Chapter 15: Avatars, Part Two

The wind blows her hair back, and I get a good look at that long, slender neck.

Getting an erection in the Shocker suit has never been comfortable. There was a long period of time where I would try desperately to rework the groin of the suit, you know, to make it roomier; I mean, the suit isn’t as tight as it looks to begins with, so I thought it would be easy.


A casual fantasy of mine is that Spider-Man, whilst saving a little girl or something, pops an accidental boner. Peter Parker or whoever gets a picture of it and pow:


Because honestly, there is NO WAY that suit could hide a woody.

“Are you sure that’s his house?” I ask loudly, talking over the L-train rumbling by above us; we’re staked out in the underbelly of a train-bridge. We’re on the edge of the city; this far out it’s either fancy or it’s a slum.

“Yeah, that’s him; Jordan Farrell. Unmarried, lives alone. He’s a file clerk at Branson Savings and Loan; age twenty-four, college dropout. Thirteen twenty-one, Southwest Twenty-seventh Place.” She hands me the receipt so I can double-check it, and our hands touch for that extra four seconds that can mean either everything or nothing. “I’ve never seen you like this before, Herman,” she says quietly.

“No one’s ever seen me like this.”

I pull the mask down over my face.

The door to his apartment flies apart with a single level two, revealing Jordan Farrell sitting on his couch, watching television.

He’s worse than even I’d imagined. By his voice I knew he’d be a little guy, maybe five foot; in person, he’s around five foot four. He’s got that nasty blond hair, the kind that’s not quite reddish but not quite brownish, and it swirls in all directions. Not curls; swirls. Flecks of dandruff hang very visibly on nearly every strand. And one of those beards, those revolting, bizarre shave jobs where there’s only hair on the underside of the jaw; in high school, we called them “neck-beards.”

It’s good to see him. It’s good to put a face to the hate.

He tries to stand up, but I’m already on him; his face goes through the glass coffee table, and when I drag him into the kitchen, little slivers of glass fall out of his forehead and clink on the tile floor.

I slam his head against the counter a few times, grab the side of his face and turn the gauntlets on, a neat little interrogation tactic I’ve never had a chance to try out. About now the mini-vibrations are making his inner-ears ring; I turn it up to level one, he’s going to be on the verge of a concussion.

“Get the freak away from me!” he shrieks, high pitched, easy to despise, as he pushes on my face pathetically, not even punching, just sort of slapping at me. And there’s that substitution, too; “Freak” rather than “fuck.” That seals it.

“Hello, Rhino,” I say, hissing out the words, and smash his head against the refrigerator.

Felicia contacted me early this morning … funnily enough, exactly eight hours to the second after I sat down on the couch with Aleksei; God knows how she got my cell number. While I was out having a grand old time with the Punisher, she was doing some research on FPS’s financial dealings.

“It’s funny,” she said. “It’s like they’re so convinced people will never figure it out, they don’t even bother hiding the paper-work.”

I have a list, now. I have a list of everyone who’s ever done it; who’s ever mind-raped one of my esteemed colleagues in the world of super-villainy.

The saddest thing is, most of the crooks on here are pretty decent guys. All dead now, though; the ones that aren’t killed by the people who pay to be heroes end up killing themselves by over-exertion.

The people who control them can’t feel their puppet’s exhaustion, or agony …

They just keep working the body until it stops.

The night in the tube was beautiful; my bedroom was just as beautiful as ever, and, after a quick dusting, the place smelled like old leather and wood polish, the kind of smell that makes you happy inside.

Of course, after Felicia called, that big, big bed felt very empty.

Aleksei slept in a bedroom I cleaned up for him downstairs; he’s so heavy that when he lay down on the bed, it collapsed almost immediately, but he didn’t seem to notice. He just lay there, prone, arms at his sides, staring at the ceiling.

I put on an old Laser-Disc copy of Arsenic and Old Lace for him, and went to sleep, but I heard him crying late at night, and moving around; not touching anything, just wandering the halls.

I remember Aleksei once said: “It’s tough to be big. I got big, thick fingers; everything I touch just falls apart.”

