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Tuesday, May 16, 2023

From the Database: The Astounding Doc Stalwart #1

The Astounding Doc Stalwart Issue 1
(January, 1937)
Introducing: Doc Stalwart!

Summary: Doc Stalwart appears just in time to foil a bank robbery of the First National Bank's gold reserves. Reporter Jessica Darrin arrives to interview him, but he leaves quickly because “crime never rests, so neither can I.” She remarks how "dreamy" he is, but is interrupted by Professor Finro, who asks if she wants to interview him about his new ‘laser cannon’. She declines, following Doc. Finro also follows Doc to his next encounter, where he is stopping a train robbery. Finro attacks suddenly with his ‘laser cannon’, but is defeated by Doc after a short battle where Doc lifts a train car overhead, creating an iconic image of Doc. The story ends with Jessica going out to dinner with Doc (“well, maybe even heroes can take a night off once in a while!”) while Finro sits in prison, plotting revenge.

First Appearances: Doc Stalwart, Jessica Darin, Professor Finro

Historical Notes: The backup stories included an Action Kinkaid short ("Action Kinkaid against the Azteks") and a futuristic short ("Life on Mars – the Aliens Attack!"). The response to the Doc Stalwart feature was overwhelming, prompting the publisher to shift largely to superhero stories hereafter. While Professor Finro would be the recurring villain of this original series, he is largely ignored from the Silver Age onward. He has appeared a handful of times, but is never presented as the arch-enemy of Doc Stalwart as he is during the Golden Age.  

Sunday, May 14, 2023

Complicated History of the Stalwart Kid

The Complicated History of the Stalwart Kid

By Dr. Mike Desing

Originally published in the Comics Inquirer #317, August 1997

(“The Doc Stalwart Issue”)

Throughout the history of Doc Stalwart’s comic adventures, many characters have seen sudden changes, revisions, or outright retcons in the chase for a unified continuity. For no character has this process been more jarring, or more problematic at times, than that of the original Golden Age Stalwart Kid, Chesterfield “Chet” Stalwart. 

First of all, it is important to distinguish this Stalwart Kid (the Stalwart Kid of Alter Earth 1 - often called Stalwart Kid I) from the Silver Age Stalwart Kid (the younger version of Nathaniel Stalwart, who grew up to later become Doc Stalwart - often referred to as Stalwart Kid II - and a backstory mainstay throughout the Silver Age), or from the later clone of Doc Stalwart who became a hero on his own (Stalwart Kid III). 

The original “Chet Stalwart” version of the Stalwart Kid first appeared in the Astounding Doc Stalwart #4 in April, 1937. The nephew of Doc Stalwart, he accidentally found a piece of Meteor X (the same meteor that had given Doc his powers), and quickly assumed a place at his uncle’s side, fighting crime. He appeared in almost every issue thereafter, as Doc’s faithful sidekick.

The end of Doc’s Golden Age series appeared to be the end of this character. However, Lord Synchronous, the Master of Time (who first appeared in Mighty Doc Stalwart #111, the beginning of the “Doc of Two Worlds” storyline) revealed that there was another Doc Stalwart (Doc Stalwart I), who had a sidekick named the Stalwart Kid, but that this Stalwart Kid had “died at the hands of Lord Synchronous the Time Master”. This appeared to finalize the fate of the original Golden Age Stalwart Kid.   

However, it was later revealed (Mighty Doc Stalwart #163) that the Stalwart Kid I of the Golden Age world of Doc Stalwart (referred for the first time here as “Alter Earth 1”), had actually survived. It was soon revealed that Lord Synchronous the Time Master, who was attempting to merge alternate timelines into one, was actually the original Stalwart Kid, Chesterfield Stalwart. This was one of the biggest surprises in Doc Stalwart history, and ended up being a very divisive choice among the fandom. The letters column for the next year contained letters from outraged fans that Doc’s own nephew would have been the one to turn on him in such a way. Lord Synchronous went on to become one of Doc’s most persistent villains, and the fact that this was a nephew of his own from an alternate timeline only increased the stakes in their various battles.

