Chapter 5: Devolution, Part Two

As a super-villain, you get used to heights; on a regular basis you’re getting punched into the air, thrown from rooftop to rooftop, thrown OFF rooftops, dropped out of helicopters …

It’s a hard-knock life past one hundred feet up, and you’d think I’d have gotten used to it.

I haven’t.

Mac must weigh at least two-fifty, and holding on to him while trying to balance on the ledge is a game I won’t be able to play long, especially not with only one good arm.

Since the suit can’t get wet, all the blood from my nose is being forced to pour down my chin, down my neck. I keep instinctively licking my wet upper lip, but the taste of my own blood makes me gag; I’ve always had a weak stomach.

“Come on Mac, come on …” I say, leaning against the building and trying to swing Gargan up onto the ledge, but it’s no good; my gimp arm seizes up. The wind blows.

Down below, I hear all the sirens of the cop cars from other precincts, arriving eight minutes too late.

A little part of me is proud; my second outing as a superhero, and I took out fucking VENOM. Granted, this is Venom Three (I heard the costume was with Angelo Fortunato as well before he died), and Venom Three acting really strange and kind of animalistic, but shit, that shouldn’t matter; I just took out a Name!

The wind blows harder, and I sway against my will; I’m not going to be able to hold onto Mac much longer. My shoulder is really starting to ache, now, and the balancing act isn’t going to —

“What, exactly, are you doing?” Spider-Man says, scaring the bejesus out of me. He’s crouched right above me, sitting on the wall, hanging down so his upside-down head faces mine.

“Fuck off,” I grumble, and frantically try to move my useless right arm; he’s so close, he’s SO CLOSE, if I blast him at this range there’s no way he could dodge, right? But it’s useless.

All trying to move my arm accomplishes is an explosion of pain; I crumble forward, but Spider-Man puts a finger against my chest and pushes me back against the wall.

“Seriously. What’re you doing?”

“Get the fuck away from me.”

“Such language!” he says, waggling his finger. I hate him, I hate him, I HATE HATE HATE HIM.

Spider-Man can’t just beat you up; no, that’s far too dignified. He has to embarrass you, make a joke out of you, beat you spiritually as well as emotionally, and he does this because he’s a fucking sadistic sociopath with no morals or compassion. I’ll take a punch from Luke Cage over Spider-Man any day; at least he’s fucking QUIET.

Think of metahuman combat as a debate:

ME: “I want this money.”

SUPERHERO: “You cannot have this money. It is against the law to take this money.”

ME: “I shall take this money regardless of the law, because I want it.”

SUPERHERO: “That is aberrant behavior. We shall fight.”

ME: “Have at thee!”

Granted, I always lose. But with Spider-Man it works something like this:

ME: “I want this money.”


ME: “What?”


ME: “What?”


ME: “Wha–?”



“The hell does it looks like I’m doing?” My version of a clever retort; things always sound so much more eloquent in my head.

“It looks like you’re on the side of a building molesting naked Scorpion.”

“I …” — Realizing I have no response to this — “Fuck you.”

“Herman …” Spider-Man says, slowly, thinking. “What happened down there?”

“Why the fuck should you care?”

“People are dead, Herman, and you’re wasting my time with this tough-guy shtick.”

A pause.

“Venom —”


I nod at naked Mac.

“Ah, right.”

“Venom attacked the station.”


I ponder telling him, but then realize I don’t really know myself.

“Who knows? He’s crazy. Don’t help much that he’s covered with that black glop.”

Spider-Man nods. “So, Schultzy, Schultzmeister, the Fabulous Schultzmo, how do you figure in?”

A pause.

“I was trying to stop him.”

Spider-Man webs Gargan to the side of the building; the cops’ll get him later. Shame he doesn’t do the same for me, because the blood loss from my nose is starting to make me dizzy, and dizzy is not a good thing to be right now.

He drops down next to me on the ledge.

“Why did you try to stop him?” he says; I can tell he’s confused because he’s finally talking straight and simple. No more wise-ass shit now. I don’t answer. I don’t need to. “For the same reason you tried to stop that thing down town?”

And I have a small epiphany; Spider-Man hasn’t noticed the discrepancies in Ravage’s behavior. And he didn’t see how nutzoid Gargan was acting in the station. Hell, Spider-Man probably doesn’t even know this is where Ravage’s body is, probably doesn’t even see a connection between the two incidents. After all, this is everyday shit for him; if his life were a story, this wouldn’t even be a subplot.

It’s still my case. I’m still the only one who —

“This conversation isn’t over, Schultz,” Spider-Man says, and leaps down out towards the street.

“Huh?” I say out loud, just before the first whiff of smoke touches my barely-functional nose. The police station has started burning. And off goes Spider-Man, big hero, to save those still trapped inside the building.

How heroic. How noble.

Something in me wants to let myself fall, because, honestly, I would NEVER do what he’s doing now. The idea of putting my personal welfare at risk for ANYONE has always been a big no-no for yours truly, though I’d never say that.

When you’re as selfish, as genuinely shallow and empty as I am, you have to keep your mouth shut.

I edge along the ledge, and kick through a window, startling several cubicle workers who’d been watching the chaos below.

By the time I get home, the flow of blood from my nose is little more than a trickle. When I finally take off the mask in front of the mirror in my too-small bathroom, my face from the nostrils down is that turgid red of dried blood, running down my neck and under the torso piece of the costume. It’s revolting.

