By Charles EP Murphy.
On Sealion Press Forums , we run a monthly Vignette Challenge. Contributors are invited to write short stories on a specific theme (changed monthly).
The 68th Vignette Challenge is on the theme of Reconciliation, and can be found HERE.
This vignette was the winner of the 66th monthly vignette challenge; as our resident expert on all matters related to comics, Charles EP Murphy was ideally suited to handle the topic: Superheroes. This was his offering.
Dead Jimmy 2011
Way back in the day, when he’d been Jimmy Blackthorne, the Lords had been the enemy: those snobs and nobs looking down on the people, Tories the lot of them, everything rotten in the country. The Fascist Regime. Then, when the Satanists had botched their sacrifice abd he’d been Dead Jimmy, supernatural avenger of the streets of seventies London, the Lords had been more directly the enemy, with Lord Wessex as the Minister for Supranormal Justice and that Satanist coven turning out to have six members in the Lords who wanted him gone.
He’d been a rangy, angry young punk, and then he’d been a green glowing skeleton punk, and both times the regime wanted him dead. More dead, when he was Dead Jimmy. He’d been so full of passion he hadn’t even bothered to come up with a superhero identity and got lucky that there were loads of Jims, Jimmy’s and James’s.
Now he was Lord Blackthorne and he sat in a few debates a week and ate at the quite nice Lords canteen, and that quite nice canteen meant he’d stopped being rangy a good few years ago. He hadn’t turned back into Dead Jimmy since the Battle of the Millenium Dome on New Year’s ’99. “Appointed for services in defence of the realm.” He’d been a glowing skeleton fighting corrupt coppers and slum landlords and the poshos of the Hellfire Club. How’d this happen?
“Your problem,” said Dame Alison ‘Allie’ Spratt, formerly Alley Kat, speaking around a mouthful of cake, “is you wanted the peerage because it meant everyone was acknowledging you, but your self-identity was someone who doesn’t like peerages and you haven’t figured out a way around this in ten years. And your other problem is that you never got over becoming mainstream.”
“The SPG tried to execute me twice, Allie, and that’s not counting the Exorcist Inspector.”
“Yeah, and you can’t count him because you and Blatty were in the same team in the Nineties. The Midnight Knights were on Newsnight, Jimmy, and you’d started wearing that dumb shoulder-pads-and-chunky-chest costume.” She washed her cake down with fancy tea. She’d once worn an urban-camo catsuit and now she wore jumpers that made her look like a mum, which she was. “It happens, all of us cool super-types become the superheroes your parents think are cool. I used to be the hot outlaw vigilante of the eighties and then in 1990, I was the Dixon of Dock Green next to X-Stacy, the e-powered heroine. And I bet she works in an office now.”
Blackthorne looked around the room until he could explain what he thought. The massive but wrinkled hulk of Lord Samson, last of the wartime superheroes, was reading The Times at one table.
“The government was bad. Any part of it was bad. Didn’t matter who the party was, right? Everyone thinks punk was about Maggie, but we hated Callaghan and Wilson too. We hated the police and the social services and the council and the Queen and all the establishment supes like Sarge Samson. ‘You say you fought Nazis, but you’re helping the pigs!’ Y’know. And then Blair puts me in the honours list, and I go bend the knee to Queenie and now... What am I doing here?”
“We’re going to vote for an amendment on the new fishing bill, that’s what.”
“You never think about this?”
Something like regret passed over her face for a second. “I came to terms with it.”
The fishing bill was about setting quota and new environmental standards, and the amendment was to give financial support to help communities already reeling from the recession. It passed and would hopefully be kept in the Commons. Depended on how David Miliband felt that day, probably. The government had barely scraped in at the last election and you couldn’t tell if they’d make it to the Olympics, never mind the end of their term. Blackthorne didn’t think much of Davey Boy, but he did recognise that panicked look he kept having: “I’m supposed to be young and cool; how did I get here?”
“God, let him do the right thing,” he said on the way out of the chamber.
“We’ll be so lucky,” said another man, a silver fox with a dapper goatee. “That’s Lord Blackthorne, is it not? Formerly that skeleton man.”
“Dead Jimmy, yes, and-” After a second, the name came to him. “Lord Fengrand?”
“Fengrand the Fifth,” he confirmed, “and the last one now. I can’t say my son’s too upset about the end of hereditary peerages. He’s off doing something in computers. Anyway, I see you’re not too big a fan of our illustrious Prime Minister?”
“Best I can say is he isn’t Blair or Brown; he just worked for them and then snaked the latter. It was so much more simple back in the day. ‘I think that slumlord is a vampire’; ‘He is a vampire’; I kill the vampire; the SPG come after me. Fun times.”
Blackthorne thought about that. “Yes. Yes, I think that’s part of it. I knew what was the right thing to do and I could do it. And... and in the Lords, I can sort of do this still. I can come in and say: ‘We should do that’ and get people to agree and there’s not so much guff, but then it goes back to the MPs and there’s all the extra whipping and the lobbying and the ministers and...”
“And the country rots.”
“It feels like back in the seventies right now.”
Fengrand nodded, deep in thought. “I have a meeting but if you’re interested, there’s a little get together later tonight. Some of us grumpy men venting our spleens about the state of things.”
He didn’t have much planned and getting drunk and lairy sounded fun, so he agreed.
One meeting turned into one every two days: mostly Lords but a few hangers on from other places, press and business and civil service, all blowing their tops about the state of the state and the deficit and how nobody could stop the rampages of Doc Shuck in the north or the riots earlier this year. Some of the people there were to Blackthorne’s right, but he’d learned to tolerate that to get anything done with Lords and he’d heard worse in his time, and those riots, Jesus. He had symapthy for the kids on the estates; he’d fought the pigs back in the day, but so many of them robbing their own neighbourhood, burning their own places, half of them dressed up like supervillain henchmen. It was bloody tragic.