However, the smaller controversy of this reveal paled in comparison to what would happen in 1992. In Mighty Doc Stalwart #307, during “The Great Time Conundrum” storyline, it was revealed that Lord Synchronous had been gay the entire time, and his attraction to Doc Stalwart was what had caused him to turn to evil. This decision was met with immediate, and universal, derision. 

To much of the mainstream, that a gay character appeared in comics was still largely unfathomable. This caused Doc Stalwart to receive national attention, much of it negative. In some states, his comic series was temporarily banned. However, those who supported gay rights were even more outraged. The National Foundation of Gay Rights issued the following statement: “while we are heartened by efforts to bring gay characters into the mainstream of our culture, we are shocked and saddened by the thoughtless way this has been done in this instance. To suggest that a gay character would be motivated by being gay to commit atrocities does significant harm to our work for acceptance. Furthermore, to have this character be the nephew to the character he is attracted to is a level of inferred incest that is difficult to fathom. That anyone thought this was a good idea is beyond the pale”.

While New Stalwart Press issued an immediate apology, and made significant financial contributions to the NFGR, the damage was done. This ultimately became one of the darkest marks on the history of the series, and one of the greatest mis-steps in comics publishing history. While Lord Synchronous continued to appear thereafter, all references to his sexuality were notable by their absence.

Saturday, April 22, 2023

Sky Stalwart and the Funny Pages

From the World of Doc Stalwart…

Raymond Alexander entered the comics field in the early 1930s as the art assistant to Kirby Jackson, who was already established as a legend. “Ray” had been working for the man he always called “Mr. Jackson” for several years when Jackson and Lee Stanford created Doc Stalwart in 1937. Jackson’s biography later referred to Raymond as “the third creator” of Doc Stalwart, although he was never officially credited as such. When Stanford and Jackson joined the military in 1939, Raymond, who was only sixteen at the time, was left behind. A variety of health issues meant that Raymond would never follow into a military career.

In what remains one of the most unusual agreements in comics history, Stanford and Jackson offered to hand over control of Doc Stalwart to their young protege. He had already developed some skill as a draftsman, and was contributing to the writing of Doc Stalwart as well (they later credited him as being the creator of the Army Ants, for instance). However, he was not comfortable with this, explaining in an interview shortly before his death, “Doc was theirs. I could not - still cannot, really - see anyone else orchestrating Doc’s adventures”. This was taken at the time as something of a dig towards Byron John, although the two never expressed any public animosity, and Byron John once referred to Raymond as a ‘capable storyteller’, which may have been a backhanded compliment.

However, Raymond had previously suggested a story about Doc’s father, a time-traveling hero named Sky Stalwart, who would share many characteristics with his son, but who would travel across ‘the boundaries of time and space itself’ to take part in a series of adventures. They had actually plotted a story, planned as The Astounding Doc Stalwart #19, that would have seen Doc meet his own time-traveling father. Raymond asked if he could pursue this character’s adventures instead, using the design they had already devised, and the name Sky Stalwart. A gentleman’s agreement was reached, hands were shaken, and that was that.

Remarkably, that agreement endured decades of legal wrangling and lawyerly prodding, remaining intact for the lifetimes of all involved.

Now on his own, Raymond began shopping this idea to several syndicates, hoping to secure a daily comic strip instead of a monthly comics magazine. He felt at the time that the stories he envisioned would better fit the daily newspaper. All of the major syndicates rejected him, and he was about to give up entirely when he received a telegram from Mid-City Syndicate, a new syndicate looking for a strip. The heads of the syndicate met with Raymond and told him, in no uncertain terms, that they were looking to have a comic that could compete with “those other space comics”. Desperate to see his story come to life, Raymond agreed to tone down some of his wilder ideas, and to focus more on the adventures across ‘space’, and less on those across ‘time’. 

The first installment of Sky Stalwart: The Man Who Fell From Earth appeared in four newspapers on January 1, 1940. While it never achieved the success of some of its contemporaries, it proved among the most lasting. Sky Stalwart appeared daily, without interruption, from its launch until Raymond Alexander retired the strip on its fortieth anniversary, on January 1, 1980. It added a color Sunday strip in 1942, and this was also part of its entire run thereafter. Sky Stalwart never appeared in more than forty newspapers, but still built a core following that allowed it to persist.

