- Unwanted Heroes
- Games People Play
- Murphy's Run- Part I
- Murphy's Run- Part II
- Nevermind Over Matter
- Phantom Fiction
- Pray Predator
- Riders of the Storm- Excerpt
- The Secret Life of God
- The Unknown
- The Deadpool Solution
- Ghost Rider II
- Jerale C Presents: Death Race
- April 2012
- February 2012
- January 2012
- November 2011
- September 2011
- August 2011
- July 2011
- June 2011
- May 2011
- April 2011
- March 2011
- February 2011
- January 2011
- December 2010
- October 2010
- August 2010
- July 2010
- June 2010
- May 2010
- April 2010
- March 2010
- February 2010
- January 2010
- December 2009
- November 2009
- October 2009
- September 2009
- August 2009
- July 2009
- June 2009
- May 2009
- April 2009
- March 2009
- February 2009
Anybody that cares about sequential art has an opinion about the new DC 52. If you’re still reading after the first sentence, then apparently you care, too. I’m not going to go the obvious route and talk about how much I hate this new DCU and the re-launch of characters and origins, and what not. That horse is beaten, turned into glue, and used to bind Superman 80-page Giant. While I have very strong feelings about this turn of events, I am taking a more positive approach to the news.
It’s clear that this decision to restart their entire universe, world, order of being, is solely about money and making more of it. That being said, I don’t see it as being just about making more money. It’s about survival. The world, much to my regret in some forms of media, is going digital. Music, movies, and more importantly, books. Example: about two weeks ago, I’m sitting in Barnes and Noble and there’s a girl next to me, in the book store, on her laptop downloading books for her digital reader (I don’t know which brand or version). Now, whether this young lady went to the bookstore for the single purpose of being ironic is beyond me. But still, I found it strange. Such is the way of the world; so it seems.
Why not go digital? That’s the main question. It’s cheaper. By golly, *in my best Billy Batson voice* is it cheaper. No printing cost. No shipping fees. It’s certainly faster. With the cover price of books rising, and sales dropping, why not? If you can do it and deliver it faster, and satisfy all the Veruca Salt I-want-it-now of the worlds, then you should, right?
Let me ask you this? Why did you take the job you have now? What motivated your decision? Money? I thought so. Why? Just cause you wanted to be richer? I know, as a comic collector you’re already a millionaire like me. (In fact, I’m not writing this myself, I’ve hired a slew of writers to do it for me, and make minor grammatical errors so it seems homegrown.) Bottom line, for DC they needed new readers. They needed growth and to make greater sales. It was either this, or, possibly, die. I’m not certain it was that dire, yet. But, I’m sure it was on the horizon. While I don’t feel the re-launch was the best choice – if it was this or no DCU, then I choose this. Bob Dylan said it best, but had to be translated for us to understand – “The times they are a-changin’.”
A lot of people are afraid that this will be the end of printed comics as we know it. Wrong. There are too many people that depend on this for it to go away. Not only that, but printed comics create a symbiotic relationship with the company itself. If you want to see exactly what I’m talking about, why don’t you looks back at the coverage from the event this past weekend. The San Diego Comic Con. Among everything else that’s there, the place is jam packed full of comic artists. For many of them, this helps to supplement their income. It also gives them a chance to meet the readers/fans, and build sales. If a company goes all digital, what will fans bring to the cons to get signed? Their e-readers? Get real. What would artists sign? Hell, what would writers do? Sketch stick figures on Post-it notes? The cons have always been a friend, a close friend to the business. It’s one of the biggest tools they have to spread the word. You can’t have cons without printed books.
Now, me, I’m looking at the Skittles at the end of this rainbow. I was there during the late 80s and early 90s when the market spiked and then went to hell. Recently, I was looking through a price guide at all the books I had from that era that had such high values. Guess what, they’re all cover price now. Unless it was a sleeper, or something that skipped the radar, it would probably have more value as the skin on a homemade piñata. As a collector, I highly discourage the practice of stripping, rending, mutilating, or burning any comic unless of course it’s early X-Force, Youngblood (doesn’t this sound like a gay porn? With names like Shaft, Diehard, Badrock, Vogue… gay porn), or Sleepwalker. Anyway, none of those books were worth anything but the satisfaction of the story and art. Which means that a lot of those books are worthless. Why? Because the market was inundated with them. X-Men #1 isn’t going to be worth anything ever – no matter if it’s cover 1A, 1B, 1C, 1D, or the gatefold – because they sold 5 million copies. Do you know what that means? It means that, no matter where you go in America, a household will have either a copy of Thriller on vinyl, a Swatch watch, or X-Men #1!
