlezone as he rocketed away with a small cache of stolen semi-conductors and computer hardware. Following his jet stream, Ms. Victory quickly narrowed the gap as she prepared to deliver a well-placed punch to knock him back towards the ground below.

“In yer dreams, babe,” muttered Battlezone as he released a salvo of concussion grenades that struck Ms. Victory, exploding on impact as she fell from the sky and landed hard on the ground with her ears still ringing from the blast.

“Buh-bye!” Ms. Victory got up and dusted herself off as fellow FemForce members Stardust, Tara, and Synn arrived.

“You okay?” asked Tara.

“Yes, just got a little sucker-punched by him,” answered Ms. Victory. “He’s not far. We can still catch him.”

“You have a plan, I assume?” said Stardust.

“Always,” said Ms. Victory with a smile. “Stardust, you and I will continue the pursuit to keep him distracted. We’ll get him to circle around so Tara and Synn can close the gap.”

“Sounds good to me,” replied Tara.

“Cool beans,” giggled the bubbly Synn as she hovered alongside Tara as she ran down the street.

Ms. Victory and Stardust took to the sky after Battlezone, who continued to prove to be an easy target to pursue his trailing jet stream.

“Get his attention before he hits the afterburners,” said Ms. Victory.

“I’m on it,” answered Stardust as she released an energy blast that hit Battlezone. Although the blast bounced harmless off his high-powered armor suit, it was enough for him to release his getaway wasn’t going to be easy.

“Goody-goody, two more playmates,” cackled Battlezone as he swung around into the hover position with his jet boots, firing two mini-missiles at Stardust and Ms. Victory. Stardust fired another energy blast of her, intercepting the missile and destroying it instantly.

“GOTCHA!” yelled Ms. Victory as she evaded the mini-missile and caught it mid-flight and threw it back at Battlezone. “RIGHT BACK AT YOU!”

“ARRRRRRGH!!!!” bellowed Battlezone as the mini-missile struck him in the chest, damaging a sizeable chunk of his super armor. Battlezone reduced his speed and descended back towards the ground, where Tara and Synn were getting into position.

Stardust followed up the pursuit with a rapid barrage of energy bolts, striking Battlezone to further deplete his defenses as he finally touched down on the ground, as Tara activated her power and increased her size into a giantess with Synn hovering near her.

“Whoa, where’d you two come from?” said Battlezone to Tara and Synn.

“You’re in no position to ask questions, little man,” replied Tara, now a little over 25 feet tall.

“Yup,” agreed Synn playfully.

“It’s over, Battlezone, surrender,” ordered Ms. Victory as she and Stardust hovered overhead, “This is your last chance.”

“Yours, too,” replied Battlezone as he quickly unhooked what appeared to be a large metallic cylinder attached to the back of his armor and mounted it onto his forearm. “This little spar with you is just the opportunity I was looking for to field my new quantum cannon…goodbye, ladies.”

“SHIELD…FAST!!!” yelled out Ms. Victory as Battlezone opened fire with his quantum cannon, surging a massive blast of energy blast forth that seemed to rip the very fabric of reality. Stardust activated a large energy shield in front of herself and Ms. Victory in the air, while Synn covered herself and Tara with a protective aura as the cannon itself exploded from the energy released, engulfing all of them in a roaring explosion that shattered windows for blocks around the blast radius.

Moments later, Battlezone awoke lying on the ground in only his boxer shorts, as his power armor was blown off his body and was nothing but charred metal scattered about as he slowly emerged unharmed.

“DON’T MOVE!!!!!” yelled four policemen who arrived on the scene and pointed their weapons at Battlezone. Unarmed, powerless, and practically naked, Battlezone raised his hands and surrendered.

“What just happened here?” demanded a police officer as he handcuffed Battlezone.

Battlezone scanned around, seeing no sign of Ms. Victory, Stardust, Tara, or Synn.

“I…I don’t know…” muttered Battlezone in disbelief.

* * *

Elsewhere, Ms. Victory stirred and awoke, finding herself in an urban alleyway along with Tara, who groggily awoke as well.

“Where are we? This doesn’t look like the area we fought Battlezone,” commented Tara.

“I’m not sure,” replied Ms. Victory as they emerged from the alleyway onto a busy city sidewalk where regular people and commuters were passing back and forth. They drew several stares from their striking appearance and flamboyant costumes, occasionally getting a remark here and there.

“The comic convention’s the other way, at the hall near the downtown Civic arena, Miss,” commented one bystander.

“Oh, uh, thanks,” replied Ms. Victory awkwardly.

“We need to get to someplace quiet,” suggested Tara. “I think I see a small park nearby.”

“A few minutes later Ms. Victory and Tara were underneath some trees at a small city park, away from the usual fare of joggers, bike riders, dog walkers, and others enjoying the park.

“This place looks familiar, but it’s not Florida…a city in the northeastern United States maybe?” commented Tara.

“Maybe, but it’s odd on how no one recognized us, though,” replied Ms. Victory. “Most thought we were two ordinary people in costumes.”

“How’d we even get here? We’re hundreds, if not thousands, of miles away from where we were,” added Tara.

Without warning they heard an unusual whistling sound coming from the sky that grew louder and louder, until finally its source impacting into a grassy plot in the park that sent people fleeing in panic. As the dirt cloud settled a heavily armored figure emerged from the hole with bronze colored technological armor, with an evil, older looking man’s visage within the helmet.

“It’ll take more than that to stop me, Galaxy Ranger,” boasted the armored man.

“Hold on, I’m just getting warmed up,” replied his opponent as she flew overhead.

Ms. Victory and Tara quickly assessed the situation, as the woman in the air dressed in a blue and white battlesuit engaged in combat against him.

“Perhaps some property damage would be in order,” said the armored man as he released a small salvo of mini-missiles, blowing up a fire hydrant, a small metal playground, and a nearby hotdog stand. Children screamed in terror as they fled the carnage, as the flying woman flew by a group of people and activated a laser shield, absorbing the blast of the last mini-missile.

The woman then deactivated her laser shield and fired a laser blast at the villain, which seemed to have no effect on him.

“Fool!” roared the armored assailant. “You may have gotten a few early shots but I’ve now calibrated my armor to absorb your laser beams. The more you shoot, the stronger I get! Looks like your bosses’re going to need a replacement for this space sector, Galaxy Ranger!”

“It’s not over, Doctor Destructo,” replied the Galaxy Ranger as she powered up another laser blast and shot at the ground underneath his feet, knocking him off balance and onto his back. The Galaxy Ranger grabbed some residual metal from the damaged playground and flew hard onto the prone Doctor Destructo as he recovered his bearing, pinning him down with the shredded metal frame.

Doctor Destructo grinned as he easily shoved the metal off of him and threw the Galaxy Ranger back before springing back onto his feet. Doctor Destructo then fired two more mini-missiles at her, striking her and knocking her onto the ground from the explosions.

“The energy I absorbed from you doubled my speed and tripled my strength,” boasted Doctor Destructo as his armor reconfigured on his right arm, revealing what appeared to be a small blaster cannon, “And charged my power cells to finish you in one final shot.”

Before Doctor Destructo could fire, the remnants of the hot dog stand he destroyed earlier flew in the air and slammed into him. Knocked to the ground, Doctor Destructo cast off the metal and discarded frankfurters to see a woman dressed in star-spangled costume fly into him to deliver a devastating punch straight into his belly. Rivets and circuits popped from the impact, as overloaded systems shorted out to prevent him from mounting an attack.

“Who…who’re you?!” said Doctor Destructo.

“The name’s Ms. Victory, Mister Spam-in-can,” answered Ms. Victory sternly as Tara revived the Galaxy Ranger. “Now let’s peel the tin, shall we?”

Using her super strength, Ms. Victory peeled away the front breastplate of Doctor Destructo’s armor, followed by ripping apart the armor on his shoulders and arms to expose his bare flesh. Upon closer inspection, Ms. Victory noticed that much of the power armor was wired directly into his body, like a life support system.

“Hold on a second, I’ll take it from here, friend,” said the Galaxy Ranger as she approached the prostrate Doctor Destructo and concentrated her laser beam, cutting apart the remainder of his armor suit that concealed other technological weaponry while still keeping his life support systems intact. Police and SWAT soon arrived with an armored prisoner truck, where they collected Doctor Destructo and took him away for arrest processing.

“Whoever you are, thanks,” said the Galaxy Ranger, gratefully as she extended her hand in friendship. “I’m a Galaxy Ranger. You?”

“I’m Ms. Victory,” replied Ms. Victory.

“Tara Fremont,” said Tara. “Pardon my asking, but where are we?”

“Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, why?” asked the Galaxy Ranger.

“We’re not from around here,” explained Ms. Victory. “We’re based out of Florida. Maybe you’ve heard of us. We’re the Federal Emergency Mission Force; FemForce for short.”

The Galaxy Ranger had a perplexed look as she replied, “Sorry, I can’t say I have. The U.S. federal government doesn’t support superhero groups, but I don’t think you’re lying, either. I can’t put my finger on it, but there’s something different about you two.”

“Well, we feel kind of out of place, ourselves,” admitted Tara.

“I’ll take you back to my place,” replied the Galaxy Ranger as she took to the sky with Ms. Victory carrying Tara. “It’s not far.”

“Thanks,” replied Ms. Victory as the lingering thought prevailed in her mind, “Where are Stardust and Synn?”

* * *

“What a fun place this is!” commented Synn as she and Stardust awoke in what appeared to be a toy warehouse. “Oh, I would love to buy one of those, three of that, two of those…”

“Synn, aren’t you concerned as to how we arrived here?” asked Stardust as she surveyed around, seeing boxes upon boxes of various toys. “We have no idea how long we’ve been in this place or where Ms. Victory and Tara are. And didn’t it occur as odd to you that we have encountered no one in this packed warehouse? No employees, janitors, or even a security guard?”

“Company holiday?” replied Synn innocently as she picked up a large teddy bear mounted on a display stand and gave it a hug. “This is so adorable!”

“Nap time…” said the teddy bear with sweet sounding voice as it opened its mouth, revealing a small metal tube and shot out a pink gas that Synn inhaled. Seconds later Synn collapsed on the floor fast asleep.

“SYNN!” cried out Stardust as she ran over to help her, when suddenly a small army of toys came to life and began advancing upon her. Stardust immediately fired a stream of energy bolts along a wide area, blowing them apart.

“What manner of place is this?” said Stardust as she destroyed another group of toys.

“CATCH!” called out a voice as a series of green, blue, red, and gray balls hurtled out of the shadows towards Stardust. Stardust immediately responded by shooting them apart as they neared her, blasting the green, blue, and red balls. The gray balls struck Stardust in the chest and exploded into a swirling mass of sticky gray bindings that ensnared her, pinning Stardust’s arms at her sides and legs together as she collapsed onto the floor unable to break free. Despite her paranormal strength and aura of star energy, Stardust was unable to break or burn herself out.

“What…IS…this?” cursed Stardust as she strained against them.

“Curious,” said a voice emerging from the shadows. “I’ve been studying you on the monitors since you appeared and still can’t tell who you are. I’ve never seen either of you before.”

“Who are you?” grunted Stardust.

“You’ll know soon enough,” answered the man as he sprayed a stream of sleeping gas into her face.

* * *

Elsewhere, the Galaxy Ranger had led Ms. Victory and Tara into the secret passageway that teleported them into her home, a medium sized three-bedroom apartment in Shadyside, a suburb of the Pittsburgh metro area. Ms. Victory and Tara were sitting on her living room sofa, as the Galaxy Ranger, now dressed in regular clothes, returned from down the hall with a small basket of clothes in hand.

“Here, you might need these for a while,” commented the Galaxy Ranger as she presented them with some ordinary clothing. “I told my neighbors you’re friends of mine from out of town whose luggage got lost at the airport. They’re about your height, so the clothes’ll fit you better than mine.”

“Thanks, again, Galaxy Ranger,” said Ms. Victory.

“Sorry, call me Oriana. Oriana Hedgeman,” said the Galaxy Ranger. “What’s your real name, if it’s okay for me to ask?”

“Jennifer Wayne Burke,” said Ms. Victory before she skimmed for some items to change into.

“No fancy name for me, what you see is what you get,” teased Tara. “Is it okay if I use your bathroom?”

“Sure, first door on the left,” said the Galaxy Ranger. “So let me get this straight. You were fighting a villain who used this experimental weapon on you and your teammates, and somehow it caused a chain reaction that catapulted you from Florida to Pennsylvania?”

“Something like that,” replied Ms. Victory. “Once we find Stardust and Synn, we can head back to our headquarters to get to the bottom of everything. Although I’m a little surprised that I’ve never heard of you or that villain you were fighting, Doctor Destructo, was it?”

“Really?” said the Galaxy Ranger, still a bit perplexed about how little either of them knew of each other. “I’ve been the Galaxy Ranger for this sector for about three years now, and Doctor Destructo’s been on a high profile crime spree for almost three weeks until today. It was national news, since he hit Seattle, Chicago, and even New York City before arriving here.”

Meanwhile, Tara had just finished up in the bathroom and was washing her hands, and caught a quick glimpse of a travel magazine near the washbasin. Tara checked the issue date, which read “January 2004” but when she saw the cover photo her eyes lit up in shock. Tara immediately grabbed it and went back into the living room, nearly stark white in complexion.

“Tara, what’s wrong?” asked Ms. Victory.

“Jen, we’re not only in the wrong state, we’re in the wrong world,” said Tara nervously.

“What are you talking about?” replied Ms. Victory with a puzzled look. “What gave you that idea?”

Tara held up the magazine cover to Jen and said, “The Twin Towers are still standing.”

* * *

Synn awoke and found herself in what appeared to be a luxurious hotel room, emerging from a large and soft bed dressed in a nightie and observed the hard oak furniture and paintings decorating the room, along with a large plasma screen television mounted on the wall. The door opened, with a well-dressed man entering and pushing a small cart.

“Room service. Sorry we’re late,” said the man politely.

“Room service? I didn’t order room service. I don’t even remember how I got here,” said Synn.

“Oh, I’m sorry. They didn’t tell you everything, did they?” said the waiter.

“Tell me what?” asked Synn.

“You were in a surfing accident on the beach earlier,” explained the waiter. “The lifeguards rescued you and the paramedics treated you for a head injury. Your friends brought you back here and then ordered room service for you. Hungry?”

The waiter removed the tray covers, revealing a plate of freshly made french toast decorated with strawberries, fresh cantaloupe, bacon, orange juice, and milk. Synn couldn’t remember the last time she ate as her stomach made a loud gurgling sound after smelling the food’s aroma.

“Um…a little,” said Synn, a little embarrassed by her stomach. “Well, I hope you feel better,” said the waiter pleasantly.

“Thank. Um…I…can’t find my purse or wallet to give you a tip…sorry!” apologized Synn.

“Don’t worry, Miss, it’s already been taken care of,” said the waiter as he left the room.

Synn hungrily ate the food, still confused on what was going on, as she still felt strangely disoriented. She remembered fighting Battlezone, then blacking out, and then arriving in a toy warehouse, blacking out again, and now here in a hotel room. Synn then turned on the plasma television, seeing an animated cartoon show of “Wacky Waldo, Master of Science.”

“Oh, I’ve never seen this before,” said Synn as she attentively began watching the show.

* * *

“How’s our guest?” asked a portly man dressed in a business suit, observing Synn through a two-way mirror.

“Who? The space cadet babe with the platinum blonde hair? She bought the story hook, line, and sinker, boss,” said the henchman as he changed out of the waiter outfit.

“Outstanding,” cackled the man as he rubbed his hands near his chest. “I, the Grand Toyman, now have two more action figures in his collection, lovely ones, too, I might add.”

“What about the other one, boss?” said the henchman.

“Take a look for yourself,” commented the Grand Toyman as he gestured to the opposite side, where in the other two-way mirror Stardust was still cocooned in the tight bindings straining to escape in a padded room with various sensors mounted on the walls.

“I’ve never seen her before. But with those looks, she’s an extraterrestrial, that’s for sure,” said the henchman.

“LET ME GO THIS INSTANT!!!!” roared Stardust as she thrashed about the room. “Oh yes, she’s a feisty one, all right,” said the Grand Toyman. “Her power’s off the charts. Look at these readings.”

“Impressive. She looks strong, boss,” added the henchman as he skimmed through the notes.

“Quite. But the binding materials are dissipating the heat energy she’s using to try to escape and are keeping her under wraps,” said the Grand Toyman. “Once I find to way to harness that energy, I’ll be unstoppable.”

* * *

At the same time the Galaxy Ranger was taking Ms. Victory and Tara towards Oakland, a large section of the Pittsburgh metro area. Dressed in civilian attire, the three superheroines arrived at the physics research wing of Wean Hall on the Carnegie Mellon University campus.

“Oriana, what a lovely surprise,” greeted Kyle Lachlan, a physics professor and researcher. “What brings you here in the darkest hole of the CMU campus?”

“Kyle, this is Jen, and this is Tara,” introduced Oriana. “Remember that hypothesis you spent about six months developing in quantum physics about dimensional warping?”

“Yes, what about it?” asked Kyle.

“It’s more like a theory, now,” alluded Oriana as Jen and Tara began to explain in full detail of what they encountered.

* * *

“Okay, kids,” said Wacky Waldo, Wizard of Science, “Now we’re going to talk about turning lead into gold like they tried to do in medieval times. Do you have your science kit?”

“Science kit? Hmmm…okay!” replied Synn as she used her matter manipulation power to conjure up a home science kit that mimicked the one portrayed on the television. “Right here, Wacky Waldo!”

“That’s great!” said Waldo. “Now, let’s add chemical A to chemical B and voila, lead to gold!”

“Hmmm…chemical A plus chemical B…here we go…!” said Synn playfully as used her powers once again, literally turning a piece of lead the size of the tissue box to pure gold.

From the two-way mirror the Grand Toyman nearly wet himself out of excitement.

“Holy-moley!!!!! That ditzy blonde’s got powers beyond belief!!!!” realized the Grand Toyman. “All I got to do is keep her happy with pizza and cartoons and she’s gonna make me rich, rich, rich!!!!!”

* * *

Back at Wean Hall, Professor Kyle Lachlan conducted his preliminary tests on Ms. Victory followed by Tara. As he tested Tara, Ms. Victory spoke to the Galaxy Ranger in private.

“Thanks again for everything, Oriana,” said Ms. Victory. “How’d you get these connections?”

“I work in this area,” replied the Galaxy Ranger. “In my secret identity I’m a graduate student in biology and genetics. How about you?”

“I really don’t have a life outside of this,” conceded Ms. Victory. “It’s a long story. Does Kyle know?”

“About what I really do? Yes, he’s one of only two other regular people who know the truth,” said Oriana. “That’s why I brought you two here.”

“Well, I think I see a pattern,” commented Kyle as he printed out his findings.

“How’s that?” asked Ms. Victory.

“The two of you seem to be containing an excessive amount of some kind of electromagnetic energy I’ve never encountered before,” explained Kyle. “But you each seem to have absorbed it and it somehow brought you here to our dimension.”

“That makes sense,” added Tara. “Stardust activated an energy shield and Synn created a protective aura just as Battlezone fired that weapon; it’s like a chain reaction.”

“So if we siphon the excess energy off, does that mean they get sent back? Like an overcharged electron returning back to its original valence in an atom?’ asked the Galaxy Ranger.

“Possibly, but I’ve no idea how to siphon it off,” admitted Kyle reluctantly. “Or if I could, if it would even work.”

“I’m open for suggestions,” added Tara. “Anyone here know where we can buy some ruby slippers?”

* * *

“RRRRRRAAAAAARRRRGGHHHHH!!!!” roared Stardust as she finally broke free of her bindings after straining against them for hours. Nearly exhausted, Stardust staggered about before regaining her bearings, firing an energy blast to blow apart the door.

“Aw man, the boss ain’t gonna like this!” thought the henchman as he sounded the alarm.

Stardust left the room and went to an adjacent room, where she found Synn playfully watching cartoons on a giant sized television. In the room with her was a large pile of gold bars she converted from lead along with a trashcan filled with a discarded pizza box and empty soda pop cans.

“Oh, hi, Stardust!” said Synn.

“Glad to see you enjoying yourself, Synn,” commented Stardust sternly as she wiped the sweat from her brow. “I’m not even going to ask what happened, but we need to leave now.”

“Okey-dokey,” said Synn as she changed her nightie into her costume.

“You’re not going anywhere,” said a voice from behind.

Stardust immediately turned around and assumed a defensive stance as she replied, “Who said that?”

“I am the Grand Toyman,” said the portly Grand Toyman, dressed in his oversized novelty suit. “The platinum haired ditz’s gonna make me rich, and you’re going to make me powerful.”

“Never,” replied Stardust bitterly.

“Never say never. Just say, not yet,” threatened the Grand Toyman as two oversized robots came crashing through the wall. Stardust immediately fired a volley of energy blasts to cover her and Synn’s withdrawal from the room.

“We need to get out, fast,” said Stardust as she desperately held off the robots.

“Just a sec,” replied Synn as she used her powers to turn the wall into tissue paper. A robot struck Stardust with a well-placed punch, knocking her clear through the transformed wall into the warehouse floor below. Synn flew after her teammate and helped her up, as an army of small, medium, and large toys sprang to life and began advancing on them.

“Uh-oh…” muttered Synn.

* * *

“Any luck?” asked Tara on her wrist communicator to Miss Victory as she trailed behind in the Galaxy Ranger’s car while Ms. Victory and the Galaxy Ranger flew overhead.

“Nothing. I’m not picking up any signals from their devices. They probably shorted out like ours when we jumped dimensions,” said Ms. Victory. “Lucky we were able to score some repair parts at Kyle’s lab.”

“Let’s try the Strip District,” suggested the Galaxy Ranger. “Lots of warehouses and vacant lots. Maybe they ended up there.”

“Lead on,” said Ms. Victory.

Moments later they arrived at the bustling Strip District just outside of downtown Pittsburgh as a steady stream of tractor-trailer trucks and big rigs pulled in and out, delivering countless merchandise to distribution warehouses with customers galore on the streets and shops.

Passing by a newly renovated warehouse, Tara stopped the car at a traffic light and scanned around, then suddenly saw Stardust and Synn coming out of its windows and landing hard onto the ground nearly unconscious.

“Jen, Oriana, this is Tara,” said Tara as she pulled off the road and parked the car. “I’ve found Stardust and Synn, and they’re not alone!”

“We’ll be right there,” said Ms. Victory as she and the Galaxy Ranger increased their speed to close in on Tara’s position.

“Now, playtime’s over, and time to get back inside,” said the Grand Toyman maniacally as he emerged from the warehouse doors piloting a giant mechanized robot, bearing four legs and four arms, two of which bore fists and the other two bore machine guns. “Or do I need to play rough?”

“You called it, buster,” said Ms. Victory as she first swooped down and delivered a hard punch, knocking the giant robot suit off balance and tried to rip off one of its arms.

“Naughty, naughty. Grand Toyman must punish,” said the Grand Toyman as the two machine gun arms opened fire on Ms. Victory at point blank range, blasting her off with a hail of steel. While not piercing her flesh, the hard bullet impacts kept her stunned.

“Now for the coup de grace,” said the Grand Toyman as the chest of the robot suit opened up to a massive cannon as it prepared to deploy. Without warning a stream of searing laser struck into the bore of the cannon, detonating the ammunition inside as the robot suit exploded. As the smoke cleared, the Grand Toyman fell out of his canopy covered with black soot as his massive robot suit collapsed like a deck of cards into heaps of scorched junk metal.

“Indeed,” said the Galaxy Ranger with a smile of satisfaction, pulling her fist back to blow the smoke off of her wrist laser.

* * *

“How’re your teammates?” asked the Galaxy Ranger as the police cordoned off the area and paramedics treated Stardust and Synn. Ms. Victory was giving her statement to the police as Tara and the Galaxy Ranger remained away from the public spectacle created from everything.

“Not bad. Just a few cuts and bruises. They’ll heal quickly enough,” said Tara. “So who was that guy?”

“The Grand Toyman, a petty supervillain trying to make it big,” explained the Galaxy Ranger. “He was spotted in Orlando last year robbing kids with his remote controlled toys; who would’ve guessed he moved his operations to here? I’m glad you all were here to help catch him.”

“Thanks, but where does that leave us, now?” said Tara.

“I really don’t know,” conceded the Galaxy Ranger. “None of you have any money, so I suppose you four can crash at my place tonight and get a fresh start in the morning on how to get home.”

“SLUMBER PARTY! SLUMBER PARTY! SLUMBER PARTY!” giggled Synn cheerfully as she walked towards them, overhearing the tail end of Tara and the Galaxy Ranger’s conversation.

“What’s with her?” asked the Galaxy Ranger.

“Believe me, you don’t want to know,” said Tara.

Part II

“Make yourselves at home,” offered Galaxy Ranger as she opened the door to her apartment to allow Ms. Victory, Stardust, Tara, and Synn inside. “I should have dinner ready in about an hour or so.”

“Thanks, but we shouldn’t impose, Oriana,” said Ms. Victory. “Can’t we at least help out?”

“I kind of like being in control of my kitchen,” replied Oriana, a little embarrassed.

“Nice place you have,” complemented Synn as she flopped on the living room sofa. “It’s been a very, very long day,”

“Tell me about it,” replied Tara as she stretched out before sitting down. “How are you feeling, Stardust?”

“My head still hurts,” muttered Stardust. “Would an aspirin help? It’s acetyl salicylic acid,” said Galaxy Ranger.

“Yes, it would be fine. Why the chemical name, may I ask?” commented Stardust.

“I wasn’t sure how the chemicals here are Earth would react to your alien chemistry, Stardust,” replied Galaxy Ranger as she handed her two aspirin and a glass of water. “Which planet are you originally from?”

“Thank you. I’m the top scientist from the planet Rur. Have you been there?” asked Stardust.

“No, sorry. I’ve been to Aldeberan Seven and Typhorus One, though,” replied Galaxy Ranger. “Either of those planets sound familiar to you?”

“No, I’m afraid not,” answered Stardust. “I guess we’ll have to compare star charts some time!”

“I suppose so,” said Galaxy Ranger pleasantly as she starting boiling a large pot of water.

Galaxy Ranger prepared a large pan of lasagna for the dinner meal along with a large salad and Italian bread to go with it. She figured it’d fill them up well enough while not breaking her food budget. About three hours later the five heroines consumed the dinner meal and loaded up the dishwasher for the night before relaxing in the living room.

“That was wonderful. Thank you,” said Ms. Victory as Synn let out a couple hiccups.

“You’re welcome,” replied Galaxy Ranger. “I have enough blankets and pillows for everyone, but am not sure who’s going to sleep where. I only have one guest bed in the spare bedroom. Do you have any suggestions?”

“Stardust was hurt the most in today’s little scuffle, I’d say she gets the spare bed,” suggested Tara.

“I do not need preferential treatment,” stated Stardust.

“Tara’s right, Stardust,” added Synn. “You need rest.”

“Yes, I saw first hand how much beauty sleep you received at the hospitality of that villain,” replied Stardust.

“Okay, I know where this is going…” muttered Galaxy Ranger, who knew all too well that despite their amazing powers, they were still strongly emotional women prone to bickering now and then when given the opportunity. “I have a plan.”

Galaxy Ranger went to the kitchen and returned with four pieces of dried spaghetti. “Okay, you know the drill. Take one. Small stick gets the spare bed,” said Galaxy Ranger.

“You’re kidding,” replied Ms. Victory. “We’re drawing straws?”

“And, your problem is…?” joked Galaxy Ranger.

“Not at all,” said Ms. Victory as they each drew a piece of dried spaghetti, with Tara getting the spare bed.

“Clever thinking, Oriana,” said Ms. Victory pleasantly.

“Thanks, but get used to this method. It’s how we’re deciding who uses the bathroom first tomorrow,” replied Galaxy Ranger.

Ms. Victory, Synn, Tara, and Stardust burst out in laughter.

* * *

It was around 11:45 PM and Tara was fast asleep on the spare bed in the guest bedroom, while Ms. Victory and Synn slept on the floor in other room used as a study room in some borrowed sleeping bags Galaxy Ranger got from her neighbors down the hall. Stardust elected to sleep on the living room couch, but was still wide awake as Galaxy Ranger entered in long sleeve workout shirt and pair of boxer shorts, finding her watching some late night talk shows.

“Anything good?” said Galaxy Ranger.

“Strange, we have the identical television personalities in our universe, but there I never watched them. Now that we’re here, I was relieved to see them on these channels,” commented Stardust. “Why is that?”

“It’s probably because they’re familiar and remind you that you haven’t gone insane, Stardust,” suggested the Galaxy Ranger.

“I suppose so,” agreed Stardust. “Oh, my name’s Mara.”

“Mine’s Oriana,” said Galaxy Ranger. “So you can’t sleep, either, can you?”

“I am still wondering how we got here and how we are to return home,” conceded Stardust. “And yourself?”

“Tara snores like a buzz saw and Synn talks in cartoon voices in her sleep. I don’t know how Ms. Victory can sleep at all,” replied Galaxy Ranger.

“Jennifer stuffs cotton in her ears and then wraps a towel over her head. It works for her,” responded Stardust.

“Well, staying up all night isn’t going to help either of us,” commented Oriana as she heated up some milk and poured them into two mugs with some chocolate syrup. “This always helped me when I was a stressed out undergrad.”

“Thank you,” said Stardust as the two drank their warm milk cocoa. Within 30 minutes, Stardust was asleep on the couch and Galaxy Ranger was asleep in her bed also, although with a pillow over her head as Tara snored and Synn giggled aloud.

The next morning Galaxy Ranger pulled out five pieces of dried spaghetti to determine who would get the bathroom first. Synn drew the shortest straw and was the first one inside showering up as Galaxy Ranger started preparing breakfast.

“What exactly is a Galaxy Ranger, Oriana?” asked Stardust.