A short-lived radio serial followed in the early 1940s, but only a dozen episodes aired before this was abandoned. In total, Raymond Alexander crafted 12,345 different strips. He set that as a goal some time in the 1960s, and pushed himself to that finish line despite deteriorating health in the last few years.  

By the 1980s, Mid-City Syndicate only existed to continue as a vehicle to distribute Sky Stalwart, and it folded shortly thereafter; its entire catalog was purchased by New Stalwart Press, ending any potential for legal drama between the two entities.

When Skye Stalwart: The Girl Who Fell From Earth was launched in 1986, it was blessed by Raymond Alexander, who was asked to draw the cover for the first issue, which he did despite drawing being quite painful at this point. Although this story canonically followed the daughter of the modern age Doc Stalwart rather than the father (as the golden age stories had implied), these made no pretense about how deeply this new book was indebted to the storytelling of the man referred to as “Mr. Alexander” in the new book’s introductory text.

Raymond died in 1987, but he had thankfully given an interview to the Comics Inquirer shortly before his passing, and this revealed a bounty of fascinating background. This sparked something of a resurgence in public awareness of Sky Stalwart, and an appreciation for the work its creator had done. New Stalwart Press has begun to catalog and re-release Sky Stalwart’s classic strips in book form, to be seen by a new generation.

Sunday, February 13, 2022

From the Database: Annual #1

The Mighty Doc Stalwart Annual #1
(August, 1983)

War Amid the Stars

Summary: Far in another galaxy, within the cosmic battlecruiser “The Starkiller”, the evil Dark Knight Kordon receives a vision; a great hero from another galaxy will lead to his destruction. He summons four bounty hunters: Gat Parmetheon, the mummy-like former soldier Tenkar, Dyson the navigator, and the snarky assassin drone Traver-MX, giving them their mission: they must hunt down and kill Doc Stalwart.

    In our galaxy, Doc Stalwart hurtles through space in a prototype starship. He reports back to Colonel Hudson Roberts, mission commander, that the test flight to Mars is going well, but then the sensors go off. A wormhole has opened nearby, and it’s suddenly pulling at the ship. He tries to escape but fails, and his ship is drawn into the wormhole.

    In that other galaxy, Doc emerges from the other end of the wormhole. He calls for aid, and immediately is set upon by a group of dark talon interceptors. They report that they serve Dark Knight Kordon, and he must surrender or die. He refuses, and they shoot his ship down. He crash lands on a dusty planet called Toonine.

    Emerging from his ship, he is attacked by three bounty hunters: he is able to quickly defeat Traver-MX, Dyson, and Tenkar, but is stunned and taken hostage by Gan Parmetheon. He awakes in a prison of “the Starkiller”, with Dark Knight Kordon standing beyond. Kordon asks why Doc Stalwart is there, and Doc Stalwart replies that fate has sent him. Doc challenges Kordon to a duel. Kordon accepts.

    They have a sword fight with ‘laser swords’, which Doc Stalwart wins. Kordon pretends to surrender, but when he tries to stab Doc in the back, he is killed by the four bounty hunters, who resent working for him. The crew cheers that Doc has saved them from his evil control, and they help him to get back home.

    Doc Stalwart returns home, showing off the medal he received for saving the galaxy. Colonel Roberts gives him one from earth as well. The issue ends with a huge award ceremony.

First Appearances: Only appearance of characters that would soon receive cease and desist orders, and would not appear again. Colonel Hudson Roberts would become a minor recurring background character, often mentioned whenever reference to military intervention appeared, but he would not appear again in panel.

Historical Note: Byron John’s contract had given him complete autonomy over Doc Stalwart’s series of comics. When shareholders of New Stalwart Press pressured him to create a set of stories borrowing elements of the most popular film series of the time, he refused. The publisher realized that his contract did not specify ‘any’ comics stories, only the 'official series'. Therefore, another creator named Lief Roberts was hired to create a one-off publication as Mighty Doc Stalwart Annual #1.

    Byron John learned about this as the books were being shipped, and (not for the first time) threatened to quit the series altogether. Fortunately, Mighty Doc Stalwart Annual #1 was universally lambasted, resulted in a legal battle that was settled out of court, and became one of the most reviled stories among Doc Stalwart fandom. Despite the fact that he had included the character of Hudson Roberts based on his own father, who was the commander of McCartan Army Base, Lief Roberts would cite this as a low point in his early career. Byron John received a public apology, and unsold copies of the annual were shredded. This has resulted in a large collector demand for this annual, which is now one of the rarer modern books featuring Doc Stalwart.

