Tuesday, January 30, 2024

Favourite Comics of 2023 Part Two: Mark Waid's Shazam!, Tradd Moore's Doctor Strange: Full Sunrise, Alex de Campi's Parasocial, Bad Karma

Once more, I pull from my favourites from DC, Marvel and indie presses. For those who know of Mark Waid, it should be no surprise that he and Dan Mora are absolutely having a blast on Batman/Superman: World's Finest, and their readers arem too. Also, Marvel, in particular, surprised me with Tradd Moore's bending, gob-smacking Doctor Strange: Full Sunrise, while Alex de Campi kept producing superior creator-owned Parasocial and Bad Karma with Saskatoon artist Ryan Howe (always have to plug fellow Canuck artists). Image seems to producing phenomenal creator-owned books, so they got two spots.

Batman/Superman: World's Finest, writer Mark Waid and artist Dan Mora
2023 was quite the year for both Waid, penning a World’s Finest: Teen Titans revamp and Shazam! and Mora, also drawing Shazam!, gifting art lovers with many breathtaking covers and interiors. It’s no surprise then, that Waid, a masterful character writer and neo-classic scribe, is obviously having so much fun writing Bruce and Clark in a classical way, but just skirting outside of trenchant continuity. Mora’s gloriously detailed, heroic and expressive pencils shine in this whimsical title. This combination wooed me. While it’s a master class in character writing from Waid, the accompanying pencils from Mora warrant a re-read. Waid always pens a heartfelt script and a plot that does some unexpected and entertaining turns, such as minor character beats as Supergirl and Robin having an unresolved feud in the background. I found myself pre-ordering the collected hardbacks. And still do.

Doctor Strange: Full Sunrise
Apparently, Tradd Moore and Heather Moore had carte blanche to show the good doctor journeying through the spiritual plane, getting through all manner of kaleidoscopic escapades. The result was this trippy, oversized, visual feast. Moore’s art takes centre stage. And for this, I am grateful. On terra firm, Strange acts as a mid-wife to an otherworldly character holding Strange’s life in balance. Stephen Strange’s other-dimensional adventure features phantasmagoric splash pages and sweeping vistas. While there are allusions to Gnosticism, this yarn’s all about the trip, not these religious allusions, and a tremendous tribute to trippy Silver Age experimentation that was a way to draw out the college hippie set. Heather Moore’s colour palette is bonkers. (Ed. note: Where has this colourist been all my life? I must pay more attention and look into them.) The journey is mind-bending and dense. Strange appears as arguably a slender transwoman or at the very least androgynous. I would wager that the whole works would make Steve Ditko himself, a heady Doctor Strange architect, blush with pride and appreciation. Once again, this is a book that might very well stand outside of continuity, unlike anything else from Marvel in 2023, for readers who want a stunning, expansive journey with the Sorcerer Supreme.

Parasocial from Alex de Campi and Erica Henderson
Bad Karma from Alex de Campi and Ryan Howe
I have committed it to print before and will do so again-de Campi writes across genres and so exceedingly well. Some have compared her to a modern Alan Moore, and in this sense, this descriptor is accurate.

Parasocial (Image Comics)
Parasocial, de Campi and Henderson’s second collaboration, is billed as a modern version of Stephen King’s Misery. That said, it does expand far more on this fan-celebrity symbiosis. In the end, both parties come out looking culpable. Parasocial is particularly timely, given the modern pop-cultural addiction to social-media use and consumer adoration of a particular TV show or movie or celebrity, the latter of which often has feet of clay. Once again, de Campi shoehorns in social shredding or social commentary into the plot without making it completely feel she is doing so. Henderson’s pencils disarm readers because her work is seemingly simplistic and cute. Beware messenger, as anyone who read their redux feminist goth Dracula! Motherf**ker!, knows. This story goes dark, disabusing the presumptive reader of that notion. The duo proves once again they can do contemporary horror and suspense.

Gorgeous cover by Tony Stella.
Bad Karma (Image)
Bad Karma, de Campi’s team-up with Canadian artist Ryan Howe and artist Dee Cunniffe, is a stunner of an original graphic novel. Damaged army vets Ethan and Sullivan discover that Aaron Carter, an innocent man, is on Death Row for a mercenary job they did a decade ago and embark a Christmas road trip to save him. So, it’s pulp to bone. And as I read it,
Bad Karma just kept getting better and better. It felt as though an auteur directed a 1980's action flick that was too smart for a studio film script with fallible, loveable characters. Ethan’s ex-wife Cheryl is also not resigned the traditional limiting supportive girlfriend/nagging wife/vindictive ex role. She kicks some serious ass. Howe's art seems deceptively simple at first but is, in fact, nuanced. Dee Cunniffe's colour palette and use is dynamic and moody. de Campi explains in the afterword that she spent four years doing this one, first as a Panel Syndicate webcomic, enjoying it all the while and after raising funding, took Bad Karma to Image Comics. All this hard work and love shows in each panel. Bad Karma is fun and sad and smart as hell and sometimes feels like you’re watching an action movie circa 1985, such as the original Lethal Weapon flick.

Friday, January 12, 2024

My Favourite Comics of 2023 Part One: Phillip K. Johnson's The Incredible Hulk, Ram V's Swamp Thing & Eric Palicki's Black's Myth

Wow. Admittedly, 2023, was a great year for comics. There were many compelling new single-issue series, original graphic novels and trade paperback collections not only from the Big Two, but also from the indie-press renaissance. I am unsure how to approach my favourites because they are legion. Where to begin? 

(I will add images as I find time, but I realize in blogging that I am spending far too much time on process-trying to post a certain format, font size, etc., and just want to get the word out my latest passions. In 2023, I wrote most of a novelette (about 8,000 words) in a spiral notebook on luncch breaks because I got too frustrated with how slow and obfuscating Word is. The horror-comedy story's about, in a nutshell, what Jehovah's Witnesses might fear the most. And what if a queer ex-JW was called in for help? But more on that later... So in 2024, I guess I am going to try to worry less about process and more about producing work.)

Marvel and DC still manage to surprise, even while caught up in the mire of event storyline, printing a seemingly infinite number of X-books (Marvel) or Bat-books (DC). Phillip Kennedy Johnson and Nic Klein’s The Incredible Hulk is rich with monsters, continuing in the vein of Al Ewing’s The Immortal Hulk. Steve Skroce's Clobberin' Time, a fun romp starring the Thing, was a hoot, pairing everyone’s favourite blue-eyed brawler with the Hulk, Doctor Strange and … Doctor Doom? From DC, I enjoyed Mark Waid and Dan Mora’s beautifully retro-yet-new Batman/Superman World's Finest and Shazam!, the most charming and entertaining reminting of that title in years, Ram V’s Swamp Thing and Kelly Sue DeConnick’s Wonder Woman: Historia, sort of the Amazonians’ epic year one.

