A number of strange occurrences in Gotham City–starting with the Echino meteor shower, along with a rash of missing persons reports–caused Oracle to call together a group of heroes to investigate the situation. Meeting at the Justice League Watchtower, with Black Canary presiding, Oracle presented via video link the information she had to the heroes. This included security footage of a mysterious object found in an alley in the warehouse district by a pair of teens, one of whom tried to touch the unidentified item. The video cut off as the object seemed to “unfold” at the boy’s touch, ending in a flash of some kind. Analysis of the footage had turned up no further information.
Oracle also reported that in the past couple days, power consumption at the Iceberg Lounge, which had abruptly closed its doors, had more than quadrupled, suggesting that something odd was going on there as well–and giving the heroes a place to start their investigation. Some of the heroes wanted to investigate the alley where the object had been filmed, but Oracle told them that all efforts to follow that lead had so far been fruitless. The heroes decided then to check out the Iceberg Lounge first, especially since Zatanna was supposed to have been headlining there–before it shut its doors.
Black Canary had the JL teleporter send the heroes down to Grant’s Gym so that they’d be near the Iceberg but not in direct sight should anyone be watching, to enable them to recon the situation before attempting entry to the lounge. Once there, however, the heroes found their efforts to learn what was going on in the Iceberg rebuffed. Zatanna attempted to port in astrally to see what was happening, but found her astral self unable to enter the building and repulsed from it as she tried to peer through the wall. Livewire managed to get as far as the electrical wiring in the Iceberg exterior walls before herself being repulsed, even in her electrical form. Flash and Firestorm attempted to phase themselves through the walls, only to be similarly blocked and repulsed.
Troia had herself teleported to pick up her camera and used its telephoto lens to try to see what she could of the Lounge from the door of Grant’s Gym. But the windows all appeared totally frosted over, though she could detect dim shapes that seemed to be moving around inside it–possibly the missing people. The situation compounded when all the heroes who’d tried to gain entry directly began suffering from headaches that manifested themselves as an internal buzzing sound–almost as though someone were whispering to them just below the threshold of comprehension.
The headaches seemed to be intensifying–almost to becoming debilitating–when Livewire stumbled on a way to counter them by converting herself to electricity again and taking control of her electrical brain impulses, and then by doing the same with the other affected heroes. (Zatanna, who had been most affected, had to add her own psychic backlash to Livewire’s aid to bring her headache under control.) The buzzing was still there in the affected heroes’ minds, but now it had lessened to the point where they could think again. Having failed at stealing their way in, Black Canary speculated that perhaps those who hadn’t been affected by the attempted entry might be able to get in more directly. She, Troia and Cyberarrow led the others to the Lounge to try the front door.
Surprisingly, the door readily opened and Troia, taking point, was able to walk right inside, following by Canary and Cyberarrow. The Lounge was mostly dark inside, but lit by occasional sparks coming from what appeared to be a number of power conduits coming into the building and ending at a huge block of ice at the center of the room. It appeared to be dripping as though it were slowly melting, and there appeared to be figures milling about around it. Canary called over her comm to the others to try to follow them in, which the remaining heroes did with no further trouble. As they entered, however, the buzzing in their minds increased, though not to the level of anything more than an annoyance this time.
Zatanna offered to light the room up and Black Canary instructed her to do so. As soon as she did, the heroes could see that the room was indeed filled with people–men, women, even children, all of whom seemed to have . . . something stuck to their faces. At the center of the room, also with something stuck to his face, was the familiar figure of . . . the Penguin. He laughed at them in a strange way, part Penguin, part something else, and asked if the heroes had come to join them. Black Canary, suspecting what was happening, commed Oracle to ask if she was getting all this and to confirm what she thought. Which Oracle did–urgently instructing the heroes to flee the Lounge, as all the people inside appeared to be infected by parasites . . . the spores of Starro the Conqueror!
The heroes at once retreated at Oracle’s words, knowing that if any of the spores were to attach themselves to them, they’d become part of the hive mind of Starro. Zatanna tried to cover their retreat with a wall of ice, but as soon as she made the attempt, the buzzing in her mind increased, causing her to lose focus and the spell to fail, rendering her unconscious. And the other heroes found the entrance to the Lounge now blocked, as had been the rest of the building earlier. They were trapped inside with the Starro drones!
Penguin-Starro began to gloat, teling the heroes he should simply pull them into his hive, but offered to allow them to leave–if they could defeat some of his drones. Troia tried to call Oracle to see if the JL teleporter could pull them out, while Livewire began sending bolts of electricity at some of the drones. Unfortunately, the teleporter didn’t seem able to penetrate all the interference in the Lounge, leaving the heroes trapped. And Livewire’s electrical bolts didn’t seem to be affecting the Starro spores–only the people they were attached to. Both Black Canary and Flash bid her to stop lest she harm the innocents the spores had taken over. Unfortunately, those she’d already hit seemed to fall unmoving to the floor–and their spores came loose and flew at Livewire!
