Thursday, August 4, 2016

Ape-Man #3

“The Ape-Man’s Secret!”
by Scott Casper, thanks to Lieber and Kirby for Tales to Astonish #37
Poe Park, South Bronx
November 3, 1962
Polka music wafted from the gazebo in the park. The children dancing were warm, but for everyone else it was chilly and they needed their sweaters or jackets.
Detective Martin Webster was not there for the music (he did not care for polka) and he did not have a child at the free concert (though he and his wife had tried to have one); Martin Webster was there to talk to Jacob Stern. Stern, a Jewish man of about 30 years of age, had been standing a short distance away from the festivities, smoking a cigarette, which had made it easy to approach him. Martin had in fact already identified himself and started asking some casual questions, to put Stern at ease.
“No, I don’t have any kids,” Jacob said. “But that girl over there? She’s my niece.”
“Ever take her to see the apes at the zoo, Mr. Stern?”
Jacob gave Martin a quizzical look. “What’s this about, officer?”
“Ape sightings, Mr. Stern. Four reports of them on my desk back at the office. You know what I don’t have on my desk? Any reports of apes going missing from the zoo.”
“There’s a good explanation for that.”
“Which is?”
“None of our apes have gone missing. It was just Halloween, you know. Maybe someone had rented an ape costume and was trying it out.”
“I see. An ape costume. Yes, that could explain it. Do you think that’s the explanation for the Ape-Man?  A man in a costume?”  
Jacob shrugged. “Sure. Why not?”
Martin seemed to mull that over a bit, then changed direction. “On the first, you saw the costumed vigilante people were calling the Bronze Defender, yes?  The one who had publicly proclaimed he was going to clean the protection rackets out of the Bronx last month. You called in to the police, in fact, from the zoo, when the Bronze Defender appeared there.”
“Yeah, that was me. So…?”
“So witnesses say an ape appeared out of nowhere and attacked this Bronze Defender. Then the ape ran off and, when people came to help him, they found incriminating photographs next to him that linked the Bronze Defender to the very protection racket this man had been claiming he was fighting. You see where I’m going with this, don’t you?”
“I guess I do. You’re wondering where the photos came from? I would guess that the Bronze Defender was carrying them himself, and when the man in the ape costume attacked him, they just…fell out.”
“No, that’s not where I was going with that, Mr. Stern. What I wanted to ask was…you called the police before the attack. Before anyone suspected the Bronze Defender of anything. So, why did you call?”
Jacob just stared at him for about 30 seconds. Then he responded indignantly, “Officer, I have never approved of these so-called superheroes and their vigilantism!”
Bronx Zoo
Back at the zoo, in Dr. Raymond Carter’s office, Bernie Spengler hung up the phone. “That was Jacob,” Bernie said. “That Detective Webster followed him and questioned him, like we hoped. That should give you plenty of time to finally give me some straight answers.”
“I guess you deserve it,” Raymond said. He collapsed into his chair, in total surrender. “What do you want to know first?”
“Are you, are you serious? Who is the Ape-Man?  One of the apes, or–”
“It’s me.  It’s me!” Raymond said, rolling his head from side to side as if it pained him to say it. “When that burglar broke in here months ago, the only way I could stop him was to try our experiment on myself — imprint Johnson’s gorilla characteristics onto myself, so I could scare or fight the burglar off.”
“Raymond…” Bernie said, pacing around the desk and behind Raymond’s chair. “This seemed like a good idea to you at the time?”
“Yes — I don’t know. It all seemed to happen so fast.” Raymond leaned forward, pushed the glasses up on his forehead, and covered his eyes with his hands.
“But then you did it again?”
Raymond sat up straight again, having composed himself. “You were there that day. Those goons from H.E….”
“Yes. Heterodyne Electronic, the big conglomerate.” Bernie came around the side of the desk, leaned forward, and planted his knuckles on the desk. “Did they know about the Ape-Man?”
“Not yet, but they’d known about my research. B.R.A.D.–”
“Their Biological Research Advanced Division?”
“No, that branch was shut down and restructured into Biology & Radiology Augmentation Development. My research was right up their alley, but they were making no headway on their own so they wanted mine. When I wouldn’t sell it to them, they sent some men in to just take it.”
“So you turned into Ape-Man again to stop them.”
“I never planned to become Ape-Man again!” Raymond looked up into Bernie’s eyes, frustration etched in his face. “But…I had used the machine on Johnson again, this time without activating the imprinting matrix, so that information would be saved for future study. In fact, I was reviewing some readouts in the lab that day when they snuck in and overpowered me. I was strapped to the receiving table. They thought the ray could hurt me and threatened to use it on me if I didn’t cooperate. I let them, so it would turn me into Ape-Man again, so I could stop them.”
Bernie stood up and stepped back. “But you’ve become Ape-Man again since then.”
“It’s true…when someone left that sign in the zoo demanding that Ape-Man meet him, it turned out to be a hired gun calling himself W.”
“What does that stand for?”
“Oh…I don’t know,” Raymond said with a shrug. “Probably just his middle initial.  Anyway, I don’t have proof, but I believe H.E. hired him to get me.”
“And this last time, when you caught the Bronze Defender — was he working for H.E. too?”
“Oh, no. He was just a criminal.  I did find I could reactivate the matrix with saved data, transforming me back into Ape-Man, without putting Johnson at further risk. And I’ve…been, well, using it to try to make life better around here ever since, whenever Ape-Man could do it better than I could.  Now…do you think I’m crazy?”
Bernie seemed to pause and think about that for a moment. “No. I’ve never thought you were crazy. When you told me we could harness the strength of a gorilla in a human body, I didn’t tell you you were crazy. I think you’re a good man, and I’m behind you in this.  I’ll keep your secret.”
They both paused, perhaps thinking about the same thing. Finally, Raymond asked the question. “Jacob doesn’t know everything yet. Do you think he’ll still help me?”
“Yes. Maybe….Probably.”
But will Jacob? Find out in upcoming issues of Ape-Man!

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