JUSTICE LEAGUE

54

Dr. Phil
 

Scarlett brushed a wet strand of hair out of her face and took in a deep breath before submerging herself again. Using her arms to part the water, she swam for the opposite end of the pool. Each stroke was like pulling back a veil.

The PR guy, Boyd Billeh, had only been there for a day, but Scarlett didn't know how much longer she could keep biting back everything from the riots. With everything before, no matter how bad, they'd all had time for things to scab over, even if nothing healed. There'd never been fewer Justice Leaguers nighthawking, discounting the time they were on the cruise.

She surfaced for air, sucking it in before going under to finish the last half of the lap.

Scarlett wasn’t ready for this afternoon. Boyd Billeh had talked Rosma into using the Justice Jet to fly them out to L.A for some sort of talk show. She didn't want to go, but Boyd Billeh had promised this wasn't another regular talk show.

Scarlett flipped forward in the water to push off from the other side, but her feet just hit more water. She kicked upward and opened her eyes.

"Something wrong, Southern girl?" a familiar voice asked. Scarlett looked up and saw turquoise blue swim trunks, a shark's tooth necklace, and a bright yellow surfboard. Jo Surf was standing at the edge of the pool.

"Nope, just turned back too soon."

"Oh." Jo smiled. "I do that too."

"You have to worry about that in the ocean?" Scarlett raised an eyebrow skeptically.

"It's not as easy to catch the perfect wave if you ride the smaller ones instead."

"Ah."

Jo frowned out of nowhere. "It's below freezing out here. There's snow on the ground. How are you in an outdoor pool?"

"A little underwater karaoke. Nothing burns, it just gets warmer. I'm surprised you noticed--you always have the kind of weather you want."

Jo shook his head. "I could, but I don't want to mess with stuff too much, dude. Bad karma, global warming, that kinda thing. Only when I have to."

"Right. Jo, did you come out here and interrupt my swim to make small talk or do you actually have something to say?"

Jo blinked. "I have to have something to say?"

"Well, maybe not, but is there some other reason I'm not swimming right now?"

"No?"

"Fine. I'm going to swim my last two laps then." She swept that same strand of wet brunette hair out of her face and turned to swim the next to last lap.

"Yes!"

Scarlett turned. "What?"

Jo hesitated.

"What?"

"I think I know where Hamlet is."

Scarlett looked a little confused. "Why was that such a big deal for you to actually say?"

"It wasn't. I just felt like a dramatic pause would be kinda gnarly."

"Oh. Can we go to the next scene then?"

"Sure."

***

"See this paper?" Jo said, handing a sheaf of stationary to Scarlett. "I found it in my stuff when I was unpacking Rhonda." They were in Jo's closet--er, room. With Barbara Ann, there was just enough room for Scarlett to stand, provided she hunched her shoulders.

"You're just now getting around to unpacking? And did you just call your X-Terra Rhonda?"

"I forgot the box was in the back, and dude, you're the one with a talking cat named after an overly contemplative Danish prince."

Scarlett sighed. "Okay, I see the paper, dude, but so what?

"Same stationary as the note Hamlet sent me to give to you, duh." Jo looked at her.

Scarlett looked at it for real this time. "Okay, but that was months ago. He wouldn't stay there."

"Of course not, dude, but he might go back."

"Oooh."

"Now that," Boyd Billeh said as he tried to saunter into Jo's bedroom, "was classic. I felt the mystery even as it highlighted the underlying concern for this mysterious mystery cat. Have you ever acted, Scarlett?"

She stared at him. "Uh...not really. I mean, there was this school production of The Faculty--"

"Yes, yes, good. As entertaining as it is to hear this, you need to get into something more appropriate for the talk show. You're leaving in 15. Not that the red bikini look isn't a good one...in fact it gives me an idea." He pulled out his Palm Pilot and made a few notes before turning back to Scarlett. "Seriously. Go find something in the JL Walking Closet."

"It's the Justice League Walk-In Closet," Scarlett muttered under her breath as she forced her way out of Jo's room. "I swear..."

***

As Scarlett Fyre, Rosma Galek, Oreo Avenger, X-Raytor, Studmuffin, and Midnight Chatter stepped out of the Justice Jet that Rosma had parked on the Paramount studios helipad, Boyd Billeh began giving them advice as he whisked them through corridors and through the green room.

"Okay, guys, this isn't any normal TV appearance. I had to talk to this guy quite a few times to get him to agree to it since your situation is more volatile than the kind of people he normally has on here, but I think Scarlett was right when she said you all need time to heal from what you went through with the riots and just living with each other day to day. There are some special bonds in this group, and what better way to solidify them than going on national TV in front of millions and discussing your issues?"

"So what show is this?" Oreo asked skeptically as they left the green room and a round of applause sounded in the studio they were about to walk into.

"Select members of the Justice League...welcome to Dr. Phil's Superhero Healing Special!"

"Wha--" Rosma, Studmuffin, and Midnight asked even as Scarlett, Oreo, and X-Raytor shouted "F*** no!"

