A YEAR IN THE LIFE
Watchtower Personal Log
Then, as the saying goes, the shit hit the fan…
McKinley Leaves Foundation, Starts New Group
BY: Staff Writer Mike Cotton
When Leon McKinley, founder and president of the Foundation that bears his name, announced last week that he would be resigning his position at the helm of that Foundation in order to pursue "more personal goals", pundits around town started calling it a political maneuver. General consensus was that McKinley, well known as an advocate for "Metahuman Reform" and the loudest voice in the current anti-Superhero movement, was purposefully separating himself - and more importantly, his ideas - from the charitable Foundation that focuses on aiding victims of Metahuman crimes and accidents. Further support of this idea came the next day when the McKinley Foundation’s new President and CEO, former executive Vice President Sandra Mintner, announced that the Foundation would be focussing its efforts on providing medical, legal and financial assistance to those affected by the activities of Metahumans but it would be dropping its Congressional lobbying division.
McKinley, it seemed, was gearing up for a major shift in his political activities, as indicated by his rather public move into an office located in the District. Many Washington insiders commented over the last week that they were waiting for McKinley’s newest bomb to drop. And drop it did. Monday evening, in a press conference held on the steps of his office building just two short blocks from Capitol Hill, McKinley announced the creation of a new organization - People Against Costumed Entities or P.A.C.E., for short. According to McKinley, this new organization, that he repeatedly referred to as a "Community Action Group", will focus on more "long-term and lasting solutions to the Metahuman problems that are plaguing this country." Several times, he called for "normal, everyday Americans" to "stand up against the oppression and subjugation of the world by these so-called Heroes."
Members from the Justice League, Justice Society, and Titans were unavailable for comment…
"You guys talked to him. You tell me - is Aquaman up for a return to active duty?" Webster asked the duo.
Superman and Flash traded glances for a moment. "Well, we did talk about it briefly," Superman finally responded. "He did indicate that returning was a possibility, though full active duty right now might not be what he’s looking for…"
Flash nodded his agreement. Neither of them wanted to admit to Webster that Arthur’s exact words were: "If that PR ass is gone, then sure. Why not?" Superman knew that with a little finesse, he and J'onn could probably convince Arthur to return even with Webster still on board, but Arthur would no doubt want a few assurances that they had tighter reins on Webster this time around. The last thing any of them needed was a return to the back-and-forth bickering between Arthur and Webster.
"Well, if he’s planning a comeback, we ought to get together with him and discuss the public announcements," Webster beamed, delighted that there was a possibility that he could come up with a story to dwarf all of the McKinley/P.A.C.E. nonsense. And the return of someone of Aquaman’s caliber would be perfect. "Plus, we'll want to discuss the image changes…"
Superman noted - and not for the first time - Webster’s continual use of the pronouns "we" and "us" when discussing League matters, a fact that would need to be addressed soon. But apparently, it would have to wait until after this new wrinkle. "Image changes?"
"It’s no secret that every time one of you people comes back 'from the dead' that there’s always an accompanying change in image."
"That’s not entirely true…" Superman started to interject, then realized that he probably wasn’t the best person to be making that argument.
"It’s not rocket science, Superman," Webster continued. "Look, every time Madonna or that Spears girl comes out with a new look, their popularity takes a huge bump and they're just musicians. We're not talking anything major here, just some minor aesthetic changes. You know: trim the hair a bit, maybe shave the beard…"
Superman and Flash traded concerned glances, both feeling the chances of an Arthur return dwindling at a rate that Wally would have trouble keeping up with.
Webster noticed the shared look and jumped in. "I’m not asking him to lop off his other hand or anything, just a few small adjustments to the image. Though I think it’s high time we do something about that grisly harpoon…"
"Grisly?" Superman gawked as Wally attempted to cover his laugh with a cough.
"The thing is frightening, Superman," Webster explained. "Useful tool or no, the man is walking around with this ghastly looking lethal weapon for a left hand - and it doesn’t exactly diminish the whole Captain Hook vibe…"
"So, what did you have in mind?" Wally probed, chuckling while pointedly ignoring the don’t-encourage-him stare from Superman. Mostly, he was just curious to see where Webster was going with all of this.
"I don’t know," Webster replied absently. "Give him a… magic water hand or something…"
"A… magic… water… hand," Superman repeated slowly, as if saying the words one at a time would somehow make them make more sense. Whether it was Webster’s ridiculous suggestion or Superman’s aghast reply - or perhaps, a little of both - Wally was unable to contain his laughter any more.
"Uh… guys?" Green Lantern’s rather weak sounding greeting came from the doorway to the conference room. Wally turned to regard his friend’s arrival and his smile immediately vanished, replaced with a look of complete shock. Green Lantern looked, quite literally, like he’d been run through a blender. His costume was dirty and torn in several places, small cuts and scrapes visible on the skin underneath. The most disturbing, though, was that the left side of Lantern’s face was completely covered in blood stemming from a large wound just above his brow.
"KYLE!" Flash yelped in surprise, instantly zipping across the room to catch his friend before the emerald-clad hero collapsed to the floor. Before Lantern’s arrival, they had been steeped in light, basically cordial conversation - an atmosphere of comfort and familiarity - so no one really noticed it on a conscious level. But somewhere, deep within the recesses of Webster’s subconscious mind, he noted that it was the first time in all of his time working with the League that he’d ever heard one of the Leaguers referred to by their real name.
Wally slowly lowered Kyle to a sitting position on the floor. Kyle’s head lolled back, resting against the wall next to the doorway. He was conscious, but obviously fighting to stay so, all too familiar with the symptoms of shock and the dangers of passing out. Superman rushed over to one of the small compartments in the conference room and then rushed to Kyle’s side holding a small medical kit. He and Wally set to work administering first aid to their wounded comrade while Webster looked on in disbelief, keeping a respectful distance from the activity.