“It’s kind of like an interplanetary cop,” explained Galaxy Ranger as she began beating the eggs. “We’re each assigned a sector to patrol and round up alien criminals who seem to pop up on Earth a lot.”

“Why’s that?” asked Tara.

“I don’t know. Maybe the shopping?” commented Galaxy Ranger humorously. “My predecessor could probably give you a more thorough explanation about the whole organization; I try to stay away from all the bureaucracy involved.”

“Could your superiors help us? Their technology is clearly more advanced than what’s here on Earth,” suggested Stardust.

“Possibly, but only as a last resort,” said Galaxy Ranger. “It’s primarily a law enforcement group, not a lost and found service. I’d prefer to show them that we’ve exhausted our options here before going to them for assistance.”

“Sounds fair enough,” said Ms. Victory as Synn came out from the hallway in a bathrobe. “Where to, this morning?”

“I was thinking about taking Stardust with me to meet with Kyle again at Wean Hall. He has some prototype devices on quantum theory that she might be able to advance with her expertise,” suggested Galaxy Ranger. “I don’t see a reason to take the rest of you along, you can relax here or hang out in the city. Everything’s in walking distance and I can leave you a little cash if you need bus fare or to grab a bite to eat here and there.”

“I like this woman,” whispered the starry eyed Synn. “She’s paying us to hang out.”

“Shhh…!” muttered Tara.

“Are you sure?” said Ms. Victory skeptically. “Wouldn’t it be better if we came with you?”

“The two of us entering would be less conspicuous,” explained the Galaxy Ranger. “Having you four coming with me at the same time, even in regular clothes, would create quite a stir of curiosity that we don’t need.”

“I’m not following,” replied Ms. Victory.

“Think Baywatch meets Revenge of the Nerds,” suggested Galaxy Ranger.

“Ohhhhh….” said Ms. Victory in an epiphany.

* * *

About three hours later all five heroines were finished cleaning up in the bathroom, changed into regular civilian clothes, and eaten breakfast. As Galaxy Ranger took Stardust to Wean Hall on Carnegie Mellon University, Tara decided to go to the arboretum in Schenley Park outside the campus area while Ms. Victory and Synn hopped on a bus line to the Allegheny Center planetarium located near the heart of downtown Pittsburgh.

Upon entering the planetarium as it opened, the eager and wide eyed Synn first walked up to one of the child activity units illustrating the operation of the lunar lander as Ms. Victory paid the entrance fee for the two of them.

“Oooh, what does THIS button do?” giggled Synn.

“It’s going to be a long day,” thought Ms. Victory. “Nightveil’s so much better at keeping an eye on Synn than I am.”

* * *

Elsewhere Tara was among the first to enter the arboretum, a welcome change from the wintry weather she was dealing with while in Pittsburgh. Lush tropical trees and flowers from around the world filled the robust complex, making Tara a little homesick as a bald man wearing glasses greeted her.

“Hello, first time at the arboretum?” said the man as he handed her a tour guide pamphlet.

“Yes, thank you,” replied Tara as she took a good, hard look at him, as he looked strangely familiar. Tara then scanned his nametag, which read, “Dr. Heinrich Rittmeist.”

“Could it be him? The Nazi scientist behind Lady Panzer and Lady Luger?” realized Tara. “Or is this just a coincidence on this world?”

“This can’t be her! It’s impossible. A wild coincidence, it must be!” thought Dr. Rittmeist. “Still, there’s a way to find out.”

“How would you like a free tour? I’m one of researchers here,” offered Dr. Rittmeist.

“Oh, I couldn’t impose…” replied Tara.

“Not at all. You look like a nature lover yourself, Miss…” said Dr. Rittmeist.

“Fremont. Tara Fremont.” answered Tara.

“Tara Fremont of the accursed FemForce! How could they have tracked me here?! It’s impossible! This is a coincidence, it has to be!” thought Dr. Rittmeist.

“Shall we go?” offered Dr. Rittmeist.

“Lead on,” said Tara pleasantly.

For the first twenty minutes Dr. Rittmeist gave her a guided overview of the arboretum, slowly gaining a basic trust before leading her into his private laboratory, a secluded section that was newly added to it over the past two years.

“How long have you been in Pittsburgh, Miss Fremont?” asked Dr. Rittmeist.

“Oh, I’m just visiting,” replied Tara. “I reside in Florida, actually. How about you?”

“Ah, Florida’s a beautiful state in a beautiful country,” replied Dr. Rittmeist. “I’ve been here about two years, give or take a month or two.”

“What kind of plants are these?” asked Tara. “I’ve never seen them before.”

Painting of Tara by Marcus Boas“Ah yes, they’re a special breed. They emit a most fragrant scent that lasts quite a while; I’ve been trying to develop it as a substitute for using animal materiel like ambergris in the production of perfume,” explained Dr. Rittmeist. “Why don’t you sample it?”

“Okay,” agreed Tara as she walked over to it, when suddenly vines ensnared her wrists and ankles at first before ripping off her clothes within seconds, revealing her green camouflaged bikini and knife strapped to her leg.

“WHAT THE….!” yelled Tara.

“So, it IS you. Tara of FemForce!!!!” realized Dr. Rittmeist. “I don’t know how you tracked me across the dimensions, but my carnivorous plant will finish you once and for all!”

“YOU!!!” shouted Tara, realizing that it really was Dr. Rittmeist, formerly of the infamous Third Reich who oversaw the creation of Lady Panzer and other super powered muscle fighting for the Nazis. Using his own version of the V-45 formula, he’s been able to stave off the effects of aging to an extent, and somehow transported himself from their home dimension into this one. “ALL THIS TIME…!!!! WE THOUGHT YOU WERE DEAD!!!”

“No, simply disappeared,” replied Dr. Rittmeist sinisterly. “I’m sure in some other dimension Elvis is having a grand old time.”

“AAARRRGHHH!!!” yelled out Tara as the vines tightened their grip around her. Tara managed to grab her knife, but with her wrist ensnared she could cut herself free.

“It’ll be over soon enough,” cackled Dr. Rittmeist. “How’d you do it?” grunted Tara. “How’d you get from our world to this one?”

“A lucky accident, really,” conceded Dr. Rittmeist. “I was trying to develop a quantum energy bomb to annihilate you all in one fell swoop but the prototype went off prematurely and created a dimensional rift that warped space and time itself, it seems. I ended up here. A lucky event, wouldn’t you say?”

“Yeah…great…” muttered Tara. “I hate to do this, but you leave me no choice.”

Tara bit down on the vines, piercing its vegetated flesh with her teeth to free her wrist. Tara immediately impaled the plant as she rammed the knife backwards, driving it deep into its core as she pulled it out and stabbed again. Mortally wounded, the carnivorous plant released its grip on Tara as it flailed wildly while Dr. Rittmeist ran to grab one of his weapons.

“OH NO, YOU DON’T!!!” yelled Tara as she jumped off the plant and delivered a hard kick into the back of Dr. Rittmeist, knocking him to the floor out cold.

Tara activated her communicator to Ms. Victory and Stardust. “Meet me at the arboretum. We’re going home,” said Tara sternly.

* * *

An hour later Ms. Victory, Stardust, Synn, Tara, and Galaxy Ranger had Dr. Rittmeist in custody and were reviewing the design schematics he recorded on his desktop computer. Coincidentally, he had another prototype of the quantum bomb constructed in his private lab that was inactive.

“It won’t work. It has no power source,” blurted out Dr. Rittmeist. “I wasn’t able to steal something to power it up without getting caught.”

“Which was why you worked at the arboretum, to try and steal some of the experimental energy sources they’ve been working at the universities in town,” deduced Galaxy Ranger.

“Yes, very clever,” muttered Dr. Rittmeist.

“Quantum theory is based on photon energy, right?” said Tara.

“Yes, that’s what Kyle told me,” agreed Galaxy Ranger.

“Yes, that’s true,” added Stardust.

“Can’t you two charge it up?” suggested Tara. “The Galaxy Ranger’s lasers and Stardust’s star energy just might be enough to start the chain reaction to get us home.

“It also could blow everyone to kingdom come,” commented Galaxy Ranger. “True, but Synn can create a shield so if the worst happens, it’ll only affect us,” said Ms. Victory. “It just might be our only way home.”

“It’s up to you,” said Galaxy Ranger.

“I’m for it,” said Tara.

“Me too,” said Synn.

“I, as well,” said Stardust.

“And you know how I feel,” stated Ms. Victory. “Let’s do it.”

Synn created a defensive field around them as Stardust and Galaxy Ranger began charging the quantum bomb with their star and laser blasts, feeding a steady stream at a low level. Slowly, they increased more and more power as the quantum bomb began activating with a short countdown.

“No time for long goodbyes, Oriana, get out of here or you’re coming with us,” said Ms. Victory.

“Good luck,” said Galaxy Ranger as she gave them a quick hug and flew out of the lab through a temporary hole in the shield Synn created and watched overhead as a large glowing orb engulfed them within Synn’s shield before imploding in on itself. Galaxy Ranger descended and surveyed the area, finding no sign of them.

“God speed,” whispered Galaxy Ranger.

* * *

Ms. Victory, Stardust, Tara, Synn, and Dr. Rittmeist blacked out from the implosion of quantum energy and awoke on a rooftop with the hot sun beating down on them. Ms. Victory was the first to awake, seeing everyone sprawled and out cold. Ms. Victory walked to the edge of the roof and scanned around the immediate area, finding several large billboards posted.

The first read, “HIDALGO, ONLY ON CHANNEL 10”

“No way,” said Ms. Victory as a smile started to form on her face.

The second read, “USE STELLA STARGAZE COSMETICS AND BE THE TRENDSETTER!”

“No way,” added Ms. Victory as the smile started to grow.

The third read, “SEE RAYDA IN ACTION WOMAN RETURNS, OPENING FEB 4TH! ONLY IN THEATRES!”

“Way,” said Ms. Victory with a beaming grin. “We’re home.”

THE END

Continue Reading

With a Bullet by Femfan1

With a Bullet by Femfan1 from story concepts by P. O’Donnel

A gloved hand reached up to knock on the massive oaken door. A courtesy. She had been under constant video surveillance since her vehicle had entered the front drive. Upon her arrival, the steel security gate had swung open allowing her access to the walled compound of the estate. She was expected. Indeed, her presence had been requested.

Before she could rap her knuckles against the wood, the door clicked open and she was confronted by a large man in an ill-fitting suit. His unbuttoned jacket did little to conceal the bulge of the automatic weapon beneath.

Disappointment registered on his face as his eyes gave her the once over. With a gesture, he ushered her inside, closing the door behind her.

“Please, follow me.”

The Weapons Mistress took in the floorplan of the rooms as she casually obeyed the instruction. To the side, rooms led to more rooms, interconnected, while the entrance foyer shifted into a narrower hallway at the center of the dual staircase between which they now travelled. At the back of the hallway, a left turn brought them into a study where two more men talked. The larger of the two gentlemen was dressed much like her guide and was roughly the same height, although a little puffier. The seated man, dressed in jeans and a golf shirt, was almost certainly her host. Their conversation broke off as she entered the room.

“Ahhh, Colt! Thank you, for coming!” The man rising to his feet extended his hand in welcome. “I’m Jim Courtwright.”

“Hello, Mr. Courtwright.” Colt nodded to her host and acknowledged his companion, as well.

“Forgive me, this is my head of security, Bill Mueller.”

“It’s nice to meet you both. What can I do for you, Mr. Courtwright? You seemed to be in quite a hurry to see me.”

“Mmm… right to it. Yes, that’s for the best. Wilson, would you mind leaving us alone for a moment. Close the door behind you, please.”

Her guide exited the room and the door shut.

“Would you like to have a seat?”

“Thank you.” Colt moved toward the offered chair but, feigning distraction, detoured to the antique flintlock pistol displayed on the wall. “I take it you’re an afficionado of firearms, Mr. Courtwright?”

“Uhm, yes, yes, I am. Well, antiques, actually. Not just firearms, either. Furnishings, sculptures…” Breaking off his thought, he lifted a piece of paper from his desk and extended it towards her. “This is why I’ve asked to meet with you.”

Colt took the piece of paper, blank except for a short note printed in standard type.

“Enjoy tomorrow because the next sunset will be the last time you live to see daylight.”

An agitated Courtwright held up a handful of similar papers. “These came before. I hadn’t taken them very seriously. Because of my wealth, the threat of kidnaping for ransom is always present. I’ve even had threats on my life before as a result of ill feelings after business deals. Mueller here has been handling my security for many years and I have the utmost confidence in his abilities. No threat has ever come close to being carried out.”

The big man’s eyes seemed to be staring a hole in the floor. Colt handed the threatening note back to Courtwright.

“I initially hired Bill because he had the reputation as one of the best security men in the business. He’s proven his abilities and I’ve trusted him with my life. However, while one of the best, he’s not ‘the best’ in the business. From all I understand, that title belongs to you, and present circumstances require that I be protected by the best.”

“What makes the most recent threat of any more concern than the others, Mr. Courtwright?” Colt studied Mueller’s attempts to hide his discomfort at the perceived injury to his reputation by his employer.

“The fact that it was waiting on my pillow when I went to bed last night. That’s a breach of security that’s unprecedented. What’s worse, nobody can tell me how it happened so I can’t be certain it won’t happen again.”

“So, you want to hire me to find out how security was breached.”

“Yes, for a start. I also want to live to see tomorrow morning and I want whoever’s making these threats caught. If you’re as good as I hear you are, and given the rather specific nature of the most recent threat, I believe we’re talking about one night’s work. Needless to say, I’ll pay handsomely for your services.”

Colt considered the offer. She wished she had more background on her potential client. The quick background check she had completed this morning before agreeing to meet with him had revealed only that he had no criminal record or known criminal associates. Her more detailed check conducted on the plane ride here had disclosed that much of his wealth had been inherited, although he had invested wisely and had added to the family fortune. A rare mention in the society pages. An even rarer mention in the financial section. He seemed nervous, eager to have her accept his offer. Natural under the circumstances.

“My normal rate for investigation is $1000 a day, plus expenses. I don’t generally act as a bodyguard, although under the circumstances keeping you alive is part of the deal. In that regard, I wouldn’t want there to be any friction with Mr. Mueller and his associates. I’d appreciate his assistance, but I’d be working for you.”

“$1000?” Courtwright reached into his desk drawer and pulled out a stack of bills. Peeling two from the top, he handed them to Colt. “This being Friday, I went to the bank and withdrew some money so that I’d have cash for a down payment in the event you agreed to help me. It appears my idea of the value of my life is quite a bit higher than your ‘normal’ rate. Strange, I find myself wishing you’d asked for more, although I suppose I’ll get your best effort no matter what I pay.”

Colt took the bills and slipped them into her jacket pocket. “I’ll need a rundown of everything that’s happened so far. A layout of the estate and the buildings on it, and the security measures in place.”

“Of course! Bill, take care of it.”

Mueller nodded his head in assent. “Yes, sir! Colt if you’ll come with me we can head over to the main security room and I’ll answer any questions you have.”

Colt followed Mueller out of the study and down a staircase. The security chief seemed to be handling the incursion into his area of responsibility well. He swiped a passcard through a reader and a metal door opened into a room full of video monitors. Sitting down at a table, he pushed a folder in her direction. “Here’s a copy of the file. Everything we’ve got on this case.”

The Weapons Mistress surveyed the contents. “Mm-hmm. Tell me about the estate.”

“About 25 acres. Roughly rectangular. It’s walled on 3 sides. Stone. You saw. About 8 feet high. The top has broken glass cemented onto it and a 3 foot barbed-wire extension tilted out. There are motion sensors on the inside perimeter set about 4 feet high and 10 feet wide. The fourth side is a cliff face that looks out on the ocean. There’s a 12 foot high electrified fence that’s turned on at night. There’s also a security gate that leads to steps down to the beach. Three of my people patrol the grounds randomly every night, coding in their arrival at checkpoints they’re required to reach at least once every hour. We also have electronic video surveillance of the grounds. The cameras pan automatically but can also be manually operated from this room. There are no blindspots within 100 yards of the main house.”

“What about the other buildings?”

“A guest house, a 6-car garage, an outdoor kitchen, a shower when you come up from the beach. We’ve swept the structures and all are empty. Video surveillance around each.”

“How about surveillance inside the main house?”

“None. Mr. Courtwright doesn’t want it. Instead, he’s got live-in security. Myself, Wilson, Jones, de Souza, and Ames. Those are my people. We’ve all worked together at least 10 years. They’re professionals. I just don’t know how this guy got into the house!”

“Guy?”

“Man, woman, who knows. My gut says it’s a guy!”

“Mmm…Okay, theories on how the threat got into his room?”

“He was at a charity function last night. People knew that he’d be attending and that it would run late. Three of us were with him, so only two people were left to watch the grounds. One outside and one in this room. Neither saw or heard anything suspicious.”

“What about other staff?”

“A cook, a butler, and a maid. They had left for the day before we headed out to the charity event on Thursday evening. This morning he called them all and gave them today and the rest of the weekend off. Fewer people for us to keep track of inside the house.”

“Okay, I’d like to meet the rest of your people.”

“Let’s take a walk.”

With efficiency, Colt was introduced to Candace Jones, Patricia de Souza and Ronald Ames, and re-introduced to Phil Wilson. All four seemed fiercely loyal to Mueller but she didn’t sense great irritation that she had been employed. The Weapons Mistress found it odd that they weren’t more ticked off that she was there. It would only be natural for them to be annoyed by the thought that their employer had found their services deficient.

By the time she had inspected the length of the grounds and all of the structures, it was dusk. Colt returned with Mueller to the main house where both once again met with Mr. Courtwright.

The Weapons Mistress wasted no time, “Let Mr. Mueller and his people handle things on their end, business as usual. I’d like to put a wire on you so that we can communicate directly at any time. I’m aware of your feelings about your privacy b…”

“Nonsense! These are extraordinary circumstances. You want me to wear a wire, I’ll wear a wire!”

“Good. That’s sensible.” Colt pulled a small transmitter/receiver from a pouch on her belt and inserted it inside Courtwright’s ear. One of her own earrings received transmissions on the same frequency. “Okay, everyone can carry on as usual. I’ll be around.”

With that pronouncement, the Weapons Mistress turned on her heels and walked toward the steps leading to the main security room, leaving Courtwright to ponder what exactly she would be doing to protect him. After a moment’s hesitation, Mueller followed.

“You’ll be around?” A grin flashed across Mueller’s face.

“Yeah. I want to see those floorplans again and I’m going to want access to every room in the house.”

Mueller slid his access card through the door lock and they entered the security room. “Sure, I’ll tell my people not to get in your way.”

The bank of video monitors panned the grounds. “Well, the sun’s set. 9 hours ‘till dawn. Time to get to work.” Colt strode out of the security room with plans in hand, leaving Mueller to oversee his own people. Something about the “security” didn’t seem right to her, but she didn’t sense that any of them were behind Courtwright’s troubles. The first question to answer was how somebody got into the house to leave the note. Even with only two security people present last night, the other measures should ordinarily have been sufficient to keep unwanted intruders from accessing the grounds. Perhaps a highly skilled thief? Not usually the type to commit murder. Although not out of the question. Dollface leapt to mind! Still, what dealings would Courtwright have had with her?

Another possibility was an inside job. Her earlier walk-through of the house hadn’t measured up. Now, as she paced the formal living room, it was clear that the dimensions did not correspond with the floorplan. Secret passageways wouldn’t be uncommon in a house of this vintage. If the occupants knew of them, why wasn’t she told, and, if they didn’t, who might?

In her ear, she listened to Courtwright as he prepared for bed. The sound of the TV turning on caught her attention. Reaching into her belt, she activated her transmitter, “Mr. Courtwright, please turn off the TV, the noise might mask something I need to hear.”

“But, how’m I going to fall asleep?”

“Read a book, count sheep, no TV, no radio.”

The TV turned off and she could hear him rummaging around. The sound of his body climbing back into bed was followed by the flipping of pages and muttering. It would seem he’d chosen reading a book. Colt returned the transmitter to her belt and continued examining the living room. If there was a secret passageway, she placed it between this room and the study. She surveyed the fixtures. None appeared to be original to the room. At the rear of the room, two thin lines of dust at the baseboard of the inset bookcase. Typical, but where’s the release catch? Extracting a small aerosol bottle from a pouch on her boot, she sprayed the woodwork of the cabinet. The oily residue of fingerprints concentrated in one area led her to closer inspection and, when she pushed with her own thumb in the same spot, the bookcase slid forward noiselessly to reveal the passageway between the walls that she had suspected.

Extracting a small flashlight, she entered the darkness, following a collection of footprints left in the dust. Her path took her to the edge of a staircase leading both down into the darkness and up toward the second floor. She had an idea where the passage up came out, Courtwright’s bedroom, but what of the one going down?

Suddenly, in her ear, she heard the sound of Courtwright stirring. “Wha..? You! How’d you get in here? Wait! Colt! Colt, where are you!?! No! Nmph!” The sound of Courtwright’s muffled voice echoed in the Weapons Mistress’s ear as she bounded up the steps of the interior staircase. Then, two muffled shots and silence!

Colt had reached the top of the stairs and turned a corner in the passageway when she saw that the secret entrance to Courtwright’s room was ajar. Her Clippers already in her hands, she proceeded cautiously. Whoever had been in Courtwright’s room hadn’t exited this way and she had to assume was still in there. Sliding out of the passage into the moonlit room, she found no one. Moving quietly and ever alert, she checked the bedroom door and found it locked. A quick glance under the bed and up at the ceiling revealed nothing. The closet was empty, as was the bathroom, and the window latched shut. Could there be another exit to a different passageway?

She approached Courtwright’s bed. His body, sprawled out beneath the covers, was motionless. A bullet-riddled pillow covered his face. “Damn!” A note pinned to the other side of the pillow caught her attention. Leaning over, so as not to disturb the scene, she grasped the corner of the message and peered at it in the low light.

“Good night, Colt?” A flash of light from below blinded her as smoke billowed up into her mouth and nostrils! Coughing from the noxious fumes, she stepped back, her mind reeling! In a daze she stumbled back toward the bed, grabbing the now destroyed pillow and tossing it aside to reveal the shattered head of a mannequin.

She was vaguely aware that the lights had come on in the room as she fell forward, queasy, her head swimming in an ocean of swirling colors. Her body slumped upon the bed, but rubbery legs were unable to support her and she slid down until her momentum left her toppling backwards onto the floor. Lashes fluttered over glazed eyes before heavy lids shut and she sank into unconsciousness.

Part 2

“Unhh…”

COLT2-1Conscious thoughts drifted into her dream and the Weapons Mistress realized she was awakening. Her body ached. The sensation of liquid on her lips suggested blood. Odd, she didn’t remember taking a beating.

“Uhh…”

She forced her eyes open for the briefest of moments before the first glare of light slammed them shut again. Trying again, she managed a view through fluttering eyelashes but the gauzy haze revealed nothing. Blinking her eyelids open, she gave her pupils some time to adjust. Through still cloudy vision she realized somebody was right in her face, peering at her.

“Ohh…”

Shutting her eyes briefly, she tried to clear her head. It seemed even her teeth hurt. Determined, she opened her eyes again to return the stare of…

“Mmm…”

Her own reflection. As her vision, and her wits, returned, it occurred to her that she was laying face down. The bloody lip she had imagined, only drool escaping from the side of her mouth. She rolled herself over on to her back and wiped her mouth dry with her forearm. The stiffness in her arms and legs, and the crick in the back of her neck, signaled she had been motionless in her previous position for some time. Colt felt bruising on her chin and cheek. Whoever had left her in here hadn’t been worried about her hurting herself as she hit the floor. She shivered. The room was inordinately cold. She looked up at the ceiling a good 30 feet away. Most likely plexiglass, the light bathing the room originating on the other side. The walls, stainless steel.

“Urrr…”

Colt sits and contemplates her situation!Her bearings established, she moved herself into a sitting position. Her costume had been removed. That would at least partially explain why she felt she was freezing. She had been left in a bra and panties. She didn’t need to check to know that her earrings had been removed, as well. Colt noted ruefully that even her fingernails had been trimmed.

She contemplated the undergarments that clearly were not the ones she had previously been wearing. The black lace bra was at least two sizes to small and so constricting that she wondered if it might be affecting her circulation. The matching thong panties fit only slightly better. Her captor had been thorough. He had taken no chance that she had secreted a weapon in any article of her clothing. Indeed, it was a smart move on his part, she had used the underwire in her bra to escape predicaments before. Still, why not leave her naked?

“Hmmm…”

Most likely, there was some kind of tracking device attached to the clothing. She made a mental note to ditch the provided outfit when she came up with a plan for escape. In the meantime, what little coverage it provided was welcome.

Standing, she looked around the room. It was approximately 8 feet by 8 feet, with no windows. The floor and walls were stainless steel as she had initially surmised. The door was recessed perfectly and, from a distance, its’ location was barely noticeable.

Knitting her brow, she considered the events that had brought her to this room. Clearly, the plot against Courtwright had been a ruse to lure her into a trap. Why her? Perhaps more importantly, why him? Was he the mastermind or acting as a pawn for someone else? Her last memory before awaking was looking up through glazed eyes at his face. If he was behind this, he obviously had some plan for her or he wouldn’t have kept her alive when he had her completely at his mercy. She’d find out soon enough what he had in mind. Meanwhile, she moved about the room trying to generate some body heat to ward off the cold.

***

“Ahh, our Weapons Mistress is awake, is she?”

Courtwright strode into the observation room where Mueller observed the closed-circuit feed from the camera hidden in the lights above Colt’s cell.

“Yes, sir. She’s up and about.”

“Taking her capture well?”

“Very calm.”

“Good. You’ve got the air conditioning cranked up, right?”

COLT2-2“Per instruction. She’s been moving around, trying to warm herself up. When I zoom in, you can see the goosebumps, though.”

“Now, Bill, why would you need to zoom in?” Courtwright laughed and slapped his security chief on the shoulder. “I think it’s time to make it a little colder in there. Crank up the air conditioning. Maybe you won’t need to zoom in to see the goosebumps.”

“Yes, sir. Tell me something…”

“You want to know why she’s not nekkid, Bill?”

“Mm-hmm.”

“So does she. One more thing for her to think about. Don’t forget to lower the temperature in there. I’ll be back in a couple of hours.”

***

A shivering Valencia Kirk stopped to assess her condition. By her count, based upon the steady walking pace she had maintained and the number of steps she had taken, approximately 2 hours had passed. Despite her efforts, she knew her body temperature had fallen. The blue lips and pallid skin of the reflection on the wall told her she was slowly freezing. If she didn’t produce more body heat, it wouldn’t be long before she sank into unconsciousness. The drawback was that to produce more kinetic energy she had to exert more effort. She could only keep up a high enough level for so long and then, tired and sweaty, the cold would do her in twice as fast. Still, better to try something than to slide slowly into oblivion.

Continuing to keep track of her steps, she picked up the pace. Jogging in a circle around the room, she felt some warmth return to her limbs. To take her mind off the cold, she let her mind wander to her encounters with James Courtwright as she tried to deduce the motivation for imprisoning her.

***

Mueller glanced up at the clock. 6 hours since she had first awakened. He’d passed up every opportunity to go on break. The sight of the diminutive hardbody bouncing around the room as her ill-fitting ensemble struggled to contain her flesh had been exhilarating! Oddly, that sensation paled in comparison to the more fascinating recent hours as he had watched her pace slow.

A weary and cold Colt struggles for survival!The bounce in her step had gone and more leaden legs trudged forward. Occasional bursts of energy quickly subsided and the glistening sweat on her skin had gradually taken on the look of frost. Every step seemed more difficult than the last as her strength inexorably diminished, and now, her legs failing her, she stumbled against the wall, leaning heavily against the steel, unable to stand on wobbly legs without assistance. Her fingers struggled to unsecure the bra constricting her heaving chest but, to no avail, as weariness and extreme cold hampered her dexterity. Finally, she slid down the wall to the floor, balling up to try and contain some warmth.

Mueller pressed the intercom button. “Mr. Courtwright, the cold’s got her.”

After a long pause, the panel squawked back, “About time. Turn off the air conditioning and bring the heating coils online.”

Mueller did as instructed and signaled his man at the door to take over for him while he took a break. He wondered if James Courtwright had considered the prospect that the heroine might strip for them of her own volition when the decision was made to dress her in clothing that allowed her to retain the barest measure of her dignity. If so, the deviousness was impressive.

***

COLT2-3The cold chills that wracked Valencia Kirk’s body had imperceptibly been diminishing for the better part of an hour when she sensed warmth replacing the chill in her bones. So, the plan wasn’t for her to freeze to death, at least not yet. As her body temperature slowly returned to normal, she took advantage of the opportunity to relax. Stretching out on the floor, she closed her eyes and reflected on the purpose behind her torture. She had been taken to the brink of death and then spared. Why? Was it as simple as a sadistic impulse to keep her alive so that she could act as a further victim, or was there more to it? Perhaps, a test? Of stamina? Or will?

One thing was for certain, she wasn’t done. Heat would be the next hurdle. She could feel the steel below her back getting hotter. Then, the room went completely dark and she heard a sound from somewhere overhead before the metallic ringing of an object hitting the floor reverberated around the room. When the lights returned seconds later, she raised herself up onto her haunches and looked to see what had joined her in her cell. A bar of chocolate? She walked over and picked it up.

“Hmmm.”

An energy bar. Unwrapped. Drugged? She tossed it in the corner. No need to find out. Any benefit it could give would be temporary and was outweighed by the risk. Besides, it had already provided her with confirmation of what had previously only been speculation. There was access to the room through the ceiling and, most likely, cameras up above recording her every move. Of course, that knowledge and a nickel wouldn’t buy her a dime candy.