"Who's ready to get drop dead, bottom line real about every relationship you've got in your life? If you are, let me hear it right now!" Dr. Phil said, and the dying-to-be-told-what-to-do audience went crazy with clapping and whistles.

"That's just what my special guests today have agreed to do, ladies and gentlemen. I'd like to bring out them out right now--everyone, meet Rosma Galek--" at this, Boyd Billeh began pushing them out onto the stage, and there was nothing they could do but go along with it until the commercial break. "--Studmuffin, Midnight Chatter, Scarlett Fyre, Oreo Avenger, and X-Raytor!" They sat down in the uncomfortable chairs Dr. Phil had out for them, except they were short one, so X-Raytor ended up standing. Dr. Phil remained sitting in his own chair.

"You have to make choices and you have to be responsible for your life. I mean it's like being at an intersection, you can go left, you can go right, you can forward or you can go back," Dr. Phil started. "And that's just what these superheroes are doing."

For a second, Scarlett was surprised. Was Dr. Phil actually saying something positive?

"But it's not what they're doing in their relationships," he continued. "And that's why they agreed to come on the show," he said, turning to look at the trapped JLers. "I'm right in saying there's a lot of emotion flying back and forth in the Hall of Justice, aren't I?"

"Well--" Rosma started to say, but Scarlett kicked her.

"You see, ladies and gentlemen, that's a perfect example. You're..."--here Dr. Phil glanced at his hand--"Scarlett, right? Now why would you suppress Rosma's self-expression? Are you jealous of the completely stable sexual relationship that she and Studmuffin share?"

Rosma's cheeks went as red as Scarlett's dress, and Scarlett had to bite her tongue to keep from setting Dr. Phil's clothes on fire right then.

"Like my granddaddy always said, never turn a turnip over before the possum gets turned into roadkill. Relationships are negotiated and if you deal with ultimatums and authority all the time, then you're not going to get anywhere. We'll find out more about how what this means for the Justice League when we get back," Dr. Phil said. "And later this week, we'll talk about how violence in the media gives children bad ideas when we discuss Jurassic Park--Death by Dinosaur."

The red light on the cameras blinked off, and Boyd Billeh ran on stage. "You said they were going to talk about the riots!"

Dr. Phil smirked. "No one wants to rehash bad memories. It's much better my way. The Dr. Phil way."

"This is bullsh*t," Scarlett said. "I'm leaving."

"You can't leave," Boyd Billeh said. "You signed the contract to appear on the show."

"I'm not discussing my life with a opportunistic pop psychologist."

"Honey doll, if you don't then trust me, I can make this entire show hell for you."

"F*** you, Dr. Phil!"

The audience just stared. "Oh, like none of you've ever cursed," Scarlett said. "You think this guy knows something, that he can give you some kind of secret advice? Well, he doesn't and he can't. My cat gives better advice."

"We'll be back from the commercial in ten," a crew guy said. "Ten...nine..."

"This sucks," Scarlett declared and flopped back into her chair.

"Eight...seven..."

"Rosma and Studmuffin are getting their groove on?!" X-Raytor asked. "Oh, wait, we all knew that already."

"Six...five..."

"I wish I had that batch of newt Oreos with me right now," Oreo muttered to herself.

"Four...three..."

"Oreo's going to turn me into a newt or something," Boyd Billeh moaned as he stepped offstage.

"Two...one..."

"So why am I on here?" Midnight Chatter asked. "This reminds me of this show I saw with this guy wearing blue boots and an afro and--" The red light blinked on.

"Ladies and gentlemen, I'm Dr. Phil, back with the Justice League, and it's time to get real!"

***

"So let's start back where we left off. Rosma, you were talking about your relationship with Studmuffin?" Dr. Phil asked.

"Um..." Rosma looked at Scarlett, who shrugged. "Well...we don't exactly..."

"Don't be afraid to discuss anything. A healthy relationship is a beautiful thing. We're all adults here."

Behind them, X-Raytor failed to hold back his laughter.

"Now, X-Raytor. There's no reason for that sort of behavior. You need to handle this discussion maturely."

"Right." Oreo said. "Let me know if that ever happens."

"Oreo, that is not constructive criticism. Perhaps you can think of something else to say to X-Raytor to help him deal with these issues," Dr. Phil suggested.

"I can think of a lot of things to say," Oreo smiled sweetly. "But not on national television."

"Aren't you a troublemaker then? Shame on you." Dr. Phil turned back to Rosma. "Is there anything you want to say to these people? They keep interrupting you; obviously they don't respect you. And, let me tell you, people. Respect is the key."

The audience applauded.

Dr. Phil waited for them to quiet down. "Rosma?"

"Um...what was the question? I didn't know there was one."

Dr. Phil nodded. "I understand how difficult it is to hear over the loud and obnoxious behavior of your so-called friends there. We all wanted to know how you and Studmuffin keep your relationship together despite all the hardships of fighting crime and living in that house."

"Um..." Rosma looked at Studmuffin. "How exactly do we define our relationship?"

