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Vol 1 No 1
Fradella Hiebert Massari Taylor Waltz Asrar Sollune Maloney Madden Robinson
Special Tribute Jeziel Sanchez Martinez
9 780972 019736
Produced in the uSa
FRANK FRAdellA Founder & President MATT HiebeRT Staff Writer | Partner ANdy MASSARi Art Director | Partner
Editor’s Note ....................................................................................... 4 The more things change… the more things change. iHero Thanks YOU! ............................................................................5 A huge shout-out to our loyal fans and supporters of our humble magazine. History of Things to Come, Part I: Prophecies ......................... 6 By Frank Fradella Debts Owed ........................................................................................12 By Tom Waltz Anytown Gazette ............................................................................ 19 Luna Bay Union-Tribune Toybox Interview: In Briefs..........................................................20 A candid Q&A with Lexicon Yama ................................................................................................... 22 By Matt Heibert Homecoming....................................................................................30 By Frank Fradella BorderStar: Featured Sequential ................................................ 39 By Tom Waltz & Jeziel Sanchez Martinez. Special Tribute to Jeziel ................................................................ 47 His amazing talent will never be forgotten.
SeAN TAyloR Staff Writer | Partner ToM WAlTz Staff Writer | Partner CoNTRibuToRS Mahmud Asrar Dave Flores Jason Robinson Chris Madden Casey Maloney Jeziel Sanchez Martinez Louis Sollune
“I, Hero” magazine Volume #1, Issue #1. Copyright, TM and All Rights Reserved iHero Entertainment. All character and artwork published inside “I, Hero” are TM and copyright their respective owners. Opinions from writers and advertisers do not necessarily reflect the views of iHero Entertainment. iHero and iHero Mask logos copyright Frank Fradella. Made in the USA. Do not reproduce in any form without written permission from the publisher. For reproduction requests email iHeroLLC@gmail.com.
I, Hero | 3
By Frank Fradella
Things change. That’s what you need to remember. Things change. Six years ago when I sat down to write the editor’s note for our first print issue, I felt a certainty that we were about to take the world by storm. That I’d dotted all the i’s and crossed all our t’s. When our second issue was delayed, when it gathered dust, when it was ultimately canceled, I thought that was it. I thought we were done. I watched the partners go on to other projects, move into other fields. I thought we were done. Things change. I had always felt that our magazine, our unique brand of storytelling, was ahead of its time. I didn’t know how right I was. When I started the original magazine back in 1999, then called Cyber Age Adventures, I was one of a handful of people who had started a magazine on the Web. I was among the elite who were willing to pay their writers for their stories while still giving away the magazine for free. I trusted that I’d find a way to monetize it someday. Sooner or later, people would become accustomed to buying things online. “Sooner or later” turned out to be “much later.” But things do change. You’re living proof of that. It was a few months ago at 2AM and my girlfriend and I were driving down US1 toward and all-night donut shop in Ft. Lauderdale as we were wont to do when cabin fever got the best of us. She was asking me, again, to recount the years I’d spent as the editor of that fine magazine, to recall some of my favorite stories. She asked me if I missed it. She asked if I missed the camaraderie of those gifted individuals who had built a world with me. Of course I did. Did I ever think about restarting the magazine? Of course I did. But I always remembered why it had failed in the first place. And then I remembered… things change. We were not living in the same world anymore. The world had finally caught up to us. There are now methods of digital delivery that didn’t exist before. There are portable devices that would have seemed like science fiction when we launched that are commonplace today. By the time I came out of the donut shop and got back behind the wheel, I decided to dip my toes in the water again and see if the world was ready for us at last. I sent out e-mails to all the original partners and some of the artists and told them what I had planned. Every single one of them wanted to be involved. It was, honestly, a miracle. It literally gave me chills to think of what this creative team could do
4 | I, Hero
Actions have consequences. We’re returning to that world we made to find that the world itself went on without us. You’re used to college kids who never grow up. New Zealand I. FL Andrew Reiff Cary. We look forward to showing you our world as it exists today. And here we are. brushing away the cobwebs and turning on the lights once more. You’re used to set pieces. SD Rosanne Ussery Fort Collins. Thanks You! InvesTed. You’re used to characters remaining static for decades on end. I know what you’re used to from those other superhero companies. MA Bettina Kasprzyk Washington. Here. like furniture in your grandmother’s house. Ian Healy Henderson. KS Janice Olson Delray Beach. who we introduced as a 16-year old high school student in 1999 is now 27-years old and one of the most confident and capable heroes in our universe. CA David Hall Danbury.with a solid decade more experience under our belts. David Atchison Atlanta. And nothing is as you remember. We’re even better now. Mudie Auckland. TN Kay Carmony Santa Clara. MS . In Co nTr I b uTo rs fans and friends from around the world broke open their piggy banks and helped us get on our feet. TN Zachary Brown Murfreesboro. Hero | 5 When we put the word out that we were coming back for a six-issue run. So if you came back looking for Permafrost and Fishnet Angel and BorderStar and The Swan to be exactly where you left them… think again. D. We were good before. bringing you the very best in superhero fiction. And today is just the beginning. FL D. Things change. CO John Hodges North Cambridge. CO Dave Maloney Springfield.C. MO Kenneth Matheis Coral Springs. You’re reading this now because of them. This is the iHero Universe and things change here. you see—and this is important. GA Amy Brown La Vergne. CA Elizabeth Donald Edwardsville. Welcome. Things change. Our universe exists in real time. NY Sean Locke Erie. Because. IL Rita Egan Smithtown. David Lancashire Beijing. all of us together. Characters like Rush. WI Alon Goren Newbury Park. NY Janet Gordon Madison. FL Willard Wagener Independence. to people never moving. NC Carla Tibbetts Sioux Falls. so pay attention—things change. things change. Not here. China Leslie Lent Blue Point. CO Aldo Villar Viera. CT Jennifer Nemec Topeka.
” Prophecy said. the barrel of his own gun pointing at his nose. Jerry looked down at his legs and began to scream. The bullets clattered to the ground and the would-be thief blinked. An instant later the gunman was unarmed and the ejected shells from the magazine were still raining down toward the ground before any of them were even aware he was there. moving just so to avoid a blow. “Now. Hero clattering away out of reach. With a wave of her hand. In others… A wide buffet of wind heralded the arrival of the gold-and-black clad speedster as he plucked the steel-jacketed missile out of the air with nary a half-inch before its intended target. He was thin and monkish and he’d dispatched three of the five armed robbers with deft precision before the gunman got the drop on him. watching him go. He had known months ago that he could not outrun the bullet. His legs simply ended above the ankle now and the horrid banging from the dumpster continued. a clanging began. The hammer descended. quickly trying to count the shells and then shook his head. my God. lady! Give them back! Now. no evidence of trauma. “Yes. He had moved with all the grace of someone gifted with predestination. “Seriously? Did he not just see me outrun a bullet?” Rush said. Prophecy fired off a precise blow to the neck of the last gunman and it was over. “Oh. he had died. was still only human. Rush sighed. Jerry continued to rant inside his bubble of silence.” “A simple spatial displacement spell. but his feet rematerialized and the banging inside the dumpster stopped. “Yes. In the dumpster nearby. He had seen it in a hundred possible futures. “What did you do to him?” Rush asked. me. took off down the alley beside the bank. Solitaire bottled the sound in a sphere around the robber’s head and there was silence once more. The man had no feet. Ever the opportunist.” Rush said. . He’s just…” “Freaking out!” Rush cried. a dense mist rolled forward and a green-clad woman appeared. “I got this note two weeks ago. confused.” the witch said.” Rush said. a five-and-dimer named Jerry. In some of those futures. Before them. made its impact. His breath was shallow and his body stiffened the way it does when any sudden move might mean your demise. Then he saw the answer.” he said. Rush was about to speak when Jerry sprawled onto the pavement face first. Care to find out?” The gunman looked at the ground. for all his precognitive powers. “He’s not in any pain. save for the clamor inside the trash. and the bullet sped faster than the eye could follow toward the head of the man known as Prophecy.” With a subtle inclination of her head. Solitaire did just that. But Prophecy. finger on the trigger. from the far end of the alley. kicking the metal container from within. There was no blood.” Prophecy said. his own gun 6 | I. “You mind telling me what the heck this was about?” “She needed you to come. then. her red hair glinting like fire in the sun and arcane tattoos adoring her arms.” “I?” Solitaire asked. cheeks and legs. “if I got the bullet in the chamber or not. “Now I can’t remember. “I’m freaking out! That’s a runner’s worst nightmare.” Rush said. the gunman’s remaining accomplice. PART 1: PRoPHeCieS story: Frank Fradella | art: David Flores The trigger had been pulled. showing it to Prophecy. Rush took a second to look around—a very long time for him— and produced a small envelope from his glove.HiSToRy oF THiNgS To CoMe. or blindly grabbing an enemy’s arm because he knew it would be there and pointing it at the gunman’s ally just as they pulled the trigger.” “No. “I’ll go…” “Wait.
I. Hero | 7 .
‘all the futures’? Isn’t there just the one?” “This is part of what I came to see Prophecy about.” Prophecy said.” she said. “You knew he was going to do that.” he said.” “We’re invisible?” “No. Literally insane. grim. he…” “No. but it will be some years before he’s a fully integrated person again. you startled me. 8 | I.” Rush said as they turned the corner.” Solitaire said.” Solitaire nodded toward the street and mumbled something under her breath as she waved a hand.” Rush looked back and forth between them. Rush took a step back and looked down to make sure his feet were still attached. “All our futures depends on it. but they won’t give us a second glance. “Sorry. “The past is immutable. choosing her words carefully. “A month ago.” Solitaire said. Rush. Prophecy was maybe in his thirties. Prophecy lowered his head and Rush thought he saw the corners of the man’s mouth curl upward. villains.” Solitaire said. but he had the eyes of an ancient.” Solitaire called after him. “I hope to be proven wrong. “He used to be more…” “…normal?” “Yes. People will simply ignore us. “What did you mean. the very things I’d done to bring about the future. wrapping them up with a length of chain he “borrowed” from a home improvement store a few miles away. “What did you just do?” “A simple glamour. “and I’ve been trained in the mystic arts by the greatest sorcerer on the planet.” he said. They’ll be aware that we’re there and move to avoid collision. “I leave you now. Clever. walking around a hot dog vendor. “He’s insane. “He can see the future. but years of seeing all the futures all the time has fragmented his psyche.” she said.” she said.” Solitaire offered.” Solitaire said. “Let’s say I buy this time travel story for a minute. “Light. Solitaire opened her mouth as if to speak.” Rush said to her. Rush gathered up the failed robbers and bound them together against a column outside the bank. Things I’ve done in this time were. costumed crimefighters… no one will be safe. she stopped and turned to face him. Solitaire looked familiar.” Prophecy turned and began to walk without hurry down the alley. “But…” “It couldn’t have happened any other way.” he said and Solitaire jumped. Hero “Yeah.“How the hell did you know you’d…?” “He’s a precog. without turning back.” And then he turned the corner and was gone. “ “If you believed that.” she said.” “I know.” she said. Something in her features… In the distance. and he dressed like Kwai Chang Caine. away from the bank and the encroaching sirens. Rush and Solitaire looked at each other. Solitaire narrowed her eyes at the precog. you wouldn’t be here.” Solitaire said. masking us from passerby. even without my intention.” “So you come to talk to Prophecy because he can see a future you can’t. “I come from the future. Heroes. looked in the direction of the now-absent precog and huffed a sigh. “I came to talk to you.” Rush said. “There’s going to be a war. “Prophecy. They were startling in their depth.” Prophecy said. I’ve always believed—and it’s always been my experience— that the future cannot be changed. . A crowd was gathering around the bank as the police arrived and they pair moved through them unnoticed.” “Two weeks ago! What if I’d forgotten? Or gotten busy? Or…?” “It didn’t happen that way. “Among us. “Then…?” she began.” “Yes. Rush. but he couldn’t quite place it. He has his lucid moments.” “So we don’t need to reveal our secret identities to one another. “We don’t speak today. “We should go. Finally. Today you speak with Rush. He zipped in behind them.” “A war over what?” “The very fate of humanity. weighing the risk of paradox against the impossibility that Rush could actually change anything by knowing. because he’d already seen it happen. they could hear the sirens approaching. “what about our future are you trying to change?” Solitaire slowed. Prophecy and Solitaire had barely seen him move.” “Sorry?” Rush said.
