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Issue #45

CASUAL HEROES

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…

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Introduction

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.

Generation X.

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."

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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?

Like this...

The Skinny

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.

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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.

Democracy reigns.

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 asecret mention of Operation: Trumpet in the White House basement. Hequickly scans the documents and causes the hyper-gene venture to bere-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-loudCulture 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" afterthe elder Vargas' beloved uncle in the old country, initially respondswell to the application of the hyper-gene effect. Young Vargas receiveda fourfold increase in general intelligence, and his specific aptitudefor mechanical construction increases by an order of magnitude. Thissuccess prompts Vargas the elder to massage the hyper-gene effect. Hefinally realizes Reagan's dream of a team of super-powered protectors ofAmerica, and a return to the patriotic glory days.

However.

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:

"Whatever."

They are, after all, a product of their times.

They're slackers.

Meanwhile, young Vargas' DNA starts to reject the hyper-gene.

As Fate would have it, the increase in measurable intellect has anadverse effect on his person. Wunderbar "ages" rapidly, exhibiting thephysical form of a man three times his chronological age.

As he masters the complex sciences of artificial intelligence androbotics, his skin turns a sallow green.

He develops myopia.

Never a hit at parties, saddled with a silly family name, AND nowappearing around sixty years old and green to boot, Wunderbar Vargas cannot get a date.

This makes him mad.

Wunderbar, now calling himself "The Great Vargas," vows vengeanceagainst his father for applying a corrupted version of the hyper-geneeffect and vengeance against those who benefitted from the superiorprocess. The Great Vargas refuses to let his father be redeemed by hissuccess with the perfected hyper-gene process, and vows to destroy hisfather's team of mystery teens.

Our Heroes

The six teens code-named by the government are:

Saturn Red is the laid-back leader of "The Redeemers," the namethey've taken in honor of the elder Vargas' success. He tries to playthe role of a good super hero, but he's too jaded to really be aninspiration to the kids back home. All he's looking for is a few goodendorsement contracts, a soft place to sleep at night and a soft babe toshare it with.

Art GalleryUnpublished work from Casual Heroes. Click the images to enlarge.An interior page from #2 by Kevin McCarthy.Art by Chris Jordan from the beginning of issue #3.Art by Matt Smith from the end of issue #3.Art by Jay Stephens. Was to be the cover to issue #4.Art by Kevin McCarthy. Venus Blue, a robotic counterpoint to Saturn Red, was to be the villainess in issue #4.

His hyper-gene power is, at first blush (so to speak), a bit silly. Hehas independent control over his own pheromones. Oh, sure, that's notmuch good in a battle with a super villain, but he's never home watchingCOPS 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 Divisionof the government, the Rings (worn as wrist gauntlets) allow him tocoalesce free radical hydronium ions (H3O) from the atmosphere, stripthe extra hydrogen electron from orbit around the di-hydrogen oxidemolecule and focus the resultant energy cascade into a truck-stoppingburst 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 ofrecycling scavengers, now is a master of electricity. He's able tomarshal all forms of electrical energy and focus it as precise blastsfrom his hands. This has the sometimes not altogether unpleasant sideeffect 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 amystery to even those she allies herself with. Her detached air ofindifference is a result of her ability to travel through time. She hasno vested interest in the "present" because it's all already happenedfrom her point of view.

Her ability to access all human knowledge makes her appear as a bit of aknow-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 innateunderstanding of geometrical relationships. Just by looking at a movingtarget, 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 actionof 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. Thisallows her access to an almost unlimited energy source. The potentialenergy stored by construction workers building, say, a skyscraper, isan untapped well of energy waiting for Rush to unleash in concussiveblasts. She is the member of the Redeemers that trains most seriously tocontrol and fine-tune her powers.

She pays her taxes well before April 15 and has never been locked out ofher car.

Buzzbomb is Rush's younger brother. He was a recipient of thehyper-gene effect, but it did not activate any latent abilities. Becauseof the intense sibling rivalry he shares with Rush, Billy needed to jointhe Redeemers. With no super-powers of his own, he supplied plans for astrength-increasing exo-skeleton to the United States government inexchange for a copy of the suit and the chance to join his sister on NewJericho's team of super-heroes.

