Stan Lee

We have to admit, writing a tribute for Stan Lee is one of the hardest things we can think of doing. After all, who are we?

There will be other tributes -we are sure- which are more beautifully written. There will be pieces crafted by his former employees, his friends, his loved ones, and the people he mentored over the years. There will be thousands of amazing and tear-wrenching artwork done by the most talented artists in the industry, and all who have their own Stan Lee stories. We here at The NYRD did not work with Stan. We did not personally know him. We never even got the chance to meet him. Though, we feel like we did, and with Stan that was perhaps the most special thing about him.

Stanley Martin Lieber was born in 1922, right here in Manhattan. He grew up on West 98th, under the care of his parents, Celia and Jack Lieber, both of whom were Romanian-Jewish immigrants. They struggled through the Great Depression, as most families did. Stan served during the tail-end of World War II, as most of his peers did. Yet, Stan was not like most of his peers. Growing up, he always wanted to write the great American novel, which was why in 1939 when he got his first job at Timely Comics he chose the pseudo-name, Stan Lee, so that his work with pulp fiction would not tarnish his eventual success as a “serious” writer. The first series he ever wrote for was Captain America.

Incidentally, Stanley Martin Lieber would later legally change his name to Stan Lee, year later.

That’s who Stan was, an ambitious writer with a reluctant foot in the comics game, but it didn’t stay that way for long. When legendary figures, Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, left Timely in 1941 Stan was made interim editor. He was only 19, but his sense of business and his knack for the comic industry helped him remain as editor-in-chief until 1972, at which point he became the publisher. In the 1950’s with the superhero revival, Stan joined forces with Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, and others to create some of the most iconic characters of the 20th century and in 1961, Atlas Comics -which had previously been Timely Comics- became Marvel Comics.

In part, it was Stan’s philosophy that helped the small company compete with the industry leader, DC Comics. Where DC was telling big stories about gods and men, Marvel chose to keep their stories grounded. Peter Parker had superpowers, but he also had girl troubles and homework. The Fantastic Four were superheroes, but they were also a family with strife and heartache. Superman fought criminals in a Metropolis where there was no Vietnam War, or Communism. Iron Man fought crime in New York City, and was frequently caught up in the events of the day. Stan was fond of saying, “I just tried to write characters who are human beings who also have superpowers.”

There is this constant rumor that J. Jonah Jameson is as close to self-portrayal as Stan ever came when writing his comics. According to Gerry Conway, “Just like Stan is a very complex and interesting guy who both has a tremendously charismatic part of himself and is an honestly decent guy who cares about people, he also has this incredible ability to go immediately to shallow. Just, BOOM, right to shallow. And that’s Jameson.” Yet Stan Lee was much more than just a boisterous news editor, he was a Jewish kid from the Bronx, someone who knew what it meant to be different. He did charity work. He had a genuine exuberance for life. He cared about his employees, his readers, and those he met in his everyday life.

One of the most important parts of those early Marvel books was the sense of community that Stan fostered. He would frequently write his own personal thoughts to the readers and reply to their letters, and he introduced the practice of crediting stories to not just to the writer and penciller, but also the inker and letterer. He wanted Marvel Comics to be a family and a place where everyone felt at home. That meant giving credit to the people who made the comics, and it meant engaging with the readers so that they felt like they were a part of it all… In the end, that was the core of Stan Lee, at least we think so. He wanted that sense of community. He wanted us all to feel like friends, because even though we did not know him personally, nor ever shook his hand, we did feel like his friend.

So, writing this tribute is daunting for another reason, as well. Our friend is gone, and we are still finding it hard to believe that we now live in a world without him. Stan Lee was like the city itself, a fixture in our everyday lives. In a way, he was more like one of his characters, as if there was something more than mortal about him. He was Peter Parker, and Bruce Banner, and Tony Stark, and Ben Grimm, and Charles Xavier, and all the rest. There was a part of him in all that he did, and that means that there will always be a part of him with us.

So, Stan Lee never got to write his great American novel. No, he got to write something so much better than all that. He got to write a story of a man who created characters and wonders that not only reflected our lives but influenced them. We would not be who we are today if not for him, and we know that we are not alone in that feeling. He taught us to be heroes, and that it was okay to different, and that you could find good even when the world seemed like it was going to hell. Stan Lee wrote the kind of story that changed our lives and the lives of millions of people, and that story was his life.

For that, all we can really say is: Thank you, dear friend… Thank you.

Edward

If you like this story of Edward and want to read more about what happens at a bar filled with costumed criminals and masked menaces, than check out the first volume of Friday’s Bar for Supervillains, on sale now, at all local Amazon websites.

The small beams of light tickle as they hit me. I laugh, but the little man just keeps pointing his gun and firing like it’s doing something. When I reach him, that’s when the fun begins. I grab the small space weapon and feel it crunch along with his fingers.
I let go. I didn’t mean to hurt him. I never want to hurt anyone, but I always do. It’s just part of being me. You get used to it, I guess, but the guy just keeps crying and screaming about his broken hand. The rest of the bar is starting to look now, and the tiny man is on his knees, begging me not to kill him.

I don’t do that, not anymore.

I reach down and pick him up by his silvery backpack and toss him through the door. I wouldn’t want JJ getting mad at me for annoying his customers. Of course, JJ never gets mad at me. He just gets disappointed, and that’s always worse.

I walk outside, and the spaceman is slumped up against the wall of the building across the alley. I hadn’t meant to throw him that hard, but he doesn’t look like he’s moving.

I bend down next to him, and I hear the door open behind me. “Leave him, sugah. He’ll be fine.”

“He’s not moving,” I say in that lumbering way that seems slow, even to me.

Georgia kneels down next to me. When she leans forward to unhook the man’s space helmet, I notice that I can see down the front part of her shirt. I look away. I don’t want to be rude.

“He’s only stunned,” says Georgia. She has her fingers on the man’s neck. “He’s still breathing.” She stands up. “For heaven’s sake, Edward, you got to learn to worry less about good-for-nothing assholes like Retro Rocket here. He deserves a lot worse than this.”

“I didn’t mean to hurt him,” I say, feeling frustrated.

“Oh, don’t give me none of that bull, darling. I know you used to run for the Atello crime family. I’m sure you hurt plenty of people worse than this back in the bygone days.”

“That was a long time ago. I was just doing what I was told to do.”

“Hush now, there; don’t get all defensive.” She pats me on the shoulder. It feels nice. “I only meant we’ve all done things we regret. Trust me. I got enough regrets to fill a barn the size of Arkansas. Now come back inside, sugah.”

I look back at the spaceman.

“He’ll be fine.” She leads me by the hand. “He just needs to sleep it off.”

Georgia was right, because when I go back out later, he’s gone. He must have flown off using that stupid jetpack of his. She is always right, and she is always nice to me. I like Georgia, but she doesn’t seem to like that spaceman. After we went back inside the bar, she said something about how he likes small boys too much. That seems strange to me. I mean, I like boys and girls and puppies, though they tend to not like me. I guess I am kind of scary looking.

Georgia was right about something else too. I did used to hurt people, a lot. That was when they called me Two-Ton. I hate that name, but my brother gave it to me. Well, he wasn’t really my brother, but we did grow up together in the orphanage. We watched out for each other, because we were both born different. His name was Carlos, but most people called him Stone, on account he could turn his body to…well, stone.

Carlos was the smart one. He watched out for me and told me what to do. We made a group together that we called the Heavies. We worked for a lot of people and did a lot of bad things, but Carlos always said it was for the best. “We are just earning a living,” he said, but then he died. So I had to go to work for the Atello family.

Mr. Atello liked it when people called him Don, but that wasn’t his name. He said Carlos was killed by a rival crime family because he was late. At the time I didn’t know what he meant, because I was always the one that was late, and Carlos was always the one waiting on me. I’m very slow, but I understood later that Mr. Atello meant Carlos had been killed because he owed some very bad people a lot of money.

When my brother died, I had nowhere to go. Mr. Atello gave me a job, but it wasn’t like working with Carlos. The Atellos didn’t treat me nicely, at all. They always called me names, just like the kids in the orphanage used to do. They always wanted me to hurt people too, even to kill people. I did it, but I didn’t like it. Mr. Atello’s favorite was when he had me squeeze people till they didn’t move anymore.

That was the only life I knew till I met JJ. The Atello family wanted him to pay something called protection for his bar, but JJ refused. Mr. Atello said I needed to teach him a lesson, but it was JJ who taught me the lesson. He showed me a better way. I know it sounds kind of silly, but it’s true. Then he offered me a job. Now I still have to hurt people sometimes, but usually they deserve it.

Isn’t it kind of funny how you get reminded of a thing, and then it keeps popping up over and over again in one day? It was like the time when I was telling JJ how much I liked peanut butter, and on that same day, I found half of a peanut-butter sandwich waiting for me in the back room. JJ called it good luck, but today my luck wasn’t good at all. It was bad, very bad luck.

I was outside checking people waiting to get into the bar. I have a list of people I am not allowed to let in. Most of the time, I am looking for any villains that have been banned by JJ, but sometimes I have to make sure no one is a superhero or some kind of cop. JJ says letting them in will make the customers nervous, “and when these customers get nervous, that’s when things go bad,” he says, but I’ve screwed up a few times.

One time I let this private investigator in because he was dressed up like a giant honeybee with a mask. He started taking pictures for some court case, and when the other customers figured out what he was, they almost killed him. I stopped them, but not before they’d beat him up, real bad. I had to carry him to the hospital and leave him in the emergency room. I felt sorry about just leaving him alone, but JJ said it was for the best.

Now the list JJ gives me has pictures of the people I am not supposed to let in. It helps. A lot of people try to make themselves look like something else, but I’m really good at recognizing faces. I hardly ever let the wrong people in anymore.
One of those people I’m not supposed to let in is Antonio “the Painter” Atello. He’s Mr. Atello’s son, and he’s a certifiable psychopath. At least that’s what JJ calls him.

“Well, if it isn’t Too-Dumb,” says Painter as he walks up to the door. The two men in suits standing behind him start laughing like it’s the funniest thing they’ve ever heard. I hate that name even more than Two-Ton.

“I’m not supposed to let you in. JJ wouldn’t like it,” I say, not looking at him.

“Forget that old has-been, Eddie. I’ve come to talk to you. My old man’s not feeling too well these days, you know.”

“Mr. Atello is sick?”

“Not sick enough,” says Painter. “I’m next in line to take over the family business.”

“Not if Vinnie the Octopus has anything to say about it,” says one of the men behind him.

“Would ya shut up?” says Painter. It looks like he is going to hit him, but instead he puts his arm around me, well as much as he can reach. “Listen, Eddie, I know you and me haven’t always been pals, but I could use a man like you in my new operation. You have a particular set of talents that I always valued. Who knows, you might even become a made man one day, if you play your cards right.”

“I work for JJ now,” I say, proud of my new job, but Painter still makes me nervous. Most people call him unpredictable. Sometimes he can be your best friend, but then sometimes he can be your worst nightmare too. Someone once told me that they call him Painter because he likes to paint walls red.

“C’mon, it’ll be just you and me, Eddie, all the way to the top, once my old man is out of the picture. In fact, I was hoping you could help with that too. Dear old Dad isn’t feeling quite himself, but the doctors say there is a chance he might recover. Now, if a certain old disgruntled ex-employee were to pick this moment to exact his revenge…” He puts his finger to my chest. “Such an occurrence might all but ensure my place at the top. Once I’m there, I’ll make sure you’ll be there right with me, and that’s a promise. Capiche?”

“I don’t know. I don’t hurt people like that anymore.”

“Suddenly you’re going soft on me? Who cares about my old man? Think about it, Eddie. My father’s not a very nice person. He deserves this. Then it’ll be just you and me.”

I hesitate. “Well…”

“I thought I told you never to come around here.” The door to the bar swings shut, and JJ is standing there looking very angry. He’s using his cane today because he said the rainy weather was making his leg hurt.

“Beat it, Pops.” Painter laughs. “This is between me and my old friend here.”

“Edward, I need your help bringing a new keg out from the back. Gil broke the handcart again.” JJ looks at me as if he expects me to come inside with him.

I start to move, but Painter puts his arm in front of me. I stop and put my head down. I can’t look at JJ.

“Eddie, do you want to spend the rest of your life working as some sort of glorified doorman in a dive bar that caters to lunatics in costumes, or do you want to make something of yourself?” He rubs his fingers together. “I’m talking big cash here. Stick with me, and you can afford the finer things in life.”

“There’s nothing fine about where that life leads. I’m not going to let you bring him back down this path again,” says JJ.

“What’re you going to do about it—throw a calendar at me?” Painter shakes as if he’s scared, but I think he’s just pretending. Then he starts laughing at JJ. I want to say something, but I’ve never been able to stand up to Painter. He was always so scary.

“You’re a spoiled child who cares more about getting his own way than about the consequences of his actions,” says JJ quietly. “One way or another, that’s going to catch up to you, and I won’t let you drag Edward down with you.” His eyes have this look like I’ve never seen before. It makes me feel cold inside.

“Choose your next words very carefully, old man. I don’t take no disrespect from no one, especially senior citizens such as yourself. You don’t want to see what I do to guys who cross me. They say I’m crazy, you know.”

“I’ve known plenty of people like you in my day. You claim to like the mayhem, the chaos of it all, but it’s a cover. The truth is that you’d rather burn the world than face it. You’d rather kill your own father than confront him. When you come right down to it, you’re nothing but a coward.”

Painter gets very angry, so angry that he turns red. “Boys, I think it’s time to teach this has-been a lesson.”

One of Painter’s guys takes out a small club and laughs as he walks toward JJ, but he stops laughing when JJ’s cane breaks his teeth. Then, even as he’s cursing, JJ puts the end of his cane on the man’s chest and presses some kind of button. Painter’s friend screams like he’s being shocked by electricity.

“I had this cane built special for—”

The gunshot is so loud that it hurts my ears. JJ falls to the ground, and blood starts to turn his flannel shirt red. I move toward him to check if he is okay, but Painter’s voice stops me.

“Stay right where you are, Too-Dumb.” He’s still pointing his gun at JJ. “Actually, take a few steps back.”

I don’t know what to do. I wish Georgia would come outside; she would know what to do, but she doesn’t come. JJ once told me that the walls of the bar are soundproof so no one outside can hear what’s going on inside. I guess it works the other way around too.

I look at Painter. Part of me wants to rip his head off. Instead I step back, just like he tells me to do.

“That’s a good monster,” he says. “Now here’s what’s going to happen. You’re going to pay my father a visit, and afterward I better hear that he ain’t breathing no more. I don’t care if you shoot him or hug him to death, but I want him dead, because if he ain’t”—Painter motions with his gun at JJ—“this old man will be. Capiche?”

“No,” I say.

“I’m not playing here.” He takes a step toward JJ and cocks the gun. “That first bullet just grazed him. I won’t miss a second time. You know I don’t miss. Or at least your old friend knew it…what was his name? Juan?” He laughs.

“Carlos?”

“That’s it. He was in some heavy debt to us. Normally we’d just break a guy’s legs if he owed us that much money, but with your buddy’s powers, my father thought it was just better to cut our losses and make an example out of him.”

“You killed Carlos?” I look at JJ still lying on the pavement, and I think about what it felt like to lose my brother. I don’t want to lose JJ too. They say I’m slow to do most things, and that includes getting angry, but not this time. I feel my fists tighten so hard that they’re shaking. Suddenly it starts to get hard to see anything else but Painter, and I don’t feel afraid anymore.

I don’t think he even notices. He just keeps talking. “My first shot took your friend in the head. He never even saw me. I couldn’t give him the chance to do that rock trick of his, now could I? Now I’m going to do the same to your new boss, unless…”

I run at Painter, and then it’s his turn to be scared. He points his gun at me and starts firing. The bullets tickle. I ignore them. I am usually so slow, but now I move faster than even I thought I could. I grab the gun and most of Painter’s hand. I squeeze till I hear something break and he starts screaming. It’s the second time I’ve broken someone’s hand today, but this time I don’t feel so bad. I toss him against the alley wall with a yell. Part of the brick crumbles when he hits, and Painter stops moving.

