"tick, tick, tick...": Stargirl has recently been reliving memories of her past, and some of those memories are so unpleasant that they have fragmented into a mess of images. Even so, she refuses to forget what happened. Remembering it gives her motivation. Un
- I have one memory I would love to forget. But won't forget. It's the reason... I... won't... give... UP!
- — Stargirl
Synopsis for "tick, tick, tick..."
Stargirl has recently been reliving memories of her past, and some of those memories are so unpleasant that they have fragmented into a mess of images. Even so, she refuses to forget what happened. Remembering it gives her motivation. Unfortunately, drowning in the memory will mean actually drowning in real life - because she was just thrown violently into the icy water by Despero, and she went down so deep that she may not be able to get to the surface before losing consciousness. Focusing on the one memory she wishes she could forget, but won't forget, Stargirl channels her remaining strength into the power of her Cosmic Staff, and launches herself out of the water. Disoriented, she is faced with the difficult decision to check on her family in Los Angeles or to stay and help the only friend she has left; Martian Manhunter.
J'onn, meanwhile is wondering what Despero is doing there. He has little time to continue wondering, as Despero leaps on him, announcing that he has killed Stargirl. J'onn knows he is lying, but is suspicious of why he would lie. Remembering the files on Despero having said that he is a master of illusion, J'onn resolves not to trust anything he sees. Unable to block Despero from manipulating memories within his mind, J'onn realizes that something else is manipulating both of them. Understanding what he has to do, J'onn steels his mind, and allows Despero to pummel his body to near death.
Courtney, having stayed behind for him, finds him weak and dying, and feels great guilt for failing to take action sooner. Weakly, J'onn begs her to go to Los Angeles, because she is the only one who can free the Justice Leagues from within the Firestorm Matrix. He explains that his failure here was meant to be. It reminds him of a story he was told in his youth about the first Martian village. That village was under constant threat by a shadow called Erdel. The shadow preyed only on the strong, and the longer he lived, the stronger he became. Nobody who remained could stand against the evil until one Martian rose against him, leaving the village to hunt Erdel. Almost immediately upon finding Erdel, the valiant Martian was gored by the beast's horns against a rock. Unfortunately for Erdel, though, he was also stuck in the rock. So, rather than cut himself free, the Martian chose to die there, leaving both he and the great evil trapped there forever. The meaning of the story is lost on Courtney, and he begs her to find Firestorm before he detonates and takes thousands of lives with him.
Sadly, Stargirl hurries to Los Angeles, towards the source of evil that flies over the city. As she goes, J'onn senses the telepathic link between them fading, but he can also feel her hesitating; wanting to go to her family before taking on the greater responsibility. Part of her wants to deal with the memory hiding in the back of her mind that still haunts her. It was the memory of her first confrontation with evil.
After her encounter with a hostage-taker who had only wanted to get her attention, Courtney returned home to find her house torn apart, and her mother wounded. She wheezed that the same man who had lured Courtney away had come to her home.
Despite being plagued by this memory, Courtney remains on her current path, boarding the aircraft on which she expects Firestorm to be trapped, but she is surprised to find it essentially empty - until Despero attacks again. From afar, J'onn admits to himself that it was not he who was the analogue for the warrior in his old tale, it was Courtney. In his mind, the tale is not one of sacrifice, as it seemed to be, but one of hope that heroism would be enough, and that sacrifice would be the right choice.
As Despero continues his attack, Courtney's mind returns to her memory. Her step-father Pat had appeared at the door, begging her to realize that it wasn't her fault, what happened. Something had happened to her brother.
Now, Courtney watches Despero destroy her home and her city, and rather than break down, she is motivated further by it, promising to make him pay. Even as this occurs, J'onn can feel Firestorm's energy reaching a critical mass, liable to wipe out the entire west coast.
J'onn lays in the snow of the Rocky Mountains, dying, but as he takes his last breath, he knows that Courtney has succeeded, and that somehow, the heroes will win this battle.
Appearing in "tick, tick, tick..."
- Pat Dugan (Flashback only)
- Barbara Whitmore-Dugan (Flashback only)
- Erdel (Flashback only)
- Green Martians (Flashback only)
- Unnamed Martian (As an illusion only)
- Firestorm (Cameo)
- Cover gallery for the Justice League of America series
- Images from Justice League of America Vol 3 12