Wednesday, December 28, 2011


Where were you when the superheroes came? It was a decade in which they seemed to explode onto the scene and disappear just as abruptly. It was the appearance of the Flash, whom sources later identified as Jay Garrick, that truly made everyone think of Greek myth, given that his distinctive helmet evoked the messenger god Hermes, and because they were both speedy it seemed to fit perfectly. It was antiquities collector Carter Hall, however, who really complicated things, convincing himself that he was the reincarnation of the Egyptian Prince Khufu, donning an elaborate costume to transform himself into Hawkman, babbling about his soul mate Shiera and the evil Hath-Set, whom he called his sworn enemy. We heard about a boy named Johnny Thunder, who was somehow able to summon a mystical being he called Thunderbolt, and then some newsboy called Billy Batson, who seemed to have the scoop on Captain Marvel, who everyone agreed had a striking resemblance to Superman, the truly iconic wonder operating out of Metropolis. Detective Jim Corrigan likewise had a suspect relationship with the Spectre, the so-called spirit of vengeance that seemed to have a knack for ironic justice. Hourman was probably more amusing to the general public, given that he was rumored to be powered only an hour at a time.

Some people seemed more interested in trying to do something about it than others. Lex Luthor was a brilliant scientist who struggled to make sense of the claims some of these heroes were presenting for the origins of their incredible abilities, including the so-called “hard water” that had given Jay Garrick his speed. It was clear, however, that Luthor was more concerned with Superman, who relied less on fantastic and preposterous gimmicks than the continuing claim that he was, in fact, an alien, which was a far more alarming prospect than any terrestrial matter, given that we were all in the thick of a world war, which was at least something Luthor could wrap his head around. As usual, though, if something stirred in Metropolis there was an equal yet opposite reaction in Gotham, and Batman introduced his “boy wonder” sidekick Robin, which was an incredible development that would have more lasting repercussions than any of the more colorful heroes still emerging onto the scene. As if to contrast this, the appearance of Doctor Fate was contrasted with the emerging threats of the Joker and Catwoman, two decidedly human individuals who were among the first of what the media dubbed “supervillains,” what was considered a direct result of the provocation someone like Batman actually represented. Noted film actor Basil Karlo transformed himself into Clayface as if to punctuate these claims.

It was the debut of Green Lantern, Alan Scott, that began to blur the edges still further. His powers were derived from a magic ring that gave him the ability to create whatever he could imagine, something many believed could only be possible if the ring had extra-terrestrial origins, which Scott himself was never able to confirm. Somewhat less speculative and certainly less concrete was Uncle Sam, who was dismissed as a delusional figure who actually believed he was the reincarnation of a Revolutionary War soldier, a sort of strictly American answer to Hawkman.

Given that there were suddenly so many of them, someone realized that it wouldn’t be a bad idea to team up, which is exactly what Spectre, Flash, Hawkman, the existing Sandman, and a couple of smaller-tier heroes like Biff Bronson, Ultra-Man, and Red White & Blue did, tenuously. It didn’t last very long, but it was at least a precedent. The Atom, Al Pratt, soon appeared, and then Red Tornado, a woman who said she was inspired by Green Lantern. Perry White, who had just become editor of the Daily Planet, devoted much of his paper to these heroes, though he put the spotlight thoroughly on Superman. The culmination of all this exposure, and certainly of the basic mutual awareness that they existed, led to the formal inductions into the Justice Society of America of Flash, Atom, Doctor Fate, Green Lantern, Hawkman, Hourman, Sandman, and Spectre, with the noted omission of Johnny Thunder, whose petulant behavior served both to advertise the team and its strict membership guidelines. The government soon took notice, and summoned the Justice Society to provide official service to the country. Still, it was Superman and Batman who received most of the attention, being more mysterious and extraordinary, and perhaps too necessary in their home territories of Metropolis and Gotham, the largest cities in America.

Like Green Lantern, Starman was aided by a special devise, which Ted Knight claimed he’d fashioned himself, while Doctor Mid-Nite fancied himself a superheroic medical professional. Both would end up serving in the Justice Society. The country received more direct support, though, from Blackhawk and Miss America, while Plastic Man, Firebrand, Human Bomb, Mouthpiece, and Phantom Lady all served their own interests. Some people were still thinking about the Flash, though, the first of the superheroes to appear, including Johnny Chambers, who announced that he’d discovered an equation that would give him the same speed as Jay Garrick, and took to calling himself Johnny Quick whenever he recited it. Are you curious? It was 3X2(9YZ)4A. Yeah, it never worked for me, either. I always assumed you had to know your math.

The Star-Spangled Kid and his sidekick Stripesy were easily the most patriotic superheroes to appear since the questionably-sane Uncle Sam, though they engaged in the useful activity of thwarting Nazi spies, months before the country entered the war thanks to Pearl Harbor. Perhaps inspired by them, and maybe Batman and Robin, Green Arrow and Speedy arrived on the scene, while Aquaman emerged from the oceans in what for him must have been convenient timing, since he couldn’t have known so many other gaudily-attired individuals were already fighting crime on dry land. Batman gained a new foe in the Penguin, the first new threat to appear in Gotham in more than a year, but still didn’t think to add to his allies, while that’s exactly what Green Arrow and the Star-Spangled Kid decided when they formed the Seven Soldiers of Victory with Shining Knight, Vigilante, and the Crimson Avenger, who had been engaged in these activities probably longer than anyone. Captain Marvel, meanwhile, welcomed who he called Captain Marvel, Jr. to his family, essentially a younger version of himself.

Perhaps the most sensational debut of the decade was Wonder Woman, who was said to be an ambassador from a tribe of Amazons, sent to “man’s world” to serve as an example for justice. She was greeted by Army captain Steve Trevor and Etta Candy, who agreed to help her make the transition. Terry Sloane and Ted Grant meanwhile, were a pair of athletes who donned costumes to transform into Mister Terrific and Wildcat, respectively; it was never confirmed that they were inspired by Wonder Woman, but once again, a strong Greek influence was hard to deny. Paul Kirk, perhaps by another amazing coincidence, soon turned himself into Manhunter.

In Metropolis, beat cop Jim Harper became the Guardian, and took on a group of orphans as his Newsboy Legion, perhaps as a criticism of the fact that Superman seemed to have overlooked Suicide Slum. There was also Robotman, who was said to have a human brain but otherwise robotic body, and who knows how that happened? Perhaps the street level was exactly where the Man of Steel should have been concentrating, because while he tangled with the Prankster, Batman was once more dealing with some very human threats of his own, including Two-Face and Boss Moroni. The war effort soon found itself supported by Brooklyn, Andre Chavard, Jan Haasen, Alfie Twidgett, and Captain Rip Carter, who formed the Boy Commandos.

Wonder Woman’s presence continued to have a sizable impact, as she soon found herself allied by Green Lantern and Flash, perhaps one of the more notable all-star combinations of the decade. Alfred Pennyworth was an amateur detective, meanwhile, who also happened to serve as a butler to Bruce Wayne, and many times suggested that he may have discovered Batman’s true identity. Maybe it was the distraction of Doctor Psycho, ably handled by Wonder Woman, that prevented his claims from being confirmed. Regardless, she continued to receive most of the attention, and action. While Superman handled another obvious nuisance in Toyman, Wonder Woman handled Cheetah. Green Lantern galvanized his fanbase by reciting what would soon become an iconic oath: “In brightest day, in blackest night, no evil shall escape my sight; let those who worship evil’s might beware my power, Green Lantern’s light!” Perhaps it was just the inspiration he needed to tackle Vandal Savage, who claimed he was immortal. Still, Wonder Woman stole the spotlight again when she battled Giganta. Hard to say how anyone noticed that one!

Perhaps with so much competition, even the best of them started to become frustrated. Superman insisted that he didn’t make up the existence of the transdimensional dwarf he called Mxyzptlk (but then, who would actually invent such an absurd name?), and Green Lantern reported the existence of Solomon Grundy (“born on a Mond’y”), the reanimated corpse of the murdered Cyrus Gold, though he gave most of the credit to hobos (as if that made it more believable). For some reason, Wonder Woman changed her allegiances to Hawkman and Flash. From the heartland, reports began to surface that Superman had been active in Smallville years before he surfaced in Metropolis, so youthful that he had in fact been known as Superboy at the time. As if to justify Wonder Woman’s newfound faith in him, Hawkman tackled Jonathan Cheval, who called himself the Monocle. Neptune Perkins joined Aquaman as a marine-based hero. Perhaps the least-wanted addition to anyone’s associates was Black Adam, who said he was a predecessor of Captain Marvel, but was more of a rival and adversary.

The beginning of the end was ushered by Sandman’s retirement, a move that caught many by surprise, since he seemed to have been around just about longer than anyone. Even Superman wasn’t immune, almost literally, given that he was involved in the first full-blown atomic incident since the end of the war. Maybe it was just a case of reality trying to set in, but it all still seemed too surreal, especially when Tommy Tomorrow became the first person to set foot on Mars, or when Robin shockingly went on his first adventure without Batman, both of which would have not only been unthinkable but considered impossible just a few years earlier. The Wizard and the Gentleman Ghost seemed to take advantage of these circumstances to join the supervillain racket. Maybe that’s why Wonder Woman introduced the world to Wonder Girl, because she sensed the world could use a little comfort, or why people were suddenly interested in Tomahawk, a hero who had been active in a different century. The hapless Johnny Thunder met Dinah Drake and Larry Lance, who were somehow connected to the alluring Black Canary, who took over his territory without much trouble.

Years after the formation of the Justice Society, Vandal Savage and Wizard gathered the Thinker, Gambler, Brain Wave and Per Degaton to form the “Injustice Society,” exactly the opposite of what everyone needed. The Flash also found himself targeted by Thorn, and perhaps it was no surprise that Wonder Woman and the Black Canary had to come to the aid of the Justice Society after all, while Flash again confronted new threats on his own in the form of the Fiddler and Star Sapphire. But he would soon face worse times still. His pal Green Lantern, meanwhile, took on a different kind of sidekick in Streak the Wonder Dog, which raised a lot of eyebrows, but was still better than Johnny Thunder once again being eclipsed, this time by another hero from a bygone era who happened to share the same name. As if sensing the trend, Superman publicly celebrated ten years protecting Metropolis, just to remind everyone of all the good he’d done. And then people started talking about yet another hero from the Old West, this time Nighthawk.