He considered. "Respect?"

The audience applauded again.

"No, wait! That's not what I meant!" Rosma tried to talk over them. She turned back to Studmuffin and whispered. "You know we don't have a relationship the way they think we do! Say something!"

"Smile at the happy people, Rosma. They love us," he whispered back, while grinning into the camera.

"No!" she stood up.

"Is there a problem, Rosma?" Dr. Phil asked.

"Studmuffin and I don't have a relationship!" Rosma paced back and forth across the stage. "Sure, we slept together that one time on the yacht. And okay, yes, we slept together before that. It was a long time ago! There is not a relationship! Those People magazines are not mine!" she glared at the rest of the league. "And I don't spend the night in his room. So stop talking about us!"

There was silence.

"Wait, you're actually not getting it on?" X-Raytor asked.

"Not recently, no."

"But..."

"No, X-Raytor. Just no."

"So it's like....friends with benefits?" Dr. Phil asked. "Because that's not the right sort of relationship for you, Rosma. You deserve better. Don't you think so?"

Rosma gave him a look from the opposite side of the stage.

He got the hint and moved on. "Do you have anything to add, Studmuffin?"

"....I like People magazine?"

"Aaaand we'll be right back after our commercial break."

Rosma marched back over to her seat, sat down, and crossed her arms. "I know I can't because of the stupid "contract," but if I could turn invisible and leave, I would."

"Yeah, too bad," Oreo glanced up at the florescent lights and winked at her.

"After this break, could we please get serious? All of you are acting like a bunch of children," Dr. Phil pleaded. "I'm going to talk to Oreo and MC next. Let's all deal with it like the adults we are and get along. Can we do that?"

"Doubtful," Scarlett said.

***

"YOU DO NOT IGNO-"

"Okay, never mind after that, it's just Yago shouting." Raven turned the tape player off.

The small assembly was draped around the living room. Eric was sitting in the middle of the couch, with Drew and Swift sitting on the ends, giving him a wide berth. Netic and Quake were sitting in adjacent armchairs. Raven was standing at the front of the room, while Holden leaned on the wall behind her.

"Um...so is this a publicity stunt?" Drew asked.

Raven sighed. "No, it's not. In fact, I would like it if you all kept this a secret from Billeh."

Everyone quickly nodded his or her assent. Raven looked at them. Drew and Eric are somewhat removed from the politics of the place, so they can probably be trusted. Swift knows how to keep a secret. Netic and Quake...well, there's no love lost between them and Billeh, and they both seem more interested in each other in than in the tape.

"So...then...why is this important?" Drew said. She'd been difficult to pull away from the computer, but Raven had wanted as much input as possible, and with most of the hall missing on one errand or another, that was difficult.

Raven sighed. "Well, I was planning on going public with it, but then the riots happened, and then all this publicity began. Lansky's faded into obscurity, and with all the publicity, this'll probably just get lost in the shuffle. So I was wondering if any of you had ideas on what to do with it."

"I still say we should go public with it." Holden said.

Raven closed her eyes. "Please, Holden, we've been through this."

"You're just going to let him get away with this?!"

"I told you, if we go public now, nothing will happen. And technically, nothing Lansky did was illegal."

"Except hold a knife to you!"

"I meant in his book-why the hell am I telling you this? You know what I meant. Stop it."

"He was going to kill you!"

Raven lost it. "Oh, so I suppose this is totally selfless, then?! You're just the valiant hero, aren't you? You just want to get revenge on him!"

"Why wouldn't I want to get revenge on him? That was the whole point! And why are you suddenly so sympathetic to him, ya phony?" Despite the harsh questions, Holden's voice had quieted.

There was a momentary lull. Raven noticed that their audience had left during the fight.

"I'm sorry, kay?" Holden mumbled.

"Me too." Raven said, looking at the ground.

"You don't-you don't really think-am I being selfish?"

Hearing the doubt in his voice, Raven sighed. "Where I'm concerned, it's the thought that counts. And yours-like you-are beautiful." She slipped her hand into his. "You're a special man, Holden Caulfield."

Holden looked at her and blinked. "Huh?"

She shook her head and the heaviness seemed to clear out of the room. "Never mind. It's not my line anyway."

***

November 18, 2004

Detective David Price didn’t sleep. If he slept, then the memories would warp into dreams, and the danger would be more real somehow, even as the actual events became surreal. It might be like last time, where he felt himself flying, and then pierced through with an energy bolt, or he’d be in one of the cruisers, or he’d see his mother, pregnant, as a super hero-sometimes Gauntlet-put a hand on her swelled belly, and then a glow, and then blood and…

He knew that the dreams were more harmless than the memories, in the external sense, at least. Just a warped representation of his fears and insecurities, of his bad memories, all wrapped up together, living themselves out fully without the restraining grip of the conscious mind to hold them in check-his mother’s miscarriage when he was seven, the faces of the victims he had seen during all of his time as a detective (sometimes he dreamed that he was the one lying on the mortuary slab, or that he was killing someone, usually the killer, avenging the victim’s death in a way that the law never could), and, of course, the arrest of Captain Destructo. As dreams they were far, far more real than when he remembered them, and despite all of his rationalism, he knew that would always be the case.

