Metro City Chronicles | next

When I got fired from the Assembly of Order, I thought my whole life was over.

They called a big meeting of the full organization. Paladin stood up in front of us and said they'd decided on a new direction, with a more focused membership. Not much more explanation than that, and they started handing out our walking papers. Sure, we'd always been a large team, but I always thought that worked well -- always had enough members on hand, always had the skills you needed, always had overwhelming force when Ragnarok showed up, or the Chronologist, or the Skinwalker, or the Legion of Malevolence.

Guess I was wrong. I was out, Granite was out, Steel Panther was out, Synaptico, the Socialite, the Star, Polly Morph, Green Lion, the Geist, Upgrade, Plutonium Girl. They even got rid of Valkyrie and Aegis. Trimmed it down to a baker's dozen, and sent us all back home.

Well, heck, lose one superteam, join another, right? It didn't work out that way. It's like getting fired from a job wrecks your self-esteem, right? But when you're running with the biggest, most important superteam on the planet, that's a bit bigger than getting laid off. You start asking yourself if they fired you for being a bad crimefighter, if there's any point in putting on the costume anymore, if it's time to retire and start writing your memoirs.

Hell, the media was asking all the same questions. "Dozens of superheroes retire after AoO downsizing." A bit premature, Wall Street Journal. "A crisis of confidence: Are America's superheroes any good?" Bite me, Time Magazine. "Assembly of Order trims dead weight." Thanks, Fox News, and fuck you right back.

"Hometown hero ejected from top supergroup." Detroit News. "Is Atlas washed up?" Detroit Free Press.

Last time I patrolled in Detroit.

Audra was mad about it. "You gonna let reporters beat you? You gonna let talk radio beat you? You shrug off Hazmat, Subzero Backlash, and Cenotaph, but you're gonna let a bunch of editorial writers run you off? The Lamont Gomez I married was never a quitter."

She was wrong. Detroit didn't want me, the Assembly of Order didn't want me.

Ain't like I was alone. The Socialite quit so she could be a teacher, Beacon went back to college, Green Lion moved back to London, the Pythagorean went back to his home planet.

Three months later, the Assembly -- what was left of the Assembly -- disappeared completely.

Aegis tried to get the rest of us together into a new Assembly, but we all turned him down. Without Paladin, Flagwaver, Black Scourge, Madame Ultimate, and the rest of them, it'd never be the same thing. Besides, if they ever came back, they'd just kick us all out again.

So I was out of the business. I was focused on work, on family, on the kids, on being as normal a guy as I could. All three of the kids have been getting stronger as they got older, so I was enjoying teaching them how to use powers. I was happy, really I was.

No, that's a lie. I wasn't happy. I was miserable. It ain't like crime stopped. I got twitchy every time I read anything about Villainy, Inc. or the Canelli Mob or the Fiend. Audra and the kids were still expecting me to go back on patrol.

It isn't like it was all bad. I did enjoy getting to reconnect with the family. Audra had sacrificed so much for me over the years -- covering for me when I was out, worrying about me, doing most of the work of raising the kids. God knows how she's managed to keep these kids under control all these years. Her folks already thought she was nuts for marrying the crazy giant non-brother, and she needed me to re-learn how to be a husband and father.

And it was wonderful to get to spend more time with the kids. I've been a background figure to them for too long, and it feels great to be a real dad again. Lena's my oldest, 16, full of teenager angst and awkwardness, trying to hide the fact that she can turn a car over, not to disguise her abilities or protect her dad's secret identity, but because she's afraid she'll be an outcast. Malcolm just turned nine, loves superhero magazines, and we have to remind him over and over that he's not allowed to show off how he can lift the back end of a car up if he strains really hard. And Gerry, just six, so sweet-natured and kind and shy. He hasn't shown off a lot of strength yet, but he's tough -- like running-into-walls-and-leaving-cracks tough.

But still, it was damn hard for me not to be out there fighting the good fight. I knew it, Audra knew it, the kids knew it. It was hard to think about how things had changed for me in Detroit since I got fired. I guess the last straw -- for Audra as well as me -- was that day we were at the grocery store. Some kid asked Audra -- I wasn't that far off, so I overheard -- "Is that guy Atlas?"

Audra does that snorting laugh she always does. "Him? Atlas? Why would you think that?" Yeah, why on earth would anyone think the 6' 10" Hispanic guy with the bodybuilder's physique was a superhero, right? "Trust me," she says, "I'd know if that guy was Atlas."

"Good," said the kid. "Atlas suuuuucks."

Audra was born in Detroit. Her whole family lives in Detroit. She gave up on Detroit that day.

Four months later, I got my new job in Metro City. Beck and Finney. Civil engineering. Private firm, but they know what they're doing, the pay and benefits are great, and the employees are wonderful people. The kids seem to like the new schools -- well, Lena says she doesn't, but she's still mad at Audra and me for taking her out of Detroit. I think she'll adjust. Audra's got a nursing job up at Metro City General, and she really enjoys it.

Metro City is an interesting place. It got its start in the early 18th century, but didn't really grow large enough to be considered a major city 'til the 1930s. It's grown phenomenally quickly since then, and now has a population of about seven million people, which makes it the fourth largest metropolitan area in the nation (unless Dallas passes it in the next census).

And for all that, it's usually considered a second- or third-rate city. It doesn't have a strong artistic community, like you see in lots of large cities -- sure, there are plenty of museums, a symphony, a couple of theater and dance companies, and the like, but nothing that's really considered world class. Their sports teams are lackluster -- the Metro City Mustangs haven't been serious contenders for the pennant since the '60s, and the Falcons consider it a good game if they manage to score more than one touchdown. Architecturally, it's a city of mostly bland buildings, other than a few notable exceptions, like Steranko Plaza, Hudlin Tower, or the Infantino Building. Culturally, it's a city struggling for a real identity.

