Stardock: Part 19

It made me wonder who exactly was in that building. Finding Abominator tech wasn’t that hard if you knew where to look. There were a few well known archaeological sites. Well known to some people anyway–Grandpa being one of them. He’d been brought in to look at Abominator artifacts.

Most Abominator tech found that way didn’t actually work though. To get working Abominator tech, you either had to get lucky like Cassie or whoever had originally found her gun, or get access to one of the Abominator caches found in various spots in the solar system.

The other possibility is that you might find broken Abominator equipment and then reverse engineer or fix it, a somewhat unnerving possibility for a whole lot of reasons.

Actually, there was one other possibility which was equally unnerving–that someone had enough interstellar connections to buy Abominator equipment.

The Nine were an obvious possibility, as well as the government.

I doubted that it was a government facility because I was pretty sure Lim would have said something. On the other hand, agent Lim wouldn’t know the location of every government Abominator research facility.

I called him.

A few taps with my fingers brought up his name, and one more made the call.

He answered. The video feed showed that he’d changed out of his suit and into camouflage and a dark vest with the letters FBI in white, and a military style helmet.

From the looks of his seat, and the moving background, he appeared to be riding in a vehicle, probably a hummer, through the city.

“Rocket,” he said, “what have you got?”

“We’re currently at an amusement park called ‘Boomers’. Nothing’s going on here, but in the next clearing over, the aliens just discovered that the office building there has an Abominator entropy shield.”

Lim took a breath. “That’s… not good. Are there hints who’s in there?”

“No idea. Either someone who’s brilliant or someone with a lot of money. I was hoping you’d know.”

Lim shook his head. “Sorry. I’m not aware of anything that far down Long Island. I’m going to hang up and ask some questions. Don’t go in on your own, but be thinking about who you want. I’ll try to get them to you.”

Then he hung up.

I sighed. The whole thing with asking for who I wanted? It assumed that I was leading some kind of raid on something.

I didn’t even know who I’d be helping. If the building over there belonged to the Nine and their people, you could make an argument that I’d be doing some good if I let the aliens destroy everything.

It wasn’t an argument I believed, but who would want to help the Nine?

I checked the roachbots’ view of the building next door.

The aliens didn’t seem to have any better plan for handling the shield than I would have.

They were spreading out on the lawn, probably so they couldn’t all be destroyed at once, getting no closer to the building than fifty feet.

Given that their fellow soldier hadn’t been killed till he practically touched the building, it seemed like overkill.

Over the comm, Jenny asked, “Hey Rocket, how are things going in roachbot land?”

Jenny could have looked more comfortable as Izzy held her, but given the lightness of her tone, she wasn’t that badly off.

“Could be better,” I said, “but actually, not much is happening.”

I explained what I’d seen, and what Isaac had said.

When I was done, Jenny said, “I don’t suppose we’ll be lucky enough that they’ll both destroy each other?”

“That passed through my mind,” I said.

Izzy shook her head. “We’re going to have to go in. Is it really true that the Xiniti will have to destroy the planet if someone proves that we’re using alien technology?”

I shrugged, or tried to under the armor. Guessing she couldn’t see the gesture, I followed it up with, “That’s what I’ve been told. I can’t say for sure either way.”

Ignoring my qualification, she floated closer to me. “But you understand what that means, don’t you? We can’t leave any of them alive. If we do, and even one of them gets back, and can prove what they’ve seen, the entire world dies.”

“No,” I began, “that’s…”

My voice trailed off as I thought about it. She was right. She wasn’t completely right because we could probably imprison them if we could capture them. Actually, if we handed them over to the Xiniti, we probably wouldn’t have to worry about them either because–

I stopped, and thought about that.

Because the Xiniti didn’t want to kill us. They’d probably execute every alien we handed over to them to avoid it.

The Xiniti on the ground argued that something else might be going on. Either I was looking at a mad Xiniti or there were more on the ships.

I could guess what that would mean, but I didn’t like it.

I looked over at Izzy. “Crap. You’re right.”

Izzy said, “I don’t want to do it, but I don’t see any way we can avoid it.”

Jenny turned her head to look at each of us in turn. “I know.”

I thought back to the hangar. Lim had said so, but it hadn’t seemed as real then.

In my HUD, a light flashed. I’d kept a window open to the roachbots, and that section of my screen had turned into nothing but unbearably bright light.

Well, okay, bearably bright light because the suit toned it down, but still bright.

I expected that Izzy and Jenny would start in with questions about what had happened, but they didn’t need to.

The aliens had apparently decided to go with the, “Let’s run down the battery,” approach to taking down the shield. They were firing the ships’ guns.

