paulmundane

General and somewhat random story things

Archive for the tag “comics”

DC shouldn’t try to make Marvel films.

DC shouldn’t try to make Marvel Films. They should make their own, and find their own voice. DC is trying to do this of course. They’re trying to find their own flavor. It’s just, if you were to ask around, you’d find that folks think DC is failing at this.

And those folks would be right.

I mean, it feels like they are trying too hard to be different, while at the same time trying real hard to play catch up with Marvel. They want to be all edgy and dark and humorless to be really the opposite of Marvel, but they are also trying to quickly build a DC Movie Universe, and connect everything. What DC needs to do is slow down, and lighten up. I’ve been told they’re going to at least do the second bit.

Over a decade ago, Marvel brought out Iron Man. It also began concept that was unheard of before this, and that was a full integration of ALL the Marvel films. It seems like common sense now, but it was mind blowing to even think of a company running its movies like it ran its books. It was brilliant because it meant that when Marvel finally DID get to the Avengers, we didn’t need to waste half the movie introducing the characters. They could just get on with it.

All the Marvel films since have been a mix of action and drama and a solid bit of humor. More in some films than others (I’m looking at you, Ant Man), but still it’s there. AND? I’m not so much a Marvel fan that I’d say each film is flawless, because heck darn are they not, but they are enjoyable on most levels, and feel like they’re written to please the nerds among us, while still being enjoyable by all.

But, we’re here to discuss DC.

Now, I could list all my individual grievances with the DC films, but there’s plenty, and you’ve heard them all before, and really they’d serve no point other than me bitching. No, I’m going to talk general here.

First and foremost, DC shouldn’t feel they need to catch up with Marvel. They don’t need to make the same films, and in fact you should feel that when you’ve gone to see a DC film, it’s not just a Marvel Movie with a different cast. DC in the comics has always been a different beast. Marvel is often an ‘Great Power, Great Responsibility’ sort of thing, where DC was always ‘Gods amongst men’.

The recent DC movies instead seemed to be an attempt to have super-humans in a super real human world, which doesn’t fit the DC ‘verse at all. It could have been great seeing Superman wrestle with his wants to be human vs his unbelievable powers, but that really failed to come through. It might have been interesting to see the wreckage that a real hero/villain fight would make, and the casualties that follow, but that’s not really a Superman story at all.

No, I’m not about to bring up the Zod thing. I promise.

DC also really tried at the grim-dark angle for its films, which is simply not fun. A comic book movie doesn’t have to be laughs a minute, but there should be some fun involved. I mean, it’s about a bunch of folks in spandex punching some other folks in spandex. It’s wrestling with super powers. And DC is just starting to recognize this again in its comics, but in short, the brooding grim violence of the nineties STAYED in the nineties for a reason.

And in all of this, it doesn’t feel like the DC films were made by anyone that WANTED to be making a super hero film. They feel more like they’re written by a production company using the summer blockbuster playbook. Worse though, it felt like an obligation project, like WB was embarrassed to be making hero movies, but felt they had to.

So, yeah. DC needs its own direction. It shouldn’t be the same direction as Marvel, but it shouldn’t be the direction DC has been going either. Reports on the upcoming Justice League film suggest at least that someone on production gets this. Letting Affleck write a Batman film is nice too, since he seems to really love the character, and might put some of that forward. I don’t think its too late, because fans these days are willing to forgive if the current film is good. I just hope that they continue to recognize that they don’t have to be completely devoid of fun just to be different than Marvel.

Underrated 01 – The Diesel King (rewrite)

**So, it’s very rare that I do any sort of editing of the work that goes up here, but it happens. After a few comments, and a personal reread of The Diesel King, I decided to completely rewrite it. Less talk, more action. Enjoy.**

Sam hit the ground hard enough to bounce twice. She skipped along the asphalt of the road, and smacked face first into a compact car. Sam lay on the road in an undignified slump for a moment, before punching a small crater into the road, and swearing loudly.

She brushed down her skirt as she stood, and glared at the crowd in the streets. Civilians too brave and stupid to leave the area of a super villain fight snapped pictures of Sam with their phones. She’d added bike shorts to her Kidvincible costume years ago, but that didn’t mean that the internet wasn’t about to be flooded with up-skirt shots of her crumpled against a badly parked Hyundai.

An air horn blasted as The Diesel King charged down the road on truck shaped roller-skates. Sam ducked under his wide swing, and straight armed her attacker hard in the side. Sam’s fist left a sizable dent in The Diesel King’s big-rig themed armor, but didn’t slow him down.

The Diesel King spun on his wheels. “It’s going to take more than a slap and tickle to slow down the ole Diesel King, Lottie,” he announced as he sped towards Sam again.

Sam reached back, and closed her fist on the front of the car behind her. “I know exactly how to slow you down,” she stated. She’d considered going with something about cars and traffic, but she just couldn’t force the words out of her mouth. Sam hated witty banter.

The front of the Hyundai cracked in Sam’s grasp; a feeling she mistook for a firm grasp of the vehicle. She’d meant to hit The Diesel King with the entire car, and winced when she felt the bumper cover pop off. Already committed to the swing, Sam shattered the plastic cover harmlessly over the truck grill on The Diesel King’s chest.

The Diesel King looked at Sam, and the broken stub of plastic in her hand. He laughed a good strong belly laugh at her. Sam just exhaled slow, and sunk at the shoulders. “Fuck,” she said.

“Yup,” The Diesel King agreed, still chuckling. “That’s why you should always buy American” He tooted his horn proudly, just before he backhanded Sam off her feet.

Sam recovered quickly from the attack. She spun in the air, ready to fly fists first at The Diesel King. Instead, she turned around just in time for The Diesel King to show her how to properly hit a person with a car. He swung the vehicle straight down like he was killing a spider, and slammed Sam into the road. He hit her a second time just to be sure, before shifting his grip to the middle of the car.

The Diesel King held the car high above his head, ready to pestle it into Sam bumper first. “You’ll be signing off now Lottie,” he stated. “I can’t say it hasn’t been…”

Sam didn’t get to hear what it hadn’t been. Knockabout rushed up the road, and shoulder checked The Diesel King. The villain lost his grip on the car as he was punted up the street, and had it crash on top of him. The silver plugs that jutted from Knockabout’s triceps spun as he rolled his broad shoulders, and dusted off his hands as though that would be it.

Sam looked Knockabout over as she stood up. His favorite Sisters of Mercy tee hung from him in tatters. His skin was laced with a series of visibly healing gashes; some deep enough to expose the Kevlar knit underneath. He adjusted his thick black goggles, and shrugged casually as he caught Sam’s eye.

“He threw me through the window of a wine store,” Knockabout offered, pointing back up the road. He held up a bottle of wine as proof, before stashing it under a nearby Volvo. “So, what’s the plan?”

Sam looked about at the crowd. Actual news crews had arrived at some time, and were mingling in amongst the amateur photographers. She unconsciously tugged her suit straight by the hem of her skirt. “We need to end this now,” Sam told Knockabout. “I’m figuring a standard High/low.”

Knockabout nodded. The hydraulic jacks in his feet cracked the pavement as he loped at high speed towards the recovering villain. He buried a fist in The Diesel King’s stomach, knocking the air out of the mecha-trucker. Sam flew close behind, and caught The Diesel King with a beautiful flying uppercut as he folded over Knockabout’s fist. The Diesel King was rocketed into the air, and crashed on the streets nearly a block away.

“Yeah!” Knockabout exclaimed. He looked to Sam for a fist bump, figuring this was one of the few times it was warranted.

Sam left him hanging. “Follow through,” she commanded, flying after The Diesel King.

The Diesel King staggered to his feet. He wiped the blood from his mouth, and grinned stupidly at the oncoming attack. “You think you got The Diesel King on the ropes huh? Well, I got something for you Dirty Dans.”

The Diesel King thrust his hips forward. There was a wet noise from deep inside the suit, and a sudden geyser of used motor oil sprayed from his groin. The Diesel King laughed and gyrated his hips as he hosed Sam and Knockabout down with viscous black truck fluids.

Knockabout managed to give Sam a full ‘what the fuck’ look before he lost his footing on the oil soaked road. He kissed the ground with a teeth rattling thud, and slid to a stop at The Diesel King’s feet.

Sam choked on a face full of black oil, and tried to fly through. She barely dodged as The Diesel King kicked Knockabout at her, and only spared a quick glance at her partner sliding down the streets behind her. Sam tried for a wide haymaker as she closed on her opponent, but blinded by the continual spray of oil, she missed horribly. Sam’s clumsy swing left her wide open for The Diesel King’s retaliation. He snapped a punch straight into her chest, and sent her spiraling away.

Sam slammed into the wall of a nearby bank, and slid to the sidewalk. She gagged on the stench of spent motor oil, and spat out a gob of black goo. Oil dripped from her as she stood up. Sam looked back at the thick black spatter left when she’d hit the wall. Around her, people braved up close to get shots of her dripping with thick dark oil.

