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My name's Greg Brachemann, and I'm the Greatest Driver in the World.
You want someone to drive all the way through town and not hit a single red light? I'm your man. You want someone to win a road rally driving a beat-up '67 Cadillac Eldorado? I'm your man. You want someone to drive a car straight up one side of a skyscraper and back down the other side? I'm your man. I'm the Greatest Driver in the World.
I know what you're thinking, sweet thing. That doesn't make any sense at all. No amount of skill could let me do things that are basically impossible. There's no such thing as a mutant power that makes you a super-driver.
Turns out there are ways to get around the impossible. For example, you can have a god as a father. My dad is Hermes, messenger of the Greek gods, patron of trade, athletes, thieves, and travel. The god of travel thing appears to be where I got my skills behind the wheel.
And being a demigod gets me a few other benefits. It's really difficult to hurt me, and if you manage to hurt me, it's even more difficult to kill me. I'm stronger and faster than a normal human -- not by a whole lot, but enough to set me significantly ahead of the rest of humanity. I can't do formal magic, but I've got a good sense for mystical powers. Magic has to work extra hard to affect me, and it's easier for me to interfere with magic and supernatural creatures. And of course, I'm devastatingly handsome. Even more than your average demigod.
I was probably not the best kid growing up. My mom didn't ask for a non-virgin virgin birth, and she hasn't gotten any happier with the whole "spirit meets flesh and makes a baby" process. She didn't ask for a baby with weird golden eyes who'd occasionally take his Big Wheel on trips across the state. She didn't ask for her party-animal teenager to get drunk at keggers and leave the car parked on top of the neighbors' house.
We get along fine now, really. I walked her down the aisle at her most recent wedding, I go see her at her house in Jersey at least once a week (the woman gives the best damn advice ever, and I wish I'd paid more attention to her when I was a kid), and all my endorsement contracts stipulate that she gets a new car out of the deal.
In the meantime, "Dad" was the most absentee father ever. It certainly didn't help that he was a disembodied and invisible divine spirit that never manifested in a corporeal form. I'd periodically make the drive to Olympus, mostly out of curiosity, and I found him to be completely aloof and almost entirely unhelpful.
When you think about it, it really sucks that he gets as much credit for my existence as my mom. She wasn't the best in the world, but she was a lot better parent than my father. And everyone still says "What's it like being the son of Hermes?" instead of "What's it like being the son of Minnie Brachemann?" 'Cause more and more often, I think my mom is a much more interesting person than Hermes is.
Anyway, it's not really like I've been to school much. I gave up on high school in my junior year. Too many classes, not enough cars, and everyone kept getting mad just 'cause I loved all the ladies. Students, teachers, other kids' moms -- I still think of them and wish I could remember their names.
So I spent a few years driving around the world, hitting the race circuit, getting kicked out of the race circuit (turns out supernatural driving skills are frowned upon by professional racing organizations), hitting the stunt circuit (they're a lot more tolerant of divine powers -- as long as you put on a good show and bring in the fans), and more importantly, hitting the party circuit.
So what's a globe-trotting celebrity demigod doing putting down roots in Metro City? Basically, I got recruited by the Chrome Cobra. It's a wonder I ever talked to her, to be honest -- she wasn't able to give me any of the stuff I really cared about at the time. She couldn't offer money or free cars or anything like that. Really, money and free cars just end up coming my way naturally -- or at least supernaturally.
She couldn't offer me epic parties, either. Not that Metro City doesn't have its share of great nightlife, but I can drive anywhere I want. Finding a cool club is not hard for me at all.
And she couldn't offer me women either. Not like I need additional girlfriends anyway, though. Oh, and by the way, don't ever proposition the Chrome Cobra. I heal pretty quick, but a cracked sternum is nothing to laugh off.
So what could she offer me? She said I could be a superhero. And I was sold. I signed a lease on a new Metro City condo the very next weekend.
I'd lived a life that was, to all appearances, impossibly exciting and stimulating but which was actually entirely risk-free and tedious. Come on, I'm the Greatest Driver in the World! There's no race I can't win, no stunt I can't pull off. So why not match myself up against supervillains? Why not go for a real challenge? And why not see if I can use these driving skills to somehow make the world a better place?
Daphne Diller immediately started calling me the Wheelman, and it caught on pretty quick. I've never worn any fancy costume, though I do like wearing a winged sandal logo, either stitched into my jacket or on a chain around my neck. And I wear sunglasses, too -- I've never really gotten used to the idea of having weird gold-colored eyes. Makes me feel better if everyone's staring at me because I'm awesome and looking great, not because I'm a freak with weird eyeballs.
But I really doubt you wanna hear me tell you a bunch of stuff about my past, right? What you wanna hear about is what a fantastic driver I am.
It's been a rough morning here in Metro City -- mainly because it's morning. The clubs didn't close down but a few hours ago, and I've been asleep even less.
Normally, I wouldn't even be out here this early. The Cobra knows how I roll -- and in the mornings, how I roll is not out of bed. But this is kinda a special case. We've got what we call a "dimensional incursion" -- attack by interdimensional invaders -- and I've got a personal history with the bad guys.
Unless you're either a car guy or an art guy, or unless you grew up reading Crazy CarToon magazines or stuff like that, you probably never heard of Ed "Big Daddy" Roth. He was an artist and custom car builder -- built the wildest cars you can imagine, and he drew all these weird pop-eyed cartoon monsters, like Rat Fink. You probably never heard of him, but he was the real deal. Helped create the Southern California lowbrow rockabilly surfpunk hotrod culture.
