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Super, Part 6    (read Super from the beginning...)
by david   March 16, 2006

superhero One floor down I reach out to push the "stop" button to give myself time to change, then I think better of it. I look at the maintenance hatch in the ceiling, and at the camera mounted next to it. The camera is bogus -- I checked it when I was scoping out the building before my first meeting with Alex. Apparently his uncle is too cheap to put in a working security cam -- this one is just for show. Initially I'd thought I would fly up to the building and enter his office through a window -- dramatically, you know. But the windows of his office are all sealed shut -- his uncle had had some trouble with a couple of previous tenants jumping or falling or something. Plus, as Jennie pointed out, I probably don't want anyone seeing Providence, in full costume, anywhere near that office, and eleven stories is just close enough to the street that someone might notice.

I float up to the hatch and push it open. It clangs to the roof of the car. I fly up through it, and close it just as the elevator slows to a stop. The bell dings and I hear the doors open on what, according to the numbers I can read in the dim light of the elevator shaft, must be the ninth floor. I hear a couple of people talking as they get on, the sound of the doors closing. The elevator jolts a little and starts moving downward away from me. I watch it fall away in the dim orange of the shaft lights.

I drift upward casually. When I reach the door marked "11," I pause and listen. I'm not certain what I'm expecting to hear, but it doesn't matter because there's no sound from the other side, at least not anything loud enough to rise above the whine of the elevator cables. Maybe Alex is taking a post-lunch nap. I push away from the door and continue to the top of the elevator shaft. At the top, just below the lift mechanisms (I can't pretend to know how elevators work, but there's like a giant pulley and a bunch of hoses and things) is a door, just as I'd hoped. I jiggle the handle. It's locked. I put my shoulder against it and easily pop it open.

I step out onto the roof and shut the door behind me. The lock is broken, but it still latches. The Los Angeles early afternoon sun is beating down on the tarred roof. Apart from a couple of antennas and vent covers, there's really nothing up here. A slim decorative spire extends another 25 feet or so above the elevator door. I check the door one more time, to make certain it'll stay latched, and I make a note to remember that this is probably an easier way in than the elevator game I usually play. Then I shoot straight up into the air, fast as I can fly, until I'm high enough that folks on the ground won't be able to tell the difference between me and a bird.

I relax then, and slow down, drifting among the clouds. I remember I need to call Jennie, see how it went with her boss. She's giving her notice, after getting a call from her agent last last night, confirming that her show had indeed been picked up by the WB, and that a couple of pilot re-shoots would be happening next week, to be followed in short-order by five more episodes. She was bouncing off the walls all night -- we both were, calling everyone we know, waking her parents in Iowa, screaming the good news at anyone who would listen. A bottle of wine, a long round of celebratory sex, and she finally fell asleep around 4AM. I slipped into my uniform and went out for a couple of hours or so, but I was pretty tired and my heart just wasn't in it. Besides, I circled around the near-Valley a few times, and everything was pretty quiet. On my way back home I saw a teenaged girl in a gigantic sloppy jersey spraying "hopperchix" on the side of an abandoned restaurant in North Hollywood. I landed behind her and tapped her on the shoulder. She dropped the can and bolted, but I didn't follow -- scaring her was probably enough, I figured. I just picked up the spray can and continued home.

I started thinking about the book, trying to put things in order in my mind, brainstorming for the umteenth time what my through-line, the thesis, would be. Rapidly, my mind shifted to what Alex had said about a supervillain. He was right, of course -- a high-profile nemesis, powered or not (but even better if he was powered), was the number one best way to gain cache in the superhero business. And it's not like I haven't thought about this before. A lot. But there are, as far as I've ever been able to figure out, only two real ways to land an arch-enemy. The first is to grow very close someone, a childhood friend, lover, maybe a relative, and then somehow, intentionally or otherwise, betray him/her (or do something which makes him/her believe you've betrayed him/her). Provided that he/she is also powered (or highly skilled in some useful way) and inclined to irrational acts of vengeance and destruction, you've got a good chance of creating an arch-enemy. Typically, the kind of radical emotion that leads to such a transformation can only be found in adolescents and the mentally unstable. Since I've a good relationship with my brother (he actually helped make my uniforms), I didn't really have any close high school friends, I've only had two serious girlfriends ever, I'm now married and I'm over thirty, I think the chances of a naturally occurring nemesis are small.

The other typical method of creating an arch-enemy is a little more straight-forward. You find a high-powered, well-known (or up and coming) baddie, and you go after him. You cause him or his organization enough trouble that he has no choice but to make destroying you his number one priority. Creating a nemesis this way usually requires a sort of specific, obsessive single-mindedness on the part of the hero which is typically the result of some serious trauma -- parents or loved ones killed by the baddie, etc. Apart from my grandfather, I've never even had someone I'm close to die, much less be murdered. What's more, once you pick the bad guy you are going to try to take down, you've gotta figure out how to get to him. Since they guy has to be high-profile in order to make the whole nemesis thing work, getting to him usually requires a certain amount of detective skill, police cooperation, gadgets and resources. I've got some skill in investigation -- I studied journalism and criminal justice in school, and went to police academy after, but that's all. I've got my brother in Eugene to help with some tech stuff (he's a chemist -- chemistry professor, actually -- and designed the ceramic composite material which lines the upper-torso of my uniform), but I just don't have access to any of the high-tech crime-fighting tools the better-supported heroes rely upon.

On top of all that, having an arch enemy brings with it one important thing, besides notoriety and sense of superheroic purpose: danger. Serious, cold-sweats, fear for loved-ones, I-could-really-die-here danger. I mean, there's obviously a certain danger in nabbing car-jackers and drug dealers (I'm not bullet-proof, after all), and I've had a scuffle or two with some serious hard guys -- gang bangers and ninjas and stuff. But I've never experienced the pervasive, recurring, bone-shaking fear of death that I'm sure, say, Spiderman goes through every time he hears the sound of that Goblin Glider. I mean, if the proposed nemesis was someone truly bad, you know, a real danger to humanity, I'd go all out in trying to get rid of him, whatever the risk. I like to think I'd rise to the challenge, you know, find a depth of courage I didn't know I had. But I don't know if I really wanna find out.

I shake my head, and find that I've drifted much higher than I meant to. It's so easy to get caught up in Alex's crap. The book is important to me, but I need to get my head in the game, remember why I'm doing this. I drop just below the clouds to get my bearings, and point myself toward south-central.

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