This issue returns to the “Cartel” story line. It also features a new hero called Animal Man.
This issue returns to the “Cartel” story line. It also features a new hero called Animal Man.
The story opens with Wonder Woman over flying a large expanse of trees and grasses, inhabited by many forms of African wildlife. But the scene before her is actually only a recreation of the African Veldt and is no more than two hundred miles from downtown Los Angeles. She has located this amazing place using information she has obtained after questioning El Gaucho.
As she guides her invisible jet over the expanse she notices a herd of animals down below begin to flee. She becomes alert as she knows they cannot possibly see her so there must be someone else around! Suddenly she hears bullets zinging past her cockpit and spots an approaching jet fighter, which has crept up behind her from above. She deduces he must have been tracking her by radar until he came in range of being able to see the plane’s pilot, even if he could still not see the plane itself!
The enemy fighter launches rockets and Wonder Woman sees that they are heat seekers. She acts quickly, knowing that she cannot escape them without willing to risk her life on her reflexes and skill.
She accelerates her plane towards a nearby rock face while the deadly missiles continue to close on her. At the very last second she pulls up vertically and watches in relief as the missiles detonate against the cliff.
She next turns her craft towards the other jet and approaches it head on. El Gaucho had warned her that this place was fanatically guarded by the Cartel but just how fanatically, she wonders? On board the enemy jet, the pilot radios back that his target has managed to avoid the missiles and that she is now on a collision course with him. He is ordered to hold his position and the two craft thunder ever closer. Wonder Woman’s plane slices through the wing of the other craft and she watches it plummet into the ground, just after the pilot has managed to escape.
She thinks to herself that it is a good thing that her craft is made of Elastic Amazonium, the hardest substance known to science. She jokes that she “would hate to try that stunt in a Piper Club!”. As she watches to ensure that the parachuting pilot lands safely she prepares to touch down, intending on questioning him about this secret training area created by the Cartel for its team of international assassins.
But just then she sees another man leap from the undergrowth, dressed in a figure hugging orange costume. She watches as he races to where the pilot has landed and scoops him up in his arms. She orders her plane to circle the area until summoned and leaps out of her plane in pursuit of the stranger as he carries the pilot away.
On the ground, the man sees her gliding down on the air currents towards him and realises that he is in trouble. He looks around quickly and spies a nearby Elephant. As Wonder Woman swoops down on him he turns and delivers a massive punch into her stomach.
She is sent flying backwards through the air and thumps to the ground, feeling like she has just been rammed head on by a Rhinoceros! She cannot understand how someone so thin and lightweight could put so much muscle into a single blow? Nevertheless, she is determined to stop him and begins sprinting after the fleeing stranger. But even running at full speed he not only seems to be keeping ahead of her, but is actually gaining distance on her!
She decides enough is enough and resorts to drastic measures. Picking up a nearby rock, she hurls it like an Olympic shot put thrower. The projectile hits her quarry on the back with pinpoint accuracy, sending him crashing into a tree and spilling the pilot from his arms. As she races to where the pilot now lies, she worries about the way her quarry fell. She may have overestimated his strength and hurt him seriously. As much as she despises the Cartel and their so called perfect assassins, she has never intended anything other than to bring them to justice.
Returning to the task in hand, she reaches the pilot who is lying face down on the ground and rolls his motionless body over. But the pilot has been playing possum and fires a cloud of adhesive gas into her face. As she struggles against the blinding, choking gas he makes good his escape. Wonder Woman knows that in another few seconds she will be unconscious and spins her lasso to create a suction. At last she manages to tear the cloud away from her face and gulps some welcome air into her lungs.
As she looks around her though, she sees that although she was blinded for no more than a few seconds, the pilot has disappeared into thin air! Just then the man in the orange costume drops down from a nearby tree and tells her that it has just occurred to him that maybe she is not working for the Cartel after all. Otherwise the pilot would not have tried to kill her would he?
He walks over, complaining about his aching back and thanking his lucky stars that he had also picked up the toughness of an Elephant’s hide as well as its strength. Wonder Woman asks that if he is not working for the Cartel either, then who is he? He replies that his name is Buddy Baker, but when in costume he goes by the name of A-Man, short for Animal Man. He asks her whether she has seen him in the papers but she tells him no. Disappointed, he continues that it has been about ten years since he was real news, but even then it was only in the local papers out on the coast.
Just then she snaps her fingers and responds that she does remember him! As she recalls it, he had fought several battles against the West Coast Mob and someone called “The Mod Gorilla Boss”. He asks her not to remind him about that incident, as ‘Old Moddie’ was nothing more than a publicity stunt. He figures that is why the big National News Service never took him seriously…a guy with weird powers fighting zoot suited apes!