Some indie titles of 2023 prove true my claim that this is an indie-press renaissance, jumpstarted by the onset of the pandemic. Comics creators want to get their creator-owned, original works out there. We have Black’s Myth, a black-and-white, film-noir werewolf police procedure with all the can-do spirit of a 1980’s upstart indie (Editor’s note: Read that phrase again if you like!). Alex de Campi’s latest books prove once more that she can write across genres with ingenuity. In the creator-owned Parasocial, she teams again with artist Erica Henderson of Squirrel Girl (comic-book) fame, with whom she did, Dracula! Motherf**ker! and is a cautionary tale about the fan-celebrity relationship. Her original graphic novel Bad Karma, with art by Canadian Ryan Howe, feels like a 1980’s-action-film, but shrewder, featuring two damaged vets trying to save a man wrongfully convicted and on Death Row. Both remain top-notch storytelling with incisive social commentary. Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillip's Reckless, their pulpy, immediate original graphic-novel series from Image continues to astonish. Not to mention Humanoid’s fascinating bio-comic Bela Lugosi and Monstrous Books’ Kolchak The Night Stalker 50th Anniversary Graphic Novel tells stories from before and after the character’s network-television existence.

In keeping with my predilection for outcast characters, here are three of my hands-own most-loved titles about loner characters from 2023. Coincidentally, two are about green guys. One is about a werewolf. Guess they all change shape, though.

The Incredible Hulk (Marvel)

Phillip Kennedy Johnson and Nic Klein, taking their cue from Al Ewing and Joe Bennett’s Green Door mythology and Bruce Banner’s dissociative personality disorder developed in 50 issues of The Immortal Hulk, have steered The Incredible Hulk into a full-out, pedal-to-the-metal monster horror comic. Their tenure comes hot on the hells of Greg Pak’s, which elicited a lukewarm response from many faithful readers. The book is a free-for-all as all the monsters in the Marvel Universe take a run at Ol’ Greenskin, from encounters with the Man-Thing and a vintage Ghost Rider to any number of supernatural nasties. The Hulk is, in turn, suppressing the Bruce Banner personality. Gone are the gentle multiple-panel, almost magical green-to-flesh tone (and vice versa) transformations of yesteryear instead replaced by flesh-ripping and bone-cracking sequences which Ewing laid all the body-horror groundwork for. The Hulk is also a wander again, particularly in the South, giving the book the feel of the syndicated TV series of the late 1970’s and early 1980’s and of the comic during much of the eighties, for that matter. Johnson is clearly delighting in playing with Ewing’s toys. 

Four issues in, the arc reminds me of Brian Michael Bendis picking up Frank Miller’s groundbreaking character beats from Daredevil and fleshing them over 55 issues between 2001 and 2006. But more to the point, Johnson is developing characters in new directions and expanding the mythos-and shoehorning in all sorts of delightfully dreadful monsters that are terrifically (or horrifically) interesting to watch the Hulk tussle with, especially with Klein up to the task in all its gruesome glory. The sole drawback is that pace was a little slow as Johnson established the story, but an atmosphere of dread was fine compensation. Still, the protagonist-antagonist combinations also put me a mind of Mark Waid doing the very same with Daredevil and with Superman and Batman. In short, this Jade Giant is a fun, gruesome read not for the faint of heart.

The Swamp Thing Volume 3: The Parliament of Gears (DC)

Writer Ram V and artist Mike Perkins stick the landing, as the Americans love to say in podcasts, on Swamp Thing. The final six issues of their 16-issue run, which I recently discovered was supposed to be ten issues, is a visual delight and an intellectual stimulant. The combination of Mike Perkins’ realistic penciling style and Ram V’s Green musings and keen understanding of Swamp Thing mythos and character are a one-two punch. Parliament of Gears was touted as the finest ST fare in years for a reason. It’s a satisfying, thunderous finish to V’s cerebral-horror arc. Like Phillip Kennedy Johnson on The Incredible Hulk, V takes the foundations of a seminal writer, in this case Alan Moore, from his legendary tenure on the title, and develops them in interesting yet logical and intelligent ways. Perkins’s jaw-dropping work ranges from the pedestrian and mechanical to the utterly fantastical, gory, and alien. Want to see wondrous vistas, unsightly horrors, and some fine character mannerisms? Perkins has you covered. New Swampie avatar Levis Kamei (who I maintain looks very suspiciously like a shorter-haired Ram V …) faces off with his brother Jacob, a preternatural contender who wants to bring a cold older to the world. The green guy must unite the Green with its different fellows for the final showdown. It's a dense, sprawling and epic conclusion.

Guest stars include Hal Jordan’s Green Lantern, the Authority’s Jack Hawksmoor, King of Cities (how cool a title is that?) and Tefé Holland, Swamp Thing’s daughter, whom Levis’ love interest Jennifer asks for help. A virtuoso, Perkins gives readers gore, but also phantasmagoric tableaus. Mike Spicer deserves a shout-out for his astonishing colour palette. Perkins also pulls off an astonishing trick. Aside from all these other merits, he depicts new character Trinity, created by nuclear tests in Trinity, New Mexico, and as a result unnervingly powerful (it’s comics, after all, as they say) as a sultry, glowing entity. Ram V also goes beyond the established Moore lore and adds a whole cosmic or psychedelic aspect to the green guy’s lore, expanding on the mythos of the Green, the Red, the Rot and the Parliament of Gears, literal man-made machinations trying to elbow into these ecosystems.

Black’s Myth (Ahoy Comics)

Here’s another fine example of a creator-owned comic offering a unique vision, thanks to Ahoy Comics, delivered with aplomb. Comics creator Eric Palicki has gone and made a series about a supernatural police procedural, a clever fusion of genres, starring lycanthrope Jamie “Strummer” Jones, the bi protagonist.  It’s black and white, so readers can see the art as it was meant to witness, on the drawing board. Wendell Cavalcanti’s linework is classical human form stuff, and stunning as a result. comics-in-arms include Saladin Ahmed’s 1970’s/early 1980’s Abbott series or even Mark Waid’s Black Magick (one with a bi intrepid reporter, the other with a bi intrepid witch detective), involved, sensual and compelling. This second arc is on the racks now but will come out in the second collected trade paperback. It’s this kind of bi rep and can-do-it attitude that you often don’t find at jaded bigger houses, and I’m all in.