And I remember thinking that Bruce Banner has it good. As I understand it, he goes back and forth, from Bruce to the Hulk, from the Hulk back to Bruce. Guys like Aleksei aren’t afforded that luxury; they are, for lack of a better word, cursed.

But this, this little piece of shit in front of me …

“You don’t want the curse. You just want the gift, and then, when you’re done … When you’re done you just crumple it up and throw it away.”

“WHAT THE FREAK ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT?” Jordan Farrell shrieks, and I slap him across the face.

“DO NOT SHOUT AT ME!” I scream at him. “YOU WILL BE SILENT!” I pull him to his feet, and then hurl him against the kitchen counter; I do it harder than I meant to, and he actually flips up and over, landing flat on his back in the living room.

I notice a radio sitting above the fridge, and flip it on. Elton John’s deceptively heterosexual anthem “Saturday Night’s All Right” booms out. God knows what station he had it on, but hey, it’ll work in case things get loud.

“It’s getting late I haven’t seen my date, so tell me when the boys get here,” Elton John says on the radio.

I round the counter, drawing the little metal spray bottle out of a pouch on my belt.

This is going to be nasty.

“It’s seven o’clock and I wanna rock, want to get a belly full of beer …”

I made a kind of primitive diagram this morning before I left Aleksei with Doc Feingold, a villain-friendly doctor in Manhattan, and I take this diagram out and consult it before spraying some raw battery acid onto Farrell’s left arm. He screams and grabs his wound, but promptly pulls his hand away in revulsion and pain after his fingers sink deeply into the bubbling flesh.

“That’s one,” I say, and look at my haphazard map of Rhino’s burn wounds. “You’ve got eight more.”

Elton continues:

“My old man’s drunker than a bar full of winos, and my old lady she don’t care …”

Farrell realizes what I’m doing, and crawls frantically away across the carpet, trailing blood and melted flesh.

“My sister looks cute in her braces and boots, a handful of grease in her hair …”

“Help!” he screams. “Somebody freakin’ help me! He’s cra–”

I spray him on the side of his face. His hair fizzles, his cheek burns away and his ear drops off in a gloppy mess. I can see his teeth through where his cheek was, and I watch as his tongue darts instinctively away from where a tiny droplet of acid has landed on his gums. He shrieks again, high-pitched, real agony.

“Don’t give us none of your aggravation, we had it with your discipline …”

I smile.

“Saturday night’s all right for fighting, get a little action in …”

“Thtay away!” he splutters, his speech garbled by the burn. He forces himself up to his feet, and throws himself to a cabinet next to the television, opens it, and pulls out a can of mace.

He starts to fire it, but I hit the stream with a level zero as it heads towards me, and it’s blown back onto him.

“Get about as oiled as a diesel train, gonna set this town alight …”

He does one of those beautiful Elmer Fudd reactions, where his eyes get really wide, and I can actually watch as the red veins rapidly cobweb over them.

“ ’Cause Saturday night’s the night I like, Saturday night’s all right, all right, all right!”

“EEEEEEEEEEEEEYYAAAAAAAAAAAAAARRRGHHHH!” Farrell screams, and slaps both hands to his face; when his hands touch the acid burn, gloppy flesh sprays everywhere.I spray him in the arm again, and he actually leaps right up and runs for the door. I grab him by the collar of his bathrobe and slam him against the framed picture of James Dean on the wall as the radio blares on.

“Packed pretty tight in here tonight, I’m looking for a woman to treat me right …”

A woman. Sure Elton, whatever you say.

“I could use a little muscle to get what I need, I’ll drink a fifth of jack and scream out ‘She’s with me!’”

Who the fuck frames a stock photo of James Dean?

Oh, it’s autographed.

Fuck it; have some acid, Mr. Dean.

“A couple of sounds that I really like, are the sounds of a switchblade and a motorbike, I’m a juvenile product of the working class, whose best friend floats from the bottom of a glass …”

I press him up against the wall, and spray him on the thigh, the left hip, the underside of his ribs and the top of his right shoulder, and then throw him into his television, and there’s that wonderful loud “pop” that comes when you shatter a vacuum tube. He lies there and grunts and moans for a little while, whilst I pace back and forth in his apartment, smashing things, breathing hard.