Bright, white light rained down, making the ships the most visible objects in the sky. Sure, they were still mostly covered in dark black shields that hid their actual shape, but a black rectangle in the sky that fired streams of light couldn’t be missed.

As it hit the building, the light turned that entire area into a light show.

“Wow,” Jenny said.

Behind her, people began to run out of the park, and get into cars. Well, mostly. Some stopped to stare at the light and at us. Some pointed their cell phones at us.

At first I couldn’t believe there were people in the park. I hadn’t even realized it was open. Except then I noticed the large building on the north side. They must have been in there.

Lim’s icon began to blink in my HUD. I clicked on it, and he said, “You’re not going to like this.”

37 thoughts on “Stardock: Part 19”

  1. “You’re not going to like this. One of the aliens keyed your lorry… Oh yeah we still have no idea about that entropy field.”

  2. 1.Lim’s bosses are involved with the facility and the stuff in there are waaay above his pay grade.

    2. It’s a suspected Nine facility an now its confirmed.

    3. Psycho Gecko is in there along with several Nasty Surprises.

  3. And now, my brain is stuck in 90s style saturday morning cartoon mode:

    You’d better watch your backsides, badguys. Here comes:

    *heavy metal guitar riff*
    Psycho Gecko and the Penis Patrol!
    Penis Patrol!
    Penis PatrooOOOOOL!
    *drum solo*
    Look out!

  4. And … here we have a kill or die situation boys. The worst kind of situation that you can face outside of Pact or Worm universes.

  5. Nah, I’d say the worst situation is where you have to let the bad guys both win and get away for the greater good. Which might have to be done here, depending on who is inside.

    From a purely logical. big-picture standpoint, the best thing that Nick could do would be to kill all the aliens, and then everyone inside. No official proof, but still showing the Xiniti that Abominator research isn’t tolerated.

  6. The building is associated wih Lee. Nicks orders are to eliminate the aliens, and secure the building for the government.

  7. Luke, I have tried to find the perfect theme for myself, but it is pretty difficult. Last time I asked other people’s opinions on the subject, someone linked me a video to the Freakazoid theme. I don’t think it fits.

    Still, you have reminded me of something I saw just last night that would be perfect for if “Psycho Gecko and the Penis Patrol” were cornered by the forces of law and order. NSFW:

  8. “Nick, you’re not going to like this…
    …”it’s Jeff Goldblum and Will Smith. They say they have a plan to take the aliens down, but it relies on hacking their computers with a Mac and a B-list actor giving a rousing speech.*”
    …”they cancelled Firefly.”
    …”I’ve got to take a call on the other line.”
    …”Sean was just voted most popular rookie superhero of Grand Lake.”
    …”That building is owned by Microsoft. Apparently Windows Vista was based on Abominator tech.”
    …”You can’t go in there. Municipal authorities have jurisdiction; Abominator shields violate several building codes.”
    …”Editorial has decided to reboot our universe. The new version of The Rocket is a dark, gritty antihero from an alternate universe who kills bad guys, smokes, drinks, hangs out with terrible, creepy versions of your friends, and always wears black. Oh, and he dies. Twice. But don’t worry, we’ll bring back Classic Rocket once the readers complain loud enough.”

    *This world salvation brought to you by Coca-Cola

  9. Curious George, your last … actually sounds pretty awesome. Gritty rocket, that is. One who actually kills bad guys instead of letting them get away to kill oodles of innocent people/ letting them almost kill his friends/ almost getting killed himself because he’s unwilling to kill people who absolutely need killing. Like when he had all the badguys more or less tied up and extracted a promise not to murder him and everyone he cared for for the next year because prisons couldn’t hold them (apparently somehow in this universe they didn’t build prisons to hold superhumans, which is kinda batshit crazy when you think about it. It’s not even that complicated, really, even without all the super advanced alien tech they have and the option to just, you know, drop ’em in a bubble on the moon) and he was too much of a nancy to just do what needed to be done and deal out perfectly justified executions, or at least let his killhappy mentor do it. And there was the recent Rook fight where he was totally equipped to kill the dude, the guy who’s in the ‘actually evil’ serial killery/mass murderry (seriously every single web serial superhero group seems to have one of these) villain group who he absolutely KNOWS will go on to keep murdering lots of people for fun, but he just kind of ineffectually tries to wound the guy enough to make them leave him alone.

    Seriously, those are just two. This applies to, like, every fight the Rocket’s been in in this story. His toy laser is powerful enough that it could kill anyone who’s been presented in this story (not to mention what he could do with an ACTUAL LASER RIFLE designed on the same tech) and he can make bullets that cut through anything. He’s let thousands of people die and endangered his friends countless times because he’s too selfish to kill when it’s necessary. The only reason this selfishness hasn’t brought his world to ruin yet is because this is one of those stories where the writer’s looking out for the protagonists in the form of buttloads of luck, and ofc covering for his horrible choices by not showing the consequences of his actions (like mentioning all the people the villains like Rook and the Cabal who he let get away have mass murdered since then).