Sunday, December 31, 2023

Bonus story, The Red Avenger Dies

Here's a little bonus story for any reader out there looking for something escape into over the holiday season. This one's my love letter to comic-book creators, which I penned well before ever reading Michael Chabon's The Amazing Adventures of Cavalier and Klay. But if you like mysticism regarding inspiration and where ideas come from, or if you like comic-book lore or the writing of comic-book-famous writer Grant Morrison's trippy takes on archetypes and heroes or if you were a fan of shows such as the Twilight Zone or Amazing Stories, then this could be the yarn for you. 

Because, really, where do these characters, and these ideas come from? 

I try to answer that in "The Red Avenger Dies".

The Red Avenger Dies

By James K. Moran



            Late one hot and sticky night, Ron Philip killed Manson Groves.

He had wanted to kill him for years, and finally, beer and nicotine and dopamine swimming in his system, he did.

            The task was easy, since he employed his best weapons: the stub of an HB-lead pencil, a jar filled with greyish water, a set of different-coloured paint brushes, and a Pink Pearl eraser he applied for sentimental reasons. Finishing the heinous act, Ron leaned back from his sheets of two-ply Bristol paper featuring panel boxes resplendent with art.

            “My God,” he said. “Finally.”

            Manson Groves, aka the Red Avenger, was dead.

            Ron rubbed his eyes with his palms, careful to keep his lead-and-paint smudged fingertips from his eyes. This trick he learned years ago, sketching rudimentary comic book heroes with his boyhood pal Jack Simon.

            Ron sighed, his blood warmed by the beer he had drained from the empty bottle on the side table.

Granted, he thought, comic book characters don’t retire for long. He knew this in his heart. Yet, Ron still hoped to lay to rest his indelible contribution to the medium’s history just long enough to retire from his corresponding 40 years in the business. Ron’s fingers, which formed into a claw for his craft, sometimes ached, particularly after a marathon drawing session. His peripheral vision was spotty. His right wrist and his ring finger told him about forthcoming rain before the weather forecast did.          

But his creation was beyond such pains after years of crime-fighting. The hero was not fallen-out-of-the-panel-with-an- “Ahhhhhh...” dead. The hero was mortally-wounded-and-shot-three-times-and-fallen-from-a-collapsed-building-after-defeating-the-Scrawler-and-saving-Pagegirl-Franky-Knox-who-then-finds-his-body-and-inherits-his-legacy-dead.

Ron knew the rules; he had played with them for decades.

An injury? Pshaw! Nothing! A bullet wound? Two? The hero would heal! A fall from a five-storey building? He’d land in the nearest garbage bin. But all these things, topped with collapsing beams, a fallen villain, a found body, and a handed-down legacy? That could be the End.

No—it was the end, Ron thought.

            He opened another beer, assessing the sculpted abdominals, shaded pieces of wreckage and the rivulets of tears shining on Franky Knox’s cheeks. Ron felt like he had just ended a forty-year marriage that had soured somewhere in the middle years.

*                      *                      *

            “Now, that was classic,” Carrie Fanworth told Ron, rising from behind her managing editor desk. Her eyes, he often thought, could seduce or reject anyone with a glance. “I haven’t seen that sort of demise since the early 80’s.”

            She leaned on her desk, close enough for him to detect the scent of jasmine, something sweet, and also something strong: coffee.


            She held his gaze. “You know how I am with compliments.”


            “Miserly.” She tilted her head up. “The Red guy’s a big property. I know he’s really your property, but it’s like, well, he’s taken on a life of his own.”

            “Not you too.” Ron groaned. “Jack’s been on about that again...”

            “What you fellas do on your own time is no more my business than what I do at the Velveteen Habit on 14th Street every other Thursday.”

            “Fair enough.” Ron pondered how little he knew about Carrie outside of work, aside from her legendary drinking bouts at the Velveteen Rabbit, the bar down the street.

            “But the next time you decide to expand your minds on a week off, I’ll definitely commission another Mandora mini-series or a year-long Dr. Calgari story arc. The fan mail for both titles was outrageous. If I open one more envelope that reeks of patchouli in this lifetime...”


            “But seriously, Ron. What did you guys really do in the Mojave Desert anyway?”

            “Those are rumours.” Ron flashed what he hoped was an enigmatic—and not lecherous—smile. “Let’s just say that Steve Englehart and company have nothing on us.”

“Slouches, all of them,” she replied. Carrie nodded toward the wall on her right side displaying framed comic book covers. “Not like you have had much to show for it.”

Quicksilver Comics showed a proud history of sales and characters. The Tenebrous leered, gimlet-eyed, from under his fedora in the 1940’s. Max Reeves, Detective, wrestled a Nazi spy on the wing of a B-17 hurling toward a cliff. Aslavak! Heir of the Vampires brandished his knife-like incisors before a semi-naked virgin. Imigan the Traveller leapt at a scaly monstrosity in a misty land. Dorius posed with one knee-high-boot planted on a pile of Greek soldiers, her mane of hair whipping behind her. Wind Rider soared, propelled by his jetpack, while thugs from the 22nd century pursued him. Omnivaxx, the Android Hero, swung at a giant snake coiled around his steely torso. And the Mandora spun ropes made of light around an evil sorcerer.

And if you looked there, Boom!, you were back in the forties with gangsters. Or Swish!, you coasted over an Arctic landscape in the fifties. Or Zap!, you were drowning in the space-blasted mists of Jupiter. Or Wham!, you stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the Red Avenger, staring down his nemesis, the beady-eyed Scrawler, on the roof of a skyscraper, backing the fiend toward the edge.

“Slouches, no,” Ron said, breaking the weird spell the images always cast over him. He looked at Carrie.

“You work reminded me of the heart-and-soul type of stories around in the 40’s before the Comics Code ruined all the fun,” she said, looking past him. “Fast-paced, with consequence. Yet you resisted that temptation to be gritty or sentimental.”

“A starred review in Publishers Weekly, then.”

“Don’t get too cocky, now, kid.”

He raised his eyebrows. Is Carrie paraphrasing Star Wars?

“I wouldn’t rule out the possibility of an Eisner Award,” she said. “Now let’s talk about what’s next.” Carrie cleared her throat. “I’ll lay a clue on you. The Red Avenger. He chases, dodges, flies by night...”

“ stop evil in its plight! Uh-huh?”

She rolled her eyes. “Do I have to spell it out for you? The Scrawler is dead. His evil metal gloves laid to rest because of the final battle.”