Elton John comes back in on the radio.

“Don’t give us none of your aggravation, we had it with your discipline …”

“You … you crashy fuck!” Jordan hisses, and throws a DVD copy of White Chicks at me.

I pull out the snub-nose .38.

“HOLY FREAKING CHRIST,” he screams. “Don’t kill me!”

“Buddy,” I scream over the music, “dying is the least of your problems.”

“Saturday night’s all right for fighting, get a little action in …”

I don’t even both aiming, really; I just point the gun in the vague direction of his left arm and pull the trigger.


Blood splatters up onto the wall behind him; I got him right in the melted biceps, and he lets out this insane banshee scream.

I guess it’ll kind of surprise you to learn that this is the first time I’ve ever shot someone. Firing a gun does a crazy thing to you; it’s like snorting coke, or cumming; as soon as you do it, you want to do it again.

“Get about as oiled as a diesel train, gonna set this town alight …”

So I do. I put three in the wall next to his head while he screams and cowers on the ground.

“You piece of shit! You worthless piece of shit!” I point the gun at his head, and cock back the hammer. He hurt Aleksei, not just bruises and scrapes, like Spider-Man always gives him, but really hurt Aleksei. He damaged him.

Unacceptable. No no no. Unac-fucking-ceptable.

“ ’Cause Saturday night’s the night I like, Saturday night’s —”

Felicia jumps on me from behind and puts me in a half-nelson.

My gun goes off into the side of the radio, and Elton John is abruptly silenced.

“Herman, for christsakes!” Felicia screams; she really screams it, too. There’s a note of desperation and panic in her voice that catches me off guard.

Jesus fuck. What am I doing?

I breathe in, and then out, and I feel my body deflate, everything rushing out of me all at once. I stumble back and trip over a discarded empty milk carton; my weight falls onto Felicia, and we crash to the ground. She doesn’t let go of the half nelson, and I don’t try to fight it. We lie there on the dirty carpet, surveying the topography of a filthy floor.

“He … he hurt Aleksei,” I say. I can’t really say anything else. I feel Felicia’s lips brush the back of my ear.

“I know, Herman, I know. Just breathe.”

So I breathe in vanilla and cinnamon, that wonderful smell that hangs around her.

I feel her breathing behind me; she must’ve sprinted the whole way here once she saw what I was doing. Down off the bridge, across the street, through the door, up the hall, up the stairs for three flights, down the hall, through the door.

How sweet of her, protecting poor little Jordie Farrell.

Farrell, for his part, has at least stopped screaming. He’s just lying there, twitching and moaning now. I guess Felicia’s presence pacifies us all.

“If I let you go, are you going to drop the gun?” she says, again directly into my ear.

I stay silent, listening to her breathe.

“If I let you go, Herman, will —”

I drop the gun, and she lets me go; I practically shove her away, and stand up, doing a quick pace around the apartment. I finally flop down on the couch, staring at Farrell as he pulls himself into the bedroom, leaving a slug’s trail of blood and slagged muscle and skin tissue.

Felicia comes around the couch and kneels down on the floor in front of me, resting her chin in her hands and her elbows on my knees.

The last time I was in this position with a woman it was 2002 and I was about to get a blowjob.

Somehow I doubt I’ll be as lucky this time around.

She looks at me in silence for a little, those cartoon-beautiful green eyes, reading me. I groan and pull off the mask.

“What?” I say, breaking the silence.

“I thought you said you were going to interrogate him,” she says, and glances over to the door of the bedroom after a particularly loud moan.

“I changed my mind,” I say, and hand her the Rhino-Diagram.

She glances at it casually, and then looks again.

“Fuck,” she says quietly.

“Felicia,” I say, and drop my head. “I think I’m losing it.”

Felicia stands up, and pulls me to my feet. She pulls a little too strongly, and our bodies touch.

Felicia instinctively takes a step back; that kind of touch is reserved for the Spider-Jerk.