So, what happens when half the books go digital, and the number of printed books gets cut in half? Well you know that issue #10 of the new 52 Batman book where the new Bruce is revealed to have been Ra’s Al Ghul the whole time? Now it has actual value again beyond the story and art.
To be fair, none of us got into this because we had hopes of owning the next Action Comics #1, or Amazing Fantasy #15. We got into it for the characters, the stories, and the art. And for many of us, that turned into a hobby, or obsession. It’s just nice to know that something you’ve devoted a part of your life to has some dollar value to go along with the personal value.
Gather Ye Acorns, my friends. This just might be a good thing after all.
“What the hell, man?!” the young teen said, flipping through the channels on the hotel TV. Crash’s language had gotten a little “colorful” since their encounter with the Hell Spawns. It was nothing for him to toss a damn or a hell into every other sentence. It never progressed beyond that, but that miniscule amount was out of character for the formerly quiet boy.
“Hey! Hey, DD, you see this?”
Crash pointed the remote at the news report on the television. It was the third one he had seen that morning rehashing the events from the recognition ceremony the day before. The ceremony where Electric Blue revealed to the world that Colonel Courageous was her father; after blasting him repeatedly with electricity. Now, public opinion had turned on the overnight media darlings, and they found themselves being attacked by the same people eighteen hours earlier were praising them.
Outside the hotel, a crowd had gathered with signs decrying them and they’re antics. Crash looked at the video of the angry mob on the TV, then walked to the window and looked out at them from his vantage point several stories above. He clicked the remote control and changed to another channel where they were also discussing the teens. On the news show, the hosts spoke via teleconference with an attorney who spouted legal mumbo jumbo and precedents. The teletype on the bottom of the screen read: “Hell Spawns Detained Illegally.”
Crash un-muted the television so he could hear the garbage the lawyer was spewing.
“You have to remember, that these so called heroes have no jurisdiction in Argo city, or any other town. Their actions are nothing more than vigilante justice.” The attorney spat with false conviction.
“So,” the host responded. “You consider this as ‘vigilante justice’ and not, say, a citizen’s arrest. Let me remind you, that the police were on the scene, and they actually did the arresting. All these teens did was help subdue the members of the Hell Spawns gang.”
“You say, that they helped subdue, but when I look at that video, what I see is not neighborhood citizens rushing in to protect themselves and their loved ones. What I see on that video is a gang war. The police are on the sidelines afraid to intervene. There are undermanned and underequipped to deal with even one of them.”
“Hold on for a minute, Jason.” The host spoke up. He leaned in to the camera as if he and the lawyer were face to face instead of several thousand miles away. “I don’t see where the video shows anything that you’re claiming. We see these kids show up after the Hell Spawns had already begun their terror campaign. They had one of the city’s heroes, the Aggressor, down on the ground, and were beating him to death.”
“There you go, mixing facts again. Heroes, real heroes, like Colonel Courageous, Astronima, and Spartanicus are recognized bodies and have been duly appointed by federal and state agencies with the special privilege to be able to subdue and arrest those that break the law. The Aggressor has not been recognized, or authorized, with those privileges. Furthermore…”
Crash couldn’t take any more. He turned the TV off and threw the remote on the couch. The teen paced in front of the window. One protestor stood out over the others. He held a sign above his head that had the word “Heroes” crossed out and the word “Terrorists” underneath. The teen snarled at him through the reinforced glass. He reached out with his ability and pulled on the sign.
The man holding the sign jumped. He looked around frantically as if someone had called his name, before going back to waving his sign. Suddenly, his arm shot higher into the air, and his hand slid to the end of the wooden post that held the sign. The man looked around again, and shot a glance into the air. Crash could see the fear on his face as the protestor wondered what was going on.
Crash laughed and gave the sign another tug, yanking it completely out of the man’s hand. He let it hover just out of reach for a few seconds, before dropping it down on the man’s upward looking face. The protestor picked his sign off the ground and waved it halfhearted, while looking around to see if he could find who was responsible. Slowly, he lowered his sign and slinked away, disappearing in the back of the crowd.
The mischievous teen chuckled at the frightened man down below. “This is crazy. DD, you should see this. Yo, DD!”
Sitting at the breakfast nook, DD stared blankly at the trail of water he poured along the nook’s edge. He lowered his head to the table, putting himself at eye level with the elongated pool. He took his index finger, placed it on the table top, and slid it to the pool of water. Crystals formed on the tip of his finger and slowly extended into the trail of water. The water retracted as the line of quartz grew within it. As the quartz grew upwards, the water was drawn inwards.
