Welcome To My Nightmare

Charter Highspeed Internet is the fastest DSL/Broadband connection I can get in my region, and it probably is the fastest….WHEN IT WORKS, WHICH IT DON’T. So any unexpected absences in my column can be blamed on that Satan-spawned company who can’t figure out why I all of sudden have regularly disrupted service. Any readers in a position to offer me a QUALITY alternative, get in touch via email and give me your pitch. Moving on….

I have been reading comics for a long time…a very long time. They were a quarter when I started. One shiny disk embossed with the profile of George “Don’t Call Me King” Washington was all it took to gain admittance to the wonderful worlds of Superman’s Metropolis, Batman’s Gotham or Marvel’s New York. You’ll notice that Marvel only has one city. Even the Runaways, ostensibly from Los Angles, have been to the Big Apple and will end up there for good, eventually. Alpha Flight is Canadian and they end up in New York half the time too. There are Greek gods, Norse Gods, mutants, masters of the mystic arts, science heroes, guys with guns and immortal aunts of superheroes all running around this great big city.

You’d think they’d constantly run into each other. There should be a superhero about every two city blocks. It should be the safest place on the planet, you know, besides Switzerland. You’d think that ne’er-do-wells would learn, wouldn’t you? I mean think about it. If you were a supervillain-in-training, preparing to live a thrilling life of criminal mischief, where would you, in the Marvel Universe, most want to attempt to make your mark? There are two possibilities: New York, and ANYPLACE ELSE. There aren’t any spandex types leaping from butte to butte in the Santa Fe, New Mexico area. How many wall-crawlers are there in Casper, Wyoming? Certainly there are banks to rob in Boise, Idaho, armored cars to boost in Altoona, Pennsylvania, drug traffic to take control of in Tallahassee, Florida (to say nothing of the South Side of Chicago, Illinois, of course). Kidnapping in Kansas City (either KC, KS or KC, MO), why not? Who’s gonna stop me? Captain Kansas? The Big “Al” Tuna, champion of the cheese steak? Mr. Potatohead, proud protector of Idaho spuds big and small? But no, I live in the Marvel Universe, so I have to “prove myself” and undertake the trial-by-fire that is going to the Big Apple. I could go to Milwaukee or Detroit, you know. The Great Lakes Avengers or the GLX-Men as they’re now called probably won’t be much more of an obstacle than the local authorities. Or I could go all the way to Madripoor, but the locals there are tougher and meaner than the Hulk with ingrown toenail. New York, New York, as ol’ Blue Eyes once sang, I’m gonna be a part of it, because I have to. I can’t build a reputation of any stature in Des Moines, Iowa or Norman, Oklahoma. I gotta go where the action is.

So off I go. I have my whole life’s savings rolled up in the one pair of socks I own that doesn’t have any holes in them – about $2500, plus some change in my jeans pockets. I also have that cool power-suit jammed into my duffle bag. I found it in the dumpster behind the Arthur Treacher’s Fish & Chips I used to work at, until about two days ago. It was probably an attempt to reverse engineer one of Tony Stark’s Iron Man armors, but somebody threw it out. Probably Hydra…no, more likely A.I.M., they’re the science nerds of domestic terrorism. I read about those guys in Villainy Quarterly, a new periodical written by supervillains, for supervillains. “Know Your Domestic Terror Cells” was the article, from the Summer ’05 issue. It wasn’t bad, but not as good as the piece on the Top 12 Supervillain Hotties! It sucks that the White Queen reformed and joined the X-Men, but THANK YOU LORD that the Scarlet Witch went nuts and killed a bunch of her teammates! Oh yes. Yes! Mom lied, you know, you won’t go blind from doing that, you’ll just get Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. What a centerfold! And Sin, the Red Skull’s daughter, came in at #3 – she’s really cute. I like the freckles, but then I always was a sucker for the redheads. I thought Joystick should have been ranked higher, but who knows what the Thunderbolts are about these days?

So I get off the bus with my first three issues of Villainy Quarterly, my duffle bag full of discarded hi-tech weapon-wear and a sock full of cash. I’m going to need a place to crash until I can pull a couple of jobs and set myself up a nice little evil headquarters somewhere. Obviously I’d prefer a rooftop Manhattan penthouse base over a headquarters in a sewer in the Bronx, but rent is crazy high in the boroughs, and there’s no way I’m going to be able to afford Soho, the Village, or even Harlem anytime soon. Now that Bill Clinton’s hanging in Harlem, rent there is outrageous! Maybe I should have thought about setting up in New Jersey. But as far as I know, there’s no such place, and even if there were, I’d hate to have to deal with the commute. I haven’t even tested the suit yet, so I’m not even sure it flies. Nuts, this place is WAY more crowded then even Chicago. People everywhere; I feel like cattle being herded to the slaughterhouse. I totally should have tried out the suit before I came. Maybe it can fly, or has jumpjets, or teleportation capabilities? For that matter, why on Earth didn’t I rob the restaurant before I quit? Slapping myself in the forehead, I trudge off in search of lodging suitable for the future Kingpin of Crime.

