pyrrhic

“I like your costume, Gill,” said Savannah Atlanta, “…err sorry, Seaguller.” The balaclava around her mouth muffled her naturally sweet tone, giving her the menace of a much older assassin. Her red hair was dampened by the cold and wet Titan City night. It seemed like everywhere else spring had sprung, except for that one rooftop above the dark streets of Daedalus Heights.

“Thanks,” I said, not knowing what else to say, nervously twisting my cape of white feathers in my hand. It was the third such cape I had made in so many months. “Your new uniform is nice too.” Her eyes were too beautiful, so instead I glanced around the roof. All concrete and gravel, it was covered in a maze of low-laying pipes, but not much else.

“Do you really think, so?” She said shyly. “I wasn’t too sure how well it would go over.” Unthinkingly  she flattened out the creases in the hard leather and kevlar fabric. Form fitting and zipped all the way to the neck, her new outfit was mostly black with highlights of red. A single crimson bandolier of throwing stars cut across the chest to meet with a wide belt holding two smaller daggers, a bola, and a few pellets of varying gases. A red leather strap hugged her hip, holding a single sai in place where it could be easily reached in a time of need.

“You know, I was never really a fan of the Southern Bedlam costume,” she continued. “It had too many overtones toward certain controversial notions that I do not personally believe in, if you know what I mean. So, since I’m just plain ‘ol Bedlam now I wanted to change things up. Still, I am not quite sure of the color scheme…”

Without thinking I put a hand on her arm and she got silent. “Black and red is very classic,” I said before pulling back quicker than I had meant. “It looks good on you.”

“That’s nice to hear. Rick, wasn’t really a fan of it when I first showed him. He said he like the old one better, something about how the added armor in this one doesn’t show off my feminine form enough.” She tucked a loose strand of hair behind her ear.

“Well, I think Pyrrhic is… is…” In my mind I knew exactly what I wanted to say about the man, but I couldn’t get it out. “… is late.” To hide my cowardice I took out a small make-up mirror and adjusted the black and white paint around my eyes. It looked fine, same as it had two minutes before when I had checked it for the fourth time. I was more nervous that I had ever been, and being so close to Annah was only half the reason why.

“Rick is never on time.” She stood up and looked around before sitting back down. “Especially, when he is with those friends of his.”

“It’s okay.” I rubbed my hands together more out of anxiety than for warmth. “It gives me time with you. I like spending time with you.”

“I like spending time with you, as well,” she said with a smile hidden beneath her mask. “You’re such a good friend, and you’re like the smartest guy I know.”

“I’m not that smart…”

“You’re being too humble?” She tapped the feathered crown on my head. “I could never make something like that. I mean how did you ever think up such a gizmo?”

“It’s really not that complicated. All you have to do is find the right brain frequency that seagulls use, and then attune that frequency so it responds to human thought patterns and…” I stopped, knowing that I was boring her. So instead, I reached out with my mind and suddenly Icarus, my seagull friend, appeared doing loops and cawing, just as I commanded him. “Maybe it is a little impressive.”

“Ain’t that sweet.” Pyrrhic’s voice was deep and fiery, but his laughter was bone-chilling. I got up to find him standing behind us, his leather jacket open revealing a bare and ghost-pale chest of tattoos that ran all the way up to his neck and face. His ears and eyebrows were pieced full of metal and his eyes were completely black, like deep wells of the special liquor JJ hides in the back room. His most distinct feature was his hair, flames of dark reds and blues flickered from the top of his head, casting a cold glow over everything around him.

“Rick,” said Annah as she ran to him. I tried not to watch as he lowered her balaclava and kissed her like no one’s watching, except everyone was, including me.

“Good to see you, babe.” He let her go and looked to me. “And you too, Greasy Gill. It’s been a while. Where’ve you been hiding?”

“He’s the Seaguller,” corrected Annah fixing her mask, “and he’s been studying for his exams. Gill, here, is going graduate tomorrow from Titan City University, with a bachelor’s in engineering, and with top marks.” I felt my face get hot. Annah said it like it was the most impressive thing she had ever heard.

Pyrrhic just gave me a look, the kind that bores into your soul, almost literally. Behind him, his three friends laughed. Punk Shocker, had his electric guitar strapped over one shoulder and his blue mohawk seemed even brighter and taller than usual. Redheck’s demon horns protruded out of his old trucker’s hat, and small drops of rain silently hissed as they touch the pink skin exposed by his sleeveless plaid shirt. Syber_Sorcerer was the creepiest of them all. An electronic mask of glowing nodes and diodes, designed to look like a big-nosed plague mask, hid all expression. Black and neon green robes hid the rest.

I usually feel more confidant when dressed as the Seaguller. It is the real me, the me that people will one day respect and fear in equal measures. I am the terror awaiting to be unleashed on Titan City. I know all this, as sure as I know the tides will flow and that gulls will roost together, but that night, on that roof, and in the presence of those five, I could feel my heart racing and my pulse pounding. We were about to commit true villainy, and as much as I now despised Pyrrhic and his friends, I also didn’t want to make a fool of myself.

“Well, unless we’re planning on throwing Featherhead a graduation party,” said Pyrrhic, “than we need to get moving. We’re burning moonlight, and tonight is a night I have been waiting for, for a long time.” He casually walked to the edge of the roof and stepped off, dropping three stories and landing unphased on the pavement below. His three friends followed, Punk Shocker floating down on bolts of lighting, Redheck crossing the gap with a few flaps of his demon wings, and Syber_Sorcerer just simply disappeared, only to reappear a moment later on the ground.

“Wait,” I said to Annah before she went too. I dug around the pockets in my cape and came back with a large throwing star. “I wanted to give this to you. I made it.”

“What is it?” she held it up and admired the etching along the blade that took me hours in the college’s metal shop to complete.

“It’s remote controlled.” I pulled out a small device and clipped it to one of her shoulder straps. “You can command it to go where you want: around corners, through windows, or you know, where ever.” My foot dug sheepishly at the gravel on the roof.

“Aw, Gill. I love it.” She rewarded me with a friendly peck on the cheek. “Thank you so much.”

“Well,” I said, regaining my senses. “I just wanted to say thank you for talking Pyrrhic into taking me along tonight. This is my first real villain team-up.”

“Honey,” said Annah turning around to face me. “I didn’t convince Rick to do anything. He’s the one that suggested you come along.” Then she was gone, somersaulting off the roof and swinging down a nearby drain pipe, like a leaf dancing through a storm to land gently on the pavement below.

I had to go the long way down. There was an access hatch that led to an exterior landing. Below that was another smaller ladder that cut off about ten feet from street level. I hung down and fell as gracefully as I could, knocking over some garbage cans before landing on my back. Before I could stand back up Redheck had me by the scruff of the neck and started dragging me along. “Whatcha you wanna do,” he said, “wake the whole damn neighborhood?”

“Enough,” commanded Pyrrhic as we marched down a long alleyway. Redheck released me, but not before hocking a piercing hot spit at my feet. It burned through the pavement.

“Uhh,” I sputtered up the courage to ask. “Do we have a name?”

Pyrrhic and his friends stopped and turned to me. “What the hell you mean?” said Redheck.

“Well, I was thinking we could call ourselves something like Generation Nightmare, or maybe something more classic, like the Seditious Six…” I trailed off, realizing that everyone was just looking at me like I was crazy. Then Punk Shocker burst out laughing, but Pyrrhic was dead silent.

Without warning he grabbed me. “Get this straight, Featherhead. I don’t like you, and after tonight I don’t expect to see you ever again. As for your ideas, team-names are for our grandparents. They’re for people like your busted-ass boss and his generation or circus buffoons. We don’t need labels to wreak our kind of havoc.” He hauled me around the corner of the alleyway before shoving me a few steps away.

“We’re here,” said Pyrrhic, as he raised his hands in a grand gesture. In front of us was a massive complex of warehouses and office buildings. A barbed and electrocuted fence stood between the alley mouth and some far off loading bay, over which were written the words: Hephaestus Enterprise Laboratories.

“We’re breaking into HEL?” I said.

“You got a problem?” said Pyrrhic, “You could always turn back now if you ain’t villain enough for it.”

“No, I’ll be fine breaking into one of the most secure and important science corporations in the city.”

“It will be simple,” said Syber_Sorcerer in his monotone, almost electronic voice. He pushed a small thumb drive into my hand. “There is a security office on the third story. It is the one with the window open.” He gestured with a robed finger to a nearby building. “We paid an employee to leave it open. All you need to do is insert this drive into any open port on the console. I will then connect with it remotely and hack the system.”

“You want me,” I said. “How…”

“Hello,” said Pyrrhic, smacking me on the back of the head and nearly knocking me from my feet. “You got your damn birdies, don’t you? Use them. Geez…” This time he laughed along with his three friends. Annah just looked at me, unsure of what to do.

“Right,” I said pretending to laugh too. “Of course.” I thought hard and summoned one of my nearby seagulls, a female with a small black spot on her head. I had named her Dot. Without hesitation she gripped the drive in her talons and took off toward the window.

Conveying complex instructions was not a simple task, but I had been practicing with my device for weeks and had gotten pretty good with it. I visualized the port as best I could, but even so it took more than ten agonizing minutes for Dot to locate it and figure out how to plug in the small device. Luckily there seemed to be no one in the room.

“I am interfacing now,” said the sorcerer as I watched Dot swoop away from the distant window. “It should only take a few moments now.”

“Good job, Featherhead.” This time he slapped me across the back. My cape and makeshift armor did nothing to lessen the pain of the blow.

Annah smiled at me just as all the lights of the building began to go dark. An alarm started sounding, but that quickly died too. A second later some emergency generators kicked on, but the rest of the complex remained black.

“So, what’s the plan?” I asked suddenly realizing that I knew very little about what we were actually doing there at HEL.

As if in response Pyrrhic nodded to his friend and said, “Show ’em, Shocker.”

Punk Shocker took off toward the nearby fence. As he ran he unslung his guitar, dropping to his knees mere inches from the razor wire. He reached his hand to the sky and brought it down, strumming out a single deafening note. Electricity arched up his back, launching from the guitar in a wave of blinding light. The fence exploded backward, showering sparks everywhere.

“Rick,” said Annah. “That is your plan? I thought we had talked about letting me take the lead and being all stealth-like?”

“Sorry, babe, the plan’s changed. I want this to be loud.” He turned to Redheck and said “Go.”

The cornfed demon fell into a crouched, four-legged sprint, looking more animal than human as he ran. Punk Shocker merely stepped aside and smiled as he raised his sunglasses to get a better look. Redheck was suddenly engulfed in flames. By the time he struck the large loading bay doors he was a fireball. Like the fence, the doors shattered apart. Flaming pieces of aluminum and brick fell all around us.

Then came the gunfire. A dozen security guards and two armored vehicles turned the far corner of the building, their bullets whizzing past like swarms of angry hornets. Punk Shocker was the first to react, strumming out a few cords that sent bolts of lightning into the lead vehicle. Its tires exploded and the truck flipped two times before rolling to a stop.

“Damn you to hell,” said Annah. “Rick, you know I don’t like no killing unless I absolutely have to.”

“Babe,” he said as he strained to pick up a nearby dumpster. “That’s a pretty stupid thing for an assassin to say.” Pyrrhic hurled his makeshift weapon at two men in full body armor. Their screams were gut wrenching, and I felt suddenly sick.

A flash grenade detonated and the next thing I knew I was on the ground, a piercing sound ringing in my ear. As the sensation died and my vision returned, I found myself along. Pyrrhic, Annah, and even Syber_Sorcerer were nowhere to be seen.

“Don’t do anything stupid, asshole,” said one of the guards, his assault rifle pointed at my chest. I could see his eyes beneath the shaded visor of his helmet. My breath was ragged and my heart pounded harder than I can ever remember. Suddenly, all I wanted was to be back at the bar, cleaning the bathrooms, wiping down puke and blood, anywhere else but right there and then.

Then the man screamed. A flock of black and white wraiths descended upon him, ripping the weapon from his hand and pecking at every exposed inch of skin. I’m still not sure if I had commanded my seagulls to attack or not, but there they were. My friends had come to my aid and I no longer felt alone or as scared. I picked up the man’s rifle, and slammed the butt of the weapon into his armored head. He fell unconscious on the floor.

I felt strong again. I was the Seaguller, maybe for the first time ever. All would fall before my wrath. All would cower at my presence. I was the winged scourge whose very name would strike terror in the hearts of the meek and strong alike.

Icarus landed on my arm and cawed at me. “I’m alright, my friend.” I cackled as I surveyed the battleground before me. Suddenly it seemed as if I was seeing it for the first time. It was not sickening or terrifying, but glorious chaos. Lightning and fire roared across the open parking lot as cars and people unceremoniously burst apart.

I never heard the bullet. I didn’t fall this time, even as the sensation of fire shot up my arm and my snowy white cape suddenly turned crimson red. I didn’t even scream, at least not until I looked down and saw Icarus dead at my feet, part of his little body missing.

Two more guards were running toward me, but for the first time since the battle began my fear was replaced by another sensation. “You will pay,” I yelled and my flock took wing and swarmed the nearest guard. He went down screaming as a dozen tiny razors cut at his skin.

His partner raised his weapon but didn’t make it much farther. Annah was there, like an image appearing from shadow and darkness. Her sai found the man’s leg, and his mouth opened in a silent scream. With lethal grace she turned the weapon around and smashed the blunt end into the guard’s nose. He went down unmoving.

“Gill,” she said looking at me. “You’re hurt.”

“It’s fine,” I lied. “I barely feel it.”

She lifted my arm and looked at the wound. “The bullet didn’t go in, only tore the skin. You got lucky.”

“Yeah,” I said looking down at Icarus’ body. “Lucky…”

“C’mon,” She grabbed my by my good arm and pulled me toward Pyrrhic and his band of friends. He was already barking orders as we got close enough to hear him. The warzone had become quieter with most of the guards dead or retreating.

“…Shocker and Heck,” he said pointing at the blown open door. “There will be more coming, including cops this time. Keep ‘em busy, and if any capes show up, don’t hesitate to fry ‘em. I don’t want to be interrupted.”

Pyrrhic watched them go, both were laughing like two kids in a toy store. “Everyone else is with me.”

Two more guards tried ambushing us inside, but Syber_Sorcerer chanted a string of 0’s and 1’s from his Spell-eBook and the two men digitized into pixelated frogs. Pyrrhic then promptly stomped the two 8-bit creatures into dust and we moved on. It was not long before we found what we were looking for. We entered a warehouse-sized laboratory, and in it center was a giant square archway connected to a machine and a large plastic booth.

Without a word Syber_Sorcerer walked to the console and plugged in some device. Immediately it came to life with restored power. The sorcerer began interfacing with it, and soon the archway itself lit up. A shimmering blue wall of static and otherworld energy glowed within its confines, brightening the previous dim and cavernous laboratory.

