Stuff I’ll Do When I Grow Up-Rise and Fall (Part Three: The Underdogs)
So with the antagonists and the setting in motion, who or what is left there to pick up the pieces and keep on going? What are they fighting for? Who could possibly be ballsy (or mad) enough to go up against beings like Titan or Roland Vadus (or Hell, even the living city of Carcossa)?
To know that, we need to once again look into Rise and Fall’s history, but this time try to pay attention at the little things, the side-characters that have dwelt in the shadow of Sentinel and the movers and shakers of the world; at the people who, while superhuman, may barely make the cut.
I’m talking about…
|Dealing with whatever Sentinel can’t be arsed to deal with, since 1972|
The Frontliners were created as a backup organization to the Sentinel, mostly consisting of reserve members, as members to be called upon in the event of a global crisis, such as another Cosmic Conjencture.
Unlike Sentinel, however, the Frontliners have neither ever caught the public eye or become a superpower on their own accord, or even threatened to bring about World War 3
|There are rumors however, of a force of superhumans that served to halt the Gulf War, but such hearsay is completely unfounded.|
If anything, the Frontliners have always been considered the team that’s sent to pick up the pieces and deal with less-than-global threats. While this has given them free reign (in comparison to the Sentinel, who have been under constant diplomatic scrutiny since day one), it has also deprived them of a budget, headquarters and pretty much all the cool shit that makes a superhero team what it’s supposed to be
i.e. bitches, bling and invisible trans-orbitalsatellites.
The Frontliners have held their ground against cosmic threats and have made their way (in various incarnations) all the way to the present day. They are, also, the single surviving team of superhumans in this post-OverMan world, fighting the good fight in the shadows or somewhere just on the fringes of the limelight.
|“And on a more lighthearted note, the city of Osaka was saved from a nuclear behemoth today, thanks to the Frontliners. Up next: Snippy, the terrier escape-artist!”|
It’s this lack of recognition that has caused most of the problems in the Frontliners’ setup and overall execution of their duties. Sure, some of them are in it for the guts, but there’s gotta be a little glory-bacon somewhere in that shit sandwich, right?
The short answer is no.
The long answer is: no, not just yet…
You see, the Frontliners (inglorious and publicly unappealing bastards as they are) are Rise and Fall’s protagonists. They’re superpowered gnats, set to stem the tide of change that is to come, for the good of their fellow men. Do they have a chance? Maybe, if narrative necessity so dictates. Are they making the right choice? Are they even on the right side of the tracks?
That’s for you, the reader, to decide. But for now, here’s the current make-up of the Frontliners, circa 2012:
|They Keymaster, showing off his Mark VI Megatoolbox|
Jason Jones lived a boring, normal suburban life until his 8th birthday, when his Lil’ Helper microwave oven started talking to him. Once the screaming fit had passed, Jason realized that the dishwasher and his fridge were also trying to butt in. Without his knowledge, Jason had stumbled into his superpower: an inherent knowledge of the secret language of machines.
It was this knowledge that allowed him to learn the secrets that were hidden even from the original inventors and traverse into the mysterious world of metal, awash in electric lifeblood. He did of course maintain the façade of Jason Jones, boring old IT guy during the 70’s, but his real dream was to become a real, honest-to-God superhero.
Jason set up the Frontliners as a means to create a team that would draw Sentinel’s eye. Then, after the Second Conjecture, as a back-up global defense force. Then, as a last resort in case of an actual global catastrophe and finally, as a weekend superhero club that occasionally got to do stuff.
And that’s his other power: mind-boggling optimism. Jason has made many enemies, very few friends and a serious mistake when he decided to cheat on his college sweetheart and mother of his children Judy Jones, with his chief adversary, EMP.
This, of course, left him a lonely divorcee who has to take care of his kids while putting up with his ex-nemesis girlfriend, but what is he gonna do, give up on his dream?
Nope. Jason took on the mantle of a superhero and he’s gonna stick to it, come what may. So he doesn’t have any UN funding and is forced to work for a security firm, installing counter-superhuman security measures. Pfft. Long as it pays the rent, he’s golden.