They managed to get Kyle mostly cleaned up and bandaged, then lifted him gently from both sides and began to lead him down toward the Infirmary. Webster followed quietly, honestly concerned over the hero’s well being. Despite outward appearances to the contrary, Webster Hoyt considered the Justice League to be one of the best clients he’d ever worked for. They were heroes, every one, and it was hard not to appreciate and respect that. But beyond that, he’d come to truly care for each and every member of the League - their drive, their dedication and their commitment to their ideals were astounding. He also came to realize that he genuinely liked each one of them - each for their own different reasons - and that spending a little time with each of them, you couldn’t help but be drawn in by their charm, their intelligence, and their tenacity. At that moment, as he walked slowly toward the infirmary behind Superman, Flash and the injured Green Lantern, he wondered how anyone on the planet could ever consider these people bad. If everyone could just see what he could see… and he suddenly realized that that was the solution he’d been looking for all along…
Once they had Green Lantern laying in a hospital-style bed in the infirmary and were able to properly clean and dress his wounds, he began to perk up. The wound in his head hadn’t been nearly as bad as they had originally thought - typical for scalp wounds, which tend to bleed profusely from very little actual damage. The color began to return to Lantern’s cheeks and he actually managed to keep his head up without assistance. Satisfied that Kyle was coherent enough for an explanation, Superman leaned in.
"Effigy," Lantern croaked, his voice hoarse and dry. He glanced around the area, obviously looking for something. Superman suddenly stepped away from the bedside and returned seconds later with a glass of water. Kyle mouthed a silent thank you to Superman, then took the glass and began to drink slowly. Superman glanced at Flash, who was seething just below the surface.
"Call the rest of the team," Flash instructed through gritted teeth. "We're taking this sicko down once and for all…"
"No!" Kyle interrupted before he had fully pulled the glass away from his mouth, the result being a good portion of water spilling down his front. He set the glass on one of the bedside tables and brushed the water off his chest, mumbling to himself about his own clumsiness. Flash and Superman eyed him curiously for the outburst.
"Effigy didn’t do this," Kyle explained, still a little scratchiness to his voice. "Well, he was the reason for it, but he wasn’t directly responsible… except, I guess in a way he was, because none of this would have happened if it weren’t for him… but he wasn’t the one to cause…"
Superman had opened his mouth to interrupt Kyle in mid-ramble, but had to pause for a second as he became acutely aware that Webster was in the room and he had almost interrupted Kyle by calling him by name. Superman’s mind flashed back to the conference room, trying to think if Wally had actually slipped in front of Webster. He dismissed the thought almost as quickly, and held a hand up to stop Kyle’s confused diatribe.
"Lantern, please." Superman spoke in calming, even tones. "Start from the beginning."
Kyle recanted the story, filling in all of the pertinent details. Martyn Van Wyck, the fire-powered supervillain known as Effigy, had escaped from his S.T.A.R. Labs containment cell that morning and had gone on a rampage across the eastern United States. Lantern had gone after him, succeeding in keeping the fight mainly in the air and over unpopulated areas. Unfortunately, Effigy led the fight directly into the heart of Washington D.C. - more specifically, in the middle of The Mall, halfway between the Capitol building and the Washington Monument. There, the whole dynamic of the fight changed as Kyle suddenly found himself having to protect the hundreds of innocent by-standers from Effigy’s rampage.
Kyle’s brow knotted slightly as he tried to focus on what happened next, the details still somewhat jumbled in his shaken mind.
"Then… somehow, Effigy got the jump on me. I had just gotten a crowd of school children out of harm’s way and I was blindsided by a huge blast of fire. Next thing I knew, I was pinned to the ground and Effigy was standing over me, pure hatred in his eyes. I swear, I've never seen him like that before. I mean, he’s always been a bit off his rocker, but this was different. This was pure, focussed rage… and I knew… somewhere deep inside I knew, this was it. He was going to kill me, right there in front of all those people…"
Kyle’s eyes glossed over, his cloudy mind locking onto the one crystal-clear detail - the burning eyes of insanity, boring into his soul. Superman placed a calming hand on Kyle’s shoulder. "Please, go on…"
Kyle shook the memory from his mind, then continued. "Then, I don’t know what happened… something hit him in the head… I couldn’t really tell. All I saw was that his head suddenly jerked back and he was off of me. I didn’t have time to stop and consider how lucky I was, I just immediately hopped up, ready for whatever was next… or so I thought."
He paused long enough to grab the glass of water off the side table and take a sip. "I saw Effigy, standing there and arguing with a crowd of people. A large crowd. I have no idea where they came from or what they were doing there, but there were a lot of them and they were all shouting things at him. Things like 'get out of here' and 'we don’t want you here'… I don’t know, I couldn’t make sense of it all. The other thing that struck me was that they all had things in their hands… sticks, rocks, bottles, tools… it was like every last one of them was armed with whatever they could get their hands on. Anyway, I thought that it was over, that the good people of D.C. had come to my rescue and the situation was diffusing. Then, they started throwing things at him. Whatever they had in their hands and whatever else they could find. It was like all of a sudden, everything shifted and I realized that Effigy was the one in trouble. He was being besieged by this… enraged mob. I quickly threw a shielding bubble around him and called for the crowd to calm down. I told them I appreciated the help, but that I could take care of it from here…"
"Then something hit me in the forehead. I don’t know what it was… a rock, a bottle, a briefcase… all I know is it was hard… really hard. I saw quick flashing lights in my eyes and the next thing I knew, I was on the ground… when I finally caught my bearings, there were people all around me… shouting down at me. It was so loud and so chaotic that I couldn’t make out anything that they were saying, just that they were yelling. I could feel hands grabbing at me - my clothes, my hair, my face… then, the kicking and punching started…"
Kyle’s voice broke and his lip started to quiver. Superman and Flash looked at each other, neither one believing what they were hearing. This kind of thing wasn’t supposed to happen. Not to them. Superman shot a quick glance at an equally astounded and perplexed Webster, then returned his attention to Kyle just as the young hero was regaining his composure. Kyle knew he had to continue whether he wanted to or not… they had to know what had happened.
