Seems as though the columns I do that get the most enthusiastic responses are the ones that I either spank some deserving moron or offer up one of the what-might-have-been things from the AiT/Planet Lar archives. Back in 1996, my pal Tom Fassbender (who’s doing great work now on Dark Horse’s Buffy comic) was editor over at the Image/Motown imprint. He asked me to do up a script from a Kevin McCarthy plot for the never-published Casual Heroes issue four, as well as firm up a series bible they could use to shop the thing around Hollywood. If you ever saw Casual Heroes #1, you know what a shame it is that the property fizzled out. I thought this series bible was a pretty cool take on superheroes in the late Nineties…
|Unpublished art by Paul Pope to be used as the cover for issue #2.|
Casual Heroes is not your run-of-the-mill super-heroic adventure.
Well, okay, in some ways it is. We’ve got powerful, good-looking guys. We’ve got gorgeous femmes fatale. We’ve got mad scientists, lustful robots, pet cats, and a secret headquarters…
…but our guys…
Well, they’re slackers.
The generation that has, shall we say, inherited the earth. Generations past the time when America was a nation of can-do, gung-ho citizens. Generations past the time when every man was a patriot. Generations past moonshots, free love, disco. This is the generation that sees the end of the tunnel, and surprise! no one left a light on for us. While a wise man once wrote, “with great power comes great responsibility,” the Casual Heroes might rewrite it as, “with great power comes many lucrative endorsement contracts.”
How do you chronicle the adventures of a bunch of super-powered slackers that probably feel less responsibility for the world than contempt for it?
Casual Heroes takes place in the seismically-unstable West Coast city of New Jericho. A mecca of culture and cutting-edge industry, New Jericho is far enough north of Hollywood to be removed from the false glamour, but close enough to generate a level of excitement not found in other cities in the country. If you walk the streets of New Jericho, chances are you’d see some celebrity; perhaps a famous news reporter, like Leslie LaForge, or the renowned chef Stephen Roy. It’s more likely, however, if you’re out on the town for any length of time whatsoever, that you’ll run into Saturn Red and the Redeemers.
Of course, you know that they are the most popular and well-known of all the super-heroes. They are all over the news, what with their penchant for being in the right place at the right time: floods, cave-ins, bridges collapsing, purse snatchings, lost pets, club openings, book signings, movie shoots, press conferences, political and product endorsements. Nothing of import happens in New Jericho without Saturn Red and the Redeemers. In fact, the editors of Teen Squeeze magazine contend that nothing of import happens in New Jericho unless Saturn Red and the Redeemers are there. These guys are media darlings.
Who are these mystery teens?
The story of Saturn Red and the Redeemers starts, almost unbelievably, in the dark days before America’s entrance into World War II. While the war-winning technology of the Manhattan Project was still years away, government scientists feverishly worked to unlock the secrets of a stolen super-soldier formula that could turn the tide for the Allies! Code named Operation: Trumpet, this secret project was thought to be America’s only hope should the Axis powers make a daring attempt to land on American soil. President Roosevelt himself chose the European-born Doctor Oran Vargas to lead the experimental team charged with accessing and exploiting the mysterious “hyper-gene.”
Fervently patriotic, as only a naturalized citizen can be, Dr. Vargas doubled his team’s efforts after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Perhaps somewhat prematurely, the Operation: Trumpet scientists activated the hyper-gene in a volunteer who came to be known as the Thirty-eight Second Man because his lucidity (and thusly, his hyper-gene powers) would manifest themselves for only thirty-eight seconds a day. He was a dismal, almost project-cancelling failure.
Once Truman became President, however, he insisted that Vargas’ team be reassembled and work progressed on the hyper-gene project until success was achieved with the creation of the Super-Ego.
Accidentally bathed in a centrifuged by-product of the hyper-gene, laboratory equipment salesman Bill Gregory became a nearly perfect human being. After assuming the costumed identity of “The American Way,” Gregory and the other recipients of the easily reproducible hyper-gene effect battled Jerry and Tojo to a standstill.
Fifty years pass.
