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Stinging Stars
by David R. Black
art by Kurt Belcher

Jack and the Shade From the journals of The Shade:

The final years of the 1930's and the first few years of the 1940's were a time of unprecedented growth in the number of mystery men sprouting up across the United States. Some were men of might, wielders of fantastic powers, while others were ordinary men and women who used their brains or their fists to combat crime. A colorful costume and a power or gimmick (trick arrows, fancy gadgets, etc) seemed to be the only requirements one needed to become a hero. Many of the more outlandish and bizarre heroes of this so called "Golden Age" faded away as quickly as they arrived, and only a select few became legendary. The protector of my beloved Opal City, Starman, falls into the latter category. Over the years, various men calling themselves Starman have fought alongside many heroes. Ted Knight, the first to call himself Starman, belonged to the famed Justice Society of America and also was a member of the distinguished, but less remembered, All Star Squadron. Ted Knight teamed up with many of his fellow mystery men during his career, but none so odd…..so unique….so off beat as a fellow he met in Superior City. This is the story of a mystery man who called himself the Red Bee.

March 1942. The scene: A Superior City courtroom.
    A court clerk enters the courtroom, and silently walks up to the prosecutors table. He whispers something to the man sitting at the table, and hands him a package.

"No further questions for the witness, your honor," said District Attorney Tom Darrow.

Darrow sat down behind the prosecutors' table, while the defense attorney began his cross examination of the witness. Darrow turned to his right, and tapped assistant District Attorney Richard Raleigh on the shoulder.

"I think we've got him, Rick," Darrow whispered. "Once the jury hears Kearns' testimony, there's no way in Hades that they'll acquit Boss Storm."

"Umm, Tom," replied Raleigh, "We've got problems. Take a look at this letter that I was handed a minute ago."

Darrow scanned the document hastily, and his eyes betrayed his growing anger. He slapped his hand on the table and muttered softly.

"Damn."

"Just ask the judge for a recess," said Raleigh, as he watched the defense attorney finish questioning the witness. "We need some time to come up with a plan."

"Mr. Darrow," boomed the judge, "the prosecution may call its next witness."

Darrow stood up and cleared his throat, trying to think of what to say.

"Your honor," asked Darrow, "the prosecution would like to request a recess."

"Reason being?" asked the judge.

"Well….you see…we.." mumbled Darrow as he struggled to find the correct words.

"Your honor," interrupted Raleigh as he stood up, "We seem to have misplaced our final witness."

The courtroom erupted with laughter, and Raleigh turned and looked at the defense table. Boss Storm, leader of the Superior City branch of the mob, turned and smugly gazed - like he knew what had happened - at Raleigh. The judge banged his gavel, and the courtroom fell quiet again.

"I will grant the prosecution's request," exclaimed the judge, "But you have only one day. The jury has been sequestered too long, and I will tolerate no further delays. Court will reconvene tomorrow morning at nine o'clock."

Thirty minutes later, inside Darrow's office.

"Damn it," yelled Darrow into the phone, "How could this happen? I thought you had two of your officers guarding him around the clock!…..Never mind, we'll just have to play by their rules…."

Rick Raleigh sat in silence, waiting for the phone conversation to end. The phone slammed down hard on the desk, and Rick turned towards Darrow.

"You know, Tom," suggested Rick, "we could just continue on like nothing happened. We don't need Kearns' testimony to convict Storm."

"I know we don't, Rick," said Darrow, "but it'll sure help the case. Plus, we promised Kearns full protection from the mob in exchange for his testimony against Storm, and I don't like breaking my promises."

"The note doesn't make sense though," mentioned Raleigh, "Why would the Swordsmen want Storm released? The remnants of Storm's gang clashed with the Swordsmen when the Swordsmen tried to take over Storm's rackets."

"Well, I don't think the Swordsmen are fully recovered from their little run in with the Red Bee a couple of months back" postulated Darrow. "Maybe they're using this little stunt to unite what's left of the two gangs into a single, more powerful entity."

"Reread the letter again," requested Raleigh, "maybe there's something we missed."

"Sure," said Darrow. "Here goes; Darrow – We have Kearns, and won't hesitate to kill him. We'll exchange the snitch for Boss Storm tonight at ten o'clock at the Reilly Steel warehouse on 21st Street. Come alone and no tricks. Signed, The Swordsmen."