    However, elements of the story lingered, and Gat Parmetheon became something of a popular character despite having only two lines of dialogue in the whole book (“Let me disintegrate him.” and “Target acquired.”). Seeds were in place for what would become the second series that Stalwart Press would launch two years later with much greater success: Sky Stalwart: the Girl who Fell From Earth.

Saturday, February 12, 2022

The Mighty Doc Stalwart #260


Adapted from The Mighty Doc Stalwart #260 (November 1984)

by Dr. Mike Desing

This was not a real place. I mean, sure, it was REAL, because they were here, and you always have to be SOMEWHERE, but it was not a real place. It was somewhere else. Doc had been teaching Mikah about science, and how science uses evidence to prove its hypothesis. So, Mikah was applying the evidence. The evidence all pointed towards the same conclusion: this was not a place. 

      First, the sky was not a single color, but a shifting array of purples, blues, and reds that moved against a deep, black background. This made it look like night, but it definitely wasn’t night. There were no stars, and there was no moon. Evidence: not a place.

      Second, the landscape around them, composed of rolling hills beneath the upper banks on which they stood, overflowed with trees. That would make it seem like a place. However, the trees seemed composed of pure, inky blackness. And they moved. They didn’t sway as if in a gentle breeze, but instead they writhed like snakes considering the charmer, and whether or not to listen to his pipe or bite his jugular. Evidence: not a place.

      Finally, there were the sounds. This should have probably gone first in the list of ‘not really a place’ evidence, but they were the most subtle. A forest at night is a loud place. This was also, but not in the same way. These sounds almost sounded like suffering, or crying, or the baying of an animal as it contemplates the wound that is about to take its life. But these sounds also commingled so it was impossible to tell if it was coming from singular creatures, or just rising from marshy, black ground itself. Evidence: not a place.  

      “The Shadow Vale. Or Shadowlands. Or Land of Shadows. It’s called different things across time. It’s all this place, though.”

      Hmf. Doc called it a place. Mikah was still going with his not a place theory.

      Giant Jynx opened his mouth as if to speak. Mikah couldn’t think of him as Monument yet… he was just a giant version of Jynx with Zirah and a seven-year-old acolyte and a demonic entity inside who could suddenly talk, he had decided. To his thinking, that was somewhat less upsetting than the truth. Monument spoke, “I dare go no further. This place… calls to me. Calls to my core.”

      Doc nodded. “We part as friends.”


      Giant Jynx and Doc shook hands, which Mikah found profoundly weird. Giant Jynx looked towards Mikah, “I’ll bet your face is delicious.” He smiled and was gone.

      Mikah knew it!

      “What now?” Mikah asked. He really, really hoped Doc had a plan that was better than ‘wander aimlessly until we find something interesting’.

      “We wait.”

      Okay, this was a close second in terms of bad ideas. Doc sat down and crossed his legs. During his sessions when he was first using his powers, Mikah had been taught to do this - sit “crisscross applesauce” in order to focus better. He had no idea how this would in any way improve focus, but Doc was doing it. Mikah considered this for a moment and joined him. 

      He had not done this in some time. Mikah had modified this exercise considerably over the last few years as he’d mastered his powers - or as he’d gained some measure of familiarity with them was closer to the truth. He remembered how to steady his breathing, center his mind, and roll his shoulders back. He relaxed into a general awareness of everything without focusing on one thing. He was both here and not here, as he had been taught. Then his palms settled against the dirt at his side.

      The images dragged him in. He saw them, everywhere. The doomed. They were under him, and around him, and beside him at once. They were moving through the trees and lingering in the streams of this place. They were trudging through the dark vales and clambering up the rocky slopes. They were looking for it. Always looking for it. If they found it--       

      “What’s up, Doc?” 

      Mikah opened his eyes. Then he blinked again, because he was sure he was wrong about the thing that was standing there. Then he opened his eyes again. Nope. He had seen it. Evidence: not a place.