Sam. “So it’s not really your Uncle. “A super duper long time?” he asked. Ben took the plush toy in his hand and turned it to face her. “Daddy?” She tried again.” Samantha said. “Daddy! Stop being so silly! Mommy wants you upstairs!” “I see. He’s also a metric ton of solid metal and one of the strongest. still frowning. man on the planet. A moment later the message was delivered inside Ben Holliday’s head and he turned to look at his daughter. “Hello. and she nodded vigorously. They…” “Wait.” “We’re all dead?” Rushed asked. and she nodded even harder. “It’s Uncle Alloy. pumpkin. yes. “A really long time?” he asked. He pressed his hands to his head on both sides and tried to wrap his head around it all. She thought about touching his knee. They worked their way down the street. pushing out his lower lip a bit. cooking and… and… I forget.” “No. Hero | 9 .” she said.” “I do?” “Duh. Where’s your brother?” “Alex is already upstairs. “Nanny.” she answered. raising one arm to shield herself. She was always too soft-spoken for the task.” Samantha pouted and slapped her palms on her thighs. “I’m there right now. Daddy! It was History.” *** Samantha stepped out of the elevator barefoot. He…” “Stop.” “Are you two done with your lessons for the day?” Samantha nodded. rolling her eyes. it’s not. there isn’t a single superhero left in the world.” Rush said.” he said. taking a step back. “Daddies are often silly. “Those who began the war meant well… mean well… but things will quickly spiral out of their control. “You know.” “And you forgot History?” “Just for a second. “I was there. “Just stop for a second.” Solitaire said. There were cabinets and racks and holodisplays and a steady thrum in the floor beneath her from the reactor far below.” Rush said. You mean this is happening now?” “It is beginning even as we speak.” Rush said.” “Trigonometry?” “Nooooo…” “AI Fundamentals?” “Daddy!” “Advanced Sock Puppets and their role in the decline of Western culture?” “No. He frowned to match her expression. visibly shaken. Just like his. He concentrated so hard that he wouldn’t notice her unless she came barreling through the wall in a suit of powered armor.” Ben said. some twenty years in the future.” she said. “I know. “Or forcibly retired. “French. “And who is this?” he asked. Pouting was one of her very best things. honey. and her father’s armor. “Daddy?” she said.” she said. scooping her up in his arms.” he said. too.” “Alloy’s a big problem. Samantha frowned her 7-year old frown and spoke to the one entity that could help her.” she said. “How long were you standing there?” “A long time.” he said.” “Alloy’s a problem.” came Nanny’s disembodied reply. “That’s why it gets so out of hand before anybody lifts a finger to stop him. Daddy!” “Ohhh. *** “Your father is Pulsar. “He’s my father’s best friend. Rush. She blinked a few times against the battery of lights that assaulted her. “Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it. “How do you know this?” Rush asked.” he said. their home.” Solitaire agreed. Rush took hold of Solitaire’s arm just above the elbow and pulled her to one side. “You’re talking about one of the greatest heroes ever to walk the earth. wait. all of them blissfully ignorant of the two heroes in their midst. Sometimes bad things happened when he was startled. addressing the sophisticated artificial intelligence that lived simultaneously in the lab. “Your Uncle Terry is made of metal. her tiny hand dragging the plush golden doll along with her and her red hair in a tousle of curls. stepping through and around other pedestrians. “Would you please tell my father I’m here?” “Of course. He didn’t turn.” “It’s just a toy. Her father was always involved in such important things.” she said. Solitaire nodded. but she was afraid of startling him. but he was too engrossed in the cascading data on his screenless display.“In my time. if not the strongest.” I. pouting. and padded across the sterile floor toward her father. nodding sagely.
Two men sat on a bench in their buttondown shirts eating lunch. I had hoped that Prophecy would…” “Oh. approaching. just shut up. “I can chase lightning.” “You’d never met him before?” she asked. Solitaire. lady.” she said. “It doesn’t make it less true. “No.“I came to Prophecy because…” “Look.” “But where… how did that information get generated in the first place? He can’t just…” “He can.” she said. Time’s not our problem. A young girl jogged by. but their intensity was starting to show their cards. her eyes closing in understanding.” Solitaire said. The world went on around them.” “Oh. “You’re asking me to buy into a pretty big fish story. Hero “The envelope with your name and address on it.” They had moved off the sidewalk into a small park area. okay?!” Rush snapped.” she said. but he wrote that two weeks ago.” she said. how did he even know how to contact me? That’s not exactly public record. A few people turned to look at them and the look of recognition on their face was palpable. “The glamour only works if you don’t draw attention to us. “Right.” she said. “We don’t have much time. “I…?” 10 | I. It’s what he does.” Rush said. A older man walked a pit bull on a very short leash. Solitaire muttered some curse under her breath and pulled Rush away from the crowd. “He’s Prophecy. Rush. “Are you suggesting that he looked into the future and saw the address that he’d need because he himself wrote it?! That’s insane!” “It’s also a paradox. I’d never even heard of him until I got that letter.” “I hadn’t meant for you to be involved at all.” she whispered. yeah! Speaking of Nutso McKnowsitall. and you can apparently travel through time. “Oh?” “You showed him the envelope. as if that explained everything. “Hey.” someone said. Our problem is that you’re telling me that two of the most powerful and respected heroes on earth are about to start a war we have no chance of stopping.” .
Ben. There was an elephant in the room and they both knew it. speaking to Alloy through the satcom holodisplay. To be continued next issue… I.” “So every time a teenager with latent mutancy hits puberty and puts on a mask…” “They’re making the world a more dangerous place. “We’ll explain it to them. you know I shouldn’t…” “This is the one thing I can’t outrun. It was left to Alloy to address it.” “They’ve saved the world. “I’ve been running numbers for eighteen months. “For good this time.” Pulsar said. “Disarmament. A pit formed in his stomach and for a second he thought he might have the strength not to ask. They don’t want to kill anyone. Samantha was seven years old and she was afraid of her father. Solitaire? Do they kill me?” “Rush. calling his old friend by his nickname. met Rush’s gaze. “They take your legs. and said. She didn’t understand what her father was saying to her uncle. He steepled his colossal hands before him and exhaled through his fingers. “It’s our “Nobody’s going to willingly go for that.“It is impossible to change the course of one’s own history. mulling over the data.” “My God. “I’ve been tracking this globally. and so far. Neither would I. Terry Scott was a Nobel-winning scientist in his own right.” Alloy nodded slowly. “We explain it until they understand. People need a license to own so much as a handgun.” “They don’t have to kill you. but we’ve got guys like Ground Zero out there with the power of a nuclear arsenal in his cells and nobody can stop him. “Let’s hope it won’t come to that. Even me coming back in time to prevent it was just another domino in the long chain that leads to…” Her voice trailed off and she turned her head away. he realized how wrong he was.” Pulsar said. I’ve got data from sources inside the U.” said. The numbers floated in front of him on the display. but the spell eroded with each pair of eyes. reflecting back at Holliday through the giant’s metal skin. “Nature abhors a vacuum. That wasn’t… isn’t… how it started.” Alloy knitted his brow and looked over the data that Pulsar sent over. a geneticist. “So we save it again. “And what do we do with those who won’t retire peacefully?” he asked. And we need him out there. His voice was deep and rich and still carried with it the Scottish lilt of his youth. Hero | 11 . Alloy.” Alloy said. Terry. It all points to one thing: there is a villain for every hero on the planet. She understood that something was about to change. “And if they won’t listen?” “We’ll explain it harder.N.” Alloy said.” Scott said. You never run again. So tell me.” Solitaire said. Terry took a long minute before he replied.” Ben said. They had gone as far from the crowd as they could.” Samantha looked up at her father and clutched her doll tighter. “Don’t you think I’ve tried? I know how this all plays out because I was there.” “I know. But she understood tone.” “How sure are you of your science here. his face more than grim. Doc. “You wouldn’t. Peacekeepers that no one should have.” “Ben. “But we have to look at the larger picture here. A second later. “What happens to me.” Ben said. People openly stared and the girl in the Lycra running suit flashed Rush a smile. “So what do we do about this?” Alloy said.” “So have we. and it finally collapsed.” Holliday finished.” Ben said. almost flinching at the sound of his own words. Their intentions…” *** “…are noble.” Holliday only chance.” the metal man said. If it hadn’t been for him…” “…or the Minuteman…” “…or Omega Six…” “I know. nothing had been able to stand against the combined might of his invulnerability and his intellect. right? Knowing or not knowing won’t change anything.” Heads were turning and the dog started to bark. “They…” Solitaire took a deep breath. but not before Rush caught the look of guilt and remorse on her face.” he said. “None of these heroes are even the slightest bit aware that their very existence is threatening the world. Rush.
” Thing was. Besides. Plus. Johnny squeezed his ‘Vette between an old pick-up and a brand new sedan. his son was really a card-carrying vigilante with special powers. you got no roof and barely any windows protectin’ you from anyone who might wanna pop you and take off with all that cash. 12 | I. No… that wouldn’t go over too well. No way was he taking his lady out in his pop’s Old Fogeymobile. but the ‘Vette was the main reason he worked in the old man’s garage during his summer breaks from Luna Bay State. Johnny did trust his pop. he’d remind his pop (himself a self-proclaimed lady’s . kid. especially since the bank runs were almost always followed by an evening with the lovely Leticia. “Do ya gotta carry the money in that little hot rod of yours? Cripes. and his stomach immediately changed its mind about not being hungry. his pop didn’t know about the other stuff he carried in the trunk’s hidden compartment—the black and gold uniform of the Luna Bay crime fighter known as Backfire. thank you very much.” his dad would gripe. he nearly had the hot rod completely rebuilt and he was damned if he was going to drive his pop’s old Crown Victoria during his weekly trips to the bank in San Diego. especially on payday Friday at 4:30 in the afternoon. Hero “Darn it. as it turned out. and Johnny figured he was going to get every mile possible out of the car he’d busted his rump working so hard to buy and refurbish since he was a freshman. son. Johnny didn’t think. He’d simply let the old man believe that it was his son’s devastatingly good looks and muscular physique that scared would-be thieves away. his true destination. he shut down the red convertible’s monster engine and gave himself a quick look in the rearview mirror. But Johnny wasn’t about to tell his dad that he needn’t worry about his son’s safety because. there’s plenty of lowlifes out there who’ll do just that. He ignored his insistent gut and instead grabbed the package he’d come to deliver from the trunk. He’d learned a long time ago that it was quicker to park at Big Sam’s and make the death-defying trek across Balboa Avenue. And trust me. Johnny. Every time he came to the bank with the weekly cash deposit from his father’s auto repair shop in nearby Luna Bay. Now a senior at LBS. The reflection he saw told him that his longish blonde hair was a little too windblown for his bank visit. Satisfied he was far enough away from the other two vehicles to avoid any dreaded door dings. three years before. extra mayo and hold the onions. He wasn’t hungry— he just didn’t want to waste time trolling for a parking space in the bank’s lot across the street. demanding a Big Burger Deluxe. so he hid the stringy mess under an old baseball hat as he popped open his driver’s side door. The thick smell of grilled beef snaked into Johnny’s nose from Big Sam’s as soon as he stepped out of the ‘Vette.debTS oWed story: Tom Waltz | art: Casey Maloney Johnny Samson yanked the steering wheel to the right and pulled his ’68 Corvette into Big Sam’s Big Burgers parking lot. because finding an empty parking spot at the bank would be next to impossible. Johnny was reminded of his old man’s never-ending complaint about his son’s particular mode of delivery.
