Posts Tagged ‘heroes’

God bless the law of unintended benefits.

Every day James opened this store and had a steady flow of customers, and every day he saw a healthy profit in the cash drawer—and those were most days of the week—he was glad all the odds-makers had been wrong.

If he’d listened to people like that, he would have long ago closed this shop that his dad had given life almost 40 years ago. Cosmic Comics. RIP. Instead, it was hale and healthy.

Of course, the name had changed since then, by necessity. Once you end up with real superheroes in the world—and villains to go along with them—you can’t expect to do business as usual as a comics shop and have a name like Cosmic Comics. Still, even knowing things would have to change, he’d kept the name until dad died in 1997. Once the sadness of that loss had worn off, it was time to get serious, and rename it Shoreline Hero Shop.

Sure, the shoreline of Long Island Sound was a few miles away, and many of the folks who shopped here were more interested in the anti-heroics, but why quibble with technicalities?

Point was that damn near everyone had predicted the death of the comic book business the more that transhumans kept popping up after the 1970s. When they started putting on costumes and duking it out in the streets by the mid 1980s and the world of comic books was suddenly real life, everyone said there was no place for comic books anymore—or at least no place for shops dedicated to them.

They had been right in some ways. But wrong in so many others, James considered.

Oh, there had been some lean years when his father was keeping the rent paid by draining the savings accounts during the 1980s and early 1990s. But he had held in there, and James along with him.

Because, damn the naysayers, James sensed there was change coming. A return of the old business and the infusion of new business.

And the mid-1990s proved him right.

Comic books hadn’t died out. Their popularity went down for a while, but then surged again when people realized that the real-world heroes and villains weren’t as dramatic as they had hoped. Sure, there were plenty of impressive and dangerous powers, but no one was lifting cruise ships with a single hand. No one could fly. No one shot out bolts of high-powered energy that could melt a car. So, in the end, the biggest casualties were the titles with heroes and villains that were too close to the real ones in the news.

Batman, for example—for all his iconic history—was too much like Query, Feral, Nighthunter and High Impact to survive as a crime-fighter who could spark the imagination in a comic book or graphic novel. But titles focusing on grandiose powers or magic took over with a vengeance, and soon there were heroes and villains who were even more overblown than Superman or Galactus.

But hell, even the Batman character found new life outside the comic books. An animated sitcom-style series now in its eighth season featuring Batman characters that was every bit as witty and observant as “The Simpsons” had been, plus a dramatic live-action series that focused on Bruce Wayne’s relationships and personal challenges more than the fights with his rogue’s gallery as Batman.

Now, a buddy cop flick in the theater might just as easily feature a pair of transhumans as it might a hair-trigger baseline human detective teamed up with the sedate and serious sergeant five weeks from retirement.

But in the end, comic books had survived, and so had this shop. But it didn’t survive on comics alone, which was good, since that had always been a hit-or-miss business. Now, James could also traffic in the many magazines that covered transhumans, from the porno mags like TranshumNUDITY, Trans + Trans, Playboy’s Girls of Power and Hustler Morph Parade all the way to the gossip and news publications that followed transhuman news, exploits and interest areas, like SuperNews, TransWeek, PoweredPEOPLE, The Transhuman Enquirer, Costume & Ammo, Celebrity Crimefighters and Good::Evil.

Plus a whole set of racks of reality-show videos about transhumans, X-rated films with them, documentaries about them, and self-help books for people dealing with their newfound abilities—or those raising such a person. Authorized biographies, unauthorized biographies, memoirs, history books on transhuman issues and more.

Hell, he even had a corner devoted to martial arts supplies, for those transhuman customers who hoped they might be able to be a real hero one day.

No, business had been good for those who had stuck it out and adapted. The law of unintended benefits.

James tended to give the middle finger to the law of unintended consequences, and he’d never had that law truly punch him in the nose.

Well, at least not until 3:36 p.m. when that asshole came in.