      It was a teddy bear. It looked like it had been run over by a tractor and dragged across a gravel driveway, but it was a teddy bear. It had several patches over places where it had nearly lost its stuffing, and it carried a short sword. Its eyes were the same texture as the sky. 

      “Hello, Seymour.” Doc had opened his eyes, but remained seated, “As you can see, I’ve returned.”

      Seymour, which Mikah presumed was the talking, animated teddy bear’s name, cocked his head. It reminded Mikah of a dog who suddenly hears a sound he’s not familiar with. “Who’s the kid?”

      “The Chronicle.”

      “Ahhh. That tracks.”

      Doc smiled, “I like what you’ve done with the place.” He gestured in the general direction of everything.

      “She’s been busy.”

      “Can I see her?”

      “She’s expecting you. 


Vesper leaned forward on her throne and slipped her robed sleeves upward, revealing long, slender arms. She was probably fifteen. Mikah was pretty sure that this is what being in love felt like. He had the aching in his heart and the sudden increase in pulse and the immediate desire to say something incredibly awkward that were the hallmarks of true love.

      If she noticed, she pretended not to. She reached towards Doc’s face. “May I…?”

      “Of course.”

      She set her thin hands against Doc’s forehead. He waited. “Thought we’d cleared them all.”

      “So did I.”

      “It’s buried. Very deep. How did you find it?”

      “He did.” He gestured towards Mikah.

      Vesper looked at Mikah, studying him. She had the same eyes as Seymour, the same eyes as the sky. She was the prettiest girl Mikah had ever seen, and he would have, in that moment, done anything for her. He would kill for her. Of that, he was quite certain.

      “Explain.” She waited.

      “I guess, I mean, I suppose that the first idea I had was when we met with Ro the Ravager. It didn’t seem right. Doc not worthy?” Mikah paused to see if this made any sense, but Vesper was nodding. He continued, “and then with his brother… I sensed… I’m aware of barriers in Doc’s mind.”

      Vesper continued nonplussed, but Doc did some tentative shuffling. It was not like him to be tentative. But it was also not like him to not know entirely what was going on. The fact that things in his head were hidden from him had to be bothersome. Mikah continued, “and then the Emerald Queen…” again, Vesper was totally up to speed with the major players, “she said… There were things. To do. To be done.”

      Vesper considered this. “Do you know about how Doc Stalwart saved the world?”

      Mikah shrugged, “he’s saved the world lots of times.”

      “No. He’s saved large numbers of people. He’s saved monuments and architecture and lives. But, there was one time, he saved everything.”

      Mikah gulped. He did not know that. He looked at Doc, but Doc was not looking at him. He was starting at the wall. Was he tearing up?

      “Everything had fallen apart. The wall between worlds had broken. Null had crossed over. He was feeding on fear. Consuming it. Consuming everything. Doc made a tremendous sacrifice to prevent that. He completed a quest.”

      Doc was full-on crying now. He stood, stalwart, letting the tears run down his cheeks and drip from his chin. He held his jaw firm. 

      “Doc traveled into the darkest place you can go. Darker than you can imagine. Beyond the gates of Hell itself. Into the lowest pit, reserved for the most vile of all monsters. It was difficult to get there. He had to become a sin eater. He had to take on the collective sin of hundreds. Thousands. He carried their sin. Only one figure in history has carried more.”

      Mikah was starting to tear up, too.

      “He redeemed hundreds. Thousands. Setting them free. Setting me free. I was there. He brought me back. He brought back Jynx. Brought back Zirah… Even after she had killed his wife.”

      Mikah coughed now, struggling with his own tears. Zirah had killed Doc Stalwart’s wife? And he had worked with her? Trusted her? Saved her?

      “He brought back those of us who had faced the most profound fear in creation. We were immune to Null’s touch. We were able to push him back.”

      “YOU pushed him back,” Doc corrected.

      “Maybe that’s true,” Vesper sighed, “but now we need to get you.”

      Mikah licked his lips. Snot was gathering on his upper lip. “How?”


The hallway was familiar. It was much like the Citadel of Tomorrow, with the clean white walls and rows of identical doors. Mikah didn’t know which door he was looking for, but then when he found it he knew it was the right one. He drew a deep breath and entered.

