Chapter 8: Devolution, Part Five

Maxwell Markham was never a little guy, even without his monstrous “grizzly” exo-skeleton. He used to be a pro-wrestler; I was never a big fan of wrestling to begin with, but everybody, fan or not, knew about Max.

Most people these days know that wrestling is fake, you know, choreographed. Back then it wasn’t common knowledge, and Max did everything in his power to protect the business. His way of doing this was to not pull punches, to really slam the hell out of his opponents, whether he was supposed to win the match or not.

J. Jonah Jameson, that pillar of morality, targeted Max in the eyes of his conservative asswipe readers as kind of pariah of professional wrestling, got his ass banned from the business.

Guys like Max only know how to do one thing, and once you take that away from them, chances are they’re going to end up as criminals. He met up with this creep named “The Jackal”, who hooked him up with the Super-Strength-Big-Ass-Claws-Exo-Skeleton, and started up as the Grizzly.

He and I got along real well; I was one of the few guys who was more successful than him when it came to crime. Poor guy couldn’t even rob a bank without that suit of his malfunctioning and sending him flying through a window. For a while he was pitching this bullshit story that he’d broken Spider-Man’s back, but last I’d heard he’d given up crime entirely.

He was a sweet guy; dumb, but not STUPID dumb. I always thought that if he’d just spent a little more time planning and less time smashing he could’ve eventually made it up to my level, as pitiful as that level is.

The thing standing over me when I roll over onto the asphalt isn’t Maxwell Markham. I look into its eyes, and I know that Maxwell Markham is dead. And it scares the hell out of me.

“Max!” I shout anyway, a little punch-drunk from the whack-to-the-face. I’m just now getting to my feet, and I can feel that my nose has starting bleeding again. “Stop! Snap out of it!”

Max doesn’t even respond; he just roars again and grabs a jogger by the head. There’s a sickly egg-crack CRUNCH sound, and brains spill through Max’s claws. I gag; the damn weak stomach again.

“RRRRRRRRRRRHHHHHRRRRRRRRR!” Max says; it’s as though he’s not thinking, not processing the world around him, just lashing out and destroying. He shatters the doors of the bank he’s standing in front of and rampages in.

I stumble after him, charging up the gauntlets. I watch as Max grabs a loan-agent, picks him up and powerbombs him through his desk, which cracks in half. The guy is dead before he hits the floor.

“RRRRRRRRRRGRRRGGRRRRRRR!” Max mumbles, turning and grabbing hold of a woman who, in a fit of panic, has pressed her entire body up against an ATM. She screams again and again as Max spins her up into the air, and then cracks her back over his knee, bending her into a mushy V-shape.

“Herman, you idiot,” Felicia shrieks, shoving me out of her way as she sprints towards Max. “Do something!”

I don’t. I can’t. I’m frozen.

So, this is what happens when I’m NOT the one in danger. I just stand and stare, watching as Felicia leaps into the air, whipping one of those long, lithe legs into a roundhouse kick to the back of Max’s head.

“MRMRRR,” Max grumbles, and turns on her, big bear claws snapping together as her grabs at her face. Felicia easily glides back along the smooth marble floor of the bank, throwing kicks and punches into Max’s midsection, and he trundles along after her, roaring, swinging blindly.

Still frozen, and my mind is wandering. It said Grizzly on the receipt; someone hired him to do this, or at least knew he would be here. Why? As a distraction while they robbed the bank? Then why would they need him insane, why would —

Max grabs hold of Felicia by the neck, and smashes her up against the wall, through one of the bullet-proof glass bank-teller window. She lets out this distorted scream, like an animal being hit by a car.

“SON OF A BITCH!” I shout, and act without thinking, without planning, without intent other than to cause grave bodily harm. I run forward, jump up onto Max’s sizeable back, put a fist on either side of his head and hit my palm triggers.

That beautiful sound as the gauntlets fire; vshVRRMMMMM.