"I was able to get a protective shield up around my body, but not before I’d taken quite a few hits. Y'know, I didn’t even think about it at the time, but thinking back now, I’m realizing that they kept going, even after the shield went up. You guys know how that shield works… it’s basically like an energy aura that surrounds my whole body - like a crust of pure solid energy… it had to be like punching stone! But still, they kept going…"
"Anyway, I was finally able to propel myself up out of the mob and into the air. It surprised them, but they quickly turned their attention toward me in the sky and continued shouting. Then, over the din of the crowd, I heard another voice. It started as a cry of pain, but was quickly building into a howl of rage. I looked around and noticed the second throng of people… surrounding Effigy. Now, I know Martyn enough to know that he’s not the most mentally stable person on the planet… and I know that part of that is due to the abuse he suffered as a child, so I knew things were going to get even uglier in a hurry. The buildup had obviously already started because the circle around him suddenly widened as the people surrounding him stepped back, throwing their arms up in front of their faces to block them from the heat. In the center of the circle was Effigy, curled into a ball on the ground and trembling so hard I could see it from my vantage point some 20 feet in the air… I quickly fired a beam down and surrounded him with a protective bubble… just in time…"
"The explosion was like nothing I had ever felt before. I managed to contain it… barely. Even with the shield up, the concussive blast was still powerful enough to knock a few of the surrounding people off their feet. Then, the strangest thing happened… everything got completely still. It’s like the whole city froze for an instant… no one moved, no one said anything… even the birds stopped chirping. It’s like every living thing in the immediate area was just instantly shocked into realizing its own mortality. Anyway… I had that instant to act, so I closed the bubble in the ground underneath Effigy and lifted the whole thing up into the sky and got the hell out of there."
"It didn’t take long for me to realize that I wasn’t going to make it very far with that explosion still bottled up inside the bubble. It was like trying to lug a small moon around… I expanded the bubble some to relieve some of the strain and flew out over the Atlantic. Once I was a safe distance away, I opened a small hole in the top of the bubble to vent the explosion. I swear, I've never seen anything like it in my life… a column of fire shot at least a hundred feet straight up into the air for a good fifteen, twenty seconds straight. When it finally finished, all that was left in the ball was a small mound of dirt and Effigy’s body. Fearing the worst, I brought the bubble closer and had the ring analyze the interior. He was alive, thank God, but in a coma. He must have expelled every last bit of energy he had in that blast…"
"I made it back to S.T.A.R. Labs with his body in tow. I kept him sealed in the bubble, unsure of how… well, anything would affect his body. In all that time, I never realized how banged up I was… I suppose the look of complete shock on the faces of the docs at SL should have told me, but I refused treatment there, telling them I was fine. I guess it was the adrenaline or something… I don’t know. So I started flying home. It wasn’t until I was about halfway home that it finally caught up with me. I realized I wasn’t going to make it, so I activated the emergency teleport on my Comm Link and came up here…"
Kyle took another sip of his water, put the glass back on the side table and dropped his head back onto the pillow, exhausted. The room was quiet for a moment as they all tried to process what had happened. Kyle was actually the first to voice the same questions they were all asking in their heads.
"How did this happen?" he asked weakly. "What got into all those people? I… I've never seen…"
Superman again put his hand on Kyle’s shoulder in an attempt to keep the battered hero calm. "I don’t know, Lantern. None of us do. Just try to get some rest - you've been through quite an ordeal."
"Ya think?" Kyle replied sarcastically with a weak smile. Superman smiled in return, glad to see that at least Kyle’s sense of humor remained unscathed. He squeezed Kyle’s shoulder gently, then stepped away from the bed and toward the door, motioning for Webster and Wally to do the same. Webster nodded and stepped out into the hallway, but Wally stayed right beside Kyle’s bed, wrapped in thought. Superman moved around beside Wally to gently pull him away, but Wally leaned down, looking directly at Kyle.
"We'll get to the bottom of this," Wally promised in a resolute tone. Kyle glanced up at his friend, realizing that in all of their years as friends, he’d never seen Wally so… determined. He held up his hand, which Wally grasped firmly and the two stared at each other for a moment. Wally shook their grasped hands once, sealing the promise, then nodded once. "Get some sleep, Kyle. Call us if you need anything."
Kyle nodded, then released Wally’s hand, slumping back into the bed. Wally turned, walked straight past Superman without any acknowledgement and stormed out into the hall. Superman followed right behind him and closed the door to the infirmary on his way out. The three men walked back to the Conference Room in complete silence, the sound of their footsteps echoing through the hallways like the beats of a broken heart.
Once they returned to the Conference Room, Webster turned to Superman. "Will he be okay?"
"Physically, he'll be fine. Just a few bumps and bruises and that gash on his forehead," Superman responded. "But mentally? Emotionally? It’s hard to tell. I may call Martian Manhunter to come up and talk to him. Manhunter’s done some incredible work with trauma victims…"
The two men stood in silence for a moment, then both looked over at Flash, who was sitting in his chair, leaning forward with his hand dangling down in front of him. He stared straight ahead at the floor, a mixture of pain, anger and concern etched on his features.
Superman finally returned his attention to Webster. "How did it get this bad, Webster? How did we not see this coming?"
'I honestly don’t know, Superman," Webster replied, then continued, ignoring the derisive snort from Flash. "I knew that McKinley’s popularity had been on the rise, but I had no idea it had gone this far. I don’t know how he’s managed to effect so many people, especially all in one place… wait a minute!" Webster suddenly reached into his jacket and pulled out a small digital personal organizer and began pressing buttons madly. Superman watched him, patiently waiting for an explanation to his sudden action. Webster stared at small screen in disbelief for a moment, muttering to himself.
"What is it, Webster?"
"Green Lantern said that all of this took place in D.C., right? On The Mall in the middle of Washington?"
Webster held his organizer up, showing Superman the calendar on the screen. "Leon McKinley is holding a rally for his new PACE organization there in two days. Right there on The Mall…"
Superman stared at the screen in surprise for a moment, then shifted his perplexed stare to Webster. "I… are you telling me that Leon McKinley somehow orchestrated this attack?!"
Webster considered the statement for a moment in horror. In truth, he hadn’t even thought that far into it; he’d just thought he’d discovered the reason why there were so many Pro-McKinley supporters in the area. "No," he answered finally, after thinking it through. "There’s no way he was behind this. I’m sure that’s why those people were there, but McKinley doesn’t have that kind of power. He would have had to coordinate everyone being in DC while somehow managing to break Effigy out of his S.T.A.R. Labs containment cell and convincing him to take the fight into Washington. No, McKinley’s good, but he’s not that g…"
Webster didn’t have time to finish the sentence as he suddenly found himself pinned to the wall of the Conference Room, Flash’s forearm pressed against his chest. Flash’s face, mere inches from Webster’s, was flushed with anger, so red that it was hard to discern where his face ended and his scarlet cowl began.