The room had become uncomfortably warm as she wiped the sweat from her brow. Temperature extremes. She’d been right. It seemed part of the agenda was to wear her down physically and mentally. She decided the plan wasn’t for her to die in this room and that whatever happened here was leading up to something else. She shifted her weight from one foot to the other and watched the chocolate covering of the energy bar melt onto the floor.

***

Colt gets the hotfoot!Ames watched as beads of perspiration falling from the Weapons Mistress’s body turned to steam upon hitting the steel floor of her cell. That was more like it! The hotfoot provided by raising the temperature had lifted her from the doldrums of heat exhaustion and sent her knees thrusting into the air as she tried to avoid burning the soles of her feet. As expected, Ames was enjoying the show, salivating over the jiggling flesh on the monitor, when Mueller returned.

“Ron, what the hell?”

“She needed a little wake-up, boss!”

“Dammit! Courtwright wants her softened up, not cooked! Knock it off!”

“Okay. Okay. Here, I’m turning the setting back to where it was before. Are you happy now? Jeez, I just wanted to have a little fun!”

“You better hope that this little stunt of yours doesn’t get back to Courtwright. He’ll have your head. Get outta here, you’re back on perimeter duty.”

“Aww, come on, Bill! She’s not hurt. Look! She’s fine!”

“Yeah, no thanks to you. I hope the show was worth it, Ron, because I’m not letting you behind these controls again.”

“Damn, Bill,” Ames got up to leave the control room. “Well,” he turned and winked at his boss, “It was worth it.”

Mueller watched him go and, as the door shut, he chuckled to himself. “I’ll bet it was.”

***

An exhausted Valencia Kirk, breathing heavily, staggered across the floor. Every breath caused her to wince from the pain in her lungs. The metal had cooled enough that she was in no danger of burning her feet but the temperature in the room still had the feel of a sauna. Weary, she dropped to her knees and tried to compose herself. When the floor had heated to burning temperatures, she’d wondered if she’d been wrong about the plan not being for her to die in this room. Now, as the heat had again become more bearable before she suffered any serious injury, she was more convinced than ever that she had been right.

Lifting her head, she looked up at the lights and smiled.

“I’m still here.”

COLT2-4

Part 3

The lights had gone out but the stifling heat remained and there was a heavy dampness in the air that could not be accounted for solely by the steam rising from her own sweat. The humidity in the room filled her lungs and made it difficult for her to breathe. An additional torment? The scent, not eucalyptus, but familiar. Of course! Val dropped to the floor and kept her breathing shallow. Gas!

Despite her quick reaction, she was already feeling light-headed. Indeed, she realized that there was little she could do to prevent herself from feeling whatever effect was intended. Once the room was saturated, staying low would be little help as the fumes would gradually sink all the way to the floor. She felt her mind tiring and her breathing grew heavy. With a start she realized the lights had come back on but the room was engulfed in fog. Had she heard a door opening? Two sets of hands grabbed her arms and forced them behind her back as a knee pressed between her shoulder blades kept her stationary on the floor. Once her wrists had been safely shackled together, she was roughly hoisted to her feet to be escorted from the room. In truth, despite her efforts to walk on her own might, her rubbery legs left her handlers to do most of the work as she was unceremoniously dragged into a hallway.

Free from the noxious air, her mind began to clear and she recognized Jones and Wilson as they took off their gas masks. She tried to rise to her feet but stumbling legs still refused to follow her mental command and she again found herself half-dragged, half-carried by the pair through a haze of corridors until, with a suddenness, she was on the grounds of the estate squinting against the late afternoon sunshine.

The fresh air and natural light aided her in shaking off the effects of the sleeping gas and, by the time the trio reached their evident destination, Val was again alert and fit. Courtwright stood with the rest of his bodyguards before her.

“Hey, there, Colt, I hope you’ve been enjoying the accommodations!” Courtwright had a wide grin on his face from the knowing sarcasm, cocksure that he was in control.

Val took a long look at her “host.” He was decked out like some gunfighter in a spaghetti western with a longcoat, double-gunbelts, and two six-shooters. She pursed her lips as if giving the question consideration. “Not particularly.”

“Well, we’ll have to do something about that.” Courtwright retained the grin, but his annoyance at the nature of her reaction was visible in his eyes. He had expected false bravado from a proud heroine. “I suppose you’re wondering why I’ve brought you here?”

“Actually, I’m more interested in determining how I’m going to leave.”

There was a little bit more of the attitude he expected, although still not what he had imagined. Courtwright had to admit she was a cool one. “Oh, it all ties in. You may recall, when you first arrived, noticing my interest in firearms. At the time, modesty precluded me from admitting that my interest runs quite deep. In fact, more than an interest, it’s a passion!”

With lightning speed, Courtwright drew a sidearm and a bullet crashed through a wooden stake planted in the ground 25 feet away as the gun’s report and the pistol sliding back into its holster happened almost simultaneously. “A passion that led to my taking up shooting at a tender age.” He whirled and fired his other weapon, obliterating a different stake 30 feet away. As he casually slid the .45 back into its holster, it was difficult to recall the gun having been drawn.

“As a young buck, I showed some promise.” Both guns blazed as stakes in two separate directions 35 feet away shattered and with a twirling flourish each pistol was re-holstered. “Since then, it’s been practice, practice, practice!” Before she could blink, Val was staring down the barrel of an old Smith and Wesson.

Courtwright winked, and put the gun away. “To make a long story short, I’ve developed a reputation in some circles as the fastest gun alive. I’ve met some others who’ve made the same claim. We meet at privately sponsored contests, here and there, around the world. So far, I’m the only one who can still claim to be the fastest. Or alive, for that matter.”

“Yeah, you sure killed those wooden stakes dead.” Val nodded appreciatively as if she was serious.

Courtwright’s eyes darkened. “Make no mistake, the mortality of the target is of no concern to me. Indeed, that’s why I was approached about you. You’ve made some enemies and it seems that at least some of your enemies are the kind of people who have knowledge of my extracurricular activity.”

Placid blue eyes returned his gaze. As Courtwright’s pause failed to elicit a response, he continued, “Not interested in who? Well, probably best, as I’m not at liberty to divulge that information just yet. Anyway, I was approached by these as yet unnamed individuals and asked if I’d have any interest in engaging you in a gunfight. Colt? The Weapons Mistress? says I! She’s got a reputation as a crack shot. Some might even say she’s the fastest gun alive! Of course, I’d be interested in a duel. If the price is right. But, how? She’d never agree to such a thing!”

Val let him talk. Not only was information valuable, but the insights into his character might be exploited. It was evident that he enjoyed being in control of the situation. He wanted her to know how good he was and to remind her that he had power. Partly, she surmised, out of ego, but buried deep she sensed that, like many arrogant people, he had self-doubt.

“Funny thing is, Colt, the price was right. So right that it had to happen whether you would agree or not. I suppose your enemies knew that would be the case when they approached me. You see, any price would have been right if it was enough to make it happen. Once they put the thought in my head, I had to know how it would turn out. They paid me handsomely and left the arrangements to me and you walked into my trap like a doe to a brook.

“Still, despite my disappointment at how little opposition you’ve been so far, I’d like to be as fair as possible. That’s why I’ve arranged for this little demonstration. So, you can see exactly what you’re going to be facing.”

Courtwright shed his long coat and turned. A set of sequenced lights, like those found at the start of a drag race, was set up 50 feet away. The two vertical columns of lights, going from red at the top, through 4 rows of amber, to green at the bottom, were unlit. “Ames, show Colt here how fast the sequence goes from red to green.”

Ames pressed a button on a remote and the lights cycled in less than a second. Giving her a toothy smile, Ames pressed the button again and again green appeared a split second after red.

“Thanks, Ron. Whenever you’re ready.” Courtwright stood feet shoulder width apart, hands at the ready near the butt of his guns.

Val saw the red light and then the green, without a hint of amber crossing her vision, as blazing pistols and shattering glass echoed in her ears.

Courtwright slipped the empty cartridge out of both revolvers and re-loaded. “Of course, you could do that, right?”

“Don’t know. I’d be happy to try.” Val smiled.

“Yeah, not going to happen today.” Firing behind his back, Courtwright blasted the head off a mannequin set up 40 feet away. “Not going to happen tomorrow, either.” Another report from his weapon and a bullet burned through twine holding up a wooden target. A third found the bullseye before the target hit the ground.

“Fast and accurate. That’s some of the best shooting I’ve ever seen.” Val’s comment elicited the reaction she expected. He wanted her to show fear, through word or gesture, to assure himself that he was in control. Her matter of fact attitude worried him. She could sense that Courtwright was becoming more and more irritated that she wasn’t seemingly impressed enough with his ability or the precariousness of her situation. He had already spent so much time trying to make sure that she wasn’t physically or mentally at the top of her game when he faced her that he had already revealed his own doubts as to whether he was able to best her if she was at full strength. Sowing new seeds of doubt in his mind could only work to her advantage.

“You stupid fool! I’m not looking for your unbiased opinion. I’m going to kill you tomorrow! Gun you down like a dog! Don’t you realize that?!?” Courtwright’s face began to turn red. “Come on, let’s show her where she’s going to die.”

The group marched toward the side of the estate overlooking the ocean. Val strolled confidently as she was led first down one side of a divided stone staircase and then down the main staircase to a field bordered on the other end by the cliff overlooking the beach below. She kept her posture straight and a look of bemusement on her face as she knew that everyone was watching her. Some, like Courtwright, were looking for signs of weakness or fear. Others were hoping to gain some insight into whether she would survive their employer’s murderous intentions, at least long enough to be done in by someone else among the group. Still others simply took pleasure in watching her body move in the sheer fabric of the tight bra and panties in which she remained clad.

With the setting sun behind them, Courtwright said, “Tomorrow, at noon, you’ll be brought here to face me in mortal combat.” Waving a hand toward the ocean, he continued, “You’ll stand over there and I’ll descend down this staircase to meet you on the field of battle. I’ve made a pact with your acquaintances to record the event for posterity so that they may view your demise despite being unable to attend out of what I believe to be an overabundance of caution. I’m sure the video will prove to be an international sensation in underworld circles.”

Val rolled her eyes. “Oh, please!”

Courtwright shot her a glance with piercing eyes before allowing a quirky smile to play across his lips. “Come on, I’m the villain of the piece. A little melodrama is to be expected isn’t it?”

His bodyguards chuckled at the change of pace. Wilson chided her, “Come on sweet cheeks, where’s your sense of humor?” The follow-up pinch of her butt prompted such a startled reaction in Val that the chuckles turned to guffaws.

Val eyed Wilson up and down. “I’ll remember that.”

De Souza shook her head sadly. “Not for long, honey.”

“Okay, okay, we’re done here.” Mueller motioned for Wilson and Jones to escort Colt back to the mansion.

As the big man stepped toward her side, Val waited until his lead foot was about to plant and then set herself up for a kick that drove her heel down into the side of his knee just as he shifted his weight forward onto that leg. The effect was instantaneous as Wilson crumpled to the ground, howling, and clutching his knee.

“You %!#%*! Oh, spit! This freakin’ hurts! Ohhh! I’ll kill you!” Wilson reached for the gun in his shoulder holster only to come up short as he saw the barrel of Courtwright’s revolver inches away from his forehead.

“Now, Phil, that’s my job. I’d hate to lose you.” Courtwright stared the big man down. With little other choice, Wilson gritted his teeth and decided to examine his injury rather than follow through with his impulse.

Val looked at De Souza. “I guess I had long enough.”

Standing at Colt’s shoulder, Jones said, “Just barely,” even as she jammed a hypodermic needle into Colt’s glute.

Colt winced. She hadn’t seen that coming. She felt her body tense up. Soon she was unable to move her limbs as the toxin affected her nervous system. In seconds, she was stiff as a board and about to fall over when Jones caught her under her arms.

Courtwright walked over to the helpless heroine. “You’re supposed to be good. Look at you. Pathetic! I was going to make it fairly quick tomorrow, give you an honorable death, but you don’t deserve it! Maybe I should gut-shoot you and let you bleed out. That would be appropriate ‘cause you’re gutless! You were easy to capture, you’re ineffectual at escape. Look at you, you can’t even stand up to me. Get her out of here!”

Mueller ordered Ames to help Jones carry Colt’s rigid body back to her cell. The involuntary convulsions wracking the body of the Weapons Mistress made the task more difficult but soon she was again face down on the stainless steel floor of her home for the last day. Ames removed the shackles binding her wrists together. “Don’t worry, Sugar, the poison wears off in about an hour. You’ll be up jogging around again in no time. Let me just say, it’s been a pleasure getting to see you in person. I’m a big fan. It’s a shame Courtwright’s gonna kill you tomorrow.”

Val lay motionless on the floor. She knew that the toxin wasn’t responsible for the tightness she was feeling in her chest. Despite Courtwright’s own self-doubt, no amount of mind games would change the fact that he was faster than her. Much faster, even before his ploys to wear her down. After sleep deprivation, temperature extremes, poison, and sleeping gas, there was no chance that she could beat him on the draw. When noon rolled around, she was going to die. The tightness she was feeling in her chest was fear!

Part 4

The cycle had again turned cold, but Valencia Kirk paid no attention. With knowledge of her abductor’s plan, came the understanding that Courtwright would make certain that she survived any of his attempts to wear her down. He wanted her uncomfortable, depleted, ill, but not dead. At least, not yet. Even as he added a mist of water to increase the chill, she sat relaxed in a meditative state, re-playing his shooting exhibition in her mind. Many times in the past hours, she’d realized her heart was racing and she’d had to force herself to calm down. She understood and accepted that she was afraid, but she couldn’t allow her anxiety and desperation to overcome her instinct for survival. Val was certain that the events of the last 2 days had revealed a way to escape her predicament. All she had to do was visualize it.

Of course, even if she figured out how to best Courtwright, there would still be Mueller and his associates to tackle. They were all armed professionals who were unlikely to embrace the idea of going to jail. Luckily, Wilson had provided her with an opportunity to reduce the odds against her without his injury appearing to have been done for that purpose. Finally, she allowed herself to drift off to sleep. She needed to be as rested as possible come morning.

Val awoke to find herself being carried down a hallway by De Souza and Jones. Her wrists were again cuffed behind her back. They entered a locker room and Val spied her costume, neatly folded, on a long table. De Souza saw that their burden was alert.

“Candy, she’s awake.”

Jones nodded in understanding and allowed Colt’s legs to drop to the floor. The Weapons Mistress unsteadily wavered on still rubbery limbs. De Souza unhooked Colt’s bra in the back and easily tore the sheer fabric straps around her shoulders, allowing the garment to drop to the floor. Then, she grabbed the lace at each of Colt’s hips and ripped the panties away from the heroine’s body. The Weapons Mistress raised an eyebrow and De Souza smirked before pushing Colt toward another door.

“Time to get you cleaned up for your funeral!”

The feel of warm water splashing against Val’s skin soothed bones and muscles sore from over 30 hours of combined confinement. De Souza enthusiastically applied fragrant soap to Colt’s body while Jones kneaded shampoo through the trademark long red hair of the Weapons Mistress. Val enjoyed the massaging effect of their fingers pressing into her flesh. By the time the last of the sweat and grime had been washed from her body, she felt relaxed and invigorated.

As Jones turned off the shower, De Souza squeezed the excess water from Colt’s hair. With stunning quickness, Val slammed the back of her skull into De Souza’s forehead, sending the wiry blonde reeling. Before Jones could react, Colt leaped into the air and caught her with a straight kick to the chest that slammed her into the wall.

Val made a break for the door and her gear, but as she crashed into the adjoining room she tripped over an extended leg and skidded futilely across the floor. A knee between her shoulder blades stopped her floundering attempts to regain her footing.

“Grab her legs.”

Mueller and Ames hoisted the Weapons Mistress into the air and dropped her down hard on the table as she squirmed unsuccessfully in an attempt to break free of their grips.

“Now that wasn’t very nice of you! The ladies were just following Mr. Courtwright’s orders to have you looking fit and healthy for the showdown.”

Jones burst through the door from the shower room. “Aaargh! I swear, I’m going to lay a whippin’ on that…”

“Forget it, Candice! Everything’s under control. How’s De Souza?”

“She’s out cold, Bill! Probably got a concussion! As far as I’m concerned, we should just do her now. She’s dangerous! We’re takin’ a big chance here!”

“Yeah, maybe, but you know as well as I do that Courtwright’s a helluva lot more dangerous. Look, Patty’ll be fine. She’s tough. Go get some smellin’ salts and wake her ass up, that’s all.”

Mueller pressed down hard on the back of Colt’s neck and grabbed a towel from the table with his free hand while Ames maintained an iron grip on her ankles. He chuckled as he began to dry off her back.

“I’ll tell you what, Colt. It’s a good thing you only have another hour to live or that girl would kill you!”

Once he had finished toweling off her rear, Mueller and Ames flipped the Weapons Mistress over. Pressing his forearm against her throat, Mueller smiled as Colt tried in vain to draw air into her lungs while he worked the cotton fabric against her chest and abdomen. Her body jerked violently as she slowly asphyxiated, but Mueller abruptly removed the pressure against her throat and shifted it to her chest as he went to work drying off her legs. Finally, he dried her hair as best as he could and wiped off her face while Jones returned and went into the shower room to revive De Souza.

“There you go, almost done.” Mueller tossed her costume pants down towards her legs. “Now, Ron here is going to help you put your clothes on.” He had gone over her garments with a fine-tooth comb and was fairly certain that he’d removed all her hidden gadgets. Still, just in case, he had taken the precaution of putting all of her clothes in the microwave for 30 seconds, long enough to disable any electronic signal device he may have missed. “The boss wants you in costume when he guns you down and then we’ll do the big reveal at the end so that his employers can confirm your identity.”

Colt noticed that the pile of clothes didn’t include her underwear. Probably not integral to Courtwright’s plan and, therefore, subject to scavenging by his vultures as souvenirs. She suspected her earrings had likely been taken as trophies by Courtwright himself.

Mueller covered Colt’s face with the towel and pulled it down tight around her head, once again limiting her ability to breathe. “The longer it takes Ron here to get your pants on, the worse off you’re going to be when you face Courtwright, so I suggest you don’t struggle.”

Ames released one of her ankles and slid a legging over her foot as the Weapons Mistress began to kick violently. “Oh, good, it looks like this is going to take awhile. I was going to go slow and enjoy myself, anyway.”

As Colt wriggled in her attempts to get free of Mueller’s restraint, Ames carefully worked her pants up onto her legs, avoiding her kicks as she blindly lashed out at him. Once he had reached the top of her thighs, he paused and drank in the scene before yanking the elastic fabric up over her hips. Then, the two men rolled the helpless heroine onto her stomach and Mueller extracted a key from his shirt pocket and unlocked her handcuffs. The weight of the two men forcing her body against the table kept her from being able to wiggle free and they slid her arms through the sleeves of her jacket before her wrists were re-handcuffed. Finally, Ames grabbed each foot in turn and put on her socks and boots before she was pulled off of the table and onto her feet.

Mueller moved in front of the Weapons Mistress, stepping squarely on her toes, while Ames held her from behind. Colt stared at him defiantly, her chest heaving from the exertion of the last few minutes. Mueller pulled the jacket up over her shoulders and buttoned it closed in the front, his eyes never leaving her chest. Ames yanked her hair back into a ponytail and placed her mask onto her head, tying it tight in the back. Then, with a patronizing tap, her hat was placed on her head.

The pair was finished dressing her when Jones and De Souza finally emerged from the shower room. De Souza had a glazed look in her eyes but was walking and seemed to know where she was and what had happened to her. The two women exchanged their wet clothes for dry garments and assisted Ames in holding Colt while Mueller walked over to a cabinet at the far end of the room and removed Colt’s gunbelt from within. He grinned in triumph as he saw the covetous look in the eyes of the Weapons Mistress and wrapped the belt around his own waist.

“Barely fits! I guess I’ll have to have it lengthened.” Mueller thrilled at the look of dejection on Colt’s face. “Things not exactly working out the way you want, huh? I guess maybe you’re not the smartest person in the room, after all.”

Colt’s eyes narrowed. “Who is? Ames?”

“Hunh!” Mueller checked his watch. “Okay, folks, time to head out.”

With De Souza leading, Jones and Ames holding Colt’s arms, and Mueller bringing up the rear, the group moved through the maze of passageways and staircases until they exited the mansion. The ocean water glistened as they walked across the grounds until Colt stood with her back at the fence guarding the cliff. Before her, in the distance, were the steps that she had walked down yesterday. Wilson sat at a table off to the left, elevating his injured leg on a folding chair and talking on a cellphone. On the right, at the middle of the field, was a bank of electronic equipment. Colt noticed several stationary video cameras mounted around the field. Apparently, Courtwright wanted every angle covered. Ames and Jones walked toward the video console and Jones began testing to make sure everything was ready to record while Ames retrieved a hand-held video camera and took up a position just off toward Colt’s right. De Souza moved off to her left and toward Wilson, while Mueller remained by her side.

“There’s no place to run, Colt. So don’t even think about it.” Mueller pulled a vintage Colt .45 out of his shoulder holster and popped out the empty cylinder. “I know it doesn’t look like much, but I promise it shoots straight. If you beat him on the draw, the gun won’t fail you. You deserve that much of a chance.”

“Thanks. I appreciate it.”

Mueller placed a single bullet into the cylinder and slid the apparatus back into the revolver making sure that the firing pin would strike the loaded chamber on the next pull. “If you miss, it’ll already be too late.”

“Sure.”

Drawing her waistband away from her skin, Mueller nestled the gun against her belly. “You’re not used to pulling from an open holster anyway.”

“This way’s just as fast.”

Mueller glanced at the Weapons Mistress, her breasts moving up and down with each heavy breath. Removing the handcuff key from his pocket, he moved behind her and put his Glock to her head. “I’m going to unshackle one of your wrists. Put your hands in front of you and cuff your wrists together again or I’ve been authorized by Mr. Courtwright to blow your head off.”

Colt paused and then slowly did as she was told. When the handcuffs clicked back into place, Mueller exhaled, put his gun away, and moved off to her side. “It’s almost over, just a little longer.”

As noon approached, all eyes turned towards the top of the stairs as Courtwright appeared. Dressed in his finest gunslinging garb, he looked like an outlaw in an old western movie. However, the quick-draw guns and gun-belt he sported were decidedly modern. Courtwright began to descend the stairs with a deliberate pace and Mueller knew from his employer’s walk that the tiny heroine would bleed out in the most slow and painful way that Courtwright could engineer. He almost felt sorry for her. She didn’t really deserve to die that way.

“Mueller, I’m sorry but I don’t think I want to die today.”

Mueller felt the bullet rip through the right side of his abdomen before the sound of the shot echoed in his ears. Dropping the gun in her hand, Colt reached out and unlatched her belt from his waist, pulling it off of him as he fell backward. She flung the gunbelt to the ground before her and knelt down as a bullet whizzed by her head.

Courtwright had watched as the Weapons Mistress twisted her body in Mueller’s direction and, while he hadn’t heard the shot, he knew immediately that she was trying to rob him of his moment of glory. Leaping down the steps in twos and threes, he had drawn his guns and was firing shots on the run even as he tried to decrease the distance to his target.

Colt efficiently and methodically pulled her Clipper from it’s holster, ignoring the bullets pounding into the dirt around her. Grabbing a special bullet from a pouch, she inserted it into the gun’s chamber and sighted Courtwright from a kneeling position. He was still about 75 feet away but he was bringing himself under control to take more careful aim as he continued to volley shots with both guns. She felt the sting of a bullet grazing her shoulder just before she fired. Another bullet whizzed past her ear and a final one sliced through her shirt sleeve before she saw his body contort and he fell forward like a marionette whose strings had been cut.

Quickly popping a cartridge into the Clipper, Colt fired a knockout bomb toward Candice Jones and the video console. In succession, she emptied the cartridge at Wilson, De Souza, and Ames. The group of bodyguards had been so sure of the outcome that only Jones had reacted quickly enough to get off a shot when things went screwy. Colt’s hat fluttered to the ground pierced by Jones’ bullet.

As the smoke cleared, all was quiet. Colt thanked the decision of her overconfident captors to give the able-bodied Jones and Ames video duties instead of having the already hampered Wilson and De Souza handling the chores. The extra distraction, coupled with the disbelieving surprise of all, probably accounted for the bare margin by which she had escaped mortal injury.

“I can’t believe you shot me! You don’t believe in using deadly force!”

Colt looked over at the fallen Mueller. “I believe in it as a last resort. You should have left me a choice.”

Mueller struggled to sit up, holding his wound as blood poured over his fingers. Disbelieving, he looked at Colt wordlessly.

Colt surveyed the motionless bodies littering the field. “Just apply direct pressure and I’ll get you an ambulance.” Turning back toward Mueller, she saw him reaching for his Glock. Swinging her gunbelt around, she knocked the weapon out of his hands before he could pull the trigger. “That was stupid! Take a look around; you kill me, who’s going to keep you from bleeding to death?”

“I ain’t going to jail. Rather die.”

Colt stood before him. “Too bad.”

A vicious kick to the jaw sent Mueller into dreamland like his comrades. A conscious enemy to keep an eye on was a problem she didn’t need right now. Colt reached into his pocket and pulled out the handcuff key. Once her hands were free, she put on her gunbelt and retrieved her hat. Mueller was searched for more weapons and those that were found were confiscated. She then cautiously proceeded to Ames, Jones, De Souza, and Wilson, collecting a cache of firearms and knives.

Finally, she approached Courtwright with care. She was definitely in his range now and, while both his guns had slipped from his grasp when he fell, she didn’t want to learn that he had been playing ‘possum. Reaching him, she kicked both guns away and rolled him over onto his back. His eyes were wide open in shock and drool was coming from his mouth. She pulled the dart out of his chest. “The same nerve toxin you used on me yesterday after that demonstration you gave. I notice you didn’t give me any exhibition of your ability to shoot targets from a great distance. I wonder why you left that out?”

Colt stripped off his clothes, leaving him in his underwear. “Just checking you for other weapons. You can’t be too careful, y’know.” She looked around the field and chuckled at the video cameras. “Not exactly the scene you were hoping to record, is it? I imagine that you’re going to have some people very upset with you. Prison walls probably won’t be able to keep you safe. Of course, that’s not my problem.”

Walking away from the immobilized Courtwright, the Weapons Mistress slipped the cell phone out of the unconscious Wilson’s jacket and pressed 3 digits. Her six tormenters were all out of commission. Each, in their own way, had tried to humiliate her and gratify themselves, but she had the last word. “Hello, there’s been a kidnaping and attempted murder at the Courtwright estate. One of the perpetrators has been shot and is seriously wounded. Send the police and an ambulance!”

The End

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The Catman: The Case of the Unofficial Tontine by Jason Greenfield

The Catman in: The Case of the Unofficial Tontine.

From the Journals of The Deacon.

It was late in the summer of 1885 when I returned at last to the sedate confines of Holyoke City, that bastion of refined eastern seaboard civility, not thirty miles from the centre of Boston. After eight months abroad on the lecture circuit of Oxford University, taking in the great medical city of Edinburgh, the delights of London and of course within my own field –the cathedral cities of Coventry and Salisbury; I thrilled and exulted at the hustle and bustle of Americans out and about conducting their everyday business in an American City.

Of course there were vast similarities between Eastern Ivy League cities such as Holyoke and the cities and large towns of the United Kingdom, but back home there was a sense of barely repressed buoyancy beneath even the most dignified pillar of the Holyoke community that threatened to burst free at any moment, as opposed to the dry, calm, sometimes plodding pace to be found in English cities such as Oxford.

This air of excitement gripped me from the moment I stepped off of the gangplank onto American soil. I was seized with such an urge to be out “doing” that I had to mightily resist the temptation to unpack my long compiled ecclesiastical notes on the spot and dash off a chapter or two of my planned “Journal of the Modern Church: Its Differences Between Continents and Modern Practices Thereof,” which I”ll admit is a mouthful to say and I’d confess a recipe for curing the insomnia of the common man should he be put upon to crack open the first volume. Nethertheless, as a churchman interested in the arts of writing, philosophy, medicine, politics and the workings of the human mind, I fancied myself able to tell a fascinating factual tale which would both be useful and enjoyable to those in literati of like mind.

I digress, however. Let us skip forward to the second evening of my return to the United States and the point wherein the pertinent events of this narrative commence. Having suffered one uncomfortable night at my not yet prepared home, I left the business of dusting, warming and generally making my property liveable again to my valet Stuart and presented my credentials at my club; for it was there that I intended to spend a comfortable few days until my house was once again ready for occupancy.

The Tem Street Gentleman’s Club, so named for its founder, a Mr August Tem, dated to Revolutionary times and traced its origin to the Republican movement in Holyoke of the 1770s. These days it was a fine traditional establishment catering mainly to gentlemen of high professional standing and the occasional gentleman of means but no regular occupation. It was one of the latter types I chanced upon in the billiards room … an old friend in fact. Captain David Merryweather and I had shared lodgings for a four-year period until I had purchased my property a year ago.

Spying me, a look of delight crossed his usually stoic darkly handsome features. “Deacon!” he cried, “My lord, its good to see you again!” At this point an aside to note that although my name IS Nathaniel Deacon, it is much of a standing joke that due to my past, firmer affiliation with the Church and the coincidence of my name; among friends and professional colleagues I am often referred to as “The Deacon.”

Now, a word about my good friend Captain Merryweather. As previously noted I had first made his acquaintance in the year 1880 shortly after his retirement from the service, although he was still only in his late twenties. Merryweather and I had both applied for the same set of rooms and on meeting had taken an instant liking for each other and thus decided to share for companionship and to defray expenses.

He presented a fine figure of a man, standing well over six-foot in height, his build an impressive reminder of his service days that he had kept up. In looks he possessed the dark wavy hair and Byronic features that would set many a society lady to blush in his presence, yet he remained distant and aloof to the charms of the cream of Holyoke society. It was several months into our acquaintance, when our friendship had begun to grow, that Merryweather first began to mention the dark days he had spent in Burma and even longer before he imparted the full tragic tale of his lost love the Princess Afzula.