He looked both ways. is it?” Johnny swallowed hard before speaking. okay?” Leticia sighed again. you goofball. “Crap!” Johnny snapped his head toward the bank. why do you always do this? It’s not that hard to pick up the phone to let me know what’s going on. it’s not. strong hands ready. He could make out the figures of four men inside. “Dammit!” he shouted. but the concept was exactly the same as far as he was concerned—bad people picking on innocents in order to take something that didn’t belong to them.” Johnny was already moving toward the bank. “Geez. “Dang it… Leticia! I almost friggin’ forgot. it’s me. How can I help you?” Johnny smiled. strong hands of yours might help make things better. I don’t forget these things. Then. lucky for you.” he said.man in his youth before he’d been snagged for good by Johnny’s mom) that a red-hot Latina firecracker like Leticia deserved to be driven around in only the best wheels. right?” She was silent on the other end of the line for a moment and Johnny cringed. man.” Johnny grinned. “University Women’s Hospital Admissions Department. Lety. maybe a bank heist was a bigger deal than the simple street muggings he normally thwarted as Backfire. Leticia Zaragoza speaking. He shut the trunk just as he heard more gunfire from across the street. but that doesn’t stop me from looking forward to tonight. and was about to make a mad dash through the afternoon traffic when he saw that the sign in the bank’s front doors read “Closed. he triggered the release on the secret compartment hiding his costume. and you figure I have nothing better to do than sit on the sofa. He shot another glance at his watch. hon. “And I’ll have my big. yes.” What the…? That can’t be right. It snapped open and Johnny grabbed the uniform from inside. and his mouth tightened into a grim frown. I’m thinking a long foot rub with those big. I’ll be by in about an hour. Yeah. looking around to make sure nobody saw him. knowing full well he was failing. and somebody had to stop it. Johnny sprinted back to his car. Every second he wasted could be costing somebody’s life. or the sexy smoothness of her tone—that always put him in a good mood. And you owe me big time.” He checked his watch. Maybe you should tie a string around your finger. I was helping my dad finish up a tough transmission job and ended up running late for the bank run and. honey. do not even go there right now! I’m at work. the silky smooth voice replaced by fiery disappointment. Even fully aware of the unbridled anger he was about to face for forgetting to call his girlfriend earlier.” He scooped out his cell phone from his grease-stained jeans pocket and quick-dialed Leticia’s work number. “Yeah. you flake.” he said. well so am I. there was something in Leticia’s voice—that slight Mexican accent. “Pop’s gonna flip his lid if… huh?” The watch showed 4:42 PM—he should’ve had more than fifteen minutes to work with before the bank closed for the day. looking both ways again before setting across the street to investigate. waiting for my inconsiderate boyfriend to show up on my doorstep without so much as a call or text message… or anything?” She let out a loud sigh. you got it. and the Crown Vic certainly didn’t qualify in that category. A long foot rub and then maybe some—“ “Johnny Samson. sweetie. Johnny had dealt with enough robberies in his short time as Backfire to know what was going on. huh? Friday night. I’ll have the foot lotion ready. “Sure. Sorry. trying his best not to sound apologetic. So. Two of the men stood guard near the front entrance while the other two were moving quickly back-andforth near the center of the bank. can it? “Aw. he was crazy about the girl. But only for a start. Hero | 13 . “No. He scanned his immediate surroundings for a place to change his I. nice of you call. Without a second thought. Johnny. We’re still on for tonight… uh. Lety. ski masks covering their heads.” she finally said. “Hey. “Anyways. that’s what you always say. “Johnny.” he griped to himself. “I guess you just assumed that I planned on waiting around all day for you to show up. okay?” “Okay. “Well. then snapped the phone shut. eh?” She let out a small laugh. well… I just forgot. Johnny slammed the trunk closed and slapped his forehead in frustration. The muffled sound of gunfire stopped him dead in his tracks. No doubt about it. “I’m here at the bank. Bank’s about to close and my dad’ll kill me if I miss a deposit. and all holding automatic rifles. “Shoot! I gotta run. I just… just forgot. maybe. we are still on for tonight.” Johnny laughed. dressed in black. up and down Balboa. He popped open the trunk and threw his dad’s moneybag inside. Why the heck aren’t they open? he wondered.
inside joke.” Johnny ran to the large green dumpster that was half-hidden behind Big Sam’s. and the four gunmen hurriedly filed out in a straight line. Backfire . the lookies-loos were out in force. man. half-fell out of the dumpster. Looking around again to make sure nobody was watching. automatic gunfire. The traffic on Balboa had ground to a pretzeled halt right after the gunmen had made their explosive exit from the bank. was on his knees. Backfire. It was important for him to remember that the change didn’t end with the clothes—he had to be in the correct mind-set to do the job. He felt his stomach rise and he nearly vomited as he clumsily yanked the black cowl onto his head and over his face. Backfire was on his own. He’d never made the changeover so rapidly in the past. without so much as a moan. but didn’t hold out much hope that the cops would be there any time soon. and with a super-powered crime fighter in the mix now. Backfire heard sirens bellowing in the distance. The repulsive smell of rotting meat and putrid lettuce bombarded his senses as he struggled desperately to change into his costume as quickly as possible in the cramped. but with the traffic so mangled. Fifty yards still separated him from the two remaining robbers. and when it was best just to rely on good old-fashioned brawn to get the job done. His transformation finally complete. moved briskly to an empty sedan waiting on the street to the front of the bank. The gunmen squeezed their triggers and the rifles exploded in their hands. his face also a tattered mess. clutching at the bloody shreds of his face. Before they could fire again. gritting his teeth. dark surroundings. Hero their guns in an orb of electric light. Suddenly the inside joke that was his nickname didn’t seem so funny. not Johnny. He reflexively leapt to his side to avoid being plugged full of holes. Backfire wasn’t worried about any quick getaways—the crooks were as trapped as the police who were trying to get there. The parking lot was too open. one the gunmen didn’t miss. then. As he stepped on to Balboa. releasing a semi-transparent pulse of crackling energy that streaked across Balboa Avenue and enveloped 14 | I. the front doors of the bank burst open. Backfire headed for the bank. Doing his best to ignore the stench that covered him from head to toe. his right index and ring fingers missing and spouting thick blood. Regaining his balance. They were already to their car. The two crooks in front of the line opened up their rifles on Backfire. The crook looked at the gushing stumps that were once his fingers. and the bad guys continued to fire while the other two robbers. The name was also a twisted. The other stumbled back a few paces. Johnny half-leapt. but it still wasn’t fast enough to save him from the flies buzzing around his head and the sickening squish of fetid tomatoes and squirming maggots under his feet. aiming in for the kill. trying desperately to bite back against the searing pain that was coursing through his right arm. Backfire lifted his right arm in a blur and held out an open palm to the gunmen. it only served as a glaring advertisement for trouble when viewed in the middle of the day. who were carrying large duffel bags along with their weapons. especially himself. poking fun at the fact the power also turned itself against him each time he used it. When he’d chosen the nickname “Backfire. One of them fell screaming to the pavement. Backfire hit the ground in a forward roll and instantly popped to his feet. blocking an easy entrance for law enforcement to the scene. too. After that. not just the correct uniform. If Backfire’s costume worked as perfect camouflage for his normal nighttime patrols. The shooters followed after him with their smoking muzzles. except for… “Aw. he’d be no good to anyone. Backfire told himself as he struggled back to his feet. “Fine!” he shouted sprinting through the cluster of cars sitting between him and the sidewalk in front of the bank. No.” it hadn’t only been because of the strange power he controlled that could mysteriously reverse the effects of machines with an energy pulse from his hand. he reminded himself as he climbed to his feet. If he’d tried to use his special ability every time some two-bit thug pulled a pocketknife on him.clothes. stitching the concrete underneath his feet with a barrage of hot. Big Sam’s was a definite no-go—way too busy. his arm would have shriveled down to a raisin by now. Machine guns… definitely an exception. flicking an old French fry off his sleeve—Backfire. the pain would be so fierce. forcing him to be very selective about what exactly were the right moments to unleash its force. He knew he’d be able to use the power once more… twice at the most… against the robbers. he flipped open the lid on the container and climbed inside. collapsed in an unconscious heap to the ground.
Hero | 15 .I.
“Get out of the way. but the pain in his arm was unbearable. frantically trying to escape the crazed gunman. you friggin’ freak. Got you bastards now. this thug lost his entire hand. With no other choice. He tried his best to maintain control.” he hissed under his breath. Desperate to escape. and the dismembered gunman lurched forward against the getaway car and slid dazed and bloodied into the gutter next to the vehicle. cocooning the gunman. and he felt his vision graying even as he heard sirens getting closer. The loud. Backfire thought. but instead of losing only fingers. haphazardly raining fire into the traffic. machinegun in hand. Another pulse of white-gray energy shot from his hand. squeezing his trigger. and his fists clenched in anticipation of the much more conventional brawl to come. As with his partners before.” 16 | I. most of his nose. Backfire released the energy pulse. aiming it carefully at the center of Backfire’s forehead. however. pointed directly at Backfire’s face. Backfire skidded to a stop—he wouldn’t be able to get to the crooks without eating a mouthful of bullets.” The man pulled the rifle stock tighter against his shoulder. If I can just hold on a little longer… just a little long… “No more.” Backfire looked up at the dark profile of the getaway driver looming over him. the drivers closest to the getaway car began to smash into each other. “Now!” Panic-stricken. He was about twenty yards away. he raised his right arm. dammit!” the thug shouted. when he realized just how wrong he was. and one eye. the gunman’s rifle exploded as soon as he tried to rip off another volley of bullets. “We might be goin’ down. echoing gunfire was immediately replaced by a ear-shattering shriek as Backfire stumbled against a road sign. grasping at his arm. smiling. bro. the thug in the passenger seat suddenly jumped out of the vehicle and sprayed a hail of bullets from his rifle—not at Backfire. which felt like it was about to explode into a thousand jagged pieces like the rifle had seconds before. Hero .watched with satisfaction as the robber in the driver’s seat slammed his fist against the steering wheel as soon as he realized how stuck he and his partner were. but you goin’ with us. but at the cars blocking their path. aware that one bad guy remained. He’d be able to get them without having to exert any more of his special power. “Bye bye. “Damn.
