A weakened Lois Lane, still recovering from the gunshot wound, appeared in court to identify her would-be killer. She and Clark both feigned ignorance of what Lena was talking about when she claimed that she had called their home and Superman answered. The jury and the public were left believing that Lena's claim was just a pathetic attempt to divert attention from the seriousness of her crime.
If Lena had hoped to divert attention, there was a great deal of diverting material in the news. The Joker, the prime suspect in the Whitty Banter murder, was still at large. Various neo-super types were making news with their unorthodox and sometimes dangerous crime-fighting methods. And there was a new religious cult making converts by playing on the undercurrent of male chauvinism in Metropolis.
The Daily Planet, as was often the case, carried the most definitive analysis of the new religion. "The Men of God, founded by Reverend Jonas Leddy," the Olsen article read, "has attracted a surprisingly large following in a few short months with the doctrine that women, to the displeasure of God, have been taken out of their rightful role as servants to men and care-givers to children. Not surprisingly, most of the converts are men. This is not entirely because of the doctrine, but also because the new faith's religious rites and ecclesiastical order allow only men to participate. Citing a New Testament reference, Leddy declares that God never intended women to speak in church meetings."
Lois Lane, like many other people in Metropolis, crumpled the page in disgust. But then, after a few moments of thought, she picked it up and smoothed it out again. Scanning down to the bottom of the page, she read, "Bitter controversy surrounds the scheduling of an evangelical meeting set for next Tuesday evening at the Metro Center. True to the custom of the Men of God, only men will be admitted."
"Clark, did you read this drivel about Jonas Leddy?"
"Jim's story? I thought it was good."
"I don't mean Jim's writing. I mean the stupid doctrine. I'd love to cover this meeting. I'd tell that slimy charlatan a thing or two."
Clark smiled. "I'm sure you would, but this one is covered. Jim's doing it. Besides the fact that you wouldn't be allowed in . . . wrong gender and everything . . . you're still pretty weak, Lois. Be careful with yourself, would you? I came too close to losing you."
"Don't worry, Clark. I'm not self-destructive. I'd rather spend some more years with you, myself." But to herself she thought, Someone, though, needs to break up this foolishness.
Clark was out being Superman at the moment, and barring any unforeseen emergencies, he intended to work on the revisions to his fourth novel tonight. Lois had told him that she'd be visiting Lucy while Ron worked late. Lucy was already coached to cover that lie.
As she approached the building she found it difficult to get past the protesters to even get to the door. The MPD had set up perimeters to allow entry while still allowing the protest. Some of Metropolis' metahumans were assisting to keep people from getting too excited, but some others had joined the protesters, and were actually trying to stir up the anger. Superman had been there earlier and given a little speech on staying rational, and that carried a lot of weight with most of the group.
"Superheroing isn't what it used to be," Lois muttered as she walked into the hall itself, surrounded by what looked to be maybe a hundred men. She turned on her tape recorder to catch some of the men's comments before the preacher came to the podium.
Then he appeared, a small man with wispy white hair, and as the crowd quieted, he began his sermon. Lois couldn't help noticing that, like another famous historical crowd-moving speaker, Leddy started slowly, hesitantly, and gradually built intensity, bringing his audience with him. She knew that before the speech was over these men would be in a shouting frenzy of adulation for this little man.
A block away, a grinning caricature of a man was listening to the sermon as well. His hidden microphones were picking up and sending him the entire proceedings, so that he'd know the exact minute to press the button, the inevitable funny comment that would produce his plan's maximum comic effect. He recalled with relish the moment he had thought of this. "Wouldn't it be a scream," he'd said, "if the sides of the building all fell outward at the same time, and the ceiling fell straight down on these fruitcakes?" It hadn't even happened yet, and already he was laughing.
Leddy's rhetoric was accelerating. "We can see it everywhere," he was almost rhythmically calling out. "Children in day care, because mother isn't there. Delinquency on the rise, because mother isn't there. Greed and avarice increasing, and dependence on two-person incomes because woman has abandoned her role. Men turning to men because their wives are no longer being their wives."
The volume and rhythm increased as the logic grew fuzzier, but no one seemed to notice that as they punctuated each statement with a hall-filling cry of "Yes!"
"We know what is going to happen, don't we?" Leddy was shouting. "The dissolution of the family!" (Yes!) "The breakdown of sexual mores!" (Yes!) "An uncontrollable crime rate!" (Yes!) "And isn't this the wrath of an angry God?" (Yes!)
Lois could not hold back any longer. "Someone has to break the rhythm of this," she said under her breath. She was so angry as to be blind to the danger, or she may even have felt that she could bring everyone to their senses. No matter what it was, nothing was going to stop her now.