"Don’t you ever - EVER! - say that again!" Flash screamed in Webster’s face with surprising viciousness. "I never want to hear you use the word 'good' in reference to that man again! There’s absolutely nothing 'good' about that man. He’s an evil, rotten, misogynistic bigot that deserves nothing more than utter contempt and a few thousand kicks in the ass delivered at light speed…"
"F-Flash, please…" Webster managed to choke out as the forearm against his chest pressed in tighter. "Y… you mis-misunderstood me…"
"Oh, I understood you perfectly, Webster," Flash spat the name more than spoke it. He wasn’t yelling any more but rather growling in a controlled, frighteningly sinister tone. "I also understand that we hired you to do a job - a job that included stopping assholes like McKinley from spreading their shit across the country, a job that included preventing this very sort of thing from happening. A job at which you failed miserably today. And the result of your inability to perform the job we hired you for is sitting down in the Med Lab right now with a gaping head-wound! So consider this your notice, Webster. I’m officially holding you personally responsible for what happened to my friend today and for, God forbid, anything like this that happens to one of us in the future. This is your job, this is your responsibility, and this is YOUR problem! FIX IT!!"
With that, Flash released his grip on Webster, dropping him back down onto very shaky feet, then turned and purposefully stomped - at normal speed - out of the Conference Room.
Two days later, Steve Jenkins, Chief of Staff to the Senate Majority Leader, peeked out of the curtain flanking the temporary stage set up on the lawn in front of the Washington Monument, marveling at the massive crowd gathered on the Mall. Close to 30,000 people had gathered for the PACE rally, nearly twice as many as had been expected. He felt a light tapping on his shoulder and pulled away from the curtain.
"Ron! Good to see you," Steve greeted the man with a warm handshake. "Glad you could make it. Quite the turnout, huh?"
"Quite," the man replied with a pleased smile.
"There’s someone I want you to meet." Steve placed a hand on the man’s shoulder, leading him toward the area just behind the stage. Leon McKinley stood at the base of the stairs leading up to the stage, listening to the columnist from the Wall Street Journal who was giving the opening remarks on the stage.
"Leon!" Steve called, having to shout over the sudden cheering of the crowd. Leon turned to see Steve approaching and smiled broadly, the kind of smile usually reserved for Televangelists and used car salesmen.
"Mr. Jenkins," Leon greeted in his deep Mississippi drawl, shaking the man’s hand. He glanced to the stranger standing next to Steve for a moment, then added, "It’s good to see you again."
"Likewise," Steve replied, then motioned toward the man beside him. "This is Ron Pennington, a representative from the RNC."
Leon and Ron shook hands. "Mr. McKinley, it’s nice to finally meet you."
"Nice to meet you, Mr. Pennington," Leon replied, a little perplexed why Jenkins had set up a meet-and-greet with a member of the RNC.
"I know that time is short here," Ron began, "so I’ll cut right to the chase. The Committee has been following your work for the last several months and, to be quite frank Mr. McKinley, we've been very impressed. I was wondering if maybe you and I could sit down in the near future and discuss a few things?"
"Certainly," Leon agreed tentatively. "What things?"
"Well, as you are probably aware, there’s an election coming up next November for a good portion of seats in the House and Senate. What you may not know is that there’s likely to be a seat opening up in the Senate - for Mississippi. One of their current Senators, Senator Coles, had that… unfortunate incident with his intern last year and while the RNC would normally still support his re-election bid, if we had someone else available as a replacement candidate…"
The voice on from the stage suddenly interrupted the conversation. "Ladies and Gentlemen, it is my honor and privilege to introduce to you… Leon McKinley!"
"That’s my cue," Leon replied over the roaring crowd, taking two steps up the staircase toward the stage.
"Mr. McKinley?" Ron called after him. Leon turned around, smile still firmly planted on his face.
"Mr. Pennington, call my office this evening after the rally. They'll schedule us some time."
Ron smiled wide, nodding. "Good luck out there!"
"Thank you," Leon called back, then energetically climbed the rest of the stairs to an increased cheer from the crowd. After the cheering finally subsided and Leon began his speech, Ron watched him speak for a moment, then turned to Steve.
"Is he running without a script?"
"He does that," Steve explained. "Ever since I've started watching him, he’s never used a script. For long ones, like this one, he may actually write it down, but then he'll memorize it beforehand…"
"Are you telling me he’s completely memorized a solid 30-minute speech?"
"Yeah. Sometimes I think it’s amazing and other times it’s just… freaky," Steve replied with a chuckle.
They listened for a few more minutes, then Steve turned to Ron.
"Well? What do you think?"
"He’s certainly got the charm and personality," Ron answered. "And there’s no denying that he can work a crowd. Has anyone vetted him?"
"We did," Jenkins replied. "He’s clean. Surprisingly clean. Not even a traffic violation…"
Both men stood in silence for a moment, listening to McKinley’s speech. Jenkins finally broke the silence.
"So the real question is: Is he electable?"
Ron turned to him, about to answer, but a sudden repeated chant of "McKinley! McKinley! McKinley!" from the crowd stopped him. He got a wry smile on his face and leaned in close to Steve’s ear.
The speech was going exceptionally well. Leon spoke with an eloquence and clarity that belied his thick accent and the crowd was reacting beautifully. As usual, he had no written remarks, no notes. He liked speaking without a script - preferring the off-the-cuff feeling and the ability to tailor his remarks depending on the situation.
The whole speech had started surprisingly low-key. He started by thanking everyone for attending and marveled at the incredible turn out. He spoke at length about PACE and their new initiatives for true reform in the over-seeing of Metahuman activities in the country and around the world. He explained their charter and their growing list of resources, their drive to make the United States a safe and better nation by doing whatever was necessary to reduce the number of Metahuman related crimes and… "accidents". He announced that he would be standing before a joint session of the Senate and the House of Representatives the following week to plead his case, the People’s case, in the on-going struggle against what he continued to refer to as the "Metahuman Problem". McKinley stayed remarkably low-key - for him anyway - as he rambled off startling statistics about the victims of Metahuman activities and even more frightening results from independent research facilities about the potential exponential increase in those statistics within the next five years. But as the speech reached the twenty-minute mark, he began to get more and more intense.