      The boy was here, working on something. It was a kind of device with hoses and pipes connected to a central processor. The boy finished adjusting something and looked up. “Hello, there. I’m Nate.”

      “Hello, Nate. I’m Mikah. What are you working on?”

      “It’s a water purification system. There are parts of the world that don’t have clean water. I think that we can make this so that it can clean all of the water in the world so that people can drink it. That would be good. You know? To make the world better. To use science for good.”

      “Science for good,” Mikah repeated, “So, Nate. Your last name is Stalwart?”

      “Yes sir.” The blonde-haired boy went back to working. He was maybe in third grade.

      “Can you tell me about your brother?”

      He stopped working. He looked up. Was that anger? “I don’t have a brother.”

      “No. I know. But you had a brother. Do you remember him? James? Jimmy?”

      That water purification system was going to need to be started again, because the ten-year-old Doc Stalwart had just thrown it across the room where it shattered against the far wall, “I don’t have a brother.”

      “You do. You DID.” 

      “You are a liar!” The future Doc Stalwart, despite being several years younger, was still larger than Mikah. He moved upon Mikah with menace.

      “I’m not. I want to help you. I’m your friend,” but a fist met his chin and sent him across the room. His jaw was broken. Okay, it was probably not really broken, because this was all happening in the depths of Doc’s subconscious, but it still FELT like it was broken. He struggled to talk through a shattered jawbone, which was just as difficult as one might imagine it to be, “he’s dead. You know he’s dead.”

      “LIAR.” This punch broke several ribs, and Mikah couldn’t draw breath. He was probably bleeding internally. He coughed up blood. Okay, definitely bleeding internally. If he died here, did he die out there? He had forgotten to ask, but he didn’t want to find out.

      “I know this is hard to hear,” it was hard to say, in all the ways it could be, “but you killed him. I need you to accept that. You didn’t mean to. You didn’t want to. But you did. You killed your twin brother.”

      “LIAR.” Mikah was now going to choke to death. He could no longer breathe through his shattered nose, and blood was welling up in his throat. He was going to either bleed to death or suffocate on his blood. It was only a matter of which happened first at this point.

      “You meant to help him,” Mikah choked, “he couldn’t walk. I know. But you killed him. You did it. You. It was your fault. It was entirely your fault. I need you to accept that.”

      “LIAR!” If little Doc Stalwart had punched Mikah again, it would have killed him. But this time, he punched the wall. And he punched it again. And again. And again. He punched until he had forged a 3’ deep divot in the reinforced titanium wall. 

      Then he cried.

      Mikah couldn't see, and he couldn’t really breathe, and he thought this might be the last thing he’d ever say, but he pulled himself next to the crying little boy with the Freedom Formula coursing through his veins and kissed him on the head, “you killed your brother. But I still love you.”


Mikah sat up, gasping for breath. He was alive. He was back in the throne room of Vesper. Doc was sitting at the foot of her throne, his shoulders hunched over, his head hung low.

      Mikah went over and sat next to him. He put his hand on Doc’s shoulder. There was nothing more to read, nothing more to see, no more secrets buried in Doc Stalwart’s heart.

      Doc took a moment and then whispered, “Mikah. Thank you. You’re the best friend I’ve ever had.”

      “Please don’t ever punch me for real.”


      Vesper sat on her throne, “I’d invite you for dinner, but you no longer have any purpose here. You cannot abide. I must send you from my realm.”

      “Let us know if you ever need us.” Doc said.

      She nodded.

      And then they were back in the Beetle.



“So this is Midvale?” Mikah asked, looking out the port window. It looked like a nice city.

      “Yep. Want to see the World’s Fair?” Doc shifted the controls and the Beetle dropped beneath a bridge, skimming over the river.

      Mikah looked away, “Maybe another time. There’s one more thing I have to talk to you about.”

      Doc smiled, “Okay.” His smile was back. No, it wasn’t back. It was bigger - it was better - than ever. 

      Mikah no longer hesitated when he had something important to say. Maybe he had changed, too, “I didn’t know why at the time, but I know now. You had fear. It was deep inside, but it was there. And it would have made it impossible to do what you are going to do next.”

      Doc still smiled, “and what’s that?”