Diamond Dog would have found it fascinating, learning a new way to use his ability, had his mind not been weighed down with concern over everything that had happened. Nothing had gone right for him since he was gifted with his ability. Gifted? Not a gift, a curse.
“Diamond Dog?” Crash called. “You listening to me?”
“Enough of this Diamond Dog shit! My name’s Carson! Okay, Joseph?!”
‘What the hell’s wrong with you?”
“Nothing.” Carson snapped at his friend. The crystal trail that ran the length of the table extended upwards into spikes. DD kept his finger on the table, at the starting point of the miniature crystal wall. With an agitated push of his finger, the two inch quartz spikes were expelled from their bases and embedded themselves into the high ceiling.
Carson fell back in his chair and ran hand over his face. “Joseph… Crash… I’m sorry. I’m sorry about all of this. I never wanted any of this. I don’t want to be a hero. I don’t want people to depend on me to help them. I don’t… I can’t handle that responsibility.”
Crash looked down at the older teen. Carson had always felt like an older brother to the younger teen. He looked up to him.
“I do. Maybe it’s a stupid teenage dream, but I’ve always wanted to be a hero. Wanting to save people and make them feel safe. Be on TV and on the cover of magazines. But, I can’t do any of that. All I can do is lift things into the air. I’d make a great moving man, but not a hero.”
Crash walked back over to the window and looked down at the people with their signs calling him a menace.
“I mean, we kinda owe it to them, don’t we?”
“We owe a lot of people.” Diamond Dog whispered. Crash knew who he was talking about. Headwires, Renegade, and Bigtime. They didn’t go with DD and the others to Yesterday Town that night, and had been excluded from the praise they initially received. Diamond Dog was sure they felt slighted by that at first, now, though, he was certain they were relieved.
Even still, with Guru revealed as Abysmal, it didn’t take long for the government to seize his assets, including the house they had been staying in. Scarlet helped bring them to the Valiant hotel to stay with the others. Now, DD was worried that if the press found out about them, they would lump them all together. He wanted to keep them out of it, if he could. For their sakes.
While the others were on his mind, Diamond Dog’s primary focus was Blue. He was still reeling from the events of the day before. It didn’t help that he was constantly reminded of it everywhere he turned. The thing he found the most difficult to accept was learning that Colonel Courageous was Blue’s father. It all seemed so sudden and random at the time, but looking back on it, it made sense. Somehow, it made sense.
A knock on the room door gave him the excuse he needed to stop thinking about Blue and the others for just a moment. He rose from the chair and carefully made his way to the door.
Crash’s heart pounded in his chest, and he instinctively moved away from the door. Images of old west lunch mob justice stampeded through his mind.
Diamond Dog peered through the peephole and into Scarlet’s friendly face. Behind her were two people he could barely see. He opened the door slowly, keeping his foot on the bottom of door, and preventing it from opening all the way. Scarlet went to step inside the room, but stopped short when she realized that DD was standing in her way.
“Who are they?” Diamond Dog asked, keeping the door partially closed. A thin layer of quartz formed on his unseen hand. “More reporters?”
Scarlet didn’t smile. Her expression was somber. “No. These are people you really need to talk to.”
Scarlet stepped back and ushered the man and woman forward. The couple was in their mid thirties, but looked like they were ten years older. It was clear that they hadn’t had a decent night’s sleep in months. Every ounce of worry they felt had been etched into their faces.
The man and woman tried to smile but their mouths only twitched, as if they didn’t know how to anymore. Nervously, the man extended his hand to DD.
“My name’s Edgar, and this is my wife Judith.”
DD looked from the couple to Scarlet, who nodded at him to shake hands. He didn’t move, uncertain of where it was all going.
The man continued with his greeting. “We’re Caroline’s parents. May we come in?”
The hotel bedroom was dark with the exception of the teenage girl that sat on the bed; a faint outline of blue and white illuminating her form. Blue held the phone loosely in her hand, afraid that she might electrocute the person on the other end. She tried to carry on a normal conversation, but her mind kept going back to the cheap high school phone prank. Only this time, she really was afraid it could happen.
“Are you sure you’re okay?” asked the disembodied voice of Jonni through the phone.
“I’m fine mom. I’m a little scared, but I’m okay.” Celia answered. She called her mother the minute they arrived back at the hotel room; almost half a day after the incident. It was all too much for her, and she felt like she was losing control. When she wasn’t worrying about sending electric currents through six hundred miles of phone line, she repeatedly asked herself: Why. Why her?
“The people outside are kinda scary. I mean, some of these same people were asking for my autograph a few days before. Now they want my blood. I feel kinda like John Lennon. I’m afraid one of them might try and kill me.”