So he closed his eyes, and simply remembered.

… It’s June, 1986. He hasn’t made detective yet; he’s just a cop, just a city cop. The call came in only a few moments ago, a 419-a powers-related incident in a public place. Whoever called it in said that a Level Nine was involved. There is only one Level Nine super villain he can think of, unless whoever made the call got it wrong.

Captain Destructo.

He can see the blue flashes from this far down the street, and just that constant, electric-blue glow that lights up the surrounding buildings. There used to be a traffic light up at the corner, but not anymore. He can see the shattered remains, smoking on the street.

His partner pulls the car up on the sidewalk and they get out, leaving the doors open, flimsy shields against someone so powerful. There are several cruisers here already, other cops, everyone pointing their guns, no one quite sure of what to do.

Price looks around, but he doesn’t see the source of the blue light, even as the shadows begin to get smaller and-

He sees him, and it is, indeed, him. Captain Destructo is covered with blue energy, his eyes blazing like sapphires, his hair standing straight up. His cape flutters wildly, like an enormous, demonic wing wrapped in that blue light.

There’s a moment’s hesitation, and then every cop on the street opens fire. Price’s .38 thunders, but he can tell its no good. The bullets disintegrate as they meet the blue energy field. He is shouting something, but Price can’t hear the words. What he can see, however, is the grim anger in Captain Destructo’s face, a look so far removed from his ordinary smirk and flamboyance. He’s angry, and that is not a good thing.

The light seems to become more intense on the asphalt, and suddenly the cruisers, all six of them, are spitting blue sparks, wrapped in electric vines of energy; and now they begin to lift, levitate into the air, sparking, casting enormous shadows on the building facades. Captain Destructo’s expression is entirely blank.

All six cars explode in blue and white, the shockwave knocking Price flat. At the same moment, a beam of energy grows up, straight up, like some neon version of Jack’s beanstalk, and a news chopper, hovering overhead, explodes as well, but this time in orange and yellow flames. The wreckage falls, almost in slow motion, and smashes into the front of an apartment building. Fire and rubble rain down on the streets, and then something smashes wetly into the pavement and Price sees an arm…

He’s crying now, crying and crawling, as sure as he has ever been that he is going to die. Any moment now he will be engulfed in that hellish blue light. Captain Destructo is still speaking, and still Price can’t hear him, but he can almost feel the words, somehow, and they echo what he has always known:

“You never should have risen against me. You are but men and I, like all of my kind, am a God. There is a reason I have these powers, a reason; not a fluke of science or an evolutionary step or an act of genetic hubris. There is a reason why you are all so small and I am so great. I am your God, I am your King, we are the dominant species. Look up, look up, and see the face of God. Look up and despair.”

And suddenly the blue light is joined by another- no, three more lights of variant colors, seeping in among the glow of Captain Destructo’s energy, just as three shadows fall across the street.

Price looks up.

Captain Justice, Crimson Avenger, and Gauntlet hover in the air above him, faces grim, fists at the ready. Captain Destructo screams something, and Price’s heart surges with such intense hatred and betrayal that he almost mistakes the feelings for his own. What’s happening? The ground is sparking and his hair stands on end. Goose bumps pop up against the fabric of his shirt.

“It’s over, Captain Destructo,” Captain Justice says.

“Surrender now and you won’t be harmed,” Crimson Avenger says.

“You can either go back to jail in one piece, or you can go back with your bones broken,” Gauntlet says. “The choice is yours.”

Captain Destructo makes his choice. A bolt of energy sails at the trio, and they scatter to evade it. With a roar, an audible roar, Captain Destructo launches himself at his foes. They rise, higher and higher, away from the streets, their fists landing like hammer blows, sparks of green from Gauntlet’s armored fists, sparks of red from Crimson Avenger, sparks of white from Captain Justice, and that all-too-familiar blue.

They’ll defeat him, eventually, and he’ll be put back in jail, sedated almost to mindlessness. He’ll remain there thirteen years, until he breaks out in July 1999 and attempts to destroy Liberty Square where, at long last, he’ll be brought down by a SWAT sniper.

And even then, David Price will know in his gut what he knows now, lying on the asphalt-that it is only a very, very thin line of sanity and ethics that keeps any of these “super heroes” from taking over, from taking over the world, from taking over humanity; it is only this flashy, hyped-up role, taught to them by Marvel and DC and Saturday morning cartoons, that keeps them from realizing that they already are the dominant species. And that is why David Price doesn’t trust them, and that is why David Price will never, ever support them-because one day, they’ll wake up.


Sarah Tyler tapped him on the shoulder. “Hey, Price. Napping?”

He sat up. “Huh? No. Sorry.”

“Well, get up,” she said. “We got a bit of a media reprieve because of the riots, but we still have a waaay overdue case to solve. Let’s get to work. You never know-maybe today’s the day.”