      “You’re going to save your daughter.”

Sunday, October 31, 2021

The Mighty Doc Stalwart #259

A Dark and Stormy Night

Adapted from The Mighty Doc Stalwart #259 (October 1984)

By Dr. Mike Desing

The Beetle shook. Despite the advanced gyroscoping technology and an array of sixteen independent pulse engines, the storm tested the small craft’s resilience. Doc kept his hand on the controls. The ship did most of the work, but Doc had to fight as well to keep her steady.

“Are we close?” Mikah was a bit disappointed. This was his first trip to Meridian, but between it being 2 in the morning and in the midst of a raging thunderstorm, he was unlikely to see much.

Lightning illuminated the southern horizon, providing both an answer and a jolt of excitement.

For an instant, Mikah could make out the vast horizon of this, the greatest of all cities. It stretched the full width of his peripheral vision. That was a lot of city. 70 million people. Mikah couldn’t wrap his head around a number that big. What context is there? 

“Very close.” Doc was tense. This had been his home for almost twenty years, Mikah remembered, but Doc had never actually spoken of it to him.

“You excited to be back?”

“Conflicted,” Doc admitted, “especially because of why we’re here… you probably realize this is not an official mission…”

Mikah nodded. The foreboding tone of the Emerald Queen had clued him in. They were on a darker path now.

“We’re going to start making right on a few promises. I’ve got some unfinished business. I’m glad you’re along. And....” Doc hesitated.


“I’m not going to lie to you. It’s going to be rough.”


The Beetle had set down in the middle of a parking lot next to a huge, gothic church. If it was possible, the rain was now falling harder. “This is St. Augustus. Been here for 200 years. It’s an important place.”

The team stood in the rain at the side door for several minutes, with Doc loudly pounding on the door. Now that Mikah knew Zirah was a ghost, he realized that the raindrops were falling right through her. Jynx kept swatting at the rain, as if annoyed. Mikah just felt soaked. Doc seemed to contemplate breaking in, but Mikah could sense his discomfort with storming into a place of worship.

Finally, a young boy in white vestments, probably half Mikah’s age, opened the door. He had a squeaky voice. He looked exhausted. “You must be Doc Stalwart. Father Warren has been hoping you’d arrive soon. He’s already started the ritual.”

They crossed through two heavy doorways and down several sets of stairs; with each descent, the dark grew more dark, the cold grew more cold, and the staleness grew more stale.

As they moved over what would be the final set of stairs, they could hear chanting rising from below. As they approached, Mikah realized it was one man’s voice. And it was in Latin.

Their downward descent ended in a chamber set at the lowest point of the labyrinth beneath the church. This was a large room, entirely finished in stone, with ceremonial religious relics placed all about. In the middle of the room, a middle-aged, grim-faced man wearing vestments like those of the boy was on one knee, holding a crucifix aloft and repeating phrases in Latin. 

Pinned to the opposite wall was a creature that looked like a living shadow. It was a demon of some sort. Of that, there was no doubt. It made sounds like Jynx, but instead of threats to eat your face, this thing was capable of cruelty beyond Mikah’s imaginings.

“Ted, we’re here.” Doc called, and the priest collapsed, his utter fatigue finally overwhelming him. The shadow peeled itself from the wall, no longer bound by the man’s chants. It spoke. In English.

“I know why you’ve come, Nathaniel Stalwart. But I will not be bound again.”

The team positioned themselves around the room. Doc took his place at the center; Zirah flanked the shadow on its right, with Jynx on its left. Mikah and the young acolyte were tending to the priest, who burned with fever.

Jynx’s head did a funny thing, cocking slightly to one side. He barked something, and the demon barked back at him.

Oh great. He was making a new friend.

As Doc searched for an opening to strike, Jynx started to bark at him in panicked tones. This was different from any sound Mikah had ever heard him make.

The demon loosed a burst of black energy from its hand, and this threw Jynx against the far wall. The imp crumpled to the floor. 

Zirah, swords drawn, stepped forward as if to confront the demon. It eyed her and hesitated. It wasn’t afraid of much, but it was afraid of her.

She assumed a battle stance, flexed her swords out, and held. She was thinking of something. Mikah thought she took a brief glance back at him. Was that a smile?