Although well-known in their day, most of the names and achievements of the World War II heroes have been forgotten. The world seems more cynical and less promising than it did back then, and the world has ittle time to hold on to old and unfashionable values. The American Way leaves America to search for adventure in other lands, while his teammates go their separate ways as well.
The world may lose touch with her heroes, but history forgets them not.
While looking for his wife’s left slipper, President Reagan uncovers a
secret mention of Operation: Trumpet in the White House basement. He
quickly scans the documents and causes the hyper-gene venture to be
re-activated, demanding “a newer, younger American Way.”
He does not find Nancy’s slipper.
The Eighties pass the hyper-gene scientists in a haze of too-loud
Culture Club records and Bartles and James wine coolers. In late 1989,
Doctor Vargas attempts to bring out the latent powers in his own son,
using the hyper-gene discoveries. Young Vargas, named “Wunderbar” after
the elder Vargas’ beloved uncle in the old country, initially responds
well to the application of the hyper-gene effect. Young Vargas received
a fourfold increase in general intelligence, and his specific aptitude
for mechanical construction increases by an order of magnitude. This
success prompts Vargas the elder to massage the hyper-gene effect. He
finally realizes Reagan’s dream of a team of super-powered protectors of
America, and a return to the patriotic glory days.
Doctor Vargas, against the protestations of his now super-brained son, applies the refined hyper-gene effect to the DNA of several local “volunteers” with the intention of having Wunderbar Vargas lead a super-powered team of heroes. Government agents spirit college freshmen majoring in political science or the humanities out of their dorms in the dead of night, hypnotized, sedated, or just plain drunk, and deliver them to Vargas’ laboratory for application of the hyper-gene treatment. He has unqualified success with five teens, known to him only by theirgovernment-supplied code names.
After government agents explain their super powers and outline their new situations, including saving the world on a regular basis (more on this later) and as role models for America’s youth, the six teens have an unanimous response:
They are, after all, a product of their times.
Meanwhile, young Vargas’ DNA starts to reject the hyper-gene.
As Fate would have it, the increase in measurable intellect has an
adverse effect on his person. Wunderbar “ages” rapidly, exhibiting the
physical form of a man three times his chronological age.
As he masters the complex sciences of artificial intelligence and
robotics, his skin turns a sallow green.
He develops myopia.
Never a hit at parties, saddled with a silly family name, AND now
appearing around sixty years old and green to boot, Wunderbar Vargas can
not get a date.
This makes him mad.
Wunderbar, now calling himself “The Great Vargas,” vows vengeance
against his father for applying a corrupted version of the hyper-gene
effect and vengeance against those who benefitted from the superior
process. The Great Vargas refuses to let his father be redeemed by his
success with the perfected hyper-gene process, and vows to destroy his
father’s team of mystery teens.
The six teens code-named by the government are:
Saturn Red is the laid-back leader of “The Redeemers,” the name
they’ve taken in honor of the elder Vargas’ success. He tries to play
the role of a good super hero, but he’s too jaded to really be an
inspiration to the kids back home. All he’s looking for is a few good
endorsement contracts, a soft place to sleep at night and a soft babe to
share it with.
His hyper-gene power is, at first blush (so to speak), a bit silly. He
has independent control over his own pheromones. Oh, sure, that’s not
much good in a battle with a super villain, but he’s never home watching
COPS alone on a Saturday night, either.
He’s got nifty energy bracelets, though, called “Saturn’s Rings.”
Provided to him by the Air Force’s Langley Experimental Weapons Division
of the government, the Rings (worn as wrist gauntlets) allow him to
coalesce free radical hydronium ions (H3O) from the atmosphere, strip
the extra hydrogen electron from orbit around the di-hydrogen oxide
molecule and focus the resultant energy cascade into a truck-stopping
burst of energy.
He never has trouble opening mayonnaise jars.
That’s a cool thing about being a super-hero.
And he can fly.
Deadbolt, former leader of New Jericho’s most vicious gang of
recycling scavengers, now is a master of electricity. He’s able to
marshal all forms of electrical energy and focus it as precise blasts
from his hands. This has the sometimes not altogether unpleasant side
effect of muddling the electrical impulses of his neural synapses.