After finding out that even the homeless shelters in New York cost more than I can afford, I shuffle down an alley that looks relatively uneventful. Maybe I should put on that suit straight away, I’m thinking to myself though probably mouthing the words. Maybe I should jump into this with both feet, get myself noticed and strike up a partnership with some of the established locals. I open my duffle and pull out the Winter ’06 Villainy Quarterly, turning to the classifieds. “Wanted: person or persons to kill The Sentry. He ripped Carnage in half and now he must pay. Will train the right individual.” I glance at my suit – crap, I still don’t even know if it flies, but I’m guessing if it was trashed by A.I.M. it’s probably not going to allow me to go mano-y-mano with a powerhouse like the Sentry – what else? “The Super Villain Defense Fund needs YOU! In today’s market, you can’t commit petty larceny without having a dedicated team of experienced trial defenders at your beck and call. They’ve got She-Hulk, you need us! Must have a bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice, Psychology, Finance or Business, and be proficient with Microsoft Word and Excel. Special consideration if you speak Japanese, Chinese, Russian or Spanish. Send salary requirements and references to…” Jesus Christ, that’s like a real job. I could have done that back in, um…let’s say I’m from Parts Unknown. Lots of great pro wrestlers came from there. The Ultimate Warrior for example – a World Champion wrestler from Parts Unknown. Man, there’s gotta be something…waitaminute! This might do: “Leap into the fray! Established supervillain seeking partners for mercenary work. No experience necessary, will train. Unlimited potential to earn $$$ immediately! Don’t share your profits with a big mercenary conglomerate like Hammer Industries! Keep what you earn! Contact Georges Batroc at 314-496-6815” Oh yeah! It’s on like neck bone! Hmmm, maybe I should chill with those colloquialisms, people might think I’m from the sticks, instead of the rough and tumble town of Parts Unknown.

“‘Allo? Who eez dis?”
“This is, uh, oops, sorry, another call coming in, I’ll call right back.” **Click**

Damn! What the Hell should I call myself? Power-Suit? Well, it doesn’t exactly look like a $1000 pinstriped job from Seville Row. Iron Lad? No, that’s stupid. Who would call themselves anything with “Lad” in the name? What does the suit even do? Looking around I find a loading dock on the side of the building across from me, so I nonchalantly duck around the corner of the dock to change in relative seclusion. I peek back around the corner, looking up the way I just came…no cops, cool…I look the other way…nobody…wait, what’s…oh, smoke break…let’s do this. I turn around to get the power-suit and see a skinny but strangely fit homeless guy standing right behind me, inspecting the weave of the power-suit’s metallic yet pliable material. Who the…

“You’re probably wondering who the Hell I am.”
“Who the Hell are…damn, what are you, a telepath? Get your hands off my stuff you…”
“Damn dirty ape?”
“It’s a line from the movie, “Planet of the Apes.” The good one with Charlton Heston, not the weak one with Marky Mark.”
“That’s not what I was gonna say…aww forget it. Can you just put that down and get out of here?”
“No. I live here. This is where I sleep. That’s my box, right over there. Want to see it?
“Hell no I don’t want to see your box! Man, why am I even having this conversation? Gimme that!” I say, my voice doing nothing to disguise my agitation as I reaching for my power-suit.
“Why? It’s not even yours,” chides the dirty bum, pulling back just out of reach, like a matador taunting his bull.
“‘Cause I said so!” I shout, imitating Stone Cold Steve Austin, lunging for this gimp who thinks this is all great fun.
“Ole!” he exclaims, pivoting out of the way so that I dive directly towards his smelly box. I snag the left pants leg of the power-suit in mid-air, and there’s no way he’s going to win in a one-on-one tug-of-war against me and your rippling…aw, who am I kidding? Without the power suit, I wouldn’t have a chance, but I’m pretty sure I can take this guy…wait a second…how the Hell does he know it’s not mine? I skid to a halt with my head inside the box – oooh, what is that smell? It’s not…hmmm, it’s actually not unpleasant, oww, what did I just bump my head against? Huh. It’s an adhesive air freshener, like the “Stick Up” brand they used to make…I wonder if they still make those? I had tried, mostly successfully, to turn myself over in mid-flight to avoid a full-on face-plant. Never set yourself up for a free shot at being curbstomped. That’s what my Pop always said. Right after somebody curbstomped all of his teeth out. I tuck my chin to try and peer past the open box flap where my lower third or so is sticking out, and see the homeless guy squatting down at my feet. He smiles a knowing smile, and tosses the rest of the power-suit in with me.

