The Greatest Fan Fiction Ever Told

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This guy, am I right?

I’ve never been a big Spider-Man reader, so my awareness of the character Herman “Shocker” Schultz–frequent Sinister Six member in reasonably good standing and a Spidey foe for pretty much as long as I’ve been alive–was dim at best before I read Superior Foes of Spider-ManIn that fantastic series, Herman makes a fateful decision that leads him and the other five members of the Six (if that doesn’t seem to add up, just read Superior Foes, dammit!) down a path that could spell doom for all of them. But in the end, out of everybody, it’s the Shocker (whose only superpower is the shock-resistant suit and vibration gauntlets he built in prison, because he’s actually kind of a genius even though he doesn’t know it) who pulls out a big win when he single-handedly takes down…well, why should I spoil it for you?

It was my childhood friend and brother from another mother Jeff Coleman who turned me on to Frank Miller’s Daredevil and Claremont and Byrne’s X-Men and Dave Sims’ Cerebus when they were the freshest things on the spinner rack, and thus inspired my lifelong dalliance with comics. He’s also the artist responsible for the 3D rendition of HandCannon that graces the top of this blog. He recently stumbled across a terrific piece of fan fiction that basically answers the question “what would The Villain’s Sidekick be like if I’d written it using licensed Marvel characters?” 

Shocker: Legit,  written entirely on spec, or for fun, by Max Landis (son of filmmaker John Landis, screenwriter of the found footage superhero flick Chronicle) concerns itself with what might happen if Herman Schultz were to grow weary of being a punching bag for metahuman crimebusters like Spider-Man and try his hand at doing the hero thing himself. He gets his first opportunity when he comes across the Hulk-ish Ravage running riot in downtown Manhattan and manages, through grit, determination, and some dumb luck, to take the monster down.

Ravage

During this encounter, he gets an unexpected assist from Felicia “Black Cat” Hardy, who becomes his unlikely ally as they uncover a vast conspiracy involving a company called First Person Shooter that allows regular, high-paying citizens to operate mind-controlled supervillains and use them to wreak real-world havoc as if the actual death, destruction and carnage were all some kind of virtual reality game. And that’s just the tip of the conspiratorial iceberg. Meanwhile, Felicia becomes an even more unlikely love interest for the embattled  Herman.

Felicia_Hardy_(Earth-616)_from_Amazing_Spider-Man_Vol_3_5_001

It’s not hard to see why (and for the record, I had to search far and wide to find an image of Black Cat that made her look like the badass she is in this story, rather than the hypersexualized fantasy figure she’s usually portrayed as). No sooner do they start investigating this dark conspiracy than they are the targets of not only the drone-operated super baddies, but mercenaries for hire like Bullseye and the Enforcers, and while Herman and his crew manage to beat the odds time and again, they are well-brutalized for their troubles–in addition to repeated nose-breakings, contusions, lacerations, stabbings and shootings, at one point Herman loses an ear. A fuckin’ ear!

The story’s not perfect. Considering it’s fan fiction, there’s an impression from the typos, occasional grammar mistakes and tense switches, and a few places where small but crucial bits of information seem to be missing, that you’re reading a first draft. And considering it’s unsolicited fan fiction, one can’t really fault Landis for not going back and fixing it all for our consumption. Plus, it compensates with a pretty ingenious story, a smorgasbord of well-placed Marvel character cameos, and an extremely likable, relatable take on its accidental protagonist.

I’m not exactly sure when Landis wrote it–my best guess is that it’s from sometime in the mid-oughts–but what struck me right away, from the first page, was how stylistically similar it is to Villain’s, Confessions of  D-List Supervillain and other works in this subgenre (bad guy/henchman goes good) of a subgenre (superhero narrative fiction). Like my own book, it concerns a street-level goon with self-esteem and anger issues whose abilities are purely technological; it’s first person present tense, highly comedic without resorting to parody, and as loaded with heart as it is with violence and insanity. Especially touching, along with Herman and Felicia’s love affair, is his equally unexpected friendship with this guy:

Rhino_from_Web_of_Shadows

Landis’ and Herman’s portrayal of Rhino is as a not-always-gentle giant with a heart of gold and the mind of a child. He’s simple, sweet-natured, capable of terrific destruction but loathe to hurt innocents or civilians even as their war heats up. Again, I haven’t read enough Spidey to know how accurate this portrayal really is, but it works well here, providing another sympathetic layer to Herman as he looks out for his big loyal lug of a buddy.