***

Julian flopped down on the couch. “Great. So I guess I’m stuck here with the second-string, huh?”

Right Wing Man and Eric cast respective glances at him; each trying to decide if “second-string” was a good thing or a bad thing.

“What are we watching?” He asked.

“Jo,” Eric said. They were tuned to the news, which was showing a live video of Jo Surf helping out with a tsunami relief program. Julian rolled onto his back.

“If we’re gonna watch surfing,” he said, “put on Laguna Beach, at least. You know how hot Kristen is?”

“I wish they would pay more attention to Jeb Bush’s relief efforts,” Right Wing Man said. “How he lifts rubble without super human strength is beyond me, but I’m sure it’s amazing!”

“Who?”

“Josh, how do you not know who Jeb Bush is?”

“Julian.”

“What?”

“My name’s Julian,” Julian said. “Not Josh.”

“Oh. Sorry.” Right Wing Man frowned. “Is that your super hero name?”

“No. That’s Warhead.”

“Ah ha! Now there’s a cool name, Jacob!”

“Julian.”

“Right.”

“I thought it was Quake?” Eric said.

“No! F*** that name! That is the gayest f***ing name ever! I swear to God, I will never, ever f***ing call myself Quake, all right?!”

“… The girls said they’d hit me if I called you anything else,” Eric said.

“Man, how come we haven’t been on TV yet?” Julian asked, changing the subject. “I mean, I don’t wanna be on any of that stupid Maury s***, but what about… I don’t know, Conan? Or Howard Stern? Or how about Katie Couric? I’d totally f*** her…”

“I thought my interview with Fox News went rather well,” Right Wing Man said. “There seemed to be a strange psychic connection over the meeting of our incredibly aligned minds, though-it was almost like I could predict the questions!”

“It’s all bulls*** anyway,” Julian said. “The only one who’s really even getting out of it is that Iso dude.”

“How is Isomorphix doing?” Right Wing Man asked.

“He was in the infirmary last time I saw him,” Eric said. “He doesn’t remember anything.”

“About…?”

“Anything! They’re trying to remind him of everything, but I don’t know if it’s working…”

***

Ten minutes ago…

“Who are you people?” Isomorphix asked. It was the first time he’d been awake since arriving at the Hall of Justice the day before.

“Insensitive bastard!!” Violet cried from the corner, where she had been from the moment Iso had been brought into the infirmary.

“Er, we’re your friends. Well, your teammates, at least, I don’t know if you really like any of us,” Raven said. “But, um, we’re the Justice League, and you’re one of us.”

Isomorphix stared.

“You’re kind of… well, you’re kind of anti-social, really. Kind of creepy, too. You’ve got this whole thing about sneaking around in the shadows and-“

“And being a total JERK!!” Violet said, before beginning to weep again.

“Er, right. But, anyway, you joined, like… well, like, a day or so after I did. Something like that. We don’t know your real name or anything, but you call yourself Isomorphix. You just sort of showed up and, um, joined!”

“Who’s trying to kill me?” Iso asked.

Despite Iso’s obvious confusion, Midnight Chatter could still see that glint of feral intelligence in his dark eyes. Iso’s katana was on another bed, just a little out of his reach.

“Well, I’m not really sure. We have a lot of enemies, being super heroes and all. Was it someone with super powers, or…?”

“No.”

“Then, um, not sure.”

“I HATE MEN!!!” Violet wailed.

“Hm. What else do you know about me?”

“Well, um…” Raven glanced at Eric for help.

“You always wear black,” Eric contributed.

Raven raised an eyebrow.

“Oh, well, uh, of course, with the exception of the times you wear women’s clothing.”

Iso’s head snapped up. Raven’s jaw dropped.

“Oh, yeah, you do it all the time! Especially when you’re around Studmuffin.” Eric thought for a moment. “Actually, I wouldn’t be surprised if Studmuffin was behind this. Were you cheating on him?”

“Eric!” Raven snapped.

“Studmuffin?” Iso asked.

“Er, never mind him, he inhaled some of the anesthetic gas,” Raven said, shoving Eric towards the infirmary door. “Get out of here!”

“Pig!!” Violet cried.

***

Eric shook his head. “Whoo boy.”

Just then, the Justice Danger Beepers on their belts/sock-rims (which Boyd Billeh had had Drew build and made everyone wear) began to beep. Right Wing Man snatched his up and checked the tiny screen.

“There’s some sort of super powered shenanigans going on downtown!” He said.

Julian yawned. “So does that mean we’re actually doing something? I’ll get my costume…”

“Injustice is afoot!” Right Wing Man said. “Justice League: Assemble!”

***

As Boyd and Dr. Phil hashed out the contract infringements, and the cameramen were prepping for the end of the commercial break, X-Raytor crouched down next to Oreo’s chair.

“Er, hey, Oreo…”

“If you say ‘Don’t tell him how much I want you,’ I’m going to say that you wear a thong.”

