Super Stories of Heroes & Villainsby Claude Lalumiere
In these pages, you’ll find the exploits, machinations, and epic mêlées
George R. R. Martin’s Wild Cards rampage through unrecorded history! Mike Mignola’s Hellboy battles the fiendish Nuckelavee! Can Camille Alexa’s Pinktastic prevent the end of the world? Will Jonathan Lethem’s Dystopianist cause the end of the world?
In these pages, you’ll find the exploits, machinations, and epic mêlées of these superpowered aliens, undead crusaders, costumed crime fighters, unholy cabals, Amazon warriors, demon hunters, cyberpunk luchadores, nefarious megalomaniacs, daredevil sidekicks, atavistic avatars, adventuring aviators, gunslinging outlaws, love-struck adversaries, and supernatural detectives.
In these twenty-eight astounding Super Stories, join larger-than-life heroes and villains in the never-ending battle of good versus evil!
“Editor Lalumière has put together an impressive best-of anthology for modern superhero fiction, with works from SF royalty like George R. R. Martin and Kelly Link, hit comics creators Kurt Busiek and Mike Mignola, and wonderful but lesser-known writers. The satisfying and varied stories range from J. Robert Lennon’s deeply sad “The Rememberer,” about a super-powered storyteller. who can never forget, to Benjamin Rosenbaum’s brilliant and lighthearted “The Deathtrap of Dr. Nefario,” in which a familiar crime-fighter calls his therapist from a routine death trap. Also of note are Paul Di Filippo’s “The Jackdaw’s Last Case,” starring Franz Kafka as a superhero, and Busiek’s hilariously cynical “Clash of Titans (A New York Romance),” about a marketing man encouraging the rivalry between a superhero and his villainous ex-girlfriend to increase tourism. There are a few missteps: Gene Wolfe’s “The Detective of Dreams” is out of place, and Rachel Pollack’s Wonder Woman-inspired “Burning Sky” detours so far into sexual fantasy that it entirely loses the plot. Even so this is by far the best superhero anthology around, and a must-read for comic book fans.”
Publishers Weekly, starred review
“Super Stories of Heroes & Villains is a fantastically presented anthology full of great stories. There are a lot of anthologies out there dealing with superheroes, but this is the best one I’ve run across. From pulp to steampunk, all the bases are covered. There’s a lot to love here.”
Comic Book Therapy
“Super Stories of Heroes & Villains is filled with smart, imaginative, inspired stories taking place in a variety of versions of the superhero genre.”
“Not only are the stories fine in their own right, but they will provide a certain illumination you can take back with you when you’ve returned to the 8-paneled page.”
“If the capes-and-cowls genre ever hopes to find a foothold in the mainstream, it desperately needs a champion, and we think Lalumière would be a great nominee for the position.”
Super Hero Novels
“Super Stories of Heroes & Villains was one helluva ride to read! From origin stories, romance gone wrong, to aliens from outer space and lets not forget philandering ‘heroes’ there is a little bit of something of everything to turn your head.... Hats off to the editor for compiling a really great collection that any fiction fan would greatly enjoy!”
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Super Stories of Heroes & Villains
By Claude Lalumière
Tachyon PublicationsCopyright © 2013 Claude Lalumière
All rights reserved.
Kim Newman is a master of postmodern pulp. The question was never whether he would appear in this anthology but rather which story among his many superb superhero stories I might use. Even when not directly dealing with superheroes, much of his fiction is imbued with the aura of the genre; particularly noteworthy in this regard are the collections Famous Monsters and The Original Dr. Shade and Other Stories, as well as the Diogenes Club series: The Man from the Diogenes Club, The Secret Files of the Diogenes Club, and Mysteries of the Diogenes Club.
On the way from the aeroport, the cab driver asked him if he had ever been to Metropolis before.
"I was born here," Avram said, German unfamiliar in his mouth. So many years of English in America, then Hebrew in Israel. In the last forty years, he'd used Portuguese more than his native tongue. He had never been a German in his heart, no more than he was now an Israeli. That was one thing Hitler, and his grandparents, had been right about.
He had been—he was—a Jew.
This was not the Metropolis he remembered. Gleaming skyscrapers still rose to the clouds, aircars flitting awkwardly between them, but on this grey early spring day, their facades were shabby, uncleaned. The robotrix on traffic duty outside the aeroport had been limping, dysfunctional, sparks pouring from her burnished copper thigh. Standing on the tarmac, Avram had realised that the pounding in the ground was stilled. The subterranean factories and power plants had been destroyed or shut down during the War.
