Having ended the Starro infestation at the LexCorp communication satellite, the heroes were teleported into the Batcave by Oracle to have a safe starting point from which to return to Gotham and confront the Starro drones there. But Flash and Red Hood weren’t among their numbers when they arrived. However, Wildcat appeared among them, brought in by another teleporter beam. The moment the heroes fully materialized into the darkened Batcave, however, they were hit by a wave of headaches and a pounding whispering in their minds: “Join us . . . join us . . . Join us!” This lasted only a split second until Miss Martian managed to put up her mental shielding around the heroes’ minds. Still, the Batcave had been outside the dome of mental influence surrounding Gotham–or so they’d thought.
Oracle’s voice came over the comm stating that the teleporter had experienced some interference–possibly from the Batcave’s defences, though it appeared only Flash and Red Hood had been “bounced back” to the Watchtower. Oracle had managed to locate Wildcat outside the city so had teleported him in to assist them. Fortunately, it had worked. When Miss Martian told her they were getting mental interference here as well, Oracle expressed concern as they were definitely outside Starro’s Gotham dome of influence. She advised them to be on alert, as something was not right. She added that she’d try to send them additional assistance if possible.
Miss Martian affirmed that she could shield everyone mentally here, as she had at the satellite, but that it would limit her other actions. And, ominously, she could sense Batman’s mind somewhere nearby, though he did not respond to a mental call. Suddenly, out of the shadows, a voice called out to them, stating that they wondered when the heroes would arrive. It was the voice of Alfred Pennyworth . . . and yet, not quite. He stated that Master Bruce had been waiting for them and has something for them to wear that would “help” in the current situation. As he emerged into the light, Alfred was revealed to be wearing a Starro spore on his face–the “something” that they had for the heroes to wear.
Wildcat immediately rushed Starro-Alfred, hoping to punch the spore off his face, but a batarang flew out of the darkeness and struck the catwalk in front of the possessed man, obscuring him with smoke. When it cleared, Starro-Alfred was gone. But his voice emerged from the adjoining cavern inviting them to come in and join him there. Just then, another teleporter beam appeared and from it emerged Plastic Man, who stated he was there to help them fight Starro. Miss Martian offered to extend mental shielding to him, but Plastic Man pointed out that as an inorganic being, he had no brain that could be affected by Starro’s mental influence. Hence his value to the team.
Starro-Alfred’s voice rang out at that moment declaring the cave to be in a lockdown. All the heroes had to do to get out now was get past “them.” Using her Martian vision and a quick mental survey, Miss Martian determined that the controls to the Batcave were in the other room–as were several lifeforms, human and otherwise. So the only way out of the cave was to face who–or what–was in the other chamber. As they headed for the other cavern, Miss Martian could feel the mental oppression increase, so she increased her mental shielding for the heroes, but warned them they had to stay as close together as possible for her shielding to be most effective for them.
Rather than wait, however, Livewire transformed into electricity and jumped into the Batcave’s electrical system–only to be ejected almost immediately by the Batcave’s defenses. As the heroes entered the other chamber, the lights slowly brightened enough so that they could see several figures around the room . . . Black Bat, Nightwing, Catwoman, Starro-Alfred, Man-Bat, and . . . Batman and Robin–all with Starro spores attached to their faces! The heroes’ hopes nearly sank as they saw who and what they were facing. Starro-Alfred speculated that the heroes were likely ready to join the hive. But rather than give in to the odds, the heroes rallied and went on the attack! Fortunately, the sudden appearance of yet another teleporter beam added a recovered Zatanna to their ranks, helping to even out the odds.
Wildcat, figuring he’d have the best chance of taking on Batman since he’d helped train the Caped Crusader, lept to take on his former student, aiming a flurry of punches at the Dark Knight drone. Batman easily evaded the attack, keeping the Starro spore especially away from Wildcat’s potent fists, but Wildcat could tell that his opponent’s moves weren’t as fast or as skillful as they usually were, almost as if he were fighting the spore’s influence in some way. Troia decided to take on Nightwing, since their past association gave her a knowledge of how he fought. Unfortunately, as the Amazon turned her back to go after her former Titan partner, Black Bat took that opportunity to leap to the attack against Troia. She was deterred by Plastic Man stretching his limbs toward her to try to snare her. With her ability to anticipate her opponent’s moves, Black Bat managed to spot and evade Plastic Man’s attack, but it spoiled her attempt to go after Troia.