"Why do we allow this continue, Ladies and Gentlemen? Why do we turn a blind eye to what’s going on around us, to what’s happening to us, and allow these beings to hold such a revered part of our community’s heart? I will be the first to admit that it’s easy to get sucked in to it, to be dazzled and awed by the glitz and glamour, to marvel at the exciting pageantry of it all. But the time has come to move past that. Once you strip away the brightly colored costumes and the dazzling displays of power and strength, what do you have? You have a bunch of grown-up children, running around in their pajamas, playing a perverse game of cops and robbers on a global scale! A sick game where the winners smile and strut and the losers run away, only to come back later and start the whole disgusting thing over again. It’s a self-perpetuating loop of battle after ridiculous battle - like a demented, Superpowered Mobius Strip - and it’s hard to remember where it began and impossible to see it ever ending. But unlike the childhood version, this game is deadly… just not to the players. No, the players never die - or if they do they somehow magically come back from the dead - and all the combatants will eventually face off again. No, the only real victim in this whole charade is us. We're the ones who are suffering! We're the ones getting wounded! We're the ones dying!"
"Well, I say 'No More'!" A huge cheer erupted from the crowd. Leon waited for only a moment, then spoke out over the cheering. "I say the game is over! I say the contest has been declared a draw and the combatants can just go home! We don’t want you here! We don’t need you here! And we're sure as hell not going to tolerate this garbage any longer!"
He paused again, this time waiting for the sustained cheer to finally die down.
"Now, I could stand up here all day making metaphor after metaphor to explain my point, but the fact is you all already know the truth or you wouldn’t be here today. You are already familiar with the problems we're facing and you don’t need a bunch of empty rhetoric from a podium-thumping panderer," Leon flashed a dazzling smile that carried all the way to the back of the crowd, "…regardless of how charming and handsome that panderer may be."
A great laugh rolled across the crowd, a laugh that Leon reveled in. A little humor went a long way… and at that moment, he knew he had the crowd eating out of the palm of his hand.
"All joking aside, Ladies and Gentlemen, the truth is - you're looking for answers. You're looking for a solution to the Metahuman problem that’s plaguing this great nation and the rest of the world. Now, I’m not going to stand up here and pretend to have all the answers - I certainly don’t. But I do have a few ideas and maybe together, we can come up with some solutions."
Leon smiled inwardly at the sea of nodding heads, at the few affirmative shouts.
"We all know the problem, so what we really need to do is ask questions. Tough questions. We have to question everything we know - or everything we think we know about these Metahumans. Who are they really? What do we really know about them? We know what we've been told - what we've seen in the newspapers and read in books, what we've seen on TV and heard in interviews. We've been spoon-fed this image, this package of what a Metahuman is and even what we should believe about them. And spoon-fed by whom? By the very people who are in the position to cover up the truth - the Metahumans themselves! So what do we truly know about them? Surprisingly little! And quite frankly, some of the things we do know are more frightening than what we don’t."
McKinley went on, getting louder and angrier by the minute. He began pounding the podium as he railed against Metahumans and Superheroes in general, talking about how it was ridiculous to call them "Superhuman" since many of them weren’t even human to start wint, but aliens or bastardizations of science and technology. He ranted about how they begged for the world to accept them while at the same time hiding behind masks and in secret lairs and that it was getting increasingly more difficult to tell the "Heroes" from the "Villains". He called them all criminals. For some in attendance, this is what they had been waiting for - watching the man speak was truly a sight to behold.
"So why do we allow it to continue? What purpose are they serving? Justice?! Whose Justice? Your Justice? Mine? Or their own! These groups of Metas give themselves names like Justice Society and Justice League, all the while spitting in the very face of Justice herself. It’s a mockery of everything we hold dear and for no other reason than their own personal, warped agendas. And what of their methods? These spectacular displays and awe-inspiring feats only serve to bedazzle and beguile us. You know, I've seen 'magic acts' in Las Vegas that rival anything I've seen on the six o'clock news and quite frankly, I’m not impressed any more. Once the lights fade and the smoke clears, all we're left with are crumbled buildings, damaged property and shattered lives. There’s only one kind of criminal that attacks in a whirlwind of violence and mayhem, leaving only destruction and chaos in their wake. The fact is, these Metas are Terrorists. They spread fear and panic wherever they go, then fly off leaving the rest of us to deal with the consequences."
"It’s time to hold these Metas accountable for their actions. This country has a long-standing and well-established policy of never negotiating with Terrorists. The reasons for that policy are perfectly clear - if you give into one Terrorist, you'll eventually have to give in to all of them and you've just announced to the world that it’s open season on your citizens. Well I say that maybe it’s time to amend that policy to include those Terrorists operating within our borders, especially those that enshroud themselves in the banner of ‘superhero'. It has been open season on all of us for far too long and it’s high time that we stand up and proclaim together in one united voice that we will NOT be beholden to these Metahumans any longer! We will not be oppressed or controlled or ruled or held down by you, just because you wear tights and a cape! The time is now, my friends; we must stand together as the combined voice of the Nation and proclaim our freedom from tyranny, just as our Founding Fathers did over 200 years ago. And we must stand together, for while one voice is easy to silence, but there is no one and nothing that can silence the voice of an entire nation. So now is the time to speak… and to act!"
Had McKinley even been paying attention at that point, he would have noticed that the crowd reaction was much smaller than it had been throughout the rest of the speech. In fact, had he been paying attention, he would have noticed that most of the crowd was no longer carefully listening or attentively following what he was saying, but rather they were looking around at one another, as if trying to confirm that they were all hearing the same speech. Most of the attendees agreed, at least to some extent, that Metas were causing damage - were putting them in danger. But calling them Terrorists?
"As many of you are no doubt aware, an incident occurred right in this very city… just up the grassy way behind you, in fact… just two short days ago. An incident that the Media, the Press, has been calling a catastrophe. Two of these Metahumans started fighting right here on The Mall, throwing their Superpowered blasts back and forth, endangering the lives of countless citizens. And did those citizens run and hide, scattering for shelter at the first sign of trouble? NO! Those fine, upstanding citizens stood up against that tyranny, against that oppression and spoke with their actions - they ran those two Metas out of town on a rail! And now the Press is calling it a disaster…"
McKinley paused for a moment, as if considering his choice of words. The traded glances throughout the audience increased, as more and more people began questioning the man’s words… and his sanity.
"And I have to agree… it is a disaster. It’s a disaster that the names of those fine, upstanding citizens are being marred and debased for ridiculous political agendas! It’s a disaster that these normal, right-thinking Americans' names are being dragged through the muck of Pro-Metahuman ideologies. And it’s a disaster… that they weren’t able to finish the job!" He ignored the collective gasp from the crowd and plowed on, getting more and more enraged as he went.