Wonder Woman asks him exactly what his powers are and he demonstrates by pointing up to a flock of geese flying over head. All of a sudden he lifts off, flapping his arms and honking like a goose. He explains that he can use the abilities of any animal in the vicinity to him, like a bird for flying or an Elephant for strength. The Amazon Princess cannot help herself and begins to laugh at the honking Animal Man, although she quickly apologises to him and explains that after all that has been happening lately, this is just so perfect! She says that she came here hoping to trace the Cartel to their final bolt hole but instead finds herself in league with an Animal Man!
She invites him to sit down and tell her more. So with that he recounts how almost ten years ago he had been out hunting in the hills of Los Angeles. One day he came across what looked like a crashed NASA space probe. But as he drew near he realised that it was not one of this earth as the device exploded and he was bathed in some weird radiation. When he recovered a few days later he discovered that he had gained the ability to absorb the powers of any animal he came near, although the powers would wear off and sometimes quite unexpectedly.
But even so, it did not stop him from doing something he had always wanted to do as a child – to become a costumed super hero! But his new found career did not last very long as he found that the LA cops were meaner and tougher than the likes of New York or Metropolis. Pretty soon he felt like a fifth wheel, useless and unwanted.
Soon he decided to go back to his career as a stunt man, which may not have been as wild a being a super hero but had its own share of fantasy. That is why he wanted to become a super hero in the first place – for the fun of it.
Wonder Woman inquires why he has become A-Man again and why he is here. He becomes solemn and replies that it is because of what the Cartel have done to his pal, Roger Denning. He goes on to explain that Roger is a good screenwriter who happens to have a bit of a temper. One day he had a disagreement with a Director called Haskell who he accused of having ‘butchered’ his latest screenplay. As the Director casually waved him away and climbed into his car, the enraged Roger swore he would kill the man and the next instant the car exploded.
Roger has been blamed for the murder of Haskell and Animal Man intends to prove his innocence. After many weeks he has finally learned that someone had paid this mysterious organisation known as the Cartel to kill Haskell. The man who footed the bill was Haskell’s current Producer called Stymie Sloan. A few nights ago, as a flock of pigeons flew over Sloan’s Studio office, Animal Man burst in through the window. He confronted the Producer, revealing how he knew all about the deal with the Cartel and how Sloan did not want to pay Haskell’s percentage on the latest blockbuster, which was worth millions. Although Animal Man had the Producer, he now wanted the Cartel and demanded to know from the film executive where their hideout was.
As Sloan protested, Animal Man used the strength of an Octopus kept in the Producer’s aquarium to put the squeeze on him. Sloan talked and revealed the location of the phony Veldt. When Animal Man arrived here and had seen the pilot from the downed jet touch down, he thought he had found a lead to the Cartel’s hideout. But somehow, as they had both discovered, the pilot had made a miraculous escape, seemingly vanishing into nowhere.
Wonder Woman and Animal Man walk together, scanning around them for some sign of the pilot but there is nothing as far as the eye can see. The Amazing Amazon suddenly has an idea and suggests that maybe the pilot escaped underground. Animal Man borrows the excellent sense of smell of a couple of nearby Hyenas and begins to snout around. As Wonder Woman watches him, she thinks to herself how Buddy is a curious man. At first he seems almost like a clown but underneath that humorous exterior she senses a driving purpose, making him an ally she is most glad to have.
Soon he locates a metal hatch underneath the grass and Wonder Woman uses her strength to rip it open. Together they drop down into an underground complex, wary of triggering any alarms as they walk along a gantry. Suddenly, a bank of automatic weapons opens fire on them and she advises they vacate the area quickly, pointing to a doorway higher up the wall. Animal Man reminds her that without any birds around he cannot fly, but she reassures him and using her lasso, loops it around a nearby pipe. Grabbing his hand, she lifts them up and through the doorway.
As they make their way down the corridor, Animal man asks her why she is here and she explains how she managed to capture one of the Cartel’s assassins. Under questioning, he had revealed the location of this secret base but could not guarantee that she would find the mastermind behind it all, a man known as the Prime Planner.
As they make their way further into the base passing cages containing antelopes and monkeys, Wonder Woman becomes uneasy over the fact that they have yet to encounter anyone. Suddenly, they walk right into an ambush as guards block their way, opening fire with machine guns. As she deflects their bullets with her bracelets, Animal Man uses the monkey’s abilities to clamber onto an overhead gantry and swing up and over the guards, flooring one of them with a swift kick.
Wonder Woman uses the opportunity to advance and takes care of the others, telling Animal Man that these men cannot be the base’s staff, but are merely thugs left here to kill them if possible while the others escaped to a back up location. With their opponents taken care of, the two heroes enter a large operations room with a big electronic map. A particular location on the map is indicated by a flashing light and Wonder Woman tells Animal Man that she believes they were meant to find this place. It appears the Cartel want them to follow…