Batman tackled Riddler and the Mad Hatter, two villains who messed with his head, to say the very least, but everyone figured he was up to the challenge. What no one was expecting was the retirement of Jay Garrick; the Flash had apparently run his last race. His friend Alan Scott, the Green Lantern, soon followed him. From Smallville came stories of Supergirl, if anyone wanted some happy tales of times past, a companion for the so-called Superboy. Who knows what they were thinking? Roy Raymond, the “TV detective,” maybe. Even he wouldn’t have wanted to report on the retirement of the Boy Commandos, or the biggest story of the decade, the existence of a substance known as Kryptonite, which was said to have lethal side-effects for Superman. Even though the war was over, casualties continued to be the story of the 1940s, and perhaps all of us were the poorer for it. For a decade that had produced so much magic, the cost was more than anyone could have imagined. Was it all worth it?

Adapted from DC COMICS YEAR BY YEAR: A VISUAL CHRONICLE, based on entries from
FLASH COMICS #1, 64, 66, 86, 88, 89, & 104,
MORE FUN COMICS #52, 55, 71, 73, & 101,
ADVENTURE COMICS #48, 61, 73, & 103,
ACTION COMICS #23, 40, 51, 64, & 101,
DETECTIVE COMICS #38, 40, 58, 66, 140, & 153,
BATMAN #1, 16, & 49,
ALL-AMERICAN COMICS #16, 19, 20, 25, 61, & 100,
ALL STAR COMICS #1, 3, 34, 37, & 38,
SUPERMAN #7, 30, 53, & 61,
STAR SPANGLED COMICS #1, 7, 65, & 69,
WONDER WOMAN #5, 6, 9, & 23,
GREEN LANTERN #9, 10, 30, & 38,

Thursday, December 15, 2011


It began at the highest levels of authority. I cannot breach confidentiality of names now, and otherwise, even if I did, it wouldn’t matter. Roosevelt was already President for two years when he was informed about the arrival of a strange visitor to Earth. Sandra, or so her codename identified her, was the first one assigned to the mission, strictly in the interests of national security. It was suggested that this individual, whatever it was, posed a direct threat to our government.

Sandra enlisted the services of Henri Duval, a soldier of fortune whose specialized skills she believed would benefit her mission, which originally led her to the figure of a man who became known as Dr. Occult. The Doctor claimed to be a “ghost detective,” and led Sandra and Henri Duval down a rabbit-hole that led to what they later claimed to be vampires, but this was never substantiated. Sandra’s services were soon after voluntarily relinquished, and given to Steve Carson and the Federal Men, a team considered to be better suited to the task. Their investigations somehow led back to Dr. Occult, who had adopted a curious red and blue costume he himself could not explain. Within a matter of months, the Federal Men, too, lost their credibility when they reported having taken an extraordinary trip to the year 3000, where they encountered self-professed “ace sleuth” Jor-L, who helped them overcome a band of space pirates.

Soon after, the mission was handed over to Speed Saunders, Bart Regan, and Slam Bradley, each of whom specialized in legitimate fields, and came recommended by various government officials. Saunders was a federal agent, while Regan worked as a spy, and Bradley a police investigator. Together they uncovered the strange visitor’s identity as “Superman,” though at first the story was so incredible that they weren’t believed. It took reporter Lois Lane’s dogged inquiries to land Superman in the national news, beginning in the papers of Metropolis.

As if the supernatural hadn’t already played its hand in these events, a stage magician called Zatara also revealed his incredible abilities, as if to confirm the existence and veracity of Superman. Private detective Larry Steele soon uncovered the activities of masked vigilante the Crimson Avenger, moreover, and newsroom office boy Jimmy Olsen was the first individual since Lois Lane to verify that Superman was no hoax. In Gotham, Commissioner Gordon refused to comment on the existence of Batman, but the rumors were already taking on a life of their own.

Lane landed the scoop of the year when Superman agreed to recount to her a modified version of his origins. By that time, it was impossible to stem the positive tide of public opinion. No matter what we believed, he was a sensation, and soon an organization known as the Supermen of America was formed. The odd appearance of the Sandman briefly caught attention, but the leader of a ruthless crime syndicate, a formerly paralyzed scientist who took to calling himself the Ultra-Humanite, forced Superman to perform his greatest feat when he actually flew in the air in order to intercept the villain’s airplane. The Man of Tomorrow was here to stay.

Adapted from DC COMICS YEAR BY YEAR: A VISUAL CHRONICLE, based on entries from
NEW FUN #1 & 6,
ACTION COMICS #1, 6 & 13,
SUPERMAN #1, and

Friday, December 9, 2011

Star Trek: Voyager - "Caretaker, Part 2"

She died on a meaningless survey mission.

There's no other way for me to put it. I was heartbroken. I spent decades trying to get us home. At first, "us" meant a Starfleet crew, the crew I originally put together to track down a missing Maquis ship. I recruited Tom Paris personally, but Harry Kim's innocense was something I cherished from the first moment I met him. Few people know this, but I was involved in the program that saw the development of the Emergency Medical Hologram. I knew the Doctor before anyone else among my crew. It was part of my own development to learn to treat him as an individual. My dear friend Tuvok had gone undercover as a member of the Maquis crew. He was in fact the reason I chose the assignment.

When the Caretaker brought us to the Delta Quadrant, it quickly became apparent that the Maquis could no longer be considered an enemy, but rather allies, in a mutually beneficial pact that would help us to operate the one ship that would allow us to undertake our journey home. That was how I met B'Elanna Torres. And that was how I met Chakotay.

He had been the captain of the Maquis ship, and therefore had every reason to resent my decisions and lead a justifiable mutiny against my intentions and my assumption of command. Instead, he chose to put his personal feelings aside. He saw the wisdom of cooperation. He was the only one who truly understood what lay ahead. There were times I believed he understood it better than I did.

We took on a pair of passengers fairly quickly, natives of the Delta Quadrant, Kes and Neelix. In their own ways they proved valuable to our mission. The next passenger was Seven. She had been a member of the Borg Collective almost her whole life. A fluke severed her connection to the hive mind, and I made it a personal priority to oversee her rediscover her humanity.

I began to feel as if I were Seven's surrogate mother, nurturing her unsteady first steps back into an individual existence, one where she had to depend on her own instincts, trust others she couldn't immediately interpret, whose voices expressed opinions she herself couldn't immediately understand. For so long she had known only cool intellect, had mastered dozens of scientific principals, and knew her role beyond a shadow of a doubt. Her life had been intuitive.

And I marveled each day that she struggled to make progress, even when I was horrified by her actions, even when she took so many opportunities to betray my trust. Yet I never gave up. Like Harry Kim, I saw Seven to be an innocent, even if she found it difficult to define herself in such a vulnerable way. For every misstep, there was a moment when I could see past her veneer of defiance and see the vulnerable little girl whose life had been stolen from her, the woman who only wanted to crawl back into the protecting arms of her parents.

As the years advanced, she emerged more and more fully from the damaged drone into an individual who didn't need me anymore. She began to form her own relationships. She found romance, with Chakotay. A part of me looked on this with melancholy. I had dedicated so much of myself to the mission, to the singular goal of getting us all home, I had lost the very thing I helped give Seven.

Then one day she died. I couldn't process it then. I mourned for a few hours, spent perhaps more time than usual in my quarters. I was always prone to brooding. To some, it probably seemed natural behavior on my part. I was so lost in myself, I failed to realize the impact her death had on Chakotay.

If I displayed my customary reserve for such an occasion, Chakotay became a completely different person. Over the years, he had become a little more withdrawn, the longer our journey took and the less he was needed to mediate between Starfleet and former Maquis crewmembers. But suddenly he was cold even to his closest friends, even B'Elanna. We barely spoke. In hindsight I wonder if he blamed me, if he had finally gotten around to it.

We all grew older. Decades passed. He aged worst of all. He died on heart failure on the exact anniversary of Seven's death.

I suppose that's when I first started making my plans. Even after we completed our voyage, returned to the Alpha Quadrant, I wasn't satisfied. Because of Seven. Because of Chakotay. There were other reasons, but I won't try and kid myself.

I knew that I would have to go back in time and get us home sooner. This was to be my endgame.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Trial as a Flashpoint #6

The trial began. Barry Allen stood accused of murdering Eobard Thawne in cold blood. Peter Farley's defense was that Barry hadn't intended on breaking the Reverse-Flash's neck, that he had done so by accident, in a panic to stop the villain from replicating the very same murderous actions that had already claimed the life of Iris Allen, Barry's wife and soul mate.

As far as soul mates go, Barry had no idea...

In matters of time travel, the physical body becomes an approximation of itself the moment an individual breaches their own linear dimension; the only thing that truly undertakes the journey is the consciousness of the individual.

Iris came from the future. She was a child when her parents sent her to Barry's time. She already knew everything that would happen, but her specific age was chosen so that she would still have a chance of participating in her own decisions, so that she would grow into the role of Iris West and Iris Allen of her own accord.

The other individual who participated in these events, the mad magician of science, Abra Kadabra, took on a perverted view and understanding of this same principle, believing that he could finally achieve his life's dream by ensuring that Iris survived her own death and returned in time to prove Barry's innocence.

He had become a foe of Barry's well after the career and legacy of the most famous Flash had become history, believing that his intuitive knowledge of the Speed Force somehow made a mockery of Abra's efforts to master nature. If you ask me, the man was first and foremost a headcase.

But that's villainy for you. In this case, it actually worked in everyone's favor. By inserting himself into Iris's efforts to transplant her consciousness back into Barry's time, he gave her the body she needed and the exact moment she needed to appear, at the end of the trial, when all seemed lost, when all the court needed was an expert witness. Who better than Iris Allen?

The press had a field day with the ruling, but what was anyone to do about it? If they believed that Barry Allen, that the Flash was the fastest man alive, they had to accept the reality of time travel, and therefore everything Iris might have to say about it, how Eobard Thawne couldn't possibly be dead, that there were very real reasons to believe that he would be back, that above all else, Barry was innocent of the charges, thanks to sophisticated technology that in the future proved his innocence...