“Herman, it’s not that you’re losing it, it’s just that —”

“Wait,” I say, and abruptly move away.

Something’s wrong. I can feel it.

Call it whatever you want; a bad vibe, Shocker-Sense, women’s intuition …

“Felicia,” I say, tuning my gauntlets up to level five. “Get down.”

“What?” she says blankly.

“Get,” I say, putting a hand on the back of her neck and shoving her to the floor. “Down.”

Nothing happens.

I feel a tad foolish.

Felicia looks murderous as she starts to stand back up, but, perhaps luckily for me, the Gibbon comes crashing through the wall of the apartment and I am instantly vindicated.

Oh, boy. The fucking Gibbon.

Martin Blank and I have never been close; not like me and Max (the Grizzly, in case you forgot), which is sad, because Max and Marty were tight. They even thought about going legit for a while as a Dynamic Duo; Max always used to say that he wanted an action figure.

Christ, I miss him.

It’s funny, even if you don’t see someone often, when they die, you still miss them. Missing someone you never even see … Humans are funny animals.

Marty is a mutant, one of the few mutant criminals who’s managed to avoid fighting/joining the X-Men. He was born a normal kid, like most mutants, but at fourteen he sprouted hair all over his body and became quite a bit stronger and more agile than the average eighth grader.

Now, this was back in the early Seventies, so mutants weren’t exactly commonplace yet. Back then, each mutant was regarded as an individual phenomenon, not part of a larger trend. And this didn’t work well for Marty, who was disowned by his parents and had to hook up with a circus freakshow as Gibbon, the Marvelous Monkey Boy.

You’d be surprised how many of my friends, at one time or another, have worked in a freak show.

Actually, you probably wouldn’t be surprised. You’d probably smile smugly and say something droll. You fucking prick.

After the freak show went bankrupt, Marty ended up wandering around New York with no direction, and, let me tell you, being a meta with no direction in New York in the Eighties? Bad times: the Sentinel Program, Galactus’s second and third visits, the Green Goblin’s reign of terror, Ghost Rider, the Scourge of the Underworld, the Avengers going from seven members to seven hundred (I think I could’ve joined and they wouldn’t have even noticed) …

Yeah, the Eighties sucked in the Big Apple.

I first met Marty after he’d started in as a leg-breaker. He had a pretty good thing going for him; he didn’t like violence, but when you look like an anorexic Sasquatch, people generally just hand over the money without a struggle. They just assume you’re this chest-thumping, banana-eating mongrel mutate who’ll just as soon crush their skull as wipe his nose.

In reality, Marty was a soft spoken guy who drank maybe a little too much. I understood the drinking though; he had bad arthritis in his hands, and a worse back from one too many tussles with the cops. People don’t realize how much of a toll this strange, strange life takes on your body. I’m lucky that I’ve got my father’s “I REFUSE TO FUCKING DIE” genes; they’ve foiled two suicide attempts so far, and …

Oh, I haven’t told you about the times I tried to commit suicide?

And failed?


Oh. Silly me.

The last time I saw him was during the summer of 2004; he’d started up working at a local mutant bar, waiting tables. No more “Gibbon.” Just plain old Martin Blank.

The thing in the apartment with Felicia and me, of course, is not Martin Blank.

“Oo oo ee ee!” the Gibbon hoots, turning to us, his eyes wild. “Me am gonna kill you, humans!” He grins, baring a mouth of jagged, sharp, monkey teeth.

Looking at him, I’d believe it. Martin was strong, really strong. Not Spider-Man strong, but close; fast, too.

I’d say the voice coming out of him is that of an Asian man in his late forties, maybe early fifties. The pitch and tone clearly indicate that he’s having a wonderful time.

I start to raise my gauntlets, when I hear a noise from the entrance to the apartment behind me.

It’s water.

Tons of water, starting to pour in like a dam just burst.

It stops. Pulls together and forms …

Morrie Motherfucking Bench.

Why am I not surprised.

“Did you see that?” Morrie, or rather, whoever has control of Morrie, says, while they nod his head at the door. “It’s incredible!”