* * *

Plenty of odd and disturbing people had patronized Shoreline Hero Shop, particularly in the past 10 years, but James figured he saw less weirdos than the average convenience store did. Some weirdos were even good for business. Underworld, a villain that the FBI and local police forces kept near the top of their watch list, had come in one day to buy up any and everything in the store that even vaguely mentioned her arch-nemesis Glory Boy. Besides dropping a bunch of cash, the statuesque woman took time to autograph a bunch of stuff in James’ shop.

She even sent him a thank-you note two weeks later, praising him for his comprehensive collection, along with a dozen autographed photos of her in nothing but her mask and a sable stole—James kept one of those and made a tidy sum selling the rest. Apparently, she had gained enough insight about Glory Boy to put him off his game in a streetfight with her, and she trounced his ass. He’d always been a hero with a huge ego and an annoying sense of self-importance, so James didn’t feel all that bad that it was in part because of the inventory at the Shoreline Hero Shop that Glory Boy was going to need braces to walk for the rest of his life.

Fanboys and fangirls, freaky deakies and trans-stalkers, heroes and villains, adults and kids, professors and high schoolers—all walks of life came through here.

So James didn’t flinch when a guy came in wearing black leggings under red satin boxing shorts, Doc Marten boots with red flames crudely painted on them—and flaking no less, a too-tight long-sleeve yellow shirt that was riding just high enough to reveal his belly button, a domino mask that had clearly been bought in a dollar store, and a cape that seemed to have been stolen from some old devil costume from a Halloween shop.

“I am Hellfire,” the guy said, in a tone that held some menace, but also a lot of nasally whine.

“Hi, I’m James. What can I do for you?”

“It’s what you will do for me that matters,” Hellfire said. “I locked your door on my way in, and turned your sign around to ‘closed.’ Don’t yell. Don’t scream. Just do as you’re told.”

James swore to himself silently. He hadn’t been robbed in a long time, and this would be the first time by a guy in a costume. But why did it have to be a guy in such a cheesy, slapped-together get-up?

I’m not telling anyone about a robbery this fucking embarrassing, James thought. Except to my girlfriend. No, not even her, come to think of it. She’d use it as material in her stand-up routine.

James realized the guy was carrying a box, but hadn’t yet brandished a gun or knife, and he began to wonder if this was a robbery after all. As dad had always told him about strange situations: When in doubt, ask.

“So…um, Hellfire…is this a robbery or something?”

“I’m about to become a top-tier fucking supervillain, you shithead,” the guy snapped. “I’m not gonna rob some fucking comic book shop.”

“Hero shop,” James corrected him, rubbing at his neck, putting his hands on his hips, and flapping his elbows forward and back a little as he sized the visitor up.

“I ain’t no hero,” Hellfire said.

“So you’ve told me. So, what’s in the box? Some arcane totem that’s going to eat my soul?”

“Don’t mock me, you putz,” Hellfire whined, fidgeting a bit.

“Well, you said your name is Hellfire. You’re trying to be all threatening and shit. Your robbery weapon is a box. I’m just guessing here. Working with what I have, man.”

“Goddammit!” Hellfire snapped irritably, frowning in an way that was far more petulant and hurt than fearsome. “I toldja this wasn’t a robbery. What’s in this box is what you’re gonna sell for me, to make sure my name is known far and wide before I begin my reign of terror. Oh, and, uh, you’re gonna give me 100% of the proceeds from them. I’ll, uh, be finding you at random times and places to get my take. You’d better have all of it when I do.”

“Or…?” James probed.

Pulling off one of his heavy black gloves, which was clearly from some wholesale lab supply store, Hellfire laid a slightly trembling hand on James’ countertop. James smelled burning, and when Hellfire removed his hand and put the glove back on, a black handprint, smoking slightly, could be seen in the woodgrain.

Shit, a Thermal. And strong enough to generate enough biochemical heat to give me a bunch of third-degree burns on my face and neck if I piss him off, James considered. Time to step up my game.

Hellfire opened the box.

“These are comic books. By me and about me. Thirty copies of issue #1. You’ve got a week to sell at least half of them and give me the cash, and another couple weeks to sell the rest. I’ll have issue #2 in three or four weeks for you, and I’ll have more copies of them, and I’ll want all of them sold, too. So, uh…um…get your fucking sell on. Your salesman face. Uh, whatever it takes.”