"That's where the wall was," the driver said as they passed a hundred yards of wasteland which ran through the city of the future as if one of Mr. Reagan's orbital lasers had accidentally cut a swath across Germany. The satellite weapons were just so much more junk now, Avram supposed. The world that needed the orbital laser was gone.
Just like the world which needed his crusade.
Perhaps, after today, he could spend his remaining years playing chess with a death-diminished circle of old friends, then die from the strain of playing competitive video games with his quick-fingered grandchildren.
"That used to be East Metropolis," the driver said.
Avram tried to superimpose the city of his memory on these faceless streets. So much of Metropolis was post-war construction, now dilapidated. The cafés and gymnasia of his youth were twice forgotten. There wasn't a McDonald's on every corner yet, but that would come. A boarded-up shack near the wall, once a security checkpoint, was covered in graffiti. Amid the anti-Russian, pro-democracy slogans, Avram saw a tiny red swastika. He had been seeing posters for the forthcoming elections, and could not help but remember who had taken office the last time a united Germany held a democratic election.
He thanked the driver, explaining "I just wanted to see where it was."
"Where now, sir?"
Avram got the words out, "Spandau Prison."
The man clammed up, and Avram felt guilty. The driver was a child, born and raised with the now never-to-be-germinated seeds of World War Three. Avram's crusade was just an embarrassing old reminder. When these people talked about the bad old days, they meant when the city was divided by concrete. Not when it was the shining flame of fascism.
The prison was ahead, a black mediaeval castle among plain concrete block buildings. The force field shone faintly emerald. Apparently the effect was more noticeable from outer space. John Glenn had mentioned it, a fog lantern in the cloud cover over Europe.
The cab could go no further than the perimeter, but he was expected. From the main gate, he was escorted by a young officer—an American—from the Allied detachment that had guarded the man in the fortress for forty-five years.
Avram thought of the Allies, FDR embracing Uncle Joe at Yalta. Old allies, and now—thanks to the baldpate with the blotch—allies anew. If old alliances were being resumed, old evils—old enmities—could stir too.
Captain Siegel called himself Jewish, and babbled sincere admiration. "As a child, you were my hero, sir. That's why I'm here. When you caught Eichmann, Mengele, the Red Skull..."
"Don't trust heroes, young man," he said, hating the pomposity in his voice, "that's the lesson of this green lantern."
Siegel was shut up, like the cab driver had been. Avram was instantly sorry, but could not apologise. He wondered when he had turned into his old professor, too scholarly to care for his pupils' feelings, too unbending to see the value of ignorant enthusiasm.
Probably, it had started with the tattoo on his arm. The bland clerk with the bodkin was the face that, more than any other, stayed with him as the image of National Socialism. These days, almost all young men looked like the tattooist to Avram.
The cab driver had, and now so did Captain Siegel. So did most of the guards who patrolled the corridors and grounds of this prison.
Not since Napoleon had a single prisoner warranted such careful attention.
"Jerome," Siegel said, summoning a sergeant. "Show Mr. Blumenthal your rifle."
The soldier held out his weapon for inspection. Avram knew little about guns, but saw this was out of the ordinary, with its bulky breech and surprisingly slender barrel. A green LED in the stock showed it was fully charged.
"The beam-gun is just for him," Siegel said.
"Ahh, the green stuff."
Siegel smiled. "Yes, the green stuff. I'm not a scientist ..."
"Neither am I, any more."
"It has something to do with the element's instability. The weapon directs particles. Even a glancing hit would kill him in a flash."
Avram remembered Rotwang—one of "our" Germans in the fifties—toiling over the cyclotron, trying to wrestle free the secrets of the extra-terrestrial element. Rotwang, with his metal hand and shock of hair, was dead of leukaemia, another man of tomorrow raging against his imprisonment in yesterday.
Jerome took the rifle back, and resumed his post.
"There've been no escape attempts," Avram commented.
"There couldn't be."
Avram nearly laughed. "He surrendered, Captain. Green stuff or not, this place couldn't hold him if he wanted to leave."
Siegel—born when the prisoner had already been in his cell twenty years—was shocked. "Mr. Blumenthal, careful ..."
Avram realised what it was that frightened the boy in uniform, what made every soldier in this place nervous twenty-four hours a day.
"He can hear us, can't he? Even through the lead shields?"
Siegel nodded minutely, as if he were the prisoner, trying to pass an unseen signal to a comrade in the exercise yard.
"You live with the knowledge all your life," Avram said, tapping his temple, "but you never think what it means. That's science, Captain. Taking knowledge you've always had, and thinking what it means ..."