“There’s only one problem.” Carrie ran her fingers along her temple, shrugging like she and Ron shared an inside joke. “The Scrawler’s death is one thing. But the Crimson Avenger’s is another. How are you going to convince your readers that he comes back from all that?”



Thing is, I’m fine with the idea of resurrecting the Red Avenger, Ron thought, going out for lunch. I just don’t want to be the guy who does it.

Ron had to walk this thought out, and did. On the sunny sidewalk of the bustling metropolitan street, he passed a kid, about eleven years old, wearing a Red Avenger T-shirt. The “Flies by night!” phrase appeared in bold red letters alongside a silhouette on a rooftop backlit by the full moon.

Ron felt like someone was observing him, a discomfiting impression that he couldn’t shake, glancing around at the passers-by on their way to their day’s appointments, whether small victories or failures. Even a few minutes ago, alone in the bathroom, wondering how Carrie would take his ultimatum about the demise of his four-coloured ex-wife, Ron felt eyes on him from somewhere, despite the empty stalls. He had stared himself down in the mirror. The Red Avenger had always been married to Ron’s career and vice versa. Ron detected that flowery hand soap scent he always liked. He practised saying I’m out, Carrie. Someone else can buy me out and take over.

Ordering his lunch, Ron felt no different about being scrutinized.

“What can I get you, Ron?”

“My regular, Marty.”

“Eh, you got it, buddy. And that’s quite the thing you did in your latest comic. I mean, even if not everyone liked the twist ending.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, I read my boy’s, right? So he’s kinda upset about the whole thing. He thinks the Avenger really died! Can you believe that? Nobody really dies in comics, least that’s what I told him. I mean, I thought they killed off Captain Marvel back in the 1980’s because of cancer and, man, I didn’t like that. Maybe that’s a bad example.” Marty whistled a low note.

Does everyone read comics now? Ron thought.

Marty poured coffee from a jar into a mug on the counter. Ron shifted his attention elsewhere. Marty’s Deli was quiet, for which Ron was thankful. The unassuming space of a few tables and large front window was the reprieve he needed.

Too many people had approached him in the past, wanting autographed comics, drawings, T-shirts or a quick sketch. In San Diego a few years ago, he and Jack were overrun by hordes of fans. Some even stole souvenirs—a handful of HB pencils, a dirtied napkin, and Ron’s nameplate from the signing table. Comic book conventions became a nightmare of camera flashes and endless requests. His hand would cramp up from the hours of signings or sketches. He felt like fans were always pushing him for something more.

Ron lit a cigarette, inhaled, and exhaled. Filling and emptying his lungs relaxed him. The smoke rose and faded, he fancied, like clouds in a drawing. When his cigarette was a stub, Ron extinguished the butt in an ashtray in front of the counter. He had hoped it would be that easy, hadn’t he?

Behind the glass counter, Marty assembled Ron’s food with an artist’s skill and technician—rye bread, grainy mustard, piled high with pastrami, a side of wedge fries, and a halved sour pickle.

“Here you go, buddy,” Marty said, placing the lunch plate and coffee mug on the stainless-steel counter.

Someone cleared their throat behind him. With a glance, Ron saw that other clientele had lined up.


Ron was halfway back to the office when the panic attack seized him.

He halted.

A UPS truck pulled out of the delivery laneway on his left. Ron ducked in, placed his palms hand against the cold concrete wall.

Just what am I doing exactly? he thought.

Sometimes he felt like he was creating in the void from where all things came from. Other times, like now, he realized that many, many readers, like Marty for instance, enjoyed his creation. Did he have a right to take its life, and rob them of their pleasure?

Egomaniac, he thought. Clarisse was right to leave you. He took several deep breaths. His belly roiled, full of food and coffee. But breathing helped. He stood upright.

A voice sounded down the littered lane.

“Well, if you’re not gonna’ give that to me, I’ll just take it.”

He looked down the alley. A clean-cut, youngish man in denim and a bomber coat spoke to a middle-aged woman.

She shrank away, her purse strapped around her left shoulder. “I don’t think so,” she rebuked. “Get away from me.”

She saw Ron.

The other man grabbed her purse strap. The short-haired man stood a foot taller than her. 

“Afraid not,” he said, shaking his oval-shaped head. “I’ll take this off your hands.”

Ron stepped toward them. He had drawn many shaven-headed, nose-pierced, tattooed, leather-wearing criminals. But none of them looked so, well, average, he realized.

Villainy has many faces, he thought, cringing while quoting his own copy.

“Get away from me!” the woman said, pushing the mugger.

“Jeez, why you being so rough?” he replied. “Now I have to defend myself.” The thief yanked her off balance, extracting the purse. She lurched forward.

The man turned, clutching the purse to his chest with one hand. Now he saw Ron. “What are you looking at?”

“You want a second opinion?” Ron rebuked.

“Give me back my purse,” the woman said with surprising firmness.

“What she said,” Ron added.

The mugger laughed, walking toward him. “Huh. Right.” His face changed. “Hey, I recognize you. I saw your photo in a magazine. About the Red Warrior or something.”

Ron sighed. Media coverage had always been generous about his decades-old hero.  As an indirect result, strangers often picked fights with Ron simply because he chronicled a courageous figure. Still, he felt plenty courageous as the stranger closed in. He smelled onions on the would-be thief’s breath.

“Give me back,” the woman said, “my goddamn purse. Now.”

The mugger raised his eyebrows, surprised. He switched to Ron.

“Finders keepers, ‘Crimson Avenger’,” he said to Ron. “Come on, let’s see how tough you are in real life.”

He swung his free fist at Ron.


Returning to work, after giving details to the arresting officer, Ron maintained that he gave the mugger a chance to back out. But once the thief jumped him, Ron had only to choose from a selection of defences. In the dive bars that he and Jack used to frequent, he had practiced his other art.

He passed through the double glass doors into the reception area. Carrie and a few others waited for him at the front desk. Their applause was a little much.

“It wasn’t enough publicity for you already, pal?” Jack Simon said, slapping Ron’s shoulder. He stared impishly over the rims of his hip, rectangular spectacles.

The rotund Harry Wilson stood back, grinning. “It appears no evil is safe!” he cackled.

“You told them?” he asked Carrie.

She shrugged. “After you called to say why you were going to be late, it had to be done. It’s not every day that our star creator stops someone from being mugged.”

“She held her own.”

“You too,” Carrie said. “Besides, you don’t look as bad as I thought.”

“No?” he replied, and she almost touched his tender left eye.

It hurt to blink. Otherwise, he was in far better shape than his assailant. The arresting officer had slapped Ron’s back. “Stops evil in his plight, eh?” said the black, 275-pound sergeant with a grin. “But you coulda’ been hurt, sir. Glad you weren’t.”