Don’t swear an inner voice tried to warn Sam. Don’t swear; people are filming. Sam floated into the air, feeling heavy from the oil and nauseous from the fumes. She sloughed a layer of oil from the front of her suit, and flicked it carelessly at the surrounding crowd. Don’t swear the inner voice pleaded again.

“You. Absolute. FUCK!” she screamed, shooting back towards the laughing Diesel King.

Sam tore a stop sign free from its mooring, and bashed The Diesel King hard up the side of the head. He staggered back, and put his hands up to block Sam’s attack. Sam screamed strings of obscenities as she smacked The Diesel King about the head and arms.

The Diesel King stopped laughing, and swore as well with equal creativity as Sam. He finally got hold of the sign, and ripped it from Sam’s hands. “Cut it out!” he insisted.

“What a wasted opportunity,” a girl’s voice chirped from the sidelines. “You totally should have said stop.”

The confused Diesel King was still looking for the source of the voice when he was hit in the chest by a bolt of lightning, and knocked clean off his skates. The Diesel King had barely hit the ground before an oil soaked Knockabout landed hard on his chest. Knockabout crouched over The Diesel King, and pounded on him relentlessly.

The girl that had thrown the lightning bolt waved a frantic hello as Sam stormed towards her. She pulled back the hood of her cloak, and smiled in a way that suggested she was blissfully unaware of Sam’s current mood.

“See, he should have said stop, because you were hitting him with a stop sign?” the girl explained without being asked. “And then he had the stop sign? But he still didn’t say it? It just feels like he missed out on a great opening there, y’know?”

Sam put her hand up; a clear signal for the girl to shut it. “Where the hell have you been, Lect?” The girl’s superhero name was Electromicon, but Lect was as close as anyone bothered to get. Lect was just happy no one called her by her real name, because that was Florida.

Lect’s frowned at Sam’s question. “I figured you guys had this under control?” she replied. She tugged nervously at a pocket of her cargo pants, and avoided eye contact with Sam. “I mean, The Diesel King, right?”

Sam stared at Lect, and cursed under her breath. The girl wasn’t wrong. “He’s having a particularly good day,” Sam explained though clenched teeth. “And he’s managed to make us look like fucking clowns doing it.” Sam rubbed her temples as Knockabout bounced past them. “My God. He’s a middle-aged Optimus-Prime cosplayer, and he is kicking our asses.”

“Plus he covered you with oil?” Lect offered in a helpful tone. “Like, he totally hosed you down in front of the press. I mean, that really couldn’t have helped your day, right?”

Lect’s voice trailed off as Sam slapped an oil-stained hand in the middle of her chest, and dragged it down the front of the younger girl’s light blue body suit.

Lect blinked horror at the thick black stain down the front of her only super-suit. “Ok,” she accepted in a small voice. “Now we’re all dirty. Total team building exercise.” Her smile had returned by the time she looked up at Sam. “So what’s the plan?”

Knockabout popped his shoulder back into joint with a metallic snap as he came to join the girls. “Our original plan was to punch Diesel Dick until we felt big about ourselves,” he explained. “But that’s fallen through.”

Sam nodded an agreement. “The new plan’s simple,” she concluded. “Lect, you shut The Diesel King down. After that, maybe we’ll go back to plan A for a bit.”

“Shut him down,” Lect repeated feebly. She gave Sam a sheepish smile.

“Shut. Him. Down,” Sam ran her hands through her oil drenched hair in frustration. “He’s wearing power armor. Shut it down with your magical-electrical-mojo-whatever crap.”

“Oh. Ok. Only; is there a plan C? Because I can’t shut him down,” Lect rolled her eyes at Sam’s incredulous look. “His suit is, like, mostly running on diesel?”

“You’re joking right?” Sam held up a hand before Lect could answer. “Yes, I get that he’s The Diesel King, but an actual diesel powered suit? That’s beyond stupid.”

“Well, like, there’s some electric components? Like, the headlights, and some of his joint articulators, and the radio, and some little inside stuff?” Lect chewed on her lip as she thought about it. “I mean, maybe I could turn his radio up real loud? Like, distract him so you guys can rush him and…”

Sam stared hard at Lect till the girl shut up. She looked over at The Diesel King. Currently he was flexing for the cameras like the winner of a rasslin’ match. She could hear him telling the crowd his life story. He was just at the part where his wife took the dog and the truck.

“You know what? Screw this,” Sam announced loudly. “We’re done here.”

The Diesel King stopped mid monologue, and blinked confusion at Sam. He took off his armored John Deere cap, and scratched his balding head. “What?”

“You heard me,” Sam replied. “We’re done. I’m going to go take a shower, and then find a bar and drink till I’ve forgotten this afternoon.” She gave Knockabout and Lect a glance. “You guys in?”

“Like, for the shower?” Lect asked sarcastically.

“Whichever,” Sam replied as she walked away. “I couldn’t give two tugs right now.”

The Diesel King sputtered like an angry fish. “You can’t just walk away from me,” he insisted uncertainly.

“Yeah we can,” Sam assured him. She waved a casual middle finger over her shoulder. Knockabout joined her, both in the walking and the finger waving. Despite being covered in oil, he lit a smoke, and took a deep drag before passing it to Sam. Lect hovered close behind the other two, but didn’t flip off The Diesel King. She was new to the superhero game, and wasn’t comfortable working blue just yet.

“But you can’t just,” The Diesel King called after them. “We’re in the middle of…” He looked about at the cameras, and cursed under his breath. “You think you can just walk away from me after you get in my face? After you stop my revenge against the company that…”

“We don’t care,” Sam called over her shoulder. “No one cares why you dressed up like a truck this morning.” She didn’t even bother turning around.

The Diesel King tossed his hat to the ground in a dagnabbit level of frustration. “That’s it!” he yelled. “I was going to go easy on you bubblegummers, but you’ve gone and A&Aed the ole Diesel King! Now I’m going to have to put the hammer down!” The Diesel King screamed, and charged down the road towards Sam, Knockabout, and Lect.

“A&Aed?” Knockabout questioned.

“I don’t know,” Sam admitted. “I don’t speak hillbilly.”

Lect chewed her knuckles nervously, but tried to stay as casual as the other two. “He’s coming up behind us awfully fast,” she whispered.

Sam grunted an agreement. She tilted her head, and listened as The Diesel King closed on them. “Alright,” she stated without looking back. “Lect, hit him.”

“I told you,” Lect whined. “I can’t shut him down.”

“Shut up.” Sam flicked the cigarette aside. “We have a fat man dressed like a truck roller-skating angrily towards us. You shut down what you can, and the rest will happen naturally; got it?”

Lect nodded, and flew high above the road. She did as she was told because she trusted that Sam knew what she was doing. She flew up high out of reach because she didn’t trust it would work. Lect muttered a quick incantation, and thrust her hands forward. A thick bolt of lightning shot from her palms, and slammed into The Diesel King’s chest.

The Diesel King had a momentary look of triumph as he skated seemingly unharmed through the blast. The look faded fast as everything suddenly went wrong. His knees locked as the articulation failed. His nipple head lights flickered on and off. A mariachi band blared from his radio, just loud enough to drown out The Diesel King’s screaming as he fumbled down the street on unstopping roller skates.

Sam smiled as The Diesel king flailed helplessly towards her and Knockabout. Both of them winded up, and waited for him. It had been a crap day, but Sam was pretty sure that this was going to make up for it. Besides; the media really only cared about who got the last hit in. A synchronized double uppercut was just the thing to make everyone forget exactly how much of a fiasco this whole fight had been. “This is going to be so sweet,” Sam insisted.

There was a sudden flash of bright light, and a beam of pure energy hit The Diesel King in the back, and sped his trajectory towards Sam and Knockabout. It wasn’t Electronomicon’s lighting. Instead, a man in a white business suit hovered over the battle, a nimbus of white energy circling his hands. Conduit, Sam recognized. He was a member of The Brigade of Heroes. If he was here, then so were the others.

“No,” Sam muttered, already recognizing how it was all going to fall apart. “Fuck no.” She broke into a run, hoping to hit The Diesel King before The Brigade muscled in.

“Look out!” A gruff voice warned from behind. Flagg Patriot, leader of the Brigade, shoved Sam and Knockabout aside as he leapt past them in the streets. Sam landed hard on her ass.

The warning, and the shove, made it look like Flagg Patriot had just saved Sam’s life, which was exactly how he’d planned it. Sam was left literally sitting on the sidelines as Flagg Patriot took her perfect upper cut away from her. The Diesel King was spun backwards by Flagg’s attack, right into the waiting fists of Pont, the Brigade’s ogre of a strongman.