    So, yeah, a ‘gritty’ rocket would be nice. Although I guess the story would have been really freaking short since he would have breezed through most of his villain encounters up to this point without breaking a sweat. As it is we’ve got a guy who had access to technology to make SWORDS THAT CAN CUT THROUGH ANYTHING and he didn’t even carry one (not even a little knife version) around with him. That really says it all.

    Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the story and all, but these care-bear style superhero stories really hit me in my suspension of disbelief and my sympathy with the protagonists. I mean, in all these webfiction superhero stories you’ve got basically golden age style superheros who absolutely refuse to kill even when it’s obviously the only logical choice verses dark age (not even sure what the gritty age of comics is called) supervillains who absolutely love killing and raping for the hell of it and somehow through deus ex machina the heroes constantly stumble into win after win despite their irresponsibility and incompetence. I gotta keep reading because, really, there’s just a dirth of well written superhero stories out there and all the main comics (DC and Marvel) that have long runs are just gag worthy in general, but it makes it so much more awesome when from time to time you come across a semi-realistic universe where the protagonist really doesn’t have a problem with killing a serial murder-rapist or just shooting the guy who’s about to press the earth’s self-destruct button in the face with a laser. That’s the kind of universe where you could realistically have humans gifted with superpowers without the bad eggs wiping out the species in the first couple of years. Well, that or a world with a genuine Superman type (100% invincible, unlimited strength, speed, flight, and senses, super-intelligence and the ability to pull a new power out of his butt whenever all of those aren’t enough) on the side of good and none (and no competent gadgeteers/ mad scientists) on the side of evil.

    So yeah, nice big wall of text to say that while some people might be crying for classic rocket back if he was rebooted with enough cojones to kill the bad guys instead of letting them run wild and murder however many civilians they wanted to while he continues to coast by on his grandfather’s achievements and technology, I sure wouldn’t be one of them. Gadgeteer type characters are really fun to read (well when, unlike the Rocket, they actually regularly make some sort of technological progress instead of just inheriting it all) but they don’t make good care-bear nonviolence heroes because under all the armour and force-fields, they’re really quite crunchy and taste good with ketchup.

  10. Well, that was unexpected. I didn’t think I’d elicit any responses except maybe for “haha,” or “dude, you’re not funny, don’t clog up the comments.” But I shall meet your wall of text with one of my own.

    Bob, I don’t think you’re without a point, but I respectfully disagree. I will admit that I haven’t read many superhero web serials (just Worm and The Descendants, in addition to this) so I don’t feel equipped to comment on the general trends in the medium-genre combination. As far as what I joked about in my prior response, I was attempting to evoke thoughts of comic book shock deaths and heroes acting in unheroic fashion (which is not the same as killing people, but has tended to overlap it significantly, due to perhaps insufficiently thought out reboots etc.), but I do see what you’re saying.

    Personally, I don’t have a problem with how Nick behaves, because to me it’s just a case of consistent and relatable characterization – even though I may not agree with every judgment call he makes, I like him and respect him because he actually thinks about what they mean. When he goes to another city and bugs a place without needing any sort of warrant, Nick is bothered. When Cassie first proposes going on patrol, he’s uncertain at most. When faced with Kayla discovering his secret ID, he’s extremely uncomfortable with tampering with her mind either 1) against her will or 2) without giving her a chance to have a say at all. He feels strange, and maybe even a bit guilty, about fighting Man-Machine, when he realizes the guy is old and not in good health.

    In short, Nick thinks. He thinks about the fact that the society he lives in has essentially given up, in a very real way, on forcing supers to live by its rules. They’re either “good guys” who are partly above the law, whose transgressions may be ignored (see Sean on a couple occasions and the introduction of the Executioners), bad guys to be stopped, or vigilantes whose position is slightly less clear (I’m thinking of the guy who came after Vaughn with the magic knife-Vengeance? with the noose-wearing Hangmen).

    I find the picture we’ve seen of this society quite disturbing, on a fairly subtle level. The government still functions, people still work at the same jobs, shop at grocery stores, pay their taxes, etc, but everyone knows that they are at best turning a blind eye to people like the Heroes League bending the rules, and at worst sanctioning the occasional outright murder or other serious crime. A police officer who shot a suspect in custody wouldn’t be allowed to just get away with it, but when the Executioners are nearly killed by Solar Flare(?) it’s implied that he would most likely have been allowed to get away with it clean.