“What, in the name of all that is holy on Easter Sunday, is that?” said Annah gazing at the glowing doorway.

“The beginning of the end for this city. It is the second coming of doom,” said Pyrrhic with a hungry look in his eyes.

“It’s a trans-dimensional doorway,” I said starting to recognize the components scattered around the room. “I’ve read about them in my super-science classes…”

“This doorway does not lead to just any dimension. This doorway leads to the Quantum Zone,” said Pyrrhic stepping next to his robed friend as he worked the console. “Have you found him yet?”

“I am locking in on his essence currently,” said the sorcerer as a hazy image began to appear in the doorway. After a moment it came into sharp contrast, and someone let out a sharp gasp. I couldn’t be sure if it was Annah or myself.

The unmoving figure hanging on the other side of the glowing doorway was wreathed in hellfire, wearing an abyss-black mantle and shrouded in dark obsidian armor. His head looked more skull than flesh and though the creature was unblinking and unmoving he still radiated a power of pure terror. “Holocaust,” I said finding my voice. “I thought he was dead…”

“No,” said Pyrrhic,” his voice changing. “Scarlet Falcon only succeeded in locking my father away in this electronic limbo.” His hair ignited and burned as hot as his words. “That was thirteen years ago, thirteen years stolen from him and from me. Scarlet Falcon and those goody-goody-shitheads of Eternal Vigilance thought they could keep me from him, but tonight that all changes. Tonight Holocaust returns and no one will be able to stop him this time.”

Police sirens and gunfire erupted outside the laboratory. “Heck and Shocker are in trouble,” said Annah. “They ain’t going to be able to hold that door for long.”

“Their fate is insignificant,” said Pyrrhic. “All that matters is that we return my father to this world, and to me.”

“They are your friends.”

“I will honor their sacrifice,” he said before turning to the man at the console. “What is taking so long?”

“There is a malfunction with the transport tube,” said Syber_Sorcerer. “It requires repairs, as we feared.” The enclosed booth near the portal doorway lit up. It cracked in half revealing a space large enough to fit a single person.

“Time to earn your keep, Featherhead,” said Pyrrhic motioning toward the open tube. “You have that fancy engineering degree. Get in there and see what the issue is.”

Without thinking my feet started moving toward the open tube. Small nodes winked on and off, and overhead LED lights cast the inside in a sickening white glow. I stepped through the opening and began looking for some sort of access panel or diagnostic read-out, but before I could find anything the door snapped shut.

I turned and found Pyrrhic standing there locking it with a devilish smile. “Let me out,” I said not sure if he was joking or serious. When he started to walk away I banged hard on the door, but it was made of industrial strength clear nano-carbons and reinforced plastics. The door could hold back a tear in the space-time continuum. My strength was nothing in comparison.

“What are you doing?” Annah’s voice was muffled through the door, but still audible.

“A sacrifice is required,” said Syber_Sorcerer from the console.

“What?” Annah ripped the balaclava from her face. “You’re kidding, right?”

“The Quantum Zone,” said Pyrrhic, “is a fickle master. It will only release someone from it’s grip so long as another takes his place.” He looked at me meaningfully. “Why else would I have asked this D-Lister along with us tonight?”

“You can’t do this. I won’t let you.” Annah’s sai came readily to hand, but Pyrrhic was faster.

The brute backhanded her so hard she went flying, falling to the ground unmoving. Her weapon skittered across the floor, coming to a stop inches away from the tube. “You will thank me once my father has been released, for you will rule beside me as my queen,” he said to Annah’s unconscious form.

“Leave her alone.” I started banging harder, but it was no use.

“My only regret in all this,” said Pyrrhic, “is that you are such an unworthy sacrifice. I would preferred if it was Scarlet Falcon in that tube, or someone worth the effort. You’re nothing more than a worm, but look at it this way: what you are doing now will be the greatest thing you could have ever hoped to accomplish in your life.”

A streak of green lit up the laboratory and Redheck skidded to a halt in the center of the room. He was barely alive and missing one of his arms and wings. The rest of him was sizzling. Even his trucker’s hat was melting into a pile of radiative goo.

“No,” bellowed Pyrrhic. “Not now. I’m too close.”

I watched him turn to gaze at the open doorway. Standing there, backlit by police searchlights and helicopter spotlights was a man dressed in a form-fitting green and yellow containment suit. Stylized goggles were pulled down over his eyes and a distinctive radiation symbol adorned his chest.

“Always now,” said the superhero, Half-LIfe, “Always and forever, Pyrrhic. Quit your deeds and give up. Your two friends outside are down for the count, and you’re going to be next.”

“Keep working,” the large villain said to Syber_Sorcerer. “I’ll deal with this little meltdown.”

Pyrrhic roared as the flames atop his head soared higher than before. Half-Life unleashed a beam of pure radiation. It struck the villain melting the leather jacket from his chest, but otherwise failed to slow him down at all. The two titans met, locked in the eternal struggle of good and evil. I admit that I geeked-out, momentarily forgetting my own peril, but not for long.

A loud thunderous noise drew my attention back to the panel where Syber_Sorcerer worked. The lights around me began to rotate, slowly at first but steadily picking up speed. So, I did the only thing I could think to do. I reached out with my mind.

My flock of seagulls soared down from the rafters and swarmed the sorcerer and his control panel. The man swatted furiously at the small birds, deflecting their beaks and talons with swipes of his hand. While he was distracted, Dot flew over to the tube and started working on the lock. She pecked at it furiously trying to get it to unlatch.

“If only you had opposable thumbs,” I cursed. “Why couldn’t I be Monkey-er instead?”

“I actually think your birds are kinda cute, honey,” said Annah as she reached over and pulled open the lock. She spit a glob of blood from her mouth and picked up her sai.

“Thank you,” I said stepping down out of the booth.”

“Don’t mention it,” Annah winked, “but it would be best if we hightail it out of here, sooner rather than later. This whole thing has gone sideways and I don’t want to be around when it tips back up.”

“0111010010110101,” suddenly Syber_Sorcerer was in front of us, chanting his magic spells. My hands and feet froze, bound by some sort of digital chains.

“Oh shut your piehole,” said Annah and she hurled her sai harder than I thought possible. It struck the sorcerer in the mask, deflected off, and sank into the console controlling the Quantum Zone doorway. My pixelated chains immediately disappeared.

“You, bitch,” said the sorcerer, his voice no longer synthesized. Part of his mask fell away to reveal a pimply plump face. “I’m going to…”

The world seemed to spin and go deathly quiet. The silence was quickly replaced by a thundering sound, like ten-thousand toilets being flushed at once. The console sparked and shattered apart as the doorway escaped the confines of the archway that was holding it in place.

“No,” said the sorcerer turning toward the growing and wild portal. It was the last word he ever spoke before the maw of the raging dimensional storm engulfed him.

Then the world changed. Annah had been right, everything did go sideways, just not as either of us had predicted. I grabbed on to anything bolted to the ground as everything else fell around me. Right became down and left became up and each moment the growing portal threatened to swallow us down, as it had the sorcerer. My hands found a small water pipe, and I hung on for dear life.

I risked a glance and saw that Annah was holding onto a dagger she had dug between the floor tiles of the laboratory floor. Pyrrhic was above us holding on by sheer strength and screaming obscenities that were lost in the whooshing sound of the open portal. His opponent was nowhere to be seen.

Then I Pyrrhic did the unthinkable, he jumped. “This is your fault, you little asshole,” I managed to overhear him say, as he came plummeting toward me with hatred in his dark eyes. When we collided he grabbed my body like a wrestler and both of us began tumbling toward the portal. “It took me years to find my father,” he was screaming as we fell. “I am going to throw you into that portal if it’s the last damn thing…”

I stopped with a sudden jerk. I nearly snapped my neck as my feather cape snagged onto something, ending my tumble toward oblivion. Pyrrhic cursed as he lost his grip on me and went spinning past. He disappeared into the portal, his eyes locked on me as if willing me to die, right then and there.

When I looked up to see what was holding me in place, I found a distinctively etched remote-controlled throwing star lodged between my cape and the floor. I smiled my thanks at Annah across the room. Her smile was bigger than anything I had ever seen, but then it fell, just as Pyrrhic had.

The sound of the device changed. It whirled up several octaves like a bomb ready to erupt. Shockwaves exploded out of the growing nova of energy, and Annah’s knife jerked loose of its hold. She yelled something as she plunged past. I tried to reach out, but she was gone too quick.

Then gravity righted itself. I stood up, but I knew it was too late. The light from the portal began pulsate and grow more and more unstable. Everything went white, and the world exploded around me.

******

Georgia pulls back the cloth she’s been using on my arm. It is still wet with blood. She just looks at me, as if she is seeing me for the first time. I usually feel speechless when Georgia looks at me, but right then it was for different reasons.

“I’m sorry,” I say, refusing to turn away from her accusatory stare.

“What happened to Annah?” asks Ed, his lumbering figure leaning on a nearby wall. Unlike Georgia he only looks at his shoes.

“I don’t know,” I say. “The device was unstable. It exploded.”

“Well, then how did you survive?” There is a hard edge to her voice.

“I must have lost consciousness. Half-Life pulled me from the building, along with Redheck. When I came awake a few moments later the entire place was gone. Half the block was on fire. People were yelling, fire trucks were pulling up, and in the confusion I just slipped away. I came straight here. I didn’t know where else to go…”

“You didn’t even try to look for my Annah, my only niece?” Georgia’s handias suddenly high over her head, as if she means to slap me, but then stops. A look comes over her face, as if I have just dug a knife in her back. Her hand drops and all I can do is wish that she would hit me. At least then it might mean something. At least then it might mean she still cares.

Without another word she walks out of the empty bar. I want to go after her, but something keeps me still, and it isn’t my half-bandaged wounds. After another second Ed follows her out of the bar, always being the first to sense when someone needs comfort, especially in a time of grieving.

“We’re live here at the scene of this raging inferno in Daedelus Heights.” I turn my attention to the softly glowing screen at the corner of the bar. It is small and full of static, but clear enough that I can see the towering fire behind the female reporter.

“Chuck, Behind me is what remains of Hephaestus Enterprise Laboratories, one of the city’s leading scientific corporations. A little over an hour ago police responded to the scene of a daring break-in by a gang of supervillains led by the notorious Pyrrhic. The gang was stopped by the hero Half-Life, with most of them perishing in the blast.”

Four pictures flash across the screen, each with captions: Pyrrhic, Syber_Sorcerer, Punk Shocker, and Bedlam. I wipe a tear away as the image of Annah is replaced again by the reporter.

“One more of the gang, Jeremiah ‘Redheck’ Memphisto is in critical care tonight, while the final member of the gang managed to elude capture.” The next picture that appears is very familiar mugshot. “City authorities are asking every citizen to be on the look-out for this man, whom they have identified as Gill Laridae, aka the Seaguller. He is considered to be very dangerous, and if you see this super-villain it is advised that you call the police immediately.

“For Channel 8 news, I am Alice Adams, signing off.”

“Are you happy, now?” says JJ. He has not spoken since I came falling into the bar, half-burnt and bleeding from a half-dozen wounds.

I don’t answer. I refuse to give him the satisfaction.

“Congratulations, kid.” He paces, hobbling back and forth in front of my stool. “You’re a genuine super-villain. The entire city will know your name by tomorrow morning.”

I know I should feel remorse and shame, but I can’t keep the anger from my voice. “I didn’t think…”

“No, you didn’t think.” JJ cuts me off, his foot kicking over a barstool. “You thought you knew everything there was to know. Well, now you do,” he says once the clatter of the stool stops.

“Pyrrhic is the one who did this. Get angry at him.” He has always treated me like a child, lording over me like he knows better. Well maybe Gill just sat there and took it, but not the Seaguller, not anymore. “This isn’t my fault…

“You’re a super-villain now, son. It doesn’t matter who came up with the plan or who did what. You went along with it. You put on the costume, and people died because of it. That’s what happens when you choose this life…”

“Just say I told you so, and get it over with.” I am on my feet, despite my dizziness. “Then you can make me clean the entire bar on my Saturday or whatever punishment you have in mind.”

“Fool,” he says suddenly quiet. “You still don’t understand. They have your real name from your prior arrest. You’re life is over. You can kiss your graduation goodbye, and your degree. There are probably a platoon of policeman going over your dorm room, right now, and interrogating any frat boy within thirty miles. By morning Half-Life, Ionic Storm, Shining Templar, Patriot Missile, and maybe even goddamn Scarlet Falcon himself will be outside your parents house, trying to track you down.”

“But…” A cold fist clenches my stomach as what he says starts to settle in. “I…”

“So congratulations,” he says turning his back, “because Gill Laridae is dead. Now you’re just the Seaguller.”

“What do I…” I start to follow JJ, but stop. “Can I at least stay here?”

He turns and looks at me, there is actual pity in his eyes. “No. It’s not going to take long for one of the other villains to talk, maybe PaceMaker, or AtoMcDoanld, or Kid Cyanide, or whoever. Sooner or later some cape is going to come knocking on my door looking for you, because they heard that you once worked for me.”

He gets still for a long moment. “When that happens, and it will happen, I’ll hand you over. I like you, only God knows why, but this is your mess. You got to live in it.”

I grab the barstool for support. My knees suddenly feel weak. “JJ, what are you saying?”

He heads toward the back room, looking as if he will ignore my pleas, but then stops and looks at me one last time.

He turns the lights out and waits. I can no longer see him, but I can still hear his breathing. My eyes adjust and it’s as if I am seeing the bar again for the first time. It’s dark and suddenly strange, like foreign world fixed over a familiar one.

Finally, JJ makes a noise as if coming to a decision. “You’re fired, Gill. Get out, and don’t ever come back.”


Read all the stories about Friday’s Bar for Super-villains
alice

The small metal bowl splashes me as I push it around. I found it in the old kitchen, and JJ said I could use it. I feel wet, but I don’t mind. Mostly, I just feel sad.

I think about the way Ms. Kitty purred when I petted her. My hand was almost bigger than the little cat, but I always thought my friend was never afraid of me. I thought I always gentle with her. I called her Ms. Kitty because I wasn’t sure what her real name was, and she didn’t seem to mind.

Every night I put a bowl of water out for her before I left the bar. I wanted to put out milk, but Georgia said that was bad for cats. Then, everyday Ms. Kitty would come to sit with me when I was outside. One time she even brought me a mouse. I remember, I didn’t want to be rude so I took it from her, but I buried it later. Poor little guy. I felt really bad over that, but I never blamed my friend for killing him. I mean, I used to do a lot of bad stuff too. It’s called survival. That’s what my brother always called it.

At least that was what he used to say before he left me. Except, he didn’t really leave me. He died, but it feels like he left me. People always leave me. They die, or they get mad at me when I make a mistake. Some people also leave because they are afraid of me. That always feels the worst. I don’t mean to be scary, but I’m big and clumsy and sometimes I don’t know how strong I am. Maybe that’s why Ms. Kitty left me? Maybe she was afraid of me after all?