Along the way, Herman scores some more unlikely admirers and allies in a quest for truth that leads to some (emotionally as well as physically) uncomfortable places: Reed Richards and Tony Stark marvel at the genius of his prison-created suit and power gauntlets and begin to treat the low-level schemer as an intellectual equal…

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…and after an extremely unpleasant initial encounter, he even earns the grudging admiration of this taciturn motherfucker…

1819576-punisher_get_castleThe-Punisher

More than anything, for fans of this kind of stuff, which I obviously am, Shocker: Legit is just one of those unexpected treasures the internet coughs up every now and again that hits right in the sweet spot. Well worth a read. And the price is unbeatable.

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Infinite Midlife Crisis

If I were to try and trace the beginnings of my midlife crisis–such as it’s been–I imagine I could source its origins back to early 2008, when I was deeply unemployed and desperately depressed enough to seek help via a depression study I heard about in a radio ad. I’d been in a deep funk for months, the kind of constant emotional turmoil and pain that was reminiscent of the darkest depths of heartbreak I’d experienced at the crash-and-burn of romantic entanglements, or the bleak apocalyptic despair that inexplicably overwhelmed me during my first semester at college, when my personal uncertainties about the future manifested in the certainty that mankind as a species was doomed. A chronic self-medicator, I’d eschewed therapy and prescribed chemical assistance for the depression that had been my bane for most of my existence, from at least adolescence onward.

That depression, which the octogenarian head of the study would later refer to as “profound,” consisted of some fairly straightforward talk-therapy sessions, some very “Parallax View” computer memory tests, a little bit of cognitive conditioning, one of the scariest blood draws I ever experienced in my life (the slightly daffy, possibly incompetent nurse couldn’t seem to locate any of my admittedly pale veins, and I doubt GPS tracking would have helped her), and the administration of a drug that may or may not have been akin to Lexapro. It was a blind study, and of course no one could tell me if I was in the control group or the experimental group, so I had to take it on faith that I was actually getting help in that regard. I drew my own conclusions when, within two weeks, I started to feel like a human being and not a shambling meatbag full of simmering anxiety, swampy self-pity, bitter resentments and societal rage all swirling in my personal shame spiral.

Equally important, my wife noticed too, which was fantastic because my moods were not exactly contributing to harmony in the homestead, as you can imagine. Our son was a toddler at the time and my inner lethargy and emotional muck-wallowing meant I could barely see past the tip of my dick, much less offer any meaningful parental assistance. So in the nick of time, and while I had the time, thanks to unemployment, I took some action–mildly absurd action, it felt at the time, but at least a research study seemed like an interesting thing to do–and managed to rescue myself from ennui and maybe oblivion in the bargain.

There were still plenty of challenges to come–shitty jobs and worse bosses (but at least I was working again), personal setbacks, life shit, plus while things got easier at home, they didn’t suddenly become perfect. Magic pills they may have seemed, but even magic takes effort to keep working. I’ve remained on medication ever since, and fortunately I react well to what I’m on–no noticeable side effects and no recurrence of major depression, which is a big deal considering that in those early years I was still augmenting the meds with alcohol and drugs, self-medicating my mid-life away.

I suppose phase two of this crisis made itself known in earnest around 2010, when I was deep into popping a constant stream of unprescribed (at least to me) painkillers while simultaneously rekindling my long-shelved love of funnybooks. I’ve written a bit about this before, but I blame Ed Brubaker, particularly his Sleeper, Incognito and Captain America, in re-igniting this fire, to the degree that I began reworking a straightforward but stagnating (and still not quite finished) scifi novel I was writing into a superhero-stuffed opus involving Nazi scientists, atomic-powered sex goddesses, human-ape hybrids, ultrasecret agents and all manner of mid-20th-century craziness (gimme a couple more years and a few more books in between and I promise you it’s on its way).