    Double-standards like that are corrosive to society, and it all speaks to what Lee/Gunther pointed out about the Abominator traps; the most dangerous things are for some of a society to have superpowers. It creates a massive inequality which has been a theme throughout the story. It’s an unstable form of existence, and like any volatile state even a relatively minor stimulus could set off a major problem. With spaceships and superpowers, “major problem” could easily mean “extinction event”, so a bit of caution is warranted.

    I don’t find the Heroes League or Nick to be “soft”. They’re inexperienced and hesitant to kill, largely because they had very limited preparation for what they’re doing. Nick may have spent time with Grandpa, and trained with Lee, but remember they’re still all pretty new to this. They aren’t soldiers the way their grandparents were, and they’ve never been trained to kill. I think characterizing them as weak or cowardly does a disservice to the story and overlooks some of the strengths of the writing.

    I also think you’re oversimplifying the ease of imprisoning, trying, convicting, and otherwise duly processing superhumans. Shapeshifters, illusionists, duplicators, telepaths, and outright magic would most likely slow the pace of our current court system to a crawl, and possibly lead to gross miscarriages of justice despite concerted, intelligent efforts. As for keeping people locked up, I’m not optimistic about the success of any prison for supers. People may be able to walk through walls, break them, mind-control guards, teleport, and more. They’ll have limitations, sure, but how do you handle having a prison population? Do you segregate somehow by powers? Do you just keep all the supers in solitary, so they can’t coordinate a jailbreak? How much does it cost to hire the necessary guards, build all the security needed, and keep the place running? And holding them physically is only part of the problem. What do you do when someone is accused of a crime and says “a telepath made me do it”? Presumably you bring in another telepath to check the story…but how do you decide which ones to trust in the first place? If someone has been subjected to mindrape, is forcing them to go through it again ethical, even for necessary evidentiary purpose? These issues may be a point in favor of promptly executing supervillains, I’ll admit – if only it were always easy to decide who the supervillains are. If there’s a zero-tolerance policy for power abuse, then Sean and some of his friends might have to be executed. Julie, probably. It’s a thorny problem.

    When it comes to Nick’s innovation, I also think you’ve erred. Nick just created the new Rocket suit, which is pretty awesome. He’s been busy dealing with a lot of crises as they come up, trying to keep the suit(s) working, building/refining roachbots, repairing vehicles and communicators, and more. He built the EPIC LVL 70 Guitar (sonic damage, laser damage, explosive damage, relatively inconspicuous, bonus to rocking out). The guy has barely had a spare moment to stay sane since the story began. I also think that building a lot of cut-through-anything bullets or swords would be questionable; the law of using tech a lot says that sooner or later, an enemy will recover one. The roachbots self-destruct, which is probably a good thing, or return and are recovered for future use.

    I think Nick and his friends might benefit from killing more of their enemies, but that’s not the same as saying I want them to. There’s a reason police officers try to bring in crooks alive in the real world. There’s a reason superheroes who don’t kill – or at least don’t kill lightly – have retained significant popularity for many years. I think part of that is the fact that all of these good guys are breaking the social contract and the law when they do what they do, as well as flaunting a frightening degree of power. Refraining from acting as executioners is a way (partly symbolic, partly practical) of limiting their own impact, tempering the vigilante nature of their actions, and allowing society to go on despite the extent to which their very existence shatters its fundamental assumptions of equality.

    TL;DR version:
    I think it’s been said that “God made men, Samuel Colt made them equal.”
    Killing as little as possible is a way for superheroes – generally the defenders of equality and individuals who subordinate their power to the needs of society and their own moral code – to keep some equality in the world. It hangs on to a last shred of fundamental fairness. Do I think it makes sense to refrain from killing no matter what? No. If the Joker had really killed and escaped confinement as often as he has been depicted as doing so, then I would regard his killing as beyond justified. But it is not appropriate to blame Batman for his survival. Batman hasn’t failed Gotham by not killing the Joker; Gotham has failed him and itself, by refusing as a society to take the necessary and morally acceptable action when in the appropriate position to decide. If Batman didn’t kill the Joker for forty years or more he might be an idiot, but I wouldn’t regard him as morally culpable for the Joker’s actions in any way. He’s put the guy in police custody how many times? He’s already doing half the job for his city. He’s not any more responsible for killing the Joker than he was for catching him (namely not at all, See: Vigilante). What we’re seeing is a society that is, over time, slowly losing ground in its effort to cope with the existence of a growing superpowered elite of sorts, who are tolerated because they keep the superpowered evil at bay. It’s probably not sustainable forever. As for Nick and his friends, keep in mind that they don’t exist in a vacuum and that they’re still young. They don’t want to kill because they were taught by society and their parents that it’s generally wrong. Because the original Heroes League didn’t kill everyone whose death would have been convenient (like Man-Machine), and they’re following that example in many ways. Because sometimes friends go bad (Red Lightning) or enemies become friends (original Ghostwoman) and there’s no way to tell which in advance, so ending possibilities at the earliest point is a solution of limited value. And they aren’t obligated to kill because, in the end, they are the ones who would have to live with being judge, jury, and executioner, and that’s more responsibility than society has a right to ask them to shoulder as superheroes. Should Nick be more ruthless in a fight and reach for killing weapons faster? Maybe. But at that point they’d be little different from any person with a gun executing individuals s/he deemed threatening to society. The line’s a blurry one at best; nonexistent at worst.