his face flat on the seat. make that daggers into Backfire’s shoulder and collarbone. then tossed it to the floor. sipping coffee from a Styrofoam cup.” was the last thing he heard before he fell into the void. If that wasn’t bad enough. Not that I condone vigilantes or nothin’. “I’m not. but I got lucky. “Just need… sleep. I can do that. she didn’t stick around.” he finally said. But no answer came… just a policeman. “Yeah. “How?” Backfire asked. pointing to his mask. “I got into some trouble not too far from here. She came outta nowhere and took care of that punk with that icy power of hers. his civilian clothes were inside the dumpster. considering the fact that anyone who was in the area was hovering around the scene of the botched bank heist. but c’mon. “Why… why didn’t you take this off?” he asked the cop. It’s always important to remember the debts you owe. Just didn’t know where you wanted to be dropped off.” “Can you get me behind Big Sam’s Burgers without us being noticed?” “Yeah. I owed it to someone like you. pulling him to his feet. About four blocks from the bank. Backfire climbed out of the cruiser.” he heard himself telling the cop. but curious nonetheless. Surprised by Backfire’s sudden return to consciousness.” “You got it.The driver yanked the trigger just as Backfire desperately lifted his wounded arm… And the next thing Backfire knew. The cop wiped at the coffee on his face with the back of his hand. yanking on his arm. the cop got them behind the burger joint without drawing any attention. Hero | 17 . don’t you think?” Backfire nodded. because he was still dressed in his full get-up. as well as shoppers going about their normal routines. which really wasn’t too hard.” Backfire was quiet for moment. “Hurts. kid. You been out cold a good hour or so.” Backfire looked out the window and saw the store. Officer…?” “No names.” he said. blackness creeping in. the better. kid. but where the hell you need to go. He had me deadto-rights. oblivious to the costumed crime fighter sitting in the back of the police cruiser near by. he was lying on the sidewalk. Is that mine? he wondered. I.” He paused as he pulled the cruiser back onto Balboa.” the cop continued.” he finally said as he started up the cruiser. Saved my ass. I was chasin’ down this guy who’d just raped a girl. “We gotta get you outta here. “My arm… only my arm.” Backfire felt himself be thrown into the back of a car. sending burning needles… no. “Yeah. “Uh… thanks. “Less we both know. “We’re in the Target parking lot. utterly confused by what was going on. “Or cuff me?” The policeman finished off the coffee. “Thing is. And “costumed” was the key word. “What… what happened?” Backfire mumbled. but I twisted my ankle during the pursuit and the guy came back to finish me off soon has he knew I’d dropped my pistol when I fell down. He was in the backseat of a police cruiser and a middle-aged cop sat in the front seat. exactly. kid. “Why are you taking me back now.” They rode in silence the rest of the way. When I saw you go down after you blasted that last guy. the cop spilled some of the hot liquid onto his chin and the front of his uniform. “Couple of years ago. “Thanks again. his body limp and useless. like I said. “Anyways. He looked out the window and saw that they were approaching the block where the bank was. the one who was about to blow you away. I guess so. but… well. I thought I owed it to Permafrost to pull you outta that mess before any of my buddies got it in their heads to lock you up. *** Backfire sat up with a start. Permafrost. so I never got a chance to thank her. who lay next to him in a pool of blood. “Bad… hurts…” “I know. too. cowl and all. The cop again. crushed the cup in his hand.” He was quiet for a second. looking across at the driver.” the policeman said from far away. I figured you probably wanted to get out of here.” he answered. His arm was still hurting and his fingers felt like they were being eaten by a thousand fire ants. though?” The cop chuckled. “What do you need?” A voice was asking from the front seat. is what she did.” The cop pulled out of the parking lot and Backfire was left standing alone next to the dumpster behind Big Sam’s. “What hurts?” Backfire felt the car moving.” the cop replied. you’re gonna have to give me some clues. heard sirens wailing. As promised. with your… with your whatever it is… well. “One of your types bailed me out.
” she said.” came the smooth voice of the woman he loved on the other end of the line.” he complained. He thought about the cop. “Lety. baby. “Sure. But I’m okay… promise. *** In ten minutes. I was hiding. hon. today my hands don’t feel so big and strong. Johnny Samson was back at his ‘Vette.” He fired up the ‘Vette. “Hey. ever forget that I owe you. Hero . “I’ll never. “But don’t worry.” he said. didn’t see that. “Are you okay.” he said again. I never got to deposit my dad’s money. “Friggin’ great. baby? I saw the news about the bank on TV. The news said some costumed guy showed up and fought the robbers. I… I hid in my car while all the action was going on. He speed-dialed Leticia. you still owe me that foot rub.” 18 | I. I know you need to get that money back.” He could hear her sigh. as he struggled to get inside the nasty thing with his one good arm.” He flexed his arm and cringed at the sting that was still there. He didn’t know which was worse—the screaming ache in his arm.” Johnny laughed. Beisdes. expecting more fury from his lady. or the horrific smells terrorizing his nose. “No. And don’t forget. Lety… tomorrow would be great. “I’ll make us a huge dinner. “I’m just happy you’re okay. he smiled. I don’t think I’m gonna make it over tonight. Were you there when all that happened?” “I’m… I’m okay. “Johnny.” he said. ketchupy French fries. thank God!” she practically screamed. sweetie.” He let his arm drop and smiled as the wind coming from outside finally blew the stench from his nose. “A little rattled is all. Lety.” he said. He landed in a pile of old. Did you see that? Who was it?” Johnny slid into the driver’s seat and closed the door. But. Like I said. “Hello. Despite everything. You’ll get the greatest foot rub ever. But today…? Well.“Friggin’ great.” she said. Can’t wait. Maybe tomorrow?” Johnny pulled the ‘Vette out of the back end of Big Sam’s parking lot. You understand.” “Great. hon. at least. This whole thing kinda shook me up and I think I better head back home. “I won’t. I understand. staying as far away from the dumpster as he could. “Not anymore. don’t you?” “Sure. so I should get it back to the safe at the garage. thank God. “Oh. I was so worried about you. Tomorrow.
“you will never be forgotten. For more information on how you can do your part. Post 36 is in the midst of its annual holiday food drive and has been accepting donations for nearly two weeks now. many of those who were at the post during his short visit said they were extremely moved by the experience. “He’s not going to believe me when i tell him.” explained former navy Chief ronnie Hoskins. reported that this year’s drive has already exceeded his expectations -. a vietnam veteran. and to see him doing something as normal as dropping off food for our city’s many needy veterans. “i’ve never seen one of these costumed fellows up close before. a Korean war veteran. and although he stayed only long enough to drop off the food items. agreed. Mysterious CriMe Fighter Makes surprise appearanCe LunA bAy union-tribunE “i can’t wait to tell my grandson. Catalyst said very little during his brief stay.in more ways than one. “For those who served. File photo by Casey Maloney.” it is not often that Catalyst is spotted during the daylight hours.” it said. please contact Commander Arnold at (858) 555-7238. ~ by Janie Mcdonald Anytown gAzEttE I. just imagine how different things would be in Luna bay. arriving fully costumed and bearing a large crate filled with canned goods.” vFw Post 36 will be continuing its food drive throughout the holiday season.” According to those in attendance.” retired Marine Captain bill “Scuzzy” Lindon. it’s pretty amazing. Hero | 19 . leave a note with his donation. retired Army Sergeant Major John Arnold. another vietnam veteran. just shows me that maybe we aren’t so different. He did. Maybe we are in this together more than we realize. “this guy is out risking his hide every night for this city. 2010 LunA bAy.Morning Edition 50¢ novEMbEr 15. the current post commander.” said Arnold. CA – the mysterious crime fighter known as Catalyst made a surprise appearance at the Luna bay vFw Post 36 yesterday afternoon. “And to finally meet one. if you really think about it. if the rest of us only gave one tenth as much as he does. you just don’t expect these hero types to come around us normal folks. however. and he still finds the time to help out here.
you speak a lot of languages. as much speculation.75 meters for you Euro-types) the lithe co-leader abandoned her now famous black bodysuit and joined us. But I feel that it’s important to mention that Patriot’s actions during that riot were not very different from what any Peacekeeper would have done. The press latched onto it because he has been rumored to be a racist. you don’t like very much. I am fluent in over 800 living languages. that the four-armed adventurer named Arachnid is indeed not of this earth. or as much fan mail. KK: You just spent a lot of breath defending a guy that. write. as its Chinese representative: Lexicon. Although one of those I can only write. they would be able to avoid another situation like Iraq. A liaison. . Every other member of his species has six. when the U. unpowered. can grow to a few hundred feet tall and he’s got the strength to move Pyramids. How is it that a glorified translator ends up as a co-leader of this bunch? L: When I was offered the position. His actions during a riot in Somalia very nearly sank our organization and the UNSC felt that we needed someone with a greater diplomatic ability. who was both our American representative and our team leader at the time. Kerry Knutson: Let’s start off with the obvious. like me. You mean alien? L: Yes. Arachnid had been fleeing his homeworld to escape persecution at the hands of his people. KK: Non-terrestrial. Ibn Al-Jinn. as is our custom. yes.N. There are a few of us who have been classified as “super” polyglots because of the vast number of languages in which we are fluent. I can tell you. as the phonemes are impossible to produce with a human mouth. he did what he felt was necessary to protect his life. yes. L: Essentially. 200 dead languages. however. but I remember seeing the live footage on FOX when his ship went down in Central Park. You’ve got something like two dozen Peacekeepers stomping around the globe making the world safe for apple pie and fried rice and some of those folks have got real power. but when faced with a dozen or more attackers. if you will. by all accounts. Patriot was attacked. What is a super-polyglot? Lexicon: A polyglot is someone who can read. Patriot. but his difference was that he only had four arms. Standing at just 5’ 6” (that’s 1. or understand many languages. KK: So. and while some may argue that he used excessive force in his defense.T o y b o x I N T e r v I e w Q & A with lexiCoN In-brIefs Since the late 1990s. between the team and the rest of the world. KK: That’s… kind of creepy. and four non-terrestrial tongues. KK: You mean they didn’t want a cowboy in the saddle again. in nothing but her bra and panties. Hero L: Ah. was coming under a great deal of pressure from the press and the United Nations Security Council. weren’t you? The whole thing was covered up very quickly. I’m afraid. The others are classified.-sanctioned Peacekeepers first made their dramatic appearance to the world. he is. Our uniforms provide some small protection. Let’s move on. but we are permitted to defend ourselves if attacked. They chose me because I had spent seven years in China’s diplomatic corps and because they felt that with an American rival in the co-pilot’s seat. few of that team’s members have garnered as much attention. True Arachnae. Our charter prevents us from engaging in any activity which is not related to a superhuman threat. It makes him a target for such things. KK: You and Patriot were the ones who found him. aside from being the sexiest shade of purple that I’ve ever seen. and because he is American. How many exactly? L: By rough estimate. He was born slightly different and… KK: I’ll say! He’s got four arms! 20 | I. KK: Can you elaborate on that? L: Only one. L: I was part of that team.
Jade Tiger. where does a girl find the time for a little romance? Haven’t we seen you on the arm of that hunky TigerMan? L: Jade Tiger. we are not allowed. we are bound by ours. Just as your CIA and NSA have different jurisdictions. Rick.L: Patriot is… a strong cup of tea. the reason that the United Nations agreed to gather us together like this. right. any superhumans. Got any advice for your fellow female supers who want to land their own über-hunk? L: Let me just say that some things are the same in any language. L: Yes. KK: But surely there are exceptions. Nothing else.N. She makes us feel better about this superhuman army out there when we should be scared out of our socks. A full 70% of our efforts have been concentrated there these past few months. how long will it be before they decide to overthrow the very nations that spawned them? How long after that before they think that “normal” humans are obsolete? We stay out of these conflicts because the alternative is too costly. but the U.] KK: You mentioned Iraq before. KK: So you can save lives. was to police the world for unlawful superhuman activity. She contributed the August Toybox Interview with Megan Fox. of course. Had the Minuteman not gone against the wishes of his superiors. [She flashes me that smile of hers. I. And when the fighting stops and your soldiers look around and realize that there is no force capable of stopping them. [laughs] Kerry Knutson lives in Boston with her husband. Hero | 21 . Our job is to put an end to those threats which conventional means cannot stand against. KK: That was very diplomatic of you. but for the sake of our readers: Why don’t the Peacekeepers just go into Iraq and put an end to the insurgents? Couldn’t you guys end the war in a few days? L: I hear this question all the time. that disarming grin you’ve seen on the cover of Time and Newsweek and I realize that it’s not the only reason they hired her. had he slaughtered the Nazis in 1940 as he was capable of doing. The answer is never very satisfying. is that it is a Pandora’s Box. who is also hunky. We do what we can. Our purpose. One must become accustomed to the flavor. [laughs] L: It is why they hired me. There is a superpowered terrorist organization in the Middle East called the Jihadi. KK: In the midst of all this fighting and political drama. not just us. KK: Right. as you must imagine. the armies of today would be filled with nothing but Herculean killing machines. won’t let you? L: The danger in enlisting the aid of superhumans. Simply put. Your enemies would soon follow suit. I know the answer to this.