Max’s body shakes so hard it throws me off, but I land on my feet. Max has dropped Felicia, and is stumbling around drunkenly, clawing at his own head, tearing off chunks of exo-skeleton and flesh alike. A double blast from that distance, even at a low power setting like the one I used, will FUCK YOU UP. His ear-drums are burst forever and are currently filling with blood, his skull is cracked in a dozen places, most if not all of his teeth are shattered, his eye sockets are shifted out of shape, a hundred different injuries all administered in the course of a single second.

“ROAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRRR!” Max howls, so loud I can feel my eardrums vibrate. He turns back to me, his face a mask of insane rage, and spits out a pulpy, bloody ball of saliva and shattered teeth. I raise both of my gauntlets and blast him again; the impacts blow him into the air and through a display on Safe and Reliable Home Mortgage. He slides across the marble, and lies motionless.

“Felicia!” I yelp in an absurd Mickey-Mouse voice, and dive down next to her. Max’s claws sunk pretty deeply into her neck, shoulder and chest, and for once I’m not staring at her tits. “Felicia, are you —”

She points at something behind me, I turn and catch a frying-pan sized paw-punch to the stomach; it lifts me off my feet and for a moment I get a look at that insane, warped face, and then I go crashing into a row of SimpleBank computer monitors, which shatter under my weight.

Max starts to stalk towards me, and I notice something genuinely scary; the point-blank blasts I gave him have completely shattered his face-plate, cheek-bones, jaw, nose and orbital bones, and the architecture of his face slides loosely around, no longer in any concrete configuration, now just a wet flesh bag of torn muscle and shattered bone.

“Jesus,” I say, trying to get to my feet and slipping a few times on the remains of the SimpleBank monitors. The suit dispelled most of the impact from the punch to the gut, but it didn’t do jack-shit about my crash landing on the computers, and my back feels like it’s been sledge-hammered in three different places.

“RRRRRAAAAAAAAAAOOOORRRR!” Max screams, and I think that chunk that falls out of his mouth is his tongue. He grabs me by the arm and yanks me into a clothesline; again, the impact itself is dispersed by the suit, but the momentum from the blow pancake-flips me face-first into the edge of a loan-desk; I hear a soft, squishy “craak” from my already broken nose, and then I see stars.

I suppose I’m lucky; the impact could’ve killed me, driven the cartilage shards right up into my brain.

I fire off several random shots at Max, blinded by my pain, and miss every time, though I do manage to do a rather amazing amount of damage to the building itself. Max stands over me, and lifts his claws for another blow, and then Felicia hits him in the back of the head with a chair, so hard I hear the screws in the chair pop.

Max roars and turns on her, and I roll over, taking the opportunity to try to get my shit together. I pull myself up to my feet, and watch as Felicia frantically ducks and dodges around. This is what a superhero fight looks like when nobody involved has powers; it isn’t pretty.

Unable to breathe through my mouth anymore, choking on the blood from my nose, I pull off the mask. Big mistake; something hits me across the back of the head, and I sink down onto all fours. I feel that weird, cold feeling of a sudden impact across my skull, and then drop down onto my stomach, my limbs ceasing to obey me from the pain.

“Guhhhhhhhh …” I say, trying to sit up. “Guhhh … whuuuhhh …” Someone shoves me back down; he’s a guy in his early forties, with one of those big, thick, Magnum P.I. mustaches that makes a person look automatically ridiculous, regardless of all other features. Not to say that this guy wouldn’t look ridiculous anyway; he has an almost perfectly round head, and big, bug eyes that seem to slide right out of his face.

“Stay down, asswipe,” he says, and he hits me squarely in the side of my unprotected neck with what, as it blurs by my face, looks to be a piece of rusted rebar.

I feel like I’ve been beheaded.

Shouldn’t have taken off the goddamn mask.

Felicia hits Max with a series of kicks that rocks him onto his heels, and he lets out another one of those low, pained murmurs. She picks up the leg of a shattered table and lunges at him when Mustache guy grabs her butt and squeezes.

Felicia turns, more shocked than anything else, and Mustache Guy catches her right across the temple with a home-run swing with the piece of rebar. The impact spins her down onto her hands and knees, and I push myself up, raising a gauntlet at the apparently homicidal Mustache guy.

Eat this, asshole.

And then I miss.