Altogether the Captain was a fascinating man. He had been born in Europe of mixed parentage – his mother a quarter Hungarian-American gypsy and his father an English soldier who had died during his childhood in Burma. Merryweather, possessed of dual nationality, had returned at the age of seven to America with his mother to rejoin his maternal grandfather’s travelling circus. His mother had learned the arts of animal training from adepts in Burma and young David had spent his early years surrounded by magnificent great cats with whom he had developed a suprising affinity. Then a few years later his mother had died under circumstances Merryweather has never disclosed to me and he withdrew even further from the company of men, preferring to associate mainly with the favoured tiger of his mother called Roxanne.

At the age of 18 his life took another drastic turn when, on the urging of his grandfather, young David enlisted in the United States Cavalry and rose to the rank of Captain over the following eight years. During that time he travelled the length and breadth of the country, fought in the Indian wars, joined army intelligence and discovered his fascination with the art of detection. Finally, he could stand no more of the white man’s treatment towards the Indians and, refusing to condone what he termed “the inhuman persecution” of that race of native Americans he had come to admire so much, he resigned his commission.

Seeking adventure and his past, Merryweather, now a man of means through judicious investment of his salary began to travel the world ending up in Burma. His exploits with the race of Burmese mystics known as the Cat People, his discoveries of his past and the tragic end of the Princess that he loved, I shall not impart in this narrative. All the years I have chronicled his exploits, Merryweather has been glad to add detail and give his blessing to my humble efforts but of those days, his reply is always the same. “Not yet Deacon, the pain is still too fresh in my memory. Some day the story will be told … but not this day!”

Now, I mention Merryweather’s exploits matter of factly. To my old readers who pick up my published accounts after a near year long absence (and I apologise for same), please bear with me as I explain to newer readers that which is known to you already. Namely that shortly after I met Captain David Merryweather, we became embroiled in the affair I then documented as “The Curious Account of the Yellow Hilted Dagger,” for Merryweather, my friends, although retired, was still a man of action and on settling in Holyoke City he soon established a reputation as an adventurer stroke consulting detective. It has been my privilege to chronicle the many adventures we have found ourselves involved in and by this account I resume my duties once more … but with a difference.

I have mentioned Merryweather’s wish that the story of Princess Afzula and those dark days in Burma be kept secret until the time arises when they may of a readiness be told. In the past I have been obliged to alter or omit certain details from my narrative – the names of the foreign diplomats in “The Case of the International Incident,” for example or the identity of the poor demented girl in “The Madhouse of Infamy.” It was also necessary to alter the identity of the relatives of the “Deranged Boston Poisoner,” lest those innocents suffer unjust retribution. Nor would the gentlemen of the board of a certain reputable bank be appreciative should they be made to look foolish by revealing them as victims of “The Swindling Ghoul.”

However as my older readers know, I have always plainly stated that certain names and events have been altered to protect the innocent and those who would not allow permission to have their part in certain adventures known in print. In all these narratives a glaring fact has been omitted. Although, to be fair, my writings are made up of my own first hand experience and notes of the accounts of others, including Merryweather, and it was he who kept one major fact even from myself, his best friend until a year ago. Yes, I have known of this fact during the two narratives prior to this one, but have not been at liberty to reveal my knowledge until now.

In the past I have referred to an urban legend … a legend that kept cropping up through half gabbled confessions of an underworld informer, tavern gossip … the whisper on the air itself when facts are revealed as half truth, rumour, gossip and innuendo, but no man seems to know from whence these whispers originate.

This urban legend I speak of is in fact solid truth. The legend I speak of is the tale of the fearsome nocturnal avenger known as the Catman and at last I can reveal he exists … for when Captain David Merryweather and the Deacon have exhausted all possible avenues in our explorations of the lower reaches of the criminal underworld, even after we have been forced to resort to physical means and failed … hours later Merryweather would return as the Catman and as the Catman he WOULD get the answers he sought. For all Holyoke’s criminal fraternity has one thing in common … They all fear the Catman!

So there we sat, two old friends catching up on old times. Once settled in the smoking room in two comfortable armchairs, brandy glasses within easy reach, Merryweather lit up one of his favoured cheroots while I puffed contentedly on my old Meerschaum; he turned to me and said “Your timing is quite fortuitous Deacon, for I am about to embark upon what I fancy will be an interesting diversion and your assistance would be most welcome.”

I leaned forward. “I should be delighted old man. What may I ask is the nature of the case?”

Merryweather snapped open his pocket watch and glanced at the face “In precisely 60 seconds I am to meet with Colonel Preston Danforth in this very room. The Colonel knew my father in his army days and contacted me recently to implore my aid in a matter he claimed related to an incident occurring during their service days in India. It’s my hope that I will learn more about my father as a result and so I have agreed to hear the gentleman out.”

The Colonel Imparts a Strange Tale.

Three minor events occurred simultaneously. The old grandfather clock struck the hour; Merryweather snapped his watch fob shut and the door opened to reveal a distinguished grey haired man in his early sixties. It was obvious at a glance, despite the gentleman’s civilian dress, that he had until recently been an active military man – his stance and bearing displayed such as did his no nonsense stare and analytical eyes. My own eyes were drawn to his impressive handlebar moustache, thicker and greyer than my own … a strange thing to observe at such a time, but such is the way of the human mind on occasion.

Merryweather rose to greet our visitor and once introductions were exchanged and Colonel Danforth was seated, my friend bade him begin his tale and we listened without interruption as the story unfolded.

“Gentlemen, I am not a man given to idle fancy. No, indeed I am too pragmatic in my dealings to give much credence to myth, legend and old wives tales. I am a down to earth type who prefers to deal in reality and cold, hard scientific fact. Yet with my own eyes I have witnessed … I can only describe them as unexplainable incidents. In the years since I have endeavoured to either find rational explanations for my experiences or to put them from my mind. I had been rather successful, for the most part, at the latter for some years … until recently.”

He paused to light a cigar “I shall start at the beginning. The year was ‘49 and I was 26 years old and lately arrived in India as a special Attaché/Observer to the British army based in Peshawar. My position was part of a program specially designed to cement closer ties between the United States and the United Kingdom and was mostly of a political nature. I was one of the few military men involved, already a Lieutenant and a veteran of the Mexican wars. My special status entitled me to see service within the British Indian Army and during that time I became fast friends with a man only a few years younger than myself; your father Sgt. James Merryweather. This, of course, was a good few years before your birth David. Your father later gained his commission and was transferred from India to Burma.”

Merryweather nodded slightly. He sat, hands clasped with the fingertips resting against his nose, listening intently.

The Colonel continued, “Some months after my arrival I chanced to become involved in an action taking place to quell a local uprising. A Company of troops commanded by Major John Helnitt was attacked as we marched through a heavily wooded region on our way back from settling a dispute between two minor warlords. The ambush took us completely by surprise and so well planned had it been that the tribesmen managed to split our force in twain, almost wiping out the smaller section. Meanwhile the rest of the Company were obliged to retreat somewhat before digging in to defend itself just beyond the jungle at the edge of the mountainous region.”

“A small group of us, with myself as the most senior officer present, was forced deeper into the woodland, harried by scattered groups of tribesmen as we went. At last we outdistanced them but by then we were hopelessly lost ourselves in the heart of the jungle. Three days passed and men died of their wounds or of fever brought on by exposure. Our medical officer, surgeon lieutenant Malcolm Macomb, fought against this but in vain. Every one of the poor wretches to catch the fever succumbed.”

“At last we came to the foot of a great mountain within the dense undergrowth – five pitiful survivors more dead than alive. Your father was one David, along with myself, Macomb and two private soldiers Delaney and Randall. There we came, exhausted and with the fever upon us and at that spot we collapsed.”

The Lost Civilisation of Kolobad.

“So it appeared that we had at last come to the end, but when next I awoke it was to a cool breeze and soft cushions instead of hard jungle floor. A woman of extraordinary beauty was mopping my brow with a cool sponge and when I struggled to sit up she admonished me gently, seeming unperturbed at my sudden awakening.”

“As she spoke soothingly I realised I could understand her although it was plain she wasn’t speaking any language I had ever heard … rather it was as if her thoughts entered my head. Yet she spoke aloud and on one level I understood, but on another it was as if a second, strange tongue were overlaid. In any case I soon learned to block this second layer of speech out and it was as if she spoke perfect English.”

“Her name was Helenia and her features a strange mix of Indian and Caucasian with what I fancied gave her an almost Mediterranean appearance despite her blonde hair. Helenia took me to the others and we found out that we were high up in the mountain having been discovered at its foot by inhabitants of the lost city they called Kolobad.”

“When we were well enough, Helenia took us to be introduced to Appollus, the man we took to be the ruler of Kolobad (although later it appeared that a benign Council of Guidance administered a city of equals) and we attended a feast in our honour where we witnessed many marvels. The people of Kolobad claimed to be descended from a colony of ancient Greeks who had arrived in this region during the time of Alexander.”

“They claimed to have conquered hunger, want and illness and to have spent the last few centuries advancing in the fields of Philosophy and the Arts, until they had developed a spiritual society devoted to peace and the expansion of the human brain. Thus, they claimed they had turned to the study of the powers of the mind. In later years I convinced myself that much of what we saw was the result of a mass hypnosis of some kind, but…”

He shook his head “In the weeks we were with them, James and myself spent much time discussing philosophy with Appollus and Helenia, although I must confess I was more an observer than an active participant. Surgeon Lt Macomb … Malcolm, was most interested in studying the medical advances made by the people of Kolobad while Larry Delaney and Adam Randall seemed content just to enjoy the company of the innocent young maids who would lavish food, wine and attention on them as they relaxed by the fountains in the elaborate city gardens.”

“Then, one day during a discussion about the history of the city, Appollus claimed to have conquered death … he himself, he asserted was nearly two centuries old although appearing a man of thirty. Malcolm was intrigued and asked by what means the people of Kolobad had achieved this miracle and so Appollus took us to a chamber within the building we referred to as ‘The Palace’ and showed us an elixir contained in a golden jar. By drinking of the elixir a man could be prepared for the ceremony of immortality our host told us. Macomb was fascinated, but as James discreetly pointed out to me later, our two private soldiers seemed more interested in the vast treasure chamber in which the elixir jar was stored. It was a veritable Aladdin’s cave of riches, full to the brim with gold, diamonds, precious stones each of which was enough to make a man rich.”

“That night James and I spoke again. We sensed trouble in the offing and indeed the other three were nowhere to be found. James shared his concerns with Helenia with whom he had grown quite close.” Merryweather’s eyebrows raised momentarily.

“We bade her lead us to the jewel chamber and found the other three as we’d expected had likewise gained entry. Delaney and Randall were filling their packs with loot while Macomb searched for the elixir jar, which had vanished from its previous position. I ordered them to desist but to no avail and a scuffle broke out. Delaney back handed Helenia and your father grappled with him while Randall pulled out his revolver to cover me.”

“Before we could do each other harm, the room suddenly filled with guards led by Appollus, who told an unbelieving Macomb that the elixir was nothing without the mystical ceremony of ‘Becoming.’ The Council leader had suspected treachery but allowed Macomb the opportunity to redeem or condemn himself … allowed us all I should say, as we were each tarred with the same brush. Despite Helenia’s pleas we were to be expelled from Kolobad that very night.”

“James addressed him with sadness in his voice for he had come to love this city and I suspect Helenia. ‘Will we never be allowed to return?’ he asked, and Appollus relented slightly ‘Only one may return,’ he told us ‘When 30 years or more have passed, the way will be open for the last among you and restored youth, immortality and riches will be his.’ He handed us each a piece of paper kept in a leather wallet. Each piece had markings on one fifth of the paper. He then warned us that should we attempt to kill each other to gain the other segments, our way back would be lost forever. We were then blindfolded and led to the bottom of the mountain.”

“We found ourselves in the exact same spot we had arrived at and our guards had vanished. Try as we might to find an entrance, none could be found. Nor indeed did the sheer face seem climbable in any way. Therefore we set out to the south and having been well supplied eventually found our way out of the jungle and home. We each resolved to say nothing of this affair to anyone and parted company.”

“For my part I was prepared to write off our adventure. Yes, we had encountered a mysterious lost race, but of tricksters and charlatans I believed. True, they were prosperous and seemed advanced in the healing arts, but what of their absurd claims to mysticism and immortality and the uncanny powers of the mind they had demonstrated? Mere illusion and trickery I felt. Levitation? I scoffed at it… the movement of matter by pure thought? Absurd. As for the projection of thoughts into another’s head. Why it was nonsensical. The Kolobadians were the worst kind of false gurus and fakers, using hypnosis and sleight of hand to fool us for reasons of their own. Perhaps so we would keep quiet rather than appear fools.”

“I thought no more of it until a day months later when once again we skirmished with rebels and Private Delaney perished by gunshot. That night I happened upon the leather wallet in my bureau and saw that now two fifths of the map were covered … still unreadable but covered. I sought out your father and he agreed to fetch his own map. Two fifths were covered! Amongst Delaney’s effects we found his leather wallet. Within, the map had crumbled to fragments.”

“A decade later I received the sad news from Burma that my old friend Lt Merryweather had died in action. Filled with foreboding but a morbid curiosity, I checked my leather wallet. Three fifths were covered and I can only presume such was the case with Macomb and Randall. Repulsed, I threw the accursed thing on the fireplace, but it refused to burn! So, soon after, on my long awaited recall to America, I left the wallet in my rooms and boarded ship for home. Two days out to sea I found the wallet sitting on my desk in my cabin. Several times more I tried to rid myself of it, only to have it return wherever I went.”

“Five years ago I settled in Holyoke with my ward Katherine, my only living relative since the death of her mother, my elder sister. It was about that time I received word of Macomb’s death at sea and sure enough the map was now covered by a fourth segment. So only Randall remained. Did he still harbour desires for wealth and immortality? As for myself I was content to age gracefully and enjoy my retirement, spending time with my dear niece.”

“Then a month ago I noticed the map was complete. Inquiries informed me that Adam Randall had passed away quietly after a long illness. I was the surviving member of our unofficial tontine, though I felt no need to collect; but then some strange events took place. First of all my house was ransacked although nothing was taken. Shortly afterwards I was accosted in the street by two hoodlums who searched my person. One roughly demanded I give them the map, but the map has been kept these last few years in a safety deposit box at my bank, where, thankfully, it had consented to remain. Then came the letters threatening my safety and that of my niece unless I surrender the ‘Kolobad Map’… couched in those exact terms and THAT gentlemen is my entire story.”

Note to my readers: Originally this was intended to be a two part story, but due to time constraints and reader requests, I’ve decided to break with tradition and present this “two part” story in three parts (Parts one, part 2.1 and 2.2) in order to get more of the story out quicker than I’d otherwise be able to. I hope you enjoy it.

Part 2.1 of The Case of The Unofficial Tontine

Merryweather remained seated for a moment saying nothing; his fingertips still clasped together beneath his chin. Finally he spoke, addressing his comments to me. “I have of course heard the gist of the Colonel’s tale in his letter. I wanted you to hear it too, Deacon, and, of course, the smallest of details I needed to hear myself. With the facts and personalities in my position, I’ve already begun several thought tracks with the hopes of finding a solution.”

“Then you believe me, Sir?” The colonel asked.

“I believe that you believe in everything that you have detailed colonel. You are, as you have stated, either the victim of prolonged trickery or these occurrences are exactly as they claim to be. I discount neither possibility. Indeed, I am personally aware that, to use an old quote ‘There is more to heaven and Earth than in your philosophy, Horatio.’ I am no stranger to the supernatural.”

“Then you believe these forces are in play here, Merryweather?” I asked

“I’d hesitate to jump to a snap conclusion,” my friend answered.

“But surely the length of time…the changing face of the maps. Years passed between these incidents.”

The colonel nodded his agreement, but Merryweather merely inclined his head and smiled slightly. “Consider, Deacon,” he began, “the initial incidents all took place nearly 40 years ago. Perhaps as the colonel conjectured, they could all be explained by a form of mass hypnosis. There then followed separate related happenings concerning the maps. The first mere months later, the second a decade after, then again five years ago and culminating with the final map alteration a month ago. All of which coincided with the death of one of the unofficial Kolobad Tontine. Supernatural or again hypnosis?”

I shook my head in disbelief .”Over the course of 40 years! Do you propose someone mesmerised Colonel Danforth in each instance?”

“Preposterous,” chipped in the Colonel, but with an element of doubt in his voice. “and what of the returning map?” he queried with greater confidence.

“A trifle,” said Merryweather “A mesmeric post hypnotic suggestion preventing you the ridding yourself of the thing. You went to throw it away, but in fact you only thought you did.”

A look of enlightenment crossed the military man’s face “All trickery, but who…”

Now Merryweather looked Colonel Preston Danforth Square in the eyes “I never said it was definitely trickery. I merely endeavoured to explain things in the most rational manner but I”ll admit there are holes in the whole thing that I cannot rationally explain and if you’ll forgive my continual reliance on quotations, I should like to quote from a contemporary of mine when I say ‘When all other possibilities are investigated and discarded, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.’ However gentlemen, I must state that the mystery of Kolobad and its maps are of secondary importance. Whoever has been behind these threats to the Colonel certainly believes in the authenticity of the Kolobad map and it is this unknown personage we should direct our efforts towards discovering. Colonel, I should like to see the map itself and the letters. When is it convenient for Deacon and myself to call?”

“Why, tomorrow should be fine my boy. What time would suit?”

“The afternoon sir. Shall we say four o’clock? I am a late riser, due to keeping nocturnal hours.” Merryweather glanced at his pocket watch “Ah ten o’clock. Deacon be so good as to summon Collins and ask him to prepare a late supper for three. You’ll stay, of course, Colonel Danforth. The Halibut in béarnaise sauce is not to be missed and The Tem serves an impeccable Chardonnay to accompany the dish.”

We Call On The Colonel for Tea

The following afternoon I met Merryweather on the corner of Bridge Street and we proceeded to Quinlain heights for our appointment with our esteemed client, although client is perhaps the wrong word to use. Merryweather has a case by case policy for dispensing his services in the field of detection. He accepts cases if he has an interest and would often refer a high paying routine case to the police while engaging a penniless client with a challenging mystery. I’ve personally never seen Merryweather pocket a red cent out of any fees he might be awarded, although he would often deduct expenses from a high commission and donate the bulk to charity or a worthy cause. On other occasions when he has accepted low commission, as in the case of the ‘Nine Cent Adventure,’ Merryweather would unfailing reach into his own deep pockets to supply any expenditure that might be wrought during a case.

The Danforth residence proved to be an impressive 12 bedroom Georgian situated in the centre of Quinlain Heights. Although only halfway up the hill in a prestigious part of suburban Holyoke, the occupants of the house were still afforded a marvellous view of Holyoke Bay and the city beyond. What magnificent sunsets might be seen from one of the benches in the nearby park!

Merryweather adjusted his cravat, slightly uncomfortable in the warm sun, but impeccably dressed as always; raised his catshead cane to the dark oak door and tapped twice firmly upon the wood. Within moments we were ushered into the cool fastness of the darkened hallway, a sharp contrast to the brightness of the sun from a moment before.

Colonel Preston Danforth emerged from a nearby room and greeted us “David, Mr Deacon. Good of you to come. Please come through to my study.”

We entered and were soon seated and enjoying afternoon tea as Merryweather studied the Kolobad map, retrieved by the Colonel that morning on my friend’s instructions. Presently Merryweather set aside his eyepiece (an old and valued tool, more commonly used by those in the diamond trade) and addressed us. “Detail, consistency and materials tell me nothing apart from the fact that this is a perfectly ordinary papyrus map of a type originated in ancient Egypt – the making of which is still known today, but, of course, an outmoded form. The ink base is a much advanced type – carbon based and I should date the age of this particular map at around 40 years. A precise estimate is of course impossible without access to the proper tools within my laboratory. The detail contained on the face should allow us, in conjunction with maps of the region to track the precise location of the lost city should we endeavour to do so. All in all, setting aside the fact that the map leads to a lost civilisation, it is unremarkable and exactly as I suspected. Gentleman let us turn our attention to other avenues.”

It was then that we heard a sound behind us and a young woman entered the room. We all stood as she glanced around at us with interest before addressing the Colonel “Please excuse me Uncle,” she began “Some telegrams have arrived for your guests. They were marked urgent, so I thought I’d better bring them up at once.”

The Colonel chuckled. “My dear, you know perfectly well Bettling could have performed that task, but now that you’re here allow me to introduce my guests, which I’m sure was your very reason for coming.”

The young lady blushed prettily for a moment and lowered her eyes in a most becoming way as the Colonel stated my name. “… and Captain David Merryweather,” our host was concluding as his niece chanced to look up. I fancied I saw my friend start slightly as his dark brown eyes met her blue ones. The impression lasted only a second, for Merryweather abruptly straightened and bowed slightly as Colonel Danforth said “Gentlemen, my niece Katherine Conn.”

“Miss Conn,” Merryweather addressed her, taking her hand and again locking eyes with the young lady for a few seconds before she shyly glanced away.

This time there was no mistaking it. For Merryweather this was a display of emotion on an unprecedented scale.

The young lady in question was undoubtedly a beauty. Aged around 20 years old, she was diminutive and slender, her auburn hair worn neatly pinned up. Her attire one supposed the height of fashionable chic but at the same time simplistically elegant and worn without the added adornments that made many a fashionable lady of my acquaintance seem merely pretentious. Of course, we invited her to stay and Merryweather was kind enough to repeat his earlier observations for the lady’s benefit as she listened most intently and with intelligent understanding of his points.

“Last night,” my friend continued “I left the Tem at a late…or rather early hour and travelled to an inn downtown.”

This was news to me as the Colonel and I had been in his company until half past eleven!

“As you could guess by the hour and the location, this…establishment was not a reputable one, but I was sure I would find one Thomas “Hooks” Varney on the premises. I was correct.” Blank faces all around. “Mr Varney,” Merryweather added “is distinguished by two very obvious features and while I have personal knowledge of at least three gentlemen of the lower criminal fraternity possessed of hooks instead of a right hand, only one also possesses a purple irised glass eye in his left socket.”

The colonel’s own eyes lit up. “Of course! One of the thugs that accosted me.” And I remembered that the retired military man had furnished us with a full description at dinner last night. Miss Conn smiled at Merryweather, her expression bright. “You knew how to find this man based only on my uncle’s description?”

Merryweather inclined his head slightly. “My activities within the field of private detection require a certain knowledge of the denizens of the city’s underworld, Miss Conn. I try to keep my files complete.”

“Oh, how clever! But Captain…”A small concerned gasp escaped her lips. “Do you mean to say you bearded this…criminal within his own den of ruffians?”

“It was necessary Miss Conn and ultimately quite fruitful in providing a lead.”

“I should not like to think of you endangered on our behalf sir.”

“Nonsense my dear,” the Colonel interjected. “Captain Merryweather is quite capable of looking after himself, am I right young man?”

Merryweather allowed himself a slight wry smile “You are, sir. Please don’t concern yourself Miss Conn. With my military training and experience in such matters, I was never in any danger.”

“Oh, but I am concerned dear captain Merryweather,” The young lady retorted. “After all sir, it was our family that they threatened and we who embroiled you in the affair.”

“A commission I gladly accepted.”

I could hold my tongue no longer “Confound it man, you should’ve at least taken me with you. What if the affair had turned violent?”

A pause… “You are right ,of course, old man. Fortunately I was able to handle the matter with a minimum of disruption.”

“And your findings?” prompted Danforth.

“Mr Varney proved most helpful. As I suspected his part in the incident was that of a hired hand. His recruitment and payment were handled by the large bald gentleman who accompanied him – one Tobias Jenks. Jenks was close mouthed on the subject of their purpose and the identity of their employer, but Varney obviously knew that they were after a map, even if he did not know what type of map and why. One thing he did know was that Jenks wasn’t just another hireling but a regular employee of our mystery figure. Tavern gossip and other informative sources leads me to believe that there is an as yet unidentified figure uniting various criminal elements within the city’s underworld. I believe this person to be Jenks’ employer.”

“What do I have to do with this…this gangleader?” spluttered the Colonel

“What indeed,” mused Merryweather, before turning his attention back to our host. “Not a mere gang leader, Colonel. I fear we are dealing with a felon of a higher order. For one, nobody, even among the tavern crowds, seem to have any idea of his identity or his location. Unusual for a gang boss – but our friend seems to have been active for at least six months, operating in shadow and mystery, assembling a chain of command so that each level of the hierarchy orders and reports to the levels below and above, with none certain who reports to our crime lord.”

“What’s our next move?” Colonel Preston Danforth wanted to know.

Merryweather stood. “The connection between this crime lord and he who seeks to possess your map are virtually certain in my mind Colonel. I have suspicions, which I will share with you and Miss Conn presently. First, there are facts to be corroborated and more inquiries to be made.”

“Can you tell us nothing more, Captain Merryweather?” pressed Miss Conn.

“Only that I pursue two avenues, Miss Conn. I await the replies to telegrams sent this morning and I must now track Mr. Jenks and his elusive employer.”

“WE must,” I added firmly.

“Of course, old friend,” Merryweather smiled. “I wouldn”t have it any other way.”

“Then God go with you both,” cried the young lady, echoed by her uncle.

We gathered our coats and hats and bade them farewell.

“Where to first?” I asked as we strode down the street.

Merryweather answered without breaking stride “To Peccary, of course.”

Part 2.2. We visit our old adversary Mr Peccary. Merryweather closes the net. Our foes make themselves known and the affair concludes. To be concluded in next weeks “Holyoke Picture Dispatches” from the journal of the Deacon.

Part 2.2

An interview with Mr Peccary.

The account that follows has been entirely reconstructed from talks with Merryweather following the conclusion of the affair. My friend and I had journeyed from the house in Quinlain Heights to the very heart of Commercial Holyoke where, travelling through the always crowded Americo Lane, we entered Black’s Department Store by the tea shop entrance on the south western face of the building.

A few steps took us into Ladies Haberdashery in the store proper and on through Millinery, Perfumes and past the small florists concession to the quieter realms of the Gentlemen’s Clothing department. Locating the manager of this section, Merryweather took the fellow aside and presented his card, which was promptly sent upstairs to the owner by way of a gangly youth in the store’s employ.

Presently the youth returned to inform us that Mr Peccary would see Captain Merryweather in his offices on the 5th floor at once. I however was obliged to wait downstairs and at Merryweather’s suggestion took afternoon tea in the Tea Room.

Before I commence this part of the narrative, a word or two concerning the background of the man we had come to visit. Older readers will no doubt be familiar with the name of Peccary – Merryweather’s oldest, most insidious foe … a master of intrigue and deception; a man whose podgy fingers could be found in every slice of every pie that made up the darker business dealings of the Holyoke underworld … and yet Peccary’s public reputation was impeccable. Honoured member of the Chamber of Commerce, leading businessman and citizen of our town. He played golf with the Mayor, belonged to all of the most dully upstanding of the cities’ clubs and committees and was held in high esteem by the highest of the morally righteous. For years, on and off Peccary and Merryweather had secretly contended in a series of machiavellian intrigues and always to a state of deadlock. My friend had foiled the grand machinations of Mr Peccary more often than not, but always the fat man had wriggled off the hook without so much as a hint of scandal attached to his name. This then was the man Merryweather now turned to!

Peccary

Mr Peccary was seated behind a large oak desk as Merryweather entered the office. A man of impressive bulk, he was nonetheless surprisingly swift when he chose to move, which this time he did not. Mr Peccary remained behind his desk, shifting only to flick the ash from his cigar into an ornate ashtray

“Ah, my feline friend,’ he said at last, a minute or so after the door had closed leaving the two of them alone in the large office “To what do I owe the honour of your visit?” Peccary inquired as he indicated that his guest should be seated and continued to speak, not giving Merryweather a chance to answer the initial question.

“It has been some time if memory serves. Well over a year,” Merryweather’s corpulent host stated as he offered my friend a well stacked cigar box.

Merryweather inclined his head slightly, taking a cigar and slipping the band from the thick tobacco, and replied “14 months to be exact, although I did run into a mutual acquaintance some eight months ago. I gather you had asked him to pass on a message.”

The folds of flesh in Peccary’s neck wobbled slightly as he leaned forward to clip and light the end of Merryweather’s cigar “Ah yes. My Italian friend, Count Udonatti. I believe he failed to deliver my point.”

Merryweather sat back, cross legged and blew out a plume of smoke with a wry smile. “He certainly tried.”

“Indeed … and what became of our friend?”

“Deported. Duelling is still illegal in this country!”

“He challenged your honour, Captain? What may I ask was the dispute?”

“The Count contended that I had cheated at a hand of baccarat and demanded instant satisfaction. Fortunately I too had a cane … though mine was solid wood and did not conceal a blade.”

Peccary shrugged, “You know these European Noblemen and their honour.”

“Yes … quite, but I haven’t come here to discuss old enmities.”

“Indeed?” Mr Peccary poured two tumblers of port from a crystal decanter “What HAVE you come here to discuss?”

Merryweather accepted his glass and swirled it round thoughtfully for a moment before turning to a chess board set to one side of Peccary’s desk. Studying it, he moved one emerald knight forward in front of the emerald pawns “I’ve been hearing rumours,” he began as he leant his cats head cane on the desk so that the cats head rested gently against the side of the chess set as if its eyes were scanning the middle of the board.

Peccary waited, saying nothing.

Merryweather picked up the crystalline ruby figure of the opposing forces central pawn and moved it one place forward “Rumours of a new player. No one seems to know quite who he is though.” He moved the emerald knight to the centre of the board.

Peccary clasped his hands together “There’s always someone new. A businessman such as myself tends to attract competitors. Such is the way of … commerce and indeed more so with my political dabblings.”