“Not bad at all,” Jack said now, smiling ear to ear.

Carrie poured Ron a glass of red wine. They all toasted him.

Harry tittered over his tulip-shaped glass. “How’d you do it?”

 “Oh, Ron and I did some martial arts training back in the day,” Jack interjected with a wink. “Hey Ronnie—I called our Aki-Jitsu teacher and told him.” He brushed a stray lock from his forehead. The remainder of his greying hair he had tied back in a ponytail.

“Shaddup,” Ron replied. “Just don’t tell Clarisse,” he added, referring to his third, and most recent, ex-wife.

“Yeah, it’s probably safer to tell our old teacher than to tell Clarisse.”

“Why, you little...!” Ron lunged toward him. His half-glass of wine threatened to spill over.

Jack retreated, knocking over the standee of their trademarked hero.

“Whoops,” Jack said, glancing at the decoration, his eyes huge and round. “Sorry there, big fella.” He set the Red Avenger upright.

He glanced at Ron. The culpable look on Jack’s face was too much. They both laughed uproariously.

*                      *                      *

Ron scrutinized the completed pages. The caped man in red tights gripped his right shoulder. Nowadays, they called the muscle-hugging material Spandex, but Ron missed calling them tights.

A man’s shadow fell across the protagonist. “SURRENDER, AVENGER!” read the word balloon stretching from the shadow’s head.

The following panels were shot, counter-shot between the protagonist and interlocutor.





In the next panel, the Scrawler brandished a gleaming metallic glove and snatched off the Avenger’s cowl.


The red-clad figure stood in three cascading panels.

The Scrawler swung at him, panel-for-panel, delivering a blow to the head, brow, and stomach. By the fourth panel, the villain thrashed the Avenger against a wall. In the fifth, back against the textured red brick, the Avenger caught the Scrawler’s right fist.


The Avenger pulled the Scrawler by the arm, slamming him face-first into the brick. 

The Scrawler, stunned, palms against the wall, turned to the hero.

A muscular arm rocketed from the dark shadow, without an accompanying sound effect. The Scrawler reeled in still-life grimace.

In real life, Ron rubbed his palms together. He had saved these last panels. After all, they depicted the last appearance of a beloved flagship character and his nemesis. Depending on how long the Scrawler stayed six feet under, these sheets could be worth more than a commissioned piece, certainly.

Ron removed the sheets from the board and set them on the side table beside his ceramic ash tray, paintbrushes and coffee mug. He pulled out some blank drawing panels.

Now what? he thought. Take Carrie’s advice and continue the legacy? Or tell her that the dream is dead? The dream of making a hero so immersing that a reader would gladly pay a dime-on-up-to-four-fifty for pulpy pages chronicling his exploits.

No, there is no Red Avenger now, he thought. It was time to create a new hero, a new gimmick, a new age. But what hadn’t the business done already? Some young kids had already rebelled and left one of the two big houses to start their own company.

But Ron already knew the answer to the first question. Ron Philip would do what he always did—what he loved.

He closed his eyes, and breathed in memory, recalling the smells of tobacco, chewing gum, and newsprint. If he tried hard enough, he could see Carl’s Smoke Shop. Back then, though, he could barely see over the long storefront glass counter filled with cigars and novelty whoopee cushions and rows of candy bars and hard candy. At the back of the shop, in front of the magazine shelves, a metal rack stood, displaying comic books. “Hey!! Kids, Comics!” proclaimed the red-white-and-blue sign atop the rack. There, the 10-year-old picked up a title and began his life’s great adventure.

A bustling man in a red cape leapt to the rescue of the oppressed. That guy in the bat-suit and dark cape confused him, though, because he was powerless, and looked like a bad guy. Ronnie also adored the big green guy wandering the face of the Earth, from Easter Island to Russia to Canada to China to the American Southwest. He tried to stay out of fights, but someone always provoked him. He got pretty mad about the whole deal sometimes. Still, the jade giant often helped many people, his trademark purple pants torn always staying intact from the knee upward.

Ron didn’t do sports well, but he could read better than anyone in Fourth Grade. So, while other kids played soccer or ran around at recess time, Ron preferred an alternative three-colour adventure as a daring kid who could swing on home-made web-lines from rooftops. So began his heady days of page-flipping, word-balloon-reading and drawing-adoring.

“He fights, dodges in his flight, to snatch a nap or fly a kite!”

At the sound, Ron resurfaced from his past.

Jack crossed the threshold of their shared studio. They divided their time between here, Quicksilver Comics, and their own residences.

“Sorry to interrupt,” Jack said, removing his coat and placing it on his chair in the other corner of the room. He saw the sheet. “Reconsidering?”

Ron glanced at the paper. A sketch of the Avenger’s battered fist emerged from a pile of wreckage. The sleeve was shredded to the elbow.

How did I do that without knowing? he thought.

“Oh,” Ron said. “I’m planning on...“

“...I know. Keeping him dead. Tell Carrie yet?”

Ron scowled. Jack, despite his hippie demeanour, knew how to ask Ron the toughest question.

“Didn’t think so,” Jack said. “I’m guessing that your recent heroics bought you a few days’ grace, tops. She’s going to want something soon.”

Ron sighed heavily.

Jack placed a magazine on Ron’s side table. “You see this?” The Red Avenger’s stoic profile filled the Time Magazine cover.

“Sure did. All six pages.”

The feature writer had done an admirable job, too. They succinctly ran down the hero’s late 1930’s/early 1940’s heyday, his reinterpretation for the straight-laced mid-1950’s, the psychedelic 1960’s, risqué 1970’s, and grim 1980’s. Hitting all the right cultural notes, the reporter returned to the current, widely popular “demise story arc”. “Has this four-colour icon finally met his end?” the reporter wrote. “Have his adventures, too, ended? Previous comic book legends have, with few exceptions, passed on only to return in new incarnations and, in turn, produce record sales. On that note, this journalist withholds judgement until the next issue.”

“It’s something to think about,” Jack said. “The sales on the ‘death issue’ broke records. It’s probably the biggest single-issue print run sellout since that X-Men comic.”

“When they killed off Jean Grey?”

Jack nodded, waited a moment. “You sure you want to do this? It’s been a good ride, Ronnie.”

Ron was silent, a time-proven counter-technique with Jack. He glanced at the framed comic book above his desk, a golden age Red Avenger issue. The scarlet figure clutched a panic-stricken villain by their lapels. At the bottom of the illustration, white lock letters declared ‘NOW EVIL HAS NOWHERE TO HIDE!’