“My name is Axel, by the way,” he states matter-of-factly as he gently slides my entire body back into an impossibly small space. There’s a sudden rush of darkness as the box flaps are closed, followed by a sensation of falling. I’m somewhat claustrophobic, so I start flailing about, trying to kick open the box flaps.

And suddenly I’m free! I’m standing like a Jack-In-The-Box, one box flap against my thigh, looking frantically for this Axel guy so I can murderize the bum. But there’s nothing. No bum playing with my feet. No sounds and smells of New York. I wiggle out of the box like David Blaine trying to escape a straightjacket while encased in an aquarium full of electric eels. I feel like a colossal idiot for having lost my first fight in New York to a homeless guy, and that’s when the panicked thought hits me: did anybody see? I look around, absently snuggling the power-suit like Linus Van Pelt hugs his blue blanket. I’m not even in the same alley. Hell, I’m not even in an alley. What is this place? Perhaps a basement…there are about six washing machines and dryers, so maybe I’m in an apartment building? Or a hotel maybe – no, they’d probably have a lot more machines. There’s a flight of stairs over there, in the opposite corner of the room. How in the world did I get down here? Did that jerk knock me out with something? Did he blast me over the head with a pipe or a bat? Let me give myself a quick once over…nothing seems to hurt, head bears no signs of blunt trauma, no contusions around the neck, near as I can tell. Still have all fingers and toes present and accounted for…better check on The Captain…yep, he’s in pristine condition, thank God. Oh no, did he use some kind of gas or chloroform? I breathe into my hand to smell my breath, as if that would somehow indicate if that guy, Alex…no, Axel? Like Eddie Murphy’s character in Beverly Hills Cop? That gimp had to have done something…but my breath just smells vaguely of the Polish sausage and onions I got from that guy who obviously wasn’t Polish with the cart in front of the bus station. Aw no! Where’s the money sock?!? I all but dive back into the box in the corner, feeling around under the bottom flaps and even looking under the box and around the low-lit room. I begin to realize how utterly ridiculous I must look if I could see myself from an observer’s point of view. But lo and behold, there’s the duffle bag just peeking out behind a stack of old newspapers near the bum’s box. I must have knocked out of the box when I burst free of the darkness. Relief sweeps in as I unzip it and find three issues of Villainy Quarterly and a note. No sock. DAMMIT! I tuck the duffle back in the box, close the flaps and turn it so the flaps face the wall, in case anyone finds it. With the note in hand I head for the stairs.

I get to the top and discover that I was right. I was indeed in the basement of a multi-family flat. It’s about time something went right today. Maybe this will start a trend. I exit through the main foyer and find myself outside, in a city – but not New York. Cleaner, better smelling, and somewhat more cutting edge. My eyes adjust from the dimness of the brownstone’s basement to the brighter light of mid-day sun as I examine the note:

“Dear unruly sir,

Welcome to the big city. Everything you thought you knew is wrong, or was, or still is, depending on how you look at it, and in which order. I know that sounds complicated, so I thought I’d offer you the tour of the somewhat less complicated neighborhood first. Feel free to roam around for a day or two, but do try to keep out of trouble. Supervillainy is highly frowned upon there, and the supervillains that do exist where you’re spending the next 48 hours are way beyond your meager capabilities. You will NOT be able to run with the big dogs. So I recommend simply observing. Do some research. If you want to get off to a decent start in your apparently hastily-chosen career, do wait until you get back to New York. But if you do run into Big Blue, tell him I said ‘Hello!’

Axel Asher

PS: These are great socks! Very warm!”

That…bastard! He’s got the money sock! ARRRGGH! I let loose a string of invectives and enjoy a few moments of primal scream therapy. I walk down to the nearest crosswalk to see what intersection I’m starting from, so I can find the brownstone again when I need it. It’s just two buildings south of the intersection of Siegel and Shuster. There’s a newspaper box on the same corner. I reach into my pocket and are surprised to find that I still have about $40 and some loose change in there. Having seen Rachel Ray on TV, I know I can probably stretch this out fairly well. The creep didn’t get every cent, at least. I drop two quarters into the slot and take a paper. The Daily Planet? What happened to the New York Times and the Daily Bugle? And these headlines: “President Ross Resigns,” “Justice Leaguer Wife Found Slain,” “Where Are They Now: The Ray,” “How Lex Luthor Controls Everything From Beyond The Grave, by Lois Lane?” Aww, this is nuts! As much as I hated frying fish and changing the oil for the fries, if I’d have known I’d be shipped parcel freight to not even God knows where by a sock-stealing bum two hours after arriving in New York I’d have stayed home and sold the power-suit on eBay. Where the Hell am I anyway? Looking at the paper’s masthead again: “The Daily Planet – serving Metropolis since 1938′ Metropolis? What the…

To be continued…