Sam watched them all back pat each other for the whole three seconds she could stand it. Fists clenched, she stormed towards Flagg Patriot. “We had this,” she insisted in a whispered hiss.

Flagg adjusted his General Patton helmet, and looked down his nose at Sam. “Did you have this Kidvincible?” he asked snidely. “It didn’t look like you did, but we could have misunderstood what was going on.” His smile flickered, and his voice dropped low enough that only Sam’s super hearing could catch it. “Is that what we have here? Do we have a misunderstanding?” Behind Flagg Patriot, Pont cracked his knuckles. Conduit hovered nearby. All three smiled calmly at her.

Sam looked at The Brigade. Her day had been bad enough; adding a super hero misunderstanding to the mess wasn’t going to improve it. “Thank you for the assistance,” she managed through clenched teeth.

Flagg Patriot gave Sam a Flagg Patronizing smile. “I’ve told you before Kidvincible,” he offered in a calm tone, loud enough for the press, “if you need help, just call us.”

Sam choked down a few creative words. “Sure,” she replied bitterly. Even that was wasted, as Flagg Patriot had already turned to the crowd to answer a few questions and take full credit for the capture of The Diesel King.

Sam shook her head, and joined Knockabout and Lect along the sidelines. They stood in silence for a few minutes, watching as The Brigade chatted with civilians, press, and police. No one even looked in their direction.

“It’s not so bad,” Lect tried, breaking the silence. “I mean, like, at least…”

Sam pressed an oil stained finger against Lect’s lips. “Shhh,” she insisted before the younger girl could get started. “Just, shhh.”

“I think we’re done here,” Knockabout commented, patting Sam on the back. He held up the bottle of wine, and gave it a tempting little shake. “Back to base?”

Sam took one more look at The Brigade of Heroes, and pictured a creatively gory death for each of them. “Back to base,” she agreed finally.

Underrated 01 – The Diesel King

Sam had done the superhero gig since she was a child. She still wore the same costume as she had when she was twelve; a one piece white t-shirt/skirt, with a thick black line down each side, and a large black circle on her chest. She’d made a few changes to the suit over the years: She’d replaced her heels with combat boots, and ditched the elbow length gloves. She’d added textured cloth and seam piping when that became the style, but mostly the design had stayed the same. There was no reason to mess with a classic after all. After a decade in the biz; Sam felt it fair to call her costume a classic.

In uniform, Sam was supposed to answer to Kidvincible. It was, after all, her hero name. She didn’t really stick to it as much as she should, and most people, hero and villain alike, knew her as Sam. Her real name was Samantha, but Sam was fine.

Sam felt she was literally born to be a super hero. This was understandable, as she was literally born with her powers. It made for a boring origin story, but Sam didn’t consider that much of a loss. She was impossibly strong, incredibly fast, and she could fly. It took a pretty bad day to make Sam consider if she could have done anything else with her life.

Today was proving to be a bad day: A fully honest ‘consider taking up accountancy’ type of bad day.

Sam hit the ground hard enough to bounce twice. She slid along the asphalt of the road, and set off a car alarm face first. She lay on the road in an undignified slump for a moment before swearing loudly.

Being pretty much invincible; Sam wasn’t physically hurt from being smacked to the ground, or from being slammed into the side of a badly parked Volvo. In fact she’d become quite used to this sort of thing. But just because her body was immune to harm didn’t mean her pride was invulnerable.

Sam brushed down her skirt as she stood, and glared at the crowd in the streets. Civilians both too brave and too stupid to leave the area of a super villain fight snapped photos of Sam with their phones. She’d added bike shorts to her Kidvincible costume years ago, but that didn’t mean that the internet wasn’t about to be flooded with up-skirt shots of her crumpled against a car.

“God dammit!” Sam punched the car in frustration, crushing its hood under her fist. The car alarm died with a satisfying wheeze. “We totally suck!”

Sam’s sentence was punctuated by a grinding of metal and an explosion of glass as Knockabout smashed into the car she’d just punched. Knockabout was part of Sam’s team, and like her, he wasn’t having the best day.

Knockabout sat in the wreckage for a moment before he sighed dramatically, and adjusted his thick black goggles. “This is not our finest hour,” he agreed.

Knockabout sat up, and pulled off the shredded remains of his shirt. His costume was normally a pair of leather pants, and a black tee shirt cut to fit around the metallic cylinders that jutted from his shoulder-blades, spine and triceps. The shirt was often the first casualty of any fight they were in, leaving him bare-chested. Today was no exception.

The remains of the Volvo gave the whining sound of metal straining as Knockabout pulled loose from the wreckage. With his augmented muscles, and sub-dermal Kevlar knit, and metal laced bones, and other internal cyborg crap, Knockabout weighed in at nearly 230 kilos. It was more than the average car liked to have splayed across its roof to say the least.

Like Sam; Knockabout was super strong. He was also bulletproof, though not entirely invulnerable. His blood was riddled with nanites that, given time, could fix most damage to his body. Knockabout couldn’t fly; though the hydraulic jacks in his legs let him leap tall buildings; so long as the buildings weren’t actually that tall.

Knockabout didn’t know his real name. He had no memory from before he was made into what he was now. All they knew about him was that he’d been built by, and for, some terrorist organization, and that he was supposed to be the perfect superman. Knockabout was discarded as a failure, because some drunk scientist had screwed up trying to give him super-vision. Knockabout’s eyes were a horror to see; matte black, with swollen red around them, like a shark that needed sleep. Worse; without his special goggles, Knockabout’s eyesight ranked right up there with Velma Dinkley’s.

Sam or Knockabout getting punted down the street was often something to laugh about over drinks later. Sam and Knockabout getting punted was downright embarrassing. It was bad enough against a credible villain, but today they were fighting The Diesel King; a man with a big rig themed power suit. Diesel King thought his truck motif was intimidating, but really it made him look like a cheap Optimus Prime cosplayer. Point was; The Diesel King was a third rate villain at best.

Right now, third rate or not, The Diesel King was kicking their asses. “I came prepared for some serious smokies,” The Diesel King bragged with a laugh. “You cub-scouts think you can beat me?”

Sam swore under her breath. “We got ourselves a talker,” she noted.

Talker was the agreed on term for anyone that just had to tell their origin story, or blame society for their crimes, or just spew trash talk. Often, a talker felt the best time for this was mid-combat. Talkers were annoying in that they needed to fill the gaps of a fight with monologues. However, they didn’t always follow through when they had a hero on the ropes, because that was the best time to story-tell.

“Cub-scouts?” Knockabout questioned.

“I don’t know,” Sam admitted. “I don’t speak hillbilly.”

Knockabout and Sam leant on the crushed Volvo. Knockabout lit a cigarette, and they shared it as The Diesel King ranted on. It was super hero etiquette to just let a talker talk. Annoying or not, you didn’t want to beat the practice of monologuing out of a talker. Sometimes a good monologue was the only breather offered during a fight.

Sam listened as The Diesel King went on about bears, and bubble-gummers, and something about a Dirty Dan. She didn’t understand most of what The Diesel King was saying, but she caught the gist of it. He’d been laid off unfairly. His wife left. She took the dog. Hospital bills left him broke. An unfair world forced left him with no choice but to dress like a truck and try to rob a bank. It wasn’t his fault. For talkers, Sam had recognized long ago, it never was.

“Seriously; screw this guy right up the exhaust pipe.” The truck reference was forced, and Knockabout mouthed an apology the moment he’d said it. “What’s the plan?”

Sam flicked the cigarette at The Diesel King. She gave Knockabout a casual shrug. “Let’s go with a standard high/low,” she decided

Knockabout nodded, and the two dashed at The Diesel King; Knockabout on the ground, and Sam in the air. High/lowing someone meant that Sam and Knockabout would both hit a person at the same time; Sam flying in and hitting high, while Knockabout ran, and hit low. It wasn’t brilliant strategy 101, but then there were only so many euphemisms for ‘let’s go punch that guy’.

The Diesel King laughed a proper Mwua-ha-ha as he watched Knockabout and Sam charge at him. He spewed some cliché line that included both a 10-4 and a good buddy, but Sam missed it. She was too distracted by the other thing The Diesel King was spewing. The Diesel King thrust his hips vulgarly towards her and Knockabout, and hosed them with a groinal geyser of used motor oil.

The attack, though itself harmless, took both heroes by surprise. Knockabout lost his footing on the now slick road, and kissed the road with a teeth rattling thud. He slid to a stop at The Diesel King’s big-rig shaped boots.

Sam swore as she continued towards The Diesel King. She’d hoped to finish this cluster-fuck of a fight quickly. Now, blinded, soaked down with viscous used motor oil, and more than a bit humiliated, her timing was thrown. She swung a devastating haymaker, but it didn’t even come close to landing.

The Diesel King laughed as he sidestepped Sam’s fist. “You got a lot of fight in ya, don’tcha Lottie? Well don’t you worry none; papa’s got something for that.”