I point a gauntlet at him, so I’m now standing crucifix style, one gauntlet aimed at the Gibbon, the other aimed at the new guest at my little funeral party.

You’ve seen Morrie on the news dozens of times, I’m sure, but on TV they call him “Hydro-Man.” Oh, don’t get me wrong, he calls himself that, too, but I want to draw a clear line between whoever’s controlling his body right now and the Morrie I’ve known and hated for years.

The ocean-blue eyes, the light brown curls, the face that looks almost exactly what Cary Grant would look like if you hit him with a waffle iron …

That’s all Morrie.

But posture is all wrong; I can’t imagine Morrie would be caught dead standing up straight.

Without that characteristic “I’m A Huge Asshole” slouch, Morrie looks like a whole different person.

Which is funny because, in this case, that’s exactly what he is.

Morrie’s old-school Spider-Man foe alma mater; he was around way back in the beginning, with me, Otto, Adrian, Flint, Max, Quentin and, of course, Aleksei. I’d include Norman Osborn in there, too, but: a) I didn’t know Green Goblin was Norman Osborn until I read as much in the Daily Bugle last year and b) the Goblin is a sadistic, murdering fuck, and was never much of a team player to begin with.

That isn’t to say, of course, that Morrie is some kind of saint. He’s one of what I call “The Long Reach, Short Mind” breed of super-villains: guys gifted with genuinely incredible powers, but sadly unable to use them to their fullest extent due to being absolute fucking morons.

Let’s look at Morrie’s powers for a moment here, just so you can understand how unequivocally fucked Felicia and I are:

He can turn into sentient water.

Sounds simple, yeah?


See, Morrie can not only control himself, move himself freely in any and all directions whilst in this form, he can also take on and control an unlimited amount of new water, as long as it’s reasonably uncontaminated.

Yes, that’s right. Starting to see the potential, here?


Okay, let me nudge you along. I want you to imagine Morrie sitting next to a swimming pool. Morrie sticks his foot in. Suddenly the pool is empty. Morrie is the same size, BUT THE POOL IS FUCKING EMPTY. Where is the water from the pool? Well, it’s inside Morrie.

And he can shoot it out, morph into it or into a water-molded shape of roughly the same volume, put it under pressure inside of him (God knows how he does that) and use it to launch him into the air …

You’re starting to see it now, aren’t you?

Now I want you to imagine Morrie sitting next to a fresh-water lake.

Uh-huh. That’s right. “Whoa” is indeed the correct response.

Good. You get it. And you know what this guy does with this power, this insane ability that disregards all physics and liquid science in favor of sheer, golly-gee-wow effect?

He robs banks.

Welcome to New York.

When Aleksei was under FPS’s control he did gymnastics, ran up fucking walls …

And now, with Morrie’s potential …

In case you’re wondering:

The answer is yes. I’m very scared right now.

I think about just firing now, blowing them both away, but then there’s a crash from the bedroom, and a thing that looks like a bipedal, winged white lion smashes through the doorframe, letting out a long, howling “Whooohoooo!”

It stands about eight feet tall, easily as big as Aleksei, and wears what looks like a red unitard.

I have absolutely no idea who this guy is, but the beer-coaster sized black spot on his forehead guarantees that even if I did, it wouldn’t matter.

You see, he’s not feeling like himself today.

“Back off, boys!” the lion-monster says in the voice of a woman in her early twenties. “That replay is mine all mine!”

“Herman …” Felicia says quietly, drawing her body up into a tight crouch next to my legs.

“We’ve been set up,” I say, and drop one arm towards the ground, wrapping the other around Felicia’s waist.

I fire off a single level five straight down at my feet, and feel grateful that Felicia has the good sense to pull her legs up and wrap them around me.

At such close range, the sheer power of my gauntlets on their maximum setting is rather mind-blowing: the floor seems to melt apart, drooping down like candle wax before rippling and then exploding into thousands of individual pieces of debris. We hang there, held up by the force of the blast in a cloud of vaporized plaster and wood, and then the drop starts.

The level five blew a vertical shaft through the building, straight down three stories into what must be an administrative office. We fall past a janitor’s store-room, a vacant apartment, and a very startled woman watching Jeopardy in her living room before I fire off a level one to slow our decent and we go crashing down onto some guy’s desk.