Then she dropped her swords.

As they clattered to the floor, Zirah leapt forward, disappearing against the chest of the demon.

This forced it back against the wall again, and it started to writhe.  

It clawed at its own chest, seemingly trying to drag Zirah out. Its eyes flashed red. Then yellow. Then red again. Then, suddenly, purple.

It stopped writhing.

The priest started chanting again. It was barely a whisper, and it took every mote of energy he could summon, but it was clear and strong regardless. The boy - he was no more than seven years old, Mikah thought - took up the chant.   

Now Jynx gathered himself and moved to the middle of the room. He stood and looked… relaxed? It was a new thing. He tilted his head up and stretched his arms to the side. Mikah had the phrase “I’m king of the world!” pop into his head.

And then, a bright darkness enveloped the room. Mikah would later try to describe it, and would also have to create a folder for this event, and he struggled for a long time with the description. He finally settled on bright darkness. It was a darkness in the truest sense, but it was so bright that he couldn’t watch it directly, but had to allow his peripheral vision to catch glimpses of the transformation he was witnessing. When all was finished, maybe a minute later, the shadow creature was only gone, and only Jynx remained.

But he was the same size as Doc Stalwart now.

Doc stood at a distance. He dropped his fists to his side. “Hello, Monument. It is good to see you again.”

The 7-foot-tall Jynx nodded, “Hello, Doc Stalwart. I am… different from when last we met.”

The priest, gathering himself to one knee, produced a crystal from his pocket, looking at Monument through it. “The binding is successful.”

Mikah wanted to find a gentle way to politely ask what was happening. Instead, he settled on, “what the Hell is that?!”

Father Warren seemed unbothered by his curse word, likely because Hell was literally where it had come from. “The demon is named Galanax. It is an eldritch entity of great power. The three others have made a triangular prison for it. Jynx is the body; he provides its physical form. Zirah is the spirit. She provides the binding agent to keep them all together. And Edward, my dear nephew Edward, he provides its soul. He is its moral compass.”  

Mikah tried to take all of this in. That had become something of his default setting - he was in a constant state of just barely keeping up with overwhelming circumstances. “Who am I speaking to now?”

Monument considered this question, “All of us.”

The priest was now standing, propped up by Doc Stalwart, “I was the last host of this thing. With Jynx. We had an… imperfect prison. We realized that there was a component missing. Doc retrieved her for us.”

Mikah felt anger simmering, “wait. You forced Zirah to do that?”

Doc shook his head, “no. It was her decision. She was suffering an eternity of torment for the choices in her mortal life. I found a way to help her trade that fate for this one. She gladly accepted.”

Mikah replied, “But the swords allowed her to live here.”

“Temporarily,” the priest picked up, “they were never a permanent solution. She was always in danger of being dragged back into the pit. Any separation from them put her in deep peril. She always dwelt at the precipice of eternal suffering. She finally has some measure of peace.”

Mikah remembered how he had asked her to set down her swords to find Doc’s brother. How she had not hesitated. He knew the pain and danger she faced was real. He had not realized just how real.

Doc had found a piece of cloth, and was using it to carefully pick up the swords, wrapping them securely. He didn’t look up, “is the boy…”

“Safe.” Monument continued, “I understand that this is a terrible burden to ask of such a young boy. He was chosen, and he answered the call put upon his life. That is the most noble thing that can be asked of anyone.”

Here he looked at Mikah. He held the gaze uncomfortably long.

“Doc Stalwart,” Monument continued, “I also understand your journey must continue. I can carry you to the borders of that land, but no further. Are you ready?”

“I am,” Doc answered. He looked towards Mikah, “You can stay here. The priest will take care of you. I will be back shortly.”

Mikah shook his head, “No. I know where you’re going. I am going, too. I have to. No. I don’t have to. But, I want to.”

Doc considered for a moment, and then nodded. He looked to Monument, “Answering the call, then. Understood. We’re ready.”


Ted Warren, Father of Saint Augustus’ Church of Meridian, was alone for the first time in thirty years. He was going to make some tea, take a shower, and sleep.

But first, he dropped to his knees. He folded his hands, furrowed his brow, and bowed his head. Doc Stalwart was going to need every bit of help he could get.