"I still think something's fishy about this." said Raleigh, "Kidnapping the man who is set to testify against the leader of a rival gang doesn't make sense in the first place. If I were the Swordsmen, I'd want Boss Storm put away for a long time. I sure wouldn't want to help him escape."

"Wait a minute," exclaimed Darrow excitedly. "That's it! Maybe they want Storm so they can put him where he won't do any harm – six feet under!"

"Kill Storm, huh?" pondered Raleigh. "It makes sense all right, but how do we know that it's not some sort of trap? The remaining members of Storm's gang could have kidnapped Kearns, then signed the Swordsmen's name to the letter."

"Well, Rick, we're just going to play along…..for now." asserted Darrow. "But I won't meet the Swordsmen alone. Police Commissioner Harmon is working up a few surprises for our kidnappers. Once we exchange Storm for Kearns, the kidnappers won't get far."

Darrow grabbed his coat and walked out the office door. Raleigh watched him walk down the hall towards Commissioner Harmon's office.

"I've got a surprise for our kidnappers too" stated Raleigh to the empty room. "Or rather, I should say that the Red Bee has a few surprises up his sleeve."

Evening. High in the sky above Superior City.

The red and green clad man sat cross legged in the sky, looking down on the city below him. His green cape flapped quietly in the nighttime breeze. In his hand he clasped a golden yellow rod of power – the gravity rod. Ted Knight, also known as Starman, slowly turned the gravity rod in his hands, pointing it in different directions.

"He's down there somewhere," thought Knight, "I've adjusted the gravity rod to detect the unique mental energies given off by Ahmed when he uses his powers, and now I only need to pinpoint the direction which the energy is coming from. Then I'm taking Ahmed back to Opal to answer for the crimes he committed."

Knight recalled the details of the crime wave caused by the man who calls himself Prince Ahmed. Using his hypnotic powers, Ahmed used many of Opal City's denizens to commit crimes for him. At a loss to explain the crimes committed by ordinarily law abiding citizens, Starman had only uncovered Ahmed's role in the crimes after Ahmed hypnotized Starman's friend, police officer Billy O'Dare. Starman followed the unaware O'Dare to Ahmed's hideout, where the two engaged in battle. Ahmed escaped, but Starman managed to free the mentally controlled citizens from Ahmed's subjugation.

The gravity rod began to make a soft "ping ping" sound, and Starman's attention was again focused on the task at hand. He pointed the gravity rod towards the southern part of Superior City's warehouse district, and the pinging sound intensified.

"Gotcha!" declared Starman as he descended toward the ground below.

9:30 PM. The fire escape outside the third floor window of Reilly Steel.

The moonlight from a full moon shone down on Superior City. If a passerby looked closely enough, they could see the faint outline of a man crouched on the fire escape above. The man's red and yellow striped leggings strongly contrasted the drab gray color of the warehouse. The peach colored sleeves of his red tunic quietly fluttered in the breeze, and a gentle buzzing sound emanated from the two brown pouches attached to his belt. Richard Raleigh, or rather the Red Bee, looked down at the street below. He could see Darrow, Commissioner Harmon, and a squadron of police officers waiting nervously alongside a police wagon. He speculated that Boss Storm was inside the wagon, waiting to be exchanged for Kearns.

The Bee turned his attention towards the window above him. He glanced inside, and the moonlight coming through the warehouse's skylight allowed him to see the bound and gagged man inside. Kearns' head hung downwards, and it looked as if he were either sleeping or unconscious.

"There he is," whispered the Bee to himself. "I'd better get in and get out fast, it's almost ten."

He tightened his red mask, raised his foot, and kicked in the window. The sound of shattering glass echoed throughout the warehouse.

"Damn!" muttered the Bee, "that was louder than I thought it would be."

He entered the building and looked around carefully. No guards, no nothing. The Red Bee quietly crept towards Kearns, keeping to the shadows. Kearns' head popped up, unaware, yet sensing the Bee's presence. Reaching Kearns, the Bee clamped his hand over Kearns' mouth, and the combination of the gag and hand served to muffle Kearns' scream.

"Shhh, I'm a friend," said the Bee as he began to untie Kearns' bonds. "Don't worry, I'll get you out of here."

A door creaked open, and both men stopped moving.