I fall straight onto the carpet, bounce off and hit the wall. Felicia, however, does land directly on the guy’s desk, her yoga-firmed behind smashing his keyboard. The guy sits there, staring at her, as the rubble settles around us.

He looks up through the tunnel to the third floor, and then looks at Felicia again.

“Thank you, God,” he says quietly.

Felicia smiles and winks at him; it’s shit like that, the little stuff, that I’ll never be able to master. Being a superhero, one of the good guys, is rather like being an actor; success relies in nuance, and subtlety.

My life has always been, very much, measured in extremes. Subtlety is a hard thing to master when you wear a bright yellow quilt as a costume.

I grab Felicia by the arm and all but carry her out the door as the commotion starts upstairs. We’re in an administrative hallway; to my right is a long corridor lined with doors that ends in elevator, to my left is an emergency exit.

I practically kick the door off its hinges, and drag Felicia into the ground floor of the building’s dingy parking structure. Most of the halogen bulbs are faltering or completely tapped, giving the parking lot a sort of hobo-piss yellow tint, everything looking seamy and poor.

“What’re you doing?” Felicia hisses, yanking her arm away from me, and I remember how strong she is. Stronger than me.

“We …” I say loudly, indignant, “are running the hell away.”

She opens her mouth to say something, but then thinks better of it and takes off. “Follow me,” she shouts, and we’re running.

We turn a corner in the structure and run down a car ramp towards the street, but halfway down the two figures step out to block us.

“No no no, Herman,” Eddie Lavelli, alias “The Eel” says, charging up his Volt-Suit. Blitz, an Amazonian Indian woman in golden armor, steps out from behind him, punching her fist into her palm. “Nobody gets past the New Enforcers.”

Felicia doesn’t even miss a beat; she turns on her heels and grabs me by the wrist, and we’re running back up the ramp.

“Hey!” Eddie shouts after us, his voice raspy and unpleasant. “Leaving so soon?”

“Come on,” Felicia says, and pulls me towards the stairwell, but I resist, and end up being dragged along with her anyway.

“Wait! Felicia, we’ve got to get back to the bridge; we can take the Broomstick and —”

The concrete wall to our right crashes inward, and the Gray Gargoyle trundles through, the black spot on his forehead sticking out like a neon tattoo.

Felicia yanks me behind an SUV, pulls me down on top of her and puts a finger to her lips.

“Raaaarrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr! I am the Great Gray Gargoyle!” the Gray Gargoyle bellows in the voice of a middle-aged man. There’s a moment of silence. “Uh, hello?” he says, and I hear him moving around. “Aw, come on!” the man controlling Gray Gargoyle whines. “I want that fucking replay! Can’t you even give me a hint?” Silence, and then: “Shit man, that’s not fair.”

He starts flipping cars.

The crashing noises start to get closer, and I take the opportunity to furtively whisper to Felicia. “When I get up, I want you to make a run for it. Don’t try to fight any of them; they want me more than you anyway. Get to the bridge, get on the Broomstick, hit the green button, push up the lever and get the hell out of here.”

To my surprise, Felicia doesn’t argue. She sticks her hooked fingernails under the hem of my mask, pulls it up over my nose, and kisses me softly on the mouth.

Time freezes.

The world breathes.

Am I ready to take on six super-villains?

I think I am.

Felicia pulls away.

“For luck,” she says. The SUV goes flipping into the ceiling, and comes down on the other side of us, revealing a pleasantly surprised Gray Gargoyle.

“Gotcha!” he says, proud of himself.

I roll off Felicia, and scramble between Gray Gargoyle’s legs. He turns around, cursing in frustration. I watch as Felicia dives off an open terrace, out into the street, and then turn back to the monster looming over me.

“You’re worth ten thousand bonus points and a free replay,” the Gargoyle says, and smiles.

I lick my lips, smelling, no, tasting that sweet cinnamon-vanilla smell.

I pull down my mask, and smile a perennial loser’s smile.

“Come get some.”

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