” Mind Shatter sat in the back of the van with the boy. “I… I don’t think you’re kidding. “I don’t have super strength. pale skin and shaved head gave him . He knows exactly what the score is. He never let other people drive.” Mind Shatter said to Crank. “Thinks he can send that freak to cut into our action? Archaeology professor my ass. “No. Jeremy Birch slept soundly as the trio worked their way down the fire escape. Mind Shatter could get under their skin and into their thoughts. Wuss. Birch. “Damn it!” Soma complained under his load.” he said.” Crank took the boy and tucked him ungraciously under his arm. let’s get out of here. Any time someone on the east coast had a problem with a super-powered do-gooder they couldn’t handle. He drove the toe of his boot into Birch’s rib cage. knees pulled up to his chest. for the love of… All right give me the runt.yAMA story: Matt Hiebert | art: Chris Madden David Birch lay on his apartment floor. “Do you think I’m kiddin’?” Crank shouted down at the crumpled man. Crank stood over him with his leatherclad legs. He didn’t need bullets for that. Crank?” “Ah. “The dude’s big. “ he said.” With that. Birch?” the thief barked. “Now. almost to himself. Soma and Mind Shatter got inside and Crank slid into the driver’s seat. Soma had made sure the boy wouldn’t struggle by placing him in a deep. He’d taken out at least five “invulnerable heroes” over the past few years. while Mind Shatter leaned against the wall with his arms crossed. Birch winced and pulled himself in tighter. Soma held the unconscious eight-year-old boy over his shoulder like a sack of grain. “You tell that freak to give us the amulet or you’ll get your kid back in pieces.” Crank said. “I’ve taken out tougher than him before. but that didn’t mean anything to him. “Or Junior becomes a jigsaw puzzle. Crank tossed the boy in the back and slammed the door. He was new to the gang. Why don’t you carry 22 | I.” Soma chimed in on that one. jabbing a finger toward the professor. Bullets might bounce off their chests. only this time they had baggage. brought in as a specialist.” Birch moaned through his bloody teeth. Still in his cotton pajamas. the three intruders left through the same window they’d entered. bored with the exchange.” In the corner of room.” They zigzagged down the metal fire escape to a white van parked on the street.” Mind Shatter snorted and shook his head. I don’t want to be caught in the open when that thing shows up. dreamless sleep. “You got the picture now. He could turn their brains to jelly. At the address I gave you. He kicked Birch hard in the back.” Crank stepped away from his handiwork and rejoined his companions. Hero the kid. Crank’s two partners watched as he did the job on the professor. “Son of a bitch doesn’t know who he’s messing with. “Don’t worry about Professor Birch’s monster. His sunken eyes. bleeding from his nose and mouth. “Noon tomorrow. “You ain’t seen him yet. Mind Shatter was the man to call.
“That’s what I like to hear. as long as he has a brain to fry. They caught the scrawny professor. One of the artifacts was a strange medallion said to hold supernatural powers. Crank pressed a button on an automatic garage door I. they had stolen and squandered several fortunes. “It doesn’t matter how big he is. They hit the museum right at closing time. Soma took out any guards and witnesses. three eyes. Together. After a few more turns. Hero | 23 . ripped out safes and went toe-to-toe with any uninvited super types. though. Halfway into the robbery. He looked like a man familiar with death. they pretty much followed the same pattern. Professor Birch had screwed them up yesterday. It was a short walk to figure out what had happened. Birch was the one who knew where the amulet was. That was enough inspiration for Crank and Soma. And there were only two other living entities on the scene who were awake at the time.” he said. He was out the door as soon as the thing walked in.a skeletal appearance. As they approached a large warehouse. Soma saw Professor Birch lock himself in a back office. They’d kept the amulet for themselves. Their M. didn’t vary much. skin the color of a rusty nail. Crank steered the van down a darkened street near the docks. Crank had received a phone call from a very special client who wanted the medallion and was willing to pay two million dollars to get it. they were deep in the heart of an abandoned industrial park. Crank laughed as he turned a sharp corner. while Crank tore off doors. But things didn’t go as planned. Crank and Soma knew they hadn’t taken it. But such a foe didn’t keep the pair from trying again.” Soma and Crank had been partners for several years. acquired the two million dollar necklace and were headed out the door when the monster showed up. The monster and the mild-mannered professor were in on it together. “Self confidence. Crank got a good look at it right before the creature threw him through the museum wall. Eight-feet tall. A collection of rare Tibetan treasure had been on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Eastern Culture. Whether it was a bank or an antiquities museum. The monster had been covered in golden armor that seemed to grow directly from its flesh. Especially after the morning newspaper reported that the amulet wasn’t recovered. Soma hadn’t picked up that much detail.O.” he said.
who was starting to wake up.” Soma did as he was told. The heavy doors closed behind them. improvising an answer. 24 | I.” Crank contemplated what his partner was saying. Hero . he was lying in bed. Crank. but every once in a while Soma got an idea of his own. “You know. It was a possibility. I didn’t see him when we first got there. He drove the van inside the warehouse and parked. you know… They were one and the same?” Crank considered the angles. It was the perfect place to ambush a monster and have nobody notice. “Maybe he didn’t want to change in front of us.” Fifty years ago. One of those moments came upon him as he completed his task. the warehouse had been a bustling center of commerce. but Jeremy didn’t know what. And the three men who stood around him looked scary. Lots of people who could become something else if they wanted. “Once the red guy showed up. Now it was a gigantic husk.” he said to his companions. Crank opened the rear door and scooped up the boy. looking down at the boy. I was thinking. He could tell by Crank’s reaction he was on to something.opener and a freight entrance parted in front of them.” he said. Soma was suddenly excited. “He’s coming around. Mind Shatter offered a solution to their problem. “What if.” Crank said handing him off to Soma. “Maybe the kid knows for sure. “Let’s get ready. There was something familiar about them.” Soma said. I realized I didn’t see the professor no more. I don’t want him catching us off guard again. Mind Shatter looked at both men.” he said. “That thing showed up out of nowhere last time. not quite following the line of thought. who was now awake and becoming aware of his surroundings. “I dunno. Out of the van. tearing off the last loop of tape around Jeremy’s ankle. There were lots of changers out in the world. “The professor and the monster? The same?” He still struggled with some points that didn’t fit. his eyes round with fear. The last thing he remembered. Mind Shatter walked over to Jeremy. The child looked up. “Then why didn’t he kick our asses when we snagged the kid tonight?” Soma shrugged and frowned. “Who are you? Where’s my dad?” Jeremy Birch asked. his throat tightening around the words as he tried not to cry. He didn’t know where he was now. “I mean. “Are you going where I think you’re going?” Crank said. How’d Birch call him? How’d he know what was up? He had to be there already. “Where was that thing hiding when we were in the museum?” “What you do mean?” Crank asked. so large its furthest walls disappeared beyond the light.” he said. taking the boy and using duct tape to secure him to an old straight back wooden chair sitting against the wall. “Tie him up in that chair. Crank was the smarter of the two and the leader by default.” Realizing where his new employers were headed.
The fear became too much and that’s when the tears came.” Mind Shatter said. There were alcoves where boyish fears of the dark and abandonment sprung at him like horrific caricatures. As he moved deeper into Jeremy’s brain. Mind Shatter’s intrusion began slowly. Jeremy didn’t like that man’s eyes. Mind Shatter probed further. Mind Shatter had never looked into the inner world of a child before. Another one wore a dark blue outfit with a moon on the chest. Mind Shatter found what he was looking for. From there Mind Shatter could do and see whatever he pleased. But as he focused his energy. Finally. but his hesitation caused the three men to look at each other. the vision grew in detail. getting close enough to reach out and touch the demon. He realized it was a benevolent creature in Jeremy’s thoughts. deep. “We’re just trying to find that necklace your daddy took. A deeper hole. coming in and out of the flickering shadows of the child’s subconscious. my God!” Mind Shatter pulled back his trespassing thoughts and stood up. Jeremy’s mind was his mind. “Oh. The boy whimpered and his eyes rolled up in his head. A monster. Jeremy opened his eyes. The last one looked like he had a skull for a face. Then it opened its three yellow eyes. it sprouted invisible hooks and dug in. They were from the museum. squatting level with the boy. a mere thread of thought floating from one mind to another. Childish desires for toys and objects cluttered his path. He was shaking. razor teeth. He realized it had a name. GOD!” Mind Shatter staggered backward. loud images of cartoons and television shows charged by his intruding consciousness. The friend that saved his dad yesterday. pushing harder and harder for the truth. He shook his head. claws like a tiger. He felt his heart pounding in his chest and he almost threw up. He found it confusing. “Mind if I make sure?” Mind Shatter asked. sonny. When the thread touched Jeremy’s thoughts. He saw it first as a figure on the periphery. At last he saw what his companions had described. “Let me go! What do you want?” Jeremy didn’t even try to be brave. “Yama. deep inside the mind of Jeremy Birch. But it was smiling.One of them had on a black leather costume with lots of buckles and he seemed to be upset. far away. sending his power outward without waiting for permission. Somewhere. “Come to me. left by the death of his mother. occupied a large portion of Jeremy’s thoughts. He tried to move and realized they’d tied him to a chair.” I. but those eyes kept making him watch. Do you know anything about it?” “Necklace?” Jeremy pretended he didn’t know what they were talking about. Jeremy tried to turn away from the skull-faced man. shaking off Mind Shatter’s intrusion.” Jeremy whispered. “Does he know anything?” “OH. distasteful. That part was not childish and Mind Shatter steered clear of it. what he needed to say. “What? What is it?” Crank asked. Three eyes. a voice told him what he needed to do. Hero | 25 . to bring back his new friend. He remembered where he’d seen these men before. “Easy.
The boy’s animalprint pajamas shredded as his limbs expanded into copper-colored tree trunks and his torso became a golden wall. The monster was as wide as a Cadillac. they figured out what Mind Shatter was freaking out about. Yama?” “Yes. rested in the center of the behemoth’s forehead. Whirling him around. Yama. It only took the giant a few steps to catch the criminal of sleep. Jeremy. Hero into the far shadows and moved to intercept the fleeing man. Jeremy did not feel sorry for them. “Are we flying. The two million dollar prize made him brave. Their end was deserved. He took a few steps across the barren asphalt parking lot and then floated into the air like a red cloud. Some of them had powers. making sure there were no other enemies. The two watched as the boy’s face flattened and sprouted a row of white stalagmite fangs. he was high above the lights of the city.” Yama sensed Jeremy’s discomfort. Yama closed the distance between them and grabbed him by the leg. In a moment there was nothing but silence. And they had threatened his host. A third yellow eye. His head. He then tossed Crank’s body 26 | I. Yama looked around the warehouse. Yama retreated from the stinging advance. “I’m no scared villager. Mind Shatter fell into pieces on the floor. He had let them go. He couldn’t explain it. ripping up chunks of the warehouse’s floor with each raging blow. His knotted fist caught Crank in the face and sent him cartwheeling through the air. and fell to the ground.” . he smashed Crank into a support column and concrete sprayed the room. They won’t bother you anymore. He felt like he was standing on the edge of a cliff watching the world happen from afar.” “I didn’t know you could do that. he began to beat the kidnapper against the ground. but their persistence had forced him to be stern this time. Mind Shatter tried to dodge. Its massive arms ended in hands with scimitar claws. but Crank lashed out with everything he had. “Who were those men? Why did they want the necklace?” “They were villains. but he understood things about Yama.” “I can do many things. watching as the rest of him scattered across the room. He knew why he was so mad. He had recognized two of the villains. They were the ones after the amulet at the museum yesterday. “Do not pity them. turned upon its side.” “I know. And Yama stood before them. Especially not the one who got into his brain. Satisfied. and he was learning they were different now. Men who wanted to use the amulet for evil purposes. he could sense the thing’s thoughts and knew he could hurt it. Then with a gut-shaking roar. Jeremy Birch had a secret. It’s like a movie. With one swipe from Yama’s bladed hand. He knew why he had killed those men. I saw all the stuff that happened. Yama grimaced from the mental onslaught and shook his head from the pain. Mind Shatter shook off the jolt of fear and launched a psychic attack.” Jeremy was silent for a moment. and its head was crowned with what looked like petrified fire. and its red flesh was clad in golden armor that seemed to be part of its shoulders and chest.When Soma and Crank saw the boy begin to swell and the duct tapes bonds snap. And the killer of many heroes met Death himself. reduced to less than instinct. he charged. Yet he also felt like he was there with Yama. As alien as they were. With the fury of an animal. he ripped the massive freight door from its hinges and headed outside. It had been a long time since he’d dealt with humans. but was too slow. freak. Soma was screaming. lived on for a moment. He caught the monster in the head with a haymaker and the armored beast staggered backwards. “Yes. bashing it in like an aluminum can. He could not tolerate that. then he unleashed a blow of his own. A part of him. His own existence in this world depended on the safety of the boy.” Crank said and moved in with a volley of blows that could have crumbled a brick wall. Jeremy. Jeremy. Some times I can see through your eyes. Jeremy?” Yama answered. Yama didn’t stop pounding until Soma ran away screaming. shoulders and one arm. “Yama?” Jeremy Birch’s voice asked from a far away place. Soon. Right now it was time to reunite the child with his father. He hit the side of the van. As Crank tried to stand. Yama would ask the boy about these new humans later.