"We're OK as long as whoever it is doesn't……"

The warehouse lights blazed on, and Kearns and the Red Bee squinted through the temporarily blinding light. Three men entered the room. Two were Swordsmen, and the Red Bee recognized the third as Vic Galantino, one of Boss Storm's most trusted underlings.

"Alright you two," said Galantino, "go get Kearns and bring him downstairs. We got an exchange to make!"

The men glanced over at Kearns and saw the Red Bee.

"Hey! The Red Bee!" hollered Galantino. "Stop him! Don't let him get away with our hostage!"

The two Swordsmen charged. Each was dressed in the standard metallic gray outfits worn by the Swordsmen gang, and each carried an electrified night stick, the signature weapon of the Swordsmen. The Red Bee swiveled, faced the two thugs, and opened one of the brown pouches on his belt. A swarm of angry bees lurched out of the bag, and surrounded one of the Swordsmen. The man's howls of agony filled the warehouse.

The other Swordsman passed through the cloud of bees unaffected. He swung his supercharged night stick at the Red Bee, and cobalt blue electric energy sparkled and hissed in the air. The attack missed its' mark, and the Red Bee began to formulate a plan of action.

"Can't let one of those blasted night sticks hit me" muttered the Red Bee as he ran through the warehouse. "Last time I fought the Swordsmen, I found out how powerful those things are the hard way."

Running down a corridor fenced in by wooden crates and steel beams, the Red Bee came to a dead end. His pursuer cackled with delight.

"You're the bug, and I'm the bug zapper" hissed the thug as he raised his weapon, prepared to strike.

"Not today buddy!" exclaimed the Red Bee.

He raced towards the concrete wall, planted his foot halfway up it, and leaped over the startled Swordsman. Tucked tightly into a somersault, the Red Bee felt his hair stand on end as the electrified night stick passed dangerously close to him. The Bee landed gracefully, and the Swordsman twirled around only to see a right hook land on his nose. The knockout blow delivered, the Red Bee grabbed the fallen man's electric weapon, and ran back towards Kearns.

Galantino was holding a gun to Kearns' temple.

"Give yourself up Bee!" shouted Galantino. "I won't hesitate to kill this guy, and I've got reinforcements coming any minute."

The Red Bee emerged from the shadows, and Galantino turned to face him. Galantino's eyes were glassy looking, and his shaky movements made it seem like he was being controlled.

"I don't get it Vic," asked the Red Bee as he held the electric night stick behind his back. "Why are you working with the Swordsmen? You're one of Boss Storm's boys. You hate the Swordsmen, right?"

Galantino shuffled his feet, and looked even more uncomfortable.

"Give yourself up Bee!" shouted Galantino. "I won't hesitate to kill this guy, and I've got reinforcements coming any minute."

"I know, I heard you the first time." said the Red Bee. "You gonna answer my question?"

"Give yourself up Bee!" shouted Galantino. "I won't hesitate to kill this guy, and I've got reinforcements coming any minute."

"You sound like a broken record. Who's controlling you?" asked the Red Bee as he threw the electric night stick at Galantino.

"Give yourself UPPPPPP!!! AIEEEEE!!!!!!!"

Cobalt blue energy sparkled up and down Galantino's body, and he fell to the ground, muscles convulsing in all directions.

"Hated to do that!" exclaimed the Red Bee as he finished untying Kearns. "Let's get out of here!"

Part Two

"You're not going anywhere!" boomed an authoritative voice.

A man wearing an dark orange suit entered through the door. A large blue sapphire was attached to a gold chain he wore around his neck, and the man's dark brown hair was specked with traces of white. About fifteen Swordsmen and fifteen members of Boss Storm's gang followed behind him. Their eyes had the same glassy look that Galantino's eyes did.

"Allow me to introduce myself,'" said the man. "I am Prince Ahmed, master of hypnotism. And you, my insect friend, have been nothing but a pest. Give me one reason why I should allow you to live."

"Well….I'm a great guy" smirked the Red Bee. "Fun at parties….but tell me one thing before you kill me. What do you want with Boss Storm? Why go through all the trouble to have him released? I mean, you're obviously more powerful than he is."

"Flattery will get you nowhere Mr. Bee," continued Ahmed. "Nonetheless, I plan to unite the Swordsmen and Storm's gang into one powerful entity. I need Storm under my mental influence to sway some of his more….shall we say difficult….followers to see things my way."