This morning, I found her bowl still full of water. It was just sitting there, like she had never seen it. I looked for her everywhere. I looked in the trash cans. I looked around the alley. I even looked in the street, even though JJ says I shouldn’t go out there during the day. I was afraid I would find her squished under a car, but I didn’t find her at all. I hope she’s okay. I hope she doesn’t hate me.

“Hey big guy, what’s got you looking so down?” says the small woman in front of me. I guess I hadn’t noticed her come up. She is wearing a big brown coat and a mask.

“I lost my friend,” I say, but I still remember to block the door to the bar.

“Sorry to hear that, pal.” She tries to get around me. “Say, would you mind moving. I got to get inside. Lot of villain-things to do.”

“No. I don’t know who you are?” I cross my arms and try to look mean, like Georgia taught me, but I think I feel too bad to look very mean today.

“It’s me,” says the woman with a big pretty smile. “I’m the uh… Masked Trench-Coater.”

“I’ve never heard of you.” I lean against the door. “And I’ve gotten fooled by people dressed up like that before.”

“I’m new in town.” She holds out her hand. “Pleased to meet you, pal. I just got the train in from Paradigm City.”

“I’m Edward.” I reach out and take her hand, but I think I squeeze too hard because she pulls it back with a yell.

“That’s quite a grip you got there, big boy.” She rubs her hand but tries to hide it. “Now you gonna open that door for a girl or what?”

I don’t move. “JJ gets mad when I let in people we don’t know. I don’t think I can let you in.”

“JJ, ehh?” She has a strange look on her face. “Is that the notorious… I mean famous James Joseph Friday? The guy they used to call Joe Friday? Some of the villains back in Boston told me about him. I would love to get a sit down and hear some of his stories.”

“Boston?” Now, I feel confused. “I thought you said you were from Paradigm City?”

“Yeah, sure, but by way of Boston. Keep up there, pal.” She tries to push past me again, but it takes a lot more than her and her nice smile to get me to move. “C’mon, just let me in.”

Something seems familiar about the small woman so I reach down and pull off her mask. She tries to stop me, but its not on very well. Most people use tape or glue, but hers is just tied. “Hey, you’re not a villain,” I say recognizing her. “You’re that pretty news reporter from the television.”

“Oh, fine,” she says. “I was getting hot in that thing anyway. I don’t know how you people stand it.” She holds out her hand again, but then pulls it back as if remembering how hard I squeezed the first time. “Alice Adams, this town’s second best damn reporter. I’m here for an interview for Channel 8, Titan City’s number two action news team.”

I smile and look away. Without the mask she is even prettier. I’ve never met a celebrity before. “It is nice to meet you, Ms. Adams. I’m Edward.”

“Nice to meet you too, big boy. Now, if you’ll just run inside and get Joe Friday for me. You can tell him he has a date with stardom.” As she talks she opens up some kind of makeup mirror and touches her face.

“I can’t do that,” I say.

She puts the makeup back in her bag. “Fine. Then let me in and I’ll find him. With the city’s first exclusive on the mythic Friday’s Bar, Channel 8 is soon going to be top of the ratings, and I’ll be its number one reporter.”

“Uh,” I say remembering not to move. “JJ says that if any news people were to come by I had to tell them, JJ Friday is a private citizen now. This is a private establishment and then for them to go away. I cannot let you in… Sorry.”

“I see how its going to be then.” She lifts her chin up to me, like she’s not afraid at all. I feel my face get hot, but I try not to smile. That is rude. “Just so you know, pal, Alice Adams has cracked tougher nuts than you, yes ma’am. I will find my way inside that den of villainy, don’t you worry about that.”

“But that is what I am worried about?” I say as she walks away. Her heels click on the pavement. I watch her leave and then feel embarrassed that I’m staring and turn my gaze up to the sky. Its a nice day.

When I look back she’s gone and I feel alone again. I think about going inside to wait for someone to get mean, then I would get to throw them out. Throwing people out always cheer me up, but today I don’t feel like being happy. So I just sit and keep looking around the alley. I don’t want to miss Ms. Kitty if she comes back, or Alice.

When I think about the reporter I smile. She seems smart, and real tough. I like that, because she’s not afraid of me. She also talks really fast, but I don’t mind. A lot of people try to talk slow to me, because they think I don’t understand, but not her. I hope she likes me, but I don’t think so. I stopped her from going in the bar and that’s not a very nice thing to do, but it is my job. I will not let JJ down, no matter how pretty Alice is.

I remember I kissed a girl once when I was a kid and accidently squeezed her hand too hard. She needed to go to the doctor and when she got back she wouldn’t look at me anymore. That was the last time I ever kissed a girl. I wonder what it would be like to kiss Alice? I wonder if I would hurt her?

I smile at that thought. I know I am not supposed to want to see her again, because she is trying to get into the bar, but I want to anyway. JJ would not be happy, but I hope she comes back. Luckily, I did not have to wait long to see her again. Maybe an hour later she did come back, but this time she was not alone.

“Step aside, you great giant/Let us through. Now, be compliant.” Quiz Master stands in front of me, dressed in a purple suit twirling his cane. Holding onto his arm is Alice. She smiles at me as if she has won a prize. Mostly, I just smile back, but I still do not move.

“Didn’t you hear? Are you thick/Let us by and do it quick.” Quiz Master’s brow scrunches up when he gets angry. It makes his small mask look funny on his face.

“I can let you in, Quiz Master, but not Alice.” I shake my head back and forth.

“That won’t do. That can’t be/This gentle lady is with me.” He raises his cane. “Let us in, on the double/If you don’t there’ll be trouble.” I do not like Quiz Master. The way he talks hurts my head and he is always getting drunk. I have to throw him out a lot. JJ always says he is going to ban him from the bar, but then JJ grumbles something about him always paying his bar tab on time.

“C’mon, pal. Just let me in,” says Alice. “Mr. Serr here promised to give me a tour of the place. Says he knows everything there is to know about Friday’s Bar. Isn’t that right, Brian?”

“That is true, my knowledge is great/And once we’re in, we can start our date.” He smiles at her and for some reason I want to hit him, at least more than I usually do.

“Date?” I say.

“A business date,” says Alice. “I knew Brian, back when he worked at the station as a game show host before he went…” She stopped talking and just looked at Quiz Master, like she was trying to be polite.

“I can’t let you in.” I say looking at Alice and feeling mad. I don’t have to pretend very hard this time to look mean. “JJ would be very upset with me.”

“This I swear, you won’t ruin this night/I’ll get in, whether by charm or by might.” Then he raises his cane. It extends into a long metal rod and he swings it at my body. I don’t move and his weapon just breaks in two as it hits me. I look at him and he starts to back away.

“Leave,” I say and Quiz Master runs away down the alley leaving me and Alice alone. It is the best I have felt all day.

“Why did you have to go and do that?” She hits my arm and then shakes her hand as if she hurt it.

“I’m just doing my job,” I say, not feeling so happy anymore. “I’m sorry.”

“Well I have a job to do too, pal.” Alice sits down and crosses her arms. “So, I’m not leaving here till you let me in.”

“No. You can’t stay here. What if someone sees you? What if JJ sees you?” I look around waiting for someone to find us.

“Good.” She nods her head once. “Then I’ll interview him, and I’ll interview anyone who tries to get into this bar. I’m going to bother every single person until all your customers leave or…”

“…Until one hurts you?” I am sure I look worried because her mean-face goes away when she looks at me. “There are a lot of bad people here who will hurt you.”

She pats the ground next to her. “C’mon, pal, sit.” I don’t and then she says, “I promise I won’t try to go in there… for now. What do you say, big boy, truce?”

I carefully sit down, but even sitting I am much much bigger than her. Her head only reaches my chest.

“So what about you?” She taps a finger against my chest.

“Me?” I ask.

“Yeah, you said there are a lot of bad people here. Are you one of those bad people? I mean look at ya.” She waves her hand in front of me. “Your huge and tough as a nail. What were you before you were a glorified doorman?”

I don’t like talking about it, but then Alice smiles at me and I feel better. “I used to be a bad person, not because I wanted to. I had to survive, but I’m real sorry over the things I did. I really hate to think about them.”

“I understand, pal.” She puts her hand on my arm and it feels nice. “Heck, we all got to do what we got to do to get ahead in this life. I mean I didn’t become the best damn reporter in this city by doing things the nice way, if you know what I mean…”

“I thought you were the second best damn reporter in Titan City?”

“Don’t rub it in, pal.” She smiles at me. “What I’m trying to say is that I’ve done lots of things I regret to good people too, but this business is about surviving.”

“But I don’t want to be mean. Sometimes I remember the things I did and I feel really sad.” I put my head down.

“Don’t be like that,” says Alice. “Everyone feels that way sometimes. The important thing is to remember the person you want to be. That’s how we keep moving forward, big boy, and forward is the best damn direction to go, in my opinion… well maybe not as good as up but that’s another story.”

“Thank you. You’re a lot nicer than you seem,” I say and then I feel stupid for saying it, but Alice just laughs.

“Thanks pal, and you’re not as thick-headed as I first thought… well not figuratively anyway.” She continues to laugh so I stat laughing, because my head is thick.

“Say, did you ever wear one of those costumes back in the old days,” she says after we are done laughing. “You know, those ridiculous getups, like the one Quiz Master was wearing. I bet you were The Garbage Truck or something like that, and all your henchmen dressed up like garbage men. Yeah I bet that’s what you were.”

“No,” I say and laugh again. “I never had any henchmen. I’m not smart enough to lead a gang.”

“I think you’re selling yourself short there, pal. I know plenty of men who talk a lot faster but are a lot slower in the head than you. I mean you’re definitely smarter than old Brian T. Serr. He may call himself the Quiz Master, but I don’t think he could master his way out of a paper bag.”

“No,” I say. “He’s much smarter. He almost always wins at bar trivia every month. I’m lucky if I know one answer.”

“Trivia facts and book reading does not make one smart. Take it from me, I’ve dated plenty of the dumbest doctors you have ever met, and I’ll prove it.” She takes my hands and puts them over my eyes. “Keep your eyes closed and now visualize a tree.”

“Okay,” I say and I start to think of a tree with all its pretty leaves and big thick trunk. It looks strong and green, just like I remember when I was a kid.

“Now describe the tree to me,” says Alice.

“Well its very big. Much bigger than me, and there is a squirrel with a nut on one of the branches…” I open my eyes and reach over and put my hand on the door. I do it so fast and hard that the door rings from the sound and Alice jumps back. She pulls her hand away from the door handle like it was too hot to hold.

“See,” she says with a smile. “I told you that you were smart.”

“You tried to trick me.” I stand up and brush the dirt from my pants. “I don’t like when people try to trick me.”

“Can’t blame a girl for trying, pal.” Alice gives me a smile. “Well its been fun chatting. I’ll see you around.” Then she walks away again, like before, and like before I try not to stare at her as she leaves. She doesn’t look back.

A lot of people think they can trick me, but at least Alice is nice about it. I don’t know why, but I feel happy again, even later when I have to help Georgia throw out the Check-Mates.

Rook is super strong, like me, and those are always the hardest people to deal with. Thankfully, he listens to King and Queen. King always tries to use his mind control powers on me, but I am not affected by mind control. I don’t know why. Some people claim it’s because I am too dumb, but I don’t care. All I have to do is pick up King by his little head and then act mean. After that he orders his gang to leave and all five of them walk out, Even Bishop and Knight. Knight doesn’t like me very much because I call him horsey.

“That’s good work, sugah,” says Georgia after the Check-Mates leave. “I can always count on you.”

“Georgia,” I say before she goes back inside. “Can I ask you a question?”

“As sure as a priest on Sunday, Edward. You can ask me anything.” She smiles and throws a towel over her shoulder.

“How do you make a woman be your friend?” I look down at the ground and my face gets hot.

“Why, Edward, have you got yourself a little crush. Ain’t that just the sweetest thing.” She lifts my chin up and smiles. “Whose the lucky lady?”

“Just this girl I met,” I say. “She’s nice and funny and very pretty. She’s not even afraid of me, but I don’t want to make her hate me. I don’t want to make her afraid of me.”

“Now, sugah, all you got to remember is to be yourself. You’re a sweet, kind, and generous man. Any woman out there would be luckier than a turkey after Thanksgiving to have you in her life, and don’t you ever forget that.” Georgia pats me on the back with a wink before going back inside.

Be myself, I try to remember that as I stand there for a while. Sometimes I think of my tree again, but mostly I just try to think of funny things to say for the next time I see Alice. I like the way she laughs and I want her to laugh again.

Then I hear something clatter near the back of the bar. It sounds like a trash can being knocked over, and my heart beats faster. I run to the back door, where the kitchen is. Maybe Ms. Kitty has come back and is looking for food, but instead I see two small legs kicking in the air. The window is usually locked, but even when it isn’t it still does not open very much. I recognize the blue high heels as they swing through the air.

I try not look up Alice’s skirt as I gently grab her by the ankles. It does not take long to pull her out of the window. She is very light, but I don’t want to hurt her so I go slow. She still yells in surprise.

I’m sorry,” I say as I hold her in my arms. “Did I hurt you?”

“No, you big galoot, now put me down.” She pounds her fist on my chest and I laugh because it tickles, but I put her down because I don’t want to make her madder.

“You shouldn’t try to get in that way,” I say. “You could have gotten hurt.”

“I was perfectly fine.” Alice straightens her coat and shirt and the pretty blue skirt she is wearing underneath it. “I wasn’t stuck… Okay, I may have been a little stuck, but I can handle myself.”

“I believe that,” I hesitate, but then say, “Do you want to hear a joke?”

“Is it the one about the reporter that keeps missing her big chance at her big break?” She takes out that small mirror again and begins fixing her hair. “Because that’s not a funny one, pal.”

“No,” I say. “It’s about a chicken…”

“Listen, big boy. I don’t need your jokes or your help.”

“But everybody needs help sometimes. Even me, and JJ says there is nothing out there that can hurt me.”

She looks at as if she doesn’t believe me. “What could you possibly need help with? Fitting into those triple XL shirts?”

“Well… I lost my friend. I wish someone would help me find her.”

“Oh?” Alice puts away her mirror and puts a hand on my arm. “I’m sorry. Was she you girlfriend? Your sister?”

“Oh, no, no.” I say. “She was just my friend. I used to give her water and she would let me pet her while she purred and sat on my lap.”

“Wait.” Alice pulls her hand back and laughs, but not like before. I don’t like this laugh. “Is your friend a cat? Do you two go out to dinner for tuna and milk?”

Something about the way she talks makes me madder than I mean to be. So, I put my hand against the nearby wall hard and I feel it crack. A brick even comes loose and hits the ground. Then, Alice doesn’t laugh anymore. Then Alice looks very scared. “Ms. Kitty is my friend, and its not nice of you to make fun of her or me… I miss her.”