“No! No, I mean, that’s not what I was going to say. I was going to say, um…”

“Yeah?”

“Er… how are you doing?”

She gave him a sideways look. “Fine.”

“Well, I mean, it’s just with everything going on, and your dad, and uh…”

“This really isn’t the time,” she said.

He sighed. “I- well, I just felt bad because I wanted to talk to you about it and see how you’re doing, but I haven’t, or, well, hadn’t gotten around to it, but, uh… I do?”

She blinked.

“Er, and I love the hair.”

Now she glared.

“No, really!” He said, raising his hands defensively. “It’s hot! In a really… Ellen DeGeneres kind of way.”

She scowled, and turned back towards the cameras. X-Raytor stood back up, kicking himself mentally.

“So, he’s talking to us next?” Midnight Chatter said, looking at Oreo. “Why do you think he picked us? Just randomly, huh? I mean, how could we be associated at all?”

X-Raytor felt the familiar urge to kick Midnight.

Why is he so oblivious?! Jeez, I’m observant to the point where I’m a Peeping Tom! Why is he so oblivious, and what’s so damn attractive about him anyway?! And wasn’t he with Scarlett, anyway?! … But what would Scarlett see in him, even?! Stupid…

“I don’t see what’s wrong with ending on a group prayer!” Dr. Phil said.

“We can’t… we can’t subscribe to any one religious denomination,” Boyd Billeh said. “That’s just not…”

“Everyone can show a little love for Jesus.”

“Er, I’m Jewish,” X-Raytor said, despite the fact that he wasn’t Jewish in either the denominational or traditional sense (though somewhat in the genetic sense, if you counted Hebrew heritage as being something genetic).

“Well, still…” Dr. Phil said.

“I’m Jewish, and we’re in LA.”

Pause.

“Maybe we can just have a moment of silent meditation and thanksgiving,” Dr. Phil said.

Boyd nodded. “That sounds like a good idea. Everyone down for that?”

X-Raytor considered making a Your Mom joke, but then realized that… well, like most Your Mom jokes, it wouldn’t make any sense, and would probably give Dr. Phil a whole new level of psychological analysis to run with.

Hey, wait a second, X-Raytor thought. If he talked to Rosma and Studmuffin before, and he’s talking to Oreo and Midnight now, then that means next time he’ll only have to talk to… aw, crap.

***

“MWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA- HEE HEE HEE!!!” Laughed the super villain, suddenly doubling over and letting out a few monkeylike shrieks. This was due to the fact that he was, well, a monkey-a short, brown, chimp-like creature with a long tail, and an oddly expressive face. On this face he wore a dark green domino mask, which complimented his dark green jump suit and cape, imprinted menacingly (?!) with the bladed monogram M. He regained his composure, and aimed his banana-shaped gun at the bank customers.

“Look upon me with terror, pathetic humans, for I am… the Masked Monkey! You may have heard about me on the news.”

Most of the customers had, although that fact seemed to make them less frightened than they had been a moment ago.

“Well, as you can see I have escaped from prison and have returned to my favorite hobby… SUPER CRIME!! Once I was a lowly janitor, Leroy McChimp, but, after stealing the formulas of a reformed evil scientist, I injected myself with a serum that made me more than man, more machine, more than a fusion of both!! I am… the Masked Monkey!”

Pause.

“Did I already say that?”

“Yes,” someone answered.

“SILENCE!! Speak only when I, the Masked Monkey, commands you to speak! Now, you! Bank manager!”

The bank manager, a man named Richard Hollis who was no stranger to super villain hold ups, nodded quickly.

“Empty out the vault, and bring it all out here in bags!” The Masked Monkey ordered.

“Wait,” one of the disarmed security guards said. “How will you be able to carry it all?”

“Don’t you see?” The Masked Monkey asked. “I… have… PREHENSILE TOES!!!”

The customers gasped in horror.

“And… a TAIL!!”

More gasps (and one “Yeah, so does my uncle!”).

The security guard considered asking how he would escape if all over his limbs were full, but it was then that Right Wing Man, Eric, and Quake walked in!

Actually, Eric got caught in the revolving door and had to be pulled out, but Right Wing Man and Quake walked in!

“Stop right there, criminal!” Right Wing Man snapped. He blinked and peered at the Masked Monkey. “Good Lord, you look more like a monkey than the rest of them!”

“I am a monkey!” The Masked Monkey said.

“Er, I knew that!”

“Who’s ‘the rest of them’?” Eric asked.

“That’s not important!” Right Wing Man said quickly. “Now, you! Drop the banana or it’s time for pain!”

“Die, Justice Losers!!” The Masked Monkey cried. He aimed the banana-shaped gun, and squeezed.

The banana-shaped gun, which was, in fact, just a banana, burst, and a white blob of banana pulp flew from it, splattering on Eric’s forehead.

“I’m hit!” Eric cried. “I’m hit!!”

“It’s just a banana, dumbass!” Quake snapped.