He tries not to walk on carpets in his socks.
He can fly, too.
Troublemaker, withdrawn ice queen from another time, is a
mystery to even those she allies herself with. Her detached air of
indifference is a result of her ability to travel through time. She has
no vested interest in the “present” because it’s all already happened
from her point of view.
Her ability to access all human knowledge makes her appear as a bit of a
know-it-all to her teammates. They all want to be on her side, however,
when they play Trivial Pursuit.
Sabotage’s hyper-gene application revealed an innate
understanding of geometrical relationships. Just by looking at a moving
target, for example, she knows which angle and at what force to use to,
say, hit it with a thrown rock. This makes her a superb marksman.
Sabotage is a mistress of weaponry. She prefers the sliding bolt action
of the Beretta .25, the accuracy of the 1914 9mm Mauser (the famous
“broomhandle”), and the close-quarters stopping power of her homemade
.50 caliber “boom box.”
She never gets lost.
She is also unbeatable in pool halls.
Rush has complete control over kinetic and potential energy. This
allows her access to an almost unlimited energy source. The potential
energy stored by construction workers building, say, a skyscraper, is
an untapped well of energy waiting for Rush to unleash in concussive
blasts. She is the member of the Redeemers that trains most seriously to
control and fine-tune her powers.
She pays her taxes well before April 15 and has never been locked out of
Buzzbomb is Rush’s younger brother. He was a recipient of the
hyper-gene effect, but it did not activate any latent abilities. Because
of the intense sibling rivalry he shares with Rush, Billy needed to join
the Redeemers. With no super-powers of his own, he supplied plans for a
strength-increasing exo-skeleton to the United States government in
exchange for a copy of the suit and the chance to join his sister on New
Jericho’s team of super-heroes.
Billy has a full set of Saturn Red and the Redeemers action figures.
Here are the names and vital statistics of a few of the Casual Heroes’
Shirley is a Miss Moneypenny-type. She’s the major domo of the
Hall of Redemption, the Redeemers’ headquarters. She’s almost 40, old
enough to be considered “Mom” by some of the Redeemers, but young enough
for there to be sparks with Saturn Red. She hides her
jealousy/disapproval from him behind a mask of professionalism. Her
career as curator of the North Street Museum was cut short when
President Clinton personally asked her to administrate the Redeemers’
headquarters. The Hall of Redemption was provided for by Executive Order
of the Clinton administration and executed at the local level by mayoral
Robert Vixon, Mayor of New Jericho. A former militant hippie, the
fifty-ish Mayor Vixon rules the back room machinations of the New
Jericho political scene with the fervor that only a political zealot can
muster. Mayor Vixon tolerates the presence of The Redeemers in his city
because, although their methods are unorthodox, their attitude flippant,
and their haircuts unruly, they definitely bring a spark of the daring
to the city. Besides, tourism has been increased by over 200% since the
arrival of The Redeemers. Statistics like that always look good at
election time, and Vixon traces his re-election in the last race
directly to his endorsement by Saturn Red. This sticks a bit in Vixon’s
craw, and colors his judgment when dealing with his home-town heroes. A
man who has less of a problem with the homespun super-heroics is
Joe Kapcheck, Chief of Police. Definitely from the old guard,
Chief Kapcheck keeps the peace in New Jericho the old fashioned way. A
former boxer and cabbie on the mean streets of New Jericho when it was a
going industrial concern, the broken-nosed lug has a hard time believing
the town he grew up in is now a bustling metropolis, sporting its own
team of super heroes. At first reluctant to embrace the team, Kapcheck
and his men have been bailed out by The Redeemers so often that the NJPD
has developed a grudging respect for the mystery teens. He has more of a
problem with the government-supplied “manager” of The Redeemers, Louis
St. Louis and his government-sponsored WALL troops (see below). Kapcheck
sees Louis as a fop and a liar. During the last election, Louis informed
the Chief that fully three-quarters of the “crimes” The Redeemers had
foiled were merely publicity stunts staged to gain notoriety for the
team. An honest joe, Joe believes in The Redeemers rather more than he
should. Kapcheck gives most everyone an even break, but even he has his
limits. He sometimes clashes with the noveau bitche socialite
Madonna Andhors, wealthy matriarch of a family of landed gentry.
