A lot of people care about superheroes. They’re cultural icons. Like fashion, movies or television, heroes bring back memories of the times they caught the public imagination. For most people, the Allies’ and Axis’ super soldier units will be forever associated with World War 2, the Grand Lake Heroes League with the 1950’s and 1960’s, Wonder Eye with the 1970’s, and grim anti-heroes (like Vengeance) with the late 80’s and beyond.
Some people go beyond caring and into obsession — we’re talking much more than following their favorite hero’s exploits in the paper and buying merchandise. I’m thinking about Keith and his girlfriend Courtney who were the biggest fans of Guardian I’d ever met.
Last summer, Keith somehow convinced his parents to let him drive to Tennessee where Guardian had had some kind of big dust-up with the Grey Giant, flattening buildings in the process. Keith had snuck through the police lines and found a chunk of concrete which obviously bore the marks of the Grey Giant’s fist.
I generally tried to avoid the two of them. I didn’t have anything against them, but my personal experiences of Guardian usually featured him being a bit of a jerk.
On the Monday after spring break I ended up eating with them anyway because Keith waved me over to their table. Aside from their taste in heroes, I liked them so I sat down.
They were sitting in the main area of the lunchroom, away from the main doors, near the salad bar. Central High’s lunchroom was a combination of two rooms at the corner of the school’s first floor. On one side you could look over the athletic fields through the windows. On the other hung inspirational posters with messages like “Success,” “Imagination,” and “Perseverance.”
Two years ago someone had swapped out the normal posters with fake, horror themed, inspirational posters from online. The messages were different. For example… “Attitude: Really Doesn’t Matter When You’re One of the Evil Dead.” It took two weeks before the administration noticed and took them down.
Over Christmas break, I found out it had been my older sister Rachel who’d done it. She’d always thought the posters were stupid.
Keith looked across the round table at me and said, “What did you do over spring break?”
I had a little difficulty hearing him over the noise of all the other people in the cafeteria talking, but once I worked it out I said, “Went to Los Angeles with my parents. There’s a child psychology conference he goes to. This year he was the keynote speaker.”
“Los Angeles? That’s so cool. Did you see the fight?”
“Which fight? It’s Los Angeles. I saw two or three in the news while I was there.”
“Spend half a week in L.A. and you get jaded, Nick. I’m talking about the big one. Syndicate L versus the Defenders with massive property damage and a mech.”
“I saw a little of it on the news, but I flew home the day after the fight, so I missed most of it.”
“Oh, it was cool. I saw most of it on Double V’s site. Someone in the forums linked together footage from the news and security cams from the neighborhood.”
He went on to give me a blow by blow account starting from the point where we’d blown through the wall and started to descend down the side of the building.
I wondered how anyone got footage of that.
“Best of all,” he said, “the silver girl — Portal? She’s got to be Guardian’s daughter.”
I stopped eating an unidentifiable pasta dish, holding the fork halfway to my mouth.
“How do you figure that?”
“Well everyone knows that Empath and Insight are sisters. Insight used to be part of the Midwest Defenders, but she moved to Los Angeles in the early nineties to be part of the Southern California Defenders. Everyone suspected that she and Guardian had some kind of thing going and she took a year off somewhere in there. So now there’s this girl Portal and she’s got the same powers as Guardian did before the aliens kidnapped him and really amped him up. So no telepathy that I’ve heard about, but teleportation? Guardian and Insight had a kid and she looks like she’s about our age.”
Courtney said, “He thinks she’s hot,” and laughed.
“I don’t,” he said, but he was blushing, so…
“Don’t worry about it. I’m not jealous. You’ll never even meet her.”
Courtney smiled at him.
I managed to smile a little too, but it reminded me of the other reason I hadn’t been hanging around with him recently. He was the exact sort of person who might notice that I’d been in Los Angeles at exactly the same time the Rocket had.
I tried to figure out a way to leave, but couldn’t. I still hadn’t finished my lunch, and really, leaving would cause more questions.
Could I call someone over so that the conversation would change?
I noticed Chris Cannon standing next to the end of the salad bar, looking over the tables. I waved him over.
He noticed me, came over, and pulled out a chair.
That’s when I thought, I mean really thought, about what I’d just done.
In an effort to draw thoughts of the Rocket from Keith’s mind, I’d just called over Chris Cannon, whose grandfather the supervillain called Man-machine, my grandfather’s main rival, a villain I’d put in jail when he challenged me to a fight, and, had a heart attack midway through.
Worse, with his grandfather’s secret identity revealed, everybody knew Chris was Man-machine’s grandson.
Oh yeah, I thought, brilliant move. This would definitely take everybody’s minds off superheroes.
“Nick,” he said to me as he sat down. “You’re not going to believe this. Now that the trial’s over, the FBI had to give most of my grandfather’s stuff back. They kept all the armor prototypes, but tools are just tools, you know?”