Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Chase #6 (July 1998)

After nearly two months recovering from injuries sustained from a wall falling on her during a super-hero battle, D.E.O. agent Cameron Chase was planning her return to active duty. Out shopping with her sister Terry, Chase stopped off at her Department of Extranormal Operations office. There the hero-hater found a complete set of "JLA Big Guns" mylar balloons, a gag gift. On the way out, Cameron and Terry's elevator stopped and went dark. A "Clay-Thing" creature had gotten loose on another floor, stranding the sisters in the resultant power failure.

Terry happily read her "Herotab," a metahuman tabloid, by emergency light. She began sharing tawdry tales of double lives from the magazine with her agitated sister, who finally smacked it from her grasp. "What's so goofy about wondering who your father is, huh? What's goofy about all these masks hiding their activities from their friends, their co-workers-- their own families? People who trust them and think they know them... it happens all the time, Terry. It happened to us. I'm talking about Dad, Terry. Dad was one of them."

"What are you talking about? Dad was a school teacher, just like mom."
"Yes, he was, but he was also a costumed vigilante... I'm not joking, Terry... I'm sorry you never heard any of this before. Mom keeps saying she'll tell you... but I guess it's up to me to do her job. As usual."

There was a lull in 'superhero' activity by the time the sixties rolled around. The JSA had started to move into retirement. There were fewer and fewer genuine threats to the world anymore--except for the Cold War, which a lot of the old heroes actively supported. So into the gap came a new breed of heroes and villains. Nature abhors a vacuum, I guess. For the most part, they were young baby-boomers, just coming into adulthood. On the West Coast, the Love Generation was discovering acid on the Haight, but back East, they were discovering hoods and masks on the rooftops and the back alleys of The Village. They came up with silly names, made silly costumes, and played a grown-up version of cops and robbers in a landscape of oversized toy props and silly 'deathtraps.' Dad-- the 'Acro-Bat'-- was one of them.

I guess he started solo, but eventually he established a team with some others. They called themselves the Justice Experience. Maybe they thought they were paying tribute to the JSA and its legacy. I don't think they ever realized what pale imitations they were of the originals... but I guess it's the thought that counts."

As described by Cameron Chase, the Justice Experience and their kind were inconsequential thrill-seekers, which helped explain why those characters would be completely forgotten today. The Acro-Bat was joined by Mister Action, The Manx, Major Flashback, Song Bird, and The Bronze Wraith. At the time, the Chase family was living in Gotham at "the little house on McMillan Drive." Chase and her mother resented her father's constant nightly absence. "When I was born, that should have been the end of it, but it wasn't... Five years later, when you came along, it was no different. He was around so rarely, I hardly ever saw him. Sometimes, I can't even remember what he looked like... except for pictures."

Terry had never heard of the Experience, to which Cameron chided, "what do you know about superheroes from twenty years ago?" Besides which, they were all dead now. Dr. Trap had seen to that, beginning with the Acro-Bat. "When Dad got home, Trapp surprised him in the living room. He... caught Dad... and... he'd made a set of steel jaws for his mouth... and... I... found the body... on the floor... The press called him 'Doctor Trap' every time he claimed another victim, because any time they found his newest lair, it was booby-trapped. Guillotines. Piano wire. Mustard gas. Claymore mines. They never had a chance... it was the end of an era. Super-heroes didn't make a comeback for another ten years... You weren't even two yet. Slept through the whole thing. We moved out west after that."

Terry and Cameron were eventually released from the elevator, though the emotional toll lingered. Director Bones had hoped to talk to Agent Chase about an assignment in Gotham City, to learn the identity of the Batman, but her superior Agent Barrett had already seen her out. "Mmmmm. A pity. Monday, then."

The Justice Experience, as with most characters related to the "Chase" series, were created by D. Curtis Johnson and J.H. Williams III. "Martian Manhunter" ongoing series writer John Ostrander later decided to retroactively make the Bronze Wraith an early alias of J'Onn J'Onzz. MM artist Tom Mandrake altered the Wraith's mysterious purple-cowled form to resemble a garish Halloween costume version of Manhunter's current appearance, while Ostrander altered the group's story to fit his needs. D.C. Johnson later stated online that he had his own plans in mind for the Wraith, but the changes Ostrander made forced him to abandon them.

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