"In other words, the master of hypnotism isn't as powerful as he thinks he is!" mockingly replied the Red Bee.

A blast of mental energy emanated from the sapphire around Ahmed's neck, and struck the Red Bee. The Bee fell to floor, landing with a thump.

"Silence, fool!" boomed Ahmed. "Once a few select do gooders, such as yourself, have been eliminated, I plan to use my hypnotism on Superior City's city council members and have them turn over control of the city to me. My gang will serve to keep all outsiders away from my city!"

"You're crazy!" shouted the Red Bee as he stood up.

"I may be, but Superior City's resident mystery man is much weaker than that fool I tangled with in Opal City" gloated Ahmed. "This has been much easier than I anticipated. Now then, kill him, followers!"

Swordsmen wielding their electric swords and gang members wielding pistols and knives charged towards Kearns and the Bee. Kearns fainted, and fell to the ground. The Red Bee knew he was overmatched, but this was his city in danger, and even if he could, he would not run away. He stood his ground, muscles coiled and ready to strike.

KERASHHHH! The skylight overhead shattered into tiny pieces, and those in the warehouse scattered to avoid the falling glass. Starman swooped into the building, a blur of red and green, and positioned himself alongside the Red Bee.

"The Red Bee, right?" asked Starman. "I recognize you from All Star Squadron meetings."

"Right you are Starman. I'm sure glad you showed up." answered the Red Bee as he pointed towards the fire escape. "Can you clear me a path to that window over there? I've got to get this fella here outside."

Slinging Kearns over his shoulders in a fireman's carry, the Red Bee sprinted towards the fire escape. Those daring enough to try to stop him were felled by bursts of cosmic energy. After delivering Kearns to the safety of the police squadron below, the Red Bee returned to help Starman. After a few minutes, the combination of fists, angry bees, and a cosmic rod proved too much for the mesmerized lackeys of Ahmed. Unconscious Swordsmen and gang members littered the warehouse floor.

"Where'd Ahmed run off too?" asked the Red Bee to Starman.

"I don't know….wait a minute….the cosmic rod's picking up his energy signature" said Starman. "Got him! He's up on the roof!"

Starman launched himself back through the broken skylight, using the cosmic rod to tow the Red Bee along behind him. Up on the roof, Ahmed sat on top of a large piece of machinery. A giant replica of the blue sapphire was perched in front of the machine.

"Ah, Starman," noted Ahmed. "I wasn't planning on you appearing here, but I've come prepared nonetheless."

"Surrender peacefully Ahmed," said Starman, "there's no need to cause more destruction. I won't let you hurt any more innocents."

"My dear Starman," cackled Ahmed, "I don't plan on hurting any innocents, I plan on hurting you! This replica of my sapphire was originally meant to augment my powers so I could hypnotically control all of Superior City, but if I focus it's energies on you, I should be able to destroy you."

"My cosmic rod harnesses the power of the stars themselves, Ahmed" warned Starman. "There's no way you have something more powerful!"

"We shall find out," continued Ahmed, "If the power of the stars is equal to the power of the mind!"

The two men stood and stared at each other like two gunfighters readying to draw their pistols. The Red Bee quietly watched the drama unfold, and he felt strangely out of place among the two more powerful men. With a throbbing pulse of machinery whirring to life, a dark blue beam of mental energy shot out of the large sapphire towards Starman. Golden yellow cosmic energy leaped out of Starman's cosmic rod, and met the blue beam at the halfway point between the two combatants. A greenish haze brighter than the full moon lit up the skyline of Superior city as the immovable object met irresistible force.

"Come on Starman, you can do it!" cheered the Red Bee.

The combatants stood motionless, and their intent, unblinking eyes showed the intense concentration each needed to check the other's power. Five minutes passed, and neither man had gained an inch on the other.

"I've got to do something to help, but what?" pondered the Red Bee.

The Red Bee approached Ahmed's blue barrier and struck it with his fists. The blue barrier seemed unaffected, but the tiny distraction had allowed Starman's cosmic energy to inch closer to Ahmed.

"Yow! That sure hurt!" yelped the Red Bee painfully. "If I keep doing that, I'll break my hands. That didn't seem to have much affect of the barrier either."