Left wide open from her clumsy attack, Sam took the full of The Diesel King’s double fisted upper cut to the chin. She flew backwards, only somewhat of her own power, and bounced again down the street. The Diesel King was still laughing when he booted Knockabout down the road after Sam.

Knockabout tried to roll to his feet, only to slip again from the oil on his boots. Sam stayed where she’d landed in the middle of the road, not terribly hurt, but not wanting to get up either. Around them, people videoed the whole thing. At some point, an actual news truck had shown up, though Sam only noticed it now. Sam groaned, and closed her eyes. She’d been in worse fights, but not often ones this humiliating.

A shadow fell over Sam, and a sing-song voice called down with concern. “You doing ok down there?”

Sam grudgingly opened her eyes. Lect loomed over her; one hand out to help Sam up. Lect’s full hero name was Electronomicon; though no one ever used it. She insisted that the name was a nod to the mystical origins of her powers; which evidently were a magical control over electricity and technology. She could fly and throw lightning; which was impressive. But Lect could also take control of most machines, and even use her powers to hack computers. It was useful, and the media never accused Lect of having generic powers.

Sam assumed Lect’s chosen name had less to do with magic, and more to do with all the good electricity based names being taken. Lect seemed happy enough with it though, and preferred Electronomicon over her real name. This was partially because Lect believed in the whole secret identity thing. It was more because her real name was Florida.

Electronomicon’s costume was a standard bodysuit of bright blue and a pair of low slung cargo pants. She also had a deep hooded cloak; because mystic electric technomancer. She kept her short unkempt hair neon blue, and wore lipstick to match. A few years younger than Sam or Knockabout, Lect was often seen as the cute member of the team by the press. It didn’t get her that much slack in the papers. After all; cute or not, she was still a member of The Wannabes.

Sam shuffled back to her feet; ignoring Lect’s outstretched hand. “Where the hell have you been?” Sam accused.

Lect crossed her arms over her slight chest and rolled her eyes. “I figured you two had this under control,” she commented. “I mean; it’s The Diesel King.”

“Yeah, well; he’s having a particularly good day.”

“I’ll say,” Lect agreed. “I mean, I figured I’d be getting here just in time for drinks.” She shrugged. “So, what’s the plan?”

“The original plan was to punch him until we’d made ourselves feel big,” Sam replied. “That plan has already failed. Plan B was to wait for you to show up, and have you shut down his power suit.” Sam grinned wickedly. “Then maybe we’ll go back to plan A.”

“What’s plan C?” Lect asked. She rolled her eyes at the look Sam gave her. “I totally can’t shut his suit down,” Lect declared. “It’s actually mostly diesel powered?”

“You’re joking right?” Sam held up a hand before Lect could answer. “Yes,” she verified. “I get that he’s The Diesel King. But a suit that runs entirely on diesel? That’s beyond stupid.”

Lect bit her lower lip. “Well, I mean like, some of his suit is electrical?” she corrected. “Like; some articulators, and his headlights? Stuff like that. But I can’t turn off his whole suit, you know?”

“Yeah, I get it.” Sam looked at The Diesel King, and at the people taking pictures around them. She looked at Knockabout and Electronomicon, and then back at The Diesel King waiting for their next move. Sam considered a moment, and then shook her head.

“No,” Sam announced loudly. “Screw this guy. I’m already covered in oil and crap. I’m not going over there to see what else he’s got to spray on me.” Sam sneered at the somewhat surprised Diesel King. “I mean look at the fat fuck. He’s just standing there waiting for us, ‘cause he’d have to actually walk to get over here.” Sam ran a hand through her hair, and flicked a thick gob of motor oil out of her bangs. “Naw. Fuck this,” she muttered. “I’m going to go and take a shower; then I’m going to find a bar, and drink till I’ve forgotten this afternoon. You guys in?”

“For the shower?” Lect asked sarcastically.

“Whichever,” Sam replied, already walking away. “I honestly don’t care at this point.”

The Diesel King stared as Sam turned from the fight. “You can’t just walk away from me,” he insisted uncertainly.

“Yeah we can,” Sam assured him. She waved a casual middle finger over her shoulder to punctuate her sentence.

Knockabout joined Sam’s departure. He was covered with just as much oil as her, but somehow looked like he’d just left a photo shoot for sexy mechanics monthly. Looking fine even covered in crap seemed to be part of Knockabout’s power set. He waved a finger at The Diesel King as well, and lit a smoke despite being covered in oil.

Lect walked with the same calm confidence as the other two, but she didn’t join in on the whole flipping off the villain part. Lect was relatively new to the super hero game, and wasn’t comfortable working blue quite yet.

“But; you can’t” The Diesel King insisted. He looked at the cameras around them, and at the press. He growled at The Wannabes as they walked away from him.

“That’s it!” The Diesel King yelled, tossing his armored John Deere hat to the ground in frustration. “I was going to let you rubberneckers slide, but you’ve really made me mad now!” The Diesel King dropped his shoulder into a footballers tackle stance. “I’m going to have to bring the hammer down!” he declared.

Small rubber tired wheels popped down from The Diesel King’s boots; finishing the big rig look of them. He kicked off hard, and plowed down the street towards Sam, Knockabout, and Electronomicon. A loud truck horn played from The Diesel King’s suit as he charged at The Wannabes.

Sam and her crew kept walking. The road rumbled as The Diesel King bore down on them; horn blaring. Sam stole a drag of Knockabout’s cigarette, waited a moment, and then nodded back towards the raging Diesel King.

“Now,” Sam declared in a calm voice. The team turned on a dime, and snapped immediately into ass kicking position.

Lect flew up and away from the charging Diesel King. She templed her fingers in front of her chest, and muttered a few incantations. The air around Lect ionized, and her already spiked hair stood on end as she thrust her hands forward. A bolt of lightning fired from her outstretched palms and slammed into The Diesel King’s chest.

The Diesel King skated straight through the blast with little more than some scorching on his suit. He laughed triumphantly for the whole three seconds it took him to figure out what Lect had done. It was true that most of his suit was diesel powered, but there were some electrical components; including the articulation in his joints. Turning someone’s knees off was always going to annoy them. Doing it while they were power skating towards a pack of super heroes though? That’s pure gold.

Sam balled a fist as The Diesel King stumbled down the road. She nodded at Knockabout, as they both ducked down and prepared. They didn’t have a fancy name for synchronized uppercut, but that didn’t make it any less awesome. The Diesel King flailed his arms, and stared wide eyed at the two powerhouses. He knew what was coming, and there wasn’t a thing he could do about it.

It had been a crap day, but Sam was pretty sure that this was going to make up for it. Besides; the media really only cared about who got the last hit in. A synchronized double uppercut was just the thing to make everyone forget exactly how much of a fiasco this whole fight had been. “This is going to be so sweet,” Sam insisted.

There was a sudden flash of blue light, and a beam of pure energy hit The Diesel King in the back; speeding his trajectory towards Sam and Knockabout. It wasn’t Electronomicon’s lighting. Instead; a man in a pure white business suit hovered over the battle, a nimbus of blue energy circling his hands. Conduit, Sam recognized. He was a member of The Brigade of Heroes. If he was here, then so were the others.

“No,” Sam muttered, “nonono.” She rushed forward, hoping to hit The Diesel King before The Brigade muscled in. She didn’t even get close.

“Look out!” A gruff voice warned from behind. Flagg Patriot; leader of the Brigade, shoved Sam aside as he passed her in the streets. She landed hard on her ass.

The warning, and the shove, was made to look like Flagg had just saved Sam’s life. She literally sat on the sidelines, and watched as Flagg Patriot ducked low, and took her perfect upper cut away from her. Diesel King spun backwards, right into the waiting fist of Pont; the Brigade’s ogre of a strongman.

Fists clenched, Sam stormed towards Flagg Patriot. “We had this,” she insisted.

Flagg adjusted his General Patton helmet, and looked down his nose at Sam. “Did you have this Kidvincible?” he asked snidely. “It didn’t look like you did, but we could have misunderstood what was going on.” His smile flickered. “Is that what we have here? Do we have a misunderstanding?” Behind Flagg Patriot, Pont cracked his knuckles. Conduit hovered nearby.

Sam looked at The Brigade. Her day had been bad enough; adding a super hero misunderstanding to the mess wasn’t going to improve it. “Thank you for the assistance,” she managed through clenched teeth.

Flagg Patriot gave Sam a Flagg Patronizing smile. “I’ve told you before Kidvincible,” he offered in a calm tone, just loud enough for the press, “if you need help, call us.”

Sam choked down a few creative words. “Sure,” she replied bitterly. Even that was wasted, as Flagg Patriot had already turned to the crowd to answer a few questions and take full credit for the capture of The Diesel King.