Actually, none of that really matters. The trial brought out the worst in everyone because it had to draw out greater truths, reveal that there was so much more going on than anyone realized, most of all what Barry Allen himself knew.

He was happy to see Iris, beyond relieved to see her alive, but he sensed that she was holding something back. She was reluctant, at first, but then she agreed that they had all experienced extraordinary events, and that she owed it to Barry to be as honest as possible.

So she told him. She told him about the Crisis, how he would sacrifice his life, so soon after learning how precious it really was, to save the universe, by running faster than he ever had before. He would be consumed by his own speed.

The only thing she didn't tell him was that this wouldn't be the end. She told me in later years that she decided to make this incredible concession to the integrity of the timeline because she owed it to Barry, for the inspiration he provided to her own history, to mine, to my children's, to the tradition of justice and superheroes, everything that we can sometimes take for granted.

My name is Wally West, and I'm the fasted man alive. Sometimes there are things more important than that.

The Trial as a Flashpoint #5

To put it mildly, Big Sir mauled Barry, smashing and pummeling him beyond recognition. The only upside was that the Flash was able to dismantle the armor Duncan Ratchet had been given by the Rogues, thereby returning him to his innocent state.

Then he collapsed. Thanks to his increased metabolism, Barry was always capable of bouncing back from injuries quickly, and this was no exception, but his face didn't heal properly. This was later to have a bonus in that his lawyer Peter Farley would later convince him to unmask during the trial, so that his secret identity was safe from exposure, but the psychological effect was worse.

The sequence of events that had begun with preventive measures against his worst enemy had spiraled completely out of control. Barry could no longer trust or depend on anything. His moral character alone had kept him going, actively pursuing the role of superhero even in the midst of the buildup to the trial...but even Barry was only human.

Finally, enough was enough. He stopped running. For the first time since he had been granted his super speed, Barry Allen slowed to the pace of an ordinary man, permanently. He didn't just slow down, though, he found that he had actually lost the will to live.

If it hadn't been for the remarkable coincidence of finding Farley, who had himself been the victim of physical violence at the hands of the Rogues, perched at the same bridge he'd chosen, the one that linked Central and Keystone City, the one he had once crossed to meet his idol, Jay Garrick, the original Flash...Barry would have done the unthinkable.

But Farley had been there, too. Ironically, the last time attorney and client met before the trial was when they had both been driven to the brink of despair. As all the Flashes have learned over the years, it's far easier to embrace destiny when there are others who understand what that means.

Together, they chose life.

The Trial as a Flashpoint #4

The trial of Barry Allen's life wasn't just in court, where he was to be tried for the murder of Eobard Thawne, the Reverse-Flash, but in the court of popular opinion, thanks not only to his infamous Rogues Gallery, but another, far more insidious foe, Gorilla Grodd.

While the Rogues staged a series of public pranks, notably led by the Pied Piper, Grodd took things to the next level, actively manipulating citizens on a wide scale, from the mayor of Central City to random pedestrians, runaway kids, respected businessmen, and church-going grannies into voicing opinions and otherwise denouncing the good name of the Flash.

None of them had any choice, since Grodd used his incredible mental abilities against them, and wiped their minds of any memories regarding their subsequent actions.

For years Grodd, who came from a tribe of highly evolved apes hidden deep in the heart of Africa, had tried to demonstrate his superiority to the race of men by crafting elaborate schemes of world domination, and each time he was thwarted by Barry, defeated like a common villain by a man whose only notable ability was to run really fast.

It vexed Grodd to no end. he would have been happy to damage the reputation of the Flash even if it weren't already on the verge of losing all credibility.

The Rogues somehow managed to be worse. In addition to their personal campaign, they recruited a man by the name of Duncan Ratchet, a mentally challenged individual with the intellectual capacity of a six-year-old, and gave him a technologically advanced suit of armor, transforming him into Big Sir.

Big Sir's only motivations were the same as Duncan Ratchet's, so once again the Rogues had to turn to manipulation, placing the gentle giant into a situation where he would view the Flash as an enemy.

The results, even in these circumstances, were catastrophic for Barry.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Trial as a Flashpoint #3

I guess I'll never understand Barry's Rogues Gallery, why he seemed to tolerate them...

The Rogues were a collection of foes Barry faced on a consistent basis, criminals who fashioned fantastic personas after the weapons they mastered.

There was Captain Boomerang, Heatwave, Captain Cold, the Mirror Master, Weather Wizard, Pied Piper...all of them completely self-explanatory by their chosen names.

The thing that always puzzled me is that none of them actually posed a direct threat to his incredible speed, only really causing momentary conundrums, no matter how clever, so that a man with his abilities should never have been concerned with any of them for very long.

Barry should always have been too fast to create lasting enemies, except for Eobard.

Instead, the Rogues remained in business for years, and eventually came to understand the concept "strength in numbers."

No hero except Batman ever amassed such a regular contingent of opponents quite the way Barry did. I think it's because he believed in the concept of justice. He worked, after all, in the police department, even when he wasn't dressed in scarlet.

The reason it was so shocking, even if completely inadvertent, when Barry killed Eobard Thawne, was that he had always seemed to have removed himself from the equation, believing himself to be an impartial agent, clinical.

That's why he was always considered so aloof, even by his friends, why it was so easy for the Fasted Man Alive to exist at his own pace.

How he could still be late for personal appointments, even though he could outrun even Superman.

The Rogues, more than any other collection of enemies, exploited that, especially during the trial. They were vicious, most of all because they realized they finally had the advantage.

Barry's high school pal Peter Farley agreed to defend him in court. Any other lawyer probably deserves a fair amount of ribbing, but Peter was one of the good ones.

That made the attack on his life all the more heinous. But was it really so surprising that the Rogues would stoop to that level?

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Trial as a Flashpoint #2

Barry didn't know it, but his whole world was crumbling around him.

Hal Jordan, who had been Green Lantern for almost as long as Barry had been The Flash, quit the intergalactic corps created by the Guardians of the Universe at the same time Barry endured his trial for the murder of Eobard Thawne.

It still kills me to think about it now, but I was at my own crossroads, having just made the difficult decision to relinquish the persona of Kid Flash, at the same time that Dick Grayson gave up being Robin, after he realized that he was no longer the Boy Wonder. We walked away from the Teen Titans, the only real home either of us had known in the last few years leading up to the Crisis.

For me, the walk took an eternity.

I still can't explain how it'd reached that point, how I had become so selfish, rejecting the one person who had defined my whole life, whom I'd modeled my superheroic career around, who had actually given me my powers!

At that point in my life, however, that's exactly how much regard I had for Barry, for the life he'd helped me create. It didn't hurt that I had Dick to legitimize my decision, the friend who could most identify with my thought process.

I only wish I had been a little more thoughtful, a little more grateful, that I hadn't so easily and so completely abandoned Barry.

Hindsight informs so much of what I know now, how Barry not only couldn't rely on me, but not even Hal, when he could have used both of us, not just for emotional support, but for so many more things, the fact that the Rogues chose that moment to plague him as they hadn't for half a decade, for starters, coming together as a unit as they had never done before, a united front that attacked him from every angle...

He was completely on his own. He'd lost his wife, and now he'd lost the favor of the public, and was facing the loss of his very freedom, the thing he'd fought for since before he became The Flash, a pioneer of forensic science in the guise of Barry Allen.

His private life was ruined, and his costumed identity became isolated, because of me, because of Hal, because that's the way the world works. You're surrounded by friends until you need them.

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Trial as a Flashpoint #1

My name is Wally West, and I'm the fastest man alive.

When I was a boy, my aunt Iris dated Barry Allen. Neither of them really knew each other when it started out. For instance: Barry Allen was the Flash. For instance: Iris West was actually from the future, the 30th Century, to be exact.

I grew up idolizing Barry, becoming a charter member and president of one of the largest Flash fan clubs in the country (or at least in all of Blue Valley). One day, Iris invited me to Central City so I could meet her boyfriend. What she didn't know was that I would become involved in an exact replica of the accident that gave The Flash his powers.

And what Barry didn't know was that his future bride had been sent as a child to watch over him, her life essence transported over a millennium in order to watch over him.

Barry talked in his sleep; that's how Iris found out about his double life.

The Reverse-Flash murdered Iris; that's how she found out about hers.

The Reverse-Flash is Eobard Thawne, a nobody from the 25th Century, a janitor who worked at the Flash Museum, working day after day under the legacy of Barry Allen. Eventually, he became obsessed, found a way to give himself Barry's powers, and decided that the only way to step out of the shadow of his assumed nemesis was to destroy him.

He tried many times before finally succeeding, sending his vibrating hand through my aunt's skull, killing her instantly.

Or so we thought.

Barry wouldn't know it for years, but his life had already been ruined by Thawne. The Reverse-Flash killed Barry's mother when he was very young, a death that haunted him throughout his life, and motivated him to enter law enforcement, trying to solve a murder that had been pinned on his own father, Henry.

Thawne wasn't the only foe to tamper with Barry's life. There was also Abra Kadabra, who came from the 64th Century. But we wouldn't know that until Barry killed Thawne. And the trial of The Flash began.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Occupy Wall Street, Part 5

The conventional interpretation of his occupation might have been investigator. Marty Marias was more accurately contracted as an observer, and therefore a consultant; he reported back to others what he saw, and as such was an interpreter.

Marty had recently been asked to talk about three particular individuals, all of whom who had been taken into police custody and had been subjected to interrogations. They were persons of interest in the assassination of Gabriel Bell. He wasn't given their complete identities, and in truth he preferred it that way.

The first of them was a woman known as Zinn, a transient and amnesiac who had been taken in by another of them. In her case, Marty was only interested in her details, her particulars, what her information told him about whether or not she would have been capable of killing a man. She had first been identified as homeless, but that quickly turned out not to be the case. She had been the victim of an assault, and so that was how she had ended up in the general area of the crime, disoriented and "rescued" by one of the others. She was a school teacher, in fact, and had only been missing a few days when she resurfaced and became intwined in the sequence of events that led to the death of Gabriel Bell. She taught first grade, children who had reached the age of dawning responsibility. Marty saw that she was not comfortable in her life, that she would have done anything to escape it, but not in conjunction with the assault, not with the loss of her self-control. If anything, she would have used the preceding events as a frantic means to rediscover herself, to a semblance of what she had once known about herself.