Billy has a full set of Saturn Red and the Redeemers action figures.

...Without Whom...

Here are the names and vital statistics of a few of the Casual Heroes'supporting characters:

Shirley is a Miss Moneypenny-type. She's the major domo of theHall of Redemption, the Redeemers' headquarters. She's almost 40, oldenough to be considered "Mom" by some of the Redeemers, but young enoughfor there to be sparks with Saturn Red. She hides herjealousy/disapproval from him behind a mask of professionalism. Hercareer as curator of the North Street Museum was cut short whenPresident Clinton personally asked her to administrate the Redeemers'headquarters. The Hall of Redemption was provided for by Executive Orderof the Clinton administration and executed at the local level by mayoraldecree of

Robert Vixon, Mayor of New Jericho. A former militant hippie, thefifty-ish Mayor Vixon rules the back room machinations of the NewJericho political scene with the fervor that only a political zealot canmuster. Mayor Vixon tolerates the presence of The Redeemers in his citybecause, although their methods are unorthodox, their attitude flippant,and their haircuts unruly, they definitely bring a spark of the daringto the city. Besides, tourism has been increased by over 200% since thearrival of The Redeemers. Statistics like that always look good atelection time, and Vixon traces his re-election in the last racedirectly to his endorsement by Saturn Red. This sticks a bit in Vixon'scraw, and colors his judgment when dealing with his home-town heroes. Aman 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. Aformer boxer and cabbie on the mean streets of New Jericho when it was agoing industrial concern, the broken-nosed lug has a hard time believingthe town he grew up in is now a bustling metropolis, sporting its ownteam of super heroes. At first reluctant to embrace the team, Kapcheckand his men have been bailed out by The Redeemers so often that the NJPDhas developed a grudging respect for the mystery teens. He has more of aproblem with the government-supplied "manager" of The Redeemers, LouisSt. Louis and his government-sponsored WALL troops (see below). Kapchecksees Louis as a fop and a liar. During the last election, Louis informedthe Chief that fully three-quarters of the "crimes" The Redeemers hadfoiled were merely publicity stunts staged to gain notoriety for theteam. An honest joe, Joe believes in The Redeemers rather more than heshould. Kapcheck gives most everyone an even break, but even he has hislimits. 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 ifJoan Collins were to portray her in a nice docu-drama about thehardships of wealthy socialites. The Andhors family traces their NewJerichoan lineage back to the Walker/Hayes expedition that discoveredCornet Bay and founded the first New Jericho settlement. The Andhors'name causes a shudder through the consciences of New Jericho's saintsand sinners alike. Trying to separate herself from her privilegedbeginnings, Madonna's eldest daughter by her third husband

Leslie LaForge, is a respected journalist and on-air news anchorfor New Jericho's most-watched station, KMWR. Her import and influenceon the impressionable New Jericho youth is not lost on her, and herposition as journalist and arbiter of taste for her peers is definitelynot lost on her. Here is a woman that craves attention and the limelightjust as her mother does, but has the wherewithal to take herresponsibility seriously. Deadbolt of the Redeemers has got a thing forher, but she feels that the electricity she feels from him is amanifestation of his paranormal abilities and not an honest attractionfor him. Suspecting, rightly, that the Redeemers are super-poweredshams, she constantly is trying to turn up evidence that the menacesthey face are not true dangers but merely publicity stunts designed tokeep The Redeemers in the public eye. There's nothing like stopping abank robbery and an appearance on the nightly news to drive up sales ofRedeemers T-shirts and increase fan club applications. Her relentlessdrive to expose the Redeemers' crass commercialism often puts her indirect conflict with

Louis St. Louis, part government agent, part Hollywood agent,and all ponytail. Louis is in charge of babysitting the Redeemers in thefield, making sure that their promotional appearances go as planned.When things get out of hand, Louis can call on elite government WALLtroops. WALL stands for Watching After Life and Liberty. They are agung-ho band of armor plated, bazooka-carrying "problem solvers." Theydon't put much stock in these nancy-boy super-heroics. There's nothingthey can't solve with a few well-placed shots, if only Louis would letthem. Washed out of WALL (and Louis' former college roommate for threesemesters)