Jack stood beside him. “Buy you a pint at the Rabbit?” he asked.


At the ”Habit”, Jack switched tact on their third round. They sat in a corner across from the bar under dim lights. The stereo played “Don’t Fear the Reaper”.

Jack watched Ron over the rim of his martini glass. “That reporter was fishing for details about our little retreat a few years back, you know.”

“What else is new?” Ron had long since established a rule with reporters—what he and Jack did during their famed week away was off the record.

“Did you say anything about our ‘Mojave Desert Escapade?’” He quaffed back his pint and motioned to the passing bartender to bring another.

Jack smiled with his eyes only. “Not a thing. Twenty years back, it was a great publicity stunt to say that. Boosted sales, piqued reader interest. Hell, they treated us like rock stars at conventions...”

“...a record amount of fan mail from the hippie set rolled in,” Ron said with a smile.

Little do they know that we never went near any desert, Ron thought. But the rest is true. We started in-town, then visited a remote cottage. You’ve never been the same, friend. Doubt I have, either.

“I know that look, Ronnie.” Jack glanced around. A few pretty women in their mid-twenties, in skirts and blouses, passed behind him en route to the restroom. He leaned forward. “Because I thought I had a cosmic glimpse into the creator-creation symbiosis, that the things we create, our art, could possibly live and breathe in another parallel universe. That what we perceive as our ‘art’ is, in fact, an alchemic deal struck with the Creative Well of Infinite Time...”

“I know, I know.” Ron winced. He had cringed the moment Jack had first uttered his theory.

Back then, they peered with blood-shot eyes at the lake. The sunrise kissed water, water kissed sun. It was impossible to discern between the two. Marijuana, peyote and beer swam in their bodies.

Ron only remembered waking about the same time as Jack. They were wrapped in the cocoon of a two sleeping bags zipped together, Jack peering at him mystically.

“What?” Ron asked fuzzily.

“Did you ... did you just experience what I did?” Jack said, his face alight, his eyes wild.

Ron could only nod.

“What ... just what in the hell was that?” Jack asked.

Ron sat up, shifting the sleeping bag they passed out in. But the hard wooden planks of the deck underneath him had afforded Ron comfort as though he had slept on a feather bed.

“Where ... the hell were we?” Jack asked.

The pleading in his voice was such that Ron must answer, immediately. Still, he delayed. He snatched the water bottle from beside him, then a third-full bottle of whiskey. He returned both to Jack.

“We were, we were in the—well—in the place where it all comes from,” Ron said.

Under his eyelids swam visions. Contortions of energy, vivid and alive, sprang and decanted from a source beyond known Physics. He had danced with them. Danced with Jack, too, he remembered, grinning.

“A... a creative Well of Infinite Time,” Jack replied, handing the bottle back. The bottle clinked in Ron’s palm. “The place of all ideas that have ever been. Ever will be.” A hysterical whisper.

He knew this was true. But Ron was already feeling rooted to the cold dock. Birds piped far off. The morning dew sprinkled his brow.

They had seen where ideas come from, and returned, changed. Part of the energy was in him, now, he knew. He must create and share it. The ideas, the swirling ideas and dancers and prism-ranging ideas, had asked him as much. But he couldn’t articulate this thought.

He shivered and looked down. He was butt-naked.

Jack scurried out. He too was naked and leapt up and released a manic holler of joy.

Ron snatched up his nearby clothes, in a heap, and dressed. He stood up.

Without hesitation, he and Jack embraced, two wanderers back from a journey, one still without clothes, but carrying the trip with them still.

From the pit of his gut to his slowly beating heart, Ron felt changed. He could not predict that his newfound outlook would alter him, from how he framed a panel to how he felt about his marriage.

Jack, sitting across the table at the Velveteen Rabbit, confirmed Ron’s idea from that morning. But this confirmation rattled Ron then almost as much as now.

Admittedly, Ron never felt as alive as when the Red Avenger did. Once, an enemy poisoned Manson Groves. Groves needed a week to recover. Likewise, Ron took a week of sick leave to shake off a debilitating flu.

“I still believe it, Ronnie,” Jack muttered.

“I know.”

“If you...“

The goateed bartender placed Ron’s beer on the table and left.

“...if you kill him, I don’t know what’ll happen.” Jack’s eyes glistened. He looked at the sugared rim of his glass. “Tell me, Ronnie, why don’t you ever want to talk about this?”

Ron drank, realizing he too was leaning forward conspiratorially. “It scares me, frankly. And I don’t know what’ll happen. What it would even be like to live without this character.”

Jack stared at him long enough for the Grateful Dead to finish the song. The Verve’s “Bittersweet Symphony” started up.

Finally, Jack nodded. “Good, Ronnie. Good.” Jack sighed and crossed his arms. “So ... who will the Wind Rider team up with instead?”

Ron laughed so hard that he snorted up lager.

*                      *                      *

Ron heard Carrie from several desks over, swooping between the workspaces, an F-15 jet fighter flying close to ground, ready to let loose bombs.

“Alright, I want this shortened by four o’clock. And take out the profanity.”

“But that’s the point, Carrie.”

“Not in a teen comic, it isn’t.”

“Thompson, re-draw this page so that you can see Max Reeves’ face as he confronts the inter-dimensional double agent.”

Ron looked up to see her, hard-eyed and flush-cheeked, pausing at his desk.

“Harry needs help finishing the pencils for the Tenebrous Annual,” she said. “The second story. Could you please lend him a hand? And we don’t have a new cover for the Aslavak special.”

“Dare I ask why?”

“Because we fired the new guy off the book. Any chance you can lend us your legendary last-minute talents?”

Ron winked at her. “And here I thought that coming into the office would be a nice break from sharing my digs with Jack-o.”

“Ah. Don’t let that magazine coverage go to your head. That’s a ‘Yes’, then, to both?”

“An unequivocal one, my darling. And they’re around-the-clock talents. Not last-minute ones.”

“Good. And don’t you ‘darling’ me.”

“I know—darling,” he replied, but she was gone.

Although it was late summer, the rush was already underway to kick-start new series, limited series, reprints and fall specials. At times like this, pencil lead hit the paper, ink transformed lines, colleagues traded a steady fire of banter over coffee, cigarettes and take-out food, and Ron loved the business. Deadline pressure fuelled him. He often joked that if someone dangled him out an office window, he would still carve out beautiful work. Maybe better than ever, in fact.