Jonni practically burst into tears hearing her daughter say that, and she wondered: Is that how it happens? Is one of those crazy people outside going to kill my daughter?
“It’ll be okay, baby. I went through the same thing when my book came out. It’ll all die down before you know it, and you’ll wonder what it was ever all about.” Jonnie prayed that Celia couldn’t hear her voice crack as she spoke. She did her best to keep her tears behind the thin wall she had built inside.
“He wasn’t lying, was he?”
“What do you mean?”
“Colonel Courageous. My father. He didn’t know about me, did he?”
The wall broke, and tears came flooding out.
“Why didn’t you tell me? You told me who my father was when I turned eight. You made me keep it a secret. Do you know how many birthdays that my only wish was to have him come and visit? All those lonely nights when I prayed to God and asked why didn’t my father love me? Why did he love everyone else and not me? All that time, and he didn’t even know. Why, mom, why?”
Jonnie sniffed hard, and wiped her tears away. “I was afraid. I was afraid that you’d- that you’d want to be just like him. I was afraid that you would idolize him and that lifestyle he lives. I’d been there. I’d made my mistakes. I didn’t want you to go there, too.”
“What mistakes? Getting pregnant?! Having me?!” Celia started to get angry at her mother. The light radiating from her body increased, brightening the entire room.
“No, baby. Not you. Never you. I was afraid of losing you. When I was growing up, there was a hero named Golden Goddess. I wanted to be just like her. I used to dream about what it would be like to be her sidekick. How cool it would be to fight bad guys by her side. Somewhere inside my common sense area, I knew that it would never happen. But I still wanted to be there, be a part of it. It was a different time back then, and to meet a hero you just had to be in the right place at the right time. I got together with a group of other girls, and that’s all we did, travel to where the action was, trying to meet the heroes. Eventually it worked, and – well… you know the rest.”
“I don’t – I don’t understand what you’re saying.”
“My point, is that I was afraid you would end up like me. Not exactly like me, but wanting to be a hero. Wanting to live that life. I wasn’t afraid you’d fail to become one of them, I was afraid you’d succeed. I’ve seen so many of them die long before their time. I didn’t want you to be one of them. I didn’t want to lose you.”
“You can’t stop it, mom. If that’s my fate, then that’s the way it is. Nothing you can do will stop it from happening.” Celia had started to calm down, and room slowly went dark again.
“I know. I know.” Jonni started to cry again. She had been crying so much over the past couple of months that each time she was surprised she still could.
“The thought of never seeing you again… I can’t… I don’t want that to happen.”
“I don’t either. I’m just as scared as you are. You’re not the only one, mom.”
“I know, sweetie. I know.” Jonni took a deep breath and let it out in a staggered breath.
“Charles and I are coming to see you. We’re going to try and fly out tomorrow.”
“No, don’t. With everything that’s going on, it’d be better if you stayed as far away from all this as you can. Scarlet’s still going to do her exclusive interview with us. Give me chance to explain what happened yesterday. Maybe once people know why I freaked out they’ll ease up on us.”
“Ok, you’re right. Besides, we’ve got a lot to do around here after Colonel – your father – paid us a visit. The neighbors aren’t too happy with their broken windows.”
A knock at the bedroom door took Celia’s attention away from the call. Diamond Dog opened the door slowly and poked his head in.
“Blue? There’s someone here you need to meet.”
“Just a minute.” The glowing teen answered. She turned her back to the door and resumed her call. DD retreated from the room, closing the door behind him.
“Mom, I need to go. Someone’s here.”
“Let me talk to Charles.”
Jonni handed the phone to her husband.
“Hello.” Charles said.
Charles choked for a moment and he began to stutter. In her sixteen years on the planet, she had never called him dad. It was always Charles, never dad. “Uh… H-Hi, CeCe. You hanging in there?”
“Yeah.” Celia smiled. “I just wanted to say I love you, dad.”
Charles beamed. “I love you too, CeCe.”
“I gotta go. I’ll talk to you later.”
“Okay, honey. Be safe.”
“I will. Bye.”
The wind whistled as it split around the Colonel’s body. He was amazed at the speed he was able to achieve. Never before had he been able to reach velocities that great, much less sustain them. Though he acknowledged this, he spent very little time thinking about it. His head was still reeling from the high pitched squeal of the broken communicator that assaulted him minutes before.
He realized something was wrong during his meeting with Astronima weeks earlier. After his secret meeting with Dr. 253 and Major Tom, he had completely forgotten about the malfunction, until the Dr’s call nearly crippled him.
