Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Granting Wishes for the Doomed

This is another sample of a story from the graphic novel I was working on with Joe Symphony of Babylon. For anyone who hasn't read my style of fiction before, I like the use of first person narration and this is spoken from the point of view of Ultimate Special Agent 76 Eric Washington.

But without further delay I present

The first time I officially stepped outside what had been presented to me as the law was in the early 1950's. As Ultimate Special Agent 76 I'd become the public face of the U.S. Military during the war. There were a number of images available of me "slapping Japs" and giving Hitler a solid right hook, my image in my bright garish uniform was everywhere. That's all most people thought I did.

The truth was that I'd been subjected to a treatment which enhanced my abilities past any human soldier. I was stronger, faster, and I could heal better than any soldier alive. The treatment was very effective, and they got that way through a series of atrocities committed on American soil only slightly better than those committed by our enemies.

Back then I didn't know that, I was just glad that I was able to walk again after coming down with polio and that I was a true red, white, and blue American superhero.

After the war the government sent me on a few small assorted missions against the Commies, but nothing too consequential. I just got to spend most of the time actually being helpful at my family's Alabama farm for the first time in my life.

Around that time I was exposed to the origin of the program that created me. I was also exposed to the wreckage it left all of the blacks and Japanese in. Kind of changed my perspective on things. Before the war I'd tacitly supported Jim Crow laws and "separate but equal" policies.

After serving with a number of the men affected by this overseas, as well as knowing of my origins I began to see things I never had before upon returning home. The little indignities, the fact that until a certain situation arose I was in a group of people, and then suddenly certain members of that group no longer counted as such.

It just struck me that this is what we had fought against and died for, and here it was creeping into place on our own soil. I didn't like it.

The last straw was one day I saw my likeness in full costume/uniform standing in front of a burning cross and a KKK logo on a piece of their literature.

Within a week I crashed a meeting, literally. I beat everyone there senseless and I threw my rank around since I knew the local police would turn a blind eye, but Ultimate Special Agent 76 outranked any jerkwater Sheriff, and my arrest would stick.

It was a vigilante arrest, make no mistake about it. But I was still officially a government agent so it was treated as legitimate. In the years to come many people began developing powers, and many used those powers to become either criminals or vigilantes themselves.

For a long time this practice was tolerated, they even coined that term I used earlier "Superhero" for us. Sounds pretty positive doesn't it. That's how accepting they were of us.

Around 1996 I regretted setting that precedent. Some of us had become too ruthless to be tolerated, but there were less pardonable sins being committed. Some of us gained powers and just wanted to go into the private sector.

A Michigan Senator by the name of Liefeld knew what the solution to this problem was. He drafted a bill which was voted in by an overwhelming majority. Once passed into law it was called "The Liefeld Superhuman Restructuring Act" or just simply "The Liefeld Act."

Throughout the years as a superhero I've granted many wishes for dying children. A girl wants to be princess for a day before her leukemia takes her life, a little boy wants to meet his favorite athlete or Superhero before his brain cancer snuffs out his short little life.

Thanks to the Liefeld act I granted wishes for at least three fully grown adults which it had doomed to an early death. And for many a living death beforehand.

You'd think such a law would focus on keeping superhumans from acting as "Superheroes" since we were all acting effectively independent of the government, sometimes in contradiction of it and even in contradiction to one another.

You'd be wrong. I'd organized a volunteer group of powered vigilantes called the Enforcers in the mid 1970's, it was still alive and well when the act was passed. The group was nationalized and effectively replaced the U.S. Military, all of whom were either furloughed or given desk jobs.

The act also enacted a "Don't ask Don't Tell" policy towards superhumans. If you wished to live a normal life you were never to expose your powers, for if you did the only employment you would be allowed would be as a member of the Enforcers.

They however didn't try to put us into uniforms. That would point out all the freedom they had taken from us. They wanted us to keep our individualized costumes and if anything to upgrade them. They thought that the bright colors would put a positive spin on the whole thing. It didn't work with the bright Yellow Star's of David and it didn't work now.

Our costumes had once been a symbol of honor, of what mattered to each person wearing one. Now it served as a tool of mockery on the cartoons they made about us, where we were all portrayed as muscle-bound idiots who think with their fists and enjoy our life lived in servitude to our human masters.

Us old timers do deserve much of the blame for this. We didn't fight it hard enough when it was originally discussed. And once it seemed inevitable we all seemed to be making terms with our enslavers for the next generation. Small favors that would do little more than strengthen the bars of our cage.

The best example of this was the fashion show for the toy company.

Elaine O'Hara "The Night Banshee" a hard drinking hard loving black Irish woman was looking to retire from crime fighting and start some business ventures. But the Act prevented this. She settled for negotiating a toy deal that would make all of us rich enough to do anything we wanted in our cages.

Some criticized her for just playing into the stereotype in order to do this, but she always blasted back with "We wasted the years of our freedom. These children will never have the options we did. We owe them something." It's worth noting that her powers were all tied into her voice, and the day that the Liefeld act was passed she became a chain smoker.

Part of the toy deal required a fashion exposition, for the purpose of showing off our new and improved costumes. And by god they were new and improved.

A twenty something year old girl by the name of Sara "Starblast" Thompson had hoped for a career as a fashion designer. She was amazing, what she could do with shape and color I've never seen anyone do before or since.

Her powers involved light. At a tremendous personal strain she could turn this destructive, but it was at it's best at a her show. She could perfectly simulate any light conditions imaginable. As each model made it down the runway you could see what the suit would look like in everything from sunrise to midnight, to a dozen or so forms of artificial light. It was beautiful. She died in her third battle.

But she took the original costume designs used by all of the Enforcers and put imaginative new spins on all of them. Each of us modeled our own costumes, all three variations. This was to be her only fashion show and everyone there knew it, so we all made it as great as we could for her.

That even went for Adam "Lightspeed" Simpson. With a name like that I probably don't need to list off his powers. But he was the one man hit hardest by the act. He sold all of his costumes at auction after it was passed, but before he knew the details. He was going to use it as a nest egg for himself, his fiancée and their child which was on the way.

Within a month of the act being passed her realized he wouldn't be able to find any work in the private sector, even though he was one of the most ambitious guys I ever met and he could do any job at ten times the speed of any other man. He also realized his marriage was going to be blocked.

He held on for a while, reluctantly signing on with us hoping to keep his relationship going. That all ended one day when she showed up in tears and said she couldn't do it any more. The government had forced her to abort her child because it wanted control of the appearance of any new superhumans.

After that when Sara asked what design he wanted on his new costume, his only reply was "JUST SLAP A FUCKING FLAG ON IT!"

For the day of the show he managed to pull himself out of his living death of losing any freedom and any thing of value in his life. The girl wasn't to his level yet and even he knew no one should ever reach that.

When he was killed in our first battle after making what appeared to be a rookie mistake, I didn't want to think that it was suicide, but I'm not stupid. And I don't blame him.

But for the most part everyone got involved in the event somehow. They got the one taste they were ever going to get of the job they actually wanted.

One of our strongmen Craig "Powerhouse" Davis always wanted to work construction. He built all the sets and converted an empty warehouse into a proper setting for such an event.

There was also a kid we'd just recruited. His name was Seth Miller, the Frost. That should tell you how young he was. Only a kid would pick a name like that. But this kid was one hell of a musician, even if it is that new rock and roll stuff. I'll take big band any day. But he played all the music for the event.

Kind of a surreal thing, a bunch of superheroes pretending to have normal jobs everyone else just takes for granted. When most people with those jobs grew up pretending to be people like us.