Merryweather still hadn’t taken his eyes from the board. He now pushed the ruby pawn forward. “True and a good businessman or politician can always curtail the advances of small players … known opponents and the like.” Reaching over, Merryweather advanced the emerald knight to take the pawn.

Peccary’s eyes flicked to the gap in the ruby back line a second before Merryweather proceeded to sweep the red queen forward to take the emerald knight.

“An apt metaphor Captain. Your suggestion is I take it that should I encounter a bigger player …” He picked up the red queen and examined it briefly before returning it to its place “An opponent with unfamiliar moves,” he continued, picking up the discarded emerald knight, “This presupposes I cannot anticipate …” Moving the queen back into place, he replaced the red pawn on its old spot and put the emerald knight back to ruby king five “… an obvious lure.” Peccary pushed the emerald pawn in front of his king forward and said”… but suppose I refuse to be baited and instead choose to develop other avenues of attack?”

Merryweather’s right hand moved to his cane “Suppose you do? Suppose you play a more tactical game, developing supported pawn advances, probe your opponents’ defences with your knights and bring forth your other pieces in readiness for an assault at your own pace. Sooner or later a confrontation will inevitably take place and even the best of players will lose assets before a win.”

“I see … and a defensive game would just delay the confrontation?”

“Precisely. Your opponent can only grow stronger given time to prepare as well. OR he might just force a confrontation before you are ready.”

“Your knowledge of chess is most diverting Captain. You have a solution to this scenario I take it?”

“Yes. Don’t play the game.” Slowly and deliberately Merryweather lowered his cane into the middle of the chess board, separating the emerald crystal figurines from the ruby. The eyes of the cat faced the red king and queen.

Peccary studied the board for a minute, his balding head lowered. Then he looked up into the eyes of the man seated opposite him “Suppose there was such an individual … an individual whose interests may someday clash with mine. Suppose such a person existed …” the big man let the end of the thought dangle.

Merryweather leaned closer “I believe this individual does exist and I believe I am very close to knowing all I need to know about him. The last piece of knowledge I lack is a name … an alias.”

Mr Peccary smiled “Ah and then the cat will prowl. Very well. As you know Captain, in the pursuit of my … legitimate business I am obliged to broker knowledge in ah order to serve the interests of this fair city. To that end I employ all manner of … information collectors … hard facts, hearsay, rumour and the like. The great majority of tidbits that my agents report to me are generally useless shreds of no importance to my political and business aspirations. However they make for amusing diversions … and one fragment that sticks to the subconscious could well, now that I choose to recall it, be the nom de guerre of our individual. The name sir is … Macabre!”

The Net Closes.

While Merryweather was conducting his extraordinary interview with Mr Peccary, I was seated by the window of Black’s Tea Room consuming another round of scones and a fifth cup of tea. A slight tapping beside me aroused my attention and I was surprised to see a young urchin staring in at me, his grubby hands smearing the window pane. I hastened outside to talk to the young scrub … for I had recognised him as Monk, a scrawny underfed 13 year old sometimes employed by Merryweather in various capacities such as messenger or even spy.

“Beggin yer pardon Mr Deacon, sir,” he addressed me, pulling his ragged cap off “… but the Cap’n sez I was to give youse these telegrams at once sir. Dead urgent e sez they was an I’ve been awaitin down the exchange all morning sir.”

“Well don’t just stand there boy. Let me see them,” I cried.

Young Monk continued to hold the sheaf of telegrams to his chest. “Cap’n’s eyes only sir. E sez youse was to wait fer im.”

“Confound it you young wretch. If they’re so urgent, I must open them at once, Merryweather or no.”

Stubbornly the wretched snipe refused to part with them, but fortunately at that moment Merryweather reappeared and took matters in hand. Glancing rapidly through the telegrams he flipped a half dollar at the wide eyed boy “Good work young Paulie. Don’t spend it all on gin and come by Saturday. I may have more work for you.”

The dirty urchin bit the coin, grinned and said “Thank yer Cap’n sir,” before running off into the crowd.

We Brave The Hasen District.

Following our brief encounter with young Paulie, Merryweather hailed a cab and instructed the driver to take us to the Tem where we were to meet the Colonel. Again he refused to enlighten me as to his recent findings and infuriatingly would only say “All shall soon be revealed Deacon,” and capped his pronunciation with the most unbecoming of knowing smiles.

On our return to the club, Beard the day porter conducted us to the Gun Room (A rule of the club was that gentlemen should check all firearms at the entrance. The gentleman would receive a receipt on surrendering his weapon to the care of the day or night porter, who would place it in a cabinet in the Gun Room. Access to the room was permitted in the company of either the steward or one of the club porters and viewings were allowed between the hours of six and seven thirty pm on Tuesdays as the Tem did not only keep weapons for its members, but boasted a fine collection of antique and contemporary firearms).

It was while we were selecting our weaponry – for Merryweather had over the years donated a large quantity of pieces that were available to him at any time; that Colonel Preston Danforth finally arrived in a state of some agitation.

Sensing something was amiss, my friend enjoined the elder gentleman to speak without preamble. The brief tale he told rapidly extinguished the light anticipatory look that Merryweather had, had about him for the last few hours.

“Trickery, Sir!” roared the Colonel, waving a note wildly in the air “As I mentioned when last we parted, I had an engagement with my physician that I could not avoid. The appointment itself lasted under an hour but as I was leaving a young ruffian barged into me and I felt him lift my wallet from my coat. I gave chase and caught up to him just as a policeman blocked his path. My wallet was returned and I was obliged to accompany the constable to the station across town to swear out a complaint.”

“When we arrived he showed me to a waiting room and left to process the prisoner. On his prompt return I was interviewed in the waiting room and asked to sign my name to documents which he purported to be a form asserting my willingness to press charges. All in all I was delayed a full two hours and shortly after taking my leave I became suspicious of the manner in which the officer had processed my complaint. I returned and spoke to the duty officer and was informed that no Constable Manton existed within the precinct – nor was any pick pocket charged within the last few hours!”

“On my return home I was informed that a young woman had called for Katherine not twenty minutes before and my niece had left with her in a hurry shortly thereafter and LOOK gentlemen – Katherine left the note behind. It bears my signature but is not from me!”

All colour drained from Merryweather’s face as he turned to me “Curse my over confidence. Macabre has Miss Conn, Deacon. I daresay we have been under observation both at the Colonel’s house and when I visited Peccary. This note purports to be from Colonel Danforth, exhorting his niece to meet us urgently at an address in the Hasen District. An address plainly marked and left for us to discover. Macabre wants us to know he holds the girl and where to find her so we can exchange the map for Miss Conn’s safety!”

As if to punctuate the point, at that moment a note was delivered into Merryweather’s hands. It simply said “Bring the map.” M.

After choosing our firearms we set off at once to first secure the map and then travel by hansom cab to the edges of the infamous Hasen District – It was to Holyoke what Whitechapel was to London. We were accompanied by the Colonel and the stalwart James Beard, who had offered his assistance and was gratefully accepted. It should be noted that Beard was another of Captain David Merryweather’s old associates and no stranger to his nocturnal activities.

As we neared the address Merryweather grew more and more tense. A girl’s life was at stake and he took that fact extremely seriously.

Macabre

The address we had been given turned out to be the entrance to a building which appeared to house some sort of drinking establishment. A closer inspection revealed that the large noisy frontage concealed access to back rooms and the presence of rouged women and gentlemen in states of either agitation or a partial stupor, revealed that the building catered to opium addicts as well as those addicted to the temptations of the flesh.

Three of us entered and stood looking around at the bacchanal like merriment occurring within. The occupants a mixture of thrill seeking gentlemen and the lower orders – a den of iniquity with a music hall atmosphere.

At once a young lady approached us. She was attired as a slattern but with an accent and bearing that marked her as a cut above the low women around us. A fallen woman from the educated classes, no doubt acting as a hostess was my assumption. We followed her up the stairs at the back of the bar to a quiet antechamber where she turned to us “Colonel Danforth, Mr Deacon and Captain Merryweather.” She stated and we could no longer doubt we were anywhere but in the right place.

“Where is my niece?” spluttered the enraged Colonel taking a step forward, prompting me to place a restraining hand on his arm.

Without a word the woman opened a far door and picking up a lantern stepped through into a darkened corridor and beckoned us to follow. We did so as a drunk staggered out of a nearby room off the corridor, bent double as in the act of regurgitation. She led us along the corridor to the far end and through a door which opened into a suite of rooms where two men awaited us. Just beyond the main sitting room we glimpsed the stricken figure of Katherine lying on a bed within guarded by an old crone who was seated by the bed.

“Fiends!!” cried Colonel Preston Danforth “If you’ve harmed one hair on her head, I’ll …”

“You’ll do nothing Colonel,” the thinner of the men broke in “Your niece is in perfect health and sleeping of a dose of chloroform. If you remain quiet and don’t misbehave, she will remain unharmed. Do we understand each other?”

The Colonel nodded, “Macabre I presume?” The dark haired man returned the nod, “The map please. Place it carefully on the table.”

The Colonel moved to comply, ever aware of the eyes of the two other men upon him. The second he recognised as the large bald thug who had accosted him.

The dark haired man smiled “Now, who do we have here? The Colonel of course and you gentlemen must be Captain Merryweather and the Deacon. How does it feel to have been outsmarted and outwitted at every turn? He stared directly at my companion who answered.

“I don’t know. Why not ask the man with the gun to your head?”

There was a click of a pistol cocking and a dark cloaked figure stepped forward. The masked man’s voice was low, “Not a movement and you, old woman, keep your hands where my associates can see them or your boss will require a new forehead.”

“The Catman!!” exclaimed Tobias Jenks. “How the hell did you get in here?”

“Through a carelessly unlocked upper floor window. I was able to follow while your pretty friend thought I was throwing up in the hallway.”

“Dash it,” I cried looking round for the woman “She’s gone! At least we have Macabre though.”

“Not quite!” The lady in question was aiming a pistol at my head from the cover of a small closet door I had failed to notice “Now Mr Catman, if you please, drop the pistol before I drop the Deacon.” She covered the few steps and I felt her gun on the back of my head.

Merryweather however, didn’t falter “Madame if you pull that trigger I’ll pull mine and then turn this gun on you. We might both die in the exchange or we might both leap aside. Either way the Colonel and Captain Merryweather,” he looked at Beard, his stand in “… would easily take care of Mr Jenks, leaving two perhaps three of us to oppose you should you have survived and I can guarantee you’ll not leave this room alive.”

“You’re forgetting old Agnes who will surely kill the girl.”

“Old Agnes can be assured of hastily following Miss Conn to the afterworld if she does anything other than sit peacefully until the outcome.”

“It appears we have a standoff,” the girl stated.

Ever aware of the gun to my head, I nevertheless spoke “She’ll dare nothing while we have Macabre.”

My friend smiled grimly “I believed I would find a Dr Macabre here tonight but this fellow is too young to be him … is that not so Miss Macabre or do you prefer Miss Madeleine Macomb?”

If the Colonel’s face was anything to go by, my duplicate expression was one of sheer shock, surprise and to use a bastardisation of my own coinage – agogness.

I felt rather than saw my captor smile. “That is so Captain Merryweather … Yes, I know a secret about you as well.” I heard the gun click and a shot rang out deafening me. Surprised to find myself still alive I again virtually instantaneously felt the gun barrel at my head. This time it was hot against my skin. Merryweather’s hostage lay dead – a bullet had passed directly through his skull!

Miss Macomb or Macabre was speaking again “That’s much better Captain. I would have hated to reveal your secret to Peccary’s spy. I’m almost certain the big man knows but it wouldn’t be knowledge he’d care to share amongst his lower ranks. Please put the gun down Captain. You have nobody to threaten but Mr Jenks and although he is a loyal, trusted member of my organisation, be under no misapprehension that I value his life enough to capitulate. Ah I see Mr Jenks has already acted in his own self interest and is even now covering you with his own pistol!”

Merryweather inclined his head slightly “Congratulations Madame. You have the upper hand.”

“Captain, I have the only hand,” Miss Macabre replied.

“I must confess I am not used to being outmanoeuvred thus and while I would be prepared to take a bullet in the chest myself, you can be assured I will do nothing while you threaten my friend.”

His eyes had flicked briefly to mine during this speech and I fancied I had heard a slight inflection in his tone as he spoke “prepared”. My friend had given me a coded message in plain English and now the outcome was in my hands. I decided to act and several things occurred at once.

Miss Macabre was taken unawares, her attention being firmly riveted on the masked figure before her; when I abruptly dropped to the floor and kicked backwards with both my legs to knock her off balance. Two shots rang out and I saw the Catman crumple – but already Beard was racing forwards to strike Jenks firmly in the jaw whilst the Colonel leaped over me to snatch the female mastermind’s pistol from her grip as she struggled to rise.

Jenks was a big man and seemingly impervious to Beard’s valiant efforts but the stalwart porter soon received aid when Merryweather rose up, seemingly unaffected by the blast to his chest. Between the pair of them the large thug was felled like a stricken oak. For my own part I was still sprawled on the floor witness to our sudden reversal, for not only had Beard and Merryweather triumphed, but Colonel Preston Danforth had secured Madeline Macomb’s pistol and was covering her.

Then barely a second later the lights went out, there was a huge crash and I felt someone brush past me. When order and lighting were restored, the situation stood as follows:

Merryweather and Beard stood over the prone form of the fallen Jenks – the Colonel was down and the female architect of the whole business was gone … as was the Kolobad map, vanished from the upturned table.

Merryweather immediately raced into the next room and emerged with a half conscious Katherine “Thank God she is unharmed,” he assured himself and her anxious uncle “but Macabre is gone … and he has taken his daughter and the map with him!”

“HIS daughter?” I asked non comprehendingly. “Yes Deacon … Dr Macabre has escaped,” Merryweather announced, holding up a grotesque, frighteningly realistic rubber mask – the face and hair of the old woman Agnes!

Epilogue. Dinner at the house in Quinlain Heights.

That evening we returned for a very late supper at the Danforth residence. The Colonel himself presided with Miss Con acting as hostess between exchanging adoring glances with my good friend and man of the hour, Captain David Merryweather. James Beard and myself made up the rest of the party.

“What I don’t understand my boy,” the retired military man was saying “Is how you knew Malcolm Macomb was behind the whole plot to relieve me of my map? How the deuce could he have been when all four of my fellow tontines had to be dead to fulfil the supernatural requirements needed to produce the complete map!?”

Merryweather took a sip from his glass of Madeira before answering “Colonel, I had asked you for a full account of your story. From that I devised a short list of exactly who stood to benefit from the Kolobad map. It then fell to me to cross names from that list until I found the most likely suspect. To that end I sent out telegrams designed to discern information about each of the principals and their immediate family. It was apparent from the start that the secret of the Kolobad map, by its nature was a closely kept one and unlikely that it would have been made known to any outsiders.”

“The first of the tontine to perish, mere months later, was Lawrence Delaney, an orphaned private soldier in his early twenties. Delaney died without family or issue. A decade or so later my own father died of a tropical disease, leaving me his only child. Five years ago the death of Dr Malcolm Macomb was reported at sea. He left behind one daughter, a fifteen year old named Madeline who had not seen her father since she was an infant. Madeline’s mother had died in childbirth and the girl had been raised by nuns. This left only the Colonel and his niece and the recently deceased Adam Randall. Randall had become a successful businessman but had never married.”

“Could he have fathered a child in secret?” Beard asked.

“My inquiries tell me otherwise,” Merryweather replied “Randall shared a house with a … gentleman companion. He did however have a brother and a sister. The brother was a banker’s clerk with a wife and three adult children. My sources lead me to suspect that in no way had Randall divulged any information to his family, nor would they be inclined to give such matters any credence. All in all, simple, respectable middle class people. The sister incidentally is a vicar’s wife most noted for her charitable works.”

I glanced quickly over at Miss Conn. Merryweather could be tactless at times, especially when outlining the details of a case, but fortunately the young lady seemed to have totally overlooked the “gentleman companion” remark.

Merryweather continued, “Having met Miss Conn, I could not suspect her of any duplicity towards her uncle and so I returned to Madeline Macomb. It seemed unlikely given the circumstances that she should be aware of the secret of Kolobad or that she would have the resources of a criminal leader … unless she had joined her father at a point AFTER his supposed death. That Macomb had died; I cannot dispute for his death was vital to the maps completion. However he need not remain dead!”

At these words the Colonel, Beard and myself began to ask the same question that was on all our minds. Merryweather waited patiently until he had all our attention and explained

“I had gathered from the Colonel’s story and other questions I had put to him that Dr. Malcolm Macomb had a deep interest in the spiritual, fanned by his time in Kolobad and his desire for the secret of immortality. Further inquiries told me that Macomb had spent time travelling in India and Tibet where I deduced he picked up a fabled ancient yogic secret. The possessor of this knowledge could then slow his heart beat to the point of death occurring and then subsequently revive from this state. In my readings on the subject, I discovered claims that an adept can remain in such a state for anything from thirty seconds to five minutes. Macomb knew his gamble had paid off when his own map crumbled to dust within his leather pouch, just as Delaney’s and my father’s had done!”

“Astounding!” I exclaimed.

“Indeed, Deacon. Macomb was then free to fake his death, return to England to be secretly reunited with Madeline, and wait for one of the two remaining holders of the map to die. Then the Macombs travelled here to Holyoke, started a criminal organisation within the city – and, incidentally, I believe they had already built a powerful criminal syndicate elsewhere before relocating. Therefore with the map complete, they were able to start their plan to coerce Colonel Danforth to relinquish it to them.”

“Yes!” I cried “… and at that point WE became involved and you deduced the underworld connection due to the presence of Varney, a known felon!”

“Precisely. However the Macombs had secrecy and a large network of spies going for them. No one in their organisation knew the identity of ‘Macabre’ except their top men and even they believed Madeline was in charge.”

Beard interjected at this point, “Somehow they discovered you were the Catman.”

“True. I had been careless and underestimated the opposition. Peccary’s spy – the Macabre stand in, threw me and I was completely unaware that Dr Macabre was present disguised as the old woman. I was slightly more prepared in my choice of a protective vest and fortunately Deacon picked up on my signal to act and we were able to salvage victory.”

“If only we had prevented the loss of the map,” I lamented.

Merryweather smiled and reached into his pocket “A fake old fellow!” he declared “but I daresay it will take Dr. and Miss Macabre a few months to discover that.”

Miss Conn smiled “Then they’ll be wandering around India looking for a needle in a haystack! How poetic such a fate is, if we can’t bring them to justice.”

My friend raised his glass and smiled wryly “An inconvenience richly deserved my dear Katherine, but I daresay we haven’t heard the last of them.”

I raised my own glass “A toast then. To the Catman, his return engagement with the diabolical Dr Macabre, and the eventual imprisonment of the fiend!”

… and so the affair concluded. But what then of Macabre and his daughter Madeline? Merryweather’s remarks were indeed prescient for they did return to contend with us once more, but as for the outcome … I shall leave you dear reader with Merryweather’s own words:

“THAT is a tale for another day.” Adieu

Story Notes.

The Catman was published in Catman Comics but debuted in Crash Comics from a different publisher. Altogether Catman appeared under three publishing banners, all of which are mentioned in homage. In order of appearance in the story:

Holyoke City was named for Catman’s major publisher “Holyoke.”

The Tem St Gentleman’s club is named for “Tem Publishing” the initial company name for the Holyoke line when Catman appeared in Crash.

Major John Helnitt was named for “Helnitt” the company name in initial issues of Catman before the Holyoke name became the staple. It was not unusual for comic companies to have several names such as Nedor/Better/Standard or Timely/Atlas/Marvel depending on sub divisions or name changes or characters moving companies.

The Deacon – A Golden Age Holyoke character who occupied a berth as a back up strip in Catman Comics. The Deacon and the Catman once shared a crossover story which established the pair as old friends. The first name Nathaniel is my own invention and his appearance in this story marks his first post Golden Age story.

The Case of the 9 Cent Adventure – Had a little fun with this reference. Do I really need to explain it to comics fans!

Quinlain Heights is named for Charles Quinlan, one of the premier artists on Catman. I simply added an I for my homage.

Katherine Conn is Katie Conn, aka the Kitten, Catman’s partner and later wife.

Mr Peccary – The first of Catman’s two arch enemies. Artistically he was said to have been modelled on the actor Sidney Greenstreet. I have adhered my description to the original.

Americo Lane – Named for Americomics the long version of AC Comics.

Blacks Department Store – Named for AC publisher and founder Bill Black.

Paulie Monk – Named for Paul Monsky, the founder of the Femfans page and the gent who asked me to write the story which would develop into the Unofficial Tontine. The character of Paulie also follows my loose Sherlock Holmes/Watson story analogy and is of course meant to resemble a Baker Street boy.

James Beard – A thinly veiled disguise for up and coming DC writer Jim Beard, a fellow poster and sometime correspondent of mine from the DCBoards. Jim has worked on a few JSA and Hawkman projects with more to come I’m sure.

The Hasen District – Named for Irwin Hasen, Golden Age great and the creator of Catman.

Miss Macabre – Madeline Macomb, daughter of Dr Macabre.

Dr Macabre – Malcolm Macomb, the later and most unrelenting of Catman’s two arch enemies. Both Macabre’s can occasionally be seen in the pages of AC’s Femforce.

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IT’S NOT THE HEAT, IT’S THE HUMIDITY by S. K. Pepper

IT’S NOT THE HEAT, IT’S THE HUMIDITY

by

S. K. Pepper

Tara rolled over and grunted as a stick dug into her back. “I thought I’d cleared this spot better,” she grumbled as she sat up. She stretched and looked around to see if there were any more sticks which could disturb her sleep. She had the nagging sense that something was wrong.

Suddenly, Tara realized that she didn’t see She-Cat who had been sleeping on the other side of the camp fire. In fact, now that she was looking more closely, she didn’t see any remnants of the camp fire either.

“Wha a a a t?!” Tara leapt to her feet. Something was definitely wrong! Unless, She-Cat was playing a practical joke on her. . . Either way, some investigation was called for.

The dawn’s light identified no footprints or other clues to reveal to Tara where she was or where She-Cat had gotten to.

“This doesn’t look like Jungle Island,” Tara muttered to herself as she jogged up a nearby path. Her eyes continually scanned the vegetation ahead and above her. She had no idea where she was or how she had gotten there. But, boy – someone was going to pay when she found out.

Tara came to an abrupt stop as a large head rose over the crest of the small his to her left. A brontosaurus! (Or whatever it was now called – her mind was so overwhelmed at the sight that it refused to call up the less familiar “correct” name). Her amazement at the sight of the long-necked dinosaur quickly turned to wariness. Had Dr. Rivits and his daughter, Roxanne, got hold of the Time Portal again?* She didn’t see them but that didn’t mean that they might not be nearby. She began to climb the hill with caution. From the higher vantage point, she hoped to better see the lay of the land.

* Ed. See FemForce Issues 1 & 2.

As she got to the top of the hill, Tara could see that she had reached what appeared to be a large plain on which about a dozen of the dinosaurs cavorted or ate plants. The dinosaur which she had first spotted — or which had first spotted her! — moved its head towards her as if to see what she was doing there. Tara realized that her human size made her vulnerable to being accidentally stepped on. Here, her ability to grow was an advantage.

The surprised dinosaur snorted as Tara grew another 10 feet until she could look it straight in the eye. It sniffed her cautiously then turned and began to chew on some nearby branches. Tara had just started to survey the area when she heard a loud crashing sound behind her. Whirling, she had just enough time to see three or four larger dinosaurs charging towards her before diving into a large clump of prickly bushes to escape being trampled. Her quick movement drew the attention of the dinosaurs which circled her and began sniffing her. Their hot breath tickled the now scratched and disheveled Tara. “This day is just getting better and better,” she sighed. To avoid any future problems with the dinosaurs, Tara grew larger until she was face-to-face with the 20 foot tall newcomers.

The playfulness of the dinosaurs was unexpected. It reminded her of children playing together at the park. This thought had no sooner crossed her mind than Tara felt the ground shake and heard a loud, trumpeting sound. The air above her head rippled and a thunderous crack ripped through the air. The mother dinosaur’s tail whipped back to take aim once more at the interloper who dared associate with her young.

Tara’s stunned gaze could barely take in the sheer enormity of the mother’s presence as she ran to evade that monstrous tail. The mother must be at least 30 feet high at the shoulder! This was no brontosaurus. This had to be a Titanosaur! Tara had heard that some dinosaurs nurtured their young in a communal environment but that was a fact that she had never anticipated witnessing first hand!

The mother’s frantic calls had roused the other mothers, who began to position themselves to attack. “Here’s on girl who is not going to enjoy play group this time,” she murmured as she grew taller to try to defend herself against the whipping tails. Her sudden and rapid growth startled the dinosaurs into temporary stillness. Could Tara find a way to make the massive 100 foot long dinosaurs stop attacking her while she quickly tried to escape from the nest?

Running and growing simultaneously was not as easy as she had hoped. The added size kept throwing off her stride. By the time that she had attained her full 50 foot size limit, Tara had reached the edge of the nest. A massive, angry head rose to meet her. “Uh-oh,” Tara gasped. The father dinosaur dwarfed the jungle girl. She had always found her ability to grow to be a mixed blessing. Now, she had a strong desire to grow taller than 50 feet.

Suddenly, she felt a smack across her cheek. She turned, looking for what had hit her.

“Wake up, Tara!” She-Cat was shaking her friend hard. “I don’t want to have to slap you again. Come on.”

“Wha a a a t?” Tara felt confused. The dinosaurs faded from view as she struggled to wake form the nightmare that had so completely engulfed her. Looking around, she saw the camp fire burning and heard the sounds of her own Jungle Island!

Tara gripped She-Cat’s hand. “I’m fine now,” she said.

“That’s a relief! Your ranting and raving was interfering with my beauty sleep.”

“What a nightmare.” Tara rose and stretched to clear the last vestiges of that dream away. “That’s the last time I stay up late after having your spicy ‘Trout Surprise.’”

“My excellent pan-fried fresh trout had nothing to do with your nightmare,” She-Cat responded. “Your mind was just too focused on your upcoming presentation at the World Ecological Summit in Egypt and that new paleontological find over there. You said that you’d hoped to have some time to see the dig site — your mind just took you there while you slept.”

Tara grinned. “Yeah, but you don’t think I’d let you off the hook so easily do you when you so rarely cook!” The two friends laughed and began to prepare breakfast. There was nothing like camping out under the stars to bring out the appetites for fresh fish cooking on a fire.

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An Interview with Mike Frankovich Jr.

Webmaster’s Note: This interview is from 1999. Unfortunately, Mike Frankovich passed away on December 11, 2007. He is missed! This interview is posted, as is, for posterity.

Mike Frankovich is the owner of the Film Company and the President of Super Cosmos Earthstation Entertainment. He has had a successful career in the TV and Movie industry and has long been associated with Bill Black and AC Comics, having created several comic book characters published by AC including Rayda and Dawn Hunter.

How did your association with AC Comics and Bill Black begin?

We started back toward the early 1980’s when I was putting together financing for a movie called BLACK DIAMOND which, due to certain problems, never was funded or shot.

How did the idea to do a movie based on the Femforce come about?

Bill Black, as many readers know, was a Film Student. We started discussing the possibility of putting together a package to do FF as a movie quite early on in the FF History. We came close to getting it off the ground several times including as a pilot for a TV series. Hollywood, however, had gone into heavy annorexia so the industry didn’t seem to want well built, strong Women on screen. It’s a miracle that CATWOMAN became part of the BATMAN movies and Hollywood still fails to understand why we all watched Xena…

Tell us what you can about some of the comic book characters you’ve created that have been published by AC Comics and the creation process for characters like Rayda and Dawn Hunter.

The first series, of course, was BLACK DIAMOND and, because of the legal entanglements, I started developing DAWN HUNTER to replace that series and character. I’ve always been an affectionado of Spy material and had read the JAMES BOND books at an early age while living in Britain. Matter of history now, I was the one who gave Albert (Cubby) Brocolli the first James Bond book he’d read but it’s a long story how that came to pass. (Through our mutual affection for cars being part of it…) I was also a big fan of a British TV series called THE AVENGERS and decided that a Female James Bond was needed. (I had worked on a couple of episodes of THE AVENGERS as a third Assistant Director as well).

With RAYDA… The most successful Comic Book Superheros and Heroines have actually come out of Wartime. As a US Army Veteran (Vietnam) I worried that our men and women who were part of Desert Storm would receive the same treatment we got back in 67 through 69. RAYDA was my answer to that. I gave her some of my own background in Film and from my Military life. (I’ve coordinated and designed stunts, done Special Effects and was a part of the US Army COMBAT DEVELOPEMENTS EXPERIMENTATION COMMAND while serving my Country).

You’ve written several stories published by AC Comics and you’re also an artist, what drew you to the comics medium? Other than the characters you’ve created, who are your favorite comic book characters whether published by AC Comics or some other publisher. Who are your artistic influences?

I’ve always been a very VISUAL person and started drawing for my own pleasure, drawing the kinds of things I enjoyed. Cars and Superheroines. In fact, two cars were produced, one in Britain and one in Germany, from my designs in that field. The drawing of Superheroines and Superspies came from my script writing and “wanting to see” the costumes I wanted on my characters… I also worked as a Production Manager on the Wonder Woman TV series for a short while (First season, ABC) and ended up calling the head of programing at CBS when WW was cancelled, suggesting that if the series were based in the 1970’s, it could be a winner.

Favorite artists include the likes of George Perez and, of course, the late Eric Stanton who I worked with under a pseudonym. In finding the old PARAGON PUBLICATIONS books, I also found Bill Black and later, Mark Heike, both remarkable talents in their own rights. Other Artists who inspired me are Steve Ditko, Gene Bilbrew, Lyon and Bishop.