His last friend in the suit drops his own gun and holds up his hands. “I weren’t thinking of doing nothing,” he says as he helps up the man that JJ shocked. Together they run off down the alley, leaving Painter where he is.

“Are you okay, JJ?” I ask as he stands up.

“It’s just a scratch.” He picks up his cane. “Take your friend, and put him in the dumpster behind Constantine’s Bakery on the corner of Eighth and Helios. It’s owned by Vinnie the Octopus. I’m sure he’ll be very interested in the discovery one of his employees makes tonight when they go out back to dump the stale bagels.”

“Okay, JJ.”

“And, Edward…” He hesitates as he opens the bar door. “Hurry back. I still need help with that keg.”


FRIDAY’S BAR FOR SUPERVILLAINS
Written by: Adam J. Brunner
Illustrations by: Russel Roehling
Georgia

If you like this story of Georgia Atlanta and want to read more about what happens at a bar filled with costumed criminals and masked menaces, than check out the first volume of Friday’s Bar for Supervillains, on sale now, at all local Amazon websites.

“Why don’t you let me take you away from here?” says the man as he rolls a coin across his fingers. His pressed suit coat is unbuttoned, and it flaps open as he leans back in his chair. “You and I could be so happy together.”

“Come now, sugah, you know that line ain’t never worked on me,” I say as I pick up the empty glass from his table and put it on my tray.

“And yet I am compelled by your beauty to say it every time.” He winks, and the coin in his hand disappears in a flash of fire and sulfur.

“Zagan, darling, you may have been a king in hell, but up here you’re just another barfly, and this month’s tab is due.”

He smiles his wicked smile, and for a moment, I get a glance at the demon underneath. One moment his hands are empty, and the next he is holding several hundred dollars in crisp green bills.

“Now, JJ done warned you about using that funny money in here. We don’t accept no bad bills.”

His face is suddenly all innocent, as if he has no idea what I am talking about. “Georgia, darling,” he says with his best smile, which only serves to remind me of some of the men I’ve dated in my life. All of them were no good, just like Zagan. “You think I would dare swindle good Mr. Friday or you, my delicious pomegranate?”

He takes my hand to kiss it, but I’m faster than he thinks. In one swift jerk, I not only manage to slap some sense into him but also come back with his money square in my grip. All I need to do is squeeze, and the bills turn to ash, like year-old burnt paper. I watch the little bits of them float to the ground, nothing more than soot and lies. I know what’s coming next. I’ve done this dance before.

“You dare strike me?” he thunders. He’s up faster than my old dog, Bush, when he used to hear the cats scratching around out back. His chair clatters to the ground, and he has a sort of red glowing flame about him. “I am a lord of hell,” he continues. “I have killed scores of angels and men. Both the good and the wicked whisper my name in fear and awe. I am Lord Zagan, and I will not be treated—”

He’s too busy doing the old monologue to really see my fist until it lands square in his jaw. He staggers back in surprise, and that red glowing aura of his is nowhere to be seen. He’s cradling his mouth as if I’ve broken it. I haven’t. I know how to break a man’s jaw, and what I gave him weren’t anything more than a friendly tap. In the back, I see Edward perk up from his place near the door, but I shake my head at him. I don’t need no help with the likes of men like Zagan.

“Don’t give me that ol’ speech, sugah. Everyone knows you were thrown out of hell faster than a priest from a whorehouse. Now, you best get from here, before I do the same.”

“You bitch.” He rounds on me, his fist coming like he intends to do some harm. It’s a big mistake. I’ve been trained by the best, and even if Zagan is immortal, he still bleeds like the rest of us. His punch finds nothing but air, but my roundhouse, on the other hand, connects squarely with his chest. He gives off a noise like a deflating balloon before he impacts with the wall a few feet behind him. He keeps his feet for a moment but soon enough collapses like a dog in summer’s heat.

Edward is already there, bless his simple heart. He doesn’t even say a word as he picks up the fallen demon and throws him into the side alley with the trash. The rest of the villains in the bar barely notice what’s happened. Things often get rough in here, but I don’t much mind. Back in my day, I was one of the most feared women in all of Dixie, back when I was known as Southern Bedlam. But those days were ages ago.

Now I’m just plain old Georgia Atlanta, bar waitress and mom.

I smile at the thought of Owen, my son. He’s the only man in my life now, and as much as I miss the thrill of the good old days, I would gladly give it all up again. I’d do anything for that boy. I already have.

“That was really great, Miss Atlanta,” says Gil. He’s wiping up the beer and blood from the floor as I finish clearing Zagan’s table.

“Darling, how many times do I have to tell you to call me Georgia? Last time I was Miss Atlanta, it was during my beauty-pageant days, back when I was sixteen going on thirty, and I haven’t been sixteen in…well, awhile.”

“Sure,” says Gil as he stands up from off the ground. “Whatever you say, Miss Atlanta.”

I can tell the boy is sweet on me, but I try not to encourage it. He’s a nice enough kid but as wet behind the ears as a tadpole. JJ took a special interest in him, but I don’t have time to be playing nursemaid to some wonder-struck young’un. I have my own concerns in life. Even as I think it, I glance at the dirty clock on the wall and realize that I have to be at day care to pick up Owen at quarter past.

“Gil, I got to get going. You can finish up for me here, right?” I don’t even wait for an answer; I just shove the tray and empty bottles into the boy’s hand. I turn toward the back of the bar and begin to undo my apron. “And tell JJ—”

“Hello, Southern.” The voice is strong yet scratchy, as if it hasn’t been used in a long while. I have not heard it in years, but it is unmistakable all the same.

I never finish what I am about to say to Gil. I freeze midstep, my hands still fumbling with the strings of my short apron. It takes a moment to find the fellow I am looking for, but sure enough, he’s right there, sitting at a table not three feet in front of me. He must have come in when I weren’t looking. The man was older than I remember, with a shaggy growth of hair that covers him chin to nose. One of those brimmed hats is covering his face, but as he talks, he takes it off, and I see that his once-beautiful blond hair is showing patches of gray.

“Albert,” I hear myself say. I take a step back from him before I even know what I am doing.

The man stands, and now the whole room is paying attention. His frame is thin, thinner than I remember, but I know that the wiry body does not do justice to the power this man has. As he comes to his feet, his brown coat comes open, and I see the symbol adorning the tattered suit hidden beneath. It is the symbol of a fist orbited by four stars. Some of the other patrons see it too, and suddenly I hear the folks all about me whisper his name like crickets on a spring night.

“General Relativity,” I hear them say.

“I thought he was dead,” says one man.

“Nah, I heard he was doing time in some government max-pen,” responds another. But all the voices are lost to me as I find myself falling back into old memories.

The world knows him and fears him as General Relativity, one of the most powerful supercriminals to walk this here planet, or any other for that matter. Yet I knew him as the man he was, Albert Isaacs. To them, he was destruction incarnate. To me, he was the man who brought me flowers and fumbled over his words like a wide-eyed schoolboy. I suppose that for all his power, even old Albert was powerless when it came to love. For my part, I can’t be sure if it was love or just awe. The most powerful man in the world had fallen for pretty little me. Who was I to refuse?

Our lives were fun at first. With my skills as an assassin and his power, we were unstoppable. We did what we wanted, went where we wanted, and no one with a badge or a cape could tell us otherwise, though they sure as hell tried.

After a while it got to be too much. Albert was too destructive. He enjoyed killing too much, and he wanted it too much. All the things that had so attracted me to him in the first place were suddenly what scared me the most about him. After I found out I was pregnant with Owen, I knew it had to stop, but how do you tell the most powerful man in the world no? Where could I even run that he couldn’t follow?

So I did the only thing I saw fit to do. I sold poor Albert out. I watched from the shadows as the feds gassed the motel where we had been sleeping. My former lover never saw it coming. He was too busy being passed out from all the beers I had been feeding him all night long. I watched as they carried him out of the room all unconscious, knowing that the next time he woke, he would be staring up at the inside of some government holding facility. I had hoped that would be the end of it.

“Five years,” says Albert, bringing me back to the present. “The government kept me alive, but I couldn’t move, could barely think. They fed me through a tube, and I was kept in complete darkness to keep me disoriented. I was alive, but every day I wanted to die. I couldn’t feel, couldn’t hear, couldn’t see. I forgot the taste of food and the smell of fresh air.” As he’s talking, he’s taking steps closer to me. I want to move, but my training has kicked in now, and I refuse to show fear, even in the face of him.

Edward, seeing that I am in trouble, comes charging out of nowhere. Normally, people steer clear of the big galoot. He’s near indestructible and weighs more than a silo full of Mack trucks, but I know even that won’t be enough this time. With a wave of Albert’s hand, Edward just stops in place. He is suddenly under the pressure of a gravity more than thirty times that of Earth, but the big moron keeps trying to move. He keeps trying to get at Albert. I try to tell him to stop, but Edward always had more muscle than sense about him. General Relativity just laughs.

The bull of a man finally falls to his knees at about fifty times normal gravity, and at a hundred times, he is lying flat on the ground. The wooden planks around him begin to shatter under the pressure, and even the concrete foundation groans and cracks with the weight of it all.

“Albert,” I call frantically, “stop this! Albert, stop!” Edward can’t even breathe. Albert once explained to me that when gravity is that high, even oxygen weighs as much as my old Chevy. “Albert!”

With another laugh he lowers his hand, and I can see Edward’s chest begin to expand and collapse again. The big moron is passed out, but at least he’s alive. Most of the patrons decide to do the smart thing and make themselves gone. A few stand around, caught between their good sense and some morbid curiosity. It will probably be their death.

“Now wait a minute,” I hear JJ say as he hobbles out from the back. “Nobody causes trouble in my bar—” He stops. I can tell he is taking in the destruction around him. JJ was always clever and cagey, but even he seems at a loss for what to do when he sees Edward passed out only a stone’s throw away.

“Stay out of this, old man,” says Albert. “This is between me and Southern here.” He rounds on me like a mountain cat. “You took a lot from me, Georgia. You took five years of my life. You took my heart, but most importantly, you took my son. Before I kill you for what you did, I want to know where he is.”

I begin to figure how long it would take for me to make a move, but as wild as Albert’s acting, he’s no one’s fool. He’s staying out of reach, and anything I can think to do would take at least a second’s worth of time. Albert’s power works at the speed of thought, and as fast as I am, I ain’t that fast.

“Now just calm down there, son,” JJ says. “I know you think you’ve been wronged, but there’s no need to do anything rash.”

“Rash?” says Albert, and as he turns his head to stare at JJ, all the tables around us begin to float up to the ceiling like balloons at the state fair.

“I just mean to say that you’re free now. There’s no reason to go and jeopardize that. You start throwing fits, and you’ll have everyone from the FBI to every blasted member of Eternal Vigilance here. No one wants that.”

“I had to bust my way out of that government facility. They forgot I used to be military. They forgot that they were the ones who did this to me. I know how they think, and now they’re not thinking anymore. What I did to them, I’ll do to anyone who tries to stand between me and my son, including the woman I love.”

Suddenly I get that feeling you get on roller coasters or when you are in an airplane, and even though I leave my stomach where I was standing, my back lands hard against the far wall. I can see JJ similarly pinned near the dartboard. Albert just stands in the middle of it, the eye of the storm.

Next he starts in on the pressure, and I can feel it build on my chest. At first it’s like a small stone, but soon enough it’s the weight of a boulder.

“Where is my son? Where is Albert Junior?” He is screaming now. The tables are doing slow orbits around him, and everything else in the bar is rattling like hell. Any straggling patrons are nowhere to be seen, which is good because Albert is losing it. I only ever saw him like that once before, and Lincoln City was never the same after that.

“His name is Owen.” I manage to squeeze the words out as the pressure on me doubles. Somewhere far off I register the sound of one of my ribs snapping, but I am trained to ignore such trifles.

Then it’s over. I fall to the floor like a sack of beans. JJ and the tables come crashing down around me. The bar is strangely silent, and when the bells in my head stop ringing long enough for me to pull myself upright, all I can see is Albert in a heap. Standing over him is Gil, a dented carrying tray in his hands. The boy’s eyes are popped open so wide I think they might fall out of his head and land next to the unconscious General Relativity.

I’m not sure how the boy got close enough to him to do it, but he just stopped one of the most feared villains of all time. Yet all he could do was stand there and try not to wet himself. If it hadn’t hurt so much to do so, I would have laughed right then and there.

I guess even tadpoles grow up eventually.


FRIDAY’S BAR FOR SUPERVILLAINS
Written by: Adam J. Brunner
Illustrations by: Russel Roehling
superhero-movies

This week will see the release of Marvel’s Doctor Strange, the second film in the movie/comic juggernaut’s Phase 3. The beginning of Marvel’s rise to stardom and America’s obsession with superhero movies began back in 2008 with the release of Iron Man starring Tony Downey Stark Jr. and it has been going strong ever since, breaking blockbuster records and blowing the minds of everyone between the ages of 8 and 46, but especially in China. However, this is not the first time a movie genre has surged forth to capture our imaginations. Remember westerns? Well, even if you don’t you should, because the rise and fall of the western movie genre is a good precursor to what may one day happen to superhero movies…

Yippee Ki Up Up and Away
The American western genre was the premiere movie genre for much of the 20th century, starting way back in 1903 with the silent film, The Great Train Robbery. In a way it makes sense too. At the time the western defined what it meant to be American, rugged, good, and independent. It is also no coincidence that the genre changed over the decades, along with the American identity. During the World Wars cowboys were heroes taking the good fight to the frontiers. During the Cold War the cowboy became more complicated, often blurring the lines between hero and criminal, and by the time of Vietnam most cowboys had gone full anti-hero. The west changed from a pastoral landscape to a brutal and complicated place that could not be tamed. Still, by the late 1960’s the genre of the western had mostly fallen out of fashion. America had had its fill of white hats and black hats and gunfights, and the kids of those later eras moved on to admire different types of heroes.

Similarly, comic books have been around since before World War II, and have always had a steady if not stereotyped following, but starting in the early 21st century their popularity and the popularity of superhero movies exploded into major blockbuster bucks. Now every studio trying to make a name for itself is jumping on the cape and tights band wagon. Yet, before we get to that we need to look at the factors of the early and mid-2000’s and why superheroes came into mainstream popularity at all. It certainly has something to do with the rise of CGI and special effects, as well as the Millennial generation that came into adulthood about the time Sam Rami slapped a spider-man outfit on Toby McGuire, but there are other factors that contribute as well.

We cannot forget the events of 2001. 9/11 had an incredible impact on our culture and our American identity, with full ramifications that we are only starting to become fully aware of now. After those horrific events and the decade after it we were left feeling vulnerable. So we retreated to stories about heroes with extraordinary powers and noble intentions that saved us from the unthinkable things in the world. Watching heroes soar through the sky reminded us that there was good in the world, and that one person could make a difference and be the hero. In that way, superhero movies are not dissimilar to the esterns of the 1920’s and 1930’s. They are both about a lone hero bringing the good fight to the chaotic and uncivilized world of the frontier, often working outside the confines of the law. During World War I, America watched the major European powers descend into savage madness, creating no man’s lands of mines and trenches and blood. At the time westerns reminded Americans that the lone hero could go into that wilderness and come out victorious and that governments were not always better at keeping the peace than a solitary hero.

Shootout at the OK… Whatever
During their run Westerns changed as audiences changed. Tales of good vs bad or stories of the “civilized” white man vs. the “uncivilized” native gave way to stories about gritty heroes or even outright outlaws. The western genre fractured into dozens of sub-genres, including Noir Westerns, Martial Arts Westerns, Space Westerns, Spaghetti Westerns, and many more. These differences arose due to a combination of natural cultural pressures, an influx of new directors and talents from all over the world, and the ever changing face of the American audience. Cowboys became a symbol for the American dream and like that dream they grew with each new generation. Superhero movies are now moving in that direction.