While not ever divulging her age, Mrs. Andhors would be flattered if
Joan Collins were to portray her in a nice docu-drama about the
hardships of wealthy socialites. The Andhors family traces their New
Jerichoan lineage back to the Walker/Hayes expedition that discovered
Cornet Bay and founded the first New Jericho settlement. The Andhors’
name causes a shudder through the consciences of New Jericho’s saints
and sinners alike. Trying to separate herself from her privileged
beginnings, Madonna’s eldest daughter by her third husband
Leslie LaForge, is a respected journalist and on-air news anchor
for New Jericho’s most-watched station, KMWR. Her import and influence
on the impressionable New Jericho youth is not lost on her, and her
position as journalist and arbiter of taste for her peers is definitely
not lost on her. Here is a woman that craves attention and the limelight
just as her mother does, but has the wherewithal to take her
responsibility seriously. Deadbolt of the Redeemers has got a thing for
her, but she feels that the electricity she feels from him is a
manifestation of his paranormal abilities and not an honest attraction
for him. Suspecting, rightly, that the Redeemers are super-powered
shams, she constantly is trying to turn up evidence that the menaces
they face are not true dangers but merely publicity stunts designed to
keep The Redeemers in the public eye. There’s nothing like stopping a
bank robbery and an appearance on the nightly news to drive up sales of
Redeemers T-shirts and increase fan club applications. Her relentless
drive to expose the Redeemers’ crass commercialism often puts her in
direct conflict with
Louis St. Louis, part government agent, part Hollywood agent,
and all ponytail. Louis is in charge of babysitting the Redeemers in the
field, making sure that their promotional appearances go as planned.
When things get out of hand, Louis can call on elite government WALL
troops. WALL stands for Watching After Life and Liberty. They are a
gung-ho band of armor plated, bazooka-carrying “problem solvers.” They
don’t put much stock in these nancy-boy super-heroics. There’s nothing
they can’t solve with a few well-placed shots, if only Louis would let
them. Washed out of WALL (and Louis’ former college roommate for three
Shankar has found himself in the employ of The Great Vargas.
Perhaps because he was not ever one of the first chosen for kickball at
recess, too, Shankar has developed a fierce loyalty towards The Great
Vargas and shields him from the vagaries of life as well as from the
unthinking comments of neighborhood children and the incessant calls
from telephone solicitors so Vargas can continue his work in robotics.
Shankar feels Vargas’ jealousy and mistrust of Saturn Red (who, after
all, took his “rightful” place as leader of his father’s band of
super-heroes) is a bit unfounded. But like Androcles and the Lion,
Shankar would defend Vargas against the world, even though that path
might lead him to madness or frustration. Shankar’s great aunt and her
best friend are
Sophie and Mary Ellen, two of New Jericho’s most colorful
characters. These two old ladies, in their dotage, are omnipresent at
any happening of import in the city. They are a voice of silliness in
the book, and are largely included for tension release and comic relief.
Places and Whatnot
At the request of the newly formed American Colonial government,
adventurers Thayer Walker and Nat Hayes mounted an expedition to map the
western coast of the North American continent in 1780.
Although losing almost a full third of their men and supplies while
navigating the Straits of Magellan in the winter of 1782, the Walker and
Hayes expedition nevertheless sailed triumphantly into Cornet Bay in
1784 and set up the first white settlement in the protected cove in an
attempt to secure a base of operations for further travel up the coast.
It was not to be.
In the unseasonably cool spring of 1784, an earthquake (later determined
by modern scholars to have been at least 6.5 on the Richter scale)
destroyed the makeshift camp and stranded the Walker-Hayes ship
Edification on a sandy shoal. A later storm hulled the ship before it
could be re-floated and marooned the expedition a continent away from
home and hearth.