The second was a writer, whom Marty knew as Jake, no last name, just as the others had not come with given names, or so Marty had to assume. Jake was clearly unfulfilled in his life, possibly disgruntled in his frustrations to make a career out of his stories, and it was written all over his face. Given half a chance at even a suggestion of acceptance, he would have done anything, would have been capable of anything, would have rationalized any act, no matter how extreme, if the circumstances presented themselves. Marty could easily extrapolate from any of that Jake's ability to kill, especially someone who had achieved a measure of success and in a public way that he himself had been denied, or had denied himself (it was never easy to tell which one).

The third, and the man who had affected the "rescue" of Zinn, was called Swift, and he had come into the scenario under very ambiguous circumstances, and had not adequately reconciled them for himself even though he had taken great strides in the attemot. It was Swift who had mistakenly identified Zinn as homeless, and, intoxicated by her not-inconsiderable beauty, had taken it upon himself to free her from the sorry mess that had become her life. He was a businessman, who was already familiar with the allure of power, who would have relished whatever fantasies he had constructed around the figure of Zinn. Once the realities were made plain, he had attempted to redirect his efforts, so that he would not become impotent in her eyes, and would retain the illusion of control he had once enjoyed over her. Such a man would easily have been capable of switching this sense of identity into other, less wholesome, directions, if it had proved to be a waste of his time.

Marty considered the context these figures had found themselves in, the desperation they had all fallen into, and the atmosphere of despair and resolve that created such a dangerous situation, even before the murder of a prominent individual like Gabriel Bell. Although he had ruled out the woman already, he felt that anyone might have been driven to that point, even beyond their normal limitations, because they had been drawn to that place by a common desire, something that had previously been elusive for each of them, but had crystalized in a single movement, and now in a single death. Those others who had observed that place tended to remark that such individuals were hardly worth their pity, that if they had simply worked out their own problems, they wouldn't have had to blame someone else.

The death of Gabriel Bell had galvanized the entire movement, forced those observers to view the plight of the individuals who had gathered in a new light. Just as Marty was charged with scrutinizing three individuals, an entire nation was now forced to re-evaluate their judgments. Bell had been a charismatic victim, and that was all any such movement ultimately needed. Marty wondered if the solution to his problem were similar. It wasn't so much what any of them had to gain, but what the murder of another person would mean to them personally. The woman wouldn't gain anything, obviously, but a murder, even a misguided and misdirected one, would give her back the power she'd lost. The same would be true of the businessman. The writer could only be accused by way of a psychotic break. Although he would surely have had a kind of motive, his personality otherwise contradicted such an outcome. He was an introvert by choice, not by nature. Although he would have suffered from the misdiagnosed social reactions of others most of his life, he was ultimately an observer, much like Marty himself. To call the writer a killer would have been for Marty to call himself one. The woman was much the same; anyone who worked with children inherently considered life in their own way sacred. She couldn't have been the killer anymore than she could have killed the businessman for taking advantage of her, or at least having the appearance of having done so. The businessman, however, and not because he was a businessman or because business itself was inherently antisocial or that he would have had a personal grudge against Gabriel Bell as someone who had spoken out very publically against some of the very practices the businessman himself had depended on throughout his career, but because of the rejection of the woman, of the contradiction he couldn't reconcile, and so he took it out not on the woman, but Gabriel Bell, someone in whom the businessman could project his feelings of inadequacy.

So that was how Marty reported it to those who had asked his opinion.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Iger Wickstein

It was my last chance.

It was my last chance and I tried not to show it. I had gone back to that moment so many times, I no longer had to pretend. I was trapped.

All the details, the rain falling like shards of glass, the screeching tires from the SUV, the streetlights blinking on and off, the bolt of lightning...they crashed through me just as surely as the thoughts that had run through my mind in that moment.

It was the end, the end of everything, and I was forced to relive it again and again. I should have died, but instead I became tethered to that moment. It was a simple question, whether or not I wanted a second chance, sometime after my death, in the in-between, after the light at the end of the tunnel. I said yes.

I had no idea what I was doing.

After the first time, I thought I could do it again and this time get it right. That's exactly what I thought. I went back again and experienced it all over again. And then I went back again. And again. And again.

I couldn't let go. It wasn't my life that flashed before my eyes, but my death, and it was of my own choosing. I couldn't let go.

It became almost like my life, a sequence of predictable, inevitable results, changed anew from new thoughts, new observations, new obsessions, new hopes, new delusions. The same thing happened again and again, I knew exactly what was coming, and I couldn't stop it, and I just kept repeating it.

What else was I supposed to do?

It was my life.

And my death.

Eventually it had to end, but not jus yet.

I persisted, I persevered, time and time again, until my last chance. I don't even know how I knew what it was, except that when it came around, that's exactly what I felt, as if it were my last chance. I was well past yearning for more. I was ready.

Everything repeated exactly as it had originally happened, all the details. I knew what would happen. It came. I died again, died for the last time.

After repeating it a thousand times, it was almost a relief, the end of everything, of all possible consequences, and the beginning of reflection, everything that I had denied myself in life. That's why I revisited my death so many times, because I was more afraid of my life than my death.

But then, aren't we all?

Monday, October 31, 2011

Occupy Wall Street, Part 4

The year was 2014. Five years earlier, Gabriel Bell was just another citizen. His name meant nothing to anyone. In fact, you might say that he was anonymous by design. Five years earlier, he had been complicit in a system that preferred to keep the majority of citizens anonymous, enthralled by a handful of inconsequential but very famous names, but anonymous.

Of course, five years earlier, Gabriel Bell was also still alive.

He came upon the movement as a skeptic, as someone who didn't believe it would last, that it meant nothing but the absurd delusions of those who had screwed up their own lives, who were causing a disturbance that would be forgotten quickly, who had devoted themselves to a cause without reason, without resolution, without an ending. It had come several years into a recession, several years after corporate corruption had been exposed, not just corruption in the form of monopolies or crooked bosses, but a systematic corruption that had robbed entire companies of their profits, of their futures, of their intrinsic values, both to themselves and for those they had been intended to service. The exposure of this corruption led to the recession, which led to bailouts, which led to the movement. Those who stood the most the gain gained the most, and those who stood the most to lose kept on losing.

There had been many arguments on these last points. It was argued that more people in this country lived in greater prosperity than ever before, that the standard of living had so drastically risen in recent years, there could be no proper understanding of need. Gabriel had been among those who believed this was true. He had led a mostly comfortable existence. He had never gone hungry. He had always had a roof above his head. The arguments concerning this basic prosperity suggested that physical need was the only thing a person needed to survive. Gabriel had also attended schooling until graduation from college. Daily he was exposed to the highest ideals of humanity. Daily he was exposed to the American Dream, the belief that anyone could become anything. All that was needed was determination.

The movement sparked something within him. Gabriel realized that somewhere along the way, the American Dream had been regulated. It had been systematically isolated to the reach of a select few. Where it had not been deliberately calculated to benefit the already-fortunate, it had then been relegated to those who possessed innate but perfunctory skills; somewhere along the way, the Dream excluded the imagination, choked it out, said that the only thing worth rewarding was the obvious, that no one ever need think again. Somehow, even the midst of a great recession, this belief was tantamount to the vision of the future.

Gabriel considered the movement to be a rejection of this belief. At first, he had no interest in participating. He saw those who represented it, saw how easily they could be interpreted by observers to be easily ignored, just as they were before the movement began, just as so many others who weren't there, but who did represent it, embodied its spirit. He learned of a writer named Jake, who was denied his own dream because it was considered inconvenient, impractical. He learned of a woman named Zinn, rescued by a man named Swift, and neither of them knew what was truly happening to them.

Gabriel began to speak, to become the voice of this movement. This was how he kept tabs on Zinn, on Swift, on Jake. The person in the front doing the talking is not blind. They observe. They know the character of a situation better than anyone. They of all people ought to have perspective. Gabriel fought to keep his.

He saw what Zinn was immediately, someone who had lost their identity, their purpose, who could have been claimed by the first person to come along to try and rescue them. He saw how Swift had approached her from one direction, but had been overcome by Zinn's hidden power, her inner resolve, her sense of purpose even in the grip of helplessness. He read the words Jake wrote, feverishly, when he believed no one else was paying attention.

Gabriel also knew it couldn't last. He'd made himself a target, and the purpose of all targets is to be struck with a weapon. He was assassinated on a clear morning.

He knew what would happen, even without him, especially without him. That was why he had singled out the three of them, without their ever realizing it. Jake wrote about his life, about his message, his hopes, his dream. Zinn found to courage to find herself again, and because of that, Swift realized what he'd been doing with his life, how he'd been fooling himself about his selfish success. The three of them spread Gabriel's message. They didn't let him be forgotten.

In 2014, a movement that wasn't supposed to produce any tangible results changed a country, and then the world. It only cost one man his life, Gabriel Bell, the prophet, the man in the wilderness. His words continued to echo long after his death. To free his people, all people, he had occupied a little space, only to give it up, so that everyone could claim it, claim the world as its birthright.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Occupy Wall Street, Part 3

Swift liked to consider himself a people person.

The fact was, as soon as he'd become successful, he'd preferred to distance himself from actual people as much as possible. It just seemed easier that way. It wasn't just physical contact, but emotional contact. He did what he needed to so he would maintain a healthy lifestyle, but other than that, the only person he answered to was himself.

Still, he liked to consider himself a people person, even if he was a little out of practice. He would never have even noticed her if he hadn't taken a slight detour from his daily walk. He normally kept to a strict routine, to minimize digressions from the routine that had proven so beneficial to him, but on that particular day, and he couldn't even have explained it if pressed to explain, he ended up off his particular beaten path, and stumbled into Zinn.

He assumed immediately that she was homeless, but that wasn't the first thing he noticed. Simply put, she was breathtaking. The fact that she was unconscious or otherwise passed out in an alley was a detail he took in stride. She roused almost as soon as he saw her, and he saw that as a sign that he was meant to intervene.

"You look like you could use some help," he said, in his most charming tones.

She accepted gracefully, and he interpreted it as an apology for her situation, and found it endearing. She quickly corrected his assumptions, insisting that she wasn't homeless, but that she otherwise could not explain her situation, a disorienting event having otherwise obscured her memories. He took her word for it.