  11. If it becomes acceptable for every supervillain to be killed mainly because they have superpowers and are criminals, then you’ll find things getting much, much worse for society. See, it’s been shown that stuff like the death penalty doesn’t discourage people from committing crimes.

    But what it will likely do is encourage nonviolent supercriminals to get violent in a hurry. Someone who just uses their powers to steal money or destroy famous art or maintain a worldwide porn piracy empire might get cornered. If they now know that superheroes are allowed to just go around killing them, they will fight back. They may even do so preemptively. Heroes form a group? Some villains bomb their headquarters.

    Then there’s the problems with outright killing someone in costume. How badass would it be, for instance, if a well-known supervillain kidnaps people, sticks them in a copy of their own costume, and lets them out? Heroes show up and the victims get murdered by the people they looked to as their saviors.

    That’s part of why you need to take them to court and actually do some investigative work. Maybe the villainous identity is like the Dread Pirate Roberts. Or maybe it’s more like Red Hood was and got swapped around to a different person each time.

  12. First, I want to be very clear. I always post as Farmerbob1. Got an identity do maintain.

    Second, Jim is writing something between golden and silver age comics here. There are subgenres of comics, and Jim writes on the lighter side of the moral divide, in a style like what we saw in the 1960’s and 1970’s in comic books.

    Complaining about Jim’s style after he’s been writing this comic as long as he has is like choosing to go out into a rainstorm without needing to, and then getting upset because you got wet.

    Now, I think it WOULD be interesting if Jim were to let loose in a dream sequence or something. He could get away with that. I could very easily see a dream sequence where Lee and Nick hypothetically got together for one of Lee’s mercenary jobs. At the end, Jim could leave us with the feeling that Lee was responsible for shaping the entire dream sequence, as a way to train Nick to deal with “real” fighting.

  13. “You’re not going to like this.”
    – It’s an a Abominator prison.
    – It belonged to your Grandpa.
    – DiL is down the block.
    -They blew up the Sriracha manufacturing plant.
    -Haley wanted me to let you know she is eloping with Sean.

  14. Poor Bob (not to be confused with Farmerbob1) is getting some pretty heavy handed treatment from some of the locals.

    Interestingly, the grimdark amoral ultraviolence he seems to be pining for is readily available from our resident psychopath, Psycho Gecko. Just follow the link in his name and enjoy.

  15. Just to throw in my own little bit of coin on this subject: One of the reasons why superheroes don’t kill is the same as the reason why countries don’t rely on assassination of other coutries’ leaders as a way of dealing with a “problem country”. As Mr. Gecko already pointed out, it leads to an escalation of violence against government leaders — the ones in charge. They don’t put a bullet through another leader’s head in the dead of night, because they don’t want anyone else saying, “Well, if he can do it, I can do it too.” (Instead, of course, they just throw their militaries at each other, bystanders be damned. But that’s another story.)


  16. The main reason heroes don’t kill is exactly the same reason they hunt supervillains while wearing their underwear outside their normal clothes; Doing (what you think is) the good thing is morally fulfilling. It just feels good. If Superman didn’t feel good when saving lives and the world, he wouldn’t do it; he’d just take over the planet and enforce order and stuff instead. This is exactly the same reason people get power, or money; it feels good to do what you want to do. It’s just that good people want to do good things.

  17. It’s why you don’t kill them. You just use x-ray heat vision through their own eyes’ lenses to fry the part of their brains they use to control their powers. Or their motor control centers. Hell, even just burning the eyes usually works, unless they can regenerate.

  18. Someone like Rook? Make sure you have the right guy, then send in the explosive ‘bots, in my opinion. Civilian society has likely condemned all the nine and put out DOA warrants on them.

    The Cabal? No warrant, so you have to play nice so long as it isn’t your or anothers life. When they’re glued to the ground, or when there is a truce on, it obviously isn’t. Tracking the cabal, on the other hand, would be a very good idea.

