Superheroes have been a part of everyday life for more than a hundred years. They star in movies, grace advertisements, walk the red carpet, and occasionally save a life or two. Empires have risen and fallen because of them, and time after time they have saved Earth from certain annihilation.
And they have become irrelevant.
With supervillains effectively extinct, superheroes have become idle and are in danger of losing their funding and their livelihoods. Fearing this, a team of heroes have come up with a drastic plan: to create a team of supervillains who answer only to them, staging crimes so they will have someone to fight.
These are the stories of the men, women and monsters who take part in this dangerous program.
These are Almost Infamous: Origins.
Previously on Almost Infamous: Origins: Prospects, Unwanted, Torches and Pitchforks, The Redcape, Family Business, Villain Worship, Anger Management, Flawless Victory, Are You Now or Have You Ever Been, and Nothing Fancy.
Almost Infamous: On the Town
By Matt Carter
Hollywood, California, USA
It’s not easy being a superhero, but it is pretty fucking awesome.
Most of the time.
Times have changed and we have to change with them. We’re not living in a day when all you have to do to be a hero is wear a super suit and save the occasional kitten from a tree or put out a fire, though it doesn’t hurt to do that periodically.
These days, it’s all about image.
You can’t just come in and save the day and hope for that to be enough if you want to be relevant. No, you need to put yourself out there. You need to be visible. You need to be a master of media both old and new, how to give interviews, how best to make use of the constantly shifting world of social media, and how to stay in the public eye in ways beyond conventional heroics. Some of us are into the stage, or music, or modeling, or maybe even charity work. I prefer film, myself. I gloriously look the part, after all, and my powers of strength, flight, telekinesis and energy projection are rather camera ready and, dare I sound blasphemous, godlike, wouldn’t you think?
I fight hard to be what I am, and I take care of myself. No fewer than two hours out of my daily routine are dedicated to exercise and grooming, and since you probably won’t have heard of half the stuff I do (and wouldn’t be able to even pronounce half of that), I won’t bore you with the details. I eat a calorically modest diet and I generally don’t drink or do drugs to excess, but I allow myself indulgences periodically because what’s the point of life if you cannot live it?
Though I may not be the greatest superhero alive today (a title that will likely always be held by El Capitán), I aspire to be a symbol. Someone people can look up to.
And not just little people, either, but other heroes.
Take Icicle Man, for instance. He’s only been in the heroing game for about four years now, and boy is he green. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a good friend, and he’s great at what he does, I’ve never met a better cryokinetic, but he lacks discipline and vision. Though a full Protector, he’s only what I’d call a good hero.
Let me tell you how I started to make him great.
It all started after he froze that paparazzo solid.
We’d just left Modesto’s Keep, greatest club in Hollywood (I know the owner, nice guy), just the two of us, guys’ night out (no girlfriends, though plenty of girls inside willing to ignore that). He’d had a little too much to drink, one of his many vices, and though I’d imbibed, I found my feet with greater ease than him. We were walking down the outer stairs of the levitating club, him singing some inane K-pop song he’d made famous back home, when we got to the usual throng of paparazzi that separated us from our limo.
Now, unlike most celebrities, I understand the necessity of the paparazzi. They’re vultures to be sure, the kind of scum who deserve to burn in every level of hell for the sake of variety, but they do their jobs well. They follow us around and take our pictures, acting as some of the greatest free press agents you can imagine, while also giving us a peek at just how in demand we are (the more of them stalking you, the more popular you are). Depending on how much of a bad boy image you want to cultivate and how much money you have (or free time for community service), you can beat them up periodically. Do your penance, say you’ll never do it again, wait an appropriate length of time and do it again.
I’ve got too good a relationship with the press to do this very often, but Icicle Man, he acts like a bad boy, which is a shame, because a) it’s not something he aims for, and b) he’s got too much of a babyface for the part. If it was something he meant to do, he could maybe pull it off, but it’s not. He lets himself be ruled by real, human emotion, and that’s death in this job.
You’re either constantly vigilant, or you’re nothing.
Now where was I?
We were walking through the throng, camera flashes in our eyes and the usual questions and provocative statements meant to get a reaction from us flying around. I flashed my brilliant smile, I made good with them, even managed to namedrop my currently filming project a couple times and apologize for not being able to offer spoilers. Icicle Man, surly and drunk, wouldn’t even deign them that, which is cool, people can do whatever they want. Sometimes he’d jerk, look like he wanted to strike them, but I’d hold him back, keep the smiles going, keep him from getting too cold.
And then one of them just shouted, “Any truth to the rumors you’re gay?”