Think of the superhero movies that have come out over the past six years. Ant-Man, was a Heist movie. Captain America: Winter Soldier was a Spy movie. Guardians of the Galaxy was a Space Opera. Doctor Strange will be a Magic/Fantasy movie, and Batman v. Superman was a Crap movie. Maybe it is the nature of the beast, but these tent pole genres cannot sustain the same old stories over and over again. If they want to continue being relevant to our lives and our tastes they must continue to change to suite our whims. After all, we may have started the genre of the super-powered hero because of our desire to see the good and just hero, but 15 years down the line we have changed and our need for heroes has changed. Thus, superhero movies -like the western genre before it- will change to fit those needs. Unfortunately, there is only so much the genre can bend and stretch before it eventually runs out of steam.

Phase Too Many
Marvel Phase 3 will come to an end with the maybe two-parter Infinity War in 2019, but after that, the slate is open to any possibilities that Marvel may have in store for its multiple franchises. Quite frankly, we find ourselves being a little skeptical about the future of the genre beyond that. From the outsider’s perspective it seems as if Marvel planned this far and then had a good laugh about it, as if never expecting to reach a seemingly unbelievable goal. Now that the finish line is very much within reach we have to wonder what the comic giant will do as the contracts for its biggest budget heroes expire. They are not going to quit. There is still money left on the table to grab, but as DC has shown us: the simple act of just putting people in capes on a screen only to pull in box office money is a surefire way to kill the enthusiasm of moviegoers, and maybe the genre as a whole. We want to have faith in Marvel and its ability to sustain the ever growing Jenga tower that it has created, but we are also students of history and have seen how this has turned out in the past.

We still get westerns every now and then, though they never tend to do well at the box office, even when they have Johnny Depp being culturally insensitive. The best westerns today are the ones we barely even think of as westerns, such as Firefly or Westworld. Yet, for the most part the western died because it became bloated and ultimately irrelevant to modern audiences at the time. As more Americans moved to the suburbs and cities, the frontier no longer represented the American landscape. The idea of the lone man with the gun died a slow death with the rise of hippies and free love. The audiences of the 60’s and 70’s grew apart from the western because it stopped being able to give them what they were looking for. Those ideas of the American persistence and the underdog are now expressed in sports stories; stories about the little man versus the system are better suited to political thrillers; and the idea of the American hero is now accomplished by a man holding a red-white-and-blue shield, instead of a six-shooter.

In the end, we have to remember that the superhero genre was born from the western genre. The may not wear white hats, but the heroes of superhero movies are closer to the lone ranger than we sometimes admit. This also means that the superhero genre has many of the same frailties and shortcomings as its predecessor. The field of caped heroes is becoming bloated and we are heading for a bubble bursting. It may not be today or tomorrow or even in ten years, but it will happen. We are not hoping for the end of this golden age of comic book heroes, but we must also be prepared for it as well. The attention span of audiences are fickle, and even more so now that we have social media and the Internet over-saturating everything we touch. We do not know what the next big genre will be, but our children or our grandchildren will eventually find it to be a better representation of their heroes and dreams, and then like the lone ranger, superheroes will ride off into that wild blue yonder of obscurity.

Young Justice

We’re going to level with you, on this one. DC Comics hasn’t exactly been hitting home runs the past few years. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Too Long of a Movie Title sucked worse than that time the Batmobile lost its wheel and the Joker escaped because of it. The New 52 comic reboot went so poorly that DC rebooted it again this past year, and quietly whispered a “we screwed up,” so low only Kryptonians could hear it. Even Suicide Squad, their best and halfway decent movie only gave the world a pointless plot and proof that Jared Leto has a blurred sense of reality and propriety. That is why this past week when it was rumored that Netflix was in talks to create a third season of Young Justice, the beleaguered DC fans of the world rejoiced. Unfortunately, that promptly turned out to be a falsehood taken out of context, and that may be the cruelest trick DC has played on us yet.

Gone in a Kid Flash
For those of you unaware of the existence of this amazing gift that is Young Justice, let us be the first to tell you about. If there is one thing DC has always done better than Marvel it is animated cartoons. From the Emmy Award-winning Batman: The Animated Series to the Justice League DCAU to their cartoon movies, DC has always shined when it came to animation projects. It is probably the one battleground they have yet to yield to Marvel and their lackluster Disney-esque cartoon shows. DC animation has never been shy about bringing in comic story lines, making epic story arcs, delving into characters’ darker motivations, and doing it all with visual flair. However, all of that pales in comparison to Young Justice. If you like superheroes, this is a cartoon that is so good we don’t even recommend that you finish reading this article. You should just call out sick from work, run to your Netflix, and binge the first two seasons right now… Go…

For everyone else still here, Young Justice, took established characters and made them fresh. It even did the impossible and made sidekicks fun again in a mature and well-written manner. The premise of the show is that Robin, Aqualad, Speedy, and Kid Flash start a young Justice League -hence the name- and as they go forward their roster expands and contracts as they confront hardship and triumph. This includes the expectations of their mentors, and all the complicated emotions that come with them. Young Justice has the wherewithal and the impressive ability to create a universe that feels true to DC comics, but is also compelling enough to be believable. These traits are what made it so beloved by fans. Unfortunately, studio executives thought they were the wrong kind of fans… Prepare to get mad.

Young Justice was cancelled at the height of its popularity for several reasons, but mostly because, “girls liked the show.” According to the executives at Warner Bros., serious superhero cartoons were not what they wanted. They wanted wacky and weird superhero shows like Teen Titans Go, shows that better resembled Adventure Time or Regular Show. Their belief was that boys only wanted action and fart jokes, but what put the real nail in the coffin was the explosion of avid girl fans that fell in love with the show. Young women and entire families were suddenly sitting down to watch. It makes sense, considering that Young Justice gave examples of a lot of powerful, confident, and complex female heroines dealing with issues that many girls can relate to: family, relationships, body issues, etc. Unfortunately, for Warner Bros. they were an undesirable demographic, believing that girls would not buy actions figures or other merchandise. So after two seasons, Young Justice was cancelled, even though it was succeeding in the ratings.

Robin from the Rich
As much as we enjoy the humor of shows like Adventure Time, we would also argue that it is not the irrelevancy of that cartoon’s jokes which make make it a success. We also believe that there is room on a child’s cartoon pallet for ridiculous fun and serious action. Kids cannot live on fart jokes alone. Unfortunately, this whole thing only goes to show the true purpose of cartoons in the entertainment industry, to sell toys. Apparently, it does not matter if a show has a great plot, a bevy of amazing characters, or enough heart to make a linebacker cry. It all comes down to merchandising, and that is pretty damn depressing… Also, it explains Michael Bay.

Young Justice was full of bold ideas and incredibly creative characters. It may have been too serious for Cartoon Network and the WB, but its first two seasons have now found a home on Netflix. The online streaming service has been doing a lot to create interesting and worthwhile kids programming. Over the summer they released Voltron: Legendary Defender -and we recommend that you check that out too. A show like Young Justice would fit right in on Netflix and it would be a huge boon to the streaming service, and -quite frankly- to the struggling DC Entertainment company that has not been having a good year.

All we’re saying is that you should definitely watch this cartoon. Maybe if enough people were to stream it that might convince Netflix that it was worth the investment of a third season. Either way, we promise you won’t be disappointed.

Police

“I have an 11-99. We’re pinned down,” screamed the police officer into his radio. Behind him his partner returned fire, as bullets pinged off the squad car around them. To his right a woman cradled the head of her wounded husband. When the shooting had started the officer had managed to drag her and the wounded man behind the car. It had been a crazy and stupid thing to do while under heavy fire, but that was his job and he did it without complaint.

Meanwhile, the mad man across the street cackled as he unloaded his automatic rifle at the trapped officers and civilians. The red war paint on his face was mirrored by those of his fellow gang members. They all laughed like a pack of hyenas, each firing with glee at the disabled police cruiser, the only barricades between them and their prey. The bullets were endless and each new shot chipped away at what precious little protection the officers had.

“I repeat 11-99. We need of assistance, right now!”

Then it was over. Suddenly, the guns were silent. The storm ended. The officer with the radio stood up, his handgun at the ready, but all he found were four gang members neatly tied, bound in bent steel as if the metal girders of the nearby construction site had come alive and constricted them like some great snake. Their weapons sat discarded near their heavily armored truck. In the middle of the scene stood Symbol.

The leader of the Predators gang was screaming obscenities at him as the crimson and blue clad hero held him aloft like a misbehaving child. The man’s cape ruffled out behind him as the sun reflected the light from the bright “S” that adorned his chest and the golden bracers around his wrists.

“Are you okay, officers?” he asked as he effortlessly bent the last bit of steel around the screaming gangbanger.

“We are now that you’re here.” The lead policeman stepped forward and extended his hand. His name badge read McMillian. ” Thanks, Symbol. What would this city ever do without you.”

“I’m not the one who saved those people,” he said indicating the husband and wife. “With brave men and women like you, I’m sure this city would be fine.” Symbol reached out and took the man’s hand shaking it gently so as not accidently break anything.

“Symbol, please help my Jamal. He’s hurt bad. He needs to get to a hospital,” said the female, her dark eyes looking up at him pleadingly. She was still cradling the wounded man.

“Not a problem, ma’am. Hoplite General is just around the corner. I’ll take your husband and I am sure the officers will give you a ride there.” He bent down and delicately took the limp man in his arms, and then the world became a rush of colors and wind as he shot into the air. It was only seconds before he arrived at the hospital to hand his charge off to a team of nurses and orderlies.

“Good work, Symbol,” said Dr. Lorna Danvers. Her smile was as curvaceous as her hips and just as inviting. Deep eyes, sweet smelling hair, and creamy brown skin.

“Thank you, doctor,” said the hero adjusting his small domino mask and trying to maintain some semblance of professionalism.

“Are you free later, for a hot dinner,” she said.

“Sorry, doctor, but I already have plans.”

“Too bad because I could think of some…” Her face dropped and went from playful to professional in a heartbeat. Then Symbol heard it to.

“Attention all personnel, be prepared for heavy casualties,” said the administrator’s voice over the loudspeaker. “A riot has broken out at the corner of 8th and Herodotus. The police have advised us to prepare for a code red emergency.”

“I need to go,” said Symbol.

“Yeah, me too,” said Dr. Danvers.

When he arrived on the scene Symbol could not believe what he was seeing. The neighborhood of Olympus Heights was a poor income section of the city with a large minority population. He knew it well. Several days before, a teenager had been killed by the police for pulling what was believed to be a weapon. It had turned out to be a cell phone. It was just one more piece of kindling on a fire that had been coming for a long time. Protests and demonstrations had been going on for days, and it looked as if someone had finally lit the match. People were swarming the streets chanting and screaming obscenities. Some were even throwing bricks and rocks.

On the other side the police’s riot division was not exactly doing anything to deescalate the situations. Dressed in full riot gear and with rifles and armored vehicles they looked more like an invading army than a civil peace force. The two groups were beginning to merge and already he could see clouds of tear gas begin to rise up and land among the protestors’ ranks. They clouds did nothing to deter them or their anger.

From high in the sky Symbol used his enhanced senses to watch the scene unfold. Police began arresting rioters, throwing them to the ground, threatening them with their weapons, and moving in lockstep like a Roman Legion. For their part, the rioters were just getting angrier. Shouting became screaming and screaming became hurling whatever came to hand. Then it happened, almost simultaneously. He watched the glowing red Molotov cocktail launch into the air almost at the same moment he heard the shot from the police rifle. The streets were about to turn into a bloodbath.

The cocktail exploded against a golden shield of light and burned harmlessly off just as the bullet from the rifle impacted the same wall and ricocheted harmlessly into the sky. The glowing barricade was taller than the buildings and as wide as the street. Almost instantly the world grew silent. Everyone seemed to come to their senses as if waking up from a stupor. The police lowered their rifles and the protestors grew quiet as one of the most power heroes in the world descended from the sky.

He lowered the energy wall, his glowing gauntlets taking the light back into them as he effortlessly manipulated their energy. Symbol knew that to many he was more than just a man, more than just a hero. He never liked the way some people viewed him, like a divine being, but for the moment it worked. His mere presence seemed enough to end the violence before it got out of hand. He also knew that the spell would not last for long, so he did the only thing he could think of, he spoke:

“I am sick of it,” he said starting quietly before getting louder. His powers allowing him to project his voice farther than any loudspeaker. He knew he had their attention.

“I am sick of the violence, the hatred, but mostly I am sick of the fear. That’s what all this is, fear. And fear means silence, it means assumptions, it means anger, it means stereotypes and generalizations, and most of all it means seeing the world in terms of “us” versus “them.” It means seeing a threat in every black face, or in every blue uniform. Worst of all, when you try to solve your fears through violence, they only grow and breed more fear. Soon everybody is afraid, and that makes some people feel weak. So they lash out to prove their strength, but that again just feeds into fear.

“No, we can only conquer fear by working together, by letting go of it and the hatred it creates. We can only defeat the ills and tensions of society by taking a look at ourselves and taking responsibility for the part we have played in creating the world we live in.” He took in every face, black and white, Hispanic and Asian, police officer and civilian. “Only then can we see the truth of it all and the truth of the things and people we fear the most.

“Yes, the system is broken, but we will never fix it by resorting to more violence and more hatred. In the end it should never be “us” versus “them,” or “you” versus “him,” or even “me” against the world, because those ideas just pull apart. We all have to let go of our old prejudices if we ever want to step forward and create a truly fair and just world, and we have to do it together.

“I am not saying we should forget the wrongs of the past. In fact, we need to remember them so that we can learn from them, but we also need to be able to forgive. We all have our part to play and at least some blame to share, but in the end that means we all have a lot more in common than we have differences, and that gives me hope. It means we’re all human and that we all need each other. Alone, no race, no religion, no creed, no one person is perfect, but together we are something greater.

“So I ask you to please end this now. Put yourselves in the shoes of those across from you. Try to see the world as they see it, not as you think they see it. We’re all fathers and mothers, daughters and sons, and we all have those we love and care about, but if we don’t find a better solution now than we will all lose more loved ones before this is over.”

The streets were silent. Than something unexpected happen. A single protestor dropped his bat, it clanged against the pavement as he turned around and walked away. He was followed by another and then another, until a stream of people began disappearing back toward their homes. The police remained only a little longer as if in disbelief that it was actually over. Neither side looked toward Symbol or even acknowledged his words, but he was not looking for a parade or even a thank you. It was enough that he had stopped the potential disaster before it began. It was enough for a good day’s work.

******

Hours later a tired James Malcolm returned to his apartment, carrying two bags of groceries. To most of his neighbors in Olympus Heights, James was just a typical guy, if not a bit of a loner. He worked his job at the bank, kept mostly to himself, and dutifully brought up the mail to the elderly Mrs. Warner in the apartment on the second floor. Little did they know that concealed within one of his grocery bags were two alien bracers. When James put them on his wrist he gained the phenomenal powers that made him into one of the strongest and most beloved heroes in the city. He had found the bracers locked away in a strange craft that had impacted near his apartment block. No one knew his secret, except for his long time girlfriend.

James whistled as he cooked dinner. He was exhausted from the day’s work, but happier than he had been in a long time. For once it wasn’t just about stopping some plutonium powered bank robber or punching a giant robot so hard it escaped the pull of the Earth’s gravity. For once he felt as if he had made a difference. With the stir fry cooking in the pan he took his bracers out of the grocery bag and walked them into his bedroom to lock away in his night stand, but before he could open the drawer the fire alarm started sounding.

He came running back into the kitchen to a column of smoke, and then just as the food began to burn the front buzzer rang. He turned down the flame and did his best to kick the intercom with his foot. After his third attempt he heard the sound that indicated that whoever it was had entered the building. He knew who it was and she was early.

When Dr. Lorna Danvers walked into the apartment she found her boyfriend sweeping black smoke out an open window as the kitchen’s old fire alarm continued to beep for attention. “I swear to God, James, I don’t know why I ever let you cook.”

“Maybe it’s because of my boyish charm?” he said holding the smoking pot toward the window.