    Nick killing the executioner by throwing him into live wires in the middle of a fight? Shit happens. Sean killing him a couple minutes later when he’s face down on the ground? Bigger deal.

  19. I’m fairly comfortable with Rook getting a death sentence, from what we’ve seen thus far. I’m confident that most of Prime’s people can only be stopped by killing them, as well. But the role of a superhero is (generally) more like a police officer than a soldier in a combat zone. When there’s an alien invasion or something of that nature, the situation changes, of course. But most of the time, they’re operating domestically. Imagine if the original Heroes League had a totally “shoot first, figure out what the supervillains’ deal is later” attitude and Evil Beatnik showed up for the first time. How many hosts might they have killed before figuring out that it wasn’t even their fault? Without knowing what they would face in advance, they could have racked up a significant body count of innocents.

    The problem with using killing as a solution in most superhero universes is that its far more common for the evidence to point to wrong conclusions than in the real world. When you get right down to it, killing people is permanent (comic book resurrections aside). That’s why it’s not a first resort, it’s a major objection to having death sentences at all, and it’s the reason people on death row appeal over and over. There have been cases where evidence was discovered decades after a trial ended that proved someone was innocent. Was it fair to them to lose all those years in prison? No. Is it better than if they were wrongfully executed? Yes. At least they can still live to see vindication, and maybe do something with however many years they have left.

    I think Club distilled things down fairly well, and did so on a case-by-case basis (which tends to work better than general statements where moral issues are concerned). I do think the Cabal is an odd case – if the public and/or the government don’t know that a group exists, they obviously can’t have legal proceedings or issue warrants against it.
    Take the recent Man of Steel movie as an example (spoiler warning). Ignoring its quality as a movie or adaptation, the movie ends with Superman consciously choosing to kill in order to save lives, ostensibly because he had no other way to get the job done. He’s obviously very upset to do so despite what his enemy has wrought (which would most likely have included thousands of deaths) and what he planned (which could have killed every human on earth). Why? Because he sees killing as a last resort, however justified. Because he hadn’t done it before, and didn’t want to do it. He’s a good guy, or at the very least wants to be one, and good guys don’t just kill because it’s efficient. There are other concerns too. But he crosses the line, after trying to think of another solution, because there’s an immediate threat to innocent lives and he sees only one way to end it (which might be bad writing in a plot-and-powers sense, but isn’t necessarily poor characterization).


  20. He’s just a college kid and before that he was a high schooler. You really think a kid should be given so much responsibility over someone else’s life, even if you really, really think they deserve it, then you give them a gun and a mask.

    You take the responsibility off society’s shoulders. You say, “Here you go, kiddy. The rest of us can’t be bothered to be decent enough people and hold up our end of the social contract, so we’re going to make you break it for us and kill a man on our behalf. Don’t worry, we’ll all support you.” Then the wrong man dies and suddenly the kid with a gun, the one society had doing what they couldn’t, he’s hung out to dry. He’s the villain now. And you’ve gotten him desensitized to blowing holes in skulls so the grey matter drips out.

    You’ll say that someone needs to go after him. Will you? Or will you grab another kid and say “Here you go, kiddy…”?

    1. Psycho, very thoughtfull and deep. Personal experience seems to have tought that lesson the hard way. Seems we teach our military the fine art of killing, dehumanizing the enemy(no official policy, but happens anyway), send em out, they see horrific stuff, and they do some of their own(killing generally is not pleasent; dead bodies,due to war, are generally less than that). Most turn out great, but the ones that don’t, tend to burn.

      Best comments section to date, in my opinion. All sides have valid arguments, it seems the answer is all, none, and in the middle – to me.

  21. I don’t know about you, but I find it funny that the comments can go from penis jokes to discussions about the story and discussions about the appropriateness of violence.

    It’s kind of cool actually.

    Now to the meat of things… I’ve been a little hesitant to get involved in the discussion for a couple reasons. First because of this:

    Writing the story = fun
    Defending my decisions = not fun

    Second, because discussions where people have strong feelings online can easily lead to flame wars about things as inconsequential as Unix text editors (for the record, I prefer vi).

    Bearing in mind that I’m likely to have strong feelings about LoN, and that from an author’s point of view, Bob’s comment could easily be read as “You’re doing everything completely wrong,” I don’t quite trust myself to reply in detail. I’ll leave that to others. Most of my thoughts have been covered by now in any case.

    So, I’ll make a few general comments that people might find interesting that explain the shape of LoN.

    An important aspect of writing, and more importantly, continuing to write, is to write something you care about. For example, I’ve enjoyed reading The Punisher on occasion, but I don’t feel inspired to create similar stories.