Sam shook her head, and joined Knockabout and Electronomicon along the sidelines. They stood in silence for a few minutes, watching as The Brigade chatted with civilians, press, and police. No one even looked in The Wannabes’ direction.

“It’s not so bad,” Lect tried, breaking the silence. “I mean, like, at least…”

Sam put an oil stained finger to Lect’s lips. “Shhh,” she insisted before the younger girl could get started. “Just, shhh.” Sam looked like an Exxon disaster, and smelt worse. She’d just been upstaged by The Brigade, and was likely about to be used for comedic side notes on the news. She doubted that any of Lect’s platitudes were going to make her feel better.

“I think we’re done here,” Knockabout commented, patting Sam on the back. “Back to base?”

Sam took one more look at The Brigade of Heroes, and pictured a creatively gory death for each of them. “Back to base,” she agreed finally.

Eighties X-Men

I loved the X-Men during Claremont’s run, but haven’t really gotten into them so much in recent years. It’s always felt like something was missing, and I think I’ve finally put my mind around it.

I’m going to put it together in an analogy. It involves a cat, a burning building, and you, the reader. See, here’s the deal. That burning building? You’re in it. Running for your life, you pass a cat. Unlike you, the cat’s not trying to get out, because it’s a cat, and not fully aware of the danger. You do the right thing, scoop the cat up, and run.

Now, if you’re anyone else in the Marvel Universe, things are pretty ok. If you’re an Avenger, for example, the cat holds tight as you both dash to freedom. It licks you playfully, and you both stop for a photo op. Then it, I don’t know, goes on a date with Tigra. Everyone’s happy, and you’re a hero.

But if you’re a member of the eighties X-Men, things are much different. You stoop down to grab that cat, and it scratches at you. You try to pick it up, and I swear to God, that cats tries to kill you. And the smart thing to do is just leave the cat to its own fate, and save yourself. You don’t because you’re an X-Man. Despite the cat trying its best to kill you, you take it with you as you get out of the building. And once you put it down, that cat just goes right back into the fire. And you go back in after it and save it again.

The cat is a thinly veiled analogy for humanity, in case you’re not following. And in the eighties, everything the X-Men dealt with was a thinly veiled analogy for racism.

See, to me that’s what’s missing. The X-Men constantly saved a world that didn’t want them. I know that’s still kinda the catch phrase, but back in the day you felt it. It was in everything the X-Men did. Heck it was even in the ads between pages of the comic.


Exhibit A

And you know what? The X-Men would still save everyone. That was what made it so great. The X-Men were hated, but they’d still save everyone. They didn’t deal with the same brightly colored spandex enemies, because they were too busy dealing with the fact that humanity hated them.

The absolute culmination of this, btw, was the Days of Futures Past storyline: possibly the best thing ever out of Claremont’s pen. It was a story of a future where sentinels had decided that the only way to fufill their prime directive of destroying all mutants was to take over the whole of the USA, and kill or imprison all mutants. There were concentration camps, and (suggested) sterilisations, and open death in the streets. It was hell.

It was also what cemented the direction the X-Men would go for the next ten years. Mutant registration was the big enemy. Not Magneto, not Juggernaught, not, well any one person. The enemy was a concept. An opposition to Xavier’s big dream.

And somehow, the idea that a concept could be scary became lost over the years. The idea that humanity could be horrible was replaced with bigger and bigger brightly colored spandex villains. In short, the X-Men just became another hero book.

The one that really got me was during a revisit to Days of Future Past, Marvel introduced Ahab. It wasn’t enough that humans were forcing mutants to hunt mutants in their dystopian future (Rachel Summers, Hounds, ect). They had to add a big cyborg guy with pouches and guns and a harpoon that could kill anyone it touched, or else I guess no one would understand what the X-Men were afraid of? The subtlety had been lost, replaced by a splash page.

During the Civil War, Tony Stark argues that the X-Men should back his hero registration because the 198 remaining mutants were already registered. Just like that. Mutant registration, the big fear happened off panel. Ignore the fact that at the time Xavier mansion was surrounded by sentinels (well intentioned sentinels, but still) and had become a camp for all the remaining mutants. Concentrated in one spot. You get the picture.

Either way, the X-Men didn’t flinch. Heck, there are two separate times where female members of the team run a burlesque show for the sentinels. No, I’m dead serious. I should mention that the sentinels have pilots at this point, or else this whole paragraph sounds off.

And, since there are humans in the sentinels, I question why they are using them. I mean, what exactly are giant robots going to do that a camp ground of mutants can’t do for themselves. You are aware that the X-Men live here, right? Surrounding the mansion with sentinels is a dick move, no matter how hard you work to make them look like Gundams.

Anyways, the whole of Decimation got me excited at the time. I thought maybe we’d see a jump back to a world where mutants were openly hated, and you know, punk X-Men. No such luck. Mind you, Peter David did touch on it a bit with X-Factor. Damn that was a fine series. You should all read it.

Anyways, not griping. Just sharing what the X-Men used to be whilst I read my old books. It was a hell of a time.

The Amelia Academy: Standards. Chapter 4

Jim stayed for a few more rounds of Collective vs. Core.  He finished his beer, and one more after that, before citing work the next morning as reason to call it an early night.  Chris assumed that Jim’s leaving had more to do with Chris’s continued sulking then it had to do with work.  He didn’t mind that much.  Without Jim there, Chris had time to think about his mood.

Not that he did.  Chris instead finished the rest of the beer in the apartment, smoked two packs of cigarettes, and watched a Planet of the Apes marathon.  By morning, he had no more idea what was bothering him than he’d had the night before.  Chris had at least come to some conclusions on what wasn’t bothering him.

One of Chris’s main revelations was that he wasn’t upset that he’d quit the superhero lifestyle.  It was true that seeing The Standard Man on television yesterday had seemingly started off his bad mood, and Chris had worried that he was feeling regret for not being out there with his old partner.  He had even considered going out for a brief flight to clear his head.  After some contemplation though, Chris found he had no urge to return to the superhero life.

Chris was mostly certain his sour mood had nothing to do with April, Leslie, or any other girl.  He had dwelled on the thought for a good portion of the evening, but found no real ache of loneliness.  Not that he wouldn’t welcome some female company, but Chris’s bachelorhood wasn’t life threatening yet.

The reason for his disposition was still elusive, and Chris decided to let it go for now.  It was his day off, and it had been a long time since he’d visited Max; the original Noir.  Chris showered away the stink of the night before, tossed on some clothes, and caught the first bus uptown.

Max’s old brownstone sat alone on a small plot of land.  It had a great view of the large park, and had little in the way of neighbors.  It was in a quiet part of the city, put aside for the lucky few that could pay for a quiet city lifestyle.  Chris gave the expensive home a nod of approval before he buzzed the intercom.  Max had retired in style; he deserved it.

“Come in, Kid,” a static coated voice commanded through the speaker.  “I’ll meet you in the study.”  Chris stepped inside the manor, and headed down the hall.

Max’s study reminded Chris of a library.  The walls were lined with shelves, and the room was furnished with leather chairs, and low tables.  Chris had been here many times in the past, and felt guilty that he hadn’t visited in a few months.

Sleuth the Crime Hound was sleeping in front of the fireplace when Chris entered the study.  The old hound half opened an eye to Chris’s entrance, and didn’t bother getting up.  He thumped his tail heavily against the hardwood floor and waited for Chris to come to him.    Chris smiled, and mentally compared the aging hound dog to the monstrous wolf thing that they’d portrayed him to be in Collective vs. Core.  Chris was petting Sleuth when he heard Max’s cane tap into the room behind him.

“Kid.”  The old man acknowledged. “It’s nice to see you.  Can I get you anything to drink?”

“Yes please,” Chris responded.  He stroked Sleuth’s head once more before he stood.  “A beer if you have one.  I can get it though Max, I know where the kitchen is.”

Max waved off the notion.  “It’s my house Kid,” he stated gruffly, “and you’re my guest.  I can get you a damn beer.”

Chris looked about as he waited for Max to return.  Max Noir, or Classic Noir, as many fans knew him, came from a much different time.  Story had Max stopping crime along the docks as far back as the Forties.  He was one of the founders of The Collective in the Fifties: with the original Scarlett Speedster, Nereid, and of course The Standard Man.    Max was a member of the team as late as the Eighties, though mostly in a consulting position by then.  When Chris had become Kid Standard, Max was still there as a mentor for many of the younger heroes.

Chris had admired Max when he was new to being Kid Standard, and still looked up to the old man.  Max Noir: fighting for justice with nothing more than a dark suit, wide brimmed fedora and a wicked right hook.  Even now Max was a fit man.  His trim muscles strained to escape the jogging suit he was wearing.  His white hair had only begun to thin along his forehead, and he looked much younger than he was.