He only wanted to help her, felt compelled to help her, because of her beauty, which was so utterly foreign to the circumstances he'd found her in. He said he could help her, and he in fact did everything he could, but she made it difficult by insisting that she felt some kinship with the struggle in the street. Her insistence on this point almost made him sympathetic. He couldn't explain why, but he continued to help her, and that's how he came to know of Gabriel Bell.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Occupy Wall Street, Part 2

He knew that he was going to be a writer from a very early age. When he was a child, he entertained other ideas, sure, like being an astronaut, but the older he got, the more sure he was that he would write for a living. In school, he met others who had the same idea. Some experienced writers might have agreed and identified with the belief he saw in others that writing early and writing often and working on apparent masterpieces was the way to go. Jake was never convinced. He never believed that a story could be forced out of a writer. He was sure that he'd struck on his masterpiece when he was eighteen. But he didn't start writing it then, and ten years later, still hadn't.

The more schooling he experienced, the more students, and teachers, he met who believed the same things, who believed any writing was important writing, that writing prompts meant something other than exercises (and even then, he wasn't sure exercises meant all that much to anyone but the writer, because he'd been doing that all his life, creating stories, creating worlds to amuse himself) the more he wondered just what writing meant to them. To him, it was a way of life. To them...he could only assume that they believed writing was a way to distinguish themselves. It could very well be that for some, that was true and it led to real success. But to him, writing was something more, and he saw that idea reflected in all the books he loved, the books he was asked to read in school, and the many he read for himself.

The problem was, very few people actively agreed with him. Very few people felt it was worth championing that belief. There was very little money and too many writers submitting material for someone like Jake to stand out, especially with ideas that would not stand out as bestseller material. The more he tried to make a living as a writer, the more he realized that for most people, writing really wasn't about ideas at all, it was about being a success in just another career, looking out for oneself, taking the easiest way out possible.

He had no idea how to survive on skills he wasn't sure he had. He had always been sure of writing, of ideas, of the stories he told himself, and eventually found a way to tell others. He wrote stories, all the time, writing the ideas that came to him, that helped him make sense of the world, and he believed might help others do the same. In the meantime, before he was allowed to make a living with these ideas, these stories, Jake became lost.

That was how he ended up there, how he observed as a man named Gabriel Bell slowly sacrificed everything he had for an intangible ideal, something greater than a status quo, even one that might in some sense be interpreted as comfortable even for those who struggled like him. He found a cause to believe in. He decided to write about it.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Occupy Wall Street, Part 1

The year was...well, she didn't really remember. She remembered her name, Zinn, but that was pretty much it. She found herself under some cardboard in an alley one evening. She was sure she wasn't homeless, or at least that she hadn't been.

The commotion was what stirred her. She had no idea what was going on, only that, when she investigated, there was a considerable crowd gathered not far away. She didn't know exactly where that was, either, where she was, what city. She was at least reasonably sure of the country.

Someone, who did not appear to be homeless, and in fact was reasonably well-dressed, grabbed her arm, but not in a threatening way, simply to include her. It felt strange, but she was willing to play along. There was a lot of shouting, which was momentarily disconcerting, but again, she found that when she concentrated, it felt more welcoming than anything, inclusive.

Many of them were holding signs. Her vision was too clouded for her to read them, and she was unsteady on her feet, and if anyone had actually asked her to read the signs and she'd had to make the confession, she might have forgiven them for thinking she was drunk. Again, she wasn't sure about a lot of things, but she was sure she wasn't drunk. Reasonably sure.

The man who had offered her help was still nearby, and he kept looking at her, as if to check that she was okay, or reasonably okay. She trusted his sincerity. She wasn't sure she trusted herself. The evening was still young, and the crowd didn't seem like it was going anywhere soon. In time she'd figure it out.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Department of Homeland Recruitment

Boothroyd was homeless when he was recruited. He was homeless because that had become the easiest option for him, after a lifetime of hard choices pushed him away from the rest of the world.

The moment he was recruited, he sense a difference, a new and unfamiliar sense of purpose, belonging. All they asked was that he help them recruit others.

At first, he didn't understand their mission. You might even say he misunderstood it, suspected even in his belief that they were anything but what they represented, agents of change.

He was asked to recruit another. "Recruit for what?" he asked. "For yourself," was the answer. He had no idea what that meant.

He found someone, much like himself, and when they asked him the same question, he replied, "For the greater good."

This went on for months, Boothroyd recruiting for the office, without knowing why. Finally, those who had recruited him asked him a question: "What have you found about the people you recruited?"

He didn't know how to reply. "About them personally," it was clarified. He knew the people he'd recruited, many of them personally, if peripherally. Eventually he understood what they meant, what his relationship with those he'd recruited was. He knew them. The office asked him what he might think they could do. It had been a long time since anyone had been interested in his opinion. It caught him by surprise. He gave it some thought. He was able to expound on each of them, he reflected with amusement.

"What does the Department of Homeland Recruitment do?" he asked. "Who do you work for? The government?"

"We were a committee, originally," came the reply. "We discovered we could help people by recruiting them. By giving them purpose. And we have you, Boothroyd."

He thought about what that meant. "You want to help," he said.

Time passed. He continued to recruit, looking for people, looking for their purpose. He set up offices, as those he recruited in turn recruited others. They were all in the air, spinning like windmills, and they were all going in specific directions.

In the future, in the times that came, Boothroyd noticed that people were doing what they were meant to do, and everything worked better than he had ever known it to.

He had been recruited into a cult, but it was the cult of humanity.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Agents and Angels

When he became an agent for Homeland Security, Jason Donovan no doubt had every reason to believe that he'd be assigned to perfectly human casework. Five years in, he learned that he had been wrong.

The woman he knew as Tara, whom the whole of DHS had been working on for as long as he'd been with it, whom he personally had been safeguarding for unknown reasons for most of that time, turned out to be an angel.

No, literally, an angel. He'd been told there was a threat to her personal safety, and that in turn her safety was the country's safety, and never for a moment questioned how or why. That wasn't his job. He spent years believing that he could have explained it to anyone, easily, if he'd needed to, if he'd been allowed.

He developed an interesting relationship with Tara. He knew romance was off-limits, but he could never shake for a minute, from the very first moment that he'd been introduced, that they somehow had an intense connection that went beyond any conventional understanding he'd ever had. He wrote it off for most of that time as a duty of his professionalism to overlook.

For months, though, before he found out who and what Tara actually was, Jason had been increasingly unable to succeed in that regard. He never crossed the line, was never inappropriate, but he began taking his duties to a whole new level. He was rarely anywhere but directly at her side, and he had no complaints at all about that. She didn't seem to mind, either, but then she seemed to be at peace with the world, at all times, no matter what happened.

When he finally learned the truth, Tara immediately changed tacks with him. She expressed to him in intimate terms how much his devotion had meant to her, how she could never say anything about her own feelings to him, and how much it'd hurt. She'd chosen him personally.

He was told that he would need to escort Tara out of the country, that she had become a target of terrorists who resented that the angel had come to America. She only trusted him, and now the people entrusted with her protection planned to put them in the most remote region on earth. Jason decided that it was an easy call to continue his service.

He found himself in a secret base, and an even more secret space shuttle, the last operational one under American control, and told that he'd be going with Tara into space, where they would all be safe, where Tara could continue her duties, and so could he. She kept the world safe, and he kept it safe for her, only now that would be on the moon.

It was many years before they finally acknowledged their love for each other. Jason Donovan discovered that he no longer aged. As long as he could remain at Tara's side, he was fine with that.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Just Imagine Tony Creating...The Amazing Spider-Man

Sergei Kravinoff was the best hunter the world had ever known. He traveled the world, and proved it everywhere he went, against all conceivable game, both on land and in the sea. Many claimed to be his rival, but he bested them in every ill-conceived challenge. He was a man who kept to himself, otherwise, since in truth he understood animals better than people. If he had family, he himself hardly seemed to realize it, or would have cared if he did.

His morals were all the more curious. He viewed murder with disdain, since he didn't see a challenge in it, and had no use for the rewards, accolades, and wealth that seemed to motivate other men. He would have gladly carried on like this until his death, surely many years in the future, if by chance he hadn't made the trip to New York, and heard of Spider-Man...

Peter Parker has finally figured everything out. He has eluded his enemies, settled into a happy relationship with Mary Jane Watson, and has even won over J. Jonah Jameson at the Daily Bugle, though he has developed a website that better exploits the legacy of his alter ego. Peter believes his days as Spider-Man are behind him, until he receives a message on the site from Kraven the Hunter, who challenges him to a contest, and the victor walks away alive!

Kraven has reluctantly made this challenge, since it is not his custom to initiate such things. This behavior would have been beneath him, if Spider-Man had proven easier to find. The challenge was a last resort. Spider-Man finally accepts after much public prodding, even from Jameson in the most surprising editorial he's ever written.

At first meeting, Kraven proposes a chase through the city, which he considers as an advantage to Spider-Man, being a native, and Kraven a foreigner, even the most experienced one anyone has ever known. It is a matter of honor to Kraven that he succeed. Spider-Man, Peter Parker, can hardly understand, but is willing to play along. He, too, has only success on his mind.

The chase is a long and harrowing one, and to Peter's horror he learns that Kraven, in his increasing unease at possible failure, has chosen to use Mary Jane as bait, thus revealing that he has discovered Spider-Man's secret identity. Failure is no longer an option, and this is no longer fun.

Still, Spidey frees MJ and bests Kraven in the final confrontation, but not before Kraven poisons himself, shamed at this first defeat. Peter races for a cure, but it's too late.

Jameson once again praises Spider-Man in the papers, but Peter can't appreciate his victory. He decides to give up being Spider-Man, until Mary Jane convinces him that he's just proven to everyone but himself that he's exactly the hero that he always hoped he'd be. So she proposes to him, and he gladly accepts.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Just Imagine Tony Creating...Spider-Man 3

Norman Osborn has survived his epic battle with Otto Octavius, which is not great news for Peter Parker. Though Osborn's activities have finally been diminished, his personal connections only grow more complicated. He hires Flash Thompson for another job, and that's to kill Mary Jane. Peter's gut reaction is to try and distance himself from her, hoping it'll put Flash and Osborn off of her.