“Hey, pal,” she says softer than I have ever heard her be. “I didn’t mean anything by that. I was just…”

“Leave,” I say and she takes a step back. “Leave and don’t come back.”

She walks off back toward the front of the building. I watch her go again, but this time I don’t look away. I make sure she does not try to go into the bar. She doesn’t, but she does look back at me and she seems sad. I don’t care. I’m still angry with her. I thought she was different. I thought she was nice, but she laughed at me and at Ms. Kitty, just like everybody else.

“Edward? What’s going on out here? What’s this window doing open?” I hear JJ open the back door and step out. “I heard someone scream then…” I know he’s looking at the wall I broke. “What happened?”

“Nothing, JJ,” I say, but I cannot look at him. He would know I’m lying and he would be able to see that my eyes are wet. “I’m just going to stay out here for a while. I wouldn’t want to scare any of the customers.”

“Edward?…” I walk back toward the alley door and I hear JJ hobble after me. He is not using his cane anymore, but he is still not very fast. I know he can’t catch me and I don’t want him to. I hear him go back inside as I walk to the main door, but as I get there another person steps out and nearly walks into me.

“Hey, man, watch where you’re walking.” The person is dressed in a leather jacket with spikes. His hair is flames and he has tattoos all over his face and neck. I know his name. They call him Pyrrhic and most people are afraid of him. I am too angry to be afraid, but he doesn’t notice. He just keeps walking. Holding onto his arm is a girl. She is dressed in red and blue and has a lot of stars on her. I know her too. She is Georgia’s niece, Savannah. She does not look at me at all as they head down the alley, but then Gill comes running out.

“Annah, wait,” he yells. His apron is greasy and his hair is a mess. The girl looks back but keeps walking. “Fine. Go with him, then… See if I care.” Gill says the last part quietly, but I don’t think she heard any of it. Then he kind of slumps forward a bit, like a broken toy I used to play with.

“Hi, Gill,” I say. “How are you?”

“Oh,” he looks up as if just noticing me. “Hi, Ed.” He’s the only one who ever calls me Ed, and I don’t mind. “I’m fine. I was just saying goodbye to Annah and her… friend.” He gets angry when he says the last word.

“Are you not happy they are friends?” I say not knowing why. “I thought Savannah was your friend?”

He watches the opening to the alley for a long minute as if expecting something to happen, but then nothing does.”I thought so too, but not since I introduced her to Pyrrhic. Now she barely looks at me and the way she laughs…” He pounds his hand on the door. “The way she laughs when he makes a joke, like its the funniest thing in the world. Like when he just called me Greasy Gill. That’s not even clever, but she just giggled.”

“That’s not nice.”

“No… well she said she was sorry, but I don’t care.” He balls is hands into fists. “If she wants Pyrrhic they can have each other… You know, I used to admire that guy. I wanted to be like him and everything and now I just want to kill him and maybe her too. She’s not my friend. She’s not my friend anymore. Maybe she never was.”

“That doesn’t sound like someone a friend does,” I say.

“She is a bad friend, Ed.”

“I meant you. You’re mad at her. You’re angry so you are saying things you don’t mean. That’s not what a friend does. They forgive each other. She said she was sorry, and just because she is friends with him does not mean that she is still not friends with you.” I suddenly think of Alice and start to feel bad.

My words don’t work for Gill either. He just looks frustrated. “Ed, what do you even know about woman?”

I put my hand to my chin and think. “I know that they usually have long hair… bit I guess not all the time. Some girls wear makeup, but some don’t, and either way you’re not supposed to talk about it. It is their choice. I also know that you’re not supposed to stare at women, because it is rude. And I know that women have a vag…”

“Ed!” he now looks embarrassed. “That’s not what I meant. I meant… forget it. I have to get back to fixing one of the tap lines before JJ gets upset.” He opens the door but looks down the alley one more time. The he goes back inside and I’m alone again, wishing I could talk with Alice. I should not have gotten mad.

Then someone screams. It sounds like Alice, but what if it is another trick? What if she is just trying to get me to leave the door, but I don’t stay. I run as fast as I can. The sound comes from across the street, and I barely hear the cars as they honk me. I don’t care, because now I can see her. She is between two buildings, but she’s not alone.

Quiz Master and three of his men are standing their laughing and he is twirling his broken cane. Alice looks like she wants to run but can’t.

“You will rue this day, rue your mistake/because now its my birthday and you’re my cake.” I hear him say and his three henchmen laugh. They move in to grab her, but Alice kicks one of them in the groin. He falls down as the other two grab her by the wrists, but not for long.

I am quicker than most people think and the first henchman goes flying backwards when I run into him. Alice then attacks the last man with some sort of spray she has in her purse. He goes down crying as I grab Quiz Master by his jacket. I press him up against a nearby wall and his three henchmen suddenly disappear, their purple and gold costumes disappearing among the busy crowds of Titan City.

“You shouldn’t do that to people,” I say loudly as Quiz Master squirms in my grip but there is not much he can do to get away.

When I look back I see Alice sitting on the ground staring back at me. Her cheek is bleeding and the sight of red blood makes me want to kill the man I am holding.

Quiz Master squeaks as I turn to him. “I just… What I mean/It’s not what it seems.” I scream and punch the wall next to his head. The entire building shakes. When I pull my hand back its covered in plaster and concrete. I hold it up to him like I used to do back in the old days when I had to make people squirm, as my brother used to call it.

“I’m… I’m…. I’m/can’t find a rhyme. Don’t hurt me/Because I’m sorry.” I let him go and he goes running off after his henchmen. I feel so mad I want to hit something really hard, but then I feel a light touch on my arm.

When I turn Alice is standing there smiling at me. “Thanks, big boy.”

“I’m sorry,” I say, “I am sorry for getting mad before. I just did not like it when you laughed at me… even though I like your laugh…”

Suddenly, she hugs me. Her arms don’t fit around my body, but it feels nice, and all my anger just goes away. “Don’t worry about it, pal. It’s all water under the bridge, and you were right.” She steps back. “I was wrong about you. I guess I was wrong about a lot of things. Maybe we all need a little help sometimes… Well, not me. I’ve handled worse than people like Brain T. Serr. He was about to get a swift kick in the question marks, if you get what I mean.”

“Not really,” I say.

“Listen, what I’m trying to say is I thought about what you said before and I wanted to… Oh, well just look.” She turns and shows me what is behind her.

“Ms. Kitty!” I say as I see my friend. She is lying in a small box with three small kittens nestled against her belly. She meows as she looks up at me, and as I reach down to pet her she purrs and rubs her head against my big hand.

“That’s why she disappeared on you,” says Alice as she kneels beside me. “The old girl just needed to find a quiet place to have her kittens.”

“Thank you,” I say.

“Don’t mention it, big boy. I went looking for her after we talked. I’ll be honest I was hoping that you’d let me into the bar for helping.”

“I can’t,” I say quickly. “JJ would never…”

“I know, pal.” She fake punches me in the arm. “Anyway, when I found her, well then Brian found me. He hit me and I guess I screamed. It’s an old habit I picked up from back when I dating this hero and was always falling off buildings… Anyway, Brian starts ranting about how much he loves me, and something about setting doves free. He was acting all crazy… more crazy than usual… and he had his goons with him, so I was afraid he was going to hurt the kittens, and…”

“Thank you.” I put a hand on her shoulder. She stops talking and smiles.

“Anyway, the long and short is that maybe I’ll find another story for the evening news.” She leans forward and scratches Ms. Kitty. The cat purrs softly under the touch.

I look at the kittens again. They are very small and nearly naked. “It looks like I have four friends now.”

“Pal, I have a feeling you have a lot more than that,” says Alice, “but for the record, you have at least one more.” She leans over and kisses me on the cheek. I smile and she smiles as she gets up. “I’ll be seeing you around, big boy.”

I stand up holding the box of Ms. Kitty and her kittens. “What do you mean?”

“C’mon.” She starts to walk off. “I haven’t given up on that story for forever… just for today.” She looks back with a wink. “See you soon, pal.”


Read all the stories about Friday’s Bar for Super-villains
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.

Poker

“… and then I offered him only 1% above market price, but I had my lawyers arrange the deal so that the stocks were transferred over the course of sixty business days so as not to force an increase in market value. The fool had no option but to accept my offer. And that was how I gained controlling interest in Trojacon Technologies,” said the largest of the seated men with a thunderous laugh. Bald on top and rotund in the middle he wore an expensive looking three piece suit of dark grey fabric. His powder blue tie matched the flower attached to his lapel. Charles Edward Onyx, known in the underworld as the CEO owned half the city and three-quarters of the gangs reported directly to him. He was not a man you crossed lightly or more than once.

“That was so boring I think I blacked out,” said the man sitting next to him. Wild brown hair held in check by mechanized lab goggles and set above a sharp snarky face. The man was no older than 30 years but everyone knew that Dr. Desmond Mentor was one of the smartest people in Titan City if not on the planet. An evil genius he was patenting multi-million dollar inventions by the age of 8 and building doomsday devices by the age of 12. “C’mon, Chuckie Boy, where’s the murder? The mayhem?”

CEO scowled at the man, creases running up his forehead like canyons of hatred. “I also had his family kidnapped at the time. Does that make you happy?”

“Doctor Mentor has a point,” said the third man. He was blue and covered in scales and dark crustacean-like armor. A black and teal cape draped out behind him and his trident leaned lazily against his chair. Yellows eyes were set below a red bindi on his forehead, and a crown of black spikes. Lord Karta Kumari, also known as Kingfish, was the deposed ruler of the underwater nation of Lemuria, and sworn enemy of Atlantis. “I think, you are not so good at being the story teller. You should have led with that instead of telling us about this money deal.”

“Its called a hostile takeover.” The CEO said in a huff.

“Wasn’t that that the name of an old villain from the 80’s?” said Mentor.

“I would not know,” said Kingfish. “All you surface dwellers look the same to me. You would have to ask Iron Cross.”

Warning: Social interaction imminent, said the incessant voice in my head.

“Yeah, Cross,” said Mentor turning to me. “You’re older than dirt. Did you ever hear of a villain called Hostile Takeover? I think he wore… like a big business suit, and hit people with one of those old giant cell phones or something. I tell you, the 80’s were weird.”

Answer: Hostile Takeover operated from 1991 until 1994 when he took his own life after failing to crash the stock market.

“It was the early 90’s,” I said through the armored face plate of iron and obsidian. As I talked I admired my crimson cape and hood. The light reflected off the black mystic symbols of the Third Reich that trimmed the fabric. “I believe he killed himself in 94.”

“Some people can’t take the pressure,” said the CEO before turning to the last of our party. “Georgia, my sweet, may we begin anytime soon?”

“Hold your horses, darling,” said Georgia Atlanta as she finished shuffling the deck. “Alright, boys. The game of the night is Liberty City Draw, red sevens are wild. Ante up.”

Statement: This is an error in judgement.

“Shut up,” I cackled at the voice in me head as I tried to pick up the cards that were dealt me. My massive metal gloves failed miserably at the task.

“What did you say, my friend?” said Kingfish to my right. “Were you talking to me?”

“No… I mean, nein,” I said with a growl as my cards spilled onto the floor. “Blast these clumsy claws.”

“Geez, Cross,” said Doctor Mentor. “I knew you were old, but is the arthritis so bad that can’t you even hold your own damn cards.”

“Hold you tongue, you upstart.” If he could have seen my face behind the armor he would have known the true meaning of the word wrath. Unfortunately, the moment was ruined when I hit my helmet against the table, but no matter, because everything was going according to plan. While out of sight I quickly snatched up my cards, taking out the ace of diamonds and replacing it with an exact replica that was concealed within my suit.

Status: Decoy activated. Functioning nominally

“Of course it is,” I said under my breath as I picked myself back up. “I created it, you fool of a voice.” Kingfish looked at me again as if he had heard, but said nothing. So, I slid two chips into the center, matching the bet of the other men.

The rest of Friday’s Bar was clear of tables and chairs, but that did mean it was empty. Various henchmen and bodyguards lingered in rings around the spotlighted table. Large men in suits and sunglasses stood beside spindly warriors that looked more fish than human, and both mingled with faceless soldiers of fortune and cybernetics. Their weapons were not visible, but that did not mean that they were not within easy reach.

“I’ll raise,” said the CEO. He looked meaningfully at Doctor Mentor, daring him to match. “And, Doctor, if you did not enjoy the tale of my latest villainy maybe you might care to share with us what you have been doing since our last meeting?”

The man in the lab coat slid two more chips into the pot, holding his smug smile. “Just the usual, of course. I consider mad science to be more than a job. It’s a passion.”

“I heard you’ve been creating some sort of weather domination machine,” said CEO over his cards. “A little cliche, don’t you think?”

“Don’t blame me if you don’t appreciate the classics,” said Doctor Mentor as he put one card on the table and waited for Georgia to replace it with one from the deck. “Besides this is no mere weather dominator. My machine has the potential to reshape the world and no troglodyte in a cape and mask will be able to stop it.”

“I do not care for these weather machines you scientists are always creating,” said Kingfish as he received two more cards. “You surface villains always try to melt icebergs or shift the poles and who is it that suffers? It is the ocean.”

“And here, I thought you’d be happy,” said Mentor as he threw two more chips into the pot. “More water means more real estate for your people?”

“I fold.” The Lemurian put his cards down in front of him. “The flooding is not the problem. That is a common misconception. You see, my friend, my people are affected by the weather too. Do you not know how hard it is to plot revenge on my traitorous half-brother when the currents keep shifting? Suddenly, my schools of venomous salt-water piranha are swimming back at me because some gaandu decided to put giant mirrors in orbit and heat the Atlantic, or some such surface-world nonsense.”

“Personally,” said CEO rearranging his cards, “I’m against the idea of weather machines. Their effects are too unpredictable on the market. What’s the point of creating cheap beach-front property if your investment portfolio drops by 12 points.”

“This here is too rich for my blood,” said Georgia folding her hand. “Didn’t Dark Horse just get busted with some sort of weather device?”

Statement: You have a 67% of having the winning hand.
Suggestion: Increase the ante.

“Fold,” I said in defiance of the voice in my head. My game was not about winning at paltry poker.

“Dark Horse?” said Mentor in disgust. “He’s a second-rate villain and a third-rate scientist, and who names themselves Dark Horse?”

“I always assumed it was because he was black?” said Kingfish.

“Yeah… but just because your African American doesn’t mean you have to go and name yourself Dark Horse… Right?” said Mentor. “I mean, this isn’t the damn 70’s anymore. I feel uncomfortable just saying it.”

“I would not be surprised if that’s why he did it,” said CEO. “And I’ll call.” He put down his cards, a straight.

Showing the kind of smug smile that often haunted my dreams, Doctor Mentor revealed a full house. “Too bad, Chuckie boy. I win again.”

Alert: Danger. Proximity warning.