Are you working on any comic book related Femforce projects at the current time, and, if so, what can you tell us about them?

Time (Ah, that precious commodity) allowing, I’m working on the story for another RAYDA three parter as well as the screenplay for a DAWN HUNTER video, plus setting up SUPER COSMOS EARTHSTATION MUSEUM, which will house my classic car collection.

You’ve been integral in marketing the Femforce for non-comic book licensing opportunities. To the extent that you can tell us, what are some of the potential non-comic book projects that you’re working on that involve the Femforce?

As has been reported, I was invited to the old Soviet Union by their Govenment to discuss certain mutually beneficial ideas for Film and other business. The unfortunate part for us was the dissolution of Communism right after my initial meetings and the fall of the Russian currency. I was invited back to Russia again and came up with SUPER COSMOS, the theme park that we were to build in St. Petersburg and which would have featured FEMFORCE, DAWN HUNTER and some of my other characters. Again, financial conditions could not be met so we sought funding from outside Russia at the same time. Due to certain problems with the Russian Maffia, outside funding dried up so we pressed on and went to another Eastern European but more stable area. At this point, we have the required permits from the Government of that Country, the required land (A former Soviet Airforce Base), some of the funding through local banks and promises from US and other Capital providers. I have also visited the area and looked over facilities and approved them.

You mention your interest in cars, I understand that you own an excellent collection of classic cars. How did your collection come about and what kind of cars do you collect?

My Son and I collect some of the most unusual and rare cars from the 50’s and 60’s (Although we just aquired a 1942 Mercury Sedan- Year I was born). Several of the cars are the only ones remaining of their model including a 1958 Edsel Amblewagon that is fully complete and a 1969 English Ford Zephyr Ferguson 4 wheel drive Police car, also the only one left in the World. We also have the largest collection in the USA of licensed British Fords including two that are the only ones to be registered in North America. The theme, if you will, is the Space Age which is also the background for the Theme Park and the whole collection will be moved to Europe and to the Theme Park if that is built.

What kind of projects or hobbies are currently taking up your time?

If cars, writing, drawing and travel were not enough, I’m working on a book about automobiles. I take cars from my collection to many, many car shows and have a room full of trophies and awards won by the cars. I also publish a small but elite magazine not totally far off the ideas of beautiful, costumed Women.

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An Interview with Brad Gorby – Femforce Artist

Webmaster’s Note: This interview is from 1999.

An extraordinary artist, Brad Gorby has done animation, sculpting, and painting but Femfans know him best as the long-time regular penciler on the Femforce title. Over the last decade he has helped define the Femforce with a mixture of humor, action, and personality which has been unparalleled. His other work in the comic book field includes a stint with MacFarlane Productions and a convergence with Beau Smith on “Parts Unknown” but it is his work with AC Comics that has been most appreciated.

As a youngster, were you into comic books and, if so, what were your favorites?

I enjoyed reading Charlton comics as a kid, drawn to them by the typically lush paintings that graced their covers. I never bought them to “follow” the storylines of a particular title though. My favorites were titles like “The M.A.R.S. Patrol,” “Captain Venture,” and “Space Family Robinson.” I’ve always enjoyed sci-fi oriented material. I didn’t actually start buying comics to follow storylines until I picked up DC’s “Weird Worlds,” an anthology based on the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter of Mars, Carson of Venus and Pellucidar. The start of my comic fandom was with DC titles, initiated by their artists – Joe Kubert, Neil Adams, Murphy Anderson, Nestor Redondo, Michael Kaluta , Berni Wrightson – all of whom were top notch illustrators that really made the comics exciting and fun to indulge in. The titles that were formative to my appreciation of the comic medium were “Swamp Thing,” “Tarzan,” “Green Lantern,” “Rima, the Jungle Girl,” and Marvel’s “Conan the Barbarian ” by both Barry Smith and John Buscema.

When did you decide to become an artist and what kind of training did you engage in to develop your craft?

I realized my artistic aspirations during my junior year in high school, which was then cemented after a summer school internship at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh where I roomed with Kent Williams. Kent’s enthusiasm really opened my eyes to the potential of an art career. I made several attempts at schooling in the arts, but the main development of my art training has been through constant practice and “on the job” training.

At what point did you begin doing comic-book related art?

The first comic-related art I did was in the fifth grade. I illustrated on lined notebook paper an anthology of “Universal Monster” comics… none of which I have any longer, but which definitely showed my take on the subject of comics even at so early a stage, the serious story with a humorous slant. My first professional comic work was in the mid-eighties. Prior to that most of the work I did was of an illustrative nature. I did a lot of stuff based on the works of J.R.R. Tolkien.

What made you a fan of the Femforce and how did you start working with AC Comics?

Bill Black made me a fan of Femforce. I first discovered Bill’s work via “Femzine” during my first year at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh. It was like no comic I had ever seen before. Later, during my initial stint as a freelance illustrator, one of my associates, Lee Burks, (we were both doing work for Brad Foster’s Jabberwocky Graphix) told me to submit samples to AC because he thought my work would suit what AC was doing on their new Femforce title. I sent Bill a short story featuring Lee’s “PeachFuzz” character and next thing I know I’m doing the Roy Rogers Coloring Book for Bill. I still joke with Bill and Mark concerning my work for AC over the years, due to the fact that 99.9 percent of the submissions they get end up in the “ignore” pile and mine didn’t…despite the fact that my first submission was not as well executed as some of the samples they get. I can only guess that my approach to the subject was what got me in.

You’re known as one of the best “Good Girl” artists working today. Tell us a little about “Good Girl” art and the artists who’ve most influenced your work whether they be classical artists, more modern pin-up artists, or artists best known for their work in comic books or strips.

I was lucky in the fact that my parents were enthusiasts of Alberto Vargas, best known for his glamorous portrayals of idealized “American Girls” for Playboy. I learned to draw girls from the study of his work. As I got more involved in “Girlie Art” I found Gil Elvgren and Frank Frazetta (very influencing due to his portrayal of robust and strong women). Murphy Anderson and John Buscema were also very strong influences with regard to their illustrative prowess of the female form. It’s easy to fall into the “Good Girl” genre as an artist because the female form is such a dominant factor in art, whether in illustration or advertising…it’s primal, whether you’re a Cro Magnon carving a fertility goddess or a commercial illustrator … sex sells. Alphonse Mucha built his career on drawing pretty girls as did Charles Dana Gibson. It’s an almost given application due to the nature of basic artist training in life drawing. Plus if you’re a male artist, it’s a fun application of your skills.

As the most prolific penciller in the Femforce’s long run, you’ve helped define the characters. The characterizations in both facial expression and body language give each member a distinct personality. Describe the personalities of each of the individual members of the Femforce and how you transfer that into your illustrations.

My training as an animator gave me an edge in my interpretations of the various members of Femforce. One of the first things you learn as an animator is to make your characters easily identifiable, regardless of their size or placement in a scene. This rule of thumb is even more important when you’re dealing with a group of characters, and that fact is amplified if you’re using a limited palette such as the black and white format of AC books- you can’t utilize color to emphasize character. That characterization can take many forms and even the use of props. Taken at the very basics, all my girls are exactly the same as concerns their construction…Ms. Victory is indistinguishable from She-Cat, who is indistinguishable from Tara or Synn at the primary level. I just use stylization and exaggeration to differentiate them.
Ms. Victory is the “archetypal superhero,” so I stayed relatively simple in her visual interpretation. Typically, she’s always drawn rather stoic and I tend to limit her to poses that convey strength and indomitability rather than those that look relaxed. She also tends to be a bit heavier in the torso with wider shoulders than the other members of Femforce. She-Cat on the other hand is rarely drawn in a stiff pose, like a cat her poses are almost always “slinky.” Since She-Cat is the “smart ass” of Femforce, I usually add a bit of humor or cynism to her facial expressions. Tara, being the most “un-powered” of the group is drawn with much more physicality. Her physique is more muscular since her strength is built from exercise rather than a mystical formula or some such enhancement. Her expressions also tend to be softer, drawn with much more subtle emotion to exemplify her caring nature and humanity. Also, to exaggerate her “natural” side, in later versions I thickened her eyebrows to show that she doesn’t waste a lot of time in front of a mirror indulging in vanity. I could go on, but the fans should go back to their copies of Femforce and look for themselves and see if they can define what things I’ve done to make each character distinctive, it’ll raise their level of appreciation.

Your pencils on the Femforce over the years have set the standard for what most Femfans look for in all comic book art. Your work (in concert with that of Black and Heike) just before and during the Countdown to 100 is viewed by many fans as sequential art at its best. In recent years, you seem to have shifted towards a slightly less realistic, more cartoony style with a hint of anime/manga. Has this been a conscious evolution? If not, do you agree that your comic book illustration style has become more cartoony? If so, what’s influenced the change?

The shift in my art style was definitely a conscious decision. I’ve been a big fan of Japanese Manga for years prior to its mass audience popularity and realized that it was going to become a trend shortly after my initial introduction to it. It’s also a natural evolution in sequential art to streamline and simplify the artwork in order to enhance the speed with which one kicks material out, anything to keep the deadline monster at bay. The main reasons my art has gone the route of more stylization is because it’s faster for me to draw and more acceptable to the mass audience now than in prior years. It also helps to make one’s work more distinguishable if you put more individuality into the style. John Byrne did it when he first took over X-men, McFarlane did it with Spiderman. Artists who are unable to alter their styles to fit the current trends generally go the way of the Dodo.

Your panels in the Femforce often contain references from other entertainment mediums such as television and movies. What are some of your favorite genres, shows, actors, or actresses and how have we seen them reflected in your Femforce art?

I’ve always been a “Genre” nut, whether it’s Sci-fi, fantasy, or what-have-you. Both Bill Black and I have a “thing” for the character actor Dick Miller and he has shown up a lot in Femforce, one such appearance is as the gravedigger in Femforce #84. As a James Bond fan I’ve snuck in some references such as a tag-line on a nightclub sign making fun of a classic line from Goldfinger, “No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to dance!” A cartoonified Gillian Anderson from X-Files made a guest appearance in FF#96 as Commodore Farraday’s granddaughter Riot O’Rourke and one of my first in-jokes was to stick in a juvenile “Dirty Pair” in the playground in my first Femforce job, #23. Issue #90 was based almost entirely on one of my all-time favorite movies, “Most Dangerous Game,” which starred Fay Wray, Robert Armstrong and Joel McRea . There’s probably lots of stuff that gets put in on a subconscious level, little bits of accumulated trivia that dribble out as I’m in “the zone.”

Talk a little about your Femforce Millenium website. How are plans progressing? Is the next phase of the site almost ready? When it’s open for public viewing, what can Femfans expect to find?

I wish I had more time to devote to it. The new site design is progressing at a slow pace but it’s shaping up nicely to match my vision. Currently, I’m working on a preview to give Femfans a sampling of what to expect. Due to the necessity of my career change, the work will continue to be sporadic on FF2K, but when I actually get it up and running it’s going to be really exciting. I’ve totally redesigned the site navigation and will be making it interactive. Visitors will be able to “uplink” to the Videxx GlobalExplorer and take a virtual tour of the various complexes of the Colorado Project, whether its FFHQ, the Weir Asylum, Jungle Island or the assorted other AC Universe Hero Sites, and, of course, that will be just the start of an online adventure with the AC Teams they’ve come to love.

An example would be linking to FFHQ, looking in on an adventure that the Femforce is engaged in, and then, if they want, the visitor can link to the Colorado Complex and see what the Justice Squad is up to as concerns that particular adventure…it might not even have anything to do with what the FF is involved in…but then again it might, only on a different level; it really adds a whole new dimension to what you’ve come to expect from Femforce comics. Then, of course, there are the graphics of the site that will give the fans a Femforce that has never been seen before …a full color 3D Femforce that will truly knock their socks off…more like a movie than a comic book. The first adventure is “Problem Child” and I’m starting where I left off at the end of the “RAD” miniseries in Femforce Issues 92-94. Dr. Lieber is back and he’s after the Mento Helmet! You’ll have to bite your lip and wait to learn why.

What other projects, whether for AC or other companies, are coming up in which Femfans can enjoy your art?

My art career is over aside from my personal pursuits, like the Millennium Site. I’m still doing the odd private commission but other than my FF2K work fans probably won’t be seeing my work anywhere else. From time to time, should my schedule allow, I’ll probably do stuff for AC but my art is strictly a hobby now and as such gets a small percentage of my attention.

Betty Boop or Bettie Page?

Betty Boop, without a doubt, although I have to credit Bettie Page for having the most aesthetically perfect physique from an artist’s standpoint.

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Femforce For All Seasons by Mark Heike

Femforce 158 cover

Art by John Nadeau

As the weather gets cooler and the month of October approaches, my thoughts turn to Halloween. In the early days of AC Comics, we would annually produce a Halloween Special, a one-shot putting the FF into some sort of scary, seasonally-appropriate story situation.   In order to have these books ready in time for a late October release, production work on them had to be done some months ahead of time. When I intially moved down to the Orlando area to take the job as Assistant Editor at AC Comics in the Spring of 1990, one of the first projects I got in on as an in-house part of the staff was that year’s Halloween Special- FEMFORCE: Night Of The Demon. I don’t remember how it came about; I assume that it was because Bill was swamped with a million things to do, and our other writers were all busy on other projects, but somehow I got tapped to write the script. Now, mind you; at this point, I had NEVER written a script for another artist to interpret; the only things I had “written” for comics were stories I myself drew.

 

Nevertheless, I scrawled out a handwritten script which Bill foolishly approved. The artist selected to bring this deathless piece of prose to life was young John Nadeau, who also happens to be the cover artist for the upcoming FEMFORCE #158,  which will be shipping just after the first of the year.  In June of 1990, when Night of the Demon was being assigned to him, John was less than a month past his high school graduation- a youthful, serious (at that time, anyway) future

Femforce:Night of the Demon cover

Cover art by Marimon and Heike

engineering student with a galaxies’ worth of artistic potential but no more than a dozen or so ACTUAL comic book pages drawn to his credit. What he’d done previously was good- very good, and I had high hopes for the result when he left the AC offices, script in hand, to return to his home studio to begin drawing.  In later years, John would distinguish himself with stellar work at Acclaim Comics, Marvel, and most notably a long run on the various Dark Horse Star Wars miniseries. But at this point, he was working on his FIRST full-length comic book script ever.  Since it was an involved story, with lots of characters and setting changes, we assumed it would take somewhere between 30 and 60 days to complete- we had allowed that much time in the schedule for penciling; we’d be able to letter & ink it & get it to the printers’ in time for an October release on that timetable.  Bill and I were a bit nonplussed when John returned to the office, looking a bit burned out and disheveled, with the story completed- IN JUST TEN DAYS!! Rather than having cut corners and turned in rushed work, it was the most detailed and beautiful comic book job I had ever seen penciled- incredible work. The only way John could’ve finished it that quickly was to have gone virtually without sleep for ten days!  Bill gave him his check & next assignment, and he and I managed to keep a straight face until John staggered out the door!! We couldn’t believe the amount of work & skill he had put into the story, in such a small amount of time. He didn’t seem to realize that  quality of work should’ve- and would’ve taken much, much longer if attempted by another artist. We didn’t want to make too much out of it in front of John, since we didn’t want to RUIN him.  Well, eventually John got around a bit more in the comics business, and came to understand what was considered acceptable and what was effort “above and beyond the call of duty”. His work was- and still is- always excellent; he just learned how to work at a pace that would allow him to avoid killing himself with excessive effort.  So that was my first foray into scriptwriting; resulting in a finished product that I’m still proud of today. By the way, we’ve just recently reprinted Night of the Demon in the  $29.95 FEMFORCE: Rarities TPB volume; but if you’re interested in having a look at this story in particular, I suggest picking up the FF Special back-issue by itself from our web store- it’s a lot cheaper.

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An Interview with Bob Koenig – The Femforce Theme Song

Webmaster’s Note: This interview is from 1999.

Issue 50 of the Femforce offered a little more than the standard comic book. Included with the issue was a flexi-disc, a small record designed to be played on a phonograph. The technology has since gone the way of the dinosaur, but it wasn’t really that long ago that the Femforce theme song was recorded by a band called, “The Keys.” Bob Koenig was a founder of “The Keys” and is the songwriter responsible for the Femforce theme contained on that little plastic disc in Femforce Issue 50.

I have read comic books, or had them read to me, since I was age 4 or 5. Back then it was the Fantastic Four, or the Metal Men…those were my faves. But when all the ‘indies’ of comics came along, I tried whatever I could find. Finding Femforce was great for me, as they reminded me of the comics from yesteryear…and not like all the adult minded indies that were showing up at the time. Of course, Femforce could be considered adult due to the glamorous women that were featured…but, of course, I liked that! But I guess I would say that Femforce (or any AC comics title) was bought up fast by me, as they reminded me of the comics of my youth.

How did you go from becoming a fan of the Femforce comic book to recording a Femforce theme song?

I had started collecting (and actually reading) AC Comics early on, whatever I could find in the comic shops. I had sent letters to the company once in a while, but, when AC issued the “Synn” comic, Mark Heike not only quoted and used references to songs by Syd Barrett and Pink Floyd, but used 1960’s psychedelia…of which I have a big record collection. I was also publishing a Syd Barrett fanzine at the time (Syd Barrett was an original member of Pink Floyd), and decided that I could cross publicize my zine with AC comics. Writing to them, I soon had a letter in my hands from Mark Heike and we soon were chatting by phone. I started sending them my records, and they actually liked them!! So, when there was mention of making a movie, I asked about the movie soundtrack…and soon, an idea was planned for this ‘flexidisc’ in issue # 50…the idea evolved from MAD magazine having flexidiscs in their specials…so why not AC?

Femfans know that the Femforce theme can be found on a flexi-disc that came with Issue number 50 of the title. However, that theme song is actually a reworked version of a song called “Something Special” that you wrote and performed on an album called “Grand Opening.” What made you decide to rework that song into the Femforce theme song?

The funny thing of having the Flexi in issue # 50 was that, being a collectible, I seemed to believe that they were put away, and never removed and played! How many actually played the disc? The “Femforce Theme” song is actually a reworking of my other composition “Something Special.” I wanted to create an entirely new song, but it just never came to me. Somehow the music and the new words seemed fitting, so the song was used once again.

Your band at the time, “The Keys,” was later depicted in a scene in the Femforce. Was it a kick for you to have yourself show up in the pages of one of your favorite comic books?

When The Keys were depicted in Femforce Up Close #1, I was speechless!! I had seen some of the artwork before it came out, but it was quite a thrill to go to our local comic shop and buy a comic with myself as a comic character. My only regret is that I didn’t get to take Synn out on a date….they promised me!! (Just kidding)
In case anyone was wondering..the Keys were :

Bob Koenig (lead vocals, guitar)
Bob Hardy (Lead guitar, vocals)
John Piccolo (Bass, vocals)
Ken Schaefer (Drums, vocals)

I think we all enjoyed it. We even appeared at a local comic convention and signed the issues….always great to have more AC comics readers!

You’ve written and performed songs in many different musical styles. How would you describe your music?

My Musical styles? Well, they vary. I grew up on the Beatles, and even country music…so my style picks up from there. The material I was writing in The Keys was more a 70’s based power pop…like the Raspberries or Badfinger. But I did release a country cassette titled “Backroad Pond.” The Keys had a record called “Grand Opening” plus a cassette titled “Changes.” We were also featured on a tribute CD in Australia titled “beat or not the beat”. We made some TV appearances, the most popular was “Dance Party USA” on the USA Network. If interested in my recordings, you can write to Keywhole Records, PO Box 1672, Mineola, NY 11501.

It’s been a number of years since you did the Femforce theme song. What’s going on with you today? Where can Femfans catch you performing?

Yes, a lot of water under the bridge since the Femforce theme, for sure. The Keys had disbanded in 1994, so I went on to other things. I was signed to a small label and issued a CD of my own. It’s titled “Prose & Icons” (CPD-8201) and is available from CatsPaw Records, 416 Wilson Blvd., Mineola, NY 11501. He does mail order, at $14.00 a CD I believe. I also had a guitar duo called the “Jim-Bobs” consisting of myself and Jim Veltri. We played locally, but I haven’t really done anything new as of late. I was to appear on a Jan & Dean tribute CD, but that is yet to be finished. So if you want to hear my latest stuff, write to Catspaw.

Any chance of you doing the Femforce theme digitized and saved in a midi format for all the Femfans online?

I’d love to have the Femforce theme digitalized and available for all Femfans online…anyone know how to do it?

Are you still in touch with the folks at AC and are you still a Femforce fan?

I will still chat with Mark Heike whenever I get the chance. They are a great group of people and it was fun to appear at some comic conventions with them in Florida. Of course I’m still a Femforce fan..I miss them!! I especially like Ms. Victory’s latest costume..with the big boots…nice!!

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Golden Age Profiles: Irwin Hasen

Mr. Irwin Hasen was a member of the National Cartoonists Society, winning awards for Best Story Strip in 1961 and 1962 for Dondi, which he worked on for 32 years. His comic strip work also includes The Goldbergs for the New York Post.

His comic book work from the 1940’s includes material for these Golden Age publishers: Tem (Temerson, which later became Holyoke): co-creator of Cat-Man. Also worked on Secret Agent Z-2, Citizen Smith and the Green Hornet, Centaur Publications: sports / celebrities one pagers, MLJ Magazines: where he was co-creator of the Fox. All-American (later bought by DC) creator of Wildcat. Also worked on Flash, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, Johnny Thunder, All-Star Comics (Justice Society of America) and Sargon the Sorceror.

Mr. Hasen taught at the Joe Kubert School. He was interviewed in AC’ s Men of Mystery #25.

 

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Golden Age Profiles: Bob Lubbers

Bob Lubbers is best known for his “good girl art” from both the comic strips and comic books.

Bob was born in 1922, and attended the Art Students League before breaking into the comic book profession at the tender age of 18. His first work was for Centaur, (then known as The Comics Corporation of America) illustrating such features as The Arrow, Reef Kincaid, Red Riley and The Liberty Scouts.

When Centaur folded in 1942, Bob moved over to T. T. Scott’s Fiction House line and found a home for the rest of the decade. There he served as Art Director, doing many action features and spectacular covers.

He drew Camilla in Jungle Comics, Señorita Rio in Fight Comics, Captain Wings in Wings, as well as Space Rangers, Rip Carson, Flint Baker, Captain Terry Thunder, and a long stint on Rangers Comics’ frontier girl, Firehair.

In 1950, Bob began a four-year run on the Tarzan comic strip. Bob did a lot of work in newspaper strips including The Saint, Big Ben Bolt (ghosted) and Rusty Riley (ghosted). He did two strips of his own creation, Long Sam (1954-58) and Robin Malone. Long Sam was written by Al Capp and featured the exploits of a tall and gorgeous montain gal. He began working on Lil’ Abner in 1970, and later did a stint on Secret Agent X-9.

He did some work at DC Comics on The Vigilante. Bob also did some Westerns at Pines (Standard / Nedor) comics on into the 1950’s. His work also popped up at Gleason, Timely / Marvel, St. John and King Comics, and even stories in The Twilight Zone comic book for Western in the 1960’s.

Check out Bob’s work on this great cover for Best of the West 57!

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Golden Age Publishers: Centaur

AC Comics has reprinted, and thus preserved, many stories from the time period known as the Golden-Age of comics. However, little has been done from Centaur. It is one of the earliest publishers and material is hard to locate. The Fire Man and an interview with his creator, Martin Filchock appears in Men of Mystery #23 which you can buy now in our Online Store. There is also a brief interview with Mr. Filchock under “Golden Age Articles”.

Centaur was one of the earliest and most important comic book publishers. This often-overlooked pioneer was the seminal proving ground (in one incarnation or another) for virtually all of the early creative greats- including Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster (Superman), Bob Kane (Batman), Will Eisner (The Spirit), Bill Everett (The Sub-Mariner), Jack Cole (Plastic Man), Carl Burgos (Human Torch), and a legion of others. Born of a mixed lineage, it’s precursors include The Comics Magazine Company, Inc., started in May of 1936 by John Mahon and Bill Cook, former employees of Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson at his National Allied Publications, which would later become DC Comics. It’s lineage also includes Star Comics; initiated by Harry “A” Chesler in February of 1937. Frank Temerson and I. W. Ullman formed Ultem Publications and bought out Chesler’s Star Comics, keeping him on as editor. In September of ’37, Ultem also took over Mahon and Cook’s line. In January of 1938, Joe Hardie and Fred Gardner bought out Ultem and began Centaur Comics in March of 1938.

Wildly creative, original and interesting, the Centaur Comics line ceased publication in 1942, due to poor distribution, although Joe Hardie remained in business with a line of crossword puzzle books and periodicals which ran quite successfully until they were sold off in the 1970’s. AC wiis bringing the Centaur line and it’s history out of the shadows of the past and into the hands of collectors and historians with the help of The Bookery Fantasy Collection, the research of Hames Ware, Henry Steele and Lee Boyette, and interviews with actual Centaur creators. Special thanks to Steve Topper, Steve Bates and Tim Cottrill!

They published characters like Amazing Man, Iron Skull, Minimidget, Mighty Man, The Fire Man, Man O’War, Vapo-man, The Rainbow, Liberty Guards, Fantom of the Fair, The Arrow, King of Darkness, Nightshade, Blue Fire, Blue Lady, Airman, Masked Marvel, TNT Todd, Marksman, Dr.Hypno, Dr. Mystic, Skyrocket Steele, Black Panther, The Eye Sees, The Sentinel, The Shark, Super-Ann, Meteor Martin, The Voice, Dash Dartwell, Speed Centaur, The Electric Ray, Dr. Synthe and many others!

Centaur had a list of comics creators that’s a who’s who of comic books! Bill Everett, Martin Filchock, Carl Burgos, Fred Guardineer, Frank Thomas, Ken Ernst, Ed Moore, George Brenner, Bert Christman, Joe E. Buresch, Paul Gustavson, Art Pinajian, Walt Kelly, Jerry Siegel, Joe Shuster, Sheldon Mayer, Will Eisner, Charles Biro, Bob Wood, Fred Schwab, Frank Frollo, Bob Kane, Rafael Astarita, Creig Flessel, H.C. Kiefer, Clemens Gretter, Jack Cole, Rick Yaeger, Maurice Gutwirth, Vic Dowling, Dick Moores, Winsor McKay Jr., Harry Campbell, Tarpe Mills, Malcolm Kildale, Louis Glanzman, John Giunta, John Kolb, Al McWilliams, Basil Wolverton, Sam Gilman, Ben Thompson, Bill Ely, Munson Paddock, Gus Ricca, Harold Delay, Sid Greene, Steve Dahlman, Tex Blaisedell, Vic Pazmino, Harry Sahle, Bob Butts, Bob Lubbers, Ed Robbins, Stan Drake, Jack Binder, Red Holmdale, John Belfi, John Daly, Homer Fleming, Myron Strauss, Art Helfant, Lou Ferstadt, George Wilson, Pierce Rice, Arturo Cazeneuve, Terry Gillickson, Larry Antoinette, Al Gabrielle, Al Bryant, Ben Flinton, Sol Brodsky, Pete Alvarado, Al Plastino and Bob Davis.

Check out Men of Mystery 83. This 200-plus page blockbuster is particularly special, as it contains MORE pages of coverage on the legendary (and rare) CENTAUR COMICS line than any book previously published anywhere at any time!!

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Golden Age Profiles: Martin Filchock

An Interview With Martin Filchock, Pioneer Comic Book Artist

Interviewed by Mark Heike for Golden-Age Men of Mystery No. 23 (published by AC Comics) Mark asked about Marty’s life as a cartoonist. Marty told Mark how, at around 17, he sent in a comic strip to Bill Cooke (of “Funny Pages”) about “how I hoboed my way from Pittsburgh to California.” He called it “Obo Ossie”. To his surprise, Mr Cooke responded with a few pointers. Marty had a sister that lived in New York, so he moved there, went to see Bill Cooke, got more pointers and finally began doing strips for him…. his very first work as a professional cartoonist.

“I did one called “The C.C. Kid” (“the C.C. stood for “civilian conservation”) and another called “Windy”. I called it “Windy” because it was all pantomimed. From there I started drawing covers and features. I made my first big sales to Bill Cooke.”

When Cooke sold out to Centaur (Joe Hardy and Fred Gardner) he started working for them. He was paid big bucks for those days, the depression, you know. “I made $5.00 per page (writing, penciling, inking and lettering)”.

For Centaur he did such superhero strips as “Mighty Man”, “Fire-Man”, “The Owl” and “Electro Bolt”.

Mark asked Marty if he was given ideas for strips by the editors. He replied that he did everything himself. It was great to work for Hardy at Centaur… he accepted practically everything Filchock presented to him. He did his work only on subjects he knew. “My experiences working on the railroad, bumming around, the C.C. camp and so forth. I was raised in the country so I did a lot of hunting and trapping.”

After the war Joe Hardy dropped comics at Centaur and began publishing crossword puzzles. Marty drew over a hundred covers for his crossword magazines. And while in the Army, he was drawing gag cartoons for Army cartoon magazines. He got paid $5.00 a gag and that sure beat $5.00 per page for comic book art.

“I did one about the mess officers who served us hot tea every afternoon while we were sailing near the Equator! It showing us drinking hot tea and dreaming of something cold to drink. After that we were never served anything hot again!”

When Mark Heike asked Marty if he ever regretted choosing cartooning as his life’s work, he replied “NO….. I always get into funny situations which I can turn into a gag cartoon. I’d rather put hours and hours into this because I enjoy it. It keeps me sharp.”

Mark asked him if at any point he missed working on comic books. He responded that he did admire some of the artists drawing superheroes nowadays. He replied he would not have enjoyed all the work, but he would enjoy being able to draw like that. But, all and all, he’s been very happy with his life and career of cartooning.

See more of Martin Filchock’s work in Men of Mystery 23.