He lands an apartment with the income he's been making at the Daily Bugle, and a new friend in Gwen Stacy, whom he grows closer and closer to, at the expence of his relationship with MJ, which he's been trying to maintain as much as possible. Peter goes after Flash directly, not just for what Flash has just been contracted to do, but for vengeance against the hitman who stole all the family Peter ever knew.

He actually succeeds to this effect, but as usual, the balance always evens itself, and soon Osborn himself is back in business, and targeting not MJ but Gwen Stacy. In a climactic encounter, Osborn succeeds in murdering Gwen, and Peter's botched rescue attempt obscures what actually killed her. Osborn gets away.

MJ tries to console Peter, who quits his job at the Daily Bugle thanks to further harassment from J. Jonah Jameson, who gleefully ran an editorial definitively blaming Spider-Man for Gwen Stacy's death. Peter reluctantly moves back in with MJ, and reveals his secret to her. She convinces him that he should make one last attempt to bring Osborn to justice.

Flash Thompson, meanwhile, has been arrested for some completely unrelated, and therefore ironic, felonious activities, and realizes during his trial that he can still turn his life around, if only he can make proper atonement. Miraculously, Flash is acquitted, and then he enlists in the army, but not before making a full confession to Peter, who doesn't exactly forgive him, but at least understands when he learns of the leverage Osborn used against Flash in the form of medical bills for his father.

Finally, Peter has one final confrontation with Osborn, and in the ultimate battle between Spider-Man and the Green Goblin, Goblin opts for death rather than rescue from Peter, who can only watch as this chapter of his life finally comes to an end.

Watching from a distance? Kraven the Hunter...

Peter and Mary Jane mend their fences and make a new commitment to each other. Peter decides to give up his activities as Spider-Man as they head toward graduation and college, together.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Just Imagine Tony Creating...Spider-Man 2

Peter Parker quickly finds that working for the Daily Bugle means that he's got to work for J. Jonah Jameson, the tyranical editor-in-chief of the newspaper. Domineering, demanding, and just plain mean, Jameson quickly makes Peter's life a living hell (just in case it wasn't already). He assigns Peter, just for the heck of it, the plum assignment of covering eccentric scientist Otto Octavius' upcoming press conference.

Peter already knows a great deal about Octavius, having read a great deal about him, plus heard almost as much from the jealous Norman Osborn, whose path to madness continues unabated. Peter justifiably distances himself from Osborn, just as a chance encounter with Octavius during the press conference reveals to the doctor the extent of Peter's own scientific ambitions. Octavius agrees to make Peter his lab assistant as he makes the final preparations for the debut of his robotic arm apparatus.

It's not all fun and games, though. He's successfully gotten Jameson the pictures he wants, but Peter is no closer to figuring out his relationship with Mary Jane, the girl whose house he's still staying at while attending high school. His investigations of Flash Thompson, the classmate who may have been responsible for the deaths of Aunt May and Uncle Ben and who has been absent from school since the new year began four weeks ago, have given Peter ample excuses to use his Spider-Man costume, and he's discovered he has a flair for heroics, because he really loves the spotlight. Jameson loves the pictures Peter captures of him, too, so he can run his ranting editorials against the wise-cracking, anti-authoritarian vigilante...Well, you can't have it all.

Peter's work with Octavius, however, helps keep him happy, and that feeling is contagious. MJ doesn't mind spending time with him at school now, and even outside of it, where they attend local theater productions, while MJ hopes that she can score some tips on breaking in from the stars and stagehands. He almost forgets that everyone he's ever called family is dead.

Osborn's slide to madness continues, and a lab accident results in a suit he was working on virtually taking on a life of its own, thanks to an AI program he'd installed. At first, he participates in the bank heists the AI deems necessary to replenish coffers emptied when benefactors finally gave up on him, but soon enough Osborn realizes he's enjoying himself, and that his next target is his rival, Otto Octavius.

On the eve of Otto's big triumph, Osborn, now calling himself the Green Goblin, attacks, forcing Octavius to activite his harness before he's made the final checks, and thus unleashing an entirely new menace. Peter arrives in the guise of Spider-Man, and finds that he can no longer distinguish between his one-time mentors.

In the ensuing battle, Octavius sacrifices himself so that Osborn can be defeated, leaving Peter with one final affirmation that the good fight will always be worth it, despite the cost.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Just Imagine Tony Creating...Spider-Man

Peter Parker is five years old when his parents die. He doesn't know how they die, only that one day he's surrounded by their love and the next, he isn't. He knows that they've already left an indelible mark on his life, on his creative development. And that he's been left to live with his Aunt May and Uncle Ben. He's reminded daily of what he's lost, but that he still has infinitely far to go.

At school, Peter is constantly bullied by Flash Thompson, but school is also the only time he gets to interact with Mary Jane, the girl next door, and play with all the science equipment he wants. He never feels more alive, then. At home, even though Aunt May and Uncle Ben love him, they can't fill the void that was torn from him. He spends most of his time elsewhere. When he reaches high school, Peter is practically invisible, Mary Jane is unobtainable, Flash is incorrigible, and science all Peter knows. When he takes a field trip to a science museum, Peter is accidentally bitten by an irradiated spider, escaped from a nearby lab run by Norman Osborn, who works part-time at the museum.

Discovering that he has comparable abilities to the spider, Peter removes himself from his own head for the first time since he was five. He puts together a costume, and is promptly caught by his Uncle Ben, who violently disapproves. Angrily, he leaves and vows to never return. He sheepishly asks Mary Jane if he can stay at her place for a while, and she surprises him by saying yes! At school, Peter picks a fight with Flash, and gets a suspension. He wanders back to the museum, trying to figure everything out, when he comes across Norman Osborn, whom he confesses most of his problems to. Norman actually agrees to become Peter's mentor!

Things are looking up on average. Aunt May and Uncle Ben suffer an armed burglary in the meantime, which Uncle Ben is able to thwart, but the thief threatens revenge. He tries to talk to Peter about it, in the course of an intended reconciliation, but Peter will have none of it. Peter is, in fact, hanging out with Osborn when the thief makes good on his threat. Shellshocked by the news that his aunt and uncle have been murdered, Peter is even less prepared when he discovers that Osborn may have had something to do with it, thanks to an unlikely friendship with Flash Thompson, who envied Peter's time with Norman, who has always displayed an unstable psyche.

To figure it all out, Peter finally adopts the persona Uncle Ben tried to warn him about - with great power comes great responsibility - and becomes Spider-Man. Once again, life will never be the same.

Juggling his relationship with Mary Jane, his rivalry with Flash Thompson, life as Spider-Man, and the potential that Norman Osborn may be his greatest enemy, Peter Parker also attempts to secure an academic future, and now he'll have to support himself. Finding his father's old camera, he reports to the Daily Bugle as the staff's youngest photographer, armed with the knowledge that he's got New York's biggest story right under his own shirt.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Star Trek: Voyager - Banjo, Part 7 (conclusion)

I suppose I’ve delayed long enough. This whole mess really started, I guess, when we encountered the second Caretaker, the one who was nothing like the one who brought us to the Delta Quadrant in the first place. This one didn’t play the banjo, I can assure you. I should know.

Originally, the Caretaker some of us have taken to calling Banjo Man introduced himself to the Starfleet crew with a simulation in which he attempted to hide among a bunch of country bumpkins as an old man playing, as you might assume, a banjo. While most of the crew, including Captain Janeway, only tangentially experienced him until he was ready to introduce himself, it was yours truly, Walter Baxter’s pleasure to be introduced earlier. I guess I was just in the right place at the right time. In fact, where everyone else was thrown for a loop by his simulation, I guess simply because I was more familiar with the scenario, I could sense that something was wrong, that it wasn’t as authentic as he might have guessed. Probably because it was my mind that he drew it from in the first place.

I can still hear the faint thoughts he must have inadvertently transmitted to me, mutterings, really. “Must put them at ease.” “Can’t let them suspect!” I only wish I could have known more of how exactly he was thinking, but he was so desperate at the time, I can’t imagine that he was really in control anymore. He’d spent four and a half millennia providing for the Ocampa after inadvertently wrecking their home world. He and his mate, the second Caretaker, had been explorers. I think a part of me, my dedication to Starfleet, imperfect as it was at the start of this crazy mission, must have touched a nerve with him. He’d found an unlikely kindred spirit. That’s the only way I can explain it. He never had to tell me what he was. I found myself drawn to him.

I could sense, as I said, that something was wrong from the start. The moment I arrived in that country farm, I guess I started looking around, until I caught the element that didn’t belong. Much as he tried to appear otherwise, Banjo Man didn’t belong. He’d tried too hard. Where the other elements of the situation were desperate for my attention, he attempted to be inconspicuous, but then, he’d taken the form based on my mentor, my friend, and my father. How would he not have guessed I’d figure him out? My father never approved of my decision to join Starfleet. He wanted me to be a gymnast (which is probably the reason I pushed myself so hard in the early months of our voyage home). He’d play his banjo as an accompaniment to my floor exercises, playing faster the more he thought I needed to concentrate. I’d constantly rebel. I’d literally bounce off the walls. He died of a heart attack the day I started at Starfleet Academy.

Banjo Man had a pained expression in his eyes, and that’s what gave him away. I’m not going to say he took the form of my father, but there was more than enough resemblance. I wanted to ask him so many questions, but I didn’t have the heart. The truth is, I didn’t have that much more experience with him than anyone else. It was the second Caretaker, Suspiria, who communicated more directly with me, has made me rethink all of this. The encounter with her was a little more routine for a seasoned Starfleet officer. It seems to be standard material for star voyagers to confront beings of terrible power who enjoy abusing it. They never seem to realize how human they’re being. Suspiria didn’t play the banjo, but she did understand that a link had been formed between me and her departed mate. She was slower to reveal her hand to the rest of the crew than Banjo Man had been, which left all the more time to torment me.

She accused me of killing the Caretaker. “Caretaker,” for the record, was never a term I used for Suspiria. She’d taken some Ocampa with her, helped them revisit the vast potential of their ancestors, but she was only using them. She wanted to find her own way home. I don’t think it exists anymore. I think she and Banjo Man were the last of their race, and that I inadvertently helped her realize it. She wasn’t very appreciative. I still don’t know how I came to learn it myself. I guess it became intuitive. If Banjo Man had had the power to contact his own people, he could have died happy. He had been anything but, and that’s, ultimately, what helped our crew overcome Suspiria.