Colonel Courageous’ mind was a mess of thoughts, ranging from the Cycksiks, to his new found daughter. He was having a hard time believing that he was a father. More so, he questioned Jonni’s decision to hide her from him.
Was his life so bad? He wondered.
The Colonel landed at the secret military instillation, softer than he had at the Reinhart home. He lifted the heavy metal cover that protected the launch tube and climbed inside. He floated down the fifteen story concrete shaft to the hidden base below.
As he drifted down the dark opening, Colonel Courageous felt his eyes getting heavy. His body started to list from side to side, and he nearly pitched forward to fall head first to the bottom. He shook his head vigorously, trying to force the sleep from his mind. It wasn’t really sleepiness as much as it was exhaustion.
His feet had barely touched the bottom of the shaft when the door to Major Tom’s research facility opened. He smiled as the ground lights revealed the heavenly visage of Astronima.
“Fancy meeting you here.” The Colonel said with a smile.
“Gary.” Astronima was startled by the senior hero’s appearance. “What are you doing here?”
“The Doc called. I guess you know about our plan, right?”
“To destroy the Cycksiks home world? Yeah. Given what I’ve been through, forgive me when I say it should’ve been done a long time ago.”
The Colonel lowered his head and looked away. “I’m sorry. If I had known… I never would have asked you to go there.”
“I know, and I don’t blame you.”
“What are you doing here? You’re not planning on coming with us, are you?”
“No.” Astronima balled her fist and clenched her jaw. “I wish I could. But, I can’t. I don’t trust myself right now.”
“Is there a problem?”
“I’ve been a little under the weather lately. My powers have been a little erratic. I’m worried that the procedure might be wearing off. It was supposed to be permanent, but who knows.”
Colonel Courageous moved closer to her.
“What did the Doc say?”
“Nothing. I mean, I didn’t get the chance to talk to him. He and Tom have been in that lab working on the invasion plan. I didn’t think I should disturb him. That’s a bit more important than some manufactured hero.” Astronima forced a smile.
“You’re a hero, that’s all that matters. How you came about powers doesn’t change who you are. Come on, let’s get Doc to give you a good once over.”
“Thank you Gary, but no. I’ll be fine. I just need a good night’s sleep and to stay out of the skies for a little while. I’ll call Great Guardian, and see if he can help keep watch over LA for a week. Give me some time to relax.”
“Are you sure, Val?”
“Yeah,” Astronima said, already rising into the air. “I’ll be fine.”
As she spoke, her body waivered a slightly, and she put a hand to her stomach. She gave the Colonel another forced smiled and flew out the long tunnel.
As his colleague disappeared the Colonel questioned his life once again.
Ailing heroes. Alien invasions. Maybe his life wasn’t as shiny as it looked on the cover of the magazines.
The thunder crack of the sonic boom echoed in the halls of the Reinhart home. It was immediately followed by a shockwave that shook the walls and blew out the front windows.
Charles was expecting it from the moment he saw Colonel Courageous fly off on the television. He was standing at the door when the windows shattered.
“Gary.” Charles said as he opened the door for the Colonel.
Dirt, dust, and leaves trailed in behind the Colonel as he entered the home, still caught in the wake of his supersonic flight.
“I didn’t know you were capable of hitting that kind of speed.” Charles said in an attempt at small talk. He honestly didn’t know. Neither did the Colonel.
The Colonel ignored him and walked directly to the sofa where Johnni sat.
“Is it true?”
“Gary?” Jonni said weakly. Her voice was hoarse and cracked as she spoke.
“Is it true?” the Colonel repeated.
“Let me explain.”
“Is it true?!” Colonel Courageous demanded.
Jonni’s lips quivered, and tears trickled from her eyes. “Yes.”
The softly spoken words hit Colonel Courageous like a rogue comet. He stumbled backwards until he collided with the wall, cracking the drywall and knocking down Charles’ painting of “Summet Heights at Dusk.” He knew it was true. The moment he looked into those eyes, he knew it was true; he just had to hear it from Jonni. Believing it didn’t make Jonni’s validation any easier.
“Gary…” Charles said softly. His hand sought the Colonel’s shoulder. “We didn’t want you to find out this way?”
Colonel Courageous batted Charles’ hand away, using a bit more force than he should have. Charles snatched his injured hand back and cradled it to his chest. It wasn’t broken, as far as he could tell, but was going to be severely bruised. He could feel it starting to swell.
The hero braced himself against the wall and tried to stand. He felt weak, and sick to his stomach. He wasn’t sure if it was because he just found out that he had a daughter, that his daughter had just tried to kill him, or the volts of electricity she had pumped through him less than ten minutes earlier. Whatever it was made him suddenly left him without any strength, and his legs wobbled.