Along the mantle piece, Max had a series of papers and awards: his lifetime membership to The Collective, and the statuette he was awarded when he saved the police commissioner.  There was a series of framed newspaper clippings, and Sleuth’s Dog of the Year award.  On the short table in the center of the room lived an old typewriter, and the manuscript for Max’s book.

When Max returned, he found Chris flipping through the pages.  “You like it?”

Chris read the rest of the page he was on before he answered.  “It’s pretty good,” he said.  “History and Common Sense for Young Heroes?”

“It’s a working title.  More a descriptive right now.”  Max handed a beer over to Chris as he continued.  “There’s more of them showing up every day; young kids with more power than they know what to do with.  They need the advice, and they need the assistance.”  Max waved at the sheets of paper on the table.  “I’m trying to get that  down while I’m still here.”

“Max, you’re not going anywhere,” Chris countered with a half smile.

Max sat down on a tall backed leather chair, and pointed his cane across the table at Chris.  “Don’t get me wrong Kid, I’ll be here long enough to bury most of my generation, but I’m not immortal.”  Max waved away Chris’s look of concern and continued.  “Without any sort of guidance for these kids, things can get out of hand quickly.  We both know what happens then.”

“The Nineties.”  Chris gave a shudder.  The Nineties was considered a dark time for most of the superhero community.  It was a time where the term vigilante was used more then hero.  The public cried for villains to be stopped permanently, and there was a surge of self proclaimed heroes willing to do just that.  These ruthless vigilantes brought out a new level of violence in the villain community, many who rightfully felt that they were fighting for their lives whenever a battle broke out.

Everything changed in the early two thousands, while Chris was still Kid Standard.  He and the members of Teen Justice had been battling Jonathan Godfrey, The Standard Man’s arch nemeses.  As tended to happen, the team became separated.  While the rest of Teen Justice battled against hired goons, Quiver: In The Black’s sidekick, ended up alone against Godfrey.

Chris was the first to reach Godfrey and Quiver.  Godfrey had strangled Quiver to death with her own bowstring, nearly decapitating her. Godfrey had been standing over the body when Chris had flown in.  Chris would find out later that Jonathan Godfrey had pumped himself with a chemical cocktail that would give him The Standard Man’s powers.  The same chemicals had driven Godfrey temporarily insane.

Chris had attacked Godfrey with fists, with heat and with cold.  In an epic battle, Chris had savaged Jonathan Godfrey, and had nearly killed the man.  Chris was still certain he would have killed Godfrey, had The Standard Man not intervened.

Chris’s near murder of Godfrey made headlines.  Godfrey’s lawyers villainised Chris’s actions, and the media turned on him and other heroes.  Public opinion turned against vigilante actions, and all heroes found their actions under scrutiny.

In an attempt to clean house, The Collective began to heavily police its own. They made it clear that heroes who killed would be seen in the same light as villains.  By two thousand and five, super powered life was back to the way it used to be: spandex heroes punched spandex villains and carried them to jail.   Chris didn’t care though, he’d quit long before that.

Max watched Chris from across the table.  He knew where the young man’s thoughts had gone.  “It was a shame, the Nineties,” he commented.  “Worse still that your generation tends to take the blame for the whole thing.  It’s not like you kids were alone.”  He swished the dregs around the bottom of his bottle.  “Remember Standard’s costume back then?”

Chris choked on a mouthful of beer.  “God, it was all belts and pouches.  Remember his attempt to grow his hair long?  The worst mullet this side of Texas.”  Chris smiled, and let the darkness fade.  “Marlene managed to convince us that the costume changes were a good idea.”

“Marlene?”  Max shrugged his lack of knowledge at the name.

“Marlene Wheeler,” Chris said.  “Our agent back then, and costume designer.” He thought on it for a second.  “Could have been worse, I suppose.  Look what she dressed Girl Standard in.”  Chris shrugged.  “Sorry,” he corrected, “Girl Power.”

Max shook his head.  “She’s the one who dressed the Girl?  Horrible costume, that was.”

“Lack of costume,” Chris replied.

Max waved off the comment like a bad smell.  “Exactly.  Who strips down a sixteen year old girl, then has her fly about town?  Disgraceful.”  Max shook the thought away.  “Saw your cousin recently,” he told Chris.  “She’s doing bodyguard work nowadays, for those who can afford her.”

Chris rolled his eyes.  “She’s not my cousin.”  He fought back a slight surge of jealousy.  Carol had managed to find a way to profit from her powers, while his own uses were limited to bar tricks.  “Speaking of family, have you heard from your sidekick lately?”

“Partner, were you to ask him.”  Max smirked.  “Tom visits here and there, but The Collective keeps him busy.  I see you more than I see him.  I suppose that’s fair, since he sees The Standard Man much more than you do.”

“Yeah, well, good for him,” Chris replied.  He stood, and put his empty bottle down on a coaster.  “Max, I should get going.  I’ve still got work in the morning.”

Max stood as well.  “You want to get it off your mind before you go, Kid?”  Chris made a quizzical face at Max.  “Something’s bugging you,” Max said, “and you’re looking to talk on it.”

“It’s nothing Max,” Chris started, “I’ve just been working out some things.”  He told Max about the TV report he’d watched, and about his day at work.  He told Max about April, and about hanging with Jim.  Chris explained his mood, and his complete lack of idea where it was coming from.

Max listened to Chris.  He waited a few polite moments before he commented.  “Do you want to know what I think Kid?  You’re second guessing your decisions.  You trained with half of The Collective; they were your childhood friends.”  Max paused.  He watched Chris light a cigarette, and pushed a marble ashtray across the table.  “Now, all your friends have made something of themselves.  They’re heroes, like you wanted to be back then.”  Max pointed at Chris.  “You, on the other hand, work at a coffee shop for a little more than minimum wage.”

Chris tried not to look upset.  “Harsh,” he admitted.

“Didn’t say I agree with it, Kid,” Max replied.   “You may not want the things your old friends have, but that doesn’t mean you don’t notice that you don’t have them.  It’s human nature to notice what we don’t have before we notice what we do have.”

Max opened a small wooden box hidden under the table, and pulled out a slim cigar.  It was a pleasure he didn’t allow himself all that often, and was a sign that Chris would be here for a while. Chris butted out his cigarette, and took a cigar from the offered box.

“It’s not like you need for anything Kid,” Max continued.  “You don’t need to eat or sleep.  Hell if I remember right, you don’t even need to breathe if you don’t feel like it.”  Max went on.  “Your job, and the pay, is more than adequate for your almost non existent needs.  But it doesn’t change the want for creature comforts.”  Max pointed his cigar at Chris.  “And it doesn’t change the constant fight to keep with the Jones’.  You want to be as successful as the people you grew up with.  It happens to all of us at one point or another.”

“Wait.”  Chris took a drag from the cigar.  “Are you suggesting that I’m just suffering a mid life crisis?”

Max grinned.  “I wasn’t suggesting anything.”

“But,” Chris objected, “I’m only twenty-eight.”

“So?”  Max took a small puff from his cigar before elaborating.  “Your friends are successful now, and you really noticed it yesterday.  Back in my day, people waited until they were forty to consider mistakes.  These days, you kids don’t have the patience to wait for mid life to have your crisis.”

Max opened his mouth to add to the point, but was interrupted by an indignant bark from Sleuth.  “Oh for the love of…” Max held up the cigar.  “He hates these things.” Max glared at the hound.  “We’ll go out front to smoke, OK?”  Sleuth put his head down, and vibrated his jowls with a loud harrumph.

“He’s like an old woman sometimes,” Max commented.  “An old woman,” he repeated for Sleuth.  Max sliced the heaters off both cigars, and left the burning ends in the ashtray despite the noise of protest from Sleuth.

“If it’s any consolation Kid,” Max commented as they stepped outside, “I’m impressed with your willpower.”  Max struck a wooden match along the bottom of his boot, and relit his cigar before he continued.  “The super hero lifestyle is like a drug,” he said.  “Hell, if I were still capable, I’d still be out there in uniform.  There’s something therapeutic about tossing on a ridiculous costume, and punching bad guys.  Despite what anyone will tell you about the feel good of doing good, it’s about control.  In costume, you can change the world into something that makes sense.”

Max pointed at Chris.  “You walked away from it all, and never looked back.  You may well be one of the most powerful people on the planet Kid, and you’ve managed to stick to your guns, not use that power.”

Chris shrugged.  “It’s not that big a deal.  I use my powers all the time, just not in a big way.”  He thought on all of his little tricks, and shrugged again.  “I’m hardly the most powerful person on the planet.  I doubt I rank top ten.”

“Don’t sell yourself short Kid.  You’re much more powerful than The Standard Man was at your age,” Max added.  “I should know, I was there.”

Chris puffed on his cigar.  “This isn’t about to become a great responsibility speech is it?”

“Oh, heaven forbid.”  Max chuckled tobacco smoke.  “You wanted some insight into what’s been bothering you, and I’ve given you just that.  Take it as you will Kid.”