Hero | 27 .I.
He didn’t want to tell him everything. “Yama said you could give the amulet back to the museum now. “Yama.” After looking around to see if the neighbors had noticed anything. unsure if he had done something wrong. After Janet’s death last year. The ones with the special powers. “Dad?” he said looking up at his father.Yama steered them through the sky and Jeremy could sometimes actually feel the cool wind as if it were upon his own face. he sat on the couch and waited. The helplessness gnawed at him.” “Where am I right now?” “You are in my heart.” They went into the bathroom and Birch ran a few inches of hot water in the tub. Birch answered it and found Jeremy standing naked outside their small apartment. Birch was not a believer. and he couldn’t keep them from taking his son tonight. though. too. Let’s go and get you cleaned up. .” Yama said. They were after Yama and they took Jeremy as a hostage. He hadn’t even allowed himself time to grieve. He had to be there for his son. “He said something else. streaking the water with smoky threads of pink. And there was certainly no need to look for Yama. *** Two long hours after the kidnappers had climbed from the window with Jeremy. “Put your feet in there. “Oh.” Jeremy said. What had happened could not be reversed. Superstition said it could harness the King of Hell. He could tell his father was worried and wanted to make him feel better.” “What was it?” Jeremy watched the water run down his shins and recalled Yama’s words. There was no need to look for the amulet. That would just make him more upset. When the Tibetan artifacts arrived. But it turned out he was wrong. He wanted to get a picture of his son bearing the Eye of Yama. why had he picked that one? Birch closed his eyes and tired to control his fear. Hero of a half-opened eye.” Jeremy sat on the edge of the bathtub.” Jeremy said. “What happened? That blood… Are you hurt? “ “No. He had suspected as much. “Now would it be all right if I asked you a few questions? “Sure!” “I want to know more about these new humans. He had let Jeremy wear the amulet as joke. Right now.” Jeremy continued. his feet and legs covered in blood. A few of the items were said to be keys to other dimensions. Birch put his face in his hands and started to shake. Jeremy. “I know. arms crossed against the cold. He had been powerless to stop the men.” Birch embraced the boy and the fear unknotted throughout his body.” *** Professor David Birch had cleaned the blood from his face and checked the damage to his ribs. “He said its job was done and it was nothing but a… nothing but a stone now. he was just trying to hold it together. can I ask you a question?” “Yes. and Birch cleaned the blood and grit from his son’s legs. He had to be strong for Jeremy. a stone medallion carved in the shape 28 | I. And now he had brought all of this into their lives. It hopes of fixing what he had broken. of course.under the mattress in his bedroom. He had taken it after the robbery in hopes of undoing what had been done. Birch closed the door behind them. Of all the objects to mishandle. he and his coworkers had joked about the legends swarming around some of the pieces. tools to free deities and monsters from their palaces and prisons. He knew exactly where it was -. he detested superstition. quickly. Where was Jeremy right now? What could he possibly be going through? There was nothing Birch could do about any of it. gliding them through the mist of a high cloud.” Something he wanted you to know. “Yama saved me from those men. I’ll get a washcloth. Birch had pushed his pain aside and tried to move forward. It’s not my blood. But he knew it wasn’t. He had sensed it buried beyond his hope and desire. As a man of science and reason. Crutches for the ignorant. God! Jeremy.” Birch paused his grim task. He couldn’t prevent them from taking the amulet yesterday. Dad. When he decided he didn’t require medical attention. The irony might make him laugh some day. a small knock came to the door. He thought the concepts of gods and demons were rubbish. He had to protect him.” “Come inside. You are safe in my heart.
” Birch said. he wanted to describe to him what it was like to see through Yama’s eyes. Jeremy wanted to tell his father more. More bad men with powers they shouldn’t have. His dad stood up and smiled. Hero | 29 . Birch stared out the window into the darkness of the sleeping city. “No. It was a place of monsters and magic. I know he looks scary. He wanted to tell him what it felt like to be that strong. He was real interested in that.” Birch tucked Jeremy back into the bed he’d been pulled from earlier and kissed him on the forehead. It would take time for him to figure it all out.” “I love you too.” Birch closed his son’s door and sat back down on the couch in the living room. “Dad. but Yama’s underlying message was clear. But. “You’ve had a big day. “Good night. Whether they were good or bad. Jeremy. A place he did not recognize. And he was going to stop them from doing evil things. he already knew one thing for sure. but he’s nice to me. I. I’m not afraid of monsters anymore.” Jeremy said making small splashes in the tub with his clean feet. He had learned that the world was not built upon logic and reason as he had believed. “It’s time for bed. I love you. In a matter of hours his universe had been disassembled. He didn’t know exactly what the demon meant. He knew he would not sleep tonight. but Jeremy could tell it was fake. I told him a lot about superheroes and super villains. Knew it as if it were a thing sitting in the room with him. I don’t need it. to learn how it all fit together.“He said there were more bad men out there. There was too much to think about. And his son was lost in the middle of it. gods and demons. He said to tell you he was here to help these people. that’s all right.” Birch stood and got a white bath towel from the linen closet. He would be staying. real and solid. trying not to show his concern to his son. “I like Yama. his mind grappling with everything that had happened over the last two days. Do you want your nightlight on?” Jeremy thought a moment. Jeremy. too much to weigh. And he can fly!” Birch knelt and dried Jeremy’s feet. Dad. This was only the beginning. But he knew now wasn’t a good time.
that most ancient of dialects that had been lost to the mainland when its mountains were young. where gods looked upon the folly of lesser beings and began to meddle in their affairs? Or were they. did not wake. did not grumble at your sudden absence. You are Chinese. In the end. Torn and mended. Blindfolded. Tiger. goddes of the moon. neither of which was really your own. You are Jade Tiger. Endless. Little Brother. His own garb was not of Tai Shan. Yun Lung—the warrior known as Cloud Dragon. Not of these people. of pain. bloodied and cleaned. Not with your own hands. You joined him to begin the journey home. grasping your shoulder and squeezing hard. Do you even remember what that word means anymore? The training. “Don’t look so glum. You have not repaid that debt. ceaseless hours of practice. who’s fury and hatred of you must now be compounded by the savage death you inflicted upon her daughter. small glimpses of it reappearing against the stark sin of the clouds. Your first taste of irony. and for a moment you wished that Guan di had not trained you so well as this. You were born and bred on the mystical mountain peak of Tai Shan.HoMeCoMiNg story: Frank Fradella | art: Mahmud A.” . the embroidery of the dragon winding through the clouds not yet worn. over your scarred and weathered sinew. what would you do against the unrivaled rage of Xi Wang-mu when she pulled the mystic tiger from her own heart and set its unearthly claws upon the cobbled stone to kill you? Could you survive such an encounter twice? No. He smiled as you bridged the distance. what good would that skill do you against Guan di. it had held up against all the trials you had asked of it. Not until you came here. who could strike you down with solid shafts of moonlight before you took a dozen steps? Worst of all. the god of war. No two mortals could lay claim to the prowess you possessed. Home to the goddess Xi Wang-mu. Asrar You slipped from beneath the sheets as soundlessly as moonlight. still raw. wished that you were not instilled with the grace of the great cats. yes. you wondered? Was it once a barren place. All of the violence had taken its toll on the silken fabric. and but a handful of gods. Bao Chou swatted you about as a nursemaid does unruly children. Self-defense? Nothing could have been more so. And you killed her.” this odd amalgam of cultures. Hero the goddess’ kin. of sacrifice and duty. The pale blues blended into white. watching the covers settle over her sleeping form. Did men climb that peak to settle there. there to aid you. You were climbing to your doom. Together you were the finest students that Guan di had ever produced. You could smell it. yes. A… gift… from the demigod’s mother. to this “New York. like you. home to Guan di. nor taught to vanish from a room like a shadow at dawn.” you said. The personification of revenge. royal mother of the west. “We were never meant for this world anyway. It was new. and you would wear it now. that murder of 30 | I. You never missed the decadence of rest because you’d never had it before. “She will not believe that I have left her of my own will. The dyes were different. Tiger. as it took you home again. It is too late for wishing now. A woman. born to that place? Was the language that fit so easily in your mouth ever meant for mortals to hear? “She will look for me. He was like that in battle. you climbed the ladder through the skylight and joined your Big Brother on the roof. But not of this time. How bitter it was in your mouth. But more—a demigod. draping into the curves that you had so recently abandoned. She did not move. Home. Yun Lung. Tiny. Even with your Big Brother. but with the jade talons of the beast that lives within you. who was war itself? Whose fists could shatter steel as easily as bone? What hope would a few decades of discipline be against Cheng O. The jade tiger. From the closet you retrieved the ceremonial garb that was your only comfort leaving Tai Shan. Tiger.” this “Chinatown. But you are Lung Tao Kai.” He spoke to you in the common tongue of that forgotten city. the serpent’s silver form vanishing against the pale sky of his breast and back. impossibly.” Yun Lung said. and yet.
Stopped speaking. There are women enough in Tai Shan to make you forget her. There was a hot splash of anger inside you. Little Brother. bowing his head. She will come to China and climb the mountain.” he said.” you said. A few nights between the legs of…” And he stopped then. saw it. “She must.” he said.” you said.“She will learn to accept it. Tai-yue dadi. You blinked then. in the metal bird.” “And how do you know that. Stopped his thought. Once we have the Spark.” you said. Brother. “Little Brother. Even an unsentimental fool like me can see that. that the loss of this temporary life was making itself known. “Xian is unlike other women. We may stand before the Supreme God of the East. the humor in his features draining away. Without these things. would she not?” “She will come. Someone who will not make the mistake of underestimating us. Little Brother? Have the gods granted you some new power I don’t know about?” “She will come. In more ways than you could readily count. returning the bow. It was the single truth that held any certainty anymore. Xian was unlike other women. “like many others.” I. we’ll be able to return to Tai Shan. we have found the Light at the Heart of the World. aware that your gaze had begun to blur. Perhaps even earn a chance at the Cinnabar River in K’un Lun. and he looked up at you at last.” he said. it is only a matter of time before the Royal Mother of the West sends someone else to kill us. “I know. “Over the air. “Lung Tao. We may finally put to rest the blood feud between us and Xi Wang-mu. knew the danger of it without a sound from you and his words trailed off like wisps of smoke from a dying candle. Brother. his left palm covering his fist and his eyes locked on the ground in submission. Or you. “I ask your forgiveness.” You fixed your eyes on him. his voice forceful. I did not mean to dishonor her. She will come. “I am here. a primal protective instinct beyond the tigress and her cub.” Yun Lung said.” he said. We shall not survive that battle. whether by Fate or Luck or some cruel joke of the gods. Slowly you nodded. We have found the source of the Divine Spark of All Things. Hero | 31 .” “She is a woman. and offer him a gift worthy of his mercy. The great cat was peering through your eyes and he felt it. Surely immortality is worth that? She would make the same choice. “Waiting will only make it harder.