As the heroes tried to decide how to deal with the situation, Penguin-Starro called out to a number of drones who’d been hidden behind the ice block, each a familiar figure with a Starro spore attacked to their faces: Huntress, Batgirl, Batwoman, Killer Croc, and Clayface. The first three explained why Oracle had been unable to contact any of them to help with the investigation. And Flash wondered ominously whether the reason Batman hadn’t responsed either might mean that he, too, was now a drone . . . though fortunately there seemed to be no sight of the Caped Crusader among their current opponents.
Killer Croc began to lumber toward Livewire, even as the Starro spores circled her, trying to get a clear shot to her face. Flash immediately jumped to Livewire’s defense, delivering supersonic hits toward the villain’s nerve clusters. Clayface meanwhile moved toward Troia, forming his fist into a huge hammer to smash her with. Troia, still holding her camera, managed to momentarily blind the Starro spore controlling Clayface with a quick flash. Batwoman tossed a pair of batarangs at the still unconscious Zatanna, while Batgirl followed suit, aiming at Firestorm. Livewire started zapping the attacking Starro spores, electrifying her skin in case any got through. Meanwhile, Huntress launched an attack on Black Canary, attempting to take her fellow Bird of Prey down with her bo staff.
As the rest of the Starro drones slowly advanced on the heroes, they took evasiive action against the attacks on them. Firestorm transmuted Batgirl’s batarangs into rubber bats, while Black Canary–noting that Huntress seemed to be holding back–easily evaded the bo attack and delivered a solid kick to Huntress’ chin, trying to talk her back to them as she did. Killer Croc grunted at Flash’s attacks, but his thick scaly hide mostly protected him. He swiped at Flash but wasn’t fast enough to hit the speedster. Flash, meantime, noted the Batarangs headed for the unconscious Zatanna, so he intercepted them and threw them back at Batwoman and Batgirl. Livewire continued to zap the Starro spores attacking her–except for one that managed to get to and attach itself to her face! Only to fall off, fried by the electricity cascading off Livewire’s skin.
Clayface, dazzled still by the flash from Troia’s camera, nevertheless struck out with his clay fist hammer. He missed the Amazon, but several Starro spore few out of the hammer and tried to encircle Troia. Then the spores attached to Batwoman’s and Batgirl’s face suddenly glowed in the eye–and shot out energy beams to destroy the batarangs Flash had thrown back at them. And then shot similar beams at Flash, hitting him and knocking him into a wall and unconscious. Seeing Flash hit as the spore drops off her face, Livewire sent bolts of electricity at Batwoman and Batgirl, though only enough to stun them. Cyberarrow, meanwhile, began to fire off specialized arrows at the drones and the spore, hoping to contain the former and knock down the latter.
Huntress, having taken Canary’s kick to the chin seemingly without trying to defend herself, went down. As did Batwoman and Batgirl from Livewire’s bolts. Killer Croc and Clayface were immobilized by Cyberarrow’s arrows, as were the spores attacking Troia. But the rest of the Starro drones kept moving toward the heroes as though to overrun them. Suddenly Oracle’s voice came out of the comm stating she’d been trying to analyze the barrier around the Iceberg keeping them inside and had concluded it was a mental barrier and nothing physical. If they could get through it and outside, she could teleport them to safety–which was necessary as she was detecting more Starro drones coming their way. She suggested Black Canary try to disrupt the mental output of the Starro spores by using her Canary Cry to weaken the barrier so they could force their way through it.
Looking grimly determined, Black Canary ordered the other heroes to grab their fallen and leave–now! She then turned toward the advancing Starro drones and let out a wide-area Canary Cry, which seemed to affect the drones and their spores. The buzzing still in the affected heroes’ minds suddenly ceased and the barrier around the Lounge appeared to dissipate. Grabbing the fallen Flash and Zatanna, the other heroes rushed from the Lounge to be snatched to safety by the League teleporter beams. Before the heroes were beamed away, however, they could see a number of Starro spores leave their hosts and fly toward Black Canary. As Canary ended her Cry and was about to flee the building, one managed to slip through–and attach itself to her face.
The final sight that the remaining heroes saw as they were beamed out was Black Canary, a Starro spore covering her face, turning and joining the other Starro drones in their new hive in the Iceberg Lounge . . .
(To be continued . . .)
Heroes present: Flash, Troia, Zatanna, Firestorm, Livewire, Cyberarrow, Black Canary, Oracle (by comm link)
Starro dones: Penguin, Killer Croc, Clayface, Batwoman, Batgirl, Huntress, numerous citizens