Keymaster’s a dreamer. This wilting of the superhuman culture has hardly fazed him and maybe that’s why he keeps on trucking. Or who knows, it could just be plain old denial.
Brick the Zombie:
|Brick the Zombie and his trusty sidekick; Balor, lord of the faerie.|
The very first human-engineered superhuman in the history of 1-Gamma, Brick is equally composed of parts German, American and French, with a brain extracted from a Swiss madman.
Originally dubbed project CHAMPION, Brick was composed of the harvested limbs and organs of dead World War One soldiers, reinforced with spare parts from disassembled British Mark V tanks. The process of reanimation was handled by Klauss Von Schrausswitz, who later became Brick’s principle nemesis, Dr. Mortuus.
Brick got his moniker during the initial military testing, when one of the soldiers described him as ‘a brick shithouse’. The name, despite any and all urgings by British Army Command, stuck and project CHAMPION came to be known as Brick the Zombie.
Brick began his career in 1918, as a covert operative for MI5’s paranormal prevention department, when he was sent in the Irish Ley Line reality Fault, entering a sideways reality where the court of the Faerie plotted the destruction of humanity. It was there that Brick (out of virtue of his single-mindedness and the fact that he was kinda dead already) beat the great lord Balor in dream combat and forced him to follow him as a hostage in 1-Gamma.
Since then, Brick has resurfaced as a member of the Frontliners, but has mostly remained in the shadows. It wasn’t until 1981, months before the Second Cosmic Conjencture, that Brick was enlisted by Jason Jones in the Frontliners.
Unyielding and a great listener, Brick the Zombie is the unbroken monolith that somehow keeps the Frontliners going.
Bjorn Olaffson, The Marauder:
|Son of Erik Olafsson, pillager of Venus and Warlord of Saturn.|
Bjorn Olafsson was busy pillaging the coasts of Europe back in the glory days on his drakkar “Whale Blood”, when a Sotharian space-ship abducted him and his crew for unauthorized testing.
Bjorn and his men, fueled by outrage and hateful of their four-eyes, spindly-armed captors, escaped and slaughtered the crew as it was crossing LaGrange space. Unfortunately, the ship’s reactor core had at that point been damaged by a stray axe, which caused the ship to be exposed to cosmic radiation.
Bjorn, along with his crew became infused with the strange powers. Tougher than a tank, stronger than two coked-up elephants and able to spit radioactive fire, the crew of “Whale Blood” took to pillaging the Solar System, locking horns with Sentinel during the 70’s.
But when superhumanity gave up, Bjorn found himself lost and without direction. Jason Jones is the only superhuman (in his eyes at least) with any spine left, who chooses to fight the good fight when his more prodigious comrades have given up.
Katja Wolfram, the Bastard:
Born of Aleksei, father to the current Titan and a mortal woman, Katja Wolfram has always been considered the rotten branch of the family tree. Impure of blood, lacking in power (in comparison to her half-brother) and an impossible little scrapper, she’s always dwelt in the fringes of the superhuman community.
A valuable asset to the Infinity Squad, Katja always went the extra mile and stuck her head in impossible situations, if only to make up the disdain from the Titan family.
It wasn’t until the 80’s when her contribution to the Frontliners during the Second Cosmic Conjencture, that Jason Jones practically begged her to join the Frontliners. Loving her new position as a heavy-hitter for a superhero team, Katja has given the Frontliners her all.
Garag, Hell’s Pup
|Garag in camouflage|
Exiled from Hell for as-yet-unknown reasons, Garag left the abode of his fathers before him to seek his fortune on 1-Gamma. He found Jason Jones during the 70’s, disguising himself as a cute puppy, escorting him in his adventures as the Keymaster’s best Bud.