"Will he not," Leddy was screaming, "rain fire and destruction on us for allowing this abomination?"
"Yes!!" the hall responded.
"Yeah, and Chicken Little was sure the sky was falling, too!" Lois yelled.
There was a second of shocked silence.
Across town there was a whoop of delight. "Woohoo! I'll never get a better line than that!" And the Joker pushed the button.
The rigged pinnings of the walls and ceiling were instantly pulled and the walls fell outward. The crowd outside screamed their terror, frantically trying to get out from under the falling walls. Superman heard it from 1938 Sullivan, and with lightning-like speed flew to the rescue. Fortunately there were several metas in the crowds themselves who were able to whisk civilians out of the way or to help stop the crushing fall. But there were four walls falling in four different directions, and Superman arrived just in time to grab at the corner of two walls at once, near the base, and pull them together while flying straight up. In effect he acted like a human zipper, using that junction to pull two walls back into place simultaneously, while a third wall got guided down slowly, the citizens beneath it managing to clear from its path. The fourth wall was held in place by two of the neo-heroes.
But the ceiling fell, just as the Joker had planned, straight down, and no one inside had a chance. When the rubble was cleared, and bodies were identified, there were ninety two men dead. Ninety two men and one woman.
The Men of God were finished as a group. No one ever heard of any adherents to that faith any more. In later years, whenever the incident was mentioned, people always called the cult leader by the name that the news media heard on Lois Lane's salvaged tape. He was always referred to as Chicken Little.
Fingerprints of the men who had rigged the pinnings led to their arrests, and from them it was quickly learned who had planned this mass murder. Batman and Magog were instantly on the trail of the Joker, although Superman was slowed by his Clark Kent role.
"Don't even try to be Superman yet," Bruce Wayne had told Clark. "We will get him."
"I know I can trust you, Bruce. But Magog is unreliable. Don't let him take justice into his own hands. If we stand for anything, we have to stand for it now."
"Truth and justice, Clark. Nothing else."
Also Allie, the old copy girl from their early days at the Planet, and Lois' friend Fran. Keith White and his wife flew in from Ohio. Maggie and Toby, from Gotham. Cat Grant and Lori Lemaris paid their respects, and out of nowhere came a grey-templed Jose Delgado. But the people who knew her only from her writing, her award-winning news stories, her mystery novels, were also there. Feminists to whom she was a hero because of her final stand against unreasoning, fanatical chauvinism, were either present or sent flowers, poems, letters, and stories of how Lois Lane had touched their lives.
Clark was greatly moved by this outpouring of love and admiration for his wife, and answered all the letters. There were thousands, but he eventually responded to every one. Lois was interred near Perry White's grave, and a couple days later Jimmy Olsen, who was a victim of the same disaster, was laid to rest near them as well.
Clark Kent felt he had little reason to be anyone but Superman, now. All the main connections to his life as Clark were gone, and he remembered Lois' advice when he was feeling low once before. "Be Superman," she had said, and she was right. Especially with this new breed of "heroes," the never-ending battle was now his main reason to live.
Superman brought Magog in for trial, and went on record right away with his outrage at what Magog had done. "I believe it's true that the Joker murdered all those people," he said in a televised statement, "But I also believe that killing him was not justified. A trial would have better served the causes of truth and justice. You might say that I believe not only in truth and justice, but also the American way of determining and administering those principles."
Magog's trial was a media sensation, and it spotlighted the difference between his methods and Superman's. Superman was the chief witness against him, the chief witness against an unprincipled attitude that seemed to pervade popular belief. It was not so much Magog's trial as it was a trial of Superman's values. The man of steel was not using superpowers to battle evil this time. He was using principle and scruples and character, so it was crucial to him that he win this battle.
He lost. The public outrage against the Joker, the mass murderer, was so great as to outweigh their recognition of the principles Superman lived by, and Magog was acquitted. Superman couldn't believe it. If Metropolis could not put together a jury that could recognize the difference between right and wrong, then what was Superman for?
Outside the courtroom Magog issued his challenge. "No hard feelings, Superman. But now is the time to determine who really is the champion of Metropolis. Kind of a chance to redeem your status, if you will."
"Magog . . . What do you want?"
"I want a match. A championship bout. You and me, for the city of Metropolis."
Superman looked at him, disbelieving. "A championship bout?" He looked around at the crowd, the press. "Is that what you think it's about?"
Magog grinned. "Isn't it?"
Superman looked around again at the crowd. Then he shook his head with resignation, rose into the sky and flew away without looking back.
There had been times in his career when he had considered giving up the Superman persona. There were others when he had considered giving up Clark Kent. Now, for the first time in his life, they were both effectively dead.