Saturday, 4 October 2014

Superheroes Setting 2: A Wider World

The backdrop to the American Dream is a world that, despite everything, has absorbed the superhero phenomena as best it can. They have been monetised, made part of society in a fashion that benefits everyone and lets them earn a living purely as heroes. Only disaffected dreamers fall outside the so called Power Machine that makes money, pays bills and creates heroes. Not everything is roses and rainbows however. Heroism demands a high personal price; increasingly personal ethics are something out of place in the superhero world. It is not uncommon for the newly empowered to find they are literally stalked by media and business people; the lure of the superhero has not lost any of its appeal, even after thirty years of hype. Newly signed heroes are treated like debutantes, press conferences are called to introduce them to the world, footage is leaked online to show what they can do; sometimes with highly negative effects. Most of the time new hero identities are encouraged, though two companies, Fuji International and American Sonics have legacy identities for their hero teams, handing them down from hero to hero.

Within the United States the vast majority of superheroes are situated in, or near, large cities; usually housed within corporate compounds or luxury estates. The effect on city planning has been to create small areas of pristine luxury for the products of the Power Industry to live in, tucked away from ordinary people. They are surrounded by beauty, high technology toys and nature, even in the densest urban sprawl. The average superhero pulls in a six figure salary and adds a cut from sponsorship and merchandising deals on top of that. Most heroes can afford to retire after ten years, even with the issues regarding their health, lucky ones can go onto have successful careers in other areas and the truly popular can afford to construct their own private paradises anywhere in the world.

At the other end of the scale is the Underground, a community of freaks whose experiences have left them too strange for the rest of the world. ‘Young gods’, as the journalist G. Morrison, has referred to heroes, can walk amongst us: others are not so fortunate. Members of the Underground tend to be physically or mentally scarred, usually beyond the scope of plastic surgery and therapy. The powers they have are often invasive or strange, and often have negative effects on both the wielder and the people around them. A boy who makes it feel as if insects are crawling across your skin is never going to become a household name, nor is a girl who can smell infidelity. Many of the people on the Underground are little more than teenagers, but once you step into it leaving and going back to an ordinary life becomes increasingly difficult and few leave even when offered the chance. Most of them want nothing more than to be left alone, knowing that they will not be accepted anywhere else. There have been brief flirtations with the Underground. In 1970s New York the then new community found access to nightclubs and the ‘freak scene’. One of them, under the name, Sky Diamond, even went on to have a short lived singing career. The more psychedelic members were celebrated, even if the ‘trolls’, whose changes were physical, did not find themselves accepted. In the main though, the Underground has been ignored and neglected, except where it spills out into the daylight world. There is an element of urban mythology to the Underground. Even after all this time, people are unwilling to accept that it exists, partly from shock and partly because the very idea of people living in the worst conditions imaginable in the Developed World is beyond most people. Like sex, it has become something that is discovered ‘fresh’ by successive generations. A Seattle benefit gigs in 1997 to support the victims of alien abductions had echoes of similar events fifteen years before in Philadelphia. The fact that neither city has a large Underground seemed to pass the organisers by.

In between the two sit a few vigilantes who choose to reject both ends of the spectrum. This is where the vanishingly small numbers of unpowered super people are found, relying on skills and equipment rather than anything else. If the Underground is largely an urban myth then the ‘street crusaders’ are only a few steps above, even if the idea of the mysterious vigilante has proved just that; an idea. Most of these people operate for a shorter period of time than the corporate backed heroes; owing to a lack of adequate healthcare and resources. A White House report on the matter suggested that the operational ‘lifespan’ of an unpowered hero was as little as two years, noting that only one identity, Gold Gear, had remained active for longer than this time period. Researchers noted however, that Gold Gear was an armoured hero and therefore a) might be alien in origin and b) the current pilot might not be the original.

Often, despite good intentions, the unpowered fall back on firearms to maintain some sort of edge; becoming as big a threat as the criminals they try to stop. Their relationship with the Police has become increasingly fractious over the past fourteen years, partly in response to increasing crime levels and because Police Departments have begun to take a Zero Tolerance attitude towards so called unsponsored vigilantes. Even superheroes who do have corporate backing are required to undergo Police training if they want to support criminal investigations, and if they wish to have legally binding arrest powers they must actually join the Police force. A few forces have taken the step of trying to recruit their own super powered officers (or S.P.O.) but uptake is low to non-existent.

Despite this unpowered vigilantes continue to take up arms to try and clean up their neighbourhoods, and in 2010 the Crusader’s Council was formed, offering to provide some health insurance to Street Crusaders, as well as training videos and materials on the internet. The Council’s tone veers wildly from ‘get them before they get you’ to ‘how to be an upstanding citizen’. This has trickled into the mainstream, and the site is popular with everyone from women looking to defend themselves to teachers who wish to educate their pupils in Citizenship. However, the Council has also received threats from other groups, who see them as Un-American or as promoting dangerous, immoral loose cannons.

Their most vocal opponent is the Colorado Mayor, Diana Kelly, who was elected on the strength of her campaign to shut down the operations of Denver’s ‘hero’ the Night Warden as he spiralled out of control. Kelly has gone on to earn a reputation as a committed advocate of the so-called Joe Average, calling on corporations to curb the excessive activities of their super-powered employees, calling them ‘a moral outrage in spandex’ and ‘a bad example to America’s youth’. She plans to run for the White House in 2016. 

Militarily the US government maintains a squadron of advanced aircraft as well as the seventh generation of the Eagle power suits, which contain alien technology from the Roswell and other alien craft. Their researchers at Cloud Ranch overhaul UFOs and spaceships, study space debris and undertake tests. Another group, NASA's Project: STAR FIELD is dedicated to discovering new ways to get into space. They also have an interest in alien craft, with a view to modifying and building new shuttles, as well as the development of a laser defence halo.

Outside America, Russia still maintains a stock of super-soldiers, a legacy of the New Men programme they developed in the 1960s from parts of the Tunguska comet. Whilst the original New Men became unstable, scientists have developed new formulae to empower willing subjects from the Russian army. Tunguska remains a no-go area, heavily policed to keep the public out.

In the Black Sea, Crimea suffered the attentions of a group of renegade New Men soon after the fall of the Berlin Wall and Perestroika. Led by Doctor Ganymede, the group of five super-powered beings tore the Crimea free of the rest of Ukraine dragging it out into the middle of the Black Sea. Since then the island has become a technocratic republic, autocratic in nature and driven by alien and advanced technology.

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