Ron did his job well, dizzily pencilling the Aslavak! Heir of the Vampires cover. The vampire stood to one side of the lit doorway of a one-storey suburban home, his cadaverous frame pale and birch-tree thin. A skeleton, half-stripped of bloodied flesh, lay on its back before him, with outstretched skeletal fingers clutching for an overturned garbage can. The doorway light threw a rhombus of wheat-yellow across ribs and gristle. In the doorway, a word balloon asked, “Ronald? Have you put the garbage out yet?”

Ron stood, cigarette dangling from his mouth, and walked to Harry Wilson’s office, where Harry paced around like a man deliberating an appearance in court that would decide his freedom. His half-bald pate shone under the office lights. Completed sheets stood on his easel and half-finished ones on his drawing board. The Tenebrous’ face was hidden under the shadow of his fedora, save for a gleaming emerald eye.

“Ron!” Harry exclaimed, seeing him. “You’re just in time.”

Ron exhaled smoke. “Show me where to start.”

Harry indicated the second drawing board and stool to the left of his desk. He briefed Ron about Tenebrous delivering cold justice to an abusive husband.

 “Waddya’ think? Can we make it?” Harry’s pleading tone belied that he was a sprinter, not a long-distance runner, in the drawing world.

“Harry, the number of times you’ve said that to me...of course we can make it! Glad to be of service.”

“Even though it’s almost five?”

“We’re gonna’ be here well after five, old friend. Just keep the coffee coming. I don’t mind staying late as long as our baby looks good. Let’s pull a Wheezy, Harry.”

“Wheezy,” Harry replied in an awed tone.

Louise “Wheezy” Woods had singlehandedly reversed the mid-1970’s sales slump. She edited, wrote and pencilled multiple titles at break-neck pace, and also birthed several characters with staying power. Lesley Nelson-F.B.I. tapped the mid-to-late teen female demographic and older male fan base. But with the end of the 1970’s, Wheezy, a cigar-smoking, single-malt-imbibing raconteur and prankster, left the business, without notice or a forwarding address. No one had heard from her or seen her since.

“Those were the days,” Harry said.

“They were. But I know what evil lurks in the minds of men, and we’ll have it all ready for the morning.”

“Thanks a million, as usual, Ron.”

“Don’t thank me yet.” Ron snuffed out his smoke, rolled up his shirt sleeves, and set to work.

“You better know what also lurks in the mind of Ron Philip by tomorrow,” Carrie said, leaning in the office doorway. “We meet at ten.”

Ron didn’t bother answering. She had already departed to pinpoint other, higher-priority targets.


At a quarter of midnight, Harry and Ron finished. They were closing the office again.

They stood admiring the amassed panels.

“Thank you,” Harry said, sighing contentedly.

“You’re welcome.”

They toasted a tumbler of Taylor Fladgate port.

The Tenebrous, popular during the 1940’s, navigates rain-slick avenues dwarfed by buildings. He faced down criminals who could be people you worked with or lived beside. In the final panels of this evening’s work, a young female beat cop tells Tenebrous he disapproves of his cold-blooded methods.


The cop draws her pistol.

 The Tenebrous walks down a rainy alleyway, merges into the darkness. The cop stares after him on the foggy, deserted, late-night street.

Ron, feeling like someone was watching him, was relieved when Jack hollered outside Harry’s office door.

“Who is up for a run to the Rabbit?”

Ron and Harry turned to see Jack leaning against the jamb. “Up for a pint, guv’nors?”

Harry glanced at his watch. “Aw, jeez, I gotta get home.”

            “We’ll close shop,” Ron said. “No one’s waiting for me.”

            “I appreciate it. Thanks!” Although Harry made motions to hug Ron, he slapped Ron’s shoulder hard instead.

They approached reception together. Jack pressed a stainless-steel flask into Ron’s hand.

            “We’ll kill the wabbit, kill the wabbit,” Jack sang.

Harry walked ahead.

            “Sounds good to me, Jack-o.”

            Harry yelled.

They stopped.

            “What’s the matter, Harry?” Jack said. “You change your mind?”

            They passed the reception-area couches and pushed through the double doors. Harry had pinned himself back first against the marble wall between the closed elevators. A man limped past him.

            “Um, guys?” Harry said. “You have a visitor.”

The florescent ceiling lights flickered once, twice, and extinguished. The man’s face was shrouded save for the pallor of a square jaw.

            “Hello there,” Ron said. He handed Jack the flask. “Just a second. I’ll grab a light.”

            “Oh, I can see just fine,” the figure replied.

Ron and Jack re-entered the double doors.

“Good night vision, then?” Jack said, holding the door open. “Please just wait right there. We’ll back in a sec.”

“I wait for no one. I chase evil in its plight.” He lurched ahead, a silhouette in the doorway. The backup lights came on.

Ron hesitated to reply. He recognized the scarlet suit, the broad shoulders and the emerald eyes reflecting the weak light. He should have. He created them with Jack over a weekend of endless coffee, cigarettes and Chinese take-out, sketching on eight-and-a-half-by-eleven sheets of paper. The HB-pencil lead still stained his fingertips and fingernails when he got carried away.

But this is no comic book, he thought.

“You’ve got the wrong place,” Ron said behind the desk. He tried the light switch on adjacent wall. Nothing. “Fan Expo isn’t until next weekend.” He opened the top-left drawer, rummaged around, and produced a weighty flashlight. He picked up the desktop phone.

            “I have found the den of evil,” the stranger said.

Jack had heard enough. He shut and locked the door and backed away.

The lock broke with a startling crack as the visitor pushed through the doors.

Ron’s blood froze.

The stranger raised his chin, peering from his half-ripped cowl. Tufts of

blond hair poked out.

Jack, eyebrows raised, glanced at Ron; Ron reached for the button marked “Security” on the phone console.

            The stranger shook his head, grinning tightly. He flicked out his right hand. One moment, Jack held the flask. The next moment, the container was gone. The stranger held it. The stainless steel flashed as he launched it. With a clack, the flask hit the telephone receiver, knocking it from Ron’s hand. Pain stabbed at his wrist.

            “What the hell?” Ron said, his shirt and the phone doused in single-malt whiskey.

“You’ll answer to me,” the stranger said. He gripped his own left shoulder with his right hand, his bicep a rock. The stranger dragged his right leg behind him. Bloodied splotches covered his chest. He stared down Ron with a steely gaze. “How many innocents have died because of you?”

“Is this some sort of prank?” Ron asked. “Did one of our fans put you up to this? Or Carrie?”

            “You think this is a prank?” The stranger reeked of sweat and gunpowder. A bruise marked his chin.           

            Jack stared at him. “Ron,” Jack said. “Ron, that’s our guy. That’s him—I mean, right here in front of us. At least I think it is. Is it?”