Little by little the noise of the passing cars vanished from your ears. “this is what must be done. You called it with something more than words and the Jade Tiger came. and resurrected in moments.” Yun Lung said. Impossibly alive. “Let it be done. Little Brother. The staccato drip of water on a metal pail was silenced and stilled. 32 | I. feeling the connection of family that may only exist between two orphans.” In the stained and tattered clothing of a former life you knelt on that rooftop and began the nowfamiliar process of seeking out your pridemate. Breathing. Hero . Alive. and from whiskers to tail the beast was composed entirely of mystic jade. One by one.” “Then let us do it. into the unspoken cave at the heart of the beast. bashing away at its jeweled skull until the divine magic of its heart bathed your fists in their emerald light. The tiger was massive. He existed beyond the shade of the trees. into yourself. what was the bait she used to lure us into the trap?” “Xian. In the unhurried span between heartbeats you tugged upon that spiderweb-thin cord within you and the great cat was there.” you said. This. cleansing your mind of all distractions. through the mortal flesh of your chest. And then it was there. You heard the resounding crash of it upon the rooftop and opened your eyes. systematically removing everything from your inner sight. impossibly.“I know. half again the size of any of its natural counterparts. you had believed yourself finished. then. This. the stars began to go out. sensing its own life force flowing through you. You could feel it as it passed through you into this world. had been the creature that Xi Wang-mu had summoned from her own heart to slay you. But in that moment of rebirth it had looked at you in recognition. was the monster you had slain with your own bloodied hands.” “When Bao Chou came for us. past the footfalls of cats. You eyes closed and you centered yourself. of the lingering warmth on her pillow. Deeper you went.” you said. into darkness. Even the thought of it. its every straining sinew cascading through the soft tissue and weak bone. Slain. “If you would make her safe. of the silence of the night and finding her gone… each detail set your teeth on edge and robbed you of any peace. your heart a torrent of determination and sorrow. leaping from the well of your soul. and the memory of that night still haunted your dreams.
You had sought to be a servant of Dao-jun. An undiscovered country. pointing. This was China. through that forgotten pinhole in the fabric of reality. too. And he was watching you. It had been dawn when you’d left New York. every shrub and tree.” he whispered.” “Nor I. Together. He. without any outward sign. like the sun in the hands of Shen Yi. you and Yun Lung widened your approach. causing the monk to split his attention on you both. Obediently you obliged.” you said. You felt it then. Once upon a time you had been trained by Guan di in the arts of war. And at its mouth. The journey through the tiger’s vortex. hurling you through a dizzying vortex of wonders and horrors. the tiger approached him. watched it rend human apart in seconds. that most foreign of emotions. the fearsome claws of the jade tiger dug into soft earth and scratched horribly against buried stone. the three of you wound your way up that unwelcoming slope. rumbling. chewing on a leaf. Breathless. Loose rocks let slip from beneath your feet while beside you. “Little Brother. Only the gods knew why.” he said. fought. was wearing a mask. straining your eyes in the darkening evening sky. the jade tiger began to growl.” You fixed your gaze to the line of his finger.” Yun Lung said. and with a roar it had split the very fabric of reality. Yun Lung emptied his stomach into a nearby bush and you bit back your own tide of nausea. Deadly claws scraped the soft blacktop and the beasts massive head nudged your hand. a lone figure. “Up there. And then there was the startling roar of that great cat and he was hurtling through the chill mountain. bled. but you were on the other side of the globe now and night was fast approaching. It was a low. The cave. yes. “You might gave warned me. dressed in orange and white robes. not the mad rushing cities or the capital. had grown easier for you over the years. little one. “No. Yun Lung spit the last remnants of his illness onto the ground and rejoined you. The landscape screamed it from every slope. But it was not the China of the coasts. did not cease his exploration of your eyes. going on forever. It brought you here. too. you were still mortal. You had felt the wash of fresh blood across your skin and for all the horror that memory brought you. Yun Lung watched it all in quiet fascination. scratching (as best you could) that favored spot behind its ears. crouching low in the bushes and wavering reeds. And slowly. arms thrown around that massive neck. of justice. time stretched out for you. There was magic in that. I cannot imagine it. to be a champion of balance. Close. From deep within the tall grass. interested but not afraid. studied. you stepped with great care onto the wide mouth of that cave and watched in your periphery as Yun Lung matched your step on the opposite side. you were even wearing a mask! Where was the honor in this? “There. “Would it have made a difference?” you asked.” he said. Both of you. Lung Tao. “Then we move on. terrible sound. scanning the low growth and outcroppings of rock until you saw it. Without speaking. Too many years lost in the service of hardening your spirit and your will to I. Easier. By all the gods. two fingers extended above the others. Man was never meant to traverse that realm. Danger. Hero | 33 . “I think that I shall never become accustomed to the sight of that. I see it. Now you came like a thief in the night to steal the Light at the Heart of the World. compact seconds splaying out like rolls of rice paper on cobbled stone. the echo of its own roar strangled in its throat. mere moments earlier. blind to the coming assault from his hind quarter. If even they knew. This was China as Tai Shan was China. and the jade tiger crumpled in mid-air. The lone figure continued to watch. so very close. You had watched this beast attack before. Too long had you trained. the hot splash of fear.” *** Your legs shook as you took your first tentative steps away from the creature’s back. claws extended in full and its jade teeth glinting in the first faint flicker of starlight. all your training. unmoving. Was there ever a creature more magical than this?” “If there was. Your eyes searched the mountainside.In desperation you had leapt on its back. to be sure. Tiger. yes. Brother. We know. his eyes locked on yours. This was a forgotten place. and for all your power. mouth agape. you too were frozen in the deafening roar of the beast. The jade eyes of the tiger caught the burgeoning light of dawn and held it like fire. The monk did not blink. but raised his hand. The robed figure stood silent. and set your sandaled feet to walking up the hill. but never quite enjoyable. circling around on either side.
And men could be beaten. At nearly the speed of thought Windhorse moved to intercept him.” he said. You moved as one. melding without thought into the crane form. No divine creature would put a weakling in such a position. too. his every serpent strike met with empty air. As long as you kept him occupied Yun Lung would have an unobstructed chance at the prize. he would have made short work of you. Windhorse could not be in two places at one. your stamina greater than his. you and Lung Tao. But this you could not un-see. No magical thing may approach the Source without its permission. forcing him face down onto the unforgiving stone. And when his blows took on the ferocity of the panther. and you caught his ankle between your forearms. His movements had the touch of magic to them. Lung Tao. Sweating.” “How do you know us?” you asked. You adapted to his form. You would not last much longer. So you opened a dialogue in a language in which you were fluent. all three of you set in motion by some telepathic relative. It is not your thing to take. Like Yun Lung. fingers drawn to together. Knowing who you were was one thing.be anything but blind with courage. There was so much in you that wanted to follow Yun Lung into that cave. without humor. Your Brother did not pause. There was warmth. “Especially from two students of the great Guan di. Like you. There was no other way. But there was. For his determination. And warmth. in turn. And then he made it worse. “I am Windhorse. You admired him for his skill. There was no need.” Yun Lung said. It did not suit you. From the mouth of the cave a dim light shone. “You can end this now. and wrenched the fragile joint of his foot in a circle. Windhorse felt it. Make 34 | I. or the harsh recoil of your own blows. that broken heart inside of you that wished you had never found this place. You were unworthy of it and you knew it. He drove his foot toward your chest. as he must. It was always going to end up like this. “A generous offer. and he lashed out at you with all the speed of a striking snake. this man. and he was. intercepted by you. Yun Lung started for the cave mouth. grunting with every committed. but too wary to break eye contact.” “We have use for this thing you guard. did not wait to see if you needed help. your skill his better… but your spirit was already beaten. Being able to best you in combat was another. lending them a speed and a power he could not have managed on his own. there was no place for idle threats and pompous speeches. His wrists coiled. not allowing him the half a second he would need to lash out with its unencumbered twin.” he said. he pressed the attack harder. Yun Lung. Leave now. At long last he adopted the style of the dragon. It is what I have sworn to protect. How familiar it was. It is my duty and my burden to know such things. Each of you. his speed beyond the prowess of any mere mortal. staggering you backward and giving him that precious moment to get to his feet.” he said. You twisted. lowering his hand as the tiger tumbled down the steep incline. Were it not for the lifetime of study at the hands of Guan di. too. Almost nostalgic. Of that there was little doubt. The whole fabric of the universe had bunched and twisted to bring you to this place. He was deadly. It was coming closer. you evaded. This… this was… “Magic.” The monk smiled. Still you parried. felt the lack of resolve inside you. a devastating wheel kick missing your head by a hair’s breadth. bone-shattering strike. The sun vanished behind the far hills. So you will permit me to return your kindness and extend to you a similar offer. “Stand by and let us pass and we won’t do you any harm. they were met by the same elusive snake with which he had first braced you. Not when the prize was so great.” he said again. Your jaw rang out with the mule kick that the guardian delivered. wanting desperately to search the sky for the fatal moonbeam. his eyes narrowing behind the equine-themed mask. and I will spare your lives. he was just a man. warriors born and bred. “Magic. “You can go home to Xian. that wanted desperately to bear witness to the glory that was the Light at the Heart of the World. “It is what I am here to safeguard. These were pathways you knew how to walk. Hero . You squared off once more. But it is not your place to be here. But all in all. noting with some small satisfaction that the arrogance had left his bearing. leaving the two of you alone in the night with just one solid blow between you and death. To the true face of yourself. This was the unspoken plan. too. and you… you became the tiger.” You flicked your eyes briefly to Yun Lung and there was an understanding in his face that could only be born of decades of suffering at the same cruel taskmaster.