“Don’t you have super-breath or something to blow that out,” she teased putting down a bottle of wine.

“You know I don’t have my powers when not wearing the bracers, and even if I did…”

“… the power comes with a responsibility. You can’t abuse it. I know.” She walked over and deftly unscrewed the fire alarm, silencing it, as she had done a dozen times before. “You know when I said a ‘hot’ dinner before, this wasn’t what I meant, right?”

James put the pan in the sink to extinguish the last of the smoke. “Yeah, well I did say I had other plans, didn’t I?” He took her in his arms and kissed her. The embrace felt good and right. “Besides I thought you wouldn’t be here for another hour.”

“Yeah, well the code red got canceled. It seems as if some idiot in a cape stopped the riots before they even began.” She kissed him on the forehead, gently and lovingly. “Good job, babe.”

James opened his mouth to suggest pizza, but there was a loud knock on the apartment door. “Who could that be?”

The knock came again, louder and more insistent. “I’m coming.” James reluctantly broke from Lorna’s embrace and rushed to the knob, thinking something might have happened to Mrs. Warner.

“It’s the police. Open up.”

James opened the door and sure enough two officers were standing their and they didn’t look happy. “What can I do for you gentlemen?”

“We had a report of smoke coming from this apartment,” said the lead officer, his name badge read McMillian.

“Oh, I was just burning the stir-fry, officer. You wouldn’t happen to know any good pizza places would you?” He asked with a stupid grin.

“Are you trying to get cute with me, boy?” Suddenly the big Irish man had his giant paws on James’ door as if he intended to barge his way inside. “Maybe we should come in and see if you’re really telling the truth about this ‘stir-fry’ business.

“That’s quite alright, sir,” he said. His mind was suddenly on the bracers that he had left on top of his night stand. If the police discovered them they might figure out he was actually Symbol. His secret identity would be blown.

“You look awfully guilty, my brother,” said the second officer. “What might you be hiding in there?”

“I’m not hiding anything, officer,” said James.

“Really?” said McMillian, “You sure it was just ‘stir-fry’ smoke that was coming out of this apartment? Since when do you people even eat ‘stir-fry’ anyway? Maybe you’re cooking up something a little more back there.” He started forcing open the door.

“No, I’m not.” James fought back, and tried to keep the man from getting inside. He knew it was stupid. He had grown up in Olympus Heights. He had seen what happens when people who looked like him resisted people who looked and dressed like Officer McMillian, but all he could think of were the bracers on the night stand.

“Get back,” screamed the officer.

“Get back, now,” screamed his partner. His hand went to his sidearm.

James finally let go of the door and McMillian went with it. He came charging in,and the world was suddenly a jumble of sounds and colors. He heard Lorna scream and the world went black for a moment. When he opened his eyes his head was pressed against the wood paneling of his floor. The weight of the man on top of his was crushing. When his ears finally stopped ringing he heard Lorna yelling the world “warrant” between every curse word she must have known.

The world was getting fuzzy and his head was feeling light, but out of his blurring vision he saw Lorna move to block the bedroom door. She must have guessed what he had been worried about. The second officer threw her out of the way, his weapon now fully drawn. “Get out of the way, ghetto trash.”

Something inside James grew desperate. McMillian was still trying to cuff him but he managed to get one of his arms free and reached out toward the bedroom. With all his might and power he took mental control of the bracers and willed them to come flying to their master. They shared a symbiotic relationship with him and would come when needed. Secret identity be damned, James needed them. He was going to show the police who he really was. Maybe then they could talk out the misunderstanding, rationally.

“Gun, gun, gun,” he heard somebody yell. Then there was a loud bang. It sounded so close, like the world was exploding next to his ear. Then everything went silent again, just like before. Except this time it all began to grow dark. What was it he had said to them. We all have our part to play and at least some blame to share, but in the end that means we all have a lot more in common than we have differences, and that gives me… hope.

superhuman

Occasionally, we here at The NYRD like to bring in experienced and knowledgeable people to go deeper into topics we can only begin to touch on. So with the success of Captain America: Civil War and our own pros and cons article on superhuman registration we thought now would be a good time to introduce our resident expert on superhumans, Lieutenant General (ret.) Walter “Skip” Overaard PhD. Skip is a professor of Homo-Preculma Studies at Wyndham Hall University and currently resides in the Marvel Universe -though he has been known to move around.

A Measured Approach to the Superhuman

Overaard
Dr. Walter Skip Overaard

I have ordered the sons and daughters of America to pull weapons on our superhuman brethren in the past. Some may recall the brief period of time wherein the President enacted martial law in response to a growing concern of the perceived threat of our homo-superior[1] citizens. I was a 57 year old combat-proven leader with over 35 years of experience at that time and yet nothing up until that point had shaken me so thoroughly to the core of my essence than to draw a weapon on a person who was saving lives.

I have seen, firsthand, the impact and effects that fear had on the American public and government and realized that I, a two star general, did not have the power to influence it positively. This operation was my last in the US Army and was ultimately responsible for my retirement. I knew I needed to do something to improve the attitudes of the American public, the livelihood of the homo-superior community, and the safety of the US government. I decided to study, in depth, our relationship with the superhuman population and to become an ambassador to their community.

I am currently a professor of homo-superior studies and I am pro-registration. This may be highly surprising. How could one seeking to serve as a scholar and ambassador to homo-superiors be pro-registration? I admit that my support comes with a great deal of stipulations and cautions that the larger community must discuss before we hastily employ any such law. But, I am supportive of the concept.

Registration at the Core
There is a powerful argument that circulates whenever a group discusses the reasons ‘for’ or ‘against’ superhuman registration. Some posit: ‘If I have to register a weapon then a superhuman should register their powers.’ The same can be said of a library card, a car, or a digital copy of a downloaded video game. This is generally unhinged by the counterargument that owning each of these things, and thus being mandated to register it, is a choice and therefore cannot be compared to something with which a person is born.

Here is where we must be careful. There is a supposition that simply because someone is born with a difference the government cannot enforce a registration for that variance in birth. I do not wish to alarm anyone with fragile sensibilities, but the US government already makes members of the population register based on (1) what they are or (2) the genetic differences with which they are born. I speak as an expert in this area as I am one who meets the criteria. The Military Selective Service Act mandates all men between the ages of 18 and 26 to register with the federal government in the event a draft is enacted for war. Noncompliance is punishable by jail time. Sound familiar?

Congress is currently debating if this should be extended to women now that all military occupational specialties are open to women within the Armed Services. However, the fact remains that we have established a requirement for a cross section of the population to register based on nothing more than the way they are genetically composed. In fact, we have had this in effect since May 18th of 1917. It was established to support and defend the constitution and the inherent freedoms provided by that document. Why must we view superhuman registration any differently than this?

However, the current bill for superhuman registration does not function in the same capacity as our Selective Service Act. The current bill is more of an ‘active’ summons for the homo-superior community rather than the more ‘passive’ Selective Service. Instead of filling out a registration card at a US Post office, mailing it to the government, and then waiting for a draft to be enacted, the homo-superior will be required to be actively checked. This is the aspect on which the public must truly evaluate registration. Not the fact that there is registration but the manner in which it is enforced and how it differs from so many other types of registration.

Active Testing
A superhuman would need to register their powers at a verified test site established by the Department of Defense. The basic information (like name, social security number, etc) is input into a database along with more complicated information related to the person’s powers. For instance, the government will be copying energy signatures, codifying power levels, and assessing other factors like intelligence, stamina, and physical strength.

This is projected to be a week long process for most, but I suspect that it could be longer for some of our truly talented homo-superior brethren. Imagine attempting to codify the sheer intellect of someone like Reed Richards. One may argue that we do not have tests that would capture the relative genius hidden inside his brain housing group, as we often struggle to assess and codify homo-sapien intellect with most metrics being imperfect and overly rigid.

Furthermore, think of how we would assess powers. I will stay on the example of Dr. Richards. The elasticity of his body and the extent he can stretch would be tested. But how far will the testing go in order to satisfy the researchers and to meet the criteria of the testing? Do we push Mr. Richards to the absolute limits? Imagine that I, as a federal agent, called you up and told you that in two weeks’ time you will report to a closed facility to do push-ups, running, lifting, jumping, climbing, and whatever else to test your physical capacity until you vomit. I doubt many readers would willingly sign up. When one envisions this scenario it becomes clear that this is not just registration but a highly invasive evaluation that the majority of the public would fight if enforced upon them.

Active Tracking
And yet the testing may not even be as invasive as the suggested tracking measures. The government would require superhuman individuals to provide their home of record. Not too harsh of a requirement. However, they must inform the government, federal and local, if they plan on moving, and whenever they arrive in a new state they have 72 hours to inform the same agencies of their whereabouts. In the event a registered person does not report in within the stipulated time, he or she can be arrested for ‘willful negligence in providing accurate and timely information on personal whereabouts.’ This is akin to the requirements placed on convicted sex offenders, not American citizens that have committed no crime.

But I think the most troublesome part of this section are the bevy of details outlining when it applies: who needs to be contacted, how the government agency will be notified, ramifications for failure to notify that agency within a certain time and so many exceptions to each rule that you need to be a genius to understand and remember it all. And though many of our homo-superior citizens have genius level intellect, it does not mean they all do. Furthermore, this law also applies to our homo-sapien citizens with homo-superior offspring. This section exceeds the level of confusion found in some variable annuity plans, and is dangerous and irresponsible to the extreme because it has the potential to put our citizen’s at risk of breaking the law without them knowing why or how they have done so.

Federalization
Last and most tantamount to the reticence of the active portions of the bill is ‘federalization.’ This term means that there would be opportunities for the homo-superior that register to be ‘federalized’ or commissioned into federal service. Plainly this means that you enter public service for the federal government (military, civil, or constabulary) which comes with training, pay, insurance, and other benefits. This is no different than joining the Marines or Air Force. Homo-superior with certain abilities could be researchers with the Food and Drug Administration or other agencies within the federal government.

This may cause chafing within the general public and our masked superhero community as it sounds like this public service is mandatory. Let me set the record straight and state that it is not mandatory to be ‘federalized.’ This is optional. However, if heroes wish to continue fighting crime then federalization is mandatory. This is tied heavily to the next core argument in the registration debate.

Unmasking
The concept of unmasking is extremely unappealing to many of our nation’s greatest heroes. There is a perception that operating with no anonymity places you and your loved ones at risk of attack from your enemies. That is somewhat understandable from a perspective of safety. But it is counter to the way this nation operates for two reasons. First, it affords the masked person anonymity that other citizens do not receive in similar professions that contain inherent risk. Secondly, it diminishes all accountability by allowing that individual to operate outside the professions or governing bodies that require training, certification, and self-policing.

The individuals that currently protect the US constitution and the citizens of this great nation do not wear masks to protect their identities. They do it openly so the citizenry knows who they are and so that the governing body can hold them accountable. This ensures they are working within the scope of that agency, be it a city police force or a federal branch of the military. Do these people run risks of having their families targeted by enemies of the state in the form of criminals or terrorists? Yes, that risk exists. So what makes a superhero more vulnerable?

First, there can be an argument made that it is an issue of scale and importance. In terms of scale the number of police officers and military personnel is overwhelming and so they are viewed as a mass and not necessarily as single entities that can be targeted. Heroes are a smaller subsection and inherently seem easier to target. In terms of importance, some might say that a beat cop or a US Marine private does not garner the same media attention and would thus not be targeted as aggressively as a powerful superhuman. The gain is greater for those who target important people.

However, I find the latter argument particular insulting, as it assumes the lives of the less powerful are not as important OR at risk as ‘superheroes.’ I scoff at this, but will address it nonetheless to place some perspective on the matter. As a Division commander in my former life, I held a Top Secret clearance, had more than 13,000 Soldiers under my command, and was accountable for billions of dollars of military grade equipment. I did not wear a mask. More to the point, in an age of active terrorism with threats abroad and within our country, we know there are people seeking to exploit men and women that are in similar situations to the one which I described. Do they operate in masks to protect themselves and their families? Plainly, they do not. They must accept the risks inherent with the responsibility of upholding the law, defending the constitution, and protecting the citizens of their community.

Accountability
For all the discussion about and outrage over establishing new standards for a group of people, most have yet to discuss that the different standards already exist. We have masked heroes acting outside the law with impunity. Registration seeks to correct this. We do not allow people to practice medicine, fight in wars, fight crime, or practice law without the training, certification, and accountability associated with those professions. It is illegal to do so and common sense for why we require this training and management by a profession or agency.

Let me present two scenarios:

A)First, a person in a mask chases after an alleged criminal, acting in the name of the law, and tackles that man in order to subdue him. Is he helping society? Possibly. This person, though he may be stopping a criminal, is acting outside of the law and committing a number of crimes.

B)Second, a masked woman conducts surgery on a man that requires a life-saving treatment. She is successful and the man lives. Is this person helping society? Yes. Is she breaking the law? In most instances, yes.

Let us suppose in both instances that the masked person made mistakes. The masked crime fighter destroys property in his chase and the masked surgeon leaves something in his patient and causes harm. Was this an honest mistake or was this person never properly instructed? We aren’t sure because we don’t know how this person was trained, let alone certified to act within this profession. Who is accountable? Nobody. We have no idea who those personnel are. Furthermore, there is no overarching body that regulates them.

For both of these scenarios we have trained personnel that already conduct these functions and who are managed by a governing body. The police officer is mandated to uphold the law by the city, state, or county and the doctor has a responsibility to his or her patients and is given a license by their state medical board. Each has been trained in the procedures of their profession and held accountable if they do not conduct themselves accordingly. The superhero whom registers can then work under an agency like the US Navy, the FDA, SHILED, or the Department of Homeland Security. The American public knows who the person is, knows that they have received training from that institution, and can hold that person and the agency for which he or she works accountable.

Final Thoughts
I urge the American public, which includes our superhuman citizens, to think very carefully about registration. It can protect both homo-sapiens and homo-superiors if drafted and executed properly. Yet, if we rush to pass a failed law we may rush to failure. If we support a bill constructed from haste and fear, we may establish a system which overreaches and hurts our relations with our neighbors. We cannot be reactionary. This is a deliberate process that requires a great deal of reflection and planning.

I am pro-registration but I understand that in order to make this work properly, we must come together as a body of law makers, homo-superiors, superheroes, and American citizens to find an equitable and wise answer for how to implement the bill.


[1] The author prefers the term homo-preculma (‘pre-final man’) when describing the relatively broad and diverse population most media has labeled as ‘homo-superior.’ First, the term diminishes the perception of a weak vs powerful, and thus adversarial, relationship between the two groups. Furthermore, it creates an implication that this new group in the evolutionary progression of ‘man’ is the last stage (albeit a long one that may take centuries) prior to the final evolution of ‘man’ into a perfect being. For more on this philosophy see Dr. Overaard’s book ‘Path to Perfection: The Hope in Mutations and the Awakening DNA.’
Captain America

The Superhuman Registration Action was the main bill passed by the US Congress that caused the Marvel Civil War in the comic books. We here at The NYRD loved every minute of that comic crossover, and some of our best debates are still over whether or not registering super humans with the government is a good or bad idea. So with the arrival of Captain America: Civil War this weekend in theaters we thought now would be a good time to get together as a staff and lay out the arguments for this fictional government mandate in our two-part series. And remember to make sure to join the debate in the comments below and let us know where you stand, with Captain America or with Iron Man.

Registration Lists
The Superhuman Registration Act forces any super human to reveal their identity to the government, even if they are not openly working as a hero or villain. That means if you are just some individual with a job, a house, and a car payment -but you happen to glow in the dark- you still need to register your name with the United States government. People want to make the argument that forcing super powered individuals to surrender their identity is equivilant to registering handguns and firearms, but there is a difference. Owning a weapon a is choice, being born a weapon or accidentally being turned into one by the bite of a radioactive iguana is not. Creating a database of super humans is not a database of weapons but a database of individuals who will find themselves on a government watch-list, many of whom who have committed no crime or done anything other than exist.