"These citizens were standing up for what they believed in and in turn, they are being harassed and reprimanded for their actions! And while some in the elite Liberal media may choose to call their actions heinous or deplorable, I applaud their actions as the right of every free citizen to protect themselves from these… these… animals! And make no mistake, Ladies and Gentlemen, that’s exactly what these Metas are: Animals! They're like a pack of rabid dogs, running amok across this planet and doing whatever they like, to whomever they choose. Well, rabid dogs cannot be rehabilitated. Rabid dogs are not treatable. There’s only one way to handle a rabid dog and that’s to put it down!"
He stopped, as if suddenly realizing what he had said, and stared out at the sea of confused faces. Then, without any indication to what had just occurred, Leon McKinley straightened his tie, cleared his throat and spoke into the microphone.
"Thank you all for coming. God Bless you all and God Bless America."
Up on the Watchtower, Superman, Wonder Woman and Webster Hoyt all stood staring at the monitor screen in wide-eyed disbelief. Batman stood beside them, arms crossed across his chest, his face displaying the normal lack of any emotion. The four of them stood in complete silence, each of them unable to pull their attention from the screen. Webster finally broke the trance as he reached into his sport coat, pulled out his cell phone and turned to Superman.
"Will this work up here?" Webster asked with sudden urgency.
When Superman failed to respond, his eyes still locked on the screen, Batman turned to Webster and replied. "Steel installed a cellular transceiver up here the last time we had a public press conference in the Tower. It should still be active."
Webster nodded, then hurriedly flipped the phone open and began punching numbers.
"Great Hera," Wonder Woman gasped at the screen - where the crowd had obviously gotten over their initial shock and were starting to get unruly. Several small fights had started to break out in amongst the crowd and several people began to rush the empty stage. The whole crowd seemed on the verge of a full-scale riot.
"Let’s go…" Superman declared, heading toward the door, Wonder Woman close behind.
"Stop!" Batman commanded in a voice that left no room for argument. "Let the local authorities handle this."
"Batman, there’s close to 30,000 people down there that are a hair’s breadth away from rioting. I don’t think the local authorities are going to be able to handle it…" Superman responded.
"And considering who those 30,000 people are and what they're upset about, do you really think that throwing a bunch of 'costumes' into the mix is the best approach?" Batman growled.
Superman and Wonder Woman traded glances, both realizing that Batman was right but neither wanting to leave such a potential catastrophe alone. Sensing their trepidation, Batman explained. "The D.C. Police are already there - they always have a few squads posted at events this large. Not to mention, it’s D.C. - the National Guard can be there in 5 minutes, if needed."
All three of them glanced at the large screen, noticing that the Police were already in their Riot Gear and moving into position to contain the unruly crowd.
"But if you still insist on going," Batman continued, "Civilian clothes only. And be discreet." He stared at them a moment longer to drive the point home, then stormed off toward the door.
"Wait! Where are you going?" Superman called after him. Batman didn’t respond, just simply kept walking, mentally grumbling to himself about Clark’s insistence on asking questions he really didn’t want the answers to.
"Laura!" Webster chirped into his phone, relieved that he finally got through to his assistant. "Yes, I saw it. Start working the phone tree. I want to talk to the News Director for every network before six o'clock and the EIC’s of every major newspaper by ten… I don’t care, just make it happen… By tomorrow morning, I want every headline on every newspaper on every newsstand across the country to read: Leon McKinley: The Next Hitler!"
That night, Leon McKinley sat in the large leather office chair behind his desk, staring at a small spot of nothing on the far wall of his office. He was the calm center of the maelstrom of activity in his dimly lit office. There were a handful of other people in the room, each one shouting louder than the next and most of them shouting at him. He heard what all of them were saying, but simply sat motionless, the blank stare etched on his face.
Steve Jenkins bellowed about how badly this screwed things up for several high ranking Representatives and Senators and that Ron Pennington would probably never speak to him again. A page from Senator Wilkenson’s office roared that there was no way he was going to be speaking in front of Congress next week. The accountant Leon had hired to help out with PACE screamed that within the last hour, half of their financial backers had pulled their funding. The president of the west coast PACE chapter rambled about the ten-man fist fight he’d gotten caught in the middle of. PACE’s media consultant howled about the swarm of reporters outside the office and that every TV station in the country already had a copy of the speech - and the ensuing riot. Vanessa, Leon’s secretary, trying to remain the calmest one in the room, had to shout just to be heard while she waved a large stack of pink "While you were out" notes beside him. Through it all, Leon sat with his eyes glazed over, not moving an inch.
Finally, Steve Jenkins held out his hands, motioning for everyone to be quiet. He stared angrily at Leon, acting as the de facto spokesman for the whole group. "Leon! What the hell were you thinking?!? How could you say all of those… things?! What on Earth possessed you to… HEY!" He snapped his fingers several times in front of Leon’s face. "Earth to Rambling Psychopath!! Is anybody in there?!"
Leon’s eyes suddenly clamped shut, his head bowing slowly as he exhaled a huge sigh. His mouth moved, his voice barely above a whisper. "Get out."
"What?" Jenkins snapped, anger dripping off the word.
Leon suddenly sprung to his feet, sending his chair careening back into the wall behind him. He slammed both of his fists down onto his desk so hard that he cracked the veneer finish. "GET OUT!!"
Everyone in the room jumped at the sudden outburst, several of them taking a step back. With the exception of Steve and Vanessa, everyone hustled out of the room, all of them muttering to each other about his obvious descent into Crazyland.
Steve and Leon stared daggers at each other, matching scowl for scowl, venom for venom, across Leon’s desk.
"You're finished in this town, McKinley," Steve spat. "Hell, you're finished in this country. By tomorrow morning, you won’t be able to get a job washing dishes at a truck stop in the middle of Bumfuck, Iowa." He stared at Leon a moment longer, then when he realized he wasn’t going to get a response, he threw up his hands in frustration and stormed out of the office, slamming the door behind him.
Leon muttered several curses under his breath and then turned around and picked up his chair, setting it back on its castors.
Vanessa cleared her throat timidly. "S-sir? What do you want to…"
He spun on her as if he had just realized she was still in the room. "Dammit, Vanessa! I said…" he stopped and took a deep breath. "I’m sorry. It’s just… I really just need to be left alone now. Just… go on out…" She nodded weakly, then walked toward the door.