The door to Friday’s Bar burst open and the assembled thugs and henchmen raised their weapons as one. The sound of a hundred safeties being released was like the sound of a thousand clocks ticking down to doomsday. Doctor Mentor was the first on his feet, a strange glowing gun of wire and circuitry held in his hand. Kingfish was next to stand, his elegant trident held at the ready. The CEO was the only one that remained seated, besides myself, mostly because the deplorable pressure cooker I was trapped in weighed a literal ton, and had no robotics whatsoever.

A spindly old decrepit figure was wheeled into the room. A tube of oxygen hung from his nostrils and a bag of undefinable substance sat suspended above his wheelchair. The whole contraption was being pushed by a rather rotund and fierce looking woman dressed in a white nurse’s outfit adorned with swastikas.

“Curses,” I said. The cumbersome metal casing was suddenly hotter than before.

“Count Von Eisen?” said Kingfish. “If you are there than who is this, sitting in your Iron Cross armor?” So, that was how I found myself detestably facing the business end of a trident, a ridiculous laser gun, and about a hundred other assorted weaponry. CEO finally stood and removed my monstrosity of a helmet. It felt like I could breath again, but for how much longer?

“Mandroid,” he thundered. “Did you really believe a C-Lister like you could sneak into our monthly poker game and walk out again with your limbs intact?”

Statement: Your ruse has failed, said my never-ending internal voice.

“Shut up, damnit,” I responded and immediately saw my mistake.

“You would speak to me in that tone, you half-machine half-wit.” The big man snapped his fingers and two of his thugs stepped forward, looking ready to pull me from the armor by force.

“No, no, no!” I would have gone down to my knees if not for the lead weight around my body. “I wasn’t talking to…” My words fell short as the cold steel of a pistol muzzle touched my temple.

“He stole my magic armor,” screamed the Count Von Eisen. “He must pay!”

“I just wanted to play cards,” I said thinking fast. “And bask in your glory. Yes, that’s it. I am such a big fan of all of you. I just wanted to be near you to… uh… bask and such.” The hammer on the pistol clicked back.

“Now, that’s enough, you hear?” said Georgia standing from her place. “First of all, Count, you ain’t worn that armor in what? Three decades?”

The old man looked suddenly lost for words. “I put it on, sometimes on Sundays…”

Next she turned on the CEO, “And you, Charles, do you know how upset JJ is going to be if you stain his little old floors with blood and motor oil? You can kiss this monthly poker game goodbye, I’ll tell you that for sure. Is that what you want, to lose the only night you four get to kick back and have a little fun? All because of some villain like Mandroid?”

Correction: The Mandroid

The Mandroid,” I corrected.

“Not helping, sugah.” She sat back down and started shuffling the deck as if nothing had happened.

“Yeah,” echoed Doctor Mentor. “I say you let him stay. We’ve been short a player ever since Comosis got pinched by the Intergalactic Guardians.” He plopped back down in his seat and put his feet up until Georgia pushed them off with a stern look. “I’m sure Manny’s good for it.”

“Oh, I just don’t care,” said Kingfish as he threw a glass of water on himself. “By Agni’s seven pits, it is so hot on the surface world. Can we just get back to the game?”

“Fine,” relented the CEO. “The mechanical moron can stay, but he better be able to cover the pot.” His henchmen resumed their place on the wall. “The buy-in is 100,000 dollars. I know it’s a little low, but it’s only a friendly game after all.”

Statement: Current Expense Account Total is $507.34

“I’m good for it,” I said as I unlatched the armor and climbed out.

“Do not scratch my suit,” said Count Von Eisen, the real Iron Cross, as his nurse wheeled him over to the table. “In my day people had more respect for their elders. They didn’t go around stealing their magic armor, and you know why? It’s because they feared me. Back then being a super-villain meant being ruthless. It meant being so terrible that your enemies quaked in their lederhosen at the very mention of your name. It meant that your underlings did as you told them for fear of swift and terrible retribution.”

“It also meant getting your ass kicked by heroes wearing literal spandex, with names like Captain Super or Dashing Dynamo,” said Mentor as he picked up his cards.

“I killed Captain Super in the 50’s,” said Von Eisen. “I dipped his body in acid. Turns out he wasn’t so super after all… and the title was mostly honorary. He had never served in the military.”

“I’ll take fighting heroes like Ionic Storm any day of the week. At least he has real superpowers. So many of those capes in the 30’s and 40’s were just lunatics with a strong left hook and a Hollywood smile.” Mentor waved is hand to pass the bet.

“Ionic Storm also has an ego the size of Titan City,” said CEO. “I don’t mind his heroics but must he take selfies with every one of my crime bosses he foils. I mean he can’t even smile, he’s wearing a robotic helmet for God’s sake. He looks the same in every picture he posts online, and I am sick of seeing that armored visage on my newsfeed.”

Status: Decoy card is not in play.

“Damnit,” I muttered.

“What did you say, my friend?” said Kingfish as he threw in a chip into the pot.

“I said, Damn Ionic Storm. I have faced him many times in glorious battle…” I looked at my cards: a 2 of spades, a 3 of clubs, a 6 of hearts, a 10 of diamonds, and a 7 of spades.

“And he’s beat you more times than an abusive boyfriend,” said Mentor. “I’ve seen those selfies too.”

“A slanderous statement,” I slapped my cards on the table, “and… wait, you’re telling me you follow him on social media?”

“…I don’t understand all this social what’s its?” said Count Von Eisen. “In my day you followed someone from the rooftops under the cover of darkness, not through chirps or shares or whatnot…”

“…Of course, I follow the Ionic Idiot,” said Doctor Mentor. “I also follow Social Justice, The American Eagle, Arachna-Kid, and the entire Law and Order Brigade. I even watch The Real Heroes of L.A.”

“That reality show about that second-rate superhero team of kids? What are they called?” said CEO taking two cards.

“The Millennial Squad,” said Doctor Mentor,” and don’t knock it, Chuckie Boy. I’m positively hooked. I can’t wait until next week’s episode so I can figure out if Hacktivism ever gets out of her abusive ‘ship with the Handsome Hipster…

“…I served on an abusive ship once,” said Count Von Eisen to himself as he took three more cards. “It was during the First World War…”

“… She deserves to be with Emoticon 2000. He may be made of steel and zinc but he has a heart of gold. And I hear that next week they face off against First World Problem Child,” said Mentor taking two cards from Georgia.

“You know, I met the Problem Child at a party once in Paradigm City?” said the CEO putting in an additional betting chip. “I couldn’t stand the little ingrate for more than two minutes, what with his tattoos and stupid haircut, and whining about how he couldn’t a wifi signal. I swear I have no idea what is becoming of this next generation of villains?”

“I’m sure the Millennial Squad will beat him silly as they yell squad goals, and all that crap. I am convinced the producers pay those villains a fee to lose on purpose,” said Mentor matching the bet. “But what I’m really trying to say here, Manny, is that this why I’m at the top of my game and you wallow down in the minor leagues. When my enemies are stupid enough to advertise themselves over the Internet or on TV, I’m smart enough to pay attention. Just like I am smart enough to know that you have nothing but garbage in your hand.”

Statement: You have a 8.3% of having the winning hand.
Suggestion: Fold

“Garbage!” I said. “I’ll show you garbage, you fool. I’ll see your chip and raise you two more.”

“You know each of those chips is worth 500 dollars,” said the CEO with a look of warning.

“Then I’ll use my winnings to fly a giant blimp over the city that says, Doctor Mentor is a Loser.” I put two more chips into the pot.

“You’re an idiot,” CEO said and folded his hand.

“I’m in,” said Mentor. “I’m interested to see what old Manny has up his sleeve. You have to be better at cards than you are at villainy. You can’t be any worse.”

“Well, I’m out, sugah,” said Georgia.

“Count Von Eisen, never runs from battle,” said the old villain, “but he knows when to tactically withdraw. I fold.”

“I will see your bet,” said Kingfish.

“Say, Manny, before you show us your cards why don’t you tell everyone about the last gamble you made? You know during your little vacation in Vegas?” Mentor smiled and put his feet up on the table till Georgia pushed them off again.

I froze. I hated the man more than I have hated any arch-nemesis I’ve ever had, even more than that accursed Half-Life.

“No,” he said. “Well, I’ll tell it than. You see, a few weeks back Manny here decided to try and head for greener pastures. So he picked up his little science experiments and went out to Vegas where he fell in with a guy named Damien, a man who claimed to be the son of the Devil. He wasn’t, by the way. The guy grew up in Yonkers, and didn’t even have any superpowers. He did, however, have a few D-Listers convinced of his little ruse. Long story short Manny spent two weeks brainwashed into doing menial labor for this Damien and his ragtag group of rejects until they were all busted by Diva and thrown into super-max… He was their bag boy.” Mentor laughed like it was the funniest thing he had ever heard.

“By the Great Fin of Matsya, have you ever seen her show at the Grand Pilgrim Hotel?” said Kingfish ignoring the joke. “I know Diva is a superhero, but I hear that her voice is to die for.”

“Oh, honey, I went last summer and the notes that girl can hit… well to listen to her you would just think that you’d up and went to heaven.,” said Georgia. “Now, Doc, if you are done embarrassing poor Mandroid here…

Correction: The Mandroid

“The Mandroid,” I said.

“… can we just get back to playing?” She looked at me. “Let’s see your cards, sugah?”

“My cards are unimportant, compared to the insults of this douche.” I stood. “I don’t have to sit here and take this from…”

Alert: Danger. Tactical error in progress.

Suddenly all the weapons in the room were again pointed at me.

“Mandroid,” said the CEO. “If you walk away now, you forfeit the complete $100,000 buy-in. Sit back down.”

“I suppose I can play a few more hands,” I resumed my seat, “but I refuse to play this hand… out of protest.”

“Fine, than I win,” said Mentor as he showed a straight.

“Correction, my friend,” said Kingfish. “I win. Five of a kind, I think.” The fish-man swept all the chips to his corner, leaving Mentor mumbling to himself. “It is so typical of you surface-dwellers. You are so preoccupied with your own little problems that you fail to realize the true threat rising beneath your feet, the threat of Lord Karta Kumari.”

“Don’t start this again?” said CEO, as he anted for the next hand “We’re all sick of hearing about the wrath of the sea. You know nobody cares, right? Nobody cares about what happens in the ocean. It’s boring. I mean you talk to fish. What kind of power is that anyway?”

“How dare you?” said Kingfish. “Three-quarters of this planet are dominated by the oceans. 80% of you surface-dwellers live within 60 miles of an ocean. 90% of your internationally traded goods are moved by ship across my oceans. Millions of fish are caught every year from my waters, and not to mention the hundreds of millions of Atlanteans and Lemurians who live in cities in the very depths of the oceans that you dare insult. If you think that because I am an ocean-villain,” he paused to throw another glass of water on himself, “that I am somehow less of a menace than you surface-villains, than you are mistaken. If anything I am the greatest villain here. I have power over a vast realm of creatures, and I promise that I will soon be bringing my armies to march on every major capital in…”

“Oh, stop monologueing,” said Count Von Eisen. “You villains today, your always spouting off about your great and masterful plans. In my day, you didn’t talk about the death laser you had aimed at the continental United States, you just obliterated a small Midwestern city and showed people that you meant business. With you young punks its all talk, talk, and more talk. Why do you even reveal your plans at all. Sure, you may think you have the hero strapped to a laser cutting table, but does that mean you have to tell him everything?”

“Or her everything?” corrected Georgia as she won the next hand.

“And that is another thing. When I ran the organization of the 5th Reich, women were secretaries and sometimes sexy bodyguards. Now they can be anything, even a hero? That is outrageous.”

“Did you not once work with Lady Zeppelin?” said Kingfish.

“She was my top henchwoman. She typed a hundred words a minute, took perfect dictation, and was also an animal in the sack. Yet, I would never think of putting her or any woman in a slow-timed death trap. A real gentleman does not hang a lady over a tank of sharks. Its disrespectful.”

“That’s just a double-standard, darling,” said Georgia.

“I don’t care if you like it or not. I’m old, and a literal Nazi. I used to go to dinner parties with my Mein Fuhrer. What do you want from me? Progressive policies on women’s liberation?” He took the cards that were dealt to him.

“Can you cut the Nazi act, old man?” said CEO. “I mean you want to talk about cliched, you can’t get much more cliched than that.”

“This coming from the man who runs a greedy corporation and is secretly a criminal,” said Von Eisen. “You’re basically the villain in almost every movie I’ve ever seen about about a scrappy young protagonist just trying to make it in the world. At least, I’m the original villain, the very definition of evil. I shall never be defeated…”

Status: Decoy in play

“Except when you lost the war,” said Mentor, “and then the Power Platoon finally caught up with you. I heard you were cowering in a bunker on the outskirts of Munich, and you spent the next six years locked away in a ceramic cage buried somewhere in the middle of West Germany.” He picked up the two cards that were dealt to him and dropped one immediately as if he had been shocked. It tumbled to the table to reveal itself as the Ace of Diamonds. Quickly he snatched it up and put it back in his hand.

Status: Interface Established. Download progress 7%

Count Von Eisen threw a chip into the middle. “I surrendered to the Power Platoon. It was all part of my long term plan. Besides it was better than confronting their Soviet counterparts, the Terrible Troika, even if it meant having to put up with the gloating smile of that American moron, Ironside.”

“Did you ever find it strange,” I said, trying to keep the conversation going, “That both you and your most hated enemy used the word Iron, in your names?”

He dismissed me with a wave of his skeletal hand. “It was a different time. Iron was a common a name. There was myself, Ironside, The Iron Curtain, Lady Ferrum, but I was the only one who actually wore iron.”

Status: Download progress 19%.

“If we’re done reminiscing, can we get back to cards?” said Doctor Mentor passing two back to Georgia, neither was the decoy.

“I do not know if I could have done six years in prison,” said Kingfish as he put two cards down on the table and got two more back, “We have all been to prison here, but that is a long time. Personally, I spent six months in the dungeons of my half-brother and that was enough. Thank Kali, I was able to signal a passing whale and command it to free me. Oh, what an escape that was, let me tell you. The coral wall exploded apart and I rode the beast back to safety all while Atlantean cannons boiled the waters around me.”

“Aren’t whales mammals?” said the CEO putting down three cards. “I thought you could only control fish?”

“They all live in the water,” said Kingfish suddenly not making eye contact. “It’s all the same.”

“No, it’s not,” said Mentor. “Mammals and fish have completely different brain structures. Could you command a dog if its swimming in the water? What about a Gorilla is a diving suit?”

Status: Download progress 35%.

“Wait,” said Count Von Eisen as he put one card down and looked at me. “Mandroid, didn’t Doctor Mentor say you got thrown in super-max a few weeks ago? How did you escape so quickly?”

CEO was suddenly staring me down.

“Was it the laundry truck?” said Mentor with a sneer

Status: Download progress 40%.