Chris nodded his thanks.  They both smoked in silence for a few minutes before Max spoke again.  “Before you get a chance to run off Kid I had a favor to ask of you.”  Max flicked the butt of his cigar to the road.  “The Standard Man said he’d do the prologue for my book, when it’s done, and I wanted to know if you’d do the epilogue.”

Chris stood stunned, and Max mistook the silence as cautious consideration.  “It’d only need to be a paragraph or two.”  Max suggested.  “Its just that you are one of the finest examples of who the book is for.  it would look pretty good too.  You know, the old guard starting it off, and the next generation finishing it up.”

“I’d love to Max,” Chris assured him.  “I’d be honored.”

There was an awkward silence, broken conveniently by Chris’s cell phone.  Chris mouthed a quick apology as he answered it.  Chris managed to get a hello in, before being cut off by the caller.  He opened his mouth on the odd occasion, but didn’t get a word in.  Chris’s face crumpled at the news.  He finally nodded, and hung up his phone without so much as a goodbye.

“Max,” Chris began, features twisted between anger and confusion, “I’ve got to go.”

“Kid, are you OK?”

“That was Jim,” Chris answered in a near whisper.  “He was making sure I hadn’t done anything crazy, since Jonathan Godfrey was released from prison today.”  Chris could feel energy building hot behind his retinas, and was certain that his eyes were flared bright red.  “Jonathan Godfrey was released today.”

“I know,” Max admitted. “It’s been on the news all day.”

Chris felt betrayed.  “You knew?”  He calmed himself as much as he could  “I need to go Max.”

Max nodded curtly.  The gesture was missed, as Chris took flew into the sky for the first time in years.  Without a look back, Chris vanished through the clouds.

The Amelia Academy: Standards. Chapter 3

Chris’s mood went downhill as the day went on.  He tried to blame it on his slowly fading hangover.  He tried to blame last night’s lack of decent sleep.  He even tried to blame April’s response to his earlier pass.  In all honesty though, Chris felt it wasn’t any of these things.  He just wasn’t able to put his finger on what it really was.

Chris met with Jim a bit after work.  They grabbed dinner and a couple pints at a bar called Drexies, before returning to Chris’s apartment to play video games and have a few beers.  It was a regular ritual, when the two weren’t drinking till last call.

Normally, Chris looked forward to the occasional quiet evening hanging with Jim.  Tonight though, Chris was already struggling with his mood, and Jim’s visit was not helping.

“Dude, for a guy with super reflexes, you totally suck at this.”  Jim smiled around the cigarette sticking from his mouth as he soundly beat Chris at Collective vs. Core: the Video Game.

Chris smiled back with no feeling short of malice.  He did not crush the controller to dust, and he didn’t slam it through the coffee table, which was really a piece of ply board balanced on a few milk crates.  He considered both, and instead got up to grab another beer from the fridge.

Jim stood as well.  He stretched, and gave a slight groan as he rubbed his back.  “You need a new couch,” Jim stated. “I know you may not feel it, but this one stabs me in the back every time I’m here.”

“You’re welcome to get me a new sofa,” Chris snapped back.  He tossed a beer across the room to his friend.

Jim sat back down and started a new match on Collective vs. Core.  This time he chose to use Nereid, In her classic short-shorts costume.  Nereid’s turquoise swimsuit hadn’t actually changed that much over the decades; its seam lines had simply crept higher up her thighs, and lower down her chest.  The game designers had made special note of her breasts, and made sure to give them gravity defying bounce.

Chris picked up the other controller, and chose Classic Noir.  Before he’d retired, and been replaced, Noir was considered one of the last Action Heroes.  He had no powers, but had made up for it with skill.  The game had done a fine job recreating his black suit and fedora look, though it had given him a gun that Chris was pretty certain Noir had never carried.

The two nodded acceptance of their choice characters as the match began.  They played the first few punches in silence.

“So,” Jim questioned finally, “what’s eating you?”

Chris ran a finger in a practiced half circle across the controller.  On the screen, a pixelated Classic Noir stepped aside.  Sleuth the Crime Hound leapt from off screen and attacked Nereid.  Blood flew from non-existent wounds.  “Nothing’s bugging me.”  Chris stated with no conviction.

Jim raised an eyebrow at Chris.  Nereid pulled a kick punch combo, and threw Noir into a tidal wave that had sprouted from nowhere.  “Really?” Jim questioned without looking from the screen.  “You’ve been in a bitch since we met up.”

“Alright,” Chris admitted.  “I don’t know what’s wrong.  I’m just in a mood.”  He hit buttons frantically, but already knew how the match was going to end.  “I was late for work,” he tried.  “Plus, I’m still hurting from last night.”  Jab, jab, gunshot.  Nereid blocked most of it.  “I asked April out,” Chris added.

“Oh,” Jim muttered around his cigarette.  “How’d that go?”

Chris sighed.  “Well, I’m here with you tonight, aren’t I?”

“That you are,” Jim replied.  He traced in a full 360 on the controller, and jammed down on the X button triumphantly.  On screen, Nereid summoned an impressively animated geyser under Noir.  Game over.

Chris cursed under his breath as Nereid did a small victory dance on screen.  He lit a new smoke, and tried to bring the subject away from his non existent love life..  “The Standard Man was on the news again this morning.”

“Yeah, I know.  I took the photos.”  Jim mimed using a camera, and chuckled.  “That Leslie chick you used to be doing beat everyone to the punch this morning.  Ms. Langley was pissed.  After all, anything The Standard Man is supposed to be hers.”

“Jennifer Langley gets her exclusives with The Standard Man for all the regular reasons.”  Chris accented his point by making a circle with the thumb and forefinger of his left hand, and running two fingers from his right through it a few times.  “And for the record, I never did Leslie.”  Chris took a drag of his smoke.  “I just should have.”

“Yeah, you should have,” Jim agreed, “Leslie is a fine piece.”  He shrugged.  “I think she’s bunking with Phil the cameraman these days.”

“Thanks Jim,” Chris stated with a sneer.  “You really know how to cheer a guy up.”

“Is that what’s bugging you?”  Jim asked.  “You struck out with April, and now you wish you’d gotten some Asian Heat?”

“No,” Chris answered with a look of disgust.  “And serious; Asian Heat?”

“Well, whatever man.  If it’s not a girl, what is it?”  Jim stared into his empty bottle, and went to get a new one.  “You see Standard on TV almost every week, and it doesn’t normally bother you at all, so it’s not that.”  Jim came back to the couch, and handed a new beer to Chris.  “It’s not, is it?”

“What?  No.”  Chris thought on it.  He had been pissy since he’d watched the news this morning, but decided that it most certainly wasn’t because of The Standard Man.  “I’m just in a mood.  It’s tons of stuff I guess.”

Chris started a new match of Collective vs. Core.  He chose the current Noir, with his black body suit and teleporting powers.  Jim chose The Scarlett Speedster, with her expected speed, and unexpected jiggle.

“Remember last time we hung with Sarah and Tom?”  Chris asked as he pulled a practiced up-up-down pattern on the controller.

“You mean The Scarlett Speedster and Noir?”  Jim responded coldly, his own pattern thrown off by Chris’s casual use of both heroes secret identities.

Chris took advantage, and threw a pair of ‘shadow blasts’.  The undefended Scarlett Speedster flew across the screen.  “Jim, you went home with Sarah.  Are you seriously going to tell me that even while getting the friction burns you called her The Scarlett Speedster?”

“No,” Jim denied.  After a moment of silence he added, “I called her Scarlett.”

“Jesus, man.”

“And before you think to bring them up again,” Jim added with a smug tone, “those burns were a part of the best Christmas present ever.”

Getting his game back, Jim pulled off a Scarlett Tornado, and knocked back the onscreen Noir.  “Noir was still Nightshift, back when you all were Teen Justice.  He have a present for you that night?”

Chris lifted an index finger to Jim without looking over.  “I spent the evening after you left talking up Girl Power.”

Jim looked at Chris in disgust, and missed a chance to block.  “Ugh, dude. Isn’t she your cousin or something?”

Chris brought the finger up again with vigor.  Girl Power had started her career as Girl Standard, and Jim was not the first to assume relation.  “She’s not my cousin,” Chris declared.  “Everyone just assumes that because we all wore the Sun Symbol that we were some big family.  I’m not related to The Standard Man, and I’m certainly not related to Girl Power.”

Chris waited until Jim had begun a complex series of attacks before he spoke again.  “How is Ken doing these days?”  Chris chuckled as Jim fumbled with the controls.  “Sorry,” he remedied, “how is The Standard Man; who has a secret identity that you know, as a man you work closely with, doing these days?”

“Dude, you know I don’t like to talk about who he is.”  Jim looked around as though expecting The Standard Man to be standing behind him.