Hardy pioneers all, Walker and Hayes convinced their men to use salvaged
timbers from the Edification to construct a permanent settlement. They
rebuilt their camp and began aggressive trading with local Nakniva
Indians to replace lost supplies. Thirteen years later, when Captain
Robert Block and the crew of the Contemporaneous retraced the assumed
route of the Walker and Hayes expedition, they discovered, in 1797, a
thriving town named “New Jericho” on the hills overlooking Cornet Bay.
It is this hardy pioneer spirit that is still evident in the population
of New Jericho today.
The transition of New Jericho from 18th century trading village to 21st
century cutting-edge metropolis was not without hardship. In the over
two hundred year history of the city, it has been razed and rebuilt
three times. “The walls keep tumblin’ down, man,” said jazz impresario
Crazy Ed Broeder after the last great earthquake in 1933, “but as long
as there are folks, there’ll be a New Jericho.”
New Jericho is built on a seismically unstable peninsula. Its present
population is about 600,000. The downtown section is a typical mishmash
of conflicting architectural styles, but the central, open Green is
dominated by the Greek revival monstrosity that is the City Hall. Its
looming facade is gritty with the patina of age and bears the marks of
New Jericho’s former position as a leading industrial city. The Green
sports a raised bandstand at one end that would look more at home on a
village green of a small New England town than downtown in one of the
West Coast’s oldest cities. A mid-size reflecting pool adorns the far
end, and bears a statue of two haggard pioneers, gazing off into the
distance. These two are, of course, Walker and Hayes. In an ironic
twist, when the statue was first placed, the two pioneers appeared to be
looking out across the bay. Now, at the advent of the 21st century, a
modern skyscraper blocks their “view,” and they seem to be looking
straight into the offices of Leslie LaForge at KMWR.
North of downtown is the chaotic frenzy of Canadatown, where burly
French-Canadians settled after organizing a going lumber concern in the
mid 1800s. After a brief hiatus when New Jericho seceded from the Union
and the Confederacy during the Civil War, the Canadatown lumberjacks
were rivaled only by the San Francisco gold miners in sheer wealth and
power. Now, Canadatown is the hip part of town where young urban
professionals have taken over the solidly built townhouses and shops and
converted them into lofts, dance clubs and blues joints.
Southwest of Canadatown is where the industrial real estate is. In the
’30s, the area was tooled mostly for sheet metal production and
constructional granite facings. “Toolsville” is now home to several
“Hollywood North” special effects houses and independent film producers.
Part of the reason The Redeemers are based in New Jericho is because of
the constant media exposure that is available to them here. Plus,
really, the weather is just really nice.
Almost literally bisecting Toolsville is a diagonal thoroughfare named
for one of New Jericho’s favorite sons: the first modern independent
Presidential candidate, John Meehan. Ironically, Meehan was unable to
continue his run for the 1928 Presidential nomination because he was hit
by a rumrunner smuggling bootleg liquor. A brooding and apologetic
populace named the main boulevard after him.
While there are many quaint residential neighborhoods scattered
throughout New Jericho (including the posh and tony Rocky Point), the
latest to be taken over by writers and Starbuck’s franchises is
Cathedral Hill. Coincidentally, this is where the famous landmark North
Street Museum was situated. A stately Victorian, the former “lumber
rush” hotel had been turned into a museum celebrating the colorful
history of New Jericho. Instead of opting to fund a new set of exhibits,
however, the Clinton administration had been made aware of the facility
in early 1993 by the National Endowment for the Arts and deemed the
location perfect for the hyper-gene recipients to use as their
headquarters. With the addition of top secret improvements (explained
away as “seismic retro-fitting”), Saturn Red and the Redeemers were able
to begin their government-sponsored national protection/media onslaught.
Newly renamed the “Hall of Redemption,” the stately Victorian looks like
many of the other buildings built for the families of the Canadatown
bosses. Unlike the shanty-like rowhouses built for the lumberjacks and
their families, the Edwardian and Victorian homes on the other side of
the city were built to be lasting monuments to an ornate age. With the
government-ordered “improvements,” however, the old Victorian became a
wonder of modern design. While leaving the outer shell of the original
building intact, government specialists outfitted the inner core of the
mansion with all manner of updated devices. The front foyer and, indeed,
most of the first floor’s original floor plan has remained intact. A
covered porch circles the north, east, and west sides of the house.