It wasn’t until 1975, during a freak imbalance in Garag’s shifting humors due to onset of puberty that his true form was accidentally revealed.
|Garag’s true form.|
Garag is the son of Cerberus, guardian to the gates of Hell and Jason’s best friend in the whole world. He’s the Frontliner’s most avid member and the fiercest among them by far. Sure, he might shapechange into a hobo and go off to God knows where for months on end, but he always comes back for Jason and the Frontliners.
|Part villain, part hero, wholy harmful to machinery.|
EMP was always a strange case. Born on 5-Beta by superhuman parents, her powers involved a crude manipulation of magnetism and some capability with electrokinesis. Despite constant attempts to tame her powers during her teens, EMP failed to become accepte din any of her continuum’s superhuman teams and instead joined the Infinity Squad on their treks through the multiverse.
EMP entered 1-Gamma in the final days of the Second Cosmic Conjencture. Her powers proved immeasurably useful against the Von Neumann machines and she was offered a place among the Sentinel. It was through them that she met the Keymaster and their love-hate relationship began to blossom.
As EMP saw the Sentinel tear itself apart in the 90’s, she decided to join Kuan Yi’s side in the conflict and gave up on the team after the Georgia incident. She turned to villainy, working with Dr. Tyrannus and Roland Vadus for years, before she eventually gave up as well and decided to settle for a cushy job at a bank. It was there that she re-acquainted herself with the Keymaster (in more ways than one) and finally joined the Frontliners, both from an actual need to get back in the field and a little bit of romantic necessity.
EMP is the level-headed, slightly pessimistic bastard that counters and fills in the blanks that the Keymaster’s optimism plain old can’t. She fights dirty, but every superhuman team needs a borderline bad guy, right?
So what’s the deal, guv’nor?
Why thank you, misquoted Groucho Marx…
Well, the long and short of it is, as I said in the previous installments of the series, that a small group of superhumans wants to turn the whimper of superhuman irrelevance into a bang, in an attempt to become relevant once again.
But how could they achieve that, unless there’s a great enough catastrophe? They sure as hell ain’t gonna wait another ten years for that shit. So what are they going to do instead?
Why, generate a crisis of their very own!
Imagine, if you will, beings that are old, immeasurably powerful or resourceful and fatally bored. Imagine them seeking a way to return to the glory days, to the times of constant struggle and petty conflict across the Universes and the cosmos. But to do that, they need to first prove that mankind’s failsafes are impotent before a large enough threat.
And what threat would be as great as a Fourth Cosmic Conjencture?
A disaster made by superhumans, for superhumans.
It wouldn’t take too much: a careful planning and pre-set terrorist attacks by supervillain masterminds like Roland Vadus. A carefully leaked propaganda video or even a slight failure in the defense systems of Carcossa. Anything that would make human authorities realize that they are in direct peril.
Couple that with a few staged attacks and mock battles between superhumans and you’ve got yourself a plan that will get them back on the map! In six months’ time, it’ll be the 80’s all over again!
Or is it?
When Dr. Tyrannus visits Jason Jones in his humble abode and tell Keymaster of the Plan “me and the guys came up with”, he realizes that the world is about to be swept up in a conspiracy. Knowing that he cannot (will not) allow this to pass, no matter the cost, he assembles the Frontliners to put a stop to it once and for all!
Imagine, if you will, a 180-page epic, where the runts of Rise and Fall’s Universe clash with superheroes and supervillains alike, fighting to sway both public opinion and to cease the machinations of a group of bored gods.
Think of a story where an entire Universe is set in peril because of the hubris of the near-gods and where the OverMan fights against himself for the sake of vanity on one hand and justice at the other.
Imagine Space Vikings fighting Titan in orbit round Venus and the clash of the world’s greatest technical geniuses in a bout to the death.
And now imagine everything going wrong in every which way possible at the same time.
You know, it's odd and also liberating to have been able to put this thing down in any cohesive order. Rise and Fall has always been one of those things I wanted to write since I was young: a superhero story that was (more or less) entirely my own.
Maybe the details and plot points or the characters didn't blow your mind. But what's important is that you stuck through and you read through this and even if you hated it, you invested some time to read about some aspiring author's fever dream.
And for that, I thank you.
ON A RELATED NOTE:
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