I. Hero | 35 .
“You wished with all your heart to be a champion between light and dark. You could see it through the holes of his mask. protected the defenseless. It was only then that your vision cleared and the true nature of the beast became clear. This. You had been reared by gods. Your parried another blow. choking the air from your lungs and singing the edges of your hair. the simmering eyes and red skins. Like the giant undulating serpents that wound their way into fables. had their demons and winged horses. but no other people could lay claim to the eternal bond between your people and the mythic creature that writhed above you now. avoiding the unyielding surface behind you. the power of the Tiger Claw. All in this heroic guise of the Jade Tiger. It’s whole being was composed of living flame. “And you have spent these eleven years regretting that you had given up that dream. You had been hit harder before. Like the thousands you had seen depicted in countless paintings on Tai Shan. into myth. a conscious effort. It was anathema. But you didn’t. Eat red pork and steamed rice and bear children enough to honor you both. hopelessly lost. “You have been living the dream. at the merciless hands of Bao Chou. crowded from their living places by the pain that swelled in your skull. never more than glancing across his frame. You had seen their most terrible aspects. every tooth. despite the equality of your match. every claw and whisker a separate and united blaze. The dragon was fire. But you were wrong…” Your sidestepped at the last. You could have killed him hours ago. rolling with a passion that was not quite hatred. Yun Lung… Sore. Tiger. You have become the very champion you believed was lost to you. And then there was heat.” he said. Your vision went dark for long minutes as you felt the sting of baked gravel against your back and realized that you were prone. Other cultures had their beasts of fancy. You have rescued women from slavery. but only once. Did he pull his punch at the last moment? Did you roll with it enough to survive? No matter. It was a dragon. and Windhorse’s enchanted fist shattered stone in its wake. The Light at the Heart of the World. and another. belched forth with a lungful of smoke. than the dropping of your guard in the face of an opponent who meant you harm. There was blood in your mouth and your senses were dulled. Hero . You wanted it to be over.” he continued. But the creature that regarded you now was beyond legend. the very antithesis to the sum of your life’s work. In moments Yun Lung would appear with the prize and he would do what he must. But he would do it without you. like the furious heart of a forgotten god. Tiger? Call it what you will. and grown up in their shadow. “You have saved countless lives in your new home. There never is for the truth. The dragon did not breathe fire. into your every living breath. Jade Tiger. The thing that came to kill you. It was a conscious act. How long had you been fighting now? An hour? Two? How deep in the earth had Yun Lung been forced to go? Was the Divine Spark literally at the heart of the world? And still your opponent stabbed at you with his words. Your eyes burned and your mouth went dry. The creature came closer. your own blows had been buffeted aside for hours. What more could returning to Tai Shan do for you?” From the mouth of the cave came a searing wave of fire. Your head pounded. could have summoned forth that mystical energy and wrapped your hands in it so that even those errant blows could have ended this. its eyes seething.love in the afternoons. There was surprise in the narrowed eyes of your opponent when you dropped your hands.” The light grew brighter from within the cavern’s belly. And yet there was power within you that you did not tap. Was it mercy. but the look that you had come to recognize from elder gods as indignant fury. even as his savage fist hurtled toward your head. Perhaps it was the fortunate combination of your instinct and Windhorse’s honor that allowed you to survive that blow. and your eyes snapped open to see the Light at the Heart of the World staring balefully back at you. then. his breath coming in great heaving gasps. every scale. Tiger. and the exposed flesh of your back and shoulders were singed. was the 36 | I. There was no more foreign act for you than this. aided those in need. fatigued. Beyond the frame of your own limited imagination. driving you back toward the rock face. You could keep his fists and feet from finding their mark. but his words… from them you had no adequate defense. It came closer and the heat intensified. You could have focused your chi. never quite finding their mark. the gentle warmth becoming an uncomfortable heat.
Tiger. had believed you could steal. “You. Every impossible thing that had come to pass had been birthed from the loins of this creature. its power and ferocity unlike anything you had ever seen before. Grabbing Yun Lung by the tattered remains of his robe. in your arrogance. But felt them you did. And then the jade tiger was there. even now. “Too I. that you had never come to that place. It would seem that there was. smoldering body of the dragon and did not burn as it slashed with its jade claws and monstrous teeth. strangled by smoke and agony. The titans clashed and the three of you stood in silent witness. They tumbled together into the rocks. could feel his pain. This was the thing that you. and you wished. launching from the low hills. just that morning: Was there ever a creature more magical than this? Yes. the jade tiger cried out in pain and the last of your restraint melted away. It opened its mouth. You remembered then the words you had spoken to Yun Lung. tears welling at the corners of your eyes. From far below you. and any sympathy you might have mustered for your oldest friend died in the fire of that dragon who. dragging himself forward on the charred remains of his arms. It collided with the solid.” he whimpered and you shoved him into the rock again. struck dumb by awe. “Little Brother. but you could not look at him then. sought to end your lives. “you brought us to this! All along it was you!” “Brother. the Divine Spark. They were too new to you. you pulled him upright and slammed him against the stone mountain with all the force you could muster. for the last time. and down over the hills. over the edge of the platform. blackened thing that had once been your Big Brother.” you said. could not tear your eyes away from the awesome Source of Magic that had come to punish you for your transgression. badly. At long last you looked to Yun Lung and saw the grisly. He was burned. Too foreign to be categorized and counted. Hero | 37 . stretching wide enough to engulf you in the furnace of its maw.” a voice said from nearby. “Run…” Yun Lung was at the mouth of the cave. You could feel him there.” you screamed. All that never was sprang from this.nature of magic. “Shut up! I have had enough of your words. Through some bond of spirit you could sense the horrific extent of his injuries. You could not put a name to all the emotions that flooded you then.
“Call him off. its whole body in perpetual motion. “Lung Tao. you wheeled on Windhorse and stabbed a finger at him.” Windhorse said. “Can you heal him?” you asked. Never taking your eyes from her you staggered forward.” Windhorse said. understanding.” you said. The dawn framed her face and you felt a little badly for the sun that it was not so beautiful as this woman. “or there will be no one to guard this cave come morning. I can do no more for you. “Wherever you are. “I thought you’d left. They seemed so similar to those of Tai Shan you could almost see the city from there.” you said. . Not anymore.” he said. You knew each other in a way that simple fabric could not hide. You will heal in time. both of you ignoring the masks you wore. Somewhere within the bowels of that hillside the Light at the Heart of the World burned on. “I thought you’d gone home. “It gives me no 38 | I. Hero pleasure to see the suffering of others. He had beaten you because you allowed it.” you said.” you said.” “Lung Tao. This was home.” you said. They meant nothing now. Instead you stepped closer to Windhorse and bowed. That was not the case any longer and he nodded slowly. Windhorse closed his eyes and inhaled deeply.” you seethed. Cloud Dragon. “We want nothing more to do with you. Lung Tao…” “Yes.” she whispered.” The jade tiger suffered you upon its back once more and together you left the things of your past behind you.” “And what of me?” “I can do no more to you than this. was the Divine Spark.” Yun Lung said. “I am leaving.” “I am home.long have I listened to them and found myself the sadder for it!” “We had to come. The battle over. It glared at you for a long time. still unable to look at him.” She slipped into your arms and the truth of your words burned into your soul like the living flame of that dragon.” you said. and none of it mattered anymore. He will…” “He will do as you ask him. But you looked at her.” “You can’t mean that…” “It was your greed that made us climb the holes of Da-Yu and seek out the cinnabar river of K’un Lun! It was your lust for immortality that set us against the immortal goddess of the west! Look at what your grand schemes have brought us to!” Savage. His sight augmented by magic. unfettered by the foolish hopes of two outcasts.” you said. And still you live with the black mark of a vengeful goddess upon you. “The Divine Spark has been angered. its rage undiminished. “You were a worthy opponent.” he croaked. and you could hear the emotion in his voice. But Tai Shan is not my home anymore. “Will I? No. his breath eased now and his inner peace returned.” he said. Welcome. “Can I? Yes. This was what your years of exile had given you and could not take away. her eyes damp from recent tears. She was dressed in a simple cheongsam. but there must be repercussions for these actions. “It must be. The cinnabar river has given you that much. “May you find your way home someday. to the land where jade tigers danced with golden monkeys in an emerald twilight. Then it flew into the mouth of the cavern and vanished from your sight. not turning to face him. he looked into your soul and knew the truth of it. Tiger. What more could fire do?” You looked out over the mountains for a long time before you spoke again.” he answered. her hair held up behind her with a pair of chopsticks.” He met your eyes. Because your resolve had failed. After a long minute. returning the bow with his hand covering his fist. “You have lost a brother. *** Xian was waiting for you on the roof. removing your mask.” he said. “We both want to go home. We both want the same thing. You bid farewell to the tiger and he returned to that place where you could not follow. Brother. “Please don’t…” “Good-bye. Given up your birthplace. the adrenaline had left you and all the minor aches and bruises were announcing themselves with some authority. This.” “As were you.” “Punishment.” “It is not so easy as that. his eyelids fluttered open and the great fire dragon rose into the sky. Let him return to his cave undisturbed and we shall forget we ever saw this place. “Yun Lung. too. “There was no other way. The jade tiger pounded onto the stone platform and roared after the retreating serpent. Yun Lung. “Little Brother…” “We are done.
p-please.HELP us.. perilous bridge built on dreams of PROSPERITY and FREEDOM. a long. ANGEL… and FREEDOM and PROSPERITY… …much too DISTANT. the bridge – the desert – is too vast.the DESERT that separates mexico from the united States is like a BRIDGE for many of my people.. . HERO sequential tale words: tom waltz pictures: jeziel sanchez colors: chris madden & luis antonio delgado storyboards: robert seavello letters: frank fradella borderstar © 1999 tom waltz I. but for SOME. C DESERT ANGELD an I. Hero | 39 .
their TRUE price is… please. the men left us. these men – these “COYOTES” – take much MONEY for the PROMISE of safe PASSAGE to the united states. …DEATH. my baby. i ask a question i ALREADY know the answer to. what has HAPPENED here? we were LOST and we walked so far. SENORA. and there are many MEN who would charge this HIGH PRICE to the most DESPERATE of my people. SENORITA… please help her. 40 | I. we have NO water. . so VERY far. their promises are FALSE and EMPTY.it is said that dreams of new OPPORTUNITY come with a HEAVY price. but MANY of these COYOTES are EVIL liars. to OPPORTUNITY. Hero we paid the COYOTES to help us. SENORITA ANGEL. we… we could walk NO further. SENORITA ANGEL. but they LEFT us behind.
PLEASE take our baby… SHE is MORE important. I. not an angel. i will STAY with my husband. so do i. NO. god will send his ANGEL back for us. SENORA. loyal pride that PREPARES me for her RESPONSE. please HURRY.my people are a PRIDEFUL people. stubbornly LOYAL to those they love-- it is the KNOWLEDGE of this SELFLESS. Hero | 41 . --especially the WOMEN. my name is BorderStar and while my people SUFFER. angel. no. but a mother’s concern INTERTWINED with a wife’s dedication convinces me to leave with ONLY the baby. MI AMOR. i am NOT an angel. i can RETURN you and your child to SAFETY. please COME with me. i could carry them BOTH… woman AND child. would that i was. rest. perhaps then things would be DIFFERENT.
Central. one SAD truth REMAINS. i love my PEOPLE and i love my COUNTRY. WHA…?! to HELP my people. invisible lines in the sand and politically-ordained BORDERS… …mean absolutely NOTHING to me. johnson here.i do what i can to ALLEVIATE the suffering. Guess WHO’S coming across AGAIN. uh. and that TRUTH is that i have made this same SOMBER flight MANY times. 42 | I. to end the PAIN and stop the KILLING… the DYING. however. far too MANY times. yet i CONTINUE to try. and when it comes to PROTECTING both. far. Hero . try as i might.
who find fault with my SCRUPULOUS disregard for so-called international LAW. Hero | 43 . where—? oh. evans. but healthy for the most part. hello. borderstar. this child is in NEED of your care. minor sunburn. yes. of course. dr. borderstar. let’s see… mild dehydration. there are just as many. especially those in POWER. living on BOTH sides of the border… …who do NOT. doctor… hello. I. and the child’s PARENTS. um. my friend well. Fortunately.there are many.
44 | I. the child’s parents LOVED her very much… …more than LIFE itself. yes. DISREGARD last. Hero . the new OPPORTUNITY her parents so DESPERATELY sought for her. the baby will HEAL. and… uh… um. Central. a SECOND chance. the doctor is a GOOD man. just FORGET it. he will do what is NECESSARY to find a BETTER life for the child.and when the time COMES. i’m telling you. she just flew by here not ten minutes ago. yeah. it… she… …aw. in his HANDS.
i… i KNEW y-you would come back. SENORA. th-thank you… i am NOT an angel. she is SAFE. perhaps then things would be DIFFERENT. i have RETURNED. and my BABY… she is…? Senora. I. angel.i find the man and woman where i LEFT them. she is FINE. would that i WAS. Hero | 45 . that is good.
so do i. fin 46 | I.BorderStar my name is and while my people SUFFER. Hero .
this issue marks the last of this great artist’s professional work.2005 If you’re lucky. far too soon. Jeziel and his gift were taken from this world far. having worked with Jeziel on both this magazine and the Undersea Tarot deck. I was luckier than most. We are proud to bring you this issue if only to give his breathtaking work a home.s p e C I a l T r I b u T e Jeziel Sanchez Martinez Artist > 1978 .FF . you get the chance to work with an artist of Jeziel’s caliber just once in your career. Sadly. -. We here at iHero are grateful for the time we knew him and share the grief at his passing. The victim of a hit-and-run driver as he drove his bicycle between the two jobs he held to support his family.