    One thing I find interesting is the question of what would happen in a society if it included people where the relative power levels are completely unequal. That’s been noted, so I won’t go into it too much.

    On the level of characters, I find characters who are not fully integrated into the world around them more interesting than people who are fully invested in the status quo. Thus, we’ve got Nick, a character who’s strongly connected to the world of superheroes as a main character instead of Alex/Paladin who’s grown up in it and shares all the common assumptions of that group.

    Nick, by contrast, basically views life as a non-superhero initially. Where he goes from there is still open, but normal people are hesitant to kill. Time and exposure to situations where violence is required can change that.

    Additionally, as someone with degrees in sociology and whose father taught political science, I find society’s attitude toward violence interesting. Specifically that there’s less of it than there used to be on a personal level, and that there’s more of a state monopoly on it. At the same time, there’s plenty of violence depicted in the media, and it’s more graphic than it used to be.

    For example, when my grandfather was a child it was perfectly appropriate for a teacher to cane him for doing something wrong. Now, many parents won’t even spank their children even though hitting kids was perfectly normal at one point. Similarly, think about the level of violence acceptable in movies in the 50’s vs. now.

    My personal attitude toward violence ends up being influenced by a lot of things, but one of them is my on and off interest in the martial arts. I spent several years doing Tae Kwon Do, but am also familiar with techniques from Aikido as well as Filipino stick fighting martial arts (Escrima, Kali).

    The general attitude of most martial arts instructors toward violence could be summarized as “avoid it unless someone’s trying to kill you.”

    In writing Legion, I didn’t want to contribute to attitudes toward violence that I don’t like. I’m thinking mostly of TV shows and movies where violence looks like a good time, and doesn’t lead to permanent injury and sometimes brain damage. I’m particularly unenthusiastic about stories that are basically unending gore fests.

    I’m not saying that this would be one if the League were more willing to kill, but it doesn’t fit the characters as they are now to do so. That may change. This is a coming of age story, and that means that it includes the moral compromises and changes that occur over time.

    The changes are actually one of the main points of this kind of story. The fact that it’s equivalent to a multi-novel series means that I can afford to let those changes be incremental.

    Anyway, that’s where I’m coming from on this, and congratulations to all for keeping this civil.

  22. One more thought that I’d intended to include in my previous comment.

    About innovation… As someone who’s been involved in web development and programming, quality assurance testing, system administration, and technical support, I’ve always been amused to watch characters pull one invention after another out of nowhere in the course of a comic, TV show, or whatever.

    What I wanted with LoN is to have Nick’s development process feel a little more like the process I’ve experienced in real life. Granted it isn’t exactly like what I’ve seen in real life since I don’t know any comic book level geniuses, but I try to keep a few guidelines in mind.

    1. Taking over someone else’s project can be a lot of work. Thus Nick doesn’t do any new stuff in the first book or very much new stuff in the second and third. He’s too busy bringing back a lot of old stuff.
    2. Even small innovations can be a lot of work. Even though the technology is similar, coming up with better roachbots takes a long time. Turning them into communictors takes time too.
    3. Problems can be hard to find. Thus the whole deal with Nick’s suit not working well while facing the Cabal.
    4. People are limited by their own knowlege areas. Thus Nick’s not coming up with huge insights in biology, or really any big things outside of what he learned from his grandfather. Also, Nick’s more at the level of a mechanic with alien tech than an engineer. He’s working on that, but don’t expect massive insights there immediately.
    5. 90% of the work behind new innovations is completely uninteresting to anyone not in the field. Thus, while scenes of Nick working in the lab exist, I skip most of them. Thus, it probably still feels like he’s moving pretty quickly through a lot of these things.

    OK. Done now.

  23. Jim, thanks for weighing in the way you did; that was an interesting insight. As someone who trained in a martial art for a few years myself, I certainly found the same attitudes among instructors; the general rule for a black belt was “if you are in a fight, either the other party is too unreasonable to dissuade without violence, or you have handled the situation poorly.” Less experienced students were held to lower standards, but the underlying concept was the same: avoid violence first. Knowing how to hurt people physically gives you a responsibility not to misuse those teachings, and I can honestly say that my desire to avoid disappointing my instructors probably kept me out of a fight or two. Lesson one of knife and gun defense was “give them your money.” It’s a lot safer, most of the time. I appreciate the perspective on the innovation question as well; as someone who’s not mechanically or scientifically inclined or anything like that, it’s easy to get wrapped up in the end product of “innovation” and forget the process and the time it can consume. Also, thanks for skipping the majority of uninteresting lab scenes.