Wonderful. Whether it was the blood loss, the combined beatings of the last few days, or the steel-rod shot to the head from the Murderous Mustachioed Maniac, it doesn’t matter. I just had one shot, and I missed.

The blast goes up and into the already battered south wall of the bank, blowing a window clear out into the street.

“What the fuck did I tell you?” the Mayhem Mustache Mudfuck screams, and smashes my raised left hand with the rebar; the suit takes most of the impact, but my arm is still knocked down to my side, leaving my face unprotected for the follow-up kick in the forehead.

I go flat on my back and for what feels like forever I can only see a kind of milky red-black blanket, floating just in front of my eyes.

When I was fourteen I lost my virginity to a mutie girl named Alison Tole. She had purple skin, smooth under my fingertips, and one of her arms was a tentacle that could shapeshift back and forth into a paw, a blade and an approximation of a human hand.

I remember she told me how funny it was that I always identified everything by smell.

I told her about the basement. About the Safe Game.

She never looked at me the same again.

I remember she smelled like ginger, but her hair smelled like blood.

A couple of years back I heard she’d moved to Genosha.

Then Genosha was destroyed by those fucking Sentinels.

No more ginger. Only blood now.

When the red-black blanket lifts, I see Felicia, out cold, maybe dead. I glance up at the bank’s big clock, and am relieved to find that only six minutes have passed.

And then I smell it; even through the thick blood of my destroyed nose I smell it: burnt hair and roasted flesh.

I know that smell. I remember it from the jobs I used to do with Maxwell Dillon, probably better known to you as Electro. It’s the sickly, death-smell of an electrocution.

I stand up and find the bank empty aside from the dead folks, Felicia and myself. I hear sirens outside, and the red-blue-red-blue of police cars flashes in through the destroyed front doors.

Getting up is a chore; I try three times before I manage a shaky sort of zombie-walk over to Felicia.

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a hundred times; being a superhero minus the “super” part isn’t very fun. I’ll have to find a healer-mutie somewhere in the ghetto and …


Mustache-Mcgee must’ve hit Felicia at least two more times; her scalp is split, and the bright red blood leaking out into her silver-white hair is rather beautiful. I stare at it.

Snap out of it Herman. You’ve got a concussion, don’t let it run you.

“Fuhlika,” I say, kneeling down next to her. “Fuhlika … Ah oo awlife?” My words are coming out fuzzy; here’s to hoping I don’t have brain damage.


Oh, great. That’s wonderful.


Oh, my sweet Aleksei, there are no words big enough to describe my love for you as the already damaged south wall of the bank flies apart.

“Hey, Herman. I saw what was happening on the television, and I thought you could use a lift.” Hey Hoiman. I saw wud was happenin’ on da tell-vishun, I thought you cud use a lift.

“You are my god, Aleksei,” I say, collapsing onto one of those steel-girder arms.

“I know,” he says, and laughs the big retard-laugh.

“Get Felicia,” I say, pulling back on the discarded mask despite my nose’s immediate scream of pain.

“Felicia?” he says, and then notices Black Cat on the floor. He swoops her up over his shoulder, puts me under his arm like a little baby, snorts heavily through his nose, and then charges, smashing straight out through the front of the bank, straight through the police barricade, flipping two squad cars with his horn.

I notice two things in the charge, through all the chaos, gunfire and screaming:

The first is the way Aleksei instinctively tucks Felicia down to his chest, protecting her from bullets meant for him. He really is amazing sometimes.

The second is the Mustache guy; he’s being interviewed by dozens of reporters, and seems annoyed that their TV cameras have momentarily turned towards us.

I don’t have time to do anything about it, as Rhino slams down through the pavement and into the subway tunnels, and from there into the dank underbelly of the city I know so well.

A couple of minutes go by, and Rhino’s heading down a poorly lit tunnel when Felicia turns to me and whispers through a veil of pain.

“That guy,” she says to me from where she lies on Rhino’s shoulder. “The guy with the Mustache.


“That was Asshole Husband.”

And for the first time since I started to try to be a superhero, something clicks in my head.

Things are starting to make sense.

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