“No,” I said thinking fast. “I was sent to The Dome out in Utah. The fools use robots as cafeteria servers, something about an incident between a cafeteria lady and the villain, the Cafeteria Lady. So now they use robots. It was a small matter to rewire them to do my bidding. After all, I am The Mandroid, Master of Machines, Ruler of Robotics…

Status: Download progress 48%.

“Uh… uh… Earl of Electronics…”

“Yes, yes, my friend. We get the picture,” said Kingfish. “I once heard that Cerberus Super Max has an 11% escape rate per year, and that is considered one of the lowest in this country. You would think they would learn to build better ones.”

“I’ll call, said Mentor holding his cards as if he meant to drop them.

Status: Download progress 66%.

“Wait,” I said. “I’ll raise you… two chips.”

“Not this again, Manny. Didn’t you learn your lesson last time?” He matched my bet and raised me an additional chip.

Status: Download progress 71%.

The four other players at the table went out and I found myself faced with the scientist I hated most in the world. Here was the man that had hounded me since graduate school. He took every chance he could to embarrass me. He was the reason why I never became Dr. Mandroid. I could still see his smug eighteen year old face sitting on the review committee as he mocked and destroyed my dissertation. He gloated how cybernetics were the key, like the ones he had installed in his own body, and that robotics were too 1970’s. The others had agreed and I found myself out on the street bested by someone ten years younger, but no more. For as we sat there my decoy card was hacking those very same cybernetics and downloading the schematics to his vaunted weather machine.

“I’ll see that and raise you two more,” I slammed three chips down as if I were pressing the button on one of my doomsday droids.

Status: Download progress 88%.

“You’re a fool, Manny.” He smiled and slid two more chips into the center. “You always were.”

Status: Download progress 93%.

I put my cards down revealing a straight flush. “How do you like that, Desmond.”

Status: Download progress 98%.

“I like it just fine.” He put his own cards down, revealing a royal flush. “You lose again, but at least you’re used to it.”

Status: Download progress 99%. Connection lost.

“I don’t see it,” I said. “How is that higher than mine?”

He grew angry. “It’s a royal flush, you ass. Look.” He grabbed the cards and held them up for the entire table to see.

Status: Connection established. Download progress 100%. Download Complete.

I laughed maniacally. The fool was completely clueless to my masterful ruse. My evil cackle echoed off the walls of the empty barroom. No one could withstand the intellectual might of the Mandroid. My time of revenge was finally at hand… and then I realized I was kneeling on the table as everyone in the room silently watched me. “I mean… curses. You win again.”

The CEO and two of his goons personally threw me out of the bar after that outburst. His massive girth towered over me as my face hit the pavement. “You’re a fool, Mandroid. I never would have paid your way out prison if I knew you were going to be this amateurish.”

I turned over, my face feeling raw and soiled. “I got the plans you wanted.” I ejected a small disk from a socket in my torso, and the man snatched it up like it was made of gold.

“Excellent,” he said with a sudden sneer. “With these plans I’ll finally be able to sink a few troublesome islands and the offshore accounts that reside on them.” He pocketed the information and headed back toward the bar.

“Wait,” I said. “What about the payment you promised me?”

The CEO turned and brought his massive foot down next to me. The cement cracked where it landed. “Considering that you just lost about $30,000 in poker chips, $30,000 of my money! I would say you’re lucky I don’t have my men take you apart and sell you for scrap.”

He put his hand on the door and disappeared back inside the bar. His two thugs lingered longer but they soon followed leaving me alone in the dark alley. I picked myself up off the ground and clutched the duplicate data card in my hand. I inserted it into my data drive and hobbled off knowing that soon Titan City would feel the true wrath of the…

Status: Analyzing data disk.
Error: Disk unreadable. Data corruption detected
.

“…”


Read all the stories about Friday’s Bar for Super-villains
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.

“Get your behind in here.” I hold open the door and wait, like a polecat eyeing down its dinner. I make sure to leave no room for argument. “Now,” I say, and Gill finally gets the hint. He don’t look none too happy about it, but he marches into the backroom of Friday’s Bar all the same. We’re both drenched from the rain, but the only difference is that he’s dressed in some ridiculous getup, with black paint ringing his eyes and a cape of feathers. I think he looks more raccoon than bird, but there ain’t much using in telling him that.

“What the hell were you thinking, boy?” I turn on the lights and slam the door shut to keep the rain out, feeling like a drowned river rat, and none to happy for it either.

“I was being true to myself.” There was a summer’s heat to his voice. It had been the first thing he had said since I picked him up at the police station. “And I would have gotten away with it too if it hadn’t been for that star spangled bastard.” He slammed his fist down, powerfully, on the kitchen island.

“You had best watch your tone, boy.” I put a sharp finger in his chest and for a moment there was fear in his eye. He needs to learn a little fear if he’s going to go around dressed like a giant bird. “Patriot Missile could have skewered your innards from five-hundred paces. That red, white, and blue Robin Hood is the best damn shot from here to the Mississippi.”

“He humiliated me, and defeated my minions in combat.” Gill throws his cape back like he’s making some grand gesture of villainy, but the poor soaked fool just looks as awkward as a sow in a prom dress.

“The way I heard it from the boys in blue, he bought a pretzel and put it on his arrow. Then he went and shot it out into the harbor. Your little birdies followed it like a dinner bell.” My hands found my hips and I gave him my best stare. My shirt was wet and I was showing off more of my assets than I normally cared to, but for the moment I didn’t give a lick. If Gill wasn’t going to listen to JJ and stop all of his super-villain nonsense than I would just have to beat it out of him the good old fashioned way.

“Those cops. They thought it was all such a joke. They couldn’t even stop laughing long enough to take my fingerprints.” Normally Gill would be struck near dumb by the sight of me in a wet t-shirt, but something was different, tonight. He seemed to barely notice or even care, instead being all worked over his little escapade. “I’ll show them. I’ll show them all. Then I’ll be the one laughing.” Suddenly, it was my turn to lose my composure. His maniacal laughter was almost convincing, at least it would have been if he didn’t start hacking up a coughing fit about midway through.

“Sugah, you had best count your lucky stars the police found it so damn amusing. It’s the reason they released you into my custody and dropped the charges of villainous menacing in the 3rd degree. You could have found yourself in super-max for the next six months, and I promise you that the men in there wouldn’t find your little eagle costume as amusing.”

“It’s a seagull. I’m the Seaguller.” The boy started sneezing up a storm.

“Really?” I say. “Why didn’t you pick something more menacing… like maybe a hawk… or even a sparrow.”

“I am the Seaguller, master of all seagulls,” he said in-between sneezes. “Everyone will soon fear the name.”

“Well, if I was you, I had best start learning to fear me. Do you know what its like trying to find a sitter at three in the morning. You were just lucky Ms. Parsons across the way was able to watch Owen, so I could come down and bail your sorry hide out of jail.” The boy at least had the decency to look muddled about the whole damn thing, but I weren’t done with my anger. “And another thing, JJ, ain’t going to be none too happy, either, when he hears about all this foolery of yours. I can guarantee you that.”

“You don’t get it. JJ doesn’t get it. You’re both so old. You have no idea what its like to be me,” he railed.

“I’m not…” It was a silly old thing but suddenly I felt painfully aware that I was standing there looking drenched without a lick of makeup on. I caught sight of my own reflection in one of the steel cabinets, its scratched shiny finish showed every wrinkle and crease. My eyes had bags so big I could have used them to pick up groceries. “Gill, darling,” the fire gone from my voice. “We’re only worried about you, that’s all.”

“Well don’t. This is what I want. This is what I want to be.” His own fire had died and as he talked his shuffled his feat like my Little Buford Heck, the first kid I ever danced with. “I don’t care if you tell JJ. I… I don’t care if he fires me.”

I tipped his chin up till he was looking me in the eyes. “Sugah, you need to tell JJ.”

He swallows hard like a man facing the hangman. “He’s going to be real mad at me.”

“Gill, darling, I’m real mad at you. JJ, is going to be damn near furious, but that don’t change what you have to do. A real man takes responsibility for his actions.” I let go of his chin and leave him looking like my Owen when I tell he needs to eat his greens.

I notice my hands, they’re wrinkled from the rain and they’re a pain in my joints like a dull fire when I bend them. They’re the hands of an old woman, a sow past her prime. When did I get old? Where did all the time go? I look again at Gil and the boy seems so young. How long ago had it been since I was his age?

The boy lets out another hacking cough and my own aches are momentarily forgotten, I put my hand to his forehead only to discover he’s burning up worse than one of my Sunday pot roasts. “Sugah, you ain’t looking so good. I think we’d best get you home.”

I lead him out the door and back into the pounding rain of the night. “What about JJ?” he asks as I put my coat around him.

“You ain’t getting out of bed tomorrow, you hear? You’ll just have to face the music on Thursday. I’ll tell him you were feeling under the weather.” Before I hit the lights I give one last look at my reflection, and part of me wonders who the old woman is that’s staring back at me.

The rest of my night was not really what you might call restful. After all the commotion with Gill my sleep was hardly steady. So, come morning I weren’t in no mood for one of JJ’s moods.

“What do you mean under the weather?” says JJ leaning against the bar top looking as surly as ever.

“That boy was sicker than all tarnation. I told him to stay home.” I fumble with my apron strings, but with my fingers aching something awful I can barely get them knotted.

“I guess we’ll have to make do,” says JJ. “He’ll just have to clean out that ice machine next week.” Then, the man does something I rarely see him do, he hesitates. At last he picks up a rolled up newspaper and hands it to me, as if it were a coiled water snake. “Did you see the news?”

I snatch the paper from JJ’s paw, and unroll it carefully, unsure of what I will find. Maybe Gill’s little run-in with Patriot Missile made the headlines, but what I discover is not exactly what I was anticipating. “This ain’t me,” I hear myself say.

In big bold letters the paper reads, Southern Bedlam Strikes. So I keep reading, The villainess known as Southern Bedlam killed four men last night. Police linked the dead men to the Scorpio Drug Cartel, but authorities are not amused at the latest murder spree attributed to the famous assassin…

“You are looking more tired today, than usual. Late night?” There is no malice in his voice. Just feline curiosity.

“Owen was being fussy all night,” I lie. “JJ, this ain’t me, not no-more.” I slam the paper down and I notice that Friar Freeze and The Robber Ducky look up from their conversation. I give them a stare, like Lucifer himself, and suddenly they both find better things to busy themselves with. “I swear I put that life behind me a long time ago.”

“I know.” As crusty as my boss can sometimes be, he has a way of making even two words seem more precious than all the diamonds in the Carolinas. “It’s not you, but someone out there is using your old moniker, and I don’t want you going out there to do something stupid.”

“Stupid?” I say with enough fire to flash fry a catfish.

“Now, Georgia. You know what I mean. Running around like this is a young person’s game and you’re too…”

“Too what? I’m too what, JJ? Old?” I take a step toward him, the newspaper rolled dup in my hand.

“…too, smart for that,” he says holding his ground. “Everyone in this bar has or had a villainous handle, or a codename, or whatever. Some of us hate our names, and some of us were given them, but whatever the case it’s a very personal thing. It’s how we present ourselves to the world. If someone is out there using yours without permission… Well I know how that might drive someone to do something stu… unnecessary.” JJ eases himself off the countertop with a groan. “Just promise you won’t go out and try to find this person, whoever they are.”

As my boss limps away to talk with some customers down at the other end of the bar, I straighten my hair. In all the commotion some of it had come lose from the ponytail and a I smooth it back I can’t help but notice the gray strands that I come away with.

I did my best to go about my usual business, serving drinks but something seemed off. Usually, I found myself  dodging lecherous hands, claws, or whatever, but for some reason none of the usual trash even gave me a second glance. It was a Wednesday, one of our lighter days. After all, the Cerberus Super-Max don’t out-process prisoners till Thursday. Still, that’s not to say there wasn’t  enough death stares and death rays to keep a girl busy, but other than that no one seemed to take much notice of me. My afternoon I could not recall one inappropriate comment or one person’s hand I had to bust for trying to squeeze the eggs, if you know what I mean. This is not to say that I enjoyed those things, but they were always there, like fur on a dog. I suppose I had never considered the possibility that they wouldn’t be around one day.

By happy hour -half price drinks are always a problem- I was forced to remove my first client of the night.

“You had best get before I get angry.” I stare down Malus Maximus, his little helmet dented where my steel-toed high-heels connected with his head.

“How dare you speak to me in such a manner. I shall return with my legion at my back, and then…”He draws his little sword, but I’m faster. I usually am. I strike again, right square in his arrogant Roman eye.

“Darling I don’t care if you have one or one-thousand men, you hear? You ain’t got no right to call a lady that word, not in my presence. Now, if you ever want to come back to this here bar, you had best learn some manners, or did they not have those back where you came from?” I wipe my hands on my apron, if only to mask the ache in my joints. “I swear, you Italian men are all the same.”

Then I hear it, a low signing whistle and something inside me reacts, like a snake striking at a threat. My apron is still in my hands so I rip it clean off and use it like a rag to bat aside the incoming weapon. A five-pointed throwing star throwing star clatters to the pavement, sounding like a steel dinner plate hitting the floor. I have more time with the next two. I dodge to the side, while grabbing discarded weapon and throw it before I am even full on my feet. The weight feels good in my hand, the heft of old memories long left behind.

It flies, straight, like a hawk diving for a field mouse, but my shadowy opponent was ready. With one swift movement she goes and plucks it out of the air, as if it were nothing. Then she steps forward and it’s like looking in a mirror, well a mirror that is twenty years younger.

“Mighty impressive,” she says. It ain’t my old costume she’s wearing, but close enough all the same. Mine was all tight black leather and plunging neck lines, where as I can tell the girl before me is not quite as endowed as I was at her age, but no less striking. Her uniform is less revealing, a red leather jumpsuit closed up to her neck. Two dark blue bandoliers criss-cross her chest, each holding six or seven of them throwing stars. Black leather straps accent the costume, and holding a series of small weapons, daggers, darts, and even a stylized sai. She looks as dangerous as she does beautiful. A black balaclava masks her face, but her long red hair falls across both shoulders looking more like silk.

“Did you ever wonder why there are so many redheads in our line of work?” I say as I stand back up, feeling a bit too aware of the brown straw that is currently held back by a common rubber band at the back of my head.

Then I notice Malus Maximus. The Roman general sits transfixed by what he just witnessed, one hand still holding the swollen eye where I struck him. “Didn’t I tell you to get?” I say and that’s all the excuse the man needs. He disappears out the alleyway as if his very tunic were on fire.

“Well, don’t you just have a way with men?” says the girl as she walks toward me.

“It’s a gift, darling. I am sure you have had to drive off more than a few suitors in your day.” I make my voice all sugar and spice. “I mean look at you, aren’t you just pretty as a picture.”