Not that it doesn't have lots of strong points -- it's a city that loves science and technology, with one of the highest numbers of private labs per capita in the whole country. Education is a positive, too -- public and private schools perform way above the national averages, and the city has a half-dozen large universities and another dozen smaller colleges -- all of them considered great places to study. The parks are all pretty outstanding.

There's even a little food tourism. The city's semi-official sandwich is called the Sloppy Metro -- basically an oversized sloppy joe with spicy mustard, grilled onions, chopped olives, and melted cheese. Almost every decent sandwich shop in town has their own version of the Sloppy Metro, and everyone in town seems to love debating which one is the best. (Giordano's on 86th is my favorite so far, but Denis' Kitchen makes a pretty good one, too.)

What Metro City doesn't have is a superteam. There are over a dozen superheroes running around town, but they've never organized into a large, structured team. It's the largest city in the country with no active superhero teams -- in fact, you've got to drop all the way down to Tulsa, Oklahoma, the 54th largest metropolitan area in the U.S., before you find another city without a superteam. Honolulu has the Howlers, Salt Lake City has the Saints, Milwaukee has the Power Brigade, and Austin has the Lone StarsĀ and the Weird Bunch. But Metro City just has a bunch of solo heroes. For whatever reason, they've never seen any reason to form an official organization. Maybe I can help change their minds about that.

And yeah, I've been looking the city over with a mind for patrols. You can't just run out and start patrolling. You gotta have a good grasp of the city's layout -- where the main streets are, where the warehouse district's at, where the rough neighborhoods are, where the likely boltholes are. Takes time and concentration, and you sure can't start it too quickly.

So I take walks and drives around the city, ride on the subway, study maps. All hours of the day and night. I get to know the cops face-to-face, of course. They see a Hispanic male walking around the financial district at 11 p.m., and they wanna do what cops always wanna do. Still, cops are easy to evade when you can run into an alley and fly up to the rooftops while they can't see you.

Cops and heroes are officially on the same side, but I still don't trust 'em.

So like I said, I'm walking around town, sometimes taking Audra or the kids along -- it's important for all of us to get to know our new hometown, and it's a great way to spend family time together. We've seen all the museums, we've seen the zoo, we've seen the parks, we've seen City Hall.

And we've seen some other cool stuff, too. Malcolm and Gerry were both with me when we saw Hypothermia on patrol. Gerry was pretty scared of him (most people are, I hear), but Malcolm declared him "the baddest ever." Malcolm's at the age where anything with spikes, even ice spikes, is cool. And the whole family got to see Miss Mega rescue some kids on a stalled roller coaster at the Boardwalk. Jumped all the way up to the stalled car, hefted it off the track, and carried 'em all back to the ticket booth. Lena was very impressed.

"She's taller than you, Dad."

"I know."

"She's a foot taller than you."

"Maybe more than that."

She smirks at me. "I got a new favorite superhero."

I smirk right back at her. "You're grounded." I'm joking, of course.

Our biggest disappointment? We haven't seen the Chrome Cobra. Everyone wants to see the Chrome Cobra. Hell, I wanna see the Chrome Cobra. We used to watch surveillance tapes of her beating up on Rageface, Devil Wasp, and Penny Dreadful. I hear she once brought in the entire membership of the Consortium of Crime single-handedly. The Chrome Cobra is the superhero other superheroes wish they could be. Paladin wanted her in the Assembly so bad, and she just ignored him.

Biggest surprise? I saw the Star up here. We didn't socialize a lot in the Assembly, but we knew each other's real names (He's Michael Fremont, a contract attorney and amateur astronomer) and got together two or three times a year to toss back some brews and talk shop. Turns out he'd just moved here, too, and was also in the midst of taking some walk-through tours of Metro City in preparation for actual patrols. We bought each other lunch and compared notes.

Michael said he's seen a couple of the local heroes, too -- El Phantasmo (he described him as "that skinny kid in the luchadore mask who has ghosts beat up bad guys") and the Wheelman, whose main claim to fame seems to be auto stuntwork. But he actually saw one of the local villains: Vertigo Man, a guy whose gimmick is inner ear disruption -- sounds silly, but it's a pretty effective ability. He was doing one of those daring daylight jewelry store robberies that's so popular with the flashier villains, and of course, Michael couldn't do anything about it. That's the big problem with secret identities -- sometimes, you have to let the bad guys get away.

Even better -- he got mugged a few weeks back. He and some friends were coming out of a club downtown and got stuck up by a couple of kids. And again, he couldn't do anything about it. No way he could pop off any cosmic blasts when he was out of costume. He had to hand over his wallet. Only real option for him -- anything more aggressive runs the risk of civilians getting shot. I feel for him, but I still made fun of him. Hell, he'd do the same thing for me if he could.

Naturally, we've been talking about when we're each going to make our return to the capes. Michael says he thinks he'll head out on his first new patrol in another two or three weeks. I'm not sure about mine -- I'd like to get started by the end of the month, but I want to consult Audra and the kids first. If they aren't ready for me to start, I won't. I know it's stressful for them, too -- you've heard about cop's wives who spend all their time worried their husband's about to get shot, right? Well, superhero spouses have the same thing.

Now's probably not the right time to have that talk with Audra, though -- she's stuck on a week of night shifts at the hospital, and we only seem to see each other when we're either leaving for work or coming home for sleep.

We'll all have the big talk next week, and hopefully, I'll be back in spandex soon.

Metro City Chronicles | next

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