“How long have you known, Charles? How could you raise my little girl as your own without telling me? You owe me!”
“He didn’t know.” Jonnie piped in. She walked over to where Colonel Courageous was against the living room wall. Her hand reached out for the Colonel’s face knowing that he wouldn’t smack her hand away as he had Charles’.
“He just found out a few weeks ago. I hadn’t told him either. If anyone w owes you, Gary, it’s me.”
The Colonel reached up and held Jonni’s hand to his cheek. His eyes started to glaze over.
“Why, Jonni? Why did you leave? Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I couldn’t… I couldn’t have her in that life. It’s… It’s complicated. I didn’t want her to not know her father, or to make Charles play the role of substitute dad, but she deserved better than the daughter of the world’s greatest hero. She needed a normal life. You can’t raise a child in that whirlwind rollercoaster of a world that you live in. She needed a childhood.”
“A childhood without her father? You thought that was what she needed, and you made that decision without me? You thought she would be better off thinking I had abandoned her? Having her hate me for something I was never guilty of? This was your grand idea?”
The Colonel didn’t speak his words so much as chew them up and spit them at her. He pushed her hand away from his face.
“How’s that working out for you?”
Jonni let her hand fall by her side and started to slink away. The Colonel’s words tore into her chest and stabbed at her heart. He was trying to hurt her, and she knew it. But it hurt even more because she knew what he was saying was true.
“That’s enough, Gary!” Charles moved in between his wife and Colonel Courageous. “I understand you’re upset…”
“Upset?!” blurted the Colonel.
“Look, you’ve got every right to be angry about this, but if we’re going to talk about it, we need to talk about it. Not do this.”
“Don’t talk to me about my rights. I’m Colonel Courageous, dammit! I know all about people’s rights. Like the right to see their children. The right to know they even have children.”
“GARY ENOUGH!” Charles roared at the champion hero.
Colonel Courageous stood, still shaky on his feet, but steady enough to stand on his own. The two men met eye to eye; neither blinked nor looked away.
“It’s time for you to leave.”
The Colonel stared at the man before him and waited. He watched for the change in Charles’ shape as he turned into Wooly Mammoth.
He waited; palms sweating.
It didn’t happen.
Charles remained in his human form. His eyes stayed locked, unwavering on the Colonel’s. Slowly, the anger Colonel Courageous felt within started to subside. The man that stood in his face remained a man. He wanted a fight, but Charles wouldn’t give him the satisfaction.
The hero looked away and stepped back. His anger quickly turned to shame, and the weight of it held his gaze to the floor.
“It’s not fair. She’s my daughter.”
“I know.” Charles said, empathizing with him.
“No. You don’t.” The Colonel said defeated. “You’re her stepfather. She may not like you at times, but she still loves you. Both of you. For me, the love she should feel has become nothing but hate. I’ve fought men who wanted to exterminate whole races, creatures from other planets, and people who wanted nothing more than for me to die, but I don’t think any of them hate me as much as she does.”
“Gary… I’m sorry.”
“Thank you, Charles.” The Colonel lifted his head a higher, making brief eye contact with Charles and Jonni.
“I just – Aaargh!” The Colonel cried out in pain and fell to his knees. His hands furiously clutched his head
“Gary!” Charles and Jonni cried in unison.
The hero continued to scream, his voice piercing the air and echoing down the usually quiet street. Dogs howled at the sound, and car alarms began to blare. Colonel Courageous dropped even lower to the ground, his forehead resting against the softness of the carpet; not that he felt it. He was beyond feeling anything except the shrill white noise that drilled itself into his brain by way of his ear canal.
The Colonel raised his upper body off the floor; remaining on his knees. A stream of blood flowed from his nose and down the front of his uniform. Droplets splashed down on the beige carpet, before quickly being absorbed into the fibers. A distant hollow voice drifted across his brain like the words of a ghost. He could only make out a few words, and those words frightened him.
Cyksiks. Extermination. Now.
He slowly rose to his feet, as the sound faded away, taking the pain with it, but not the memory. The Colonel staggered to the front door and threw it open. His leaden feet drug across the ground, chipping the concrete walk and digging up the dirt.
Jonni and Charles followed him out to the front yard.
“Gary, are you okay?” Jonni called out to him.
The Colonel forced a smile. “Yeah. I’ve been having problems with my communicator. It’s just Doc calling me. I’ve got to go.”
The hero of heroes dropped to one knee and raised his head to the sky. Before Jonni could part her lips to say another word, he was gone. Grass, dirt, and leaves were sucked up into the air by his departure. They hovered for several seconds before descending back to the ground.