Similarly, the argument could be made that there are many instances where individual citizens relinquish their rights for the betterment of the society as a whole, but those usually refer to criminals and terrorists. Monitoring and jailing super humans just for being super human or for refusing to have their name on a watch list should not be considered a criminal act. Terrorists and criminals made choices that led them to relinquish their rights, but -for the most part- anyone with super powers did not. You could make an allusion to mental patients being forced into hospitals for their own good, but even with that metaphor patients go into hospitals with the hope of getting better. Super humans have no such cure for being what they are, thus a registration act is a permanent jail sentence or a permanent life on a government list, always being forced to carry a special ID that marks them as different.

Superhero Arms Race
It would be too easy to make allusions to Nazis and other governments that have singled out a small minority for government-sanctioned exclusion or monitoring, so instead it might be better to address the issue as it affect heroes. These are the people who choose to put on a mask or cape and try to make the world a better place, and are suddenly told that they cannot continue in that line of work unless they reveal their identities to the government. Putting aside that in the Marvel Universe the government is regularly infiltrated by Hydra, Norman Osborn, and other villains, trusting them with the secret identities of heroes means creating a list of names and leverage that could be easily exploited by even your averagely corrupt politician.

Even more worrying, cosigning superheroes to government-backed worked -even domestically- leads to several other problems. How far is that from giving the government a cache of super weapons. After all, The United States Government spent years and billions of dollars trying to recreate the super soldier program that created Captain America. So what happens when they have a ready list of super humans on their payroll? Why would they not feel tempted to use those heroes and the leverage they have over them to turn them into soldiers on foreign soil instead of just peacekeepers on America soil? Someone once said, “with great power comes great responsibility,” but it is one thing to have an individual hero carry the responsibility of his own powers. What happens when a President or a Congress get a hold of hundreds of super powered agents to use as they see fit?

Just as important, being a superhero means doing what is right. It means making tough decisions that may not always be politically savvy. Yet, under government control heroes will find themselves making decisions based upon the instructions and desires of those in power. If you start tying the hands of heroes with politics and bureaucracy, than it will be harder for them to make the tough calls they may have to make. After all, the government is not perfect. In fact, a lot of heroes get into the game because of the negligence or corruption found in local police forces. In the comics, people like Daredevil or the Falcon started their careers in order to protect their low income and minority neighborhoods, the kind of places that governments generally ignored or exploited. Yet, as government-sanctioned agents would they be allowed to continue protecting people from the corruption and ineptitude of the system they are now a part of?

What is Superhuman?
Another problem with creating definitions about people is that they are sometimes incomplete. After all, what do we consider superhuman? Are heroes like Hawkeye or Black Widow super powered or just skilled? What about Tony Stark, who has no innate powers. Maybe his power is that he is a brilliant engineer, capable of creating a mechanized suit that can do incredible things. Does that mean he is super human or not? Does he register based solely upon his Iron Man suits or upon his intellect, because if the latter is the case than we need to start giving IQ tests to everyone in America. If your IQ is above a certain amount than congratulations, you might have a super power, and you will need to register with the government and carry a special ID card. What about if you are an Olympic level runner or jumper? Suddenly, achieving mastery of a certain skill or quality might qualify you to land on a government watch list.

This has always been a classic problem whenever we try separating “us” from “them.” Where do we draw the line? And often times it is those gray areas where true problems begin. For example, in South Africa, during Apartheid, police officers would put pencils in children’s hair to check if they were “black” or “white.” If the pencil stuck then they were “black,” but if it fell out they were “white.” That meant an entire population of people was oppressed because they failed some arbitrary and ridiculous test. We do not want to make light of that terrible time in South Africa’s history by comparing it to the fictional discrimination against superheroes, but this argument is still worthy as a thought experiment. In fact, this entire scenerio was always meant to have real world equivalents.

The Patriot Act
Tragedy has a way of affecting us all. After 9/11 Congress implemented the Patriot Act, which began limiting the freedoms on all Americans. It led directly to increased airport security, internet surveillance, and even warrant-less wiretaps. These are the kind of things that would have been unfathomable even twenty years ago, but are now so commonplace we do not even recognize them anymore. It is no different with something like a Superhuman Registration Act, especially since super powered individuals are the minority. One of the reasons why the Patriot Act passed into law was because the majority of people collectively went, “It’s not going to affect me. It’s going to affect terrorists.” A superhuman registration would similarly cause the vast majority of Americans to say, “It’s not going to affect me. I’s going to affect super humans.” Yet, if we start oppressing people -any people- simply because of fear, regardless of whether it is because of their skin color or their laser eyes, where does it stop? Where can it stop? Restricting the rights of a “super human” is still restricting the rights of a “human.”

Any violation of the rights of a small and undeserving population is a violation of rights for everyone. Civil liberties are not selective. They cannot apply to one group and not another, or they are not “rights” at all. The real point of this argument is not so much about Captain America or the Marvel Civil War, but as a way to get us to talk about larger issues going on in our country and our world. Superhero Registraion may not actually affect us, but there are plenty of things that do, which we have ignored for far too long. Just remember that if the idea of a fictional government restricting the rights of people like Spider-man or Captain America is not unbelievable, than maybe it is also not unbelieveable that our real government could do it to others, immigrants, minorities, or anyone.

The Superhuman Registration Action was the main bill passed by the US Congress that caused the Marvel Civil War in the comic books. We here at The NYRD loved every minute of that comic crossover, and some of our best debates are still over whether or not registering super humans with the government is a good or bad idea. So with the arrival of Captain America: Civil War this weekend in theaters we thought now would be a good time to get together as a staff and lay out the arguments for this fictional government mandate in our two-part series. And remember to make sure to join the debate in the comments below and let us know where you stand, with Captain America or with Iron Man.

Unregistered Weapons
The Superhuman Registration Act forces any super human to reveal their identity to the government. Regardless of whether or not they operate as a costumed vigilante or otherwise they must register their names and their powers with the United States. Many may see that as a breach of privacy or liberty, but you cannot ignore the fact that there are super humans with enough firepower to blow up small cities or level mountains. That kind of power needs to be kept in check. After all, in the United States, anyone who owns a handgun or other firearm is expected to register that weapon with the Federal government. That is a law created for everyone’s safety and this should be no different. It is about creating a database of people who have the potential to hurt American citizens and threaten the American way of life.

Admittedly, the outcry over privacy and liberty is valid. However, in today’s world, and with today’s technology people are giving up more and more privacy each day. Every time you log onto a website or check your social media you sacrifice some of your secrets for convenience and safety. The Superhuman Registration Act is about asking a minority of people to give up a little privacy for the safety of everyone, themselves included. After all, untrained and under-prepared heroes can get themselves killed as easily as anyone else. It is also worth noting that the secret identities of heroes would be kept secret from the general public. This law is not about revealing anyone’s vaunted secret identities, but about making sure the government has a database of powered individuals in case of emergencies. That is not unreasonable.

Training and Guidance
Secondly, Under the Superhuman Registration Act, registered super humans would receive training for their powers. That means people with newly acquired super powers would not be alone in trying to get a handle on how to use them. This is no different than being made to complete a handgun safety course, except in this case a person would be learning how to switch on the safety for a weapon that could decimate half of Cleveland. This could save a lot of lives, especially when faced with under-aged or under-trained heroes who might accidentally find themselves in a situation that they cannot handle, such as the incident in Stamford, Connecticut.

In the comics, the Registration Act is triggered by a group of young heroes known as the New Warriors. While taping the second season of their reality show, they stumble across a group of super-villains hiding out in a small house in Stamford, Connecticut. Though the New Warriors even acknowledged that they were not up to the challenge of taking down the group of villains they tried to subdue them anyway, because they deemed it would be better for the show’s ratings. Unfortunately, among the villains was Nitro, a particularly dangerous foe with the power to explode his body with the force of a megaton bomb, and that is exactly what he did. The explosion killed six hundred people, including sixty children in the small Connecticut town. Most of the New Warriors themselves were also killed. If the New Warriors had received the proper training and the proper supervision they would have been more aware of the limits of their own powers and the dangers of  trying to engage Nitro and his fellow villains in a populated area.

Government Agents
It is also worth noting that once super humans receive training they will not be forced to become law enforcement agents of the Federal government, but they will have the option to join the Fifty States Initiative as government-backed superheroes. This has the added benefit of giving heroes legal backing when apprehending criminals. As deputized agents of the government they could make arrests and will be held accountable for any unlawful actions, such as unlawful seizures or searches. All of this means that superheroes will now be held to the same standard as any law enforcement official, the same as the police or any federal law enforcement agency.

However, this it is not just about holding powered individuals responsible. After all, as agents of the government, the United States has the resources and ability to help heroes guard their identities and even relocate if something goes wrong. It is no different than an FBI or CIA agent who has had their lives and their families threatened by a criminal organization or other threat. Witness protection for superheroes is a far more effective strategy than just putting on a mask and hoping that no one can match your cheek-bone-structure with that of the guy who is bagging groceries at the supermarket. Secret identities have always been flimsy and if heroes or super humans are truly worried about the well-being of their families they would rely on help from the government to keep them and their loved ones safe.

Second Amendment
The NYRD has argued before that the Second Amendment is not infallible, and the same goes for personal freedoms. We give up personal freedoms all the time in the name of security. If you don’t believe us just go to an airport or a sporting arena. Iron Man and his side in the Civil War are not advocating enslavement or dominance, just measured restrictions on those who are powerful enough to blow a hole in the moon. If you favor gun laws than there is no reason you should not favor Superhuman Registration. Both are designed to keep people safe, train them in the use of dangerous weapons, and even offer a government paycheck for a job most heroes were doing anyway. Why would a hero ever refuse the backing, resources, or a government sanction? After all, isn’t that exactly what Captain America did in World War II?

Utlimately, when looking at the Marvel Universe, even well-intentioned and experience heroes can be involved in incidents that result in city-wide destruction and loss of life. How often are cities like New York faced with super-villains or giant robots or other events of tragic property and life loss? Instead of having a Civil War, wouldn’t it make more sense for heroes to come together to want to mitigate those types of tragedies as much as they can be mitigated? We don’t live in the Wild West, where gunman solve problems on their own. No, in modern America we need to work together as a society, not to make an argument against personal liberty, but to make an argument for personal safety of heroes, villains, and citizens alike


Now check out the Anti-Registration Argument

Happy Hour

If you like this story and want to read more about what happens at a bar filled with costumed criminals and masked menaces, than check out the first volume of Friday’s Bar for Supervillains, on sale now, at all local Amazon websites.

“So the wall explodes, and there is plaster everywhere. The people in the inside are all like, ‘Oh my God, what’s going on?’ So, as the dust settles, I make my entrance, and I do the maniacal-laughter thing, of course, and announce, ‘I am the Mandroid,’ yada yada…you know, the typical speech. That’s when that jackass Half-Life shows up. He trashes my robot minions, and the next thing I know, I’m getting a face full of his radiation blast…I mean, come on, radiation blast. That doesn’t even sound safe. They call me a menace, but their hero is a walking Three Mile Island. If I get cancer, I am so suing his ass.”

He gets silent before mumbling something into his glass of liquor.

“How’d you get away?” I ask as I stand there, wiping down a dirty beer mug.

“Get this,” he says with a laugh. “I made him think one of my minions was wired with explosives. I gave him the ol’ ‘save them or catch me’ speech. What an idiot.”

“I didn’t think you were the bank-robbing type, Mandroid.” I pour the brightly clad man another drink.

“You know how expensive it is to have robot minions? Enhanced neural processors don’t grow on trees.”

“Say, barkeeper / I’ll take that kicker / Give me your best liquor,” calls the man from the far end of the bar.

“I think you’ve had enough, Quizzy.” I hobble down to him. It’s happy hour on a cold, wintery Tuesday, and the place is packed floor to roof. I haven’t gotten a chance to sit down all day, and my body’s paying for it.

“Nonsense. I am the Quiz Master / I won’t be ordered by some drink caster.” The man gets up from his barstool and brandishes some kind of staff that extends out from his hand. His purple-and-gold sports jacket flaps off him like a cheap suit.“Drink caster? Your rhyming is making less sense than usual. You’re cut off.” I motion to Edward in the corner.The big hulking brute of a man lumbers his way toward the bar and picks up the slender, squirming drunk like a child. He carries him to the door and tosses him out into the alley without any ceremony.

In a past life, Edward was known as Two-Ton, a third-string villain in Titan City’s supercriminal underworld. That was before he got clean and I gave him a job. When you cater to the type of clientele I do, it helps to have a seven-foot, superstrong, near-indestructible bouncer at the ready.

Of course, there were still some mishaps. A year before, some mercenary named Raymond Gunn shot up the place. He destroyed my prized pool table. Then there was the time Doomerang started a brawl with Kid Cyanide because the kid was hitting on his girlfriend, the Cougar.

Still, for the most part, everyone remained civil. They all knew my bar as somewhere they could wind down. Really, supervillains are just like anyone else. All they want is a place where they can go and forget about the world for a while. I like to think I offer that. My name is James Joseph Friday, but most people nowadays call me—

“JJ.” The voice calls my name with a noticeable squeak, and I turn to find my newest employee, Gil Laridae, backing away from the bar top with a gun pointed at his chest.

“What’s the problem, Gil?” I hobble toward him.

“I’ll tell you what the problem is,” says the small, big-headed man standing on top of his barstool. His tiny, childlike hands are clutching a firearm with the steady grip of a professional killer. “This kid asked me for ID. Don’t you know who I am, kid?”

“Gil,” I say calmly, “this is Child Endangerment. He only looks like a kid. Really he’s forty-two years old.”

“I’m forty-one,” says the hit man as he puts away his gun away. “Now how about that drink?”

“Coming right up.” I motion for Gil to pour the man a beer, and to his credit, the kid snaps out of his stupor like an old pro.
It’s always a little disturbing the first time you have a customer push a gun, or a knife, or a fully charged plasma cannon in your face, but in this business, you learn to get over it fast, or you get out. I’ve gone through more than my fair share of employees. Most quit, but a few disappeared without much of a trace. No two ways around it: you have to be tough to work in this industry.

I watch my table waitress, Georgia Atlanta, as she slaps some guy who looks like he is half octopus and half human. I guess he was getting too touchy-feely with her, as customers tend to do.

Georgia’s one of those people who can handle herself. She used to be a mercenary by the name of Southern Bedlam, but she gave it up when her son was born. She moved out west to Titan City just looking for someone to give her a chance at a fresh start. I know how that can be.

“What’s it like to be a villain?” asks Gil after he’s calmed down. The kid has an abnormal fascination with supervillainy, and that sort of path leads nowhere good. My hope is that I can dissuade him from it by hiring him on as my part-timer. I figure I can show him that it’s not all fun and grand larceny.

“It’s not anything you want to be a part of, kid,” I say as I start to tap a new keg. With a grunt I heft the large metallic cylinder underneath the bar. I’m not as young as I used to be. I wipe my hands down with a nearby dish towel, but when I turn around, he’s still looking at me like some wide-eyed kid expecting to see a parade.

“Listen, Gil,” I say, “you don’t want to get mixed up in this world. It never ends well. Look at Dr. Zirconium over there.” I motion to a large imposing monster sitting alone in the corner. Underneath a torn white lab coat, his skin is made of jagged crystalline material. “Dr. Zee was a Nobel Prize–winning metallurgist, but one of his experiments went horribly wrong. Sure, the accident gave him increased strength and skin almost as hard as diamonds, but it also reduced his intelligence down to that of a twelve-year-old. Supervillainy always comes with a price. It ain’t worth it.”

“What about you?” says Gil. He reaches into his pocket and pulls out an old picture, and suddenly I’m staring at a memory I haven’t thought about in a long time. There I am in a black-and-white jumpsuit. I have this great big mask covering my eyes and the days of the week written all over my damn costume.

I take the picture from his hand. “God, look at this. I looked ridiculous. Look at my moustache. What was I thinking?”

“You used to be Joe Friday,” persists Gil. “You used to run around with a calendar pinned to your chest. How can you tell me being a villain isn’t worth it?”