The stalemate continued, and neither Ahmed or Starman refused to budge. Both were beginning to show signs of fatigue.

"Wait a minute," exclaimed the Red Bee, "maybe something smaller than a fist could make it through Ahmed's barrier unnoticed!"

He reached into the brown pouches on his belt. The first was empty, and the second one was nearly empty, except for…

"Two bees?" gulped the Red Bee as he held the two tiny bees in the palm of his hand. "That's not a lot of room for error! OK you two," commanded the Red Bee, "Get through that blue barrier and sting the guy on the other side."

He released the two bees and watched them fly towards Ahmed. Neither Starman or Ahmed seemed to notice them. As the two insects approached the blue barrier, the Red Bee turned away, too afraid to watch. The two bees passed unnoticed and unharmed through the barrier and continued toward Ahmed.

"Yes! That's it!" hollered the Red Bee, looking back at the bees.

The bees landed on Ahmed, and he did not acknowledge or feel their presence. One crawled up his neck, while the other positioned itself on Ahmed's arm. They wiggled their rear ends, and planted their stingers into Ahmed's flesh.

"Ahhhhhhhh!" screamed Ahmed as he clutched his neck.

His concentration broken by the distraction, Ahmed's blue mental energy beam dissipated. No longer meeting any resistance, Starman's beam of cosmic energy sliced through the large blue sapphire. The sapphire and the machinery below it exploded with a tremendous bang. Ahmed was thrown to the ground of the rooftop by the force of the explosion.

"Give me that" said the Red Bee as he walked over to the fallen Ahmed and removed the villain's smaller sapphire. "Now say goodnight Gracie!"

The sound of a left hook crunching his jaw was the last thing Ahmed heard as he lapsed into unconsciousness. A visibly fatigued Starman walked over to the Red Bee, and the two mystery men shook hands.

"Nice work" said Starman. "Without his sapphire, Ahmed is powerless. I'll take him back to Opal City. He's going to stand trial for crimes he committed there."

"No problem, I don't want him anyway" replied the Red Bee. "Thanks for all your help Starman."

Starman nodded, picked up the inanimate Ahmed, and flew off into the night sky.

A Superior City courtroom, two days later.

"Madam forewoman, has the jury reached a verdict?" asked the judge.

"Yes we have, your honor" replied the young woman.

"Will the defendant please rise" boomed the judge.

Boss Storm stood up, and the courtroom fell silent. District Attorney Tom Darrow gazed intently at the jury, while assistant District Attorney Richard Raleigh rubbed his bruised hands.

"On all three counts of racketeering," began the young woman, "and on all five counts of criminal conspiracy, we the ladies and gentlemen of the jury find the defendant, Edward 'Boss' Storm, guilty."

Storm collapsed into his chair, and the crowd murmured its' approval. Rick Raleigh leaned over to Tom Darrow and congratulated his boss on a job well done.

"I knew we could do it!" exclaimed Raleigh.

"Yep, Storm is going to jail for a long time" commented Darrow. "And we couldn't have done it without Kearns' testimony. I'm sure glad the Red Bee helped us out."
Ted Knight "Me too." replied the grinning Raleigh.

"By the way Rick," asked Darrow, "How did your hands get so bruised? You get into a fight with somebody?"

"Errr…umm…no" stuttered Raleigh. "It's a long story Tom."

Epilogue

The paths of the Red Bee and Starman crossed that night in 1942, but fate led the two men to very different destinies. Ted Knight continued to fight evil as Starman for many years. His exploits became legendary, and Knight was the progenitor of a long line of heroes who called themselves Starman. Richard Raleigh protected Superior City as the Red Bee until 1943. Defending Santa Barbara, California alongside the Freedom Fighters, the Red Bee was slain by the villain known as Baron Blitzkrieg. Raleigh died so that his fellow Freedom Fighters, and countless innocents, could live. Largely forgotten today, the Red Bee's short career, and ultimate demise, serves as a melancholy reminder of the many risks involved in being a hero.

All characters are ™ DC Comics

This story is © 1999 by David R. Black.

Based on the "Times Past" concept developed by James Robinson

David R. Black is Fanzing.com's magazine editor and chief archivist. A big fan of "The Warlord," he has a cat named Shakira and is looking for a girlfriend named Tara....

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