“Oh, I could never be as stunning as you. I mean even at your age you have managed to keep your skin looking so pearly white.” She smiles under her mask. Even through the black cloth I can see that smug little mouth turning up at her words.

“Well, moisturizing is key, honey, but I’m sure you know that by now, what with all those health classes they give you in high school. You must have all the boys wanting to ask you to prom. I mean, being so flexible and all.” Then it was my turn to smile.

“Oh, I do alright, don’t you know, but I’m sure it was nothing compared to you back in the day, what with all your tremendous… advantages. Even now you still have such wonderful resources at your disposal. You’ll have to tell me what kind of elastic support you use, because it is doing wonders. It’s just a cruel fact of life that with age we all lose a bit of our perk.” I watch her hand reach into one of the pouches on her belt. For most, the gesture would have seemed as natural as a growing grass, but I haven’t lost as much of my step as she might think.

“Aren’t you just the sweetest little thing for noticing. Now, honey, whatever can I do for you? Maybe some tips on wardrobe?”

That signaled the end of the conversation. “I’m sure I’ll get along quite all right on my own,” she said and threw the smoke pellets hard to the pavement. A mighty cloud of thick grey smoke filled the alleyway like a Tennessee rain storm, but I was ready.

I tied my apron around my mouth to keep from choking even as I dodged two more throwing stars. I didn’t see them so much as hear them coming. Then she was on me. The girl was as light as she was fast, but strong too. That fancy sai stopped mere inches from my throat, before I could get her off me again. When I turned to find her, she was gone, like a ghost in swamp mist.

“I’ll admit it, darling, you got some skill,” I say to the smoke, “that don’t give you no right to be wearing that getup and calling yourself Southern Bedlam, though. That ain’t your name to use, you hear?”

I duck the roundhouse right before it connects, and I block the follow up punch that I knew was coming. “Why?” says the unseen voice of the storm. “It ain’t like you’re getting anymore use out of it? You’re out of the game, content to live your life kicking out bar flies and playing house. What right do you have to it, anymore, darling?”

I use the voice to track where she is. Speaking like that was a damn rookie mistake for an assassin. “You’re young so you don’t get it yet, but you can’t go around taking people’s identities unless you have permission. That’s just not how things are done.” I lunge like a bobcat, claws out, but what I find is nothing but more smoke and empty pavement. I realize my mistake, but too late.

Her first kick drives me to my knees. Thank the Lord she didn’t aim for the head and knock me senseless, another rookie mistake. So, I recover quick enough to catch her downward strike and I use that momentum to throw her to the ground, but she don’t stay down for long. In one swift spin she kicks out knocking me down as well. I’m usually faster, but not this time. Then she’s on me again, like yellow on corn, her sai back in hand.

“You betrayed everything you stood for,” said the girl. “It is my sworn duty to end your treachery once and for all.”

“Who in the name of all tarnation told you that load of horse manure?” I flip around and kick her off. When I find my feet again I notice that I’m bleeding like a leaky pale, but I ignore it. My lip is cracked and so are my nails, and one of those two things just makes me madder than all hell.

“Master Cletus,” says the girl and she throws two more stars from her bandolier.

I duck them and kick forward connecting with her chest, but she catches the follow up and this time uses my momentum to throw me against the brick wall of the nearby building. “I should have known that old coot was still alive.” The impact dislocates my shoulder, but I don’t scream out. If my old master was the one who taught her how to fight than I damn well know what to expect next.

So, I reverse her hold and kick again with my high heels. The girl’s knee crumples and she falls to the ground in a heap. It’s a move I learned on the streets not in some damn dojo. “You listen to me girl, that old man is crazier than a dog in heat. He’s still convinced that the South Will Rise Again. You had best forget him and quick, just like I did, because his one man war will only lead you to ruin, you hear?”

“You betrayed the cause.” The girl takes one of her knives and swings for my leg, but I was expecting that and her attack meets only my kick. I feel something give and the blade goes skittering away as the smoke begins to clear the alley.

“I never believed in Cletus’ war. The first moment I could, I left him flat on his behind and went solo. Take it from me, honey, there is a lot more money in freelance work than in dying for some long lost cause.” With the smoke clearing and the fight all but over I reach down and yank her balaclava away and then I stop.

“Annah?” I say as I look into the face of my own niece, Savannah Atlanta. “Your pa told me that you were in college. What the hell are you doing here, dressed like that, girl?”

“Pa, don’t know nothing about this.” At least the girl has the decency to look ashamed. “Master Cletus found me and trained me. I don’t belong in no fancy school. This is what I want to do. This is who I am. I wanted to be like you, Auntie Gee.”

“Oh, sugah, bless your little heart, but why would you want to be like me?”

“Your beautiful, your powerful and independent, and nobody tells you what to do.”

“Then why in the name of all that’s holy were you trying to kill me?”

“Master Cletus said it was my final test. I’m sorry. I really am.”

My anger dies like a sunflower in wintertime.” I pull myself up and sit myself down next to her. “Oh, don’t you fret about it. You ain’t the first person who ever wanted to kill me, but, honey this ain’t you.”

“Yes, it is,” she says crossing her arms. “Being Southern Bedlam is exciting. Nothing I learned in college ever taught me what I wanted to be. This is what I want, Auntie Gee. Can’t you understand that?

I see myself when I look into her eyes, an impressionable young thing who can’t stand to be tied down to nobody or nothing. It had been so long since I had been that girl, maybe I had forgot what it felt like. It was like being in love for the first time, but without none of the uncertainty or heartache. Villainy is like fire, it burns hot and bright, and it draws you in, but until you get properly burned by it, ain’t no one going to get you to listen to reason.

“Lord, help me,” I say and let out a breath I didn’t realize I had been holding. “Listen, honey, If you’re going to be Southern Bedlam, I got a few conditions.” I put my arm around my kin.

“You’re not going to tell pa, are you?” She looks up at me and I see a baby girl who I bounced on my knee when I was not much older than her, nor dressed that much differently.

“You’re going to tell him, but when you’re good and ready. Second, you’re done with Master Cletus. That old bigot can’t do anything to touch you, not no more, not as long as you’re living under my roof.” I stand up and help Annah to her feet.

“Your roof?”

“That’s my last condition. You’re going to come live with me and Owen, at least till you find your own place here in Titan City. I want you around so I can keep an eye on you. You’re still young and new to all this. Maybe I can give you a few pointers from time to time, and help you avoid some of the mistakes I did.”

“Oh, thank you, Auntie Gee. Thank you.” Then the girl lunges for me and I almost let my old instincts kick in but I stop myself. She wraps me in a great big hug and I wince a little as my dislocated arm pops back into place.

“Also,” I say when she lets go. “I’ve decided you can keep the name. It suits you.”

“Thanks,” she says as we limp toward the door of Friday’s together, “but I was thinking about what you said. You’re right, that name is yours. So, maybe something new. What do you think of Bedlam?”

“I like it.” I open the door. “C’mon, let’s get patched up, and I’ll introduce you to my boss. He’s a good man.” I hold the door open as Annah goes in ahead of me, but I stop when I hear running.

I turn and out of the last dregs of smoke comes Gill. He’s dressed in jeans and a t-shirt, his seagull costume nowhere in sight. “Miss Atlanta,” he calls. “Miss Atlanta, I’m feeling better, and I wanted to say thank you for bailing me out last night.”

“Gill, you’re welcome, and how many times do I have to tell you to call me Georgia?” I can hear the jukebox playing some mournful tune inside the bar.

“Sorry,” he says. “Also, I’m here to tell JJ, like you said. I didn’t want to wait till tomorrow. I want to get it over with. After he fires me I’ll clean out my stuff and you’ll never have to see me again.” Gill starts to walk into the bar, but I stop him.

“Wait,” I say and let go of the open door. “Now listen here, because I’m only going to say this once. I realized I have no right to tell you how you should live your life. If you want to go around dressed as a giant seagull… or whatever, well who am I to make you do otherwise, and who is JJ? I know I told you that you need to tell him about what happened, and as much as I still believe that, it should be your decision. I won’t tell him, I swear. This is between you and him, and between you and yourself.

“You need to figure out what makes you happy and understand that whatever path you choose will have consequences, but I can’t make that choice for you. And, that is all I have to say on the matter, except that whatever path you choose I promise I’ll be there for you, as best I can.” Without words the boy hugs me and for the second time in so many minutes I have to worry about my injuries.

“Thank you. Thank you,” says Gill before suddenly realizing what he were doing. He jumps back like a cat from a hot roof and looks as embarrassed as anyone could be. “Are you bleeding?”

“It’s a long tale,” but before I can say more the door behind me pops back open.

“Auntie Gee,” says Annah, coming back out into the alleyway. “Are you coming inside?”

At the sight of her, I did not think it possible, but Gill turns an even dark shade of red. His mouth opens and closes like a catfish caught on a fishing line, and I smile to myself. “Gill Laridae, this is my niece, Savannah Atlanta.”

“Hi,” he squeaks.

“Annah, this is Gill. He’s also trying to be a villain.” I whisper the last part in a conspiratorial tone and immediately my niece perks up at the sight of the boy.

“Really?” she says and takes him by the arm back into the bar. “What’s your name? What kind of fighting styles do you know?” “What…” I don’t hear the rest as the door swings close behind them. For the first time that day I smile like a mother fox and realize maybe there are some benefits to getting older. After all, we all can’t stay young forever.


Read all the stories about Friday’s Bar for Super-villains
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

The backdoor latches with a heavy click, reinforced steel with a tritium lining, triple locked, durable enough to hold off any villain or hero who might try getting in. My breath comes in gasps but I don’t care. I feel alive, maybe for the first time in my life. Mom and dad never understood, neither did my teachers or even the professors I now have at the college. When I came out to the city my parents said I would find friends, people like me, and that I would find my place in the world. It was probably the only thing they had ever been right about in my entire life.

I move to wipe the sweat from my face only to discover that the mask is still there. Quickly I rip it off before anyone can see. It is a crude black and white thing with wingtips on either side, but it’s only a start. When I get more money, I’ll be able to afford something better, something sexier. Maybe leather or Kevlar, maybe I’ll even try it without a mask. Yeah, I could paint my face and style my hair, white with black tips. I fumble for the small notepad I keep in my pocket so I can jot down the idea for alterations. How amazing would that look?

A tapping makes me jump, but I realize I am alone in the back room of Friday’s Bar. I move quickly to the window, or what used to be the window. Now it is just a large metal slat with double locks. I quickly undo them and slide it up to find my friend, Icarus.

The small black and white seagull is jerking his head back and forth, looking as paranoid as I suddenly feel. When he sees me he perks up, happy to see his master. I raised the bird and his brothers and sisters from eggs. I have been teaching them how to follow orders and now they are almost ready. I am almost ready. I can taste the anticipation, the bitter sweetness of power.

Soon Gill Laridae will only be a name on paper and the people of Titan City will come to know me and fear me by my true name, The Seaguller. My winged minions will spread across the city like a cancer, doing my bidding and enacting revenge against those who ever laughed or ridiculed me.

Icarus squawks as he drops a ring of keys on the windowsill. They land with a metallic clunk and I snatch them up to examine my latest prize. They look to belong to a luxury sedan, complete with one of those new electronic sensors. Idly, I again picture the poor idiot who was stupid enough to leave the keys to his expensive car just lying around. He put them down on the park bench, just for a moment as he readjusted his latte, just long enough for an unnoticed angel of villainy to come swooping down to snatch them up.

No one ever notices seagulls. They are everywhere, especially near the wharf district. Most people think they are a nuisance, flying pests with wings, but that is where they are mistaken. For it is the unseen, the unnoticed, and the ridiculed, who often have the last laugh. Seagulls are scavengers and survivors. They adapted when stronger birds of prey failed to do so and now their numbers are plentiful, while the eagle and the hawk are endangered. Yes, ignore them at your peril, Titan City, for your doom will one day come from the sky, and that day is drawing near.

“Gill, is that you, sugah?” I hear Georgia’s voice come from the other side of the swinging door. I stuff the mask, notepad and keys into my jacket, and before she comes through I shoo away Icarus, slamming the window shut behind my loyal minion. When she finally walks in all she finds is me taking off my jacket to replace it with the old and soiled apron that I have come to both love and loathe.

“I thought that was you, honey, what is all the racket going on back here?” Georgia Atlanta is as beautiful in a ratty old concert t-shirt and jeans as she ever was in the assassin’s leather she had worn in younger days. Her hair, tied up in haste, is spilling out of the rubber band she used to secure it. Her eyes are a deep blue, like the nighttime sky. I just want to sit underneath them and gaze up for the rest of my life.

“I was just… just trying to find my…” I reach for a nearby tray and drop it with an obnoxious bang. I hate being such a klutz, especially in front of her. I don’t know if I should reach down to grab it or stand there coolly as if nothing happened, so instead I freeze in a half crouching posture that just makes it look I’m waiting for a proctology exam. Stupid, Gill.

Georgia just laughs, like the light tingling of a bell in summer. The sound makes me want to laugh and hide my head all at the same time. “It’s alright, sugah. I’ll tell JJ you’re here. You just come on out when you’re nice and ready.” The door swings shut behind her and I realize my pulse is racing, even faster than it had in the park that morning. Again, I relive the moment as I sat perched above my unsuspecting victim, like a god staring down at an ant. I wish Georgia could have seen me then, I was powerful and unafraid.

I couldn’t tell her though. Maybe I never could. There was too much risk of JJ finding out, and that would ruin everything. I admire JJ, I really do, but he has grown soft in his old age. He forgot what it means to be a true villain, to be a super-villain.

The backroom of Friday’s Bar is an old kitchen. Whatever had existed before JJ bought the place used to serve food along with their drinks, but whenever anyone suggested reopening it JJ only grumbled that he was, too old to learn how to cook and there was no reason to ruin a good drink with rotten food. That was his philosophy on most things, if it ain’t broke then he saw no reason to try and fix it.

He was so stuck in his ways he could never see the potential in anything. Sometimes I wonder how he ever became a villain in the first place. At least this time his stubbornness suites my purposes.

I pull open the door to the old walk in freezer to find the box, labeled “Fresh Tomatoes,” buried under all the rest. Underneath that old corrugated lid is my own special place. First, I pull out my scrapbook, a rust color leather bound keepsake. My grandmother had given it to me many years ago thinking I would use it for card collecting or whatever it is old people expect young people to do. I found a use for it, just not the one my Nana ever expected.

Newspaper clippings and a smattering of old and new photos line every page, “Doctor Mentor Escapes From Authorities;” “The Atomic Clock Holds City in Grip of Panic;” “Mandroid Terrorizes Mayoral Elections;” “The Crimson Shark Raises Ancient Creature: Shipping Drop by 5%;” along with a hundred other keepsakes. I can’t help but rifle through the pages, my fingers knowing the way instinctively, until I find the old picture of Joe Friday. The black and white shot shows a young JJ defiantly being led away by police. Next to it is a picture of an old wanted poster for Southern Bedlam, “Wanted for questioning by the US Government on charges of treason, murder, counterfeiting, and identity theft.” Her face is younger and sterner, but no prettier than the one I see almost everyday.