"In fact," Leon called after her, "just go on home. We're done for the day."
"But sir, everyone else is still here and…"
"Tell 'em all to leave." He waved his hand dismissively. "Just get everyone out of here. Please."
She nodded again, then quietly left the office and closed the door behind her. Leon slumped back down into his chair and stared at the wall, that spot of nothing becoming exceedingly interesting again.
He waited until the noise in the outer office died down. He waited until the gaggle of reporters outside, five stories below, indicated with their barrage of shouted questions the departure of his staff from the building. He waited until din of that pack of investigative vultures faded away into the low hum of late evening traffic. He waited until he was finally alone, then he stood up from his chair and plodded heavily over to the small wet bar along the wall of his office. He hadn’t asked for it - it had just come with the office, part of the leftover furniture from the office building’s previous tenant. He stared down at the carved crystal decanter filled with light brown liquid, the light from his desk lamp dancing beautifully over the roughly-cut edges.
Leon McKinley hadn’t touched a drop of alcohol since the day his children died. "How could he?" - was the strange thought in his head. He reached out with one finger and traced the carving on the bottle, his eyes transfixed.
"Rough day, Leon?"
The deep, rumbling voice jerked him away from the bottle and he spun around, his eyes frantically searching the dimly lit room. Then, out of the shadows near the corner of the room stepped a large, dark and imposing figure, the front of his cape open just enough to reveal the large symbol of a bat splayed across his massive chest. Leon’s eyes widened in horror, the bitter mixture of adrenaline and fear spilling into the back of his mouth.
"Interesting speech today," Batman growled, stepping just enough into the light to make his face discernable from the shadows.
Leon wanted to scream for help but his heart was firmly lodged in his vocal cords. He couldn’t move, couldn’t breathe - the whole of his senses locked onto that single imposing figure.
""I especially liked the part," Batman continued, his penetrating eyes locked onto Leon’s, "where you called us all rabid dogs…"
"V-V-Van-essa!" Leon finally managed to call out, though his trembling voice was barely loud enough to make it to the door.
"She’s gone, Mr. McKinley." Batman’s voice took on lighter, yet somehow more sinister tone. "Remember? They're all gone. You sent them all away."
McKinley’s brow knotted slightly and his jaw suddenly firmed. He squared his shoulders somewhat and his chest swelled slightly with a large intake of breath. Batman knew the posture, he read McKinley’s body language perfectly - somehow, somewhere, Leon had gotten past the initial shock and discovered his backbone. Quicker than most, Batman noted, but nevertheless just as he planned it.
"T-there are still security guards in the building," Leon threatened, the last bits of abject fear dwindling under this cornered bravado.
"You mean the security guards that are bound, gagged and unconscious on the boiler room floor?" Batman replied flatly.
Leon’s eyes widened again and immediately began darting from side to side, scanning about the room in panic. They finally locked onto the telephone sitting just a few feet away on the corner of his desk. He pulled them away, staring again at the unmoving figure… halfway across the room. Surely he could make it to the phone and press 911 before this… monster could reach him…
Leon lunged, trying to keep one eye on the phone and one eye on the shadowed wraith looming across the room. His heart pounded in anticipation and relief as he clumsily grasped the handset in one hand while his other hand fumbled for the "9" key. But instead of the warmth of a soft plastic key, his fingers touched cold metal. He stared down at the phone… and the large metal bat-shaped object now sticking up from the middle of the faceplate and his mind finally registered that he hadn’t even seen the figure move. He stared down at the gleaming black metal object for a moment, then something suddenly snapped in his brain. His fear turned into desperation, which made the quick leap to rage. With sudden ferocity, he grabbed base of the telephone and pulled, yanking the jack out of the wall. He flung the phone-missile at his provoker, howling in anger.
Batman didn’t move, didn’t flinch, didn’t even turn his head to watch the plastic phone sail harmlessly past him some two feet to his right.
"What do you want from me?!?!" Leon screamed, his voice cracking.
Batman said nothing, merely stepped toward him, somehow crossing the distance between them in two steps. All the while, his eyes remained locked on his prey. Leon stared up at him, a motion made all the more frightening as Leon discovered that this large, imposing beast of a man was actually the same height he was. Defeated, Leon dropped his head and stared intently at the floor.
"You'll make me right," he croaked with surprising ire in his voice. "Whatever you do to me, you'll just prove me right. You'll only prove to me and the rest of the world what… monsters you people really are…"
"But, I’m not going to do anything to you, Leon." Batman replied in a lighter but no less harrowing tone. Leon jerked his head up slightly, meeting Batman’s gaze once more.
"I don’t have to," Batman continued. "Because nothing I do to you… no pain I could inflict on you… could top what you've already done to yourself."
The daunting figure standing over him somehow seemed less imposing to Leon. He didn’t step away, or even relax in the slightest; he just suddenly seemed less… overwhelming. "None of us ever had to do anything against you… except wait. Eventually, you would open your mouth and do more damage to this entire ridiculous Anti-Superhero movement than any of us ever could. And now, you have to live with that fact for the rest of your life. You have to spend the rest of your days knowing that in the end, the only person responsible for your downfall… was you. There is no revenge that we could exact upon you that can outdo the fact that every morning, when you wake up and look in the mirror, trying to figure out where it all went wrong, you'll know deep down in your soul that the only person you can blame for the complete and total annihilation of everything you worked so hard for… is the man staring back at you!"
Batman hovered over him for a moment longer, the tense silence enveloping Leon like smog on a hot day. Then, Batman took two slow steps away and started to turn back toward the window he’d entered from. He stopped, mid-turn, as if reconsidering his departure.
"Then again…" Batman slowly turned his head to stare at Leon once again. "That’s probably what you had in mind all along. Isn’t it?" He paused before adding - "J'onn."
Leon’s eyes widened in shock, blinked once, then closed as he dropped his chin to his chest with a heavy sigh. He slowly shook his head in disbelief, chuckled once, then looked back up at Batman.
"World’s Greatest Detective…" he drawled sarcastically before suddenly morphing into the form of J'onn J'onzz, The Martian Manhunter. "… I should have known you'd figure it out."
The two heroes stared at each other, neither one saying a word - verbally or mentally - for a long moment. All of the tension in the room seemed to immediately dissipate as they stared at each other in silence. Finally, they broke the silence simultaneously, both speaking the exact same words in unison - but asking completely different questions.