Meanwhile, as Plastic Man focused on Black Bat, Man-Bat launched himself into the air of the Batcave and swooped down on the stretchy hero with battering wings and claws. Firestorm began to focus his nuclear energy into a concussive blast to counter any Starro drone attacks, only for Nightwing to ignore Troia’s challenge and swing on a grappling line over onto the catwalk behind the heroes, tossing several gas pellets to explode around Firestorm. Livewire began throwing balls of lightning at Black Bat and Man-Bat to try to deter their attacks and take them out of the fight. As she did so, however, Robin used Nightwings grappling line to swing onto the catwalk himself, tossing a couple of gas pellets that released what seemed to be harmless gasses around Livewire. Till her electrical emissions caused the hydrogen and oxygen in them to mix and ignite and explode, raining down on her as water, just as Livewire tried to turn to electricity and enter the metal of the catwalk to attempt to shock Robin into submission.
The dousing with water took Livewire out of action, while Robin’s rubber-soled boots protected him from the electrical charge she tried to deliver. As Nightwing’s gasses interacted with Firestorm’s building nuclear blast, the Nuclear Man suddenly vanished . . . his atoms momentarily disrupted by the resulting interaction. Worried by the turn of events, Zatanna tried to use her magic to reach Batman’s mind, to urge him to get the Starro spore off his face and help them. But her message seemed to have no effect that she could discern as it appeared that the Starro spores were mentally shielding their victims just as Miss Martian was the heroes. As Zatanna concentrated on Batman, Catwoman lept from her perch on the Batplane and her whip struck out, snaring Zatanna’s wand, and pulling it from her.
Miss Martian, meanwhile, stood mostly motionless, her mind locked in metal battle against the Starro-Alfred’s mental assaults on the heroes. This assault was clearly more powerful than that from the spores on the satellite, indicating that the spore controling Afred was an alpha of some kind . . . possibly second only to Starro himself in power. Seeing, however, that Miss Martian’s mental shields were holding, Starro-Alfred tried another tact and fired an energy bolt from the spore’s eyeball at the Martian. Fortunately, just then, Oracle managed to teleport Cyber-Arrow into the cave. Seeing what was happening and registering the launch of the eyebeam with his cybernetic sensors, Cyber-Arrow managed to jump between Miss Martian and her attacker, taking the powerful blast himself. Absorbing the energy of the attack, though just barely, Cyber-Arrow quickly loosed a detonation arrow at Starro-Alfred’s feet to distract the drone.
Wildcat and Batman continued to spar, though Wildcat could see that the Caped Crusader seemed to be fighting the spore’s control . . . and seemed suddenly to be affected by something else for a moment, slowing him down even further. Frustrated by losing Nightwing and by Black Bat’s ambush attacks on her, Troia readied her lasso, seeking a target she could affect as she nodded thanks to Plastic Man for distracting Black Bat. Black Bat meanwhile tried again to launch an attack on Troia before Plastic Man once more distracted her, though she continued to elude the stretchy hero’s attacks thanks to her ability to anticipate her opponent’s moves. Plastic Man, foiled in his attempts to grab Black Bat, turned himself into a sling-shot, hoping to catch her up and hurl her at Starro-Alfred, but her ability to elude him prevented that from happening, even as Man-Bat moved to get between Plastic Man and Starro-Alfred, further protecting the alpha drone.
Nightwing, seeing Firestorm vanish, turned and fired his grapple back at the platform where Troia had tried to intercept him, this time accepting her invitation to battle, pulling out a pair of escrima sticks as he landed and inviting the Amazon to “dance” with him. As her wand flew from her hand, tangled in Catwoman’s whip, Zatanna muttered a spell–turning the wand into a 250-pound timberwolf going right for Catwoman! To counter, the drone fired an eyebeam from her spore–but the wolf was coming in too fast and knocked her over . . . and out! Miss Martian continued to spar mentally with Starro-Alfred, her mental prowess not only continuing to protect the heroes but actually starting to penetrate the spores’ hold on their opponents–to Starro-Alfred’s consternation. He, too, went immoble as he fought against the Martian’s mental attacks.
Wildcat reeled from one of Batman’s blows that got through the fighter’s defenses, but he quickly rallied and lashed his leg out to try to sweep Batman off his feet–and succeeded in felling the Caped Crusader. Then Batman’s face seemed to be drenched with perspiration falling around the spore and his cowl and suddenly . . . the spore’s eye closed and it fell off Batman’s face, lying on the platform inert. Batman’s eyes opened and he seemed to recognize Wildcat again. Thanks to his own mental strength, coupled with Zatanna’s probe and Miss Martian’s attacks on the spores’ mind control, Batman had managed to reject the spore! Meanwhile, Troia went on the attack against Nightwing, using her knowledge of his fighting technique, as well as her own Amazon strength and speed, to score against her Titans partner. Nightwing managed to keep up with her, though, as he knew her as she knew him . . . and yet, like Batman, Nightwing didn’t seem to be fighting to his full capacity so rapidly began to lose ground to the Amazon’s fury . . . until suddenly beads of sweat rolled down his face around the spore as well and its eye closed and it, too, fell to the catwalk–though not before firing an eyeblast at Troia before it detached.