Reluctantly, I close the worn cover of the book and set it aside. I quickly glance at my phone and curse my idiocy. I am late for the start of my shift. I toss the stolen car keys in a pile with a dozen or so others that I have acquired over the last few weeks and close the lid. I shut the freezer door with a thud, sealing the small space with all my prized possessions inside.

Within minutes I am out in the bar, refilling the ice, restocking beer bottles, and cleaning the tap lines. It isn’t exactly a glamorous job, but there are perks. I get to work with living legends, men and women I have admired since the first time I watched a live a standoff on the news. I can still remember it.

Sitting in the living room with my parents, it was close to my bed time. I begged my mother to let me stay up and for once she relented. It was on every news channel. The Scarlet Flacon was standing toe to toe with Holocaust, the baddest of the bad versus the strongest hero alive, in the heart of Paradigm City. News cameras and helicopters were everywhere. They caught every blow, and every hamfisted line Scarlet Falcon could spew. My parents ate it up, cheering for the moron in the red and white cape. I, on the other hand, could not tear my gaze away from his nemesis.

Holocaust was a creature of living and breathing eternal hellfire. Dark flames spewing from gleaming obsidian armor. Where Scarlet Falcon wore a ragged and limp piece of cloth on his back, Holocaust’s wore a mantle of pure death, a cloak so black it sucked in all light around it. As long as I live I will never forget that cape or its owner. He radiated power, and when he spoke in his deep and rumbling voice, the very foundations of the buildings shook around him. People cowered in fear from his burning gaze, and no one doubted him or pushed him around, even Scarlet Falcon, not for a moment.

That was when I knew what I wanted. That was when I knew what I was, what I wanted to be. Of course, Scarlet Falcon won in the end, but even in defeat Holocaust was still the better of the two. Losing did nothing to diminish his power or the respect that people showed him. Even as they struggled to arrest the barely conscious super-villain the police gave him a wide berth, showing deference  to his power.

“You, niño.” The voice makes me stop what I am doing, a full garbage bag forgotten in its pail as I turn a half circle. The bar is dead except for a few regulars, Quiz Master, Mayday Mayhem, and the Green Beret are sitting at the far end of the bar. None of them even look in my direction. No, the voice comes from someone a lot closer.

A man dressed in unmistakable reds and blacks is staring at me with intense eyes behind a dark mask. His hair is greased back, as sharp as his Latin smile.

“El CaMeano,” I say with more awe and reverence than I meant to show. I approach his table and his eyes follow me.

“What is your name, niño?” He looks as if he is staring through me, seeing something that no one else can see.

“Gill,” I say after I get past the lump in my throat.

“No, niño.” He shakes his head like a knowing father. “What is your true nombre? Your true name?”

I look around afraid of who might be watching. Georgia is talking with the Liger, while JJ and Ed are no where to be seen. Still, I hesitate.

“Niño,” says El CaMeano, drawing my attention back to the older gentleman. “You know who I am. You know my powers.” It is not a question. It never is for a mind-reader like El CaMeano. “Your name?”

“The Seaguller.” I say it soft and quickly, ashamed at myself for being ashamed of saying it.

“Again. Louder, and with pride.”

“I am… I am the Seaguller,” I say and something changes inside of me. I can feel it, and it is like something I never felt before. Something true and real. Once again, I am perched on high, gazing down at my prey on his park bench. If he knew I was there, he would cower at the thought. I could pluck his life, his happiness, like a fish from the sea, but I hold back. I restrain myself, because it is not his life I need only his respect, his fear. All those who oppose me will rue the day they ever crossed my gaze.

“It is confidence, Hombre de Las Gaviotas. Wear your name proud, no matter what else anyone may think.” He inclines his head toward the bar just as JJ hobbles from the back room. He has a box in his hands, labeled “Fresh Tomatoes.” I recognize it instantly and curse under my own breath. I had been in such a rush that I forgot to hide the box back under the stack.

I know I should have left my keepsakes in my dorm room at the college, but my roommate, Jeremy, was always snooping around looking for snacks or weed or whatever. Also campus security has been watching me like hawk ever since I almost burned down the engineering building. Apparently, the college frowns on building death rays for your senior seminar project.

“Gill,” JJ’s voice leaves no room for doubt about what he found inside the old walk-in freezer. “What is this?” Everyone in the bar stops and watches. I want to slink off, bury my head in my pillow, but I don’t. The only eyes I really feel on me are those of El CaMeano, so I raise my shoulders and walk toward JJ, his mustache ruffled in the way it gets when he is angry at a customer.

“Fresh tomatoes?” I offer, but only Quiz Master laughs at the joke. JJ is not in the mood.

“This,” JJ holds up the red leather scrapbook.

“It’s mine. It’s personal.”

“It’s garbage.” He yells and before I can stop him he throws it into the trashcan I had been moments away from emptying. “You know how I feel about this obsession of yours.”

“Who cares what…” I say it softly, trailing off at the end. JJ has this way of making me nervous like no one else I know.

“What did you say?”

“I said, who cares what you think. You’re not my father.”

“If I was I would rap you upside the head to try and knock some damn sense in you, boy.” For a moment he looks like he might just hit me but then the look passes and he relaxes his hand. “What am I going to do with you?”

“How about leave me alone.” I start to walk off, but he slams his hand down hard on the bar with a metallic thud. Stolen car keys scatter across the polished wood like water down the back of a seabird.

“And how do you explain these?” This time I am almost certain he will hit me. His normally placid face is turning red and his lip is starting to twitch.

“What is this? What are these/You little piss, you stole my keys.” Quiz Master is up from his bar stool and scoops up a set of keys with a small purple keychain in the shape of a question mark. “I looked for a week, I looked low and high/You damn little geek, so now you die.” He raises his quiz staff, the weapon expanding in his hand, but JJ is quicker.

Quiz Master goes flying off his feet as JJ’s fist connects with his face. The man stumbles over his stool and crashes unceremoniously to the ground. His cheap sports coat opens up and a few puzzle games scatter over the dirty barroom floor. He never gets a chance to get back up, because Georgia is there now, and Quiz Master quickly finds himself in a vice grip of a head lock.

“You have your keys back, Quizzy,” says JJ. “So as a responsible bartender I have to tell you that you shouldn’t be drinking and driving, but right now you better get the hell out of this bar.”

Georgia finally lets go of Quiz Master, and the man breaks away with a harrumph. “I will not be treated this way, not by you/I will bid you good day, and adieu.” Ed holds open the front door and Quiz Master marches right by, as if he didn’t even notice him.

Suddenly, everyone else in the bar has something better to do. Each goes back to sipping their drinks or looking anywhere else but at JJ. Unfortunately, I do not have that option. Now the old man’s gaze locks firmly on me, and I try not to panic.

“JJ… I… I…” Any confidence I had before is now gone.

“How many times, do I have to tell you. This is going to get you killed.” His voice is surprisingly gentle. “Gill, you can’t see where this road leads, but I do.” He reaches into his pocket and pulls out my makeshift black and white mask. “I found this in you jacket.”

“You went snooping?”

“Its a good thing I did. How long has this been going on?” His fist tightens around the cloth mask as if he is trying to strangle the life out of it with his powerful hands.

I don’t know what to say. So I just stand in silence, lost somewhere between shame, anger, and fear.

“Tell me.” The heat is starting to return to his voice.

“A couple weeks.”

“A couple weeks! You have been working under my roof and moonlighting as a costumed villain on the side?”

“It’s only the mask. I only have a mask.”

“Boy, don’t you know that’s all it takes to get shot or vaporized.” He takes a visible breath before continuing. “Gill, you’re in college for heaven’s sake. You’re going to graduate next year with a degree in engineering. Your life is on the right path. Why the hell do you want to go and throw it away now?”

“What if that’s not the path for me? What if I was meant to do something more, be something more?” I don’t know how to make him understand. I don’t even know why I try so hard in the first place.

“Like what, Gill? Something more, like what?”

“Like Holocaust, or even Quiz Master, or like you…”

“Damnit, boy. Holocaust is dead. Quiz Master is a two-but loser with an inconsistent rhyme scheme, and I’m… I’m not someone you should ever try to be like. What is it going to take to get that through your thick skull.” He taps my head with his meaty finger.

“Are you going to fire me?”

“I should. I should call the police and have you arrested. Maybe that will put the fear of God or Eternal Vigilance in you.”

“You… you aren’t really going to do that, are you?” I feel weak in the knees. I can’t go to prison. My parents would kill me. My seagulls would die without me there to feed them. I would get kicked out of school. My villainous plans would unravel before they even began…

“No,” he says after a moment. I must have gone pale because he reaches over to the faucet and pours me a glass of water. “No, I’m not going to do that. You just stole some car keys. It’s not like you even stole the cars. By the way, what the hell kind of plot is that?”

“I don’t know what to do with a stolen car.” I say after finishing my water.

“That’s because your a good kid at heart. I know it. You just need to realize that too,” JJ steps back and I feel as if I can breathe again, “but there needs to be consequences to this. I’m docking your pay for the day and I’m suspending you from work for the rest of the week.”

“The rest of… of the week?” I stutter. “But I like working here.”

“I know, but I think you need a break from this place, from everything. Go home, Gill.” JJ hobbles around the bar and picks up Quiz Master’s fallen stool. “We can get along without you for a few days.”

“But where do I go? What do I do?”

“Go to the library. Go study. Use your damn brains for something other than scheming.

I don’t know what else to do. Georgia is watching me. I can’t read her expression but in her eyes I see pity. She pities me and that make me more angry than anything else. How dare she pity me. I am the… Maybe I am just Gill Laridae, college student. All I want to do is go back to my room and sleep for days. Hopefully Jeremy is not high again.

It takes a few moments to gather up my coat, but soon enough I am once again in the slanting sunlight of an autumn day in Titan City. I get to the end of the alley and let my back slide down the nearest wall. I always promise myself I won’t cry, but a few tears still leak out, and it is through my wet and watery gaze that I see him.

Icarus is sitting perched on a nearby dumpster, cooing to me. Reluctantly, I get up and walk over to my friend, and beside him I find my scrapbook. “How did you…? What did you…?” I ask the bird as if I expect him to answer me.

I run my fingers across the rough leather cover. It is still wet from discarded beer and peanut shells are stuck to one corner. I brush them off and open the book. On the first page there is a note written in a stylish handscript. The ends of each word flare off like fire burning toward the night sky.

“We all have días malos, every now and then. Never forget your true name, Hombre de Las Gaviotas. Never forget.” It was not signed, but it was obvious who the note was from. He must’ve fished the scrapbook from the trash when no one was looking.

I looked down at Icarus and smile. “Come on, we need to go shopping.”

The bird squawks a question at me. “I’m not sure, maybe leather this time, and how do you feel about capes?”


Read all the stories about Friday’s Bar for Super-villains

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!

It is finally here in all its mutant-loving, bald-headed glory. The first trailer for X-Men: Apocalypse. This movie will follow in the footsteps of Bryan Singer’s reboot/retcon of his original X-Men movie franchise. Now that X-Men: Days of Future Past has fixed the canon we can all go forward confidently as our mutants, under the care of Charles Xavier, fight Apocalypse and 80’s fashion in this newest installment of the franchise. From the shots we have seen and the trailer below we are very excited to see what Singer will bring to the table when dealing with the most powerful foe the X-Men have ever faced.

Though the trailer does not give us much in terms of plot we definitely get several good glimpses of the young X-Men, including Cylcops, Storm, Nightcrawler, and Sansa Stark… err Jean Grey. We do know that we will finally learn why Professor Xavier is bald, -we have our money on Nair- and how the Xavier Institute finally came into permanent existence. We also got a possible glimpse of Apocalypse’s four horseman: Storm, Psylocke, Archangel, and Magneto, from the looks of it. We will just have to wait and see if any of those predictions are right.

For now we want to hear about your thoughts on the trailer. Are you excited? Still bitter that our favorite mutants are not in the MCU? Let us know in the comments below. X-Men: Apocalypse will be in theaters on May 27, 2016.


Photos courtesy: http://www.ew.com/gallery/first-look-x-men-apocalypse

Disney has finally released it’s cartoon-gloved-grip on the latest trailer for Captain America’s next outing, and boy is it a big one. Captain America: Civil War, looks like it is shaping up to be Avengers 2.5, with many of the Marvel Cinematic cast returning. The story itself will follow along the lines of the famous Civil War crossover event from the comics, which will put Captain America at odds with Iron Man. This has been the movie that many nerds have been waiting to see, including those of us here at The NYRD.

The trailer itself is unusual because it debuted on Jimmy Kimmel Live, but Disney has been going to great lengths lately to drop their geekiest of trailers in the most unusual places, including presenting the last Star Wars; The Force Awakens trailer during football. For Disney/ABC this seems like an attempt to draw in new audiences to these franchises,while forcing obsessive and fanatic fans to watch events and shows they would not normally watch.

As for the trailer itself, it hits most of the notes people are looking for, but probably the most exciting shots are the few glimpses we get of Black Panther. We personally cannot wait to see how this Civil War pans outs. Still no Spider-Man sightings.

Captain America: Civil War debuts in theaters on May 6.


Image courtesy: http://marvel.com/movies/movie/219/captain_america_civil_war

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.

Marvel previewed it’s trailer for season 2 of Netflix’s Daredevil at New York Comic Con over the weekend. Footage of the trailer leaked online, because of course it did. However, the comic book, movie, and entertainment giant has now released the official trailer for the viewing enjoyment of online audience.

The first half of the trailer is mostly just a reminder that Season 1 was a thing. It doesn’t really get good till about 30 seconds from the end when we start to see new footage and it is exciting. It all takes place under the voice-over of Father Lantom, the priest we met in season 1. We see Matt, Foggy, and Karen, but the real surprises come from the brief glimpse we get of Elektra as she covers her face, and the hints of Jon Bernthal’s Punisher. In one scene, Karen holds up what looks like an X-ray with the familiar looking skull symbol on it. We also get a look at the back of the Bernthal’s head and a weapon clutched in his shadowy hand. The last line of the trailer, “bang,” we also assume belongs to him.

Marvel is hyping this coming season as Daredevil vs. The Punisher, because thanks to DC everyone needs to “vs.” each other now. However there is plenty of precedence for this showdown in the comics, and it is most likely that season 2 will look to explore the extremist attitudes of a vigilante like Punisher versus the more standard ethics of a superhero like Daredevil. After all, Matt came to a big decision at the end of season 1 about whether or not to kill the Kingpin. The Punisher is going to be testing that chosen path in a big way. We can’t wait.


Image courtesy: http://marvel.com/characters/11/daredevil
Video courtesy: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCYCEK7i8Uq-XtFtWolofxFg

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.