But it didn’t help us get home, obviously. We’re only at the beginning of that journey, and I have no idea if I’m ever going to see home again. I stopped visiting the gymnasium. I should probably say now that Banjo Man left a gift behind for me, and I’ve been using it more and more lately, probably ever since I switched career fields. I find it soothes me, even though I’m not any good at it.

Well, you can’t have everything…


Thursday, September 1, 2011

Star Trek: Voyager - Banjo, Part 6

There was one particular event early in our so-called voyage home that stands out, mostly because, if everything had played out the way it seemed initially, we’d be home by now. I’m talking about the discovery of the wormhole. I’m talking about our unlikely discussions with a Romulan.

A lot of Starfleet officers have years of study about the Vulcan/Romulan dynamic, since it’s required study at the Academy, with the option for more advanced classes past the mandatory first-year lessons taught invariably by Saavik. I happen to have spent my whole tenure in one of her classrooms each semester. Vulcans are hot, so sue me! I hear she hooked up with Kirk’s kid, before he died in the Genesis incident. She likes humans. Always seemed to give me a little hope. But I was at least as interested in her lectures. When everyone eventually learned the truth about Tuvok, I had a little more respect for him. He seemed to blend a lot more of the Vulcan/Romulan personality than most people give him credit for; logical all the way, but also extremely pragmatic. I switched to the security field in part because I wanted to understand him better. I’m not sure I’ve managed it yet.

Anyway, I was especially curious about his reaction to our unlikely Romulan friend, but more than usual, he seemed to keep his reactions close to the vest, even for a Vulcan. Telek, that is to say the Romulan, eventually agreed to do all he could for us, which was unusual enough, because Romulans view the Federation at best as an impediment, and at worst, from the very beginning, as collaborators with their sworn enemies, their own cousins. I think it was because he himself was a scientist, like Janeway, first and foremost, that he held any sympathy for us at all. I should say, that’s how I thought initially. Later, when the truth was revealed, after we’d failed and after we learned he was from twenty years in the past, I suspect he must have known, or suspected his fate all along. That was the only reason he humored us at all. He was curious.

Maybe that’s not fair. I asked Tuvok about it, first chance I got, which was months later, after everyone seemed to have forgotten about it, but I knew he hadn’t. Tuvok doesn’t forget anything. It isn’t just about his long Vulcan life, or his discipline. He remembers, and he files everything away in that brilliant mind of his. He knows before anyone else the likely outcome of any given event, and it’s nothing to do with statistical probabilities. He’s a student of behavior. I suspect he knew we would all end up here long before anyone could have suspected a thing. I think he half-banked on it. He’s not your regular Vulcan. He rebels in small ways, and then again, sometimes in pretty large ways. Who’s to say he didn’t have any readings, or reports, about what might have awaited the Maquis ship in the Badlands? He punishes himself all the time, for all the ways he doesn’t fit in. Being stranded in the Delta Quadrant would be just another calculation in that regard. He’d still be young enough to enjoy his family when he got back…

I’m sorry, I think too much into things, sometimes. I admire him. Banjo Man, on the other hand, all the Caretakers…Maybe it’s time. Maybe I’m ready to talk about that now…

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Star Trek: Voyager - Banjo, Part 5

Even Starfleet officers tend to think of normal in exactly the kind of why you’d expect. “Normal” is exactly the firsthand experience you grew up with, and everything else is anything but. In theory we’re supposed to have dedicated our lives to exploring, to eradicate once and more all any meaningful definition of “normal”…but the truth is, we’re just as petty as the next guy. We want everything to be identifiable, to be interesting, sure, but in a word, safe. It’s an embarrassing admission, and by no means do I want you to assume it belongs exclusively to yours truly, Walter Baxter, but it’s as universal a truth as you’re likely to find within the ranks of the venerated Starfleet.

I try to look back at its history and try to discover where it all began, and I always fail. I know plenty of people who like to believe that Starfleet began with James T. Kirk, but that’s simply not true. He wasn’t even the original commander of the Enterprise, and I’d say its previous captain, Christopher Pike, had a far more interesting fate, voluntarily stranded amongst telepathic aliens who shaped Pike’s illusions to suit their own aims. Kirk died recently. It’s a little difficult to explain, but I kind of respect it. He gave up a similar delusion he never asked for, in order to save the universe, one last time. It’s probably the only real respectable act of his career, if you ask me. He was always about bravado. He owns the most cherished ego in Starfleet history, but maybe in another life, he was a better man. No, Kirk’s not the place to start. There’s also Jonathan Archer, captain of the original Enterprise, who stumbled his way to helping found the United Federation of Planets, the wider organization Starfleet ended up serving under, inadvertently setting one precedent after another, at a time when humans found very little respect among other cultures, least of all the Vulcans. I’d say maybe that’s when it all began. Vulcans hated us. We decided to like ourselves all the more in return. It’s true humans founded Starfleet, but that doesn’t necessarily explain why they still make up the bulk of the fleet.

No, “normal” means human, the human experience. In a lot of ways, Starfleet is about making everything feel a little more human, even the incredibly alien things. I’m as guilty as the rest of them. Hell, the Maquis were a bunch of Federation colonists who reacted so poorly to the Cardassian War, even though they had blatantly settled near Cardassian space, that they rejected their Federation membership, became rebels, and even managed to recruit from within Starfleet. Now that I’ve set the context, can you really find that so hard to believe? So in many ways, it really wasn’t such a difficult thing to accept those Maquis into the Voyager crew. They weren’t as different as they seemed.

A lot of Starfleet thought is dedicated to its own myth, that its core values interpret “normal” more liberally than most people. Truth is, Starfleet is a conservative organization disguised in liberal language, and I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, because it allows a lot of moderate thinkers to mistakenly embrace it, and thus blur those lines a little. I like to think I’m one of those people, even though I’m constantly battling with myself. Take, for instance, the Ocampan, Kes by name, we took aboard thanks to Mr. D.

Ocampans live for nine years. It’s such an absurdly brief lifespan many of us didn’t believe it when we were first told. That’s the whole point I’ve been trying to reach. I learned a great deal about why they die so young from Banjo Man, that they became so reliant on his assistance that they simply gave up actively participating in their own lives, giving up incredible telepathic abilities in the bargain. A risk-free life is apparently a short one (though a risk-filled one is, too). Some of the other members of the crew learned some of it on their own, and that only added to their dubiousness. I know when Kes actively defended the EMH to me, my first thought was to dismiss her beliefs, simply because her very existence seemed absurd to me.

As I think I’ve noted, a lot of the crew doesn’t entirely respect the holographic doctor we’d been forced to rely on, simply because, technically speaking, he doesn’t exist. He’s just a combination of programming and photons, a personality meant to give the appearance of consciousness. Kes was the first one to champion his existence on any other level. I believed she was spouting nonsense. I knew all about the android Data who’s been serving with Picard for years, but there are plenty of individuals in Starfleet who don’t acknowledge even his right to autonomy, even though he serves aboard the flagship (also called, conveniently enough, the Enterprise); by the time I took the Voyager assignment, life of that kind should have been old hat.

Some of the crew also likes to complain (as does Mr. D!) about all the excursions Janeway likes to take, exploring just like we’re on a regular cruise, which sometimes gets us into trouble, into all kinds of weird situations. We encounter aliens like the Vidiians, and some of us stop believing in an benevolent deity, at least those who believed in one to begin with. The longer I’ve been aboard this ship, the more the captain has me believing in the Starfleet ideal again. What can I say? It seems to be a veritable conspiracy. But then, I know plenty of others for whom the opposite is true. I call them reactionaries. Maybe I really am becoming a better person. I consider Kes “normal.” I’m accepting a lot of things as normal these days. I switched career tracks to security, not out of fear, or self-preservation, but in the hope that we’ll all survive this. I know what people think of me, what my reputation is. I hope to make good.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Star Trek: Voyager - Banjo, Part 4

Being something of an outsider among outsiders, my regular friends aboard ship can be a little tricky to cultivate. I want to keep tabs of everything that’s going on, but I don’t want to seem as I’m just somewhere for the sake of being there. No one wants to be a busybody, and certainly not on a voyage like this. Things are stressful enough as they are. A lot of the crew tends to keep to itself. It doesn’t seem like that should be the case, because it’s a small crew, and we’ve demonstrated in the past that we’ve become quite dedicated to each other, despite certain opportunities that’ve come along that might have allowed those less satisfied than others to seek other opportunities. It might sound to some as I’m talking specifically about Mortimer Harren, here, but I’m actually thinking about Lyndsay Ballard.

Despite being a close personal friend of Harry Kim, Lyndsay is about as visible as the Delaney sisters among the general population. The Delaneys are at least notorious, not just because of Harry and Tom Paris, but because they have the most obvious and personal relationship onboard, and truth be told, more than a few of us have been jealous at various times. Lyndsay, however, is crazy, and I mean that as nicely as possible. She’s the only crew member I know who actually seems to like the Talaxian’s cooking. If you tasted it you’d share my alarm! She’s one of Torres’s many engineers, and is in constant competition with Joe Carey, Vorik, and I don’t know how many others, even Hogan and Jonas, I guess, to somehow impress her, as if they don’t care about Captain Janeway’s opinion. In any other ship, it’s always the captain everyone cares about. Not this one. I can’t figure it out myself.

Lyndsay spends so much time in the Talaxian’s mess hall, we all think she’s in competition with Chell to take it over. I’ve tasted Chell’s cooking. I’d rather take my chances with Lyndsay. We’ve shared replicator rations a few times, and we both prefer an athlete’s diet. What could we possibly lose? Then again, she’s one of the most disorganized people I know, and maybe that’s why her profile is so low, because hardly anyone can stand to be around her long enough to appreciate her potential. She’s so brimming with energy, and has such a positive attitude, I wish she could better understand what she’s capable of accomplishing. I think she would easily fit in with some random alien crew, if any of us ever found ourselves in such a scenario. She could adapt. Here she’s just stifled. Here you either find a specific role, or you risk getting left behind, which again is a little irony that’s lost on few of us.