Charles waved to his angered and excited neighbors, most of whom had been waiting their whole lives for this moment – when Colonel Courageous, or any of the heroes, would pay a visit to the Reinhart home. For them, fourteen years of living next to Wooly Mammoth and Super Slut had finally paid off.
The former hero, turned husband and stepfather, escorted his wife back inside their home. He tried shutting the door, but found that it no longer fit on the hinges. He fit it into the frame as best he could, and glanced around the house at the other repairs that were needed.
Jonni walked over to the spot where Colonel Courageous had fallen, and stared at the small puddle of blood in the carpet.
“You lied to him, didn’t you?” Charles questioned. “I’m sure all that stuff you said was true, but that wasn’t the main reason was it?”
Jonni lowered her head. She made lines in the carpet with her foot. “No.”
“I was afraid.” Jonni said, still looking at the floor.
Charles walked over to his wife. His hand moved slowly and softly under her chin and lifted her head till their eyes met.
“I was afraid that she would want to be just like him. That she’d become a sidekick and would be killed before she…” Jonnie couldn’t finish her sentence. Her throat began to tighten and her eyes welled with tears.
Charles continued to stare into the soul of the woman he loved.
“This has something to do with Johnny Wonder, doesn’t it?” he asked.
She couldn’t answer. Jonni bit her quivering lower lip to try and hold back her third outburst of tears that afternoon.
Powerful arms surrounded Jonni and pulled her close. Charles’s embrace was so stronger, so loving, that she scarcely knew that her feet were no longer touching the ground. And in his arms, she cried. She only wanted to make things better for her little girl. Give her a better life. Now, she felt like she had made a mess of everything, and it was too late to make amends.
The phone had been ringing nonstop since the news broke the week before. At first he answered it, even just to say no comment. As the calls became more frequent, and more persistent, he stopped. It was too much. The only reason he even plugged the phone back in was because of Julian’s insistence. Of course, Julian wanted him to answer it. This was the kind of publicity that agents lived for. And after a decade of managaing Wally, he felt he was long overdue.
Wally couldn’t do it. He couldn’t answer their questions. He didn’t know what to say.
That was a lie. He knew what he would say, the one thing that both he and Julian agreed that he shouldn’t say. All the callers – journalist, reporters, producers, editors, agents – they all wanted the same thing. They wanted to know how he felt after learning Abysmal was still alive.
Wally only had one answer: Scared.
He was frightened beyond belief. When the news first broke, he was in disbelief. He was certain that it was a hoax, or a joke in bad taste, but it wasn’t. When he saw that costume on the TV, and heard the man’s voice, he knew it was real. Very real. Abysmal, the man who confined him to a wheelchair, was alive.
Wally didn’t sleep for the next two days. He watched the TV and saw every news broadcast, and, every recorded image of him; those neutralizing restraint cuffs weighing his arms down. Going to the police station, the court house, and his eventual transfer to the Locker. Even after all of that, he was still shaken to his core.
That was when the calls began. First the calls, then the visits to his home. It was too much for him. He wondered how, he could have ever wanted this life. He had gotten a taste of it after the book came out, but it was nothing like this. And, just when the calls started to die down, one of Abysmal’s “students” attacked Colonel Courageous on live TV. Suddenly, the media went crazy with the thought of teens with abilities acting as sleeper agents. Some media outlets portrayed Abysmal as a cult like father figure, likening him to Charles Manson and Jim Jones.
It was too much for Wally to bear. It was Julian that kept him from shutting them all out.
The phone rang again. This time it was immediately followed by a knock on the door. Wally looked at the touch screen on his universal remote control. The remote operated almost every electronic device in the house, from security cameras to the coffee maker. Julian’s face appeared bright and beaming on the LCD screen.
“Wal, it’s Julian! Open up!”
Wally sighed and wheeled over to the front door. A push of a button unlocked the front door and opened it before he got to the foyer. Julian came in with his usual hustle and bustle attitude. He was a firm believer in the saying, “time is a factor.” He did everything as fast as he could and before anyone even knew what he was doing or what they were agreeing to. Wally included.
“Wal, it’s two thirty. Why aren’t you dressed? More importantly, why aren’t you answering the phone?”
“I have been.” Wally lied.
“I just called, Wal.”
Wally swiveled his chair around and wheeled back into his study. Julian stayed close behind.
“I told you, kid, you can’t hide from these people. Not now. Not this time.” Julian was only a few years older than Wally, but called all his clients “kid.” He used the word kid as superiority over them. By talking to his clients as if he were older than them he garnered their respect. They treated him as if he had years of wisdom because he acted that way. With the exception of Wally, his other clients were his own age if not older.