In point of fact, Icicle Man isn’t, but he does have his own sexual predilections that are better kept private (private enough that they’d make the team look really bad), and he’s pretty touchy when it comes to anyone talking about them.
So I couldn’t entirely blame the guy when he raised a hand at the paparazzo and froze him solid in a block of ice. This was one of those rare moments where you got to see the rest of them act like people, running and screaming instead of just standing there taking pictures and trying to provoke us (not that they didn’t start doing the same when they got to what they thought was a safe distance).
I entered damage control mode quickly, taking off and hovering a few feet off the ground. I melted the ice with the energy beams from my hands, telekinetically breaking the rest apart when I got the frosty (and terrified) paparazzo free.
“You should’ve let him freeze,” Icicle Man said.
“Quiet, and let the master work,” I said, flying over to the paparazzi and the crowd that had gathered. Usually, I had writers for my best speeches, but on this occasion I was willing to improvise.
I was always pretty good in my improv classes, after all (as any good superhero should be).
“Gentlemen, please forgive my friend here. As superheroes we should aspire to be above such base instincts as anger, but in this instance, can you entirely blame Icicle Man? Day in and day out we fight for your freedom, and if you’ll pardon my crudity, freedom is pretty fucking heavy. It’s such a great weight that sometimes we bend and snap under it in ways we cannot predict and do not mean. So do not blame Icicle Man, blame those who would threaten your freedom for placing the weight on his shoulders,” I said.
This seemed to get some of their attention, but not enough. Time to sweeten the pot.
“Tell you what, guys, we’re on our way to another club. Stick around us, and shots are on me!” I yelled. This got a much better response, as I knew it would. The first speech was for my image. The shots offer was to get them off my back. Icicle Man’s image for the night wouldn’t be in great condition, but he’d survive, at least until someone else fucked up even more.
I flew back over to him. He looked up at me sulkily.
“Why’d you do that? Why’d you play their game?” he asked.
“Because, like it or not, we’re not the only people in the world. We need them to make us great, whether you like it or not. Now pull your act the fuck together. We’re going to hit another club, we’re going to buy those assholes some shots, and we’re going to make it such an awesome party that they won’t even try and remember that you nearly killed one of them tonight,” I said.
“But their cameras?” he asked.
“Way ahead of you,” I said, quickly texting one of the Protectors’ lawyers. Cybernetic implants kept her from ever having to sleep (and she was a bit sweet on me), so I knew I could get her to suppress this from becoming a thing by the time all the paparazzi sobered up.
“This’d be a whole lot easier if I could just kill some bad guys,” Icicle Man said.
He had a point there, not that I could tell him that. There were people, myself included, who had some plans to fix that, plans to make our very own supervillains to change the status quo, to prove to the world how desperately we really were needed. I liked Icicle Man, well enough, and he was my friend, but with a head like his, he couldn’t really be trusted with something like that. Not yet at least.
But if I kept him under my wing, taught him the ways of the world, maybe he could be brought in.
“It would be, wouldn’t it? But we can’t predict when, or if, the villains will ever rise again. What we can do is be the best damn heroes possible. Ask my why,” I said.
“Why?” he asked.
“Because if you make people do what you want them to do, make them behave as you think they ought to, they will naturally resist. However, if you are someone they aspire to be, a hero to them, you won’t have to tell them what to do for you, because they’ll already be doing it without you needing to ask. Inspire that kind of devotion and you can slake your lusts and rages on them periodically without any fear of repercussions or need to clean up like I did for you tonight. Do you understand?” I asked.
He smiled, “I think I will when I sober up.”
“Good boy. There might be hope for you yet,” I said, laughing.
Eighteen-year-old Aidan Salt isn’t a superhero. With his powerful (and unpredictable) telekinetic abilities he could be one if he wanted to, but he doesn’t. He’s unambitious, selfish, and cowardly, and he doesn’t want to have to deal with all the paperwork required to become a professional superhero. But since the money, fame, and women that come with wearing the cape are appealing, he decides to become the first supervillain the world has seen in more than twenty years: Apex Strike.
However, he soon finds villainy in a world where the heroes have long since defeated all the supervillains. While half the world’s heroes seem to want him dead, the other half want to hire him as their own personal villain to keep them relevant. Choosing the latter course, Aidan enters a world of fame, fortune, and staged superhero fights that is seemingly everything he ever dreamed of . . . at least until he sees what truly hides behind the cape-and-mask lifestyle.
Almost Infamous will be released on April 19th, 2016, from Talos Press. Find it wherever books are sold (including the Amazon link so helpfully included here and in the cover above).