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Golden Age Profiles: Martin Nodell

An Interview With Green Lantern Creator, Martin Nodell

Bill Black, editor and publisher of AC Comics, interviewed Martin Nodell at the 2000 Megacon in Orlando, Florida. Marty told Bill the story of how the Green Lantern came about. After graduating from art school in Chicago, Marty went off to New York in 1940, to make his fortune. His first work was for companies that always seemed to be going out of business, so he decided to investigate what companies there were and which ones were lasting. There was Superman and Batman, both from DC Comics. He saw Sheldon Mayer, editor, and showed him his samples. He was told that they were looking for another superhero type character. So, he started developing a character on the subway ride home and had it done in a week.

“I picked out the name from the train man on the tracks who was waving a lantern, going from red to green…. green meant go and I decided that was it”, Marty reported. “Then I needed a colorful and interesting costume. I was interested in Greek mythology and so the costume took on elements of that. It just all fell into place.”

“When I sent it in, I waited into the second week before I heard the word to come in. I was ushered into Mr. Gaines office, publisher, and after sitting a long time and flipping through the pages of my presentation, he announced, “We like it!” And then, “Get to work!” I did the first five pages of an eight page story, and then they called in Bill Finger to help. We worked on it for seven years.”

“After that, I retired from comics and went into advertising. I came back to comics in 1981, when I began touring comic art conventions with my wife, Carrie. I’ve been at it ever since and have enjoyed every minute. At the Megacon this year, a young lady showed her admiration for the character by dressing up as a member of The Green Lantern Corps. What a thrill!”

Complete coverage of Martin Nodell and The Green Lantern, as well as other “green” characters, can be found in AC Comic’s “Men of Mystery No.25”, available in the Online Store or from AC Comics, PO Box 52-1216, Longwood, FL 32752.

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Golden Age Profiles: Jim Mooney

Jim Mooney has pencilled and inked thousands of pages of comic book art and even written his fair share. His career as a comic book artist began in 1940, in the Golden-Age of comics. He worked on many of DC and Marvel’s top-selling characters including Spiderman, Batman, Superboy and dozens of others. Jim told AC’s Mark Heike about his first assignments in the field of comic books and the events leading up to this assignment.

As a young man in the late 1930’s the art school student joined a club called The Science Fiction League. Here he met fledgling science fiction writers like Julius Schwartz, Robert Block, Ray Bradberry and Henry “Hank” Kuttner. His friend “Hank” told him about a new industry growing in New York. He thought Jim would be perfect for, that’s right… comic books. So, off he went to try the unknown.

He interviewed with Victor Fox, publisher of Fox Features and based on that interview Jim got his first comic book art assignment in 1940, from the young company just in their second year of publishing comic books. He was assigned to do the art for the first story on a character called The MOTH. The writer suggested to him that this character had much in common with a character from another publisher called BATMAN. Taking a look at The BATMAN, Jim ‘s character was too similar and DC Comics took legal action causing Fox to cease publishing the character. The MOTH appeared in only four stories in issues #9-13 of an anthology book entitled “Mystery Men”…. all in 1940. That was the end of his association with Fox Features.

Jim Mooney’s next exciting assignment was as an artist in the famous Eisner- Iger Shop. He left after only two weeks and a couple of small assignments because he was so intimidated by working along side the likes of Will Eisner, Reed Crandell and Lou Fine. He says of the experience, “I was in over my head. I felt I had lots more to learn”.

From here he landed his first freelance account with ACE Comics working on a character called MAGNO the Magnetic Man. His wonderful art popped up on characters like ACE’s Lash Lightening, The Flag, The Raven, Captain Courageous etc. He pencilled, inked and lettered his freelance work and also did lots of covers while working for ACE. While working for a shop, many artists would have a hand in completing a story, passing it around to various artists. Freelance artists, working at home, pretty much did it all often including the writing as well.

While at ACE, Jim teamed up with a writer named Bob Turner, who later wrote for television on such shows as “Gunsmoke”. The two created a character they named Wildfire, with Bob writing and Jim penciling and inking. They sold that feature to Quality Comics where it ran in the anthology title, “Smash Comics” from issue #25 through #37.

Making the rounds of the early publishers, Jim went from ACE to Timely Comics where he met Stan Lee for the first time. Here he did his first funny animal work. As a freelancer, there wasn’t a great deal of work for him at Timely, so he supplemented his income by working in the bullpen at Fiction House for eight or nine months where he worked on Suicide Smith and Camilla. He continued to freelance for Timely, but to replace the Fiction House income he decided to try DC Comics.

At DC Comics he interviewed with editor Whit Ellsworth who said they didn’t need funny animal artists but rather needed someone to work on Batman. Jim says, “When I expressed interest in that, Whit bellowed, ‘What makes you think you can draw The Batman?!’ Well, I pulled out The Moth stuff and I said, ‘Well, you thought my work looked enough like Batman to sue Fox… what do you think?’ ” After working for many of the early Golden-Age comic book publishers (Fox Features, ACE Comics, Quality Comics, Timely Comics, Fiction House and the famous Eisner-Iger Shop) Jim Mooney had found a professional home at DC Comics where he stayed for the next 22 years (1946-68) until DC changed their style and no longer had work for him. Not missing a beat, he then began work on Marvel’s Spiderman. Jim Mooney was one of only a handful of comic book artists whose career spanned the entire history of the American comic book from the early Golden-Age to the modern era.

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Western Profiles: John Wayne

Born in 1907, John Wayne started his life as Marion Michael Morrison. His dramatic ability was first hailed by critics when producer/director John Ford picked him for the leading role in his Academy-Award-winning film, Stagecoach. John Wayne didn’t win an Academy Award for that film, but much later in his career, 1969, he did win the Best Actor Oscar for True Grit.

As a young man, while on a summer break from college at University of Southern California, he took a job at Fox as a property man where he was assigned to a John Ford movie. Director and prop man soon became fast friends and made many films together over their colorful careers. He began getting parts in 1928, where he was billed, sometimes unbilled, as Duke Morrison. In 1930, Raoul Walsh was looking for a newcomer to play lead in The Big Trail and Ford recommended Wayne for that role. It wasn’t too successful and Wayne lapsed into a series of lesser pictures, most notably for Lone Star Productions. In 1938, Republic signed him for the lead in eight of the Three Mesquiteers films which were popular with the public. During this early period he made some 80 films.

In 1939, he portrayed The Ringo Kid in Stagecoach for Ford. After starring in Stagecoach, the six-foot-four husky actor from Iowa, starred in all kinds of roles as a hero. He left his roles in B movies and only made A films after Stagecoach. Wayne was one of the few cowboy stars that played in both “A” and “B” Westerns. He was known for his westerns and war movies and in fact these two topics comprised almost the entirety of his career.

In 1952, he made a movie called Hondo which he produced. This was shot in 3-D! . In 1960 he began to direct as well as star in movies when he did The Alamo. In his career he made some 250 movies. He made films for over five decades, his last being The Shootist, in 1976. He died in 1979, of cancer.

John Wayne had a comic book published by Toby Press entitled John Wayne Adventure Comics. It ran 31 issues from 1949 thru 1955. The stories in this title were not all western, but also represented the war and adventure genres as well. Most issues had photo covers. He also had a series in Britain, called John Wayne Adventure Comics, in which cover paintings were utilized. This series ran 82 issues, from 1952 to 1958. AC Comics did a tribute to John Wayne in Western Movie Hero #3.

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Western Profiles: Charles Starrett

Charles Starrett had been making Westerns for Columbia Pictures since 1935 and was consistently listed among Billboard‘s top ten Western stars. He was 6 ‘ 2″, 180 pounds, athletic, considered “the most handsome Western star,” and was a good actor to boot. In 1940, he was starred in what was assumed to be just another Columbia Western, a film entitled “THE DURANGO KID.”

This role, however, was destined to change the course of his career. Before the Westerns, he had a prolific film career, 30 some films, including “Jungle Bride” where he co-starred with Anita Page and “Fu Manchu” starring Boris Karloff. But, THE DURANGO KID turned out to be one of the most popular Western heroes of the silver screen. In this production, Starrett played a dual role: young Bill Lowry, a ranch owner who’s father had been murdered; and the masked Pecos gun sharp known as THE DURANGO KID. As the mysterious DURANGO KID, Lowry avenges the death of his father.

This concept drew tons of mail from the youngsters who attended Saturday matinee Westerns. Both fans and exhibitors alike wanted more of THE DURANGO KID! The studio tested the waters with SAGEBRUSH HEROES in 1943, a film in which Starrett portrays a radio actor who plays The Durango Kid on the air. Again fan mail climbed.

In 1945 the studio bowed to the wishes of the public and released “THE RETURN OF THE DURANGO KID.” It was decided that Charles Starrett would continue in this role much the same as William Boyd had become HOPALONG CASSIDY. The Durango series was a tremendous success. By the time the dust had settled in 1952, Starrett had made 65 Films as the mystery rider. That was an incredible accomplishment.

Even more amazing was that the films got better as they went along. “DURANGO” became even more athletic as Starrett grew older, thanks for the most part to JOCK MAHONEY doubling as the masked rider. Still however, even in his forties, Starrett could dish out the action as later entries will bear out.

The DURANGO films were rare as hen’s teeth due to the fact that the studio never released the series to television. Many of the pictures have never been seen after their initial theater run. Private film collectors have kept the legend alive and proudly exhibit the films at national film festivals. When a new DURANGO film turns up in the collector’s market, it’s a rare treat.

In the 1990’s The Movie Channel ran a Durango Kid marathon showing twelve films in a row! Some had never been seen since the theatrical showings. This was a big boon to collectors as these were all newly struck perfect prints. Currently, Durango films can be seen on Movie Plex’s Western Channel and occasionally on TNT.

In 1949, MAGAZINE ENTERPRISES approached Columbia Pictures about publishing a DURANGO KID comic book. A year earlier, the publisher had had success with a similar endeavor with Western star TIM HOLT. The company, headed by publisher VINCENT SULLIVAN, and editor RAYMOND KRANK, was to become, quality wise, one of the finest in the field.

The covers of the first 5 issues of THE DURANGO KID comic featured “colorized” photos of Starrett as the masked rider. Inside covers also featured photos of scenes from the DURANGO KID series. Later covers were artwork with small insert photos of Charles Starrett. Today, these comics are collector’s items.

In the films, the civilian identity of the DURANGO KID, “Steve“, would always have a different last name from feature to feature. It was established in “TEXAS PANHANDLE” (1945) that “Steve” was a Secret Service man working in the West. That would explain how he would be a Texas Ranger in one film and a marshal in the next. In the comics, Steve had a permanent last name… STEVE BRAND. Steve Brand has a sidekick named MULEY PIKE, a heavy set fellow that shares his adventures and confidence. Muley is based on the film character played by SMILEY BURNETTE. Magazine Enterprises only licensed CHARLES STARRETT and THE DURANGO KID. Smiley had his own license going with another comic book company so he could not appear in DURANGO‘s book.

The final entry in the film series was “THE KID FROM BROKEN GUN“, released in 1952. Seen here are Smiley Burnett, Edgar Dearing, Jock Mahoney and Charles Starrett. With that feature completed, Charles Starrett retired from the movie business. He was quite well off and during the 1950’s and 196O’s traveled across the globe with his lovely wife, MARY. In the early 198O’s he attended a few Western Film conventions, much to the delight of his many fans.

Early in 1986, he passed away. In December, 1989, JOCK MAHONEY died. He was the “other Durango Kid” since he doubled behind the black mask in many of the features.

It is the intent of AC Comics to keep the legend of Durango alive for future generations. To that end we will continue to publish DURANGO KID comic books and include his adventures in every issue of our BEST OF THE WEST title. We will continue to add photos and content on Durango to this web site.

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Western Profiles: Roy Rogers and Dale Evans

The things that made Roy Rogers a pop culture icon in the 1950’s died long before he did. Our heroes are no longer cowboys. And no one makes a pitch for clean living anymore. And a yodeling straight-shooter dressed in frills and rhinestones (a trademark from his rodeo days) would be hopelessly out of place in these cynical times.

But for many baby boomers, Roy Rogers was their first real TV hero. His passing reminds us of how much we’ve aged and how much innocence we’ve lost.

On playgrounds today, kids threaten to “Springerize” their foes because they’ve seen one too many Jerry Springer show. Teachers have to ban language inspired by the animated “South Park.” And good guys don’t wear white hats anymore.

Although Rogers was a B-movie Western film star in the 1940’s, his popularity soared when his films were recycled on TV in the early 1950’s. The medium was in it’s infancy in 1951 when his half-hour series, “The Roy Rogers Show,” made him a TV star. The series ran seven years in NBC at 6:30 P.M. Sundays and reruns aired another three years on CBS on Saturday mornings.

Rogers already had been crowned “King of the Cowboys” before he came to TV. In 1948, an estimated 80 million went to see his films. His TV show was set on the Double R Bar Ranch where Roy continued his simple fight for law and order in the contemporary West. Also featured were: Dale Evans; Roy‘s bumbling sidekick, Pat Brady; Roy‘s horse, Trigger; Roy‘s dog, Bullet; Pat‘s cantankerous jeep, Nellybelle; and Dale‘s horse, Buttermilk.

The theme song, “Happy Trails To You“, written by Dale Evans, is embedded in the memory of many a baby boomer.

Popular with children, “The Roy Rogers Show” spawned hundreds of merchandising items from lunch boxes to Double R Bar action figures.

Roy Roger‘s screen and TV character was a good guy who could sing and use fists. He’d rather kiss his horse than get mushy with a girl. But if you had a horse as smart as Trigger, you’d probably want to kiss him, too. When Roy did get mush, it was with his real life wife, Dale.

“Today they’re making pictures that I wouldn’t want Trigger to see,” Rogers said in a 1992 interview in Los Angeles. Rogers, looking fit and trim at 81, had come to Los Angeles from his Apple Valley home to promote an American Movie Classics documentary on his life.

“I did pretty good for a guy who never finished high school and used to yodel at square dances,” he said. “I was raised on a little farm about 12 miles out of Portsmouth, Ohio. We were so far back in the woods, they almost had to pipe in sunlight.”

He may have been born Leonard Slye, but he became Roy Rogers as the character blended with the man. Rogers said he believed in the things his character stood for: character, truth, justice, virtue, civility and good winning over bad. He was part of the romantic cowboy myth that post-World War II Americans embraced and clung to through the early 1960’s.

In the 1950’s, almost every kid in the country wanted to be like Roy Rogers, Hopalong Cassidy or Davy Crockett. In 1958, there were 24 Westerns in prime time television. Today there are none.

People are always asking me why they don’t make Westerns like they used to,” Rogers said. “I don’t know the answer. The world changed. Hollywood changed. I think we’ve lost something, and we don’t know how to get it back.”

Walt Belcher
The Tampa Tribune

Roy Rogers received two Golden Boot Awards and was inducted into the National Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City. He is the only performer elected twice to the Country Music Hall of Fame, with his Sons of the Pioneers in 1980 and as an individual in 1988. He made 87 Westerns and from 1943 to 1954, he was ranked by theater operators as the No.1 Western box office star.

He had a national chain of restaurants named after him when in 1990, Hardee’s acquired the 648 unit Roy Rogers chain and merged it into it’s business Roy and Dale are seen here on the cover of the in-house publication of Hardee’s Food Systems, Inc. He passed away Monday, July 6, 1998, at age 86.

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Westerm Profiles: Tom Mix

When you think of the American cowboy, a certain image springs to mind. You picture a stalwart, clean living hero astride a noble horse who is always ready to right wrongs and champion the cause of justice. Such westerners may have populated the real West but most likely the abovementioned description owes its existence to… TOM MIX. Tom Mix was the first of the colorful, escapist motion picture cowboys.

He was also the most successful. It is hard to measure that success by today’s standards. At the peak of his motion picture career he was paid in excess of $17,000.00 per week, a sum greater than any other salary earned by a Western star. Consider that at this point in history, circa 1920, the average hourly wage was 30 or 40 cents. Movie theater tickets were a nickel or a dime. This was before income tax. Tom Mix made millions for every studio that contracted him. He was one of the most popular men in the country loved by children and adults alike. His juvenile fan club boasted two million members.

His film career spanned 25 years from 1910 to 1935. During that time he starred in between 300 and 400 films. An exact number is not known as few of his films exist today. Many of them have deteriorated and others were disposed of by the studios. Regardless of the precise count, Tom Mix‘s film output was phenomenal.

Thomas Hezekiah Mix was born near Mix Run, Cameron County, Pennsylvania on January 6, 1880. His real life was as adventurous as any created for a screen play. So much of Tom‘s early life adventures are intermingled with later studio publicity that a true picture of just what was what is hard to ascertain. He was born, of Scotch and Cherokee Indian extraction in Pennsylvania.

 

In 1904, Tom Mix met, fell in love with and married a teacher named Grace Allin. Complications led to him deserting and heading west to become a cowboy. Allin‘s father had the marriage annulled.

Later that year Tom was a drum major with the Oklahoma Calvary Band and performed at the St. Louis World’s Fair. There he met Will Rogers and the two remained friends until Roger‘s death in 1935.

Tom was attracted to ranch life and worked hard to be accepted as a cowboy. He saw rodeo performing as a great challenge and rose to the task. He became a fine roper and a champion class rodeo contestant. After joining the Miller Brothers 101 Wild West Show, Tom married Kitty Perinne. They were divorced a year later and Tom started chasing champion rodeo girl, Lucile Mulhall. This romance was stopped by the girl’s father who ran Tom off with a gun.

Mix‘s first break in motion pictures came when the Setig Polyscope Company began filming “Ranch Life in the Great Southwest“, a movie that contained some of the earliest live rodeo scenes ever filmed. Mix talked the director into letting him do a bronc busting sequence and the rest was history. The film makers wanted action and Tom Mix gave it to them with, a capital “A.” Heretofore the reigning western film star was William S. Hart, who presented a realistic, austere portrayal of frontier life. Tom Mix was a robust showman who delighted in daredevil stunts and horseback acrobatics. It was new, exciting escapist cinema. The audiences, especially the kids, loved it.

Mix was the first to introduce the horse as a superstar, too. His first show horse, Old Blue, performed several tricks on camera and became a star in his own right. Tom‘s second horse, Tony, was the true superstar. Tony was the most popular horse in the world, was the most photographed horse and helped his master earn millions during their film career. In 1932, while filming “Hidden Gold“, the wonder horse injured his hip and had to be retired. He was replaced by Tony, Jr. who carried Tom through the remainder of his career.

Tom did all of his own stunts and he and Tony became the most action packed duo on the silver screen. The Mix films were loaded with fantastic stunts, furious fights, romance, colorful locations and an element of comedy. After 7 years with Selig, Tom was offered a lucrative contract by William Fox so he signed with Fox Films in 1918. He turned out 6 to 8 pictures a year during the 10 years he was with Fox. He changed forever the Western format and by 1921 he became known as “THE KING OF THE COWBOYS” (a title later bestowed on Roy Rogers). William S. Hart retired in 1925 so Tom‘s title was undisputed. He became the idol of every boy and girl in the country. The example Mix set on the screen, that of a straight shooting, non drinking, non smoking, non swearing champion of fair play, set the mold for a legion of screen cowboys to come.

In private life, Mix was quite different. His films made him wealthy and so he lived life to the hilt. He had a Hollywood mansion with his name emblazoned in Neon lights. He loved fast sports cars, parties and fancy dress. Another big love of his life was the circus. As a great showman, he loved the live performances along the sawdust trail. Tom left Fox and did handful of films for Film Booking Office in 1928-29. This was the beginning of the sound era for pictures and Tom, like many other film actors, was unsure of his future in talkies. In 1929, the Sells-Floto Wild West Show made him an offer that guaranteed his future for the next few years… $10,000 a week to headline their traveling show. Tom gladly accepted and toured with the wild west show until 1932 when Universal Pictures wooed him back to the movie capital. The offer was $10,000 a week so Tom took on the talkies. He made 9 sound films for that company. Rumor had it that Tom‘s voice was high pitched and not suited for sound films. This was untrue as the cowboy star had a deep, husky voice. He declined to star in the long running TOM MIX radio show not because of his voice but because radio acting was such a low paying profession.

Tom was still doing his stunts even though he was now in his fifties. During his professional career he racked up a total of 80 injuries. He survived many shootings, twenty two knife wounds, a fractured skull, a dynamite explosion and others too numerous to recount. The Ralston Purina Company, sponsor of the Tom Mix radio program, even offered a premium diagramming their star’s many injuries.

There is no doubt that Tom Mix could have continued making films despite his age and injuries. Any studio would have been glad to have him. His popularity was simply enormous. Instead, Tom chose to go back to the circus and the thrill of performing to live audiences. In 1934 he purchased an interest in the Samuel B. Gill Circus and changed its name to the Tom Mix Circus. With his own circus, Tom toured through America, Canada and Mexico.

In 1935, Tom Mix made his last film. It was a 15 episode serial for Mascot Studios entitled “The Miracle Rider.”

Three years later, Tom‘s circus merged with the Sells-Floto traveling show and he continued to tour. After a performance on October 12, 1940 in Tucson, Arizona, Tom was driving alone in his custom made Cord high performance automobile when he suffered a fatal accident. He swerved at 50 miles per hour to avoid a road crew. A metal suitcase in the back of the car was flung forward and struck the Western star in the back of the head. This freak accident broke Tom‘s neck. Suddenly, the greatest Western star in the history of the cinema was dead at age 60. His faithful steed Tony Sr., who had retired in 1932, died two years later to the day… October 12, 1942.

The phenomenal popularity of Tom Mix lived on, however. The radio program continued through 1950… 10 years beyond his death. His comic book, began in 1947, continued until 1953, ceasing only because the publisher dropped its comic book line. Another generation grew up with Tom Mix through radio and comics.

Tom‘s popularity is still good box office. The recent Blake Edwards‘ film SUNSET told a fictional account of the meeting of Wyatt Earp (played by James Garner) and Tom Mix (Bruce Willis). Tom Mix still has thousands of fans. The greatest Tom Mix fan was Dr. Richard Seiveriing of Hershey, Pennsylvania. In 1980 he established the National Tom Mix Festival held annually in Dubois, Pa. Over 10,000 people attend the six day event where Tom Mix films are shown and collectors peruse memorabilia. John Samorajczyk in Maryland heads an International Tom Mix Fan Club complete with newsletters and premiums. AC COMICS has produced a copy of TOM MIX WESTERN, the first Tom Mix comic book in 35 years, to introduce this great Western hero to a new generation of fans. Tom Mix will ride on forever!

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Western Profiles: Lash LaRue

He looked more like a gangster than a cowboy hero. He wore an all black outfit and had his Stetson cocked slightly to the side. His main weapon was an 18-foot bullwhip coiled at his holster. This was Lash LaRue, and he projected quite a different screen image than that of his contemporaries.

In fact, he began his career in Western films portraying an outlaw. In 1945, Producers Releasing Corporation (PRC) studios had recently begun a new series starring Eddie Dean as the latest singing cowboy. In the film SONG OF OLD WYOMING, a newcomer named Alfred LaRue was cast as “the Cheyenne Kid.” By the end of the film, Cheyenne was converted from his owlhoot ways and joined the Eddie Dean side for law and order. This black-clad character caught on with the kids in the audience, and mail began to pour into PRC requesting more of the Cheyenne Kid. They were granted their request as LaRue returned the following year in Dean’s THE CARAVAN TRAIL. This time he played “Cherokee” but the outfit and persona were the same. Also in 1946 he supported Eddie Dean in WILD WEST. His character’s name this time was “Stormy.”

LaRue’s popularity caused PRC to launch him in his own series in 1947. He was back portraying the Cheyenne Kid in eight films that year, beginning with LAW OF THE LASH. The follow-up was RETURN OF THE LASH, and the mold was set; though somewhere along the way the “Kid” became “Cheyenne Davis.” All of these films were produced by Jerry Thomas (who had worked on the Eddie Dean series) and were directed by Ray Taylor.

LaRue’s co-star was comic Al “Fuzzy” St. John, truly one of the funniest sidekicks to appear in Westerns. St. John had been with the Keystone Cops back in the silent days and had starred in his own series of short subjects. He had previously worked with many Western stars, including Bob Steele, Bob Custer, Bill Cody, Tom Tyier, Rex Bell, Fred Scott (with whom in 1937 he first portrayed the “Fuzzy” character, Fuzzy Q. Jones), Lee Powell, Buster Crabbe, George Houston and Bob Livingston.

By 1948, matinee Westerns were on the decline and budgets were cut at all the studios. PRC already occupied the bottom rung in the low budget studio ladder. They went out of business in 1948. Lash LaRue did not. He was back in a new series (along with Fuzzy) for Western Adventure Productions (WAP) with producer Ron Ormond at the helm. Ray Taylor continued to direct. For this series, LaRue became known as “Lash” LaRue and would continue that character for the rest of his films.

New producers came in 1949… J. Francis White and Joy Houck. Ron Ormond took over as director and produced probably the best of the Lash LaRue programmers . . . KING OF THE BULLWHIP. Whereas B-Westerns are noted for their action, the Lash LaRue series plodded along at a dreary pace. The chase scenes consisted of repetitive camera angles with lethargic editing. There was lots of padding, and inconsequential scenes seemed to drag on without end. KING OF THE BULLWHIP had more action than most as Lash faced an outlaw, El Azote, who also used a bullwhip. To offset the slow pace of previous efforts, director Ormond used scenes of the climactic battle of the bullwhips as background for the main title sequence. This started the picture off with a bang. The camera work during the course of the film was unusual and inventive. KING stands out as a unique and different Western.

Unfortunately, this new-found quality soon faded as budget cuts necessitated excessive use of stock footage from previous films. At one point the Eddie Dean film WILD WEST was re-cut and released as a Lash LaRue film known as PRAIRIE OUTLAWS. THE BLACK LASH, released in 1952, was comprised mostly of footage from the 1948 film FRONTIER REVENGE with new footage added. When new scenes of actor Jim Bannon were needed in BLACK LASH, director Ormond filmed a stand in wearing a similar shirt from the back. Bannon was not even credited in the later film.

The final film in the Lash LaRue series was a reworking of OUTLAW COUNTRY from 1949. It was entitled THE FRONTIER PHANTOM, and this one featured Lash in a dual role. In OUTLAW COUNTRY, it was established that Lash had a twin brother who called himself the Frontier Phantom. This concept was repeated, along with much of the same footage, in THE FRONTIER PHANTOM. The supposed twin is seen here in this photo.

Despite the shortcomings of the production values of his films, Lash LaRue himself remains a striking figure among the legends of screen cowboys. Had he been at Republic Pictures under the direction of William Witney, his star would have glistened more brightly. Lash was one of the last of the series Western stars. By the end of 1953, all of the great matinee cowboys had ridden off into the sunset for the last time.

In 1949, Fawcett Publications licensed a Lash LaRue comic book, and the series ran into 1953 for 46 issues. Photos of Lash were on the front and back covers too in some of the early issues. Fuzzy did not appear in the comic book. His latest films were touted in ads. He was also regularly featured in “Six Gun Heroes”, alternating the cover shot with Rocky Lane.

Lash made films in 1947, 1948, 1949, 1951 and 1952 (plus the earlier Eddie Dean films). He was also featured in the 1945 serial, THE MASTER KEY. In the early 1950’s Lash made a short-lived TV series entitled TALES OF FAMOUS OUTLAWS. These were 15-minute segments also produced by Ron Ormond and WESTERN ADVENTURE PRODUCTIONS Lash portrayed a modern-day Western lawman who reminisced about his grandfather, the original Lash LaRue, in the days of the old West. The bulk of the show was made up of clips from old Westerns. The program was also known under the title LASH OF THE WEST.

After his retirement from films, he toured the country putting on shows with his whip. When film festivals began in the 1970’s, he was one of the first to be invited to attend. Lash LaRue passed away in 1996.

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Western Profiles: Rocky Lane

ALLAN “ROCKY” LANE was a handsome leading man in the 1930’s. He had a great voice and made all types of films before switching to Westerns in the 1940’s. He became a serial star at Republic Pictures in KING OF THE ROYAL MOUNTED (1940) and followed that with KING OF THE MOUNTIES (1942), DAREDEVILS OF THE WEST (1943) and TIGER WOMAN (1944).

His first series of Westerns began in 1944 with SILVER CITY KID and continued thru 1945. In 1946 he took over the popular role of RED RYDER from WILD BILL ELLIOTT and became the 3rd actor at that studio to portray FRED HARMAN’s newspaper strip cowboy. Lane played Red Ryder in 7 films including SANTA FE UPRISING, RUSTLERS OF DEVIL’S CANYON and MARSHAL OF CRIPPLE CREEK.

In 1947 he started a new series as “ROCKY” LANE with WILD FRONTIER, an excellent entry in an outstanding series. There were 38 ROCKY LANE films and not a clinker in the batch. (And he never took a bad photo. His lobby cards were full of action.) Rocky always put extra effort into these films striving to make this series better than other B Westerns. At this he succeeded for the most part but at the cost of the respect of some of his co-workers. They claimed that he made his fight scenes too realistic and had the bruises to prove it. He was serious on the set and always concerned with getting everything just right. PEGGY STEWART and others who worked with him just didn’t like him. I dunno. I wasn’t there. But I was there watching him in darkened theaters throughout my childhood and knew he was one of my favorites, second only to The Durango Kid.

Studying the Rocky Lane films today I can certainly attest to the fact that they are better than most all the others. They did not have the budget of the Roy Rogers, Gene Autry or Tim Holt films but Rocky worked hard to make them look as good. He put far more effort into the project than any of his co-stars.