After the War, he had been at Oak Ridge, working with the green stuff. Then the crusade called him away. Others had fathered the K-Bomb. Teller and Rotwang built bigger and better Doomsday Devices—while Oppie went into internal exile and the Rosenbergs to the electric chair—thrusting into a future so bright you could only look at it through protective goggles. Meanwhile, Avram Blumenthal had been cleaning up the last garbage of the past. So many names, so many Nazis. He had spent more time in Paraguay and Brazil than in New York and Tel Aviv.
But it had been worth it. His tattoo would not stop hurting until the last of the monsters was gone. If monsters they were.
"Through here, sir," Siegel said, ushering him into a bare office. There was a desk, with chairs either side of it.
"You have one hour."
"That should be enough. Thank you."
Siegel left the room. Even after so short a time on his legs, Avram felt better sitting down. Nobody lives forever.
When they brought him in, he filled the room. His chest was a solid slab under his prison fatigues, and the jaw was an iron horseshoe. Not the faintest trace of grey in his blue-black hair, the kiss-curl still a jaunty comma. The horn-rimmed glasses couldn't disguise him.
Avram did not get up.
"Curt Kessler?" he asked, redundantly.
Grinning, the prisoner sat down. "You thought perhaps they had the wrong man all these years."
"No," he admitted, fussing with the cigarette case, taking out one of his strong roll-ups. "Do you mind if I smoke?"
"Can't hurt me. I used to warn the children against tobacco, though."
Avram lit up, and sucked bitter smoke into his lungs. The habit couldn't hurt him either, not any more.
"Avram the Avenger," Kessler said, not without admiration. "I was wondering when they'd let you get to see me."
"My request has been in for many years, but with the changes ..."
The changes did not need to be explained.
"I confess," Kessler said, "I've no idea why you wanted this interview."
Avram had no easy answer. "You consented to it."
"Of course. I talk to so few people these days. The guards are superstitious about me."
Avram could understand that. Across the table, he could feel Kessler's strength. He remembered the old uniform, so familiar in the thirties. The light brown body-stocking, with black trunks, boots and cloak. A black swastika in the red circle on the chest. He'd grinned down from a hundred propaganda posters like an Aryan demi-god, strode through the walkways of Metropolis as Siegfried reborn with X-ray eyes.
He felt he owed Kessler an explanation. "You're the last."
Kessler's mouth flashed amusement, "Am I? What about Ivan the Terrible?"
"A guard. Just a geriatric thug. Barely worth the bullet it'd take to finish him."
"'Barely worth the bullet.' I heard things like that so many times, Avram. And what of the führer? I understand he could be regrown from tissue samples. In '45, Mengele ..."
Avram laughed. "There's no tissue left, Kessler. I burned Mengele's jungle paradise. The skin-scraps he had were of dubious provenance."
"I understand genetic patterns can be reproduced exactly. I try to follow science, you know. If you keep an ear out, you pick things up. In Japan, they're doing fascinating work."
"Not my field."
"Of course. You're an atom man. You should have stayed with Rotwang. The Master Engineer needed your input. He could have overcome his distaste with your racial origins if you'd given him a few good suggestions. Without you, the K-Bomb was ultimately a dead end."
Kessler laughed. "You are right. So what? It's hard to remember how excited you all were in the fifties about the remains of my home planet. Anything radioactive was highly stimulating to the Americans. To the Russians too."
Avram couldn't believe this man was older than him. But, as a child, he had seen the brown streak in the skies, had watched the newsreels, had read the breathless reports in the Tages Welt.
"If things had been otherwise, I might have been Russian," Kessler said. "The Soviet Union is the largest country on the planet. If you threw a dart at a map of the world, you'd most likely hit it. Strange to think what it'd have been like if my little dart had missed Bavaria. Of course, I'd have been superfluous. The USSR already had its "man of steel." Maybe my dart should have struck the wheatfields of Kansas, or the jungles of Africa. I could have done worse than be raised by apes."
"You admit, then, that you are him?"
Kessler took off his glasses, showing clear blue eyes. "Has there ever really been any doubt?"
"Not when you didn't grow old."
"Do you want me to prove myself? You have a lump of coal for me to squeeze?"
It hit Avram that this young-seeming man, conversing in unaccented German, was hardly even human. If Hitler hadn't got in the way, humanity might have found a champion in him. Or learned more of the stars than Willy Ley imagined.
"Why weren't you in the army? In some SS elite division?"