            The visitor spun on Jack. ““How perceptive, Jack Simon. You would know. You know about the well source.”

Jack faced Ron. “Told ya so!” he exclaimed. His fervor, though, dissipated on so. He inhaled, the sound of strange wind bending the sail of a ship set on a course to madness. “The well source of all ideas,” he muttered.

“You are both equally culpable,” the visitor said. His eyes bore into Ron.

 “Culpable of what?” Ron asked. “Of, of making things?”

             “Of murder. Murdering the Scrawler. But also in issue 72, the ‘accidental’ death of The Wrangler, who fell into the Hudson after trying to defeat me. And also the murder of countless others.”

            “But...” Ron said. “...they’re all fictional.”

            “Are they? Am I? Because I assure you that I am no piece of fiction. I walk. I breathe.”

            “And talk,” Jack said, “you certainly talk.”

            “And kill!”

            Their hero moved fast. In short order, Jack felt as though a medicine ball pummeled his stomach. Ron now lay half across the desk. Stray papers flew about the room. His head rang. His right eye throbbed. The hero clutched Ron’s shirt. The hot breath on Ron’s face was a mixture of minty after shave and copper.

            “But...why?” Ron managed.

A fist answered. Twice.

He reeled, caterwauling, hands out. He attempted to right himself. His free palm found the wall behind the desk. He stopped the world spinning.

            Still, Ron could not grasp the sight before him, breathing in sharp, painful bursts.

“You don’t understand?” his creation asked. “You didn’t make me, you cads. This...” he glanced around, motioned at the only real world Ron had ever known, “this is the fiction. Understand?”

            Ron retreated further. His jaw was loose, and he couldn’t seem to tighten anything just now. His knees didn’t want to stand, his arms were directionless. 

Jack warily approached the Red Avenger. Ron saw that he was also swimming.

            “I made you. I made Quicksilver Comics. My friends made your friends. Imagine if you ran around looking for super-villains every day of your life. Might get boring, don’t you think? So we made you, you and your famous life. Just like we made Wheezy.”

            “Wheezy?” Jack said. “No way.”

            His creation, bloodied, battered, was more maniacal-looking than heroic. “Oh, yes. She wanted to leave, too. So we had to go after her as well.”

            “Go after her?” Ron replied, backing between the cubicles.

His creation limping toward him.

“ did you ‘go after her’?” Ron asked.

            “Let’s just say Lesley Nelson took care of that mission. And now I’m taking care of you.”

            He lunged.

Ron flinched, swinging the flashlight hard against his attacker’s temple. His creation staggered backward. Ron pushed a rolling chair at him, knocking the Avenger backward.

The hero shook his head. “Now evil has nowhere to hide.”

            “You’re doing this because I killed you?” Ron asked. He felt like someone had applied flames to his lower back. “But you killed my life, in a sense. I’m only known as the guy who created you!”

            His creation stood up straight. The chest, six-pack and bulging thighs were a textbook drawing of musculature. “That’s the idea. That’s how I made you.”

            “And me too?” Jack said. “Me, too.”


            “But you also had us take Aki-Jitsu, you dumb-ass,” Jack said, and attacked.

Ron joined him.

In the first volley of fists and flesh, the trio felled two cubicle walls, rained down papers, toppled a semi-functional fax/photocopier/printer, propelled a stapler, and trampled a corkboard bulletin board.

The pell-mell separated.

Ron and Jack bore bloodied brows, dishevelled hair and ripped clothing.

            “A noble effort,” their hero said.

A fist shut Ron’s right eye.

A heel to the brow snapped Jack backward.

            Strong hands clutched Ron’s shirt.

He’s pushing me toward the office window, Ron dimly realized.

He felt a thrashing along his shoulder blades, and another. Pain scoured his back, from neck to kidneys. Distantly, he heard glass crack and give.

            Jack stood one knee, a hand out, his right eye blackening. “Nah,” he said. “You don’t kill in cold blood. Not like this.”

            “This is in self-defense,” their fictional character replied.

The hot, sticky night heat flooded in through the open window frame. The avenging hero hoisted Ron up and outward into what he dimly realized could be his final night.

            Jack, weeping through his injuries, stumbled after them and witnessed impossibility.        

Ron crashed to the floor. He tried to clear his head. Everything hurt. His back still felt aflame. He tried standing, stumbling on glass shards and looked up, thinking Jack was wrestling with their visitor.

Somebody else attired in red held their hero at arm’s length in the window frame.

            She grinned at him from under her cowl. “Franky Knox, Pagegirl, no more,” she said with thin red lips. “Call me the Red Avenger.” Her costume was sleeker, modest in the V-cut neck, her auburn hair tied in a ponytail.                     

            She laughed at Ron’s gawking. “What? It’s what you were thinking all along, for a successor, wasn’t it?”

            Their hero flailed and grunted. Their new heroine shook her free index finger at the Avenger.

“This will get us new readers and carry on the tradition at the same time,” she said. “Besides, once you get into cold-blooded killing, I’m afraid Jack’s right.” She looked at Jack, standing, slack-jawed. He rubbed his forehead with his palm. “You become a murderer, whether you’re or not you’re killing a villain or a good guy.”

            “Can’t...get away with this,” her mentor uttered, kicking.

            “Well, odds are you might survive to fight me again,” she said. “Farewell, Manson Groves.”


            She dropped him.

            Ron staggered to the window with Jack.

They stood on either side of Franky Knox.

A few strong arguments? A hero would rebuke these. A few Aki-Jitsu moves? A hero would recover. But fatal wounds, another toss from a building, the breaking of his own life-taking code, a changing readership, a changing comic book history, and a life-altering shock at Quicksilver Comics? There were things that even the Red Avenger could not recover from.

            Ron and Jack watched their hero fall.

Dozens of papers spiralled around Manson Groves like white birds. There was Max Reeves, Detective! And there was Imigan the Traveller! The Mandora! Aslavak, Heir of Vampires! The Incredible Wind Rider! Omnivaxx, the Android Hero! Dorius! Lesley Nelson, FBI! And don’t forget, Pagegirl, Franky Knox, donning her costume, gazing around the secret headquarters of her fallen hero, her eyes bright, full of life! The Red Avenger lived on. She would carry his mantle and deliver a trouncing to any challengers.

            The papers parted. The figure hit the black cement below.

Ron turned to Jack. They looked at each other like two friends who have just finished a long adventure together.

No one stood between them anymore, smelling of jasmine and sweat.

On the wind, a full-throated voice carried through the night.

            “She chases, dodges, flies by night

            To stop evil in its plight!”

            Franky Knox had made her debut.

The End