The drug and alcohol abuse went the way of the dinosaur, but the reborn passion for comics didn’t. Good timing, too, because somewhere in there my wife bought me a Kindle and I discovered the joys of comixology and digital comics in general (if you’re a Luddite print-freak who takes issue with this, I respect that, but I still selectively collect when I can, and I only got so much shelf space). Not to mention the fact that Marvel’s complete takeover of Summer blockbuster cinema also coincided with all this, and suddenly my deep middle ages are a pretty incredible time to be a fan of well-made escapist entertainment.

Don’t get me wrong–I still enjoy serious grounded arthouse drama onscreen and on the tube and on the printed or computerized page–but if I have to be honest, 40-something me seems to crave, desire and appreciate the indulgent fun of alternate realities and costumed crusades more than adolescent me ever did. Which makes sense, seeing as I’m more or less the same age as a lot of my favorite creators of this material.

I’m also fortunate that, in creating and publishing my own superhero-centric fiction, I’ve discovered a whole vast narrative prose subgenre, much of it of great quality and sophistication. From Austin Grossman’s “Soon I Will Be Invincible” to Mike Leon’s “Kill Kill Kill” to Casey Glander’s Gailsone series and on and on, there is just a wealth of this stuff to be found on Amazon and elsewhere at very affordable prices and it’s a shit-ton of quick-reading fun that covers a lot of ground, from balls-out satire to sharply human drama to blood-soaked action.

And then there’s TV. I mean, seriously, just between Arrow and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. alone it is truly a great time to be a fan of this stuff, weekly doses of genuine comic book awesomeness beamed straight into my eyes for free! And if you’re a true Marvel fan who checked out on S.H.I.E.L.D. in the early, pre-Winter Soldier portion of its first season, I strongly urge you to give it another shot because not only did it come screaming to life after that shot in the arm in the back half of last season, it’s come roaring out of the gate in season two with a kind of confidence in its characters and storytelling that makes it seem like everyone on staff over there started taking the creative equivalent of supersoldier serum over the Summer. Seriously, last year Arrow was my favorite piece of pure entertainment on the idiot box, but so far this year S.H.I.E.L.D. is just crushing everything in its storytelling path. But I digress.

I guess my point, if I have one, is that there are certainly worse ways to “suffer” a midlife crisis. My life is better than it’s ever been. I’m writing, I’m creating, I’m being a better husband and father than I ever thought I could, and in between, I spend a lot more time with superheroes than I do with drug dealers.

So my Bukowski and Hunter Thompson-worshipping/emulating days are behind me. I’m not going to buy a Harley, have a tawdry affair, go on a wild bender, quit my job and run off to an ashram. Or at least, I won’t as long as I can keep getting my superhero fix.

FOGcon

Me and my good buddy Les Milton will be holding court at FOGcon in Walnut Creek, California (so far from God, so close to San Francisco) from Friday, March 7-Sunday, March 9.

https://www.facebook.com/pages/FOGcon/197503626926841

http://fogcon.org

We’ll be selling and trading copies of our books and hopefully shmoozing with varying degrees of success with other scifi writer-types. I have no clear understanding of how much it costs to attend for regular folk or if this is exclusively an event for writers and artists and whatnot, but if you’re in the Bay Area with money to spare, please come check us out.

By the way, Les’s book, which is a great young adult fiction read (and hopefully just the first in a series, if he gets off his butt and gets the next one done) can be found here:

http://www.amazon.com/Accidental-Adventures-Dogget-Mann-ebook/dp/B004LRP8LY/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1393742424&sr=8-1&keywords=Dogget+Mann

And mine can be found here:

http://www.amazon.com/The-Villains-Sidekick-ebook/dp/B00EYM8I7C/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1381906252&sr=8-1&keywords=the+villain%27s+sidekick