My body hurts.

Nothing new.

The shoulder is killing me; my right arm is completely flaccid. Occasionally the fingers twitch from the pain. I press in the unlock code on the back, and the whole deal pops off.

God, I’m out of shape. Not fat. Yet. I need to stop existing solely on cheeseburgers. Maybe exercise. I’ll need to start riding a bike anyway, now that my car is out of commission.

A bike? Fuck that. I need a bonified, certified ride.

Note to Self: Call Tinkerer, see what kind of transportation he can give me for under ten grand. He’ll probably just give me a unicycle and we’ll call it even, but there’s always a chance Phineas might have something useful laying around. The old guy’s got a soft spot for me; he says I’m a “fellow engineer.”

The purple-black ring of hematomas around my shoulder is horrific. I have to stare at it for a couple of seconds before my brain can even comprehend it’s my own body I’m looking at.

I wash off the blood from my nose, crack it back into place and then call Aleksei; I’ll need him. And I think to myself, so this is being a hero.

“It fucking sucks,” I say aloud. Rent is due. Electric is due. On TV, they’re saying a fight between two super-powered criminals spilled into a police station downtown today, costing sixteen lives, until Spider-Man swung down and blah blah BLAH blah BLAH.

Sixteen people. Sixteen sets of parents. Sixteen childhoods. Sixteen lives.

Of course, I’m pissed that I got blamed instead of thanked. There goes more glory. And more credit for the Sticky Contortionist, amazing, spectacular.

But at the back of my brain that number jumps out at me, and I don’t know why. It’s definitive. Being a hero, both money-wise and morale-wise, was the worst decision I’ve ever made.

On the wall next to my bed, my She-Hulk 1997 Playboy Centerfold looks like it’s laughing at me.

Aleksei shows up a half hour later, all smiles until he sees the state of me.

“Ah, jeez, Herman, look at you,” he says, his big mouth shrinking and inverting into a harlequin frown. “What happened?”

“You know what happened, Aleksei, I told you on the phone.”

“Oh, right, right, the Scorpion.” O, ride ride, dah Scorepeeon.

“He’s Venom now.”

“Whatever. He’s still Gargan, right, the same old shit with a new name is still the same old shit.”

He doesn’t know this, he couldn’t know this, but his words hurt me. I am, after all, the Same Old Shit. And what have these last few days been, if not me trying to give myself a new name? Sometimes Rhino can be very Zen like that.

We sit on the bed, and he puts one of those lunch tray-sized hands on my shoulder.

“You ready?”

We’ve done this before; he knows to ask now instead of just going ahead and maiming me. I grit my teeth, but then remember that you’re not suppose to do that, and then just sit there, sort of grimacing like an angry ferret.

That’s the animal I always compare myself to, a ferret.

That or a weasel.

I wonder if that says anything about my self esteem?

“I’m ready.”


“FUCKATRUCK!” I scream, and fall off the bed into one of the mammoth piles of dirty laundry that fill my apartment.

The window, one of my only two windows, shatters inward, and a fork, a fucking FORK, wisps through the air where my head just was, and hits the wall, burying into the cheap plaster. Rhino blinks a couple of times.

And suddenly, if only for a moment, I believe in fate.

Aleksei picks his huge body up off the bed, and pulls the fork out of the wall; he notices something I didn’t, a sheet of paper neatly tied to the stem, complete with an ornamental bow.

“What’s it … What’s it say?” My voice is shaking. It was a fork. A fork through a fifth story window into what would’ve been my left ear. Only one person could’ve done that. Aleksei puzzles over the note for a moment, and then reads aloud.

“Schultz/Sytsevich — How’s that ear doing?”

“Cute.” My voice is still shaking.

Rhino continues: “You haven’t even scratched the surface, but you’re already in way over your head. Back off, and maybe one day you can die old and alone. Keep it up, you die young and alone. Same goes for you, freak. Kisses and Hugs …”

Rhino stares directly at me as he says the word.

“Bullseye,” we say together.

I am seriously outclassed here. We both are.

And for the millionth time today, it runs through my head:

Why was Ravage going crazy?

What was wrong with Gargan, and why was he trying to destroy the body?

What was that thing on the back of Ravage’s head?

Who started the blaze in the police station? There was nothing going on that could’ve lit up when I went through, and shit, isn’t that black Venom-goop supposed to be afraid of fire?

And for the first time, ever, I think, I feel … I don’t know, interested. Exhilarated, maybe. Sure, there was just an attempt on my life by arguably the best assassin in the world. Yes, I’m beaten, bruised and thoroughly demoralized. And yeah, I’m more than a little scared shitless.

But I feel alive. It’s these weird electric feeling, again, almost like crime, but better.

“What do we do, Herman?” His one square of uncovered skin twisting into a nervous sob. “What did you do to make Bullseye mad at you?”

I stand, rotating my right shoulder a few times to make sure it still works. It does; hurts like a bitch, but it can support a gauntlet.

“I don’t know what I did, Rhino, but I’m going to find out.” Rhino nervously wrings his enormous paws.

“I don’t know if that’s a good idea, Herman.”

“I don’t care if it’s a good idea.” I take out my cell phone.

“Who’re you calling?”

I dial the Tinkerer.

“We’re going to need more firepower.” I allow myself a small smile. “Nobody fucks with my windows.”

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