J'onn chuckled and the corner of Batman’s mouth twitched.
"You first," J'onn offered.
"How long have I known?" Batman asked.
"Yes," J'onn confirmed, then pointed at him. "And don’t give me that 'I’m Batman' answer. I want to know when and how you figured it out."
Batman’s mouth twitched again, then he explained. "In some ways, I've known from the beginning. It’s like what Clark told me Webster had said - McKinley was too perfect. Whatever searches and background checks Webster ran, mine were ten times as thorough, and I found nothing on him either. So I knew something was off about him, but it wasn’t until the LivePrimetime interview that I finally picked up what it was. From my searches, I’d discovered that Leon McKinley was an impressive baseball player back in High School and College. I’d seen numerous reports talking about the 'phenomenal southpaw from Mississippi'. I knew that McKinley was left-handed, but all of my research indicated that he was actually an extreme left-hander. Not only did he write left-handed and throw a ball left-handed, but he ate with his left hand, used a left-handed mouse on his computer and he wore his watch… on his right wrist."
J'onn gave him a confused look, then quickly morphed back into McKinley and stared down at his hands - and the gold band clasped tightly around his left wrist. J'onn returned to his normal form, chuckling to himself. "The Devil’s in the details…"
"Always," Batman replied.
"That still doesn’t explain how you knew it was me…"
"Well, I had my suspicions, but once I knew McKinley wasn’t who he said he was, the rest was rudimentary. I tracked his movements and started noticing that most of his public appearances coincided with lulls in League activity. It was still sketchy - I have to admit you covered your tracks pretty well - but over the last few weeks, you'd gotten a bit more… sloppy. But if your question is how long I've been 100% certain that it was you posing as McKinley?" Batman TwitchSmiled again, glancing at the clock on the wall. "About two minutes."
J'onn couldn’t help but laugh.
"Okay, your turn," Batman prompted once J'onn’s laughter finally died down. "How long?"
"How long have I been posing as McKinley?" J'onn asked and waited for Batman’s nodding reply. He opened his mouth to respond but paused, giving Batman a strangely mischievous look. "Okay, Mister Detective, you tell me."
Batman stared at him for a moment, then decided to take the challenge. J'onn watched curiously, always amazed to see his friend’s mind at work. After a few moments of silent consideration, Batman looked back at J'onn and answered flatly. "Since '97."
J'onn was only shocked for a split second, then he slowly nodded his head with a wry smile.
"His kids weren’t the only one who died in that accident at the Siegel Hotel."
J'onn nodded again slowly, this time, the smile was gone.
"The rescue crews found his children’s bodies but they never found his."
"And since, rather than rebuild, the owners decided to demolish the building, no one ever found him."
"Yeah," J'onn replied softly, his own guilt over the tragic deaths of Leon McKinley and his children still weighing heavily on his conscience.
"He’s one of your 'penance cases', isn’t he?" Batman asked, his voice far softer than was normally heard inside the cowl.
J'onn emitted a single chuckle completely devoid of any humor. "Yeah."
They stared at each other for another long moment. Batman didn’t pry any further and J'onn offered no more. They both just accepted it for what it was.
"So what now?" Batman asked at great length, shaking J'onn from his own thoughts.
"Now, Leon McKinley is no more. You heard Jenkins - he’s 'done in this town'. He'll simply fade from the public eye and most people won’t even care. It’s probably better that way."
Batman agreed silently, knowing that what J'onn said was true. Within a few months, most people will have forgotten the man altogether.
"So now," J'onn continued, "the only real problem is: how do I tell the others?"
Batman considered it for a moment. "There’s nothing that says they have to know, J'onn. Right now, there’s only two of us that know the truth…"
J'onn gave him a wry grin. "Three."
Confusion knotted Batman’s brow. "Three? Who’s the…" His face lightened in realization. "Arthur."
"Arthur," J'onn confirmed. "For most of this, I was able to balance my work as Leon with my League responsibilities, but as I got closer and closer to the end, I realized that it was going to take a lot of time as Leon to pull it off. I couldn’t risk having to come up with continued excuses for my absences from League affairs, so I needed something to keep the League occupied. I went down to Atlantis, explained the whole thing to Arthur and convinced him to take one of his little 'sabbaticals'."
J'onn chuckled again, this time the humor returning. "The funny thing is, you said before that I’d gotten 'sloppy' near the end - well, you're the reason for that. I had figured that I had at least another week to put everything into place, but then you came along and found Arthur so quickly that I was forced to move up the schedule. I thought for sure that this whole thing was going to come apart on me over the last two weeks, but I somehow managed to keep it all together…"
"There’s just one thing that I still don’t know," Batman prompted, a strange mixture of curiosity and concern on his face. "Kyle?"
"Believe it or not," J'onn responded, "just a really bizarre coincidence. I had absolutely nothing to do with it. But it did drive home for me that it needed to end now - and it gave me an outlet to do so…"
J'onn paused, taking a moment to consider how far he’d actually let it go. He shook those thoughts away - it was something he’d have to come to grips with later.
"Anyway, there are three of us who know," J'onn said, steering the conversation back on track.
"Yes, and we're also the three members of the League most able to keep a secret," Batman responded.
J'onn honestly considered his words for a minute, then shook his head. "No. We can’t do that. Not again. After the Protocols fiasco and my screw up with the League dossiers all those years ago… I just can’t. They have to know and they have to know everything…"
Batman thought about it, then slowly nodded his head in agreement. "They're going to hate you," he replied flatly. "Especially Kyle."
"No, they won’t hate me. They'll be angry for a while, but they'll get over it eventually. They always do." J'onn knew that this whole thing was far from over. While McKinley and PACE may now be gone, he still had months of repercussions to deal with. But that could wait until tomorrow - right now, he just needed to relax and shake the last of McKinley from his mind.
"Of course you realize," J'onn added, "that they're going to be mad at you as well…"
Batman regarded him curiously and J'onn replied with a smile. "They're going to be pissed that you knew about it this whole time and didn’t say anything…"
"Hmm… The entire Justice League… upset with me for doing things my own way… and this is new how, exactly?"
It was delivered in that frank, matter-of-fact tone normally reserved for mission briefings and it took J'onn a couple of seconds to actually register what Batman had said. Once it finally filtered through, though, J'onn rocked his head back… and laughed.