“First off, it was a weekly planner, not a calendar. Second off, I was never much of a villain. It turns out planning your schemes based around the days of the week makes you a bit too predictable.”

“But everything turned out all right for you. You’re fine…”
I don’t usually get angry, but all the questions, along with the old photo, rile me up. “Kid, I was one of the lucky ones. Some of the guys I knew from the old days—King Carnivore, the Piper, Wrecking Cruella—they weren’t so lucky. Most of them are dead or in jail. Damn, the Emerald Hood has spent the last twenty years lost in time and space. Is that what you want to happen to you?”

“No,” he says meekly.

“I was lucky. Shining Templar only broke my leg in four places when he captured me. I spent a few years in supermax and got a bum leg to show for all of my troubles, but that’s when I decided to go legit. Take it from me. Make an honest living. It’s a lot less hazardous to your health.”

I shove the old picture back in his trembling hands. “Watch the bar. I’m going out for a smoke.” I turn my back on the poor dumbfounded kid. His shocked face’s the last thing I see before the back door swings closed behind me.

My hand reaches for my shirt pocket and the other picture I know is concealed there, an old memory I can’t seem to let go of. The one thing the kid doesn’t get, and maybe the one thing I can never explain, is that the villain life leaves more than just busted noses or ruined knees. The worst scars are the ones you can’t see, the ones you never really get over.

I resist the call of the old Polaroid, the urge to revisit that dark and lonely well. Instead my shaking hand fumbles for a cigarette. I light it with one of the matches from my back pocket, and the first drag is a warm blanket. All the tension and anger drain away as I stand there smoking and watching the snowy gray sky.

It’s an old habit, I suppose, watching the skies. It’s something most villains learn to do early in their careers. You never know when some guy in a cape and long johns is going to come swinging down and ruin your day. I haven’t committed a crime more serious than jaywalking in over two decades, but I guess it’s still a hard habit to let go.

After all, there are times when I feel the urge, and the old excitement starts to kick up again. Friday the thirteenth is always the worst day for me, but I’ve been clean for too long to let myself fall back into bad habits. Besides, I’m too old to play the game anymore. A man has to admit his limitations, and I know mine.

Idly I stretch my leg. I ain’t a villain anymore. I’m just a bartender, and that’s good enough.


FRIDAY’S BAR FOR SUPERVILLAINS
Written by: Adam J. Brunner
Illustrations by: Russel Roehling

We here at The NYRD are geeks through and through, but we have often resented the fact that geeks are not supposed to like sports. On the contrary, we could not be more excited for the coming football extravaganza taking place this weekend. In fact, we are so excited about our Sunday of nacho dip, over-the-top commercials, and friendly -though technically illegal- betting, that we decided to show our love through comics. Hey, we’re still geeks.

The world of DC Comics is full of fantastic and “super” heroes, but with an equally “super” football game coming up, we here at The NYRD though it would be fun to take some of those fictional DC cities and envision what their football teams might look like. Our artists designed eight helmets, drawing from the DC Comics New Earth timeline -because of course- and they even made a few original teams inspired by some of those fictional hometowns of your favorite superheroes. Click on the gallery below to check out our newest creations as you get ready for this Sunday’s big game. See if you can spot the inspiration for each team’s football logo, and if you like what you see don’t forget to check out The NYRD Shop to find some more inspired football and DC mash ups.

Game on!

Winter is coming and you know what means, the holidays. Now is the time to check out The NYRD’s newest line of geeky and fun shirts from The NYRD Shop. For this holiday season get you and your loved ones an array of Game of Thrones/Avengers shirts. This marvelous mash-up features  the Westerosi houses of your favorite heroes. So get yours today, because if we can’t protect the Seven Kingdoms, you can be damn sure we’ll avenge them.

HRogHSHOHBanHRHBHWHFN-Shirt

We here at The NYRD have been doing a lot of soul searching. Any loss of innocent lives is worth a pause and a prayer, but being New Yorkers we feel a kinship with those who have lived through the events of cowardly and horrific acts of terror. Our hearts and our thoughts are with our brothers and sisters across the Atlantic, in the Middle East, and everywhere else there is suffering. In situations such as these it is always the “what ifs” that cause the most pain. What if someone had gone left instead of right? What if that person had decided not to go out that night? What if an attack could have been predicted and stopped? What if we had the power to never let something like this happen again?

When Gods Watch the News
So it is in these times that we often find ourselves marveling at the Man of Steel. Superman, has more power than any person could ever dream to have. His speed and strength are matched only by his heart. The boy in blue has a true desire to protect the innocent and save the world, and yet for all his power, he is a failure. Sure he will stop the schemes of Lex Luthor or the machinations of the Legion of Doom, but no one will ever be 100% safe. Crime, poverty, death, and fear will never go away even with the entire Justice League patrolling the skies of our world. Yet, it is in times of tragedy that we all wish we were Superman, if only because we want to stop the pain and the suffering, but could we really?

If we were the Last Son of Krypton, enjoying a hot cup of coffee at home in our small Metropolis apartment and we turned on the news to see the chaos of the terrorism, the poverty, and the general state of the world, what would we feel? Sure, maybe we spent the morning punching an asteroid out of a collision course with the planet, but that kind of problem is easy. How do you solve deeper systemic issues of hatred, of terror, and of greed? What would a near-god feel when he saw the state of our world? Would he feel sadness, pity, anger, or maybe frustration?

Terrorism and extremism are not things you can just punch or heat vision away. The chaos that exists, exists because we are human and because we are different and because we have the freedom to be so. Most sane people know to voice their differences in the debate rooms or sporting arenas, but there will always be that small minority -of any religion- who will try to solve it with hatred and violence. The Man of Steel can survive bullets and bomb blasts, but what can he do when he is not there to help those who cannot?

Justifying the End
It is perhaps no small wonder that most Superman comics are not about Clark Kent taking over the world and declaring himself its protector-king. It would be an almost small task for him to accomplish, global domination for the sake of saving the world. It almost sounds noble. It almost sounds sane. It is wonder that there are not more stories about superheroes going all “Ozymandias” on the world. Sure there are always alternate timeline stories, but those are portrayed as unrealistic. Maybe the truth is that they are the most realistic. After all, if Superman really cared about saving everybody in the world he would accept the burden that dictatorship brought. If he really cared he would bring the corruption, the terrorism, the death, and violence to heel, by force if necessary. He must want to sometimes. He must look at the world and have that thought cross his mind when he sees dying children and when he hears the calls of starving families.

How does the most powerful man on the planet sit in his apartment on nights where every news stations plays footage of bomb blasts, starving children, and systemic genocide? How does Ka-El of Krypton feel when he arrives too late to do anything more than help with clean up? He must sometimes think about taking control and ending it. All he would need to do is reach out his hand and the world could be his to hold and squeeze. It may not be pretty, or heroic, but it would be effective. Taking away the freedom to be different and imposing his will would ensure peace and security. It would ensure that no innocent man, woman, or child ever had to feel unsafe in the streets of their homes or cower in fear of what the morning would bring. Under the steel rule of Superman, things like hunger, war, terrorism, and even global warming could all be erased. Is that not worth any cost, even freedom?

It Means Hope
We admire the restraint of Superman, because when we watch the news we question if we could exercise it. Yet, maybe the Man of Steel knows something we don’t. Maybe Clark Kent is a reporter not to find places he is needed, but to remind himself why he can never stop trying and never stop being Superman. We like to think that he sees the truth in it all, because these acts of butchery and cowardice are not committed by the majority, but a small small minority. Giving up our freedom in the name of security is no different than surrendering to the terror that these villains seek to impose. Clark knows that the world does not need an all-powerful emperor, but a symbol of all the things that can be good about humanity. The real power of Superman is not in his strength or flight, but his ability to inspire us to be better, to make the world better. He gives us the example we strive to live up to, because he knows that the vast majority of people aren’t the bad guys and together we are stronger.

That is why we love superheroes, not because of the capes or the explosions, but because they remind us about the best of what we are. It is why we invoke their symbols and their imagery in times of tragedy and it is their examples that  give us strength to be a little stronger, a little faster, and a little better when surrounded by chaos. They are also not alone, because with any tragedy you may find very few villains but a hell of a lot more heroes. Police, firefighters, soldiers, brothers, sisters, regular people who do the right thing. Like the people of Paris who opened their doors to strangers in need on the scariest night of their lives. People like that help, not because they are superhuman but because none of us are.

Superman is not real. He can’t take over the world and fix our problems for us, but the example he gives us is real, and it is only one of thousands of examples we see everyday from good and real people. We all need to be the heroes we want to see in our lives, because maybe one day, we can save the world, together. Until then, we hold all those who have been affected by violence and terror in our thoughts.

Being a superhero is a tough and sometimes thankless job: fighting crime, battling super-villains, and constantly updating the look of your costume for every new movie. It’s even worse for LGBTQ heroes and heroines who we have yet to be featured in any of the blockbuster movies that have graced the screen in the recent decade. The small screen of television has been only a little better about featuring bisexual heroes, mostly women, but certainly not as progressive as many might like. There is a definite job discrimination going on in Hollywood against superheroes of the LGBTQ community, but maybe that just means that they are following the trends set by the rest of the country.

It is important to portray a diverse range of superheroes in blockbuster movies, not just minority or positive women heroes, but LGBTQ as well. Why is that important- which we hear you ask with our super-hearing? Because according to the Harvard Political Review, superhero movies promote and enforce social norms and roles. Due to their prominence in our cultural these modern myths consciously and subconsciously dictate the way we see ourselves and the world. Diversity among our heroes is important, and Marvel, DC, and all the rest have begun to get better about positively portraying racial and gender diversity, and Aquaman. -He has long been a target for ridicule and discrimination, but that is for another article.- However, even as LGBTQ characters are on the rise in other media and films, they are still curiously absent from the superhero movie genre. In fact, more often than not, the entire idea of homosexuality is glanced over or ignored, much like LGBTQ issues in the non-pulp fiction world.

The Unambiguously Gay Discrimination
Now we, here at The NYRD, have talked about gender identity and sexuality before, but we did not get to cover some of the legal issues and challenges that face members of the LGBTQ community. You see, even as marriage discrimination in the United States is finally at an end for gay and lesbian couples, their struggle for equality is far from over. Much like a super-villain that refuses to stay dead -even after we clearly saw him fall into that vat of acid,- discrimination always seems to return in new and different ways. The sad part is that even though same-sex couples can now legally get married, they can also still be legally fired from their place of employment due to their sexuality. Only 19 states, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia have laws that make it illegal for employers to discriminate against employees based upon gender identity and sexuality. Other states have executive orders or bans on sexual discrimination, but they are not always enough. Additionally, according to the ACLU 31 states have no explicit employment protections for transgender people. If an LGBTQ person is fired in one of those state they have no recourse fight back, save for vigilantism, but we don’t endorse that.

Last year, President Obama signed an executive order that gave employment protection to LGBTQ employees of Federal contractors, and the EEOC helps protect the rights of Federal employees, but those rights do not always extend to private sector or public state-level workers. Even worse the order could be easily overturned by President Lex Luthor or whoever will be sitting in the chair next. A federal law to amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to add gender identity and sexual orientation to the list of protected classes would be the most effective in preserving LGBTQ civil rights, but any attempts to do so or create laws that protect LGBTQ workplace employment, housing, credit, education, federal financial assistance, jury service, and/or public accommodations usually ends up deader than Uncle Ben on a bad night.

This is a surprising statistic considering 69% of Americans favor laws to protect LGBTQ civil rights, and 75% of Americans currently -and incorrectly- believe that it is illegal nationwide to fire someone based upon their sexuality or gender identity. Yet, in Congress laws like the 2007 Employment Nondiscrimination Act, or the more recent 2013 Employment Non-Discrimination Act, have either been killed in the Senate or refused to be heard in the House, respectively. This means that Senators and Representatives have actively ignored or struck down modern laws which would keep actual human beings from being fired or discriminated against due to biological urges and factors they have no control over. We are going to hum the old Batman theme song while we let that idea sink in for you… Da Da Da Da Da Da Da Da Da Da… Batman…

Extra…ño
A lot of the resistance by Republican Senators and Congressmen comes from the fact that they are beholden to a small religious subset of people who mistakenly believe that granting LGBTQ members their civil rights will somehow impinge on religious rights and freedoms. This sort of backwards argument can be seen most recently when Ellen Page interviewed Presidential hopeful, Ted Cruz, all while he his holding someone’s meat.

The interview -as frustrating as it seems- actually illuminates the thought process of a lot of the ultra-religious right. There is a victim mentality, as if people who are religious believe they will lose their freedom to fire an employee or refuse to sell services or goods to customers based upon their religion. Ted Cruz tried turning the infamous case of the Christian baker who refused to make a cake for a gay couple on it’s head. However, the main argument of that case is less valid than Clark Kent’s birth certificate. It tends to focus on the wrong elements, as if it exists in a vacuum. Even more importantly, a Colorado Court of Appeals ruled that “the act of designing and selling a wedding cake to all customers, free of discrimination, does not convey a celebratory message about same-sex weddings likely to be understood by [a reasonable observer.]”

That is really the crux of the argument against this supposed religious persecution of Christians by the LGBTQ community. After all, what if that Christian baker refused to make a bar mitzvah cake or a cake for Ramadan? -Also, yes we know that Ramadan is a month of fasting, but they can still have cake after sunset. Ms. Marvel would.- The Colorado court’s ruling basically says that offering your goods, services and/or employment opportunities to another human being, is not the same as participating or even endorsing that person’s lifestyle or religion. A reasonable observer would conclude that a business that bakes cakes for all occasions, would reasonably bake a cake for a wedding, gay or otherwise.

Now, some will always try to argue the extremes, but there are extremes for every circumstance. Maybe a Jewish baker should not be forced to make a swastika cake for a the Red Skull’s birthday party. Maybe you can fire someone for dangerous sexual behavior, but the problem with applying those arguments in this situation is that you are equating an LGBTQ person with extreme or deviant behavior. Being lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer is not any of those things, and most people, even many religious ones, agree with that stance. According to the Public Religion Research Institute 60% of all American believes that businesses cannot deny service to gay or lesbian people. In fact, even 42% of white Evangelical Protestants believe that gay and lesbian people have a right to be provided professional services, by Christian businesses regardless of religious idolatry, but in the end it still comes down to perception.

Midnighter at the Apollo
In some ways we have come far from the old stigma of gay and lesbian stereotypes. However, there is always more work to do. Being lesbian or gay still holds a connotation of being something other than normal. For a man it is equated with being effeminate, or for a woman it means being butch or manly. Our cultural norms, on the other hand, still lend themselves toward the ideals of the knight and the princess. Popular culture, in particular, still likes its “men to be men” and “women to be princesses-in-need-of-recusing-by-men-who-are-men,” and a lot of LGBTQ issues and heroes suffer because of that.

For example, when notable bisexual hero John Constantine, appeared in his own short-lived -though well regarded- network series, the decision was made to make the character straight, because it was believed a bisexual titular hero on TV might be too hard to handle for viewing audiences. As opposed to all the black occult magic and demon killing, which they thought we could handle just fine. The sad part is that Constantine’s sexuality was never a big part of the hero’s identity in the comics. It is barely touched upon, and it would have been too easy for NBC to not even confirm or deny it on the show. Instead, they “straight-washed” him much to the dismay of many LGBTQ nerds and geeks, and the problem is even worse on the big screen.

In the world of superhero films, gay heroes simply do not exist, but a one would go a long way to further normalizing LGBTQ issues in the public arena. Additionally, this obvious omission in superhero diversity is puzzling, because comics have already stepped up to the plate and tackled -sometimes very poorly- issues of gay, lesbian, and transgender characters. Northstar, was Marvel’s first superhero to come out of the closet, and despite his flaws -he’s Canadian- he is still considered to be one of the most respectable representations of a gay hero in comic history. He was even recently married in a ceremony in Central Park, and has faced a number of real and believable issues due to his homosexuality. His status as a member of the LGBTQ community does not define him as a hero, but it is a part of who he is. Also, Northstar is not alone. There are more and more LGBTQ superheroes in comics. So, how long will it be until we see one in theaters?