“Everyone knows you know who he is,” Chris commented.  “He was being Ken Tabbard when he gave you your emergency bracelet.”

“Yeah, I know.”  Jim fiddled with the silver chain.  It had a small button that would emit a pulse heard by The Standard Man, Chris, and every dog within two miles.  Chris hated the damn thing.  He would hear it at odd hours of the day; a sudden ringing like a phone he couldn’t answer.  The pulse had a strange musical quality to it, and caused Chris to have ‘Tainted Love’ stuck in his head any time he heard it.

“I know,” Jim repeated, “but he hasn’t officially told me who he is.”  Jim put out his smoke, and immediately lit another.  “I’ve got a good thing going here, taking pictures of super heroes.  These days half of the world has digital cameras.  Most of them are blissfully unaware that they are lining up shots better then pros do sometimes.”  Jim pulled smoke deep into his lungs.  “I’m one of a million people taking photos at any throw down, and my connection with the hero community is one of the few advantages I have.  I don’t need to fuck that up.”

Jim blew a smoke ring, and then tried to pass another ring through the first.  It was a trick they’d both seen In The Black: The Dark Archer pull off.  It was also a trick that Jim and Chris had been trying to master since they were teenagers.

“Dude has super hearing, and enhanced vision,” Jim continued.  He scowled at his failed smoke dartboard.  “You never know when he’s listening, and I’d rather not piss him off.”

“I wouldn’t worry Jim,” Chris stated.  “He hasn’t looked in on me in years.”  Chris sunk into the couch, and focused his attention on the TV.  “I doubt he’s going to start tonight.”

The Amelia Academy: Standards. Chapter 2

The Good! Café smelt of coffee grinds and old wood.  The lights were dim and yellowed from age.  The effect was comforting on any regular day, and particularly welcome today.  Chris still felt like he’d been hit by a beer truck when he stumbled in, and he needed any comfort he could find.  Chris was especially thankful for the soft lighting of the café.

Chris was less thankful for the crowd inside.  The morning rush had begun without him, and the small café was packed.  Chris cursed under his breath.  He expected to get it in the neck for being so late.  Still, no one seemed to notice him slip behind the counter.  No one was ordering anything.  The café was packed, but it wasn’t busy from a business point of view.  The entire crowd had an eye on the small television behind the counter.

Odd, Chris thought to himself as he glanced at the ongoing report, The Standard Man should have wrapped this up by now.  Not one to overlook an opportunity, Chris slipped into his apron, and began to wipe the counter as though he’d been in the café the whole time.

On the television, things had escalated.  The primary members of The Collective: Noir, Nereid, and the Scarlett Speedster, had joined the fight.  It was a whole team of heroes against a pair of over powered teenagers.  Power was flung about indiscriminately, and a vast amount of real estate had been destroyed.

Chris watched the newscast for a moment.  The Collective was a bit of overkill for the two boys.  He figured it was a slow week as far as crime fighting was involved.  Nereid and The Standard Man had been members of The Collective forever; both of them were founding members.  Nereid was the ageless Goddess of the Sea, and The Standard man was, well, The Standard Man.  Both of them had hit their prime in the fifties, and had seemingly stopped aging right then and there.

Like Chris, Noir and The Scarlett Speedster had both once been sidekicks.  Unlike Chris, they’d continued with the crime fighting, and had replaced their respective mentors.  Noir and Scarlett were members of The Collective.  Chris worked at The Good! Café.  It had never bothered Chris.  After all, he had given up the super hero lifestyle voluntarily.  Still, he found himself sneering slightly at the TV.

“You sneaky bastard,” a voice accused, snapping Chris from his television stupor. He turned to face April’s frown of disapproval.

Chris quickly muttered an excuse about super hero battles, and delayed busses.  “What’d I miss?” he asked innocently.

“You missed the first hour of morning rush,” April answered briskly.  She waved a hand towards the TV.  “If this hadn’t distracted everyone, I would have killed them all, and then come to your apartment and killed you.”

“Would have been worth it,” Chris joked.  “I’d get to have you at my apartment at least.”

Chris chuckled at April’s look of indignation.  He raised his hands in an apologetic what can I say sort of way.  She let one side of her mouth twitch into a smile, and scrunched her freckled nose at him.

“The Standard Man had a building dropped on him a few minutes ago,” April explained, bringing Chris up to date.  “He hasn’t come back yet, and the reporter chick is making noises to get the crowd worried.”

“Huh,” Chris noted.  He took a moment to take in April while she was distracted.  She had the body type that seemed to be reserved for redheads: angular and curvy at the same time.  Chris tended to let his eyes settle on the curvy when April wasn’t looking.  “I take it you’re not worried then?”

April looked over, and rolled her eyes at Chris.  “It’s a building.  Standard gets tossed through them all the time.”  She lowered her voice to avoid inviting customers to debate the fact.  “We just watched him get punted about by fly-boy there and get over it.  I’m sure he’s fine.”

Chris nodded.  He watched as the trench coat boy swore creatively, and kept Noir back with a crater of broken concrete and flying roadside.  The flying kid stayed airborne, and fired bolts of energy recklessly at The Scarlett Speedster.  It all made for great television, Chris noted to himself.

“How long has Standard been out of the fight?”  Chris figured the old hero was likely working behind the scenes to make sure there were no injured civilians in the buildings that had been damaged.

April shrugged without looking at Chris.  “I don’t know, a few minutes?  I’m sure he’ll be back in a moment.”

Chris nodded again.  He let the silence hang a moment.  “You want to go for drinks?” he blurted.  “I mean, after work, not right now.”

Chris had been playing the flirt game with April at work for years now, and had more than once tried to follow up.  An evening of drinking had finally cumulated to a heavy make-out session over a month ago.  It had turned out to be quite memorable, though not for the reasons Chris would have liked.  Chris, even when controlling his powers, was very strong; and April, it turned out, bruised easily.  Needless to say, things hadn’t gone well.

April smiled at Chris in a way that told him the answer before she spoke.  A cheer went up from the crowd as The Standard Man flew up from the wreckage; breaking the tense moment.  Chris dropped the subject as he and April turned to serve the crowd.  He’d never been happier to have to get to work.

Within minutes, The Collective had subdued both of the teens, and it became business as usual in the Good! Café.  The crowd came and went, all chattering about the battle they’d just watched.  Chris smiled and nodded at the customers’ comments on The Standard Man, and inserted the proper “Uh-huh,” and “I know,” whenever necessary.  It wasn’t until the morning crowd had thinned that Carl; Chris’s boss, spoke to him at all.

“You think I didn’t see you slip in late there, aye?”  Carl’s accent was odd, in that he didn’t have an accent at all from what Chris could tell, yet he’d slip in comments like aye and lad without sounding forced.

“No, no,” Chris lied.  “I uh, there was a big superhero fight.”  Chris pointed to the television, as though it would back him up.  “The buses were being delayed.”

“Stow it lad,” Carl interrupted.  “The fight wasn’t anywhere near your place, and it wasn’t between here and there.”  Carl narrowed his eyes at Chris.  “You don’t get paid for hours you aren’t here.”

“I barely get paid for the ones I am here for,” Chris retorted under his breath.  He was quick to flash his most winning smile at Carl.

Carl was not impressed.  “Looking for a career change lad?” The question held obvious threat, and Chris looked away.  Carl shook his head.  “All I ask of you is that you show up on time, serve the customers, and not steal from the till.  You do a fine job of two of these.”

“So I’m not fired then?”  Chris was pushing his luck, and he knew it.

Carl let the silence hang for a moment.  “No, you’re not fired lad.  What type of man would I be if I fired you on the same day we nearly lost The Standard Man?”

Chris blinked.  The Standard Man had barely broken a sweat in that fight, much less been in any actual danger.  He glanced around the café.  Customers were still chatting about the super battle on TV, and about The Standard Man.

“I’m glad he’s ok,” Chris found himself saying.

“We all are lad,” Carl agreed.  He patted Chris on the back, and went to do his morning paperwork.  Chris swept the floors, and tried to tune out all the chatter around him.  Chris felt like he was missing something, but he wasn’t sure what it was.

The Amelia Academy Cover

ameliacoverfeast

So, going to start posting the edited chapters of The Amelia Academy: Standards soon. First though, should start with the cover.

This is the final cover work for the published copy, once it’s, well, published. This work was done for me by Kimberly Parker (http://skittlefox.wordpress.com/) after much humming and hawing on my part. She also did the cover that I’ve been using for the online copy of The Amelia Academy: Standards, which can be seen here. (https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/136125)

I should also mention that this is the first public viewing of this version of the cover. I’ve been saving it for publishing, but this seems a fine time to share.

EDIT: Dec 18th.  Replaced with higher quality version.  The artist informed me that the version I’d put up was ‘fuzzy’.  Still the same pic, just, you know, better.  Less fuzzy.

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