Shankar has found himself in the employ of The Great Vargas.Perhaps because he was not ever one of the first chosen for kickball atrecess, too, Shankar has developed a fierce loyalty towards The GreatVargas and shields him from the vagaries of life as well as from theunthinking comments of neighborhood children and the incessant callsfrom telephone solicitors so Vargas can continue his work in robotics.Shankar feels Vargas' jealousy and mistrust of Saturn Red (who, afterall, took his "rightful" place as leader of his father's band ofsuper-heroes) is a bit unfounded. But like Androcles and the Lion,Shankar would defend Vargas against the world, even though that pathmight lead him to madness or frustration. Shankar's great aunt and herbest friend are

Sophie and Mary Ellen, two of New Jericho's most colorfulcharacters. These two old ladies, in their dotage, are omnipresent atany happening of import in the city. They are a voice of silliness inthe 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 thewestern coast of the North American continent in 1780.

Although losing almost a full third of their men and supplies whilenavigating the Straits of Magellan in the winter of 1782, the Walker andHayes expedition nevertheless sailed triumphantly into Cornet Bay in1784 and set up the first white settlement in the protected cove in anattempt 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 determinedby modern scholars to have been at least 6.5 on the Richter scale)destroyed the makeshift camp and stranded the Walker-Hayes shipEdification on a sandy shoal. A later storm hulled the ship before itcould be re-floated and marooned the expedition a continent away fromhome and hearth.

Hardy pioneers all, Walker and Hayes convinced their men to use salvagedtimbers from the Edification to construct a permanent settlement. Theyrebuilt their camp and began aggressive trading with local NaknivaIndians to replace lost supplies. Thirteen years later, when CaptainRobert Block and the crew of the Contemporaneous retraced the assumedroute of the Walker and Hayes expedition, they discovered, in 1797, athriving town named "New Jericho" on the hills overlooking Cornet Bay.

It is this hardy pioneer spirit that is still evident in the populationof New Jericho today.

The transition of New Jericho from 18th century trading village to 21stcentury cutting-edge metropolis was not without hardship. In the overtwo hundred year history of the city, it has been razed and rebuiltthree times. "The walls keep tumblin' down, man," said jazz impresarioCrazy Ed Broeder after the last great earthquake in 1933, "but as longas there are folks, there'll be a New Jericho."

New Jericho is built on a seismically unstable peninsula. Its presentpopulation is about 600,000. The downtown section is a typical mishmashof conflicting architectural styles, but the central, open Green isdominated by the Greek revival monstrosity that is the City Hall. Itslooming facade is gritty with the patina of age and bears the marks ofNew Jericho's former position as a leading industrial city. The Greensports a raised bandstand at one end that would look more at home on avillage green of a small New England town than downtown in one of theWest Coast's oldest cities. A mid-size reflecting pool adorns the farend, and bears a statue of two haggard pioneers, gazing off into thedistance. These two are, of course, Walker and Hayes. In an ironictwist, when the statue was first placed, the two pioneers appeared to belooking out across the bay. Now, at the advent of the 21st century, amodern skyscraper blocks their "view," and they seem to be lookingstraight into the offices of Leslie LaForge at KMWR.

North of downtown is the chaotic frenzy of Canadatown, where burlyFrench-Canadians settled after organizing a going lumber concern in themid 1800s. After a brief hiatus when New Jericho seceded from the Unionand the Confederacy during the Civil War, the Canadatown lumberjackswere rivaled only by the San Francisco gold miners in sheer wealth andpower. Now, Canadatown is the hip part of town where young urbanprofessionals have taken over the solidly built townhouses and shops andconverted 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 andconstructional 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 ofthe 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 namedfor one of New Jericho's favorite sons: the first modern independentPresidential candidate, John Meehan. Ironically, Meehan was unable tocontinue his run for the 1928 Presidential nomination because he was hitby a rumrunner smuggling bootleg liquor. A brooding and apologeticpopulace named the main boulevard after him.