Bad News for Batwoman
Unfortunately, there is no hope on the horizon. Kevin Feige, in a very roundabout way, basically confirmed that there could be a gay superhero one day in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but probably not anytime soon. Iceman of the X-Men has been confirmed as being gay in several alternate alliterations in the comics, but it seems like his movie counterpart is straight and crushing on Sookie Stackhouse. Thus, barring some kind of extreme bromance situation at the end of Batman V. Superman, it seems unlikely they we will be seeing an LGBTQ superhero soon, which is a missed opportunity. Tackling these sorts of issues will be what helps move the superhero genre from frivolous popcorn movie to a forum for lasting impact.

Life and art always imitate one another, and if we are not willing to see gay as heroic than it is no wonder that they are still being discriminated against in the workplace and in our communities. Imagine how empowering it would be for a thirteen year old boy or girl, dealing with issues of sexuality, to be able to look up to a superhero and realize that being gay or lesbian does not mean you can’t be the hero, or a real man, a real woman, or anything you want to be in this world. After all, if we can’t get an LGBTQ person a job saving the world, than how can we ever expect them to get fair employment anywhere else?


Video courtesy: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC8p1vwvWtl6T73JiExfWs1g

Marvel never quite knew what to do with Hank Pym in the comics. The man changed alter-egos more often than the Hulk changed purple pants. So maybe it is not a surprise that for the movie version they went with petty-thief, Scott Lang, to be the cinematic universe’s Ant-Man. After all, he is a sympathetic character who has yet to show any history of spousal abuse. Yet regardless of who is under the helmet, the powers of Ant-Man remain the same, and if you think the ability to shrink and talk with ants is weird now, hold onto your thorax because the science gets a whole lot weirder.

Since we here at NYRD Labs have yet to see what explanation the movie has to offer for the miraculous powers of Paul Rudd, and we mean besides the spell he casts on us with those dreamy eyes, we have to rely on the comic book source material to start our fantastic voyage into the science of miniaturization. By the way, that last sentence was a pun, ask you parent to explain it.

Size-Shifting
In the comics, Pym and Lang shrink and grow due to their exposure to Pym particles. This is a fictional particle that basically shunts the mass of an object from one dimension of space to another. Thus, when Ant-Man wants to shrink down he moves his mass to a different dimension, decreasing his physicality in this one, and maybe creating some kind of freaky ball of headless mass in the other. When Pym becomes Giant Man or Goliath or Yellow Jacket -he has had some identity issues over the years- he takes mass from this extra dimension to increase his size.

Surprisingly, there is a force that might be used to help humans gain or lose mass. You may have heard of it. It’s called the Higgs-Boson particle. Jim Kakalios explains the physics behind this idea much better than we can at NYRD Laboratories, but the cliff note version goes like this: The Higgs-Boson is an elementary particle that was discovered back in 2012, and allows scientists to explore the Higgs Field. Think of this field like a tasty wall of Jello. Some particles are able to pass through it, and come out the other side with very little gelatin residue, if none at all. Thus, they would have less mass. However, other particles get stuck in the Jello, and move slowly through it, coming out encased in goo. They would have more mass. However, even this example is a bit simplistic and misleading -insert Bill Cosby joke. Just because a particle has more mass does not mean that it is larger, just denser.

We can think of a Pym particle like the Higgs-Boson, but for some reason the Pym Field is able to reduce the physical size of particles that passes through it, not the mass. Really, that is an important distinction, because part of Ant-Man’s power is his increased strength relative to his size. If Pym or Lang were to lose mass as they shrank they would be even more fragile than their insect namesakes. So, Ant-Man would need to be able to shrink in size but not lose too much mass, and that would help explain how he keeps the strength of a normal human, even when he is an inch and a half high.

Unfortunately, most atoms are uniformed in size. They are governed by a set of constants such as the mass and charge of the electron and Planck’s constant. Dr. Pym would need to find a way to overcome these restrictions if he really wanted to shrink all his atoms down to the size of a dime. Nerdist sat down with Dr. Spiros Michalakis, a quantum physicist at Caltech, and science adviser to the movie Ant-Man. Dr. Michalakis seemed reluctant to give too much away but he did hint that we should think of it like satellites above Earth, some of which probably say Stark Enterprises on them. Since the electron cloud and the atom nucleus are one system, you could increase the mass of the electrons and decrease their orbits, or what is called their Bohr’s radius. This would shrink the atom, but allow it to keep the same relative potential energy. What we are really saying is that it would be theoretically possible, but let’s just say for right now, in comparison, Thor is looking less farfetched.

That is mainly because there are a multitude of problems that come along with this idea of quantum shrinking. First of all, Pym and Lang would not be able to breathe. Just because their own atoms have shrunk down, does not mean that the atoms in the air particles have. In essence the oxygen around them would be too big to breathe. They physically could not fit it in their lungs. Lungs at such small sizes are impractical. In fact, ants themselves breathe through openings in their abdomens called spiracles, which is much more efficient at smaller sizes.

Ant-Man would also have a problem with overheating. When we do activity and sweat, our bodies heat up. Thankfully our skin is a large organ spread out over our entire body. If you were to stretch out the skin of the average adult, it be about 22 square feet and weigh 8 pounds. Blood vessels all over your body are constricting and opening to regulate your temperature and because your skin is so massive it has a lot of surface area to work with in terms of heat dissipation. Heat can be distributed and removed more efficiently over the large area of your skin. When you shrink, you lose a lot of space for that excess heat to go. It’s probably why you don’t see ants running sprint races. At ant-like sizes poor Paul Rudd might get overheated even after only one lovable but zany antic.

Lastly, but most importantly, When Pym and Lang shrink their density increases. Shrinking down to their size would mean they would have the equivalent density of a dwarf star, which is a lot of matter compacted into a small area. Essentially, Ant-Man would become so heavy he would literally fall through the Earth, pavement, dirt, the Earth’s crust, etc. They planet not be able to physically hold the weight, let alone whatever poor ant Lang choses to ride on. Gravity would pull him down quicker than the box office ratings of Green Lantern.

The movie will explain these problems away by saying that the suit that Lang wears is able to provide oxygen, regulate body heat, and who knows what else. Mostly, because a movie of Paul Rudd making cute comments as he slides further and further down through the Earth would probably make for a dull movie, or at the very least an Adam Sandler movie.

Talking with Ants
Even more interesting is the potential ways Lang and Pym could communicate with the ants. Again, we at NYRD Labs are not sure how the movie will explain this power, but we can take a few guesses. Ironically, of all of Paul Rudd’s new found powers, including how he can keep his hair so smooth and silky looking even during action scenes, this is one is the least farfetched.

Ants do talk to each other. In fact, they follow orders just like good little soldiers. Ants scrape their legs across their abdomens to create sounds which they use to communicate with other ants. British and Spanish scientists placed 4mm microphones inside the nest of 400 red ants, because in Europe ants have no right to privacy. What they discovered was that the sounds created varied depending on what was going on. The scientists were even able to play sounds back to the ants and watch them respond. Any sound made by the queen usually caused an en masse reaction: march, attack, etc.

All Lang would have to do would be to reproduce the queen’s sounds to get armies of ants to obey his commands. Unfortunately, he would also need a full vocabulary of commands and words, and we have been experimenting on ants for years and we still don’t know how you tell an ant to fly in formation or spin a coin. Admittedly, we have not moved very far pass the magnifying glass/sun test, but we are applying for more funding.

Additionally, Ant-Man would need to create chemical pheromones in order to identify himself to any ants he would like to control. Each colony uses different chemicals to mark themselves, like flags on a battlefield. We are not being cute with that analogy either, that’s Paul Rudd’s job, ants literally have wars between themselves, much like humans. That is why it would be so important for Ant-Man to mark himself with the correct pheromones before trying to communicate with an unknown colony of ants. They might mistake him for an enemy soldier and attack him rather than help him.

Our Findings
All and all, Ant-Man may not be the best known member of the Avengers, but he is no less formidable. His size shifting powers along with his increased strength and agility mean that he can walk right up to people and sock them in the nose before they even realize he is there. It is only a bonus he can talk with ants and use their own flight and tunneling abilities to move quickly though heavily guarded areas. Shrinking to smaller and smaller sizes means that Ant-Man might even have to potential to reach the quantum level where he could potentially mess with the laws of the universe, and then things would get really freaky, but we are personally hoping the movie is not going to go in that direction.

Sufficed to say, we here at NYRD Laboratories cannot wait to see this superhero portrayed on the big screen. We will be there on opening night, even if the theater is sold out. We have ways of sneaking into places. So, if you feel a slight tickle on your shoulder while in the theater, please do not swat at it. It might be once of our scientists just trying to get a better view of the screen.

“Genius. Billionaire. Playboy. Philanthropist. ”

That’s Tony Stark in his own words, a man who never shies away from immodesty. With one statement he basically claims that he has hit every mark of modern-day American success. He’s smart, wealthy, has a rock star-like sexual prowess, and is a humanitarian, but is that all he really stands for? With the conclusion of Avengers: Age of Ultron, and the building anticipation of Captain America: Civil War, it seems like as good of a time as any to try and understand who really is the man behind the iron armor.

CEO America?
When people think of a superhero that best represents America, Iron Man is not always at the top of the list, but the truth is that Stark and his alter ego represent aspects of this country as much as anyone else carrying a star-spangled shield. First and foremost, Tony Stark is a capitalist, and there is nothing quite so American as that.

A billionaire industrialist, Anthony Edward Stark and his family made their money from weapons’ manufacturing and technology. Even once Tony made the move away from arms dealing he never lost his company or his wealth. In fact, the first Iron Man debuted in 2008 during the American recession, when over 7% of Americans were out of work and floundering for money. Yet, we cheered on the wealthy Stark all the same, because that first movie is basically a tale about how Tony must make himself worthy of his family’s company and wealth in order to prove that he is more than just a genius trust fund screw-up. It is like a version of the American dream, the self-constructed superhero. At a time when so many of America’s wealthy were practicing immoral acts against the public, it was nice to see a fictional one who was trying to do good. Iron Man was an idealized capitalist, but that has always been a basic fact of the character.

The best comic heroes are icons of something greater. For Tony Stark, his comic came along at a time when the “First World” was struggling against the evils of the “Second World,” the Cold War. Stan Lee designed Iron Man in 1963 to be the “quintessential capitalist.” He was designed to be a businessman and a weapons manufacturer. At the time capitalism was in direct opposition to communism, and Tony came to represent everything that struggle had to offer. Stark fought villains like the Mandarin and the Red Dynamo, using his wealth, and his technology to save the world, but if Captain America is a symbol of American ideals, than Iron Man has become a symbol of America’s pragmatic reality.

Ever since the end of the Cold War, our favorite shellhead has found himself floundering for villains to fight and most of the time he ends up being his own worst enemy, whether through alcoholism or blind ambition. If that sounds familiar, then congratulations you have been paying attention over the last thirty years of global politics. In modern times, Iron Man now represents more than just capitalism. He represents an America that is continually falling toward unfettered security. Of all the Marvel heroes we have seen on the big screen, Tony Stark has been the most dynamic. Captain America is a good guy, Bruce Banner had rage issues, Thor is a god with family problems, but Tony has shown the most growth, and not always for the best.

An Armored Allegory
As stated earlier, Iron Man was about Stark proving his worth. By the beginning of Iron Man 2 Tony was flying high. People loved him like a celebrity, and his enemies hated him like a devil, but most were too powerless to do anything about it. Technologically, he was so far beyond them that none of them could even begin to challenge Iron Man. The CEO of Stark Industries even gave the finger to Congress in a cinematic scene that would have made Ayn Rand stand up and cheer. The movie ended with Stark defeating some personal problems and some soviet sins from his family’s past, but Iron Man was still on top of the world. He was literally the world’s only superpower, like America after the Cold War. Times were good.

The Avengers changed all that. Tony was no longer alone and suddenly he faced a tragedy in New York City that completely shook his world view and his faith in himself. In the end, he saved the day, but he was never quite the same again. Iron Man 3, was about a new Tony Stark who suffered from panic attacks and became so obsessed with security that he built several dozen new Iron Man armors, new security systems, and even automated his suits to protect his home. Yet, when threatened by an enemy carrying out terrorist attacks, he blindly and immediately jumped to a stance of false bravado and strength. He paid the price for it as his technology failed him, and we learned that the terrorist he thought was his enemy was in fact nothing more than smoke and mirrors to hide the real threat presented by a fellow CEO of a powerful corporation that had been pulling the strings on both sides of the war.

In a way, this country has built more suits of armor than anyone else. Since 9/11 The United States has spent nearly 800 billion dollars on homeland security. Our own tragedy in New York has changed us, and given us justification to do as much harm to ourselves as anyone else. Stark has mirrored the American journey from the Cold War to the present almost precisely, the bravado, the fear, the heroism, the celebrity, and the wealth.

However, he is also coming to represent what the future of what America might become, if we keep on our current path. If Tony in Iron Man 3 represented the USA in modern times, than his role in Avengers: Age of Ultron represented what we could be in danger of becoming. Tony creates the Ultron Project to “put a suit of armor around the world.” He shows a favoritism toward security rather than freedom, and unsurprisingly it is an initiative that ends less than stellar for the Avengers and one small European country. This is a trajectory that promised to only increase in captain America: Civil War, where Tony’s fear and pragmatism will directly conflict with the old American idealism of Captain America.

Iron man Chart

Great Iron Men of History
Part of Mr. Stark’s problem is his capitalistic tendencies. We would not go so far as to say that he fits the bill of Ayn Rand’s ideal hero, but he does seem to prescribe to the Great Man Theory of history and culture, where all the world’s history is nothing more than the biographies of great men, one of which is Tony himself. He sees himself as the savior of the world, and that is something we cannot always fault him for. We have watched the struggles of Iron Man for more than five movies, and each step he has taken is incremental and almost understandable considering what he has faced.

America has taken a similar journey, and so often we see it as our duty to be the world’s policeman, but our power is fading and paranoia is starting to take hold. Like Tony Stark we have gone from an invincible technological superpower to a country willing to sacrifice freedom for safety. It is also worth mentioning that at the end of Iron Man 3, Tony literally had his heart removed, the very heart that made him Iron Man in the first place. The symbolism of that is about as heavy-handed as you can get.

Thus, the stage is set for this greater conflict of Civil War, but also for some real-world tensions that have sat at the core of our nation. The issue of this coming conflict will be between more than just two titans of Marvel comics. Is our modern system mutually exclusive to a idealistic belief in total personal freedom and equality? Have we allowed our own fears and ego to drive us to become something we no longer recognize? We are not the villain, but we may need to confront the fact that we may no longer be the hero either, at least not a hero like Steve Rogers.

Captain Idealism and Iron Reality
Calling Captain America an allegory for anything is almost an understatement less subtle than taking a red, white, and blue shield to the face. Yet, what a lot of people do not understand is that Cap is not really a representation of America as a whole, but a representation of an idealized America. He doesn’t represent the government, or the Army, or even democracy. Instead, we should look at Steve Rogers as a walking Bill of Rights: freedom, liberty, and equality.  He is not a cynic, nor is he a satirized symbol. Captain America is genuine, at least as genuine as his own belief that all men are truly created equal, regardless of race, color, religion, or even nationality. It is a trait he demonstrates in both comic and movie form, most notably by dismantling SHIELD when he sees them as having too much power over the ordinary citizen. In Avengers: Age of Ultron, it is Cap that first lends a voice of understanding to the Maximoff twins, even when he still thinks of them as his enemy. He does not revel in war, but understands its necessity.

Civil War will not just be a battle between two friends, but a battle between ideals: order versus freedom, safety versus privacy, and our new American reality versus our most sacred beliefs. Each side will have a point, and if done right each side will not be entirely wrong. If nothing else, we hope it is a movie that will spark debate among audiences, and not a debate about who is stronger physically, but who is right in their judgment.