Rocky had great opening to all his films that must have been a stipulation in his contract because no other Western star did this. The film would open with a scenic background over which the title appears with pastoral music in the background. Then the music would pick up into a thunderous beat as the screen dissolved into a scene of Rocky riding full tilt on BLACK JACK as his personal credit appeared. The screen would then dissolve back into the original scene and the music would calm down for the rest of the credits. Let me tell you, all us Saturday matinee kids would let out a cheer when that happened. It was most effective.

Also Rocky would do a stunt, almost a signature of his, that at some point during a gun battle or fight scene he would dive right at the camera, throwing himself to the ground with great force and slide across the dirt heading for the next vantage point. It must have hurt like hell but it looked terrific. He did this in film after film and became a trademark image.

Rocky was insistent that he and only he wore blue jeans in his pictures. A lot of stunt men and supporting actors griped about this when they had to change trousers. Each cowboy movie star had his own look. All of them had custom made shirts, tailor made to their specific body shape. Frankly, they were all too clean cut and neat to be realistic. Rocky had his signature grey striped shirt and black scarf… this was required. (In the colorized lobby cards, red was often used for his shirt to brighten up the posters.) Everything else had to have been put together by the actor himself because they could not have come from the Republic wardrobe department. He wore blue jeans, yes, but they were jeans that had been worn. You could see the wear and tear in the knees and seat…. a seat that looked like it had been sitting in the saddle for a long time. His leather gloves and boots looked like they had been in use for years. So did his gun belt. Did you ever notice the cartridge loops on the back of Rocky’s belt? My gosh, there are cartridges missing… just as though he had actually reloaded from it! Every other movie cowboy has a fully loaded holster that looks as though it was purchased earlier that day.

They say Rocky was cold and unfriendly but EDDIE WALLER, who I met at a film festival, told a different tale. “He was kind and helpful to me,” said the old timer who co-starred as his sidekick in 30 films with Rocky. “And generous. He took toys and gifts to the kids in hospitals at Christmas and it wam’t no publicity stunt. Nobody knew about it.”

They say the proof is in the pudding and I say that I still get a thrill watching Rocky’s films on PLEX. There are 3 Rocky Lane movie posters in my film room at home and lobby cards on the wall in my office. It is my goal to collect and enjoy all 38 films in the series. Thanks to TOMMY HILDRETH of COMET VIDEO (P.O. Box 721, Wadesboro, NC 28170), I’m almost there.

As much as I admired him when I was a kid, I couldn’t bring myself to buy ROCKY LANE WESTERN, the comic published by Fawcett. I just didn’t like the art style of RALPH CARLSON, the artist who drew him. Carlson was one of the most competent artists at Fawcett, however I just liked the work of others better. Today I have close to a complete collection of Rocky Lane comics. I don’t care for most of the comics of today, so I have gone back and bought some of the series I didn’t collect as a child. At least I really liked the photo covers!

After the last film in the Rocky Lane series, EL PASO STAMPEDE (1953), Rocky played support in theatrical films (HELL BENT FOR LEATHER (UI, 1960) and on television (ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS, MIKE HAMMER). His last acting gig was supplying the voice for MISTER ED, the humorous talking horse on the television series starring ALAN YOUNG (CBS, 1961-1966). Rocky passed away just before the start of the Western film festivals in the early 1970’s. Too bad… I would have loved to have met him.

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Western Profiles: Monte Hale

Tune in your television set on any Saturday afternoon and you might find some of your favorite cowboy stars. Republic Films brought these roughriders into the hearts of millions of Western fans. Monte Hale can be remembered as “Man From Rainbow Valley,” the “Prince of the Plains,” “The Outcast of the Trail,” keeper of the “Law of the Golden West,” “The Missourian” and more.

Monte is a native of San Angelo, Texas. At the age of thirteen he bought his first guitar for $8.50 and played at a local war bond rally. It was there that he was discovered by Philip Isley (father of Jennifer Jones) and sent to Hollywood for a screen test at Republic Films. He hitchhiked all the way and stopped at a gasoline station just around the corner from the studio long enough to wash his face and comb his hair before making his appearance. Monte’s screen test was so impressive that he was immediately signed to star in “The Big Bonanza” with Richard Arlen. After this Monte was signed to a seven year contract with Republic where he started his grooming period with films that included “Steppin in Society” with Edward Everett Horton and films with Wild Bill Elliott and Sunset Carson.

At this time, the executives at Republic were looking for someone to test a new color film and decided to team Monte with Adrian Booth thus making Hale Republic’s first western star in a color series. This color film, “Home On The Range” was in Magnacolor and Monte’s next seven films were made in Trucolor. After this point in time, Monte went on to star in 19 of his own films.

Monte was tall and handsome and possessed an excellent voice. With this in mind, Republic put this, as well as his songwriting talent to work in a series of unusual westerns; offbeat in a sense because while he was ostensibly a singing cowboy, his films were not musical westerns like those of Autry and Rogers. Instead of building the picture around the music, as had been done in the past, Monte’s films were mainline dramas in which he stopped to sing a song now and then. Monte developed into one of Republic’s most popular singing cowboys.

After Monte’s departure from Republic, he went on to do guest starring roles on such TV series as “Gunsmoke,” “Honey West,” “Tales of Wells Fargo,” “Wild Bill Hickok” and “Circus Boy.” He was also a member of the panel on “Juke Box Jury” and appeared on the “Western Star Theatre” radio program.

There were more films in store for Monte as he appeared in “Yukon Vengeance” with Kirby Grant, later to land the role of Rock Hudson’s attorney in “Giant.” Monte’s last film role was that of the town drunk in “Chase” with Marlon Brando.

Monte Hale appeared all over the country at veterans’ hospitals and theatres. His friendly manner was genuine; he loved people, especially children. Never too tired to perform, Monte gave free shows to kids lined up outside of theatres wherever he was booked. Fawcett publications was responsible for selling over 2 million copies per month of the Monte Hale Comic Book to these young fans. These comic books were sold in six series’ and were published in twenty-seven different languages. They are now considered collectors’ items.

The nostalgia wave of recent years brought many events and western film festivals to Americans across the country and Monte was one of the first western stars asked to appear. He appeared in Orlando, Nashville and Los Angeles. He appeared in Rose Bowl Parades as well as becoming active in the Greater Los Angeles Variety Clubs.

Below he is seen at the Autry Museum of Western Heritage in Los Angeles with Ben Johnson, Charlton Heston, George Montgomery and Gene Autry and in the second photo he is with Gene Autry and Clayton Moore.

Type Monte Hale in the search engine of our website and see what comes up!

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Western Profiles: Gene Autry

The famous and popular Gene Autry was born on a ranch on September 29, 1907 in Tioga, Texas. While working as a railroad telegrapher in 1928, Will Rogers heard Gene sing and advised him to try the entertainment business. It was very good advice. He purchased a mail order guitar for $5.00 and became Hollywood’s very first singing cowboy. He first sang on radio in 1928, and then went on to begin his career in films in 1934. He was a top Hollywood box office Western star and appeared in 95 films between 1934 and 1953. He is the only Western star on the list of top 10 box office moneymakers.

After two bit parts in Ken Maynard‘s movies, Gene made his first film in 1934, which was a serial entitled “Phantom Empire“. It had 12 chapters. Next came “Tumbling Tumbleweeds” which set up the format for the next 50 films. Gene said himself that he didn’t act well, didn’t ride well and didn’t sing well, but people liked what he did and he was going to keep on doing it. This determination and his horse Champion and sidekick Smiley Burnette, carried him through and made him a winner.

Gene went into the war in 1942 and served until 1946. He then returned to Republic Pictures to resume his career. When he returned, he was a different man with a different agenda. He wanted a piece of the action. Herbert J. Yates, head of Republic, would have none of that, so Gene began negotiations with Columbia Pictures. In mid 1947, he signed with Columbia, getting what he wanted. He had done 5 pictures with Republic after the war…. heavy with song and light on action. He did 32 very fine films for Columbia which were light on song and heavy with drama.

In 1939 he started the “Melody Ranch” radio show on CBS. On the show he sang songs, presented a dramatization of an action story, and ended the program with more songs. This show was broadcast for 16 years. In 1950, he began “The Gene Autry Show” on television. It was the first series made by a motion picture star to be aired on CBS, and it ran until 1955.

While pursuing these endeavors, he maintained a very active recording career. He recorded more than 635 records between 1929 and 1964. Many were co-written by Gene. He did a lot of records for children that are still favorites today: “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer“, “Peter Cottontail” and “Here Comes Santa Claus” (which he co-wrote).

Marketing was a bonanza for the Gene Autry property. There were all kinds of products, one of which was comic books. His comic was first published by Fawcett in 1941, and Dell picked it up at number 11 and ran 121 issues. Number one is the most highly valued Western comic, selling at $7,000.00 + in near mint condition if one could find one for sale.

Besides his entertainment career, he was quite the businessman. He owned several properties, radio stations and in 1960, he became majority owner of the Angels baseball team. He was Chairman of the Board from 1960 until he died in 1998. Sadly, the team never won any pennants during his lifetime, but in October 2002, they won the World Series.

As his final legacy, in 1988, he opened the Autry Museum of Western Heritage (now called the Autry National Center) which houses many artifacts that represent the old west as it really was. Additionally, there are items from the B-Western stars who offered the public fantasized versions of the old west. It’s a 54 million dollar museum that stands as a thing of beauty in Los Angeles’ Griffith Park, on the north side of the city. In AC Comic’s book Best of the West” #36, there is a tour of the Museum with photos. Gene Autry Entertainment has given AC Comics onetime publishing rights to use Gene‘s photo on the cover of this issue. In addition there is a Gene Autry comic book story from the 1950’s published along with other stories of Western characters. Look for it in the Online Store.

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Back again this month, it’s TEN MORE unusual tales for MATURE READERS from our friends at B-Brand Comix Studio in Italy, this time out even WILDER & RACIER than last issue!!! The mysterious & sensual vigilante known as The BLACK MISTRESS returns in “The Law of the Black Mistress”. When a young couple is set upon by a murderous gang on a lonely highway in the night, the Black Mistress takes charge of the situation. Written by Francesca Paolucci & Enrico Teodorani, with art by Antonio Conversano. Then, the sexy & wacky masked crimefighter known as BLUE VELVET makes her debut, in “The Case of the Chinese Waiter Torture”- written & drawn by Rick (She-Hulk) Burchett. The blonde (and topless) gunslinger known as DJUSTINE saves her friend Consuelo in “El Lago Maldito”, written by Enrico Teodorani, with art by MKD. A bad actress takes her frustrations out on an insufferable director in “SFX”, witten & drawn by Bill Fugate, with inks by Bill Blac. Then, it’s two adventures of the dark-haired urban avenger CALAVERA, as written by creator Enrico Teodorani- “Deadly Encounter”, with art by Jason Waltrip; and “The Uninvited Guest”, drawn by Eric Theriault. Also, three stories starring Enrico Teodorani’s fair-haired jungle goddess, PAMELA of the JUNGLE: “The Blonde Game”, and “Una Bara Nella Jungla”, both illustrated by Pierpaolo Putignano; and “Predator of the Deep”, with art by Roberto Elia. Finally, the next chapter in the saga of “Leather Blake, Mistress of Kung Fu”. The biker gang known as The Dragons now have the lovely Leather in their clutches, and take there revenge on her for past battles using whip, knife & car battery before dropping off the humiliated girl in front of her own gang’s headquarters.Written by Enrico Teodorani, and drawn by Silvano. Plus- pinups by Bill Black and Clifford Neal. Extreme violence and some nudity are found in this book, so it should be considered for MATURE READERS ONLY. 44 pages, black & white with color covers, standard comic book size, saddle-stitched. Printed in 2007

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Femzine 4

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Unusual tales for MATURE READERS!! This special issue prepared by our associates in the B-Brand Comix Studio in Italy certainly lives up to that billing!! The book opens with an untitled adventure of the leather-clad avenger known as… The BLACK MISTRESS, as she savagely defends an innocent young woman against three male attackers. Written by Francesca Paolucci and Enrico Teodorani, with art by Antonio Conversano.Then, the scene shifts to the Old West, but the theme remains dark with The BLACK PHANTOM, as she saves the women of a tiny Mexican town from the cruelty of El Diablo, in an adventure written by Enrico Teodorani with art again by Antonio Conversano. Then, back to contemporary times with an adventure of LEATHER BLAKE, female Kung Fu master; as the sadistic biker gang known as The Dragons hold her in bondage for brutal revenge . Written by Teodorani, and illustrated by Silvano. Then, a “classic” jungle adventure of the beautiful, blonde KAGEENA in “Battle Against The Boulders”, as Kageena must fight to the death with a vicious cromagnon man. Finally, it’s RULAH The JUNGLE GODDESS, in “Bloodstained Fangs”!! Rulah must cleanse the jungle veldt of Mava the female warlord and her Nazi cohorts. Extreme violence, adult themes and some nudity are found in this book, so it should be considered for MATURE READERS ONLY. 44 pages, black & white with color covers, standard comic book size, saddle-stitched. Printed in 2007.

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Femzine 3

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It’s outrageous contemporary “good girl art” and GTS action by the master, artist/wrter Bill Black, in a four- act two-dimensional play featuring girls, girls and more girls!! Continuing on from Femzine #2, it’s “Where Giant Tromp”, starring Yankee Girl, Fighting Yank, Starr Spangle Fanny Phantom, giant villainess Titanica, The Colossal Cossacks, The Panda, Morgan Le Fey, and a cast of thousands. Then, artist Silvano Calligari and writer Paul Monsky serve up a twisted tale starring Nightveil at the mercy of an evil wizard. Black and white with color covers, 40 pages, comic book sized. Printed in 2003.

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Femzine 2

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Hold onto your hats, guys; as Fanny Phantom bursts onto the scene. This former exotic dancer has been done over as a costumed crimefighter by the sorceress Morgan LeFey. After being transformed into a 70 fiit tall giantess, she is captured by the evil Panda who uses her body as a model for an array of giant sized female Commie commandos. In the second story, The Blonde Bomber enters the castle stronghold of Sadana to free enslaved girls only to become a victim herself, until turning the tables on the evil villainess. Both features are never-before-seen, newly written and illustrated comic stories by the incomparable Bill Black. A photo tribute to beautiful screen actress Lois Hamilton makes this book a visual delight. 44 pages, black and white with color covers; 7″ X 8 1/2″ format. Printed in 2002

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Femzine 1

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1st Appearance of The FEM FORCE. (ALL GIRL SQUAD) Femme Force One: The All Girl Squad [Phantom Lady; Miss Victory; Synn; Blonde Bomber; Tara] Rare Issue. Prelude to FEM FORCE “First historic issue of this long-running independant comics smash hit from the creative genius of Bill Black. Initial offering of the only successful ongoing series ever to feature a team of super-powered women

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Roy Rogers Black And White Photo Button Set 9

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THIS PRODUCT IS NOW SOLD OUT AND COMPLETELY UNAVAILABLE!!Roy Rogers Black And White Photo Button Set #9 A set of three sharp, good old days style black and white photo buttons, one each featuring: a portrait of a smiling Roy Rogers, A portrait of a smiling Pat Brady, and a portrait of a smiling Andy Devine. These particular button images are in short supply, so we don’t have many of these sets left. Each image is plastic coated and affixes to an all-metal, 21/2″ pinback button. Fun to collect and wear, made to last years. Act fast, while supplies last. This three-button black and white set sells for $10.00. Fully licensed and authorized.

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Two-Button Roy Rogers Color Photo Button Set 8

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THIS PRODUCT IS NOW SOLD OUT AND UNAVAILABLE AT ANY PRICE!! Two-Button Roy Rogers Color Photo Button Set #8 A collector’s bargain set- two bright, colorful Roy Rogers photo buttons ( with small yellow and black Roy Rogers logos) for only $5.00 Each image is plastic coated and affixes to an all-metal, 21/2″ pinback button. Fun to collect and wear, made to last years.Fully licensed and approved.

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Roy Rogers Color Cartoon Button Giant Set 7

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THIS PRODUCT IS SOLD OUT AND UNAVAILABLE AT ANY PRICE.Roy Rogers Color Cartoon Button Giant Set #7 Here’s a wonderful GIANT set of Roy Rogers family cartoon buttons! With this offer, you get one each of all the line-drawn color buttons in sets 4, 5 and 6; that’s a Dale Evans portrait, Trigger portrait, small head shot of Roy on a Roy Rogers logo, Roy portrait, Buttermilk, Dale on Dale Evans logo,Roy on Trigger, Bullet and Pat Brady- PLUS one more cartoon button, unavailable in any other set- Pat Brady’s jeep, Nellybelle! That’s ALL of the Roy-related cartoon buttons, for LESS than the cost of the three sets combined- PLUS one more button FREE!! Each image is plastic coated and affixes to an all-metal, 21/2″ pinback button. Fun to collect and wear, made to last years.

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Roy Rogers Color Cartoon Button Set 6

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THIS PRODUCT IS NOW SOLD OUT AND UNAVAILABLE AT ANY PRICE!!Three more nostalgically beautiful line-drawn cartoon buttons, in full color. One each featuring Roy on Trigger, with a small Roy Rogers logo, Roy’s faithful dog, Bullet, and Roy Roger’s pal Pat Brady.Each image is plastic coated and affixes to an all-metal, 21/2″ pinback button. Fun to collect and wear, made to last years. A nice addition to any cache of Roy Rogers memorabilia. Fully licensed and approved.

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Roy Rogers Color Cartoon Button Set 5

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THIS PRODUCT IS NOW SOLD OUT AND UNAVAILABLE AT ANY PRICE! A trio of colorful line-drawn, cartoon-type buttons in a set, one each featuring: a portrait of Roy Rogers, a portrait of Dale’s horse, Buttermilk, and a head shot of Dale on a big Dale Evans logo.Each image is plastic coated and affixes to an all-metal, 21/2″ pinback button. Fun to collect and wear, made to last years. A nice addition to any cache of Roy Rogers memorabilia. Fully licensed and approved.

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Roy Rogers Color Cartoon Button Set 4

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THIS PRODUCT IS SOLD OUT AND UNAVAILABLE AT ANY PRICE!  A set of three fun, bright, line-drawn cartoon-style buttons, one each featuring: a portrait of Dale Evans, a portrait of Roy’s horse, Trigger, and a head shot of Roy on a big Roy Rogers logo. Each image is plastic coated and affixes to an all-metal, 21/2″ pinback button. Fun to collect and wear, made to last years. A nice addition to any cache of Roy Rogers memorabilia. Fully licensed and approved.

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Roy Rogers Color Photo Button Set 2

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THIS PRODUCT IS SOLD OUT AND UNAVAILABLE AT ANY PRICE!  A set of three crisp color photo buttons of everyone’s favorite cowboy, Roy Rogers. One shot each of: Roy smiling, Roy with gun drawn, and Roy with Trigger. Each image is plastic coated and affixes to an all-metal, 21/2″ pinback button. Fun to collect and wear, made to last years. A nice addition to any cache of Roy Rogers memorabilia. Fully licensed and approved.

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Roy Rogers : Song Of Arizona Lobby Card SOLD OUT!!

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THIS PRODUCT IS SOLD OUT AND UNAVAILABLE AT ANY PRICE!!A beautiful, near-perfect recreation of one of the most colorful lobby title cards, from a great Roy Rogers film- “Song Of Arizona”. Painstakingly retouched and computer enhanced, this wonderful collector piece is lithoprinted on heavy stock, suitable for framing. Each lobby card repro is shipped polybagged on a corrugated backing board, and like all AC Roy Rogers products, is fully licensed by the Rogers family. Priced at $9.95, it’s a bargain. 11″ X 14″ size.

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Roy Rogers : Nighttime In Nevada Lobby Card SOLD OUT!!

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THIS PRODUCT IS SOLD OUT AND UNAVAILABLE AT ANY PRICE!! Yet another bright, striking and colorful, all-but-flawless reproduction of a beloved Roy Rogers film, “Nighttime In Nevada”. All the care and craftsmanship available went into making this recreation as good as the original. Also lithoprinted on heavy stock, shipped polybagged on a heavy corrugated backing board.As with all AC Roy Rogers collectibles, it is officially approved and licensed. Yours for only $9.95- a steal. 11″ X 14″ size.

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Roy Rogers Lobby Card Set : 4 In All SOLD OUT!!

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THIS PRODUCT IS SOLD OUT AND UNAVAILABLE AT ANY PRICE. A set of FOUR great black and white Roy Rogers photo prints! Three are lobby title card reproductios- one each from “My Pal Trigger”, “Springtime In The Sierras”, and “Bells Of San Angelo” ; plus a beautiful portrait of Roy himself. All three are crisp, clear photo reproductions on glossy stock, 11″ X 14″ size. Each set of four comes polybagged with a title sheet. Sold as a set only, ALL FOUR for one low price of $9.95. One set is enough to decorate an entire wall. A great gift for a fan of the classic Westerns Fully authorized and licensed by the Rogers family.

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Star Fems poster by Paul Gulacy

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 THIS PRODUCT IS SOLD OUT AND UNAVAILABLE AT ANY PRICE )It’s the cosmic cowgirl Black Blaze in her cowboy hat fending off hostile aliens! Printed as the cover to Star Fems # 3 , you can get Gulacy’s art without cover logo in a 18″ X 24″ format!

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A Poster History of the Cliffhanger Serial

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 THIS PRODUCT IS COMPLETELY SOLD OUT AND UNAVAILABLE AT ANY PRICE!!This poster by Bill Feret depicts many of your favorite movie serial heroes and heroines! Includes Nyoka the Jungle Girl, Flash Gordorn and Dale Arden, their nemesis Ming the Merciless of Mongo, Copperhead, Spy Smasher, The Phantom, Captain Midnight, Captain Marvel, Superman, Batman, The Scorpion, Captain America, Buck Rogers, Blackhawk, Commando Cody and many more! 17 1/2″ by 23″

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Blue Bulleteer Pulp Fiction Portfolio 1

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THIS PRODUCT IS COMPLETELY SOLD OUT AND UNAVAILABLE AT ANY PRICE!!In a spirit reminiscent of the covers of the great adventure pulp magazines of the 1930’s and ’40’s, get this great set of lurid, lascivious and luscious illustrations of the Blue Bulleteer- the Femforce member most famous for her twin .45’s. See the raven-tressed beauty tied up and at the mercy of her captors, triumphantly standing upon a downed thug, slugging a wizened Nazi villain, and more-all spawned from the creative wellspring of AC’s newest artistic discovery, Kelly Everaert. Plus see our heroine bound and gagged and hung upside down in an extra plate that doesn’t defy gravity by Paul Monsky. Each of these plates features new, never-before-seen artwork, and every highly-detailed scene seems to tell a story in itself. Glamour in peril done up in classic comic book style rendered in ink by Mark Heike and Bill Black. 7 11″ X 14″ black and white plates in an illustrated envelope. Printed in 2003

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Femforce : Swimsuit Portfolio

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THIS PRODUCT IS SLOD OUT AND UNAVAILABLE AT ANY PRICE!!FemGGSP Have you ever wondered what your favorite comic book superheroine might wear at the beach or poolside? Here’s your chance to find out, AC Comics style! Fan favorite, artist Brad Gorby, has produced 15 spectacular ,sensual and sexy illustrations feasturing the cast of AC’s great Femforce female superteam comic, each one relaxing at water’s edge in skimpy, eye-catching variations of their already breif costumes. You’ll get not only regular team members Ms. Victory, Synn, Tara, Stardust, She-Cat and Nightveil but also Colt, Dragonfly, the “new” Ms. Victory (Jennifer) Buckaroo Betty, plus Yankee Girl, Miss Masque, Jet-Girl and the giant-sized Garganta, all rendered in beautiful, pin-up style black and white plates by the master of the female form, Gorby. But that’s not all… as a special bonus, a 17″ X 11″ slick, color “Femforce Beach Party” poster is included in each portfolio, with six of the FF core members’ reproduced in full color, as painted by FF creator Bill Black. Crime fighting never looked so good!!

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Femforce Pulp Fiction Portfolio 2

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THIS PRODUCT IS SOLD OUT AN UNAVAILABLE AT ANY PRICE!!Back by popular demand, a set of all-new, never-before-published oversized illustrations featuring the heroines of AC’s long-running Femforce comic, in dynamic scenarios inspired by the great adventure pulp magazines of The Golden Age. Each one features a favorite Femforcer just as she is about to save a helpless damsel in distress from a fearsome enemy.You’ll see Ms. Victory take on a skeletal Nazi scientist, Golden Age She-Cat versus a Fascist rat-monster, Synn spar with the former Soviet agent, Cherry Bomb; Yankee Girl in aerial battle with Divine Wind, and a modern She-Cat tussle with Cyberia. Each highly-detailed scene tels a story in itself, and all are suitable for framing; but this great art portfolio also contains text stories inspired by the scenes written by top FF fan Jim Johnston. Five 17″ X 11″ black and white fine art prints in an illustrated envelope. Printed in 2002.

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Femforce : Pulp Fiction Portfolio

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THIS PORTFOLIO IS SOLD OUT AND UNAVAILABLE AT ANY PRICE> Inspired by art of the great adventure pulp magazines of the 1930’s and ’40’s, see dynamic scenarios featuring the heroines of AC’s now-classic Femforce, each one featuring a favorite character just as she is about to save a helpless damsel in distress from her most fearsome enemy. See Ms. Victory face-off with Valkyra, Stardust confront Proxima, Rayda defy Lady Luger, and Too-Tall Tara take on Umbra. Each of these plates features all-new, never-before-seen artwork designed and inked by Mark Heike, with each plate pencilled by a different Femforce art great: 1 each by Brad Gorby, Chris Allen, Stephanie Sanderson, FF creator Bill Black, and Heike himself. Every highly detailed scene was inspired by Femfan and writer Jim Johnston, who provides a page of text story to flesh out each vignette.Think of these illustrations as covers to Femforce issues that never existed. Five black-and-white fine art plates on bristol, (suitable for framing ) in an illustated envelope.

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Femforce Spotlight CD-ROM

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This Femforce Spotlight is a comprehensive CD-ROM examination of Femforce, AC Comics, and publisher/creator Bill Black, all beautifully executed by Robert K. S. Croy, Sr. Assembled here to display on your PC is an amazing amount of material: every Femforce cover, character histories, and over 7,000 graphic images!! Plus- interviews, prose stories, fan club info, The Femforce theme song, and a dynamite Femforce screensaver filled with beautiful photomanipulations and art. Presented in an illustrated jewel case with an 8-page booklet with color centerfold of all The Femforce gals! An homage to the legendary Good Girl artist and comics historian Bill Black, covering seven decades worth of creative material. Hours and hours of entertainment for the casual fan or the completist.(Not compatable with Macintosh systems.)

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Rad Ring

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Rad Ring Get the radical rebel on this cloisonne ring produced by Great American Ring Co. 1993

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Femforce Trading Cards Set 1 Regular edition

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THIS PRODUCT IS SOLD OUT AND UNAVAILABLE AT ANY PRICE!!Femforce Trading Cards Set 1 Regular edition 14 full color trading cards from 1991. Back when there was a Femforce motion picture in the works, these cards were produced as a promotional item. Features the Femforce and friends like Jetgirl and Yankee Girl!

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Femforce Trading Cards Set 1 signed edition

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THIS PRODUCT IS SOLD OUT AND UNAVAILABLE AT ANY PRICE!!!Femforce Trading Cards Set 1 signed edition 14 full color trading cards from 1991signed by Bill Black and Mark Heike. Back when there was a Femforce motion picture in the works, these cards were produced as a promotional item. Features the Femforce and friends like Jetgirl and Yankee Girl!

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Femforce Trading Cards Set 2 Regular edition

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THIS PRODUCT IS SOLD OUT AND UNAVAILABLE AT ANY PRICE!!Femforce Trading Cards Set 2 Regular edition 14 full color trading cards from 1993. Back when there was a Femforce motion picture in the works, these cards were produced as a promotional item. Features Cat-man and Kitten, Reddevil . Has the giantess Garganta on a special double decker card!

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Femforce Trading Cards Set 2 signed edition

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THIS PRODUCT IS SOLD OUT AND UNAVAILBLE AT ANY PRICE!!Femforce Trading Cards Set 2 signed edition 14 full color trading cards from 1993, signed by Brad Gorby and Chad Hunt. Back when there was a Femforce motion picture in the works, these cards were produced as a promotional item. Features Cat-man and Kitten, Reddevil . Has the giantess Garganta on a special double decker card!

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Stardust Ring

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Stardust Ring Get the alien beauty Stardust on this cloisonne ring produced by Great American Ring Co. 1993

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Ms. Victory Pin

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Ms. Victory Pin Get the leader of the Femforce on this cloisonne ring produced by Planet Studios. 1993

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Nightveil Ring

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Nightveil Ring Get the mystical sorceress on this cloisonne ring produced by Great American Ring Co. 1993

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Rayda Promo Ring

Price: $14.00

 

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Rayda Promo Ring Special Femforce promo ring featuring Rayda.Cloisonne ring produced by Great American Ring Co. 1993

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She-Cat Ring

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She-Cat Ring Get the feline fury on this cloisonne ring produced by Great American Ring Co. 1993

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Synn Pin

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Synn pin Get the groovy Synn of the Femforce on this cloisonne ring produced by Planet Studios. 1993

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Synn Promo Ring

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Synn Promo Ring Special Femforce promo ring featuring Synn.Cloisonne ring produced by Great American Ring Co. 1993

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Synn Ring

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Synn Ring Get the groovy psychedelic Synn on this cloisonne ring produced by Great American Ring Co. 1993

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Tara Ring

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Tara Ring Get the jungle giantess on this cloisonne ring produced by Great American Ring Co. 1993

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Femforce Trading Cards Set 3 Regular edition

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THIS PRODUCT IS SOLD OUT AND UNAVAILABLE AT ANY PRICE!!Femforce Trading Cards Set 3 Regular edition 14 full color trading cards from 1993. Back when there was a Femforce motion picture in the works, these cards were produced as a promotional item. Features Femforce Villians!

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