"Curt Kessler was—what is the American expression?—4F. A weakling who wouldn't be accepted, even in the last days when dotards and children were being slapped in uniform and tossed against the juggernaut. I believe I did my best for my führer."
"You were curiously inactive during the war."
Kessler shrugged. "I admit my great days were behind me. The thirties were my time. Then, there seemed to be struggles worth fighting, enemies worth besting."
"Only 'seemed to be'?"
"It was long ago. Do you remember my enemies? Dr Mabuse? His criminal empire was like a spider's web. The führer himself asked me to root it out and destroy it. He poisoned young Germans with drugs and spiritualism. Was I wrong to persecute him? And the others? Graf von Orlok, the nosferatu? Dr Caligari, and his somnambulist killers? The child-slayer they called 'M'? Stephen Orlac, the pianist with the murderer's hands."
Avram remembered, the names bringing back Tages Welt headlines. Most of the stories had born the Curt Kessler byline. Everyone had wondered how the reporter knew so many details. Germany's criminals had been symptomatic creatures then, twisted and stunted in soul and body, almost an embodiment of the national sickness. And Kessler, no less than the straight-limbed blonds trotted out as exemplars of National Socialism, made the pop-eyed, needle-fingered, crook- backed fiends seem like walking piles of filth. As a child, Avram's nightmares had been of the whistling "M" and taloned nosferatu, not handsome tattooists and smart-uniformed bureaucrats. It was possible for a whole country to be wrong.
"They're all gone," Kessler said, "but they'll never go away really. I understand Mabuse's nightclub is due to reopen. The Westerners who've been flooding in since the wall came down like to remember the decadent days. They have the order of history wrong, and associate the cabarets with us, forgetting that we were pure in mind and body, that we closed down the pornographic spectacles. They'll have their doomrock rather than jazz, but the rot will creep back. Mabuse was like the hydra. I'd think he was dead or hopelessly mad, but he'd always come back, always with new deviltry. Perhaps he'll return again. They never found the body."
"And if he returns, will others come back?"
Kessler shrugged again, huge shoulders straining his fatigues. "You were right. Adolf Hitler is dead, National Socialism with him. You don't need X-ray vision to see that."
Avram knew Kessler could never get tired as he had got tired, but he wondered whether this man of steel was truly world-weary. Forty-five years of knowing everything and doing nothing could be as brutally ache-making as the infirmities visited upon any other old man.
"Tell me about your childhood."
Kessler was amused by the new tack. "Caligari always used to harp on about that, too. He was a strange kind of medieval Freudian, I suppose, digging into men's minds in search of power. He wanted to get me into his asylum, and pick me apart. We are shaped by our early lives, of course. But there's more to it than that. Believe me, I should know. I have a unique perspective."
"There are no new questions for us, Kessler. We must always turn back to the old ones."
"Very well, it's your hour. You have so few left, and I have so many. If you want old stories, I shall give you them. You know about my real parents. Everybody does. I wish I could say I remember my birthplace but I can't, any more than anyone remembers the first days of their life. The dart was my father's semen, the Earth my mother's womb. I was conceived when the dart ejaculated me into the forest. That is my first memory, the overwhelming of my senses. I could hear, see, smell and taste everything. Birds miles away, blades of grass close to, icy streams running, a wolf's dung attracting flies. I screamed. That was my first reaction to this Earth. My screams brought people to me."
"Johann and Marte. They lived in the woods just outside Kleinberg. Berchtesgarten was barely an arrow's-reach away."
"How were you raised?"
"There was a war. Johann and Marte had lost four true sons. So they kept the baby they found."
"When did you realise you were different?"
"When my father beat me and I felt nothing. I knew then I was privileged. Later, when I joined the Party, I felt much the same. Sometimes, I would ask to be beaten, to show I could withstand it. There were those among us too glad to oblige me. I wore out whips with my back."
"You left Kleinberg as a young man?"
"Everyone wanted to go to the big city. Metropolis was the world of the future. We would put a woman on the moon one day soon, and robots would do all our work. There would be floating platforms in the seas for refuelling aeroplanes, a transatlantic tunnel linking continents. It was a glorious vision. We were obsessed not with where we were going, but with how fast we would get there."
Excerpted from Super Stories of Heroes & Villains by Claude Lalumière. Copyright © 2013 Claude Lalumière. Excerpted by permission of Tachyon Publications.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
Claude Lalumière is the author of The Door to Lost Pages and Objects of Worship and has edited ten anthologies, including Lust for Life, Tesseracts Twelve, and Witpunk. He is the co-creator of Lost Myths, an online archive of cryptomythology.
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