“Well, how about… THIS!!” The Masked Monkey said, and before anyone could guess at what ‘THIS’ was, the pilfering primate began to hurl his own feces at the Justice Leaguers!

“Evasive maneuvers!” Right Wing Man cried.

“Is he throwing s***?!” Julian demanded, ducking.

“I’m hit!” Eric cried. “I’m hi- … wait, is this actual- aw, hell no…”

“Enough of this tomfoolery!” Right Wing Man said, and, keeping low to the ground, charged the desk that the Masked Monkey was standing on. He swung at the Barrel Full of Evil, but missed, and the Masked Monkey leapt up, landing on the back of Right Wing Man’s head. With a shriek, he began to gnaw on the super hero’s head.

“AIEEEEEE!!!” Right Wing Man cried, running around in circles and slapping at his head. “GETITOFFGETITOFFGETITOFF!!!!”

“Get it off yourself, you idiot!!” Quake yelled. “You have f***ing super strength!!”

“AI- EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!” Right Wing Man ran and smashed through the bank’s marble wall, taking the Masked Monkey with him. Quake ran to the hole, and looked out.

The two continued their struggle on the street, the Masked Monkey clawing and gnawing, Right Wing Man screaming and slapping himself.

“Help me, Jebediah!” Right Wing Man cried. “Help me!!”

Quake’s mind flashed red, and the annoyance and anger swelled so suddenly that he barely realized what he was doing as he stepped through the hole and out onto the sidewalk.

“My name,” he said, “is JULIAN!!!”

The explosion shattered the bank’s windows, and sent Right Wing Man and the Masked Monkey flying into a nearby streetlamp. They landed on the street with a crash, and Quake walked over, putting a foot on the Masked Monkey’s chest.

“And that’s justice, f***tard,” he said.

There was a moment of silence, and then… applause.

Quake turned, and only now he saw everyone on the street, the pedestrians and cops and reporters, who watched, eyes wide with awe, as they clapped. A few people cheered, and Quake grinned bashfully.

“Hi, I’m Deborah Walters, Channel Five,” a bouncy-haired reporter said, walking up to him. “Would you mind answering a few questions…”

“Quake,” Julian said. “Call me Quake.”

***

“Believe it or not,” X-Raytor said, “this is actually only the second biggest disappointment today.”

“How so?” Midnight Chatter asked.

“There’s something worse than unexpectedly being on Dr. Phil?!” Scarlett demanded.

“Yeah. I called Cara to tell her I’d be in town, but it turns out she’s filming another crappy TV movie for PAX. Not that he’s crappy. PAX, PAX is crappy. I keep telling her that she should just forget about them and go for Broadway or something, but… anyway, point is, I don’t get to see her.”

Scarlett shook her head. “Still not worse than unexpectedly being on Dr. Phil.”

X-Raytor considered this. “… True.”

Midnight Chatter sat up suddenly. “Wait, we’re on Dr. Phil?! Since when?!”

“And we’re back in three… two…”

***

David Price would have missed it if he hadn’t left his coffee cup on the desk. He ran back into the station house, leaving Tyler waiting in the car, and was just picking up his cup (still hot!) off of his desk when O’Leary pointed out the TV screen.

“Check it out,” he said, “that new Justice League guy bit the crap out of the Masked Monkey.”

“Do not care,” Price said, turning towards the stairs.

On the TV, the new Justice League guy said, slightly muffled, “My name… is JULIAN!!”

Price whipped around, not sure he had heard correctly, and that’s when he saw the new Justice League guy-“Quake”-generate an explosion right there in the middle of the street.

An explosion without fire.

“We’re not sure what he says right before that,” one of the anchors said, as the shot switched away from the footage. “But it sounds like ‘Julian.’ No one on the scene seems to know what he said, but our own Deborah Walters is attempting to…”

Julian. Beth Firestone’s son, Julian, and their current number one suspect. Julian was a super hero with explosive powers.

Price began to run down the stairs, but then stopped. He and Tyler were involved in several other cases now, more recent cases. There was a lot of media attention on the Cargo Hold “bombing,” but they’d had to work on other cases, especially since this one was taking so long. More investigation now would just lead to more confusion, he was sure. And there were families, the victim’s families, waiting for answers…

And, yes, yes he had to admit it, he was thrilled that it had been a super hero.

He wasn’t going to tell Tyler. He was going to end this quickly, for the families, for everyone. He’d handle this one himself.

A few moments later, he climbed back into Tyler’s car.

“What took you so long?” She asked.

“Nothing,” Price said. “Let’s get to work.”

***

Oreo Avenger sat on her chair, ankles crossed, hands resting lightly in her lap, one over the other. She kept her shoulders relaxed and leaned forward slightly in the pose her tyrannical old Decorum teacher called Casual Conversation.

“And we’re back in three…”

Rosma gave her an encouraging smile.

“…two…”

Oreo took a deep breath and pushed back her bangs. She did not have Ellen DeGeneres hair!

“…one.”