Leaded glass frames the front door, rumored to be made from timber from
Captain Block’s scuttled Contemporaneous. The entranceway features an
inlaid marble foyer made from the first shipment of cargo to New Jericho
on the completed Transcontinental Railroad: white marble from the
quarries in Danbury, Vermont. An oaken staircase leads to the upper
floors. But underneath the staircase, hidden behind an inlaid bookcase,
is the access to the sub-basements that house training rooms,
gymnasiums, the arcade, and The Redeemers’ personal Blockbuster
The second floor is the administration offices and the relatively
Spartan quarters for the support staff, while the third and fourth
floors are reserved for The Redeemers themselves. While these rooms have
not been glimpsed by many outsiders, Saturn Red’s quarters are said to
feature a plush, vibrating bed in the shape of his costume’s logo.
Strangely, there are skylights in every fourth floor room.
o Sabotage accidentally shoots and paralyzes an innocent bystander
during one of the Redeemers’ “publicity stunts.” If she’s such a perfect
marksman, how does this happen? How does she deal with the fact that
she’s harmed a citizen she’s sworn to protect?
o The Great Vargas should be a recurring villain. Bitter about losing
the top spot to the handsome Saturn Red, Vargas will use his mastery of
robotics to stymie the Redeemers every chance he gets. He began with
Metal-Urge, a massive, hulking robot of raw power and brute strength.
The Redeemers fought him to a draw, holding their position until Saturn
Red was able to overcome him. This was one of their first unstaged, that
is, “real” battles. Periodically, he seemingly returns from the “dead”
to harass the Redeemers with a bold new robotic menace.
o Saturn Red, promiscuous as he is, should be confronted with multiple
paternity suits. In fact, this could be his slang for all lawyers:
o The Redeemers could uncover a hidden alien doomsday device, dormant
since World War II, which they accidentally activate while screwing
around with it. Unable or unwilling to deal with the threat, they seek
out the early hyper-gene recipients, The Thirty-eight Second Man and The
American Way. The story could be told in parallel, with the young agents
in WWII setting up the story, and then helping the Redeemers deal with
the ramifications in the present. Of course, both teams would be
alternately helped and hindered by the time-travelling Troublemaker.
o It could be revealed that every time Deadbolt uses his electrical
powers, he loses a memory or a simple ability. It then becomes a major
issue how willing he is to put the lives and safety of others above his
o Buzzbomb scavenges parts from a failed Vargas construct, Venus Blue,
and incorporates the devices into his armor. The suit gains a limited
awareness and Billy has to fight to control his own suit from within,
without endangering New Jericho and her innocent citizens.
o Troublemaker allies herself more strongly to this time in general and
to the Redeemers in particular. This builds to a cross-time
confrontation with other versions of herself, as well as a battle royale
with Law and his forces.
o Rush negotiates a hostage crisis in the local mall. Barred from using
her powers, because of the threat of mayhem if she powers up indoors,
she’s forced to provide medical aid to the terrorists.
o Teen Squeeze offers a “Win a date with Saturn Red” contest, and the
winner would rather spend the time with the socially inept Buzzbomb,
much to the chagrin of Saturn Red and Rush. Many wacky hi-jinks ensue…
…except, you know, they didn’t. As far as I know, nothing’s going on
with Casual Heroes, and it’s too bad. I quite liked the world
they lived in, even though it really only ever existed in this bible.
Sometimes corporate comics just don’t give the baby enough nutrition.
Hey, and if anyone knows how to get a hold of Chris Jordan, let me know
at the address below.
Email about this column should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Of course, most answers to simple questions you may have about me or my company can be gleaned from http://www.ait-planetlar.com.
While you can get your news about the funny books all over the Internet, I usually make it a point to let slip at least one bit of information at the Loose Cannon Message Board that I post nowhere else.