General Public, Part Two

Aside

BROCK STONE

Detroit, Michigan Thanksgiving 1956

General Public—no, Brock Stone; the General was dead to him now—made it as far as Detroit before the withdrawals started. While there may not have been any magic super-serum that transformed him from regular Joe to G.I. Jehovah, there had been a lot more than extra ammo and mystic weapons tech in those belt pouches. On the streets of Chicago, he’d left a pharmacopia of substances that had made General Public possible. The stimulants to improve his speed and agility, not to mention keep him conscious and in so-called fighting form for days at a stretch. Also the senso-enhancers that let him notice absolutely everything within the parameters of his sight, touch, hearing and smell, the mood stabilizers that allowed him to appear the perpetual paragon of unwaveringly upbeat virtue and fortitude, the constant synth-tosterone injections that increased his strength exponentially but made maintaining that supposed virtue off the battlefield that much more unlikely. Not to mention the powerful painkillers that were meant to dull the negative effects of the sensos, which had the unfortunate side effect of making every injury feel even more profound than it was. Problem was, he had to keep taking that stuff in regular and frequently increased dosages pretty much all the time in order to keep up the image. And if/when his supply went dry, which was wont to happen in the privations of a wartime setting, he was well and rightly screwed, crashing into an exhausted gibbering shivering wreck until he could sleep off the comedown or reach a resupply station. He once hid in a Bavarian barn for nearly two weeks waiting for a drop, more afraid of being found out by his own men than caught out by the Nazis. He finally managed to regain enough strength to make his escape by castrating six of the farmer’s bulls and devouring their testicles as a midnight snack.

Now he was going cold turkey, a strung-out ex-hero on the run, if not from actual justice, at least from the burden of being its living symbol.

He found a hotel—a flophouse really—in the heart of downtown, rented a room with the two dollars he’d found in the hollowed-out bootheel of a snoring hobo on the freight train that carried him away from his final battle and deposited him here. Dragged himself up six flights of stairs, kicking at rats with the last of his strength, their rodent hisses and snarls putting him in mind of Doktor Spleisser’s hideous mutant Dobermenschen. Staggered to the door past a sneering whore who briefly transformed into the uber-bitch Sister Hitler, the hapless sailor boy john on her arm never knowing the tortures that awaited him behind her door. Belly-crawled to the bed across a carpet of the dead and dying, trying not to put his hands in the guts and gore that spilled from yawning wounds. Climbed into the bed using the thin blanket like a hastily made rope ladder trailing from a speeding gyrocopter, a hateful face staring down at him from the cockpit, trying to kick him loose with a savage boot. He made it anyway, and threw himself down on the lumpy mattress before the hallucinations kicked off in earnest.

The neon sign blinking outside his window became the red flash of battlefield explosions, and Brock jerked away in spastic reflex. The shouts of people passing by down on State Street were the shocked and terrified screams of doomed soldiers who just wanted one more chance to see their mamas, or kiss their best girls. Brock prayed for unconsciousness, to a God he was sure had abandoned them all, but open or shut, all his eyes could see were nightmares.

All fighting men were witnesses to the unspeakable, but as the appointed savior of the free world, General Public beheld things that regulation dogfaces could scarcely comprehend.

At the entrance to the Hollow Earth, dead Nazi foot soldiers rose once again from the Antarctic snow, mindless killing machine-men with crudely implanted electrodes sending orders to their otherwise thoughtless brains. In his memory, he’d overcome them easily, knocking out servo-motors and pulling wires and watching them slow and still like unwound clocks, frozen statues in full uniform. But now they surged and swarmed, many more of them than he remembered, and it was they that were undoing him, one piece at a time. And he was helpless to stop them, helpless to reach the laughing bastard that created and controlled them, unable to stop the man as he removed Public’s silver helmet, and then his brittle skull…

As fingers sank into soft gray matter, he was transported to the skies over Luxembourg, onboard a dirigible filled with deadly nerve gas, as Air Marshal Bludwulf pumped round after round from his Luger into his impenetrable chest armor. Only this time, the bullets punched through like his uniform was tissue paper, sinking heavily into his torso and taking on lives of their own inside, not just puncturing organs or smashing against bone, but changing him in some terrible way. Bludwulf took the last parachute and jumped free—again, this wasn’t how it happened last time—laughing and falling away and firing one last shot right into the zeppelin’s hull. Just before it exploded and the world went white, Public saw that he wasn’t alone. The laughing maniac from the Hollow Earth expedition was there again, perfectly happy to sit behind the controls and let this play out, as long as it meant watching America’s Last Best Hope die in searing agony as he failed to save even a corner of the world.