It will be easy to paint Stark and his arguments as the villains, after all Captain America represents the best of us, the ideal we want to live up to, but should we always live our lives in a world of ideals? Iron Man would probably say that he sees people as they truly are, and he believes he is doing the best he can for the world as it stands, not as he hopes it will be. Is that wrong? There are no easy answers, and we each must struggle with them for ourselves.

Both Stark and Rogers represent different Americas, but the current conflict will be as much about their disagreements as it is about what our country will chose to become. The United States is still a young nation, and its role both domestically and in global politics is always changing. We live in a time of turmoil where technology moves faster than moral progress, we strive between our ideals and our fears. We are a country founded on opposing forces, liberal and conservative, security and liberty, democracy and capitalism. They all pull at each other like an arc reactor fighting to pull shrapnel from a wound, but much like that arc reactor these forces also act at the heart of our nation. They keeps us going and force us to continually confront the future with new and evolving ideas.

We can all picture the iconic scene of when Clark Kent takes off his glasses or when Peter Parker puts on his mask. Secret identities are a part of superhero lore, as much as capes and snappy one-liners, but is the concept of a dual-life quickly becoming something that is too fantastic to believe, even for stories about men who can fly?

In a modern era where, according to a 2014 Pew Research survey, 58% of all adults 18 and older are on Facebook and 87% of all Internet users between the ages of 18 and 29 use Facebook, is the concept of keeping anything secret becoming as outdated as the concept of the Daily Planet? After all, you can look up any two words on the Internet and get some kind of hit. How hard would it be to Google “Peter Parker” and “Spider-Man” and have two-thousand entries appear? He is always taking all those pictures. Even worse, the majority of people in 2015 would probably scoff at the idea that organizations like the CIA or SHIELD would have no idea of the links between heroes and their civilian counterparts. How long would it take the NSA to trace the search history of “How to build a web-shooter?”

Nick Fury is Watching
Thanks in no small part to Edward Snowden we know that organizations like the NSA and Britain’s GCHQ have been logging the Internet searches, keystrokes, text messages, and phone calls of literally millions of people around the world. According to the NSA’s own April 2013 slideshow for their PRISM program, the government surveillance organization had been collecting data including emails, chats, videos, photos, file transfers and more, from major providers including Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, and others. Though much of the activity was aimed at foreign communications using American telecommunication networks the truth is that there is no real way to decipher the emails of American citizens versus foreign extremists. Yet, despite the epic level of this Lex Luthor-esque system of surveillance, perhaps, even scarier was the fact that that these 1,984 violations barely registered a low roar of surprise from the American populace. Maybe it is because the evidence only verified everyone’s already suspected fears, we have no more secrets.

Another Pew Research study found that only 42% of Americans were willing to discuss the topics of the Snowden-NSA story on Facebook or Twitter, despite the fact that 80% of American adults agree or strongly agree that we should be concerned about the government monitoring phone calls and Internet conversations. The kind of picture that these types of statistics paint is of a population who fears speaking out of turn on the Internet, because Big Brother might be watching. This also comes from people who openly share their food, workout habits, and embarrassing drunk pictures. Maybe we have no true expectation of online privacy, either from the government and from one another. Maybe we willingly gave it up in the name of convenience and ego. After all, federal organizations are not the only ones collecting data on us.

Lex Luthor is Watching
Major corporations from Google to Walmart are following our digital footprints in order to better target their marketing. Companies use behavioral tracking in order to promote their products directly to consumers who match their target profiles. This data includes your location, your spending habits, and even your health and life situations. Your computer and your phone are constantly sending out information about you. Certain apps on your phone are even programed to send out updates to companies whenever you connect to wifi locations. Businesses can predict when you are getting married, having kids, going to college, and even getting a divorce. Consumer data companies make trillions of dollars selling personal information and histories to major brands around the world. In other words, if Bruce Wayne started buying batarangs or cowls in bulk online, chances are that Target would figure out who Batman was before the Joker ever did.

All of this means is that maybe there are no masks left to hide behind. Maybe this is a surveillance state of our own making. After all, teens are sharing more personal information about themselves today than ever. In a survey conducted in 2012 compared to one conducted in 2006, 91% of teens in 2012 posted photos of themselves, opposed to 79% in 2006. Teens also proved more willing to share their school name, hometown, and email address online. 20% of teens surveyed in 2012 were even willing to share their cell phone number, as opposed to just 2% in the 2006 survey.

The eighteen year olds entering college this year were seven when Facebook was first invented. The fourteen year olds entering high school this year were three. To them email is something that they use to answer messages from their grandparents, and even Facebook is a tool of their parent’s generation. Yet, they still use it, and the typical teen has 300 friends and 79 Twitter followers. They are constantly connected, they live in the digital world as much as the real one. Everything they do in one world is reflected in the other, and to them that is normal. On the other side, if someone is not on a social network, they might as well not exist. Even Facebook has a Twitter account and Twitter a Facebook page. Does that mean that the next generation just has no expectation of privacy, no understanding of the importance of a secret identity?

Losing the Mask
In the golden age of comic books, secret identities were more believable, but today, in the golden age of social media and digital intelligence gathering, the idea is become has less and less so. Marvel has all but abandoned the concept in their cinematic universe. It all started with Tony Stark’s declaration, “I am Iron Man.” In fact the Daredevil Netflix series is the first time the audience gets to meet a hero who has to worry about his dual identity. Even the DC movie universe has begun to flounder on the idea. It takes Lois Lane all but ten minutes to figure out Clark Kent’s identity in Man of Steel, and we don’t question it. In fact, of all the sins committed by that movie, that was not one of them. Lois Lane is a crack investigative reporter, and it has always been completely unbelievable that she was never able to connect the dots on the biggest story of Metropolis, considering the clues were right under her nose. Yet ditching the idea of secret identities is both a little worrying and a little sad.

In a way the Internet has given everyone a mask to wear, a new face to present to the world, but now our lives, our bank accounts, our nude bodies, and even our innermost opinions can all be Googled. With cameras attached to the hips of every man woman and child, with facial recognition software so common that Facebook uses it to identify your friends in photographs, and with a youth culture who is growing up with their dirty laundry forever memorialized on the Internet, are we heading for a future where the most any of us will be able to hope for is 15 minutes of anonymity?

The real truth of the matter is not that the general public has not given up on their privacy. In fact, 93% of adults want to be in control of who receives their information. Even the younger generations are not blind to issues of privacy. 57% of teenagers surveyed reported that they did not put something online for fear of negative repercussions, and 60% of teens have their Facebooks set to private. As a population we do still care about maintaining our own secret identities, but we keep seeing a world where it is easier and easier to fall into the traps of convenience and data tracking programs, corporations, and even the government. People have not stopped caring, so much as resigned themselves to the inevitable. It is understandable. In a world where every celebrity has a leaked photo of their genitals, 1 in 5 Americans will have their ID’s stolen, and where Goggle and our phones begin to predict our daily schedule, it is understandable if we feel powerless.

A World Without Heroes?
Maybe that is why our only heroes are the ones left on the silver screen and in comic books. Without any masks our society has lost a belief in heroes. Anyone who does something good and noble today, will ultimately have their dirty laundry aired for all to see tomorrow. It is as inevitable as Aunt May’s next trip to the hospital, and that is the worst part of all this.  We forget that the purpose of secret identities in comic books for people like Batman and Superman was to ensure that they were seen as symbols of justice and hope, rather than as normal men. Our society needs heroes. We need symbols and when you pull away the mask the human underneath can never live up to our expectations.

Even worse, for people like Spider-Man a mask helps protect those he loves from reprisals from super-villains and other elements of the criminal underworld. In a world where Internet commentators are hacked and threatened, with alarming frequency, maybe that does not seem like such a crazy idea. We are not saying that everyone who wears a mask is good. After all, for every activist there is a troll lurking. For every anonymous donor there is a flame war brewing, but for every comment of hate and cyber bullying there is also a message of hope and pictures of kittens, and people willing to do what it right for one another. For every Green Goblin there is a Spider-Man. Oscar Wilde once famously said that, “Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth,” and that is true for both heroes and villains, but that is a choice everyone should be free to make for themselves.

Privacy, both online and IRL is one of the backbones of our freedoms. Secret identities give us the ability to be something more than human. We can become a symbol and a voice for change. Once we lose our digital mask, that ability to transcend ourselves, we may never get it back. However, if the Internet does finally strip us of our masks, whose face will we bear for all the world to see? Are we really Bruce Wayne or Batman, and can either exist without the other?

Regardless, we need to take great care to guard what little identities we have left. Once you stand up and declare, “I am Iron Man,” you can never take it back. Just ask Tony Stark.

Bruce Wayne is a racist, there is no easy way to say that. Now before you run to the comment section below, let us start by saying that we are not indicating that Batman participates in active racism. He does not go around and beat down African Americans in between solving the Riddler’s puzzles. No, we are talking about how Bruce Wayne has enjoyed a certain level of privilege all his life. As a member of the Wayne family he was born wealthy. Even as Batman he enjoys the fruits of his family’s position. Yet, more to the point he is a white male, and there are more than a few perks to falling under that classification.

A Two-Faced Perspective
A lot of people will want to immediately protest that last statement. After all, when a real conversation about race starts the majority of Americans tend to shut down or shut out the facts. Thus, a white kid living in poverty is not going to instinctively see the inherent bias in our system, because of his own personal struggles and perspective. We experience the world through our own lens, whether you are Gotham’s billionaire son, a British manservant, or the black guy who makes all of Batman’s technology. Statistics rarely convince detractors, but we are going to hit you with some of them right now anyway. According to a recent 2014 poll, 40% of white Americans still believe that race relations in America are ‘good,’ as opposed to 35% black Americans. This statistic is down over the previous year, because of obvious recent events, but it still shows that a portion of America is unaware of the divide that exists even today in our nation.

The problem is that most Americans think of racism as something that happened in black and white photos in their history books, and fail to recognize that it is still reflected in the inherent inequalities within the system we live in. Thus, even if the caped crusader is not be an active racist, he still enjoys a level of comfort and position built upon the backs of institutional racism and prejudice that stretch back before the Civil War. Racism exists, not always in the actions of one race toward another, but as a historical ghosts that echoes through the halls of our schools, jobs, Arkham Asylums, and even government. It even clouds our perceptions and subconsciously directs our actions and feelings, like some long remembered childhood trauma that happened one night in a dark alleyway outside a theater.

For instance, Marvel has been taking a lot of flak about its lack of diversity in casting. Among the major discussions happening is the absence of Miles Morales as the new Spider-Man. Instead, Marvel is once again going with the white male role of Peter Parker. It is great that people are clamoring to see the racial diverse Morales take the place of Peter Parker, but what is not so great is that there is no talk about doing the same for Batman. Spider-Man and Batman are being rebooted into larger universes, and both on the heels of previously solo franchises. So why don’t the arguments being made for the racially diverse version of Spider-Man apply for an African American Batman? Is it because DC has no idea what they are doing? Yes, but it might also be because Spider-Man is a poor kid from Queens while Batman is a rich socialite from Gotham City. Of those two, which do we naturally assume to be a minority?

The Riddle of Racism?
Racism, is a belief or doctrine that inherent differences among the various human racial groups determine cultural or individual achievement. More to the point, it is a belief that has informed the way our society has been constructed. An often used complaint among white culture is that Black Americans receive the entire month of February for their history, but white people do not receive a similar month. That is true, but it is also a very limited perspective born from a lack of historical context and the fact that our fleshy bodies only last about eighty years. As humans we have a very small window to view the world, so for some it can become harder to take a more universal approach. People who see things such as Black History Month or affirmative action, are only seeing a small part of the story, devoid of context. It is like watching Batman punch the Joker without having any prior knowledge of the two characters, and getting angry that, “a crazy man in the bat outfit is punching a defenseless clown.” The truth is that we need to recognize that most of our history has been written from the white male perspective, and that perspective has become part of our instinctive understanding of our culture and ourselves operate, and that is the underpinning of the problem.

The practice of colonialism meant that white Europeans spread their dominance over most parts of the world and actively usurped local history and accomplishments with those of their own race. It helped remind locals who was in charge and made them feel inferior so as to not challenge the rule of the colonizers. In America, white culture and history was made superior to that of blacks, first to justify the economical system of slavery than to further the prejudicial system and non-integration. In modern times, those systems, set in place so long ago, still exist today. Our lives, our actions, and our nation does not exist in a bubble that is separated from history. Those past systems still inform the way our culture and society works.

There are plenty of statistics that confirm this. According to the APA, Black children are 18 times more likely to be sentenced as adults than white children, and make up nearly 60 percent of children in prisons. Black college graduates are twice as likely as white college graduates to struggle to find a job. The sentencing project found that on the New Jersey Turnpike black drivers make up 15 percent of drivers and more than 40 percent of traffic stops and 73 percent of arrests, but that they break traffic laws at the same rate as whites.

Success is built on success. Bruce Wayne inherited his wealth from Thomas and Martha Wayne. White people have had the power since colonial times, and they have passed that power down to their sons and their grandsons. Laws and systems were put into place to strengthen the ability of white people to subtly profit over minorities. Neighborhoods arose as did ghettos, segregated by race, by wealth, and by choice. With those neighborhoods arose adequate and inadequate school systems, gang violence, and extracurricular activities. People grew up different, with different attitudes and different ideas about the world. Some felt repressed and came to believe that they deserved to be, because society confirmed it. Others rose to acquire wealth and prosperity, which they passed on to their children, even after they were gunned down in an alleyway. Bruce Wayne is not prejudiced, but he did benefit from a system of racism. After all, how many parents are gunned down in minority neighborhoods, and of those, how many of those children grow up with the means to become Batman?

A Bane to Real Discussion
This is an incredibly hard topic to talk about, especially lately. It polarizes people on both sides. White people do not want to be seen as racist, and so instinctively they will flat out deny the problem and often shift blame to others. In New York, Hispanics and blacks are three times more likely to be stopped and frisked by police. Many white people will look at that statistic and say, “those people should not be doing what they are doing or walking where they are walking or acting how they act and they won’t get stopped.” Or they say that those particular police officers were racist, but that is not the whole story, because passive racism can be just as pervasive and even more damaging. It is old ideas informing not our thoughts but our subconscious understandings, until they become so pervasive we accept them as normal.

The human mind makes associations, it was how we evolved to survive in the wild, but we are no longer a tribal society hunting elk for food. So those prejudices have come to inform our government, our businesses, and the way we treat one another. Yet, because we want to see ourselves as evolved and enlightened we tend to reject those actions or mark them as isolated incidents. In a sense we become Two-Face and our brain literally goes to war with itself over the concept of racism. When that happens we don’t flip a coin to solve it. Instead, many of us just shut down on the subject all together. We say, “it’s not our problem,” “or that we aren’t racists,” or that “we didn’t cause it.”

A Signal in the Sky
Bruce Wayne is a racist, but he is also Batman. The Dark Knight knows something that a lot of other people do not. Just because you are not directly responsible for something, does not mean that you are not responsible for cleaning it up. Bruce did not create the crime and the poverty and corruption of Gotham, but he understands that he is responsible to be part of the solution to it. He could just as easily go on living a privileged playboy lifestyle,  but instead he becomes Batman because he has a responsibility to use his wealth and power to help those around him make the world a better place.

For white people, you have never owned a slave, at least we assume you never did. You probably never participated in active discrimination, you may never even have made a racial joke, but you are still a racist, not because you did something but because you refuse to do anything. You did not create this problem, but you have the power, the position, and therefore the responsibility to help fix it, because it needs fixing.

Racism still exists. We have come a long way, but the journey is not done. Everyone born now, was born closer to that proverbial mountain top, and it is human nature for us to look back at the long and rocky road and say, “look how far we have come. We have succeeded,” but the truth is that we have not yet reached that fabled peak. There is still more to climb. There is still a lot of difficult road ahead, and we are all responsible for getting there. Racism is not an issue for just minorities, it is an issue for all us. No one who lives today started this problem, but, like Bruce Wayne, we are all responsible for cleaning up the streets of our own personal Gotham City. It is up to us, because we are all Bruce Wayne, and that means we are also all Batman.