Black Bat, seemingly having had her fill of Plastic Man’s interference and seeing Nightwing take on Troia, turned to challenge Plastic Man. Plastic Man responded by turning himself into a giant ball and began bouncing on the catwalk to try to knock Black Bat off, causing Man-Bat to screech in confusion and suddenly fly up into the shadows and out of sight . . . as Black Bat tumbled off the catwalk from the unexpected way “Plastic Ball” was shaking it with his bounces–something not even she could anticipate. Firestorm, meanwhile, seeing Robin standing triumphantly over the prone Livewire called out to the Boy Wonder just as Robin pulled a katana off his back and started to plunge it into the unconscious heroine. Provoked by Firestorm, Robin instead launched himself at the Nuclear Man, lunging at the hero with his katana–only to have Firestorm turn it into styrofoam. It broke harmlessly on the hero’s chest.
Zatanna’s wand-wolf started biting at the Starro spore still locked on Catwoman’s face, trying to eat it away from her . . . only to have the spore suddenly come off in its mouth. Miss Martian fell to her knees on the catwalk, beads of perspiration running down her face as she battled mentally with the Starro-Alfred alpha drone. Her effort finally paid off as the drone suddenly cried out in agony, urging the other now-former drones to come back to the hive . . . before Alfred was knocked off his feet by a bouncing Plastic Man, who ploughed into the drone, knocking him down hard. Starro-Alfred suddenly screamed and went limp, and the Starro spore fell off his face, unmoving. Seeing Black Bat trying to return to the fight, Cyber-Arrow had shot a freeze arrow at the spore on her face, hoping to affect only it and not the possessed heroine. Fortunately, as the arrow hit, the spore detached and only it was frozen, leaving Black Bat safe.
Hit by the dropping spore’s eyebeam due to the close range, Troia went down, but was helped back up by a very repentant Nightwing, so chagrined by his attack on his friend–and exhausted from the spore’s effect on him–that he was barely able to speak to her. Robin’s spore, too, fell off him as he stood before Firestorm, not at all repentant for his actions under the spore’s influence. Instead, he shrugged it off, almost seeming to be happy for his victory over Livewire. Wildcat helped Batman up even as he crushed the inert spore under his heel. Miss Martian rose from the catwalk and told the heroes that their opponents were mostly fighting the spores’ influence so that she was able to get into their minds and strengthen their resistance to the alien invaders. But with the Starro-Alfred alpha spore taken out, that had finally enabled her to free those still controled.
Batman quickly filled the heroes in on what happened. Apparently Man-Bat had been infected and Batman had taken him into the cave hoping to free him. But Man-Bat had other spores hidden under his wings and they quickly overcame those in the cave, possessing all of them and luring in the others to also be taken over. Then they waited there to lay a trap for the heroes should they attempt to access the Batcave. The Starro-Alfred spore was the leader, a stronger version of the others . . . possibly a future hive father had he not been defeated. Batman turned to the cave controls and lit the huge cavern up again. That was when they noticed that Man-Bat was not among the other formerly possessed heroes and had apparently managed to flee the cave.
Batman told the heroes that he needed to take care of the others who’d been possessed–Catwoman especially seemed in bad shape–and would rely on them to enter Gotham and confront the rest of the Starro drones, presumably still at the Iceberg Lounge. Just then, Oracle’s voice came back on the comm, now that she wasn’t being jammed by the Batcave’s defenses. She confirmed that things were still happening at the Iceberg Lounge–that its power consumption had just spiked, jumping totally off the scales. She was also picking up police band transmissions suggesting that the GCPD was surrounding the Lounge. Batman proposed that the heroes go while he took care of things at the cave–but not before going into his trophy room and emerging with Mr. Freeze’s freeze gun, which he handed over to Plastic Man.
At that moment, everyone was nearly felled again as a vast mental wave of pain surged through their minds . . . but only for a second, and then it was gone. Miss Martian, who’d been especially affected, grimaced and suggested that something very bad had just happened . . . Oracle told them she’d set the Watchtower teleporter to beam them to the Iceberg Lounge if they were ready, and the heroes agreed, with Miss Martian raising her mental shields over them once more. As Batman and the other formerly possessed heroes watched, a series of teleporter beams flashed inside the Batcave and took the heroes into Gotham City to face . . . what . . .?
(To be continued . . .)
Heroes present: Wildcat, Livewire, Troia, Firestorm, Plastic Man, Zatanna, Cyber-Arrow, Miss Martian, Oracle (by comm).
Also Present (converted into Starro drones by Starro spores): Alfred Pennyworth, Batman, Robin, Nightwing, Black Bat, Man-Bat, Catwoman.