“And everyone spent weeks looking for a mastermind called ‘Mr Riot’!” he spat out over his pint. “He didn’t exist! People played the same trick when I was young. There was a big supervillain called ‘King Mob’ behind every riot--”
“But there was a King Mob,” injected a woman who was something at a paper.
“Yes but no. That was a chancer who saw a way to be a big-time villain without doing the work. So, give it a few months, there’ll be a real Mr Riot using his henchman to knock over Poundland.”
“Milibean has to go,” said a barrel-chested Scottish man, and everyone thumped their drinks and cheered.
It was on the seventh drunken bitchfest that Blackthorne picked up that quite a few of them were ex-supes. Not always the biggest names; that woman at the paper had been part of the Press Gang junior vigilantes from 1994, but a few. And when Blackthorne was telling an anecdote about the Midnight Knights and the trickster mage Sly Mckoy, the barrel-chested man unguardedly called him “Percy” while in his cups. Only ten people should know Sly’s real name, and he realised with a shock that this man was the third Thunderforce, an active member of the National Cavalry.
“I was almost on the Cavalry,” he whispered to Thunderforce when nobody else was in earshot.
The man looked panicked, like he thought the paparazzi were going to leap on him and a supervillain about to kill his uncle. Then he relaxed and said: “Really?”
“Well, I had a fight with them early on and then it turned out the Hellfire Club had set us up and the Brum Avenger said if I ever smartened up, I could be in the team.” He couldn’t stop himself smiling sadly, couldn’t stop himself remembering the Avenger’s last stand against the Red Masks,one lone man with home-made gadgets standing up to a dozen armed terrorists. “Top bloke.”
“The Cavalry’s not what it was,” Thunderforce said darkly. “Wusses and pen-pushers. Doc Shuck will take over a city again and Gloriana will act all shocked like we haven’t been letting him off lightly. Villains need a hard slap.”
Blackthorne remembered sending the leader of the Hellfire Club down to meet the Devil, and nodded. “Always did.”
It was three months later. Occupy London was camping outside the Cavalry’s HQ, same with other Occupies outside headquarters and super-science labs, and some of the new young heroes were guarding them from attacks by Bull Market. Some of these guys were even sidekicks, the Young Lions having declared their mentors to be “part of the problem” and set up a tent with Young Lions HQ written on it. Good luck to them.
On the third day of Occupy, Fengrand called Blackthorne to a meeting with some of the gang. It was at a room at a fancy private member’s club in Belgrave, which had him on edge: Dead Jimmy’s old occult foes had used to be members here. It hadn’t been a fun time. Still, he guessed he couldn’t say ‘no’ to visiting when he sat on the red leather seats in Westminster.
When he entered the plush Victorian room, he found seven of the gang waiting. Thunderforce was one of them. All of the seven but Fengrand was a former supe (which made Blackthorne wonder if Fengrand was one of those that kept their identity secret in retirement). In the corner were two other people he didn’t recognise and one he did, the old man everyone knew was the Gray Moth but was unofficially pardoned for his crimes due to a few acts of heroism. Usually he kept to himself, wrote a few op-eds, consulted on some films. Right now, the Moth was smiling.
“And now we can begin,” said Fengrand.
“What’s this about?” asked the former Press Ganger.
“We all agree Miliband has to go.”
Everyone muttered, except Blackthorne who said: “Damn right!”
Fengrand smiled. “And do we trust any of his Cabinet to replace him? Do we trust Clegg? Boris?”
“You see the problem. Once, there were great men in politics – and women, of course – who had moral clarity and strength of will, and they got things done. They steered the ship of state through hostile waters. They built and maintained our nation. It’s been a long time since we’ve had anyone but the dregs. Do we think this will ever change?”
Blackthorne didn’t. Decades of mess and losers. His whole life. He’d let himself be won over by Tony’s gurning smile and look what happened.
“We used to have supervillains who had standards, who had codes, who would rock the boat but not sink it. Did the Gray Moth kill civilians and families? He did not! But for decades now we’ve had occultist trash and serial killers and ranting jackboots and young thugs, and yet our superheroes are still restricted in the force they can use?”
“We could have killed Doc Shuck years ago!” spat Thunderforce.
“The country is rotting! The country needs saving!”
Everyone was murmuring in agreement. Blackthorne certainly was. It was wierd to be saying all this in a posh room like this, but it was still what he’d been thinking and feeling since he was a lad, thirty-five long years...
“The country needs heroes and that has to be us!”
Blackthorne cheered before the words – and the look on Gray Moth’s face – caught up with his brain.
“We must save the country from itself! Are we all agreed?”
The others loudly agreed. Blackthorne said nothing but Fenhrand wasn’t looking at him.
“Between us, we have the physical power and the contacts and the wealth. When something happens, and it will, that Miliband can’t handle, we must be ready to restore order-”
“-and deal with the parasites and the spivs and the rioters-”
“-and restore this country to-”
If he ran now, he was too slow and fat and old to get far before someone like Thunderforce caught him. If he tried to bluff it out, they’d guess. A woman he didn’t recognise (or did he? Had he seen that face on the news, attached to some dark villainy?) was looking at him right now. He was up the creek and doomed.
Just like he’d been last time he’d been in this club.
Hell with it. He’d screwed things up and forgotten who he was, and he had to remember it right now, whatever the consequences. It was his only chance. It was no chance. It was all he had to do.
He spoke the ritual – “the form of man, cast out, and I call on the Devil to ride out” – and bit his tongue hard to create the necessary blood, and felt the old familiar pain as he turned back into Dead Jimmy for his last stand.
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