James didn’t like the idea of being extorted, paying protection money or being an indentured salesman—whatever the fuck this was. Being the guy’s butt-boy in any case. But he also didn’t like the idea of having the guy jump him some night and leave him with a bunch of burn scars. Suddenly, he was wishing this was a straight-up robbery with a gun. Now James was sweating a little, but that was pretty much par for the course at this point.

He sighed, and decided he needed to buy some time. So he slowly picked up one of the comic books and started leafing through it slowly. As he did, he said, “Seems like a steep price at $30 a copy.”

Particularly since it looks like it was drawn by an eight-year-old and lettered by a Kindergartner, James thought.

“I autographed all those,” Hellfire said, puffing out his chest, but shifting his feet back and forth. “The next batch will only be $15 each, but there’ll be three times…as many…and you’d better, uh, sell ‘em all…OK?”

“Sure, sure,” James said casually.

“Look, I’ve got places to be,” Hellfire said. “I just wanted you to know what’s what, OK? You take it from here.”

“Hold on a bit, Hellfire,” James said, laughing inwardly at the ludicrous and poorly drawn situations in the comic book, with Hellfire fending off three heroes at a time and getting hit on by big-bosomed women every fifth page—a little laughter, even silent, took his mind off thoughts of being burned. James took a deep breath, sweated some more. Blew out a long, slow sigh. “Look, you may end up being a big-time villain soon, but if I’m going to sell these, I need to know more about you. Let me read this and get a sense of who you are.”

“Can’t you do that on your time instead of mine?” Hellfire said in a whinier tone than before. “I’ve got places to be.”

“It’s Monday afternoon, Hellfire,” James said. “Where’ve you got to be? Even here in New Judah, villains hate Mondays as much as anyone. Maybe you want to work hard on a Monday, but you won’t find too many heroes to vanquish out there today. Maybe when night falls you can get lucky and take out Query or something.”

“But why…?”

“Just stick around a bit. I’m almost done here. I might have questions about you that I need to ask. You know, so I can sell your rep a bit and drive sales of your comic book,” James said, leaning forward a little. “Just be a little longer.”

“Look, this…”

“Hey, just stick around. Nothing to be nervous about, right? You’re the big, bad villain, right?”

“I…”

“So, you’ll come up on me in the deep dark of night every week or so. Creep up on me so I can give you my hard-earned money, right?”

“Well…”

“Yeah, that sounds right. Sounds really fucking unnerving. Scary. Terrifying, even,” James said, and leaned over just a little more, dropping the comic book to the counter. “Real shit your pants stuff.”

“OK now…”

“Big, bad, scary FUCK!”

Hellfire jumped a bit, stepped back.

“Fear’s a pretty powerful thing, isn’t it?”

Hellfire stepped back from the counter, almost tripped over his own feet, and bolted for the door. He scrabbled at the lock for a few seconds before he got it open, and James could see the stain of piss on the guy’s shorts. Hellfire fled down the street, and James figured he wouldn’t be able to come back near the store without anxiety, so it was probably the last he’d see of him.

James sighed, centered himself, and began to stem the flow of sweat and the excess saliva.

Shit, I hate the taste of the fear-producing pheromones—and the smell of them, too.

James went to re-lock the door, and left the sign turned around to “closed.” Normally, he wouldn’t be closed this early, but it would take a half-dozen fans all night to clear the air. Keeping a light haze of comfort pheromones in the air was the usual way of things, not a miasma of terror.

So, yeah, business wasn’t just good because of my good business sense, he admitted to himself, though most of it was due to skill and the example of his dad. But when you had other advantages, you use those too. Like being a Primal transhuman who can manipulate a few emotions, thanks to mom and dad’s chromosomes.

Just another example of the law of unintended benefits, James thought, as he got ready to trash the amateurish comics Hellfire had brought—then he stopped, and put them in a cabinet behind his counter instead. Shit, you never know. The guy might become famous one day.