“Welcome back to Dr. Phil's Superhero Healing Special,” the portly pop psychologist pronounced. “We’re here with Justice League members Studmuffin and Rosma, X-Raytor and Scarlett, and Midnight and Oreo.” He turned to Oreo and Midnight, seated next to each other. “What’s your relationship like? Are you really happy with where you’re at?”

Oreo smiled sweetly and was about to speak when Midnight jumped in.

“We’re friends,” Midnight said. “I mean, there was that one time when we kissed, but there were some extenuating circumstances there. Did I say that right? Extenuating circumstances. Did you know that mosquitoes reproduce in stagnant water? That’s why they’re always around bogs and marshes. I fell in a marsh once, but-“

“Do you always let him talk for you?” Dr. Phil asked.

Oreo shrugged but didn’t try to talk over Midnight.

“-covered with slime! I tried to come inside but old Warsaw, my Granny’s Great Dane took one look and chased right after me. I threw some of that bacon at him but he just kept coming and I know you’re not supposed to run away from dogs but he was huge-“

Dr. Phil tried to interrupt again. “You’re having a problem-“

“-and then I fell into the marsh again and landed on that same frog as before. That didn’t go over too well-“

“Boy, don’t let your alligator mouth overload your hummingbird ass!” Dr. Phil didn’t shout, but his loud voice momentarily stunned Midnight Chatter into silence. “Let’s hear from Oreo.”

The audience applauded.

“Midnight and I are just friends,” Oreo said.

“That’s what I just said!” Midnight said.

“You can’t be afraid to admit your feelings,” Dr. Phil said. “Honesty’s important but the most important honesty’s to yourself.”

The audience applauded.

Oreo waited until the noise tapered off. “We’re just friends,” she repeated. “Nothing more.”

“Right,” Scarlett muttered.

“Even your friends can see it!” Dr. Phil said triumphantly. “Don’t live in denial anymore! Are you afraid Midnight’s going to die on you just like Superdude? You can’t just bury your head in the sand and wait for the sky to fall!”

Oreo’s hands clenched into fists. National television, she reminded herself. National television. “I don’t know what tabloids you’ve been reading, but Midnight and I are just friends. That’s the depth of our relationship. We’ve never dated and we never will. The end.”

“Seems like I’ve touched a sore spot, little missy! What do you have to say about it, Midnight?”

“Like Oreo said-“

“Wonderful,” Dr. Phil said. “Remember Oreo, you need to learn to love yourself first. That’s the greatest love of all. Well, we’re almost out of time, so let’s hear from X-Raytor and Scarlett.”

***

Scarlett and X-Raytor looked at each other. And then they looked at Dr. Phil.

"Uh...we're not in a relationship."

"Are you sure, because it sounds like you are."

"No."

"Nope."

"I want the two of you to listen to me. We all have a social mask, right? We put it on, we go out, put our best foot forward, our best image. But behind that social mask is a personal truth, what we really, really believe about who we are and what we're capable of."

The audience cheered.

"Scarlett, I understand that prior to the burning down of your cottage that you were in a relationship with a small black cat named Hamlet. He left you after the fire. How did that make you feel?"

"Well, I--"

"Do you think Hamlet left you because you were too hot to handle?" Dr. Phil asked with a sly wink at the camera.

X-Raytor groaned.

"Is there something you'd like to add, X-Raytor?" he asked, but before X-y could respond, Dr. Phil turned back to Scarlett. "I know you have a problem with rejection and guilt, Scarlett, and I want to address that, because I think it's at the heart of all your relationship issues."

"I have relationship issues?" Scarlett asked as skeptically as she could.

"And so Scarlett, our last guest for today came to give me some insight to your past. Ladies and gentlemen, I'd like to ask Scarlett's twin sister, Saph Fyre, to come out." A blond haired, blue clothed woman walked out from the other side of the studio.

The audience went wild.

So did Scarlett. "What the HELL?" Oreo, X-Raytor, and Rosma looked at her worriedly. Boyd Billeh inched closer to the water fountain. "I didn't sign on for a family reunion, Dr. Phil," Scarlett said as calmly as she could.

"Scarlett, Saph is here because she wants to help you. She said you're a very aggressive person, and--" the red light on the cameras blinked out unexpectedly. By the water fountain, Boyd Billeh held up the plug.

"That's quite enough for today, Dr. Phil," as he began ushering the JLers off the stage. "The Justice League needs to get back to doing its job of keeping the wonderful citizens of The City safe. But thanks for having us." They all practically ran to the Justice Jet, where they quickly lifted off of the Paramount studios helipad.

"You couldn't have done that sooner?" Oreo asked Boyd Billeh.

"It was fun watching you all handle the pressure. You did well."

"That f***ing prick brought my sister in! My sister!" yelled Scarlett, who was still fuming.

"No worries, Scarlett. She just looked like your sister. Not the real thing."

"And how the hell would you know?"

"Trust me, it wasn't her."

"I can't believe we came all the way to L.A. just for this," Studmuffin said. "Sure, I was great as always, but I thought we'd be doing something a little more Hollywood."

***