“I can’t Julie. I can’t deal with them. I can’t… He’s alive, Julie. He’s alive.”
“I know kid.”
“I thought the Holy Avenger killed him. He killed him, and the anguish he felt is what made him change his name. That guilt is what stopped him from coming to see me. You know the story. He found me lying there on the tarmac, broken. He stopped long enough to call for paramedics, and then he went after… him. I never saw him that night, or since.”
Wally clutched the arm of his chair; his fingers digging into the soft leather of the armrest. He picked the remote control off his lap and pressed the television button. The flat screen came to life with video of the attack on Colonel Courageous, the Yesterday town heroes, and Abysmal.
The news channels repeated the same video of Abysmal being led away by police. It reminded Wally of the footage they always showed of Lee Harvey Oswald right before Jack Ruby shot him. Every time Wally watched it, he hoped that someone would come out of the crowd and shoot him, too.
Julian snatched the remote from Wally’s hands and turned the TV off.
“Watching this isn’t going to help you feel any better. Getting out in front of the people will.”
“How is that going to help?”
“I know you’re scared. I know that. But, you’re already crippled, kid. He can’t cripple you again. Look, sooner or later, you’re going to have to deal with your past. Might as well be sooner.”
“I can’t go there. It’s too painful.”
“I don’t care. Van Tortelli wants you on his show.”
“Ugh!” Wally groaned. “The last thing I want is to be on some celebrity sensationalist gossip show.”
“Uh-uh. Van’s giving up the tabloid talk and is going back to his journalistic roots. They’re reformatting the show, and he wants you to be his first guest.”
“I don’t know. I’m not sure that…”
“Yeah. Too bad what you think. I already booked you, a week from Monday. If you don’t do the show, not only will you be fined three hundred thousand dollars for breach of contract, but you can find yourself a new agent.”
“Come on! Julian, how could you do this to me? I can’t do this!” Wally wheeled away from the man in the six thousand dollar suit.
“I’m tired of your shit, Walden! All that time you were whining to me about how you never got the chance to tell your side of the story. How every show you were on, all they wanted to hear about was all the other heroes. How you were sick of being called Kid Paladin.”
Julian marched across the room and spun Wally’s motorized wheelchair around.
“Stop being a pussy and grow up. This is the life you asked for. It’s finally here. I’m going to give you some tough love here, cause I like you, kid. Paladin was a failure. Paladin is the person in that fancy chair, not Kid Paladin. Kid Paladin is immortal. He can never grow old, never lose a battle, and never end up in a damn wheelchair.”
Julian scooted back and sat down on the arm of the sofa.
“Any other agent would’ve left you a long time ago. I stuck in there because I knew, I knew that one day it would all come back around. Even more, I like you. Dammit boy, you were a hero! A lot of people have forgotten that, but I haven’t. Listen to me while I lay this all out for you.”
Julian put a foot up on the sofa and fished around his inside jacket pocket. He pulled out a pack of cigarettes, thumped one out and stuck it in his mouth.
Wally kept his hands in his lap. “You know I don’t allow smoking in my home.”
“For anyone else.” Julian snapped back through pinched lips.
Wally let out a heavy sigh. He wheeled himself over to the fireplace and grabbed a box of matches off the mantle.
“That’a boy.” Julian struck the match and dangled the glowing stick before his face before lighting the cigarette. “Okay, Alexandria publishing wants to go back to print with I’m in the League. They want a new foreword and a new closing chapter of you fifteen years later. If the sales are strong, which they will be, they’re talking a new book on those fifteen years. Now, where’re the legs? I wanna see the legs the Doc made for you.”
Wally dropped his shoulders and sighed again. It seemed that when talking to Julian all he ever did was sigh. Julian wanted him to wear the leg braces that Dr. 253 had made for him years ago. Even over a decade old, they were still the cutting edge of technology. The braces connected to his central nervous system through bio-electric relays, and allowed him to walk under his own power.
Wally hated them. They weren’t his legs, and though they allowed him to walk, he still couldn’t walk.
“Get ‘em out.”
“They give me a headache.”
Julian conceded. He knew how much Wally hated the legs and tossed them out just as a concession point. Wally would feel like he won something, and Julian would get what he wanted.
“Look, there’s one more thing.” Julian took a long drag on his cigarette. “To do this… to do this right. You’re gonna have to talk about all the stuff you wouldn’t talk about before. All of it.”
Wally looked over at the mannequin wearing the Kid Paladin uniform in the glass case in the corner of the room.
“Yeah. I guess I will.”