    On the matter of perspective, I do love Nick’s view with one foot in the superhero world and one in the normal world. Seeing how Alex lived previously was interesting, and I think Sean and his friends also give a useful window into what having superpowers is like. In the case of Alex, Brooke, and Jenny, it’s very interesting how casually they decide to take matters into their own hands just to play a prank on a major criminal organization. They basically don’t think twice, and Nick finds himself being the voice of reason in a way that is new; he’s often the voice of practicality, I think, among the resurrected Heroes League, but they’re usually all pretty sane. In contrast, Alex has never lived a normal life, Jenny’s in a weird spot because her use of duplicates sort-of means she’s rarely even at risk, and Brooke is a teleporter. All three feel invincible, to some degree, and it very nearly gets people killed…yet they only receive a slap on the wrist afterward, it seems.

    To Bob, I just want to say that I hope I didn’t come across as saying “you’re wrong for liking what you like”. I got the impression that you would prefer Legion to be a different story than it is in terms of tone and a few other things in an ideal world, but obviously you still enjoy it if you’ve read this far, and I didn’t get the sense that you were telling Jim “this is wrong and you should fix it.” If nothing else, it’s a bit late for that this far in. So thank you for adding your perspective to the discussion in a reasonable way, and please continue to weigh in in the future even – or especially – if you disagree with me. I like being challenged. It’s the only way we learn to think and grow. And honestly, I do think there’s room for a superhero web serial of the sort you describe, and it could be a fascinating read.

    Lastly, I’ll just say that I think Nick’s tendency to understatement in the narration can make it seem, at times, like he’s less emotional than he really is. To get at that, we have to look at the rare moments when his self-control is strained too far – such as when he tells Sean off over the phone – or the subtler cues, like the way he thinks about Haley at certain times, or tries harder to rein in his technophilia for her sake than he does for other people. This is occasionally difficult to notice, because it’s about small things that are present or absent, but it’s been one of the major strengths of this story to me over time. Not just the relationship, but the stylistic things I noted (of which it is a single example).


  24. I find penis to be a funny word. There’s just several one’s like that. Like boob. Boob is not so much a dirty word as it is an amusing one, and I think we should start basing adjectives on some of those words. Like saying that something is boobtastic. If you want to get all technical, you could say it’s twice as good as fantastic, and perhaps seductively jiggly too.

    Bob is perfectly ok to stick around if he wants. This disagreement may be a bit penis. That is, it’s long and about a hard philosophical topic, but that shouldn’t stop him from sticking in with the comments section spewing his thoughts on the story. We always enjoy when new commentators come and enjoy themselves.

    *pours some champagne* Bit of the boobly?

  25. Jim,

    You’d have to change a whole about how you write before I’d stop reading. I figure there’s a bunch of others that feel the same.

    Of course, I don’t have to tell you that, you’ve been doing this a while 🙂

    Now, it’s time for me to stop wishing I had already written six years of material, and start writing for today’s release.


  26. [quote]
    The general attitude of most martial arts instructors toward violence could be summarized as “avoid it unless someone’s trying to kill you.”

    Don’t forget the second half of that summarization: “…, but if you do end up in a situation where violence is necessary end it fast and hard.”.

    And that’s where, for me at least, Nicks (and to a lesser extent Rachels) characterization falls apart. Especially since he’s not only been around war veterans (Grandpa , Grandma & maybe Larry) and Lee/Gunther from a vary young age but as been actively trained by them.
    While i can see that Nick might feel queasy about the injuries he’s about to inflict before the fight, the injuries he’s inflicting during the fight and the injuries he has inflicted after the fight, i don’t see how he can fail to inflict said injuries once the fighting starts and training takes over.
    Then again, if he feels so uneasy about inflicting damage why is he even aiming his armored and power assisted fist at the head of an opponent (having Rachel point out how hard and dangerous punching somebody unconscious is was a nice touch btw, but alas way too late for my taste)?
    Worse, we’ve actually seen training take over (Sean is still limping from that one…) but that aspect of the fighting seems to have fallen under the table somewhere along the way.

    1. I disagree, purely on the fact that he and his friends are still alive. MC plot armor aside, that means his use of force has been sufficient. And if it has come to it, he’s done several things, that he himself recognises have had the potential to be lethal, not just debilitating. The fact he has yet to kill anyone by accident is as much plot armor for his mind as what he has for his body.

  27. Holy snikies this comment section is a lecture in philosophy or sociology itself.

    I’m sure the author disagrees, but I will point to the fact that as someone with degrees in sociology he probably overestimates what is “common knowledge” about the field, while probably being aware of the phenomenon and having a name for it. As an engineer with a pure physics degree, I still am constantly surprised how little of what I know as “basic shit” actually got covered in K-12.

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