The KamiNazi got the best of him on Iwo Jima, delivering a blast of energy that sent him flying nearly two hundred feet. “I’m okay,” he told the medic that rushed to his aid. “I was carried to safety by the explosion.” That was just as he remembered it. Until he looked down and saw that his legs had been blown off, one below the knee and one at the hip. The KamiNazi cheered his own victory and exploded, an orange-yellow blast of rising sun that swept across the island, flash-frying every hopeless soldier in its path. Even as the mushroom cloud turned the skies to winter night, the laughing man was there again, a strange pair of someone else’s legs tucked under his arms, and this time, he spoke. “Not to worry,” he said, and the General was pretty certain he was speaking German, but he understood the creep just fine. “I can fix you. You will be better than ever when I am through with you.” As he shoved the spare body parts against Brock’s bloodied stumps, they fused instantly into place, and he screamed in agony as his hypersenses felt every bit of the unnatural melding, and his body struggled to reject the unwanted limbs. As the shockwave and heat blast from KamiNazi’s self-destruction rolled over him in agonizing slow motion, his new foreign legs were forcing him to stand and walk…

…into a laboratory, high in the German Alps, enormous glass tubes filled with liquid, skinless bodies bobbing within like tropical fish specimens in an alien aquarium. He’d been here, too, after the fall of Berlin. There’d been no resistance then, no one to fight. Just him and a squadron of exhausted soldiers, hoping to find a comfortable bed to sleep in and maybe a hidden cache of fine European liquor, not more horror. But the horror never ended, even when the war did. And even if they were lucky to be alive, they hadn’t really escaped anything. Just moved to the next level of shit.

“It disturbs you, does it not?” The little sneering Nazi fuck again, emerging from the shadows in his labcoat, peering out from thick goggles, holding something under one arm, not a severed limb this time, but a strange jar of some kind, with dials and switches and an electric crackle emanating from one end, filled with thick green liquid and something floating inside, maybe some kind of mutant monster thing, and in the other hand, a giant steel syringe. “To know that in spite of all of your efforts, you have lost? That your own country has managed to handily snatch defeat from the jaws of victory? But did you ever believe, even if you truly managed to save it, that you would return to the same place you had left? It is not America that changed. It was always a dark and terrible place. It is you. The veil has lifted. For the first time, your eyes are truly open. And you are able to see Hell for what it is. And while it believes it has no more need of you, the hard, sad fact is, America needs you more than ever. But it is too late. And in a way, it always was…”

The Nazi rambled on, even as he plunged the syringe into the neck of the jar and drew some of the green stuff into it. When he did, the thing inside seemed to stir, and rolled toward Brock with a pair of wild staring hate-filled eyes on stalks. Eyes attached to a brain that was somehow miraculously alive in there.

Brock tried to say something. He’d been trying the whole time, but nothing would come. It was like he didn’t know any words. The brain in the jar was alive, but his was dead. And what did it matter, really? This was just a hallucination. In a few hours, or days, or weeks, all of this would end, and he’d be able to go downstairs, outside, grab a pint of whisky, eat some pork chops, find a girl to bang. And everything would be fine. Just fine.

“We are here, you know? Even as we speak—well, even as I speak—we walk and work and live among your people, occupying homes on your streets, enjoying the view from corner offices meant for you and yours, brought here on America’s dime, ready and willing to direct your future, to manipulate it to our own ends. To re-orient the path of history and bring the Reich back on track. This is not your homecoming. It never was. It is mine. America is the Fatherland of the Future. And you are a memory.”

His limbs were weak and heavy and even his new self-determined legs were buckling as the sneering Nazi scientist plunged the big needle into his neck, and Brock Stone let out a scream to beat the band.