I might as well spend some time talking about the Talaxian. What an annoying creature! Almost from the moment we were stranded in the Delta Quadrant, we found ourselves saddled with this appalling little alien, who took it upon himself to join our crew and insinuate himself into every conceivable role not previously assigned by regular Starfleet regulations. Thanks a lot, buddy! His name is Neelix, but it should really be Mr. D. I have many things “D” stands for, and none of them are pleasant, and I like to amuse myself by cycling through as many of them as he manages to make apparent during any particular encounter. He’s not really too bad, though. He’s a lot more useful than most of the crew gives him credit for, especially in a predicament like this. He’s a guide where we obviously needed one, even if he’s not the guide anyone would have selected given any real options. I actually kind of like him, to be honest. He’s fearless, not in the ways you ordinarily think about, but in the sense that he doesn’t seem to care what anyone thinks about him. On occasion, we’ve gotten to see a more vulnerable side to him. Let me rephrase that: On very rare occasions…But seriously, I’d like to spend more time with him. I’d also like to see what an airlock looks like on the other side.

Just kidding! Love you, Mr. D.! The plus side is the Ocampan he brought with him, but I will probably talk about her next time. She brings up a lot of complicated matters, not the least of which I’m pretty sure I saw her during my encounter with the Caretaker. Didn’t know anything about that one, did you?

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Star Trek: Voyager - Banjo, Part 3

I have to confess I had no real context on how to react to the Maquis when we were first forced together, as many of the Starfleet officers initially considered it. While their own captain gladly acquiesced to Janeway’s ideas, there were others, like Kurt Bendera, who seemed to relish every opportunity at the slightest sign of differences. I knew many of the Maquis had served in Starfleet, either in attending the Academy, or in Chakotay’s case a considerable amount of time in the regular fleet, but like a lot of the people I tended to talk with, I knew them best as the rebels who’d been making Federation policy extremely difficult for the last few years.

Bendera wasn’t an instigator so much as the perfect accomplice. He was more than willing to join in on any fight that might break out. He actively cheered when B’Elanna Torres struck Joe Carey, something that would have led to court martial in a heartbeat, if only we’d been several dozen lightyears closer to home. The one thing I can say about Kurt was that he was a good hand in the Talaxian’s mess hall. Joe had nothing nice to say about him, but I was surprised when Harry Kim of all people came to his defense. Harry had been tangled up in the Caretaker affair a little more directly than most of us, and he shared that experience with Torres, the half-Klingon hothead Janeway made chief engineer. I thought that was it, the only reason Harry would care to be sympathetic, but then I found out he was more experienced with Maquis history than I’d previously suspected. When he was attending the Academy, Harry wrote an editorial for the school paper about the budding Maquis rebellion, something no one else in Starfleet had dared do, or would have been aware of. I’d only heard about them a few months before the Voyager assignment. Like I said, I assumed like everyone else our real mission would be against the Dominion. Voyager itself was more a combat ship than a research vessel. It seems weird to say that now, but I came to appreciate that fact more and more, especially with every clash against the Kazon, the Vidiians, even the weird alien phenomena we seem destined to find at every turn.

Harry knew about all the unrest in the colony worlds. Plenty of us in Starfleet knew all about Cardassians already, with the almost-constant conflict we enjoyed for decades, but few of us could actually be considered veterans with real experience. Harry didn’t have that experience either, obviously, but he was a keen student in almost every regard, and he was a great observer, apparently right from the start. He was probably the first voice to say anything positive about the Maquis, which isn’t to say he was any more comfortable, on the whole, with them aboard his own ship than the rest of us. He was always able to handle it better.

Joe and I, even Hogan, we all had our problems. If it wasn’t Bendera, it was Michael Jonas, or creepy Suder. Seska, ironically, was someone we thought we could trust. How to even begin with her? For starters, she was like to opposite of Tuvok. Neither of them were what they seemed to be, among Chakotay’s Maquis crew. Tuvok was a Starfleet spy. Seska was a Cardassian spy who’d disguised herself as a Bajoran. Try to figure that one out! If anyone has a problem with Chakotay, it’s that he still lets Seska get under his skin. This is a bad thing, because she defected to the Kazon months ago. As if anyone needed another reason to dislike the Kazon! Go wash your hair! Oh, right, those thugs consider water to be a luxury. Figures.

Sometimes I try to imagine how the Maquis considered the Caretaker. Did they find him disguised as a Banjo Man, too? Were they transported to the same illusion as we were? Sometimes I wish I’d gotten Tuvok’s assignment. He couldn’t possibly have enjoyed it. What am I saying! Actually, the more Maquis stories I hear, the more I wish I could have enjoyed it, I really do. Sometimes I think this whole experience is the aftermath of an even greater story, and we’re all just getting a lot of time to process it. How do we even manage? Hardly anyone talks about the Caretaker, except in relation to his mate. Talk about your nightmares! I actually had quite a few of them, but again, I can’t rush into all of that. I’ve got a lot to process myself. Most people take me for something of a goof, the guy who keeps injuring himself in the gymnasium, who’s always up for every challenge, restless, careless, ideally suited for this predicament. I don’t honestly know how much of that’s changed, or if it’s even accurate. The truth is, I’m leery of admitting much. Janeway is a little like that. She doesn’t trust that holographic doctor any more than I do. She’s just better at pretending otherwise. The Ocampan keeps trying to get me to feel otherwise about the EMH, but I saw that program in its development stage. I know what I’m dealing with. Why should I humor it? I know plenty of people on this ship who could transfer to the medical staff, and who I’d trust a great deal more.

I’ve got to end this entry, though. I’ve got some holodeck time. Where did I put that banjo?

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Star Trek: Voyager - Banjo, Part 2

One of the first things we all did when we got here, aside from a third of us dying, was be transported to the Caretaker’s array. Most of the crew was thrown for a loop by what we found when we got there, but believe it or not, I’d attended one of those country festivals in my hometown before reporting to Voyager. It was the last “normal” thing I ever did, in fact, normal to me as a regular event in my hometown, anyway, something I always looked forward to, even after enlisting in Starfleet. No matter my assignment, I always managed to make it back home for the Cornhusker’s Rodeo. Most of my family couldn’t muster the same kind of excitement, especially after twenty years living there and experiencing it annually, like clockwork, but I came to accept it as part of my residential identity, which became more important when I found myself surrounded more by stars than farmland.

I entered Starfleet bent on making that kind of impact. Most captains aren’t all that well-known beyond the crews they command, but if I was able to obtain even that kind of profile, I figured I would have been satisfied, and never thought twice about it, until Voyager. It wasn’t until the botched attempt to integrate the Sikarian space-folding trajector that I realized I wanted to switch career fields. Subsequent encounters with the Kazon didn’t help, either. I quickly traded ego for security.

A lot of that thought process had to do with Captain Janeway. I haven’t been too kind to her so far, but there’s a lot to be said for someone who was able to keep this crew together even this long, the fact that she was able to convince a bunch of Maquis to obey her, or rather work with her, when she had no one to support her. A lot of what defines who I am would never have believed any of this was possible, and most of it is because of Janeway.

To start with, she quickly realized that this was an extraordinary mission, even before any of us realized it was anything but ordinary. Her security chief had been placed deep undercover with the Maquis, and her one goal was originally to retrieve him. She chose to facilitate its success by relying on Tom Paris, a Starfleet and Maquis failure who happened to be the son of her mentor. I should have known she’d be uniquely capable of figuring out this situation when she began placing the emphasis on family long before it was necessary. That security chief I just mentioned was a Vulcan named Tuvok, and he just happened to be a longtime friend of Janeway’s. She somehow is able to be objective and subjective at the same time. She still saw potential in Paris. Most of us only saw a bad echo of Nick Locarno, one of the most infamous cadets in Starfleet history.

I’m going to end up sounding like I’m contradicting myself, the more I continue this log, but I guess that’s how we normally experience things. The more I think about it, the more it all makes sense.

I do want to get back to the reception we received at the Caretaker’s array, but there’s so much to say about the family Janeway helped shape. Paris had started on the road to redemption by befriending a green ensign by the name of Harry Kim while awaiting final transport on Deep Space Nine. I had just been talking with the late Lt. Stadi, who had the privilege of escorting Paris to the ship. She told me all about Tom’s more lecherous impulses. She also told me about Harry Kim’s budding career, how he’d graduated top of his class in ship design. He probably knew Voyager better than I did, even though I had several months head start on him.

It’s true that I got to know Joe Carey pretty well, but I could see why Janeway would tend to go with another option for chief engineer given the opportunity. He was a competent engineer, but he was rarely up for a challenge. I should know. I used to care about challenges, before I was overwhelmed by them, before I became a member of the Voyager crew. It takes a special breed to thrive in the way a ship in this position needs. There came a point where everyone was given the chance to leave ship, to settle in a human colony, and word got around to me that a lot of people expected that I would take that chance. And in many ways, I would have done so, in a heartbeat, if only it had been five years earlier, five weeks earlier, five days. I began rethinking everything, you could say, the moment the new crew came together, with its singular mission, to get back home. It sapped my greater instincts, you could say. Where’s the challenge when the most you want out of life is to get back to the familiar?

I know, it sounds ridiculous. We have a long journey ahead of us, with plenty of possibility and danger inherent in that journey. That’s plenty challenge right there. But there’s a difference, I learned, between someone who sets a long-term goal and another person dedicated to the short-term. I’m a short-term kind of guy. I think that’s the difference. Janeway realized her kind of people were long-term. She had that friendship with the Vulcan, the project that was Tom Paris, and even the task of integrating crews that until recently hadn’t seen eye-to-eye in years. We realized we’d need to operate the short-term Emergency Medical Hologram long-term, too! How much metaphorical can you get? To say nothing about the Ocampan girl we took on with the Talaxian. Do you know Ocampans only typically live nine years? What am I saying? Of course you don’t. We’re the first ones to have ever heard of Ocampans, Talaxians, Kazon, Vidiians, Sikarians…In a short time, we’ve already made intimate contact with a record number of new alien races. You’d need a whole set of Xindi to match our record!

The Caretaker though…I think I was among the first to actually encounter him. He appeared as an old man playing a banjo. He reminded me of my own mentor, someone I left behind years ago. To be more accurate, my own Banjo Man died ten years ago, to the day. I suppose that’s why I’m writing this now. I owe it to him, to his memory.