While there are many quaint residential neighborhoods scatteredthroughout New Jericho (including the posh and tony Rocky Point), thelatest to be taken over by writers and Starbuck's franchises isCathedral Hill. Coincidentally, this is where the famous landmark NorthStreet Museum was situated. A stately Victorian, the former "lumberrush" hotel had been turned into a museum celebrating the colorfulhistory of New Jericho. Instead of opting to fund a new set of exhibits,however, the Clinton administration had been made aware of the facilityin early 1993 by the National Endowment for the Arts and deemed thelocation perfect for the hyper-gene recipients to use as theirheadquarters. With the addition of top secret improvements (explainedaway as "seismic retro-fitting"), Saturn Red and the Redeemers were ableto begin their government-sponsored national protection/media onslaught.

Newly renamed the "Hall of Redemption," the stately Victorian looks likemany of the other buildings built for the families of the Canadatownbosses. Unlike the shanty-like rowhouses built for the lumberjacks andtheir families, the Edwardian and Victorian homes on the other side ofthe city were built to be lasting monuments to an ornate age. With thegovernment-ordered "improvements," however, the old Victorian became awonder of modern design. While leaving the outer shell of the originalbuilding intact, government specialists outfitted the inner core of themansion with all manner of updated devices. The front foyer and, indeed,most of the first floor's original floor plan has remained intact. Acovered porch circles the north, east, and west sides of the house.Leaded glass frames the front door, rumored to be made from timber fromCaptain Block's scuttled Contemporaneous. The entranceway features aninlaid marble foyer made from the first shipment of cargo to New Jerichoon the completed Transcontinental Railroad: white marble from thequarries in Danbury, Vermont. An oaken staircase leads to the upperfloors. 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 Blockbusterfranchise.

The second floor is the administration offices and the relativelySpartan quarters for the support staff, while the third and fourthfloors are reserved for The Redeemers themselves. While these rooms havenot been glimpsed by many outsiders, Saturn Red's quarters are said tofeature a plush, vibrating bed in the shape of his costume's logo.

Strangely, there are skylights in every fourth floor room.

Springboards

o Sabotage accidentally shoots and paralyzes an innocent bystanderduring one of the Redeemers' "publicity stunts." If she's such a perfectmarksman, how does this happen? How does she deal with the fact thatshe's harmed a citizen she's sworn to protect?

o The Great Vargas should be a recurring villain. Bitter about losingthe top spot to the handsome Saturn Red, Vargas will use his mastery ofrobotics to stymie the Redeemers every chance he gets. He began withMetal-Urge, a massive, hulking robot of raw power and brute strength.The Redeemers fought him to a draw, holding their position until SaturnRed was able to overcome him. This was one of their first unstaged, thatis, "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 multiplepaternity suits. In fact, this could be his slang for all lawyers:"Paternity Suits."

o The Redeemers could uncover a hidden alien doomsday device, dormantsince World War II, which they accidentally activate while screwingaround with it. Unable or unwilling to deal with the threat, they seekout the early hyper-gene recipients, The Thirty-eight Second Man and TheAmerican Way. The story could be told in parallel, with the young agentsin WWII setting up the story, and then helping the Redeemers deal withthe ramifications in the present. Of course, both teams would bealternately helped and hindered by the time-travelling Troublemaker.

o It could be revealed that every time Deadbolt uses his electricalpowers, he loses a memory or a simple ability. It then becomes a majorissue how willing he is to put the lives and safety of others above hisown well-being.

o Buzzbomb scavenges parts from a failed Vargas construct, Venus Blue,and incorporates the devices into his armor. The suit gains a limitedawareness 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 andto the Redeemers in particular. This builds to a cross-timeconfrontation with other versions of herself, as well as a battle royalewith Law and his forces.

o Rush negotiates a hostage crisis in the local mall. Barred from usingher 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 thewinner 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 onwith Casual Heroes, and it's too bad. I quite liked the worldthey 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 knowat the address below.

Email about this column should be sent to larry@comicbookresources.com.

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.

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