I got to meet him a few years before he died. Fantastic guy. He knew so much about cars and was such a cool guy to talk to. I know, we were totally different kinds of people, but I had a blast hanging out and shooting the bull with him, or driving him around in the desert, or watching him build crazy cars out of fiberglass and steel. I wish I'd had him for a dad instead of my own incredibly boring absentee deity.
Now if you've ever spent any time traveling to alternate universes, you've probably noticed that sometimes people there are weirdly different than they are in your own home dimension. You can end up in a world where all the heroes are evil, and the bad guys save the day. There's a world where Hitler just stuck with art, and World War II never happened. There's a world where Genghis Khan had psychic powers, and the whole world speaks Chinese now. There's a world where Isaac Newton was even more of a genius than he was in our world, and Earth has been colonizing other planets since the late 1600s.
And then there are the gender-flipped universes, which are really bizarre. But I'm pleased to report that making out with yourself is really, really sexy.
So anyway, there's an alternate universe out there where Big Daddy Roth wasn't just an artist and automotive designer. He was also a genetic engineer. And a deranged supervillain. He's been dead for a few years, even in that other dimension, but that hasn't stopped his creations, the Flying Fink Force, from trying to conquer the multiverse.
So that's why Metro City is being invaded by several dozen grotesque, giggling, bug-eyed, snaggle-toothed monsters driving insanely customized hot rods with giant engines, oversized wheels, ridiculously awesome fiberglass bodies, and enough chrome to give the Chrome Cobra an orgasm.
Anyway, we didn't quite hit the Panic Button for this one, but most of us are out fighting the Finks. Daphne Diller already skipped out on this party. She took one look at the Finks and declared that she "wasn't getting paid enough to get swatted around by a bunch of overgrown Hot Wheels cars" before going back to whatever snoop-job case she was working before the call went out.
I haven't seen Express, but that probably just means he's running around too fast for me to see. And Phantasmo is a no-show, too -- could mean he's in school, but Calypso's here, and I get the impression they're about the same age.
But everyone else is getting run ragged by the Finks. Every hero in this town has had to stop the occasional high-speed car chase -- if they're superstrong, they can just pick 'em up and tear the doors off. If they've got superspeed, they can take the car to pieces around them. Blasters can shoot out the tires. Iota does it by shrinking into the engine and blowing it to pieces. Squid Kid does it by dragging the drivers out with her tentacles. Penitente does it by throwing a bucket of paint onto the windshield. Jonni Rotten does it by letting the driver run into her just so she can dive through the windshield and hit 'em with sticks. And I do it by telling the car to just quit running.
But the thing is, that's how things work when there's just one car in the high-speed car chase. And right now, there are over fifty of the Finks, all with unique powers, all driving cars with uniquely bizarre characteristics and powers of their own. And the Finks are all completely insane. That means the usual strategies are almost useless.
So Atlas tries to grab Finkadillo and his Turbo Turbine, and it zaps him with a few thousand volts of electricity. The Star goes after Stinky Finky and tries to blow the tires off the Wacky Wagon, and it turns out the wheels are made of solid steel. Hybrid tries to pull Finkasaurus out of his Dino-Machine, and he tries to eat her instead. Hypothermia gets a stretch of road iced up, only to watch Garbage Mouth's Jaunty Jalopy grow legs, while FangFink's Haunted Hot Rod sprouts wings and starts flying.
I'm still able to tell one of the cars to break down -- but then the Fink driving it gets out and throws me through someone's apartment.
We're still making a bit of progress. Iota's still able to shrink into the engines and blow them up. Silver Protector Kumiko confines a few of them inside magical forcefields. And all the Finks have basically adopted Polyphemus as one of their own, which lets him get close enough to knock 'em out without getting the electro-zap. But we're not making enough progress. And we're getting slowed down even more trying to keep the civilians out of harm's way.
I'd love to tell you more about what everyone else is doing, but I really don't have the time right now. I'm driving a very nice Corvette down 42nd Street, sandwiched between Finky Chicken and her Rocket Rooster Roadster on one side and Bunny Fink and his Big Boom Buggy on the other. They keep shooting at me with high explosive shells, and I have to dodge them at the same time as I'm trying to keep them from running over civilians on the streets and sidewalks.
It's a good thing I'm the Greatest Driver in the World, right? Yeah, sure, but it still doesn't make the job very easy.
The thing that's particularly tough right now is that I have to draw their fire -- better to have them shooting at me rather than the passersby in the street. Usually, that's no great problem. Shoot a gun at me all day, and the bullets will just bounce off the paint. It's a lot more difficult with these explosive shells, because you have to dodge all the shrapnel and still manage to deflect it away from people. And the Finks keep trying to crash into you, too, because they have spikes on the wheels and they're just generally lunatics.
But luckily, it's easy to get their attention and keep 'em focused on you. They're fanatically devoted to their cars, so I don't have to do more than scratch the paint to get them chasing after me in a frothing rage.
So we go tearing across the city, Finky Chicken on my right, Bunny Fink on my left. They keep shooting at me, and I keep dodging when it looks like their shots will hit each other instead of any innocent bystanders. But Metro City has a population of about seven million people, so that means I have to let those shots hit me way too often. Doesn't hurt the car, doesn't hurt me. But it bounces the car all around, and that means I have to really concentrate on keeping the car on the road.
Of course, the obvious solution to that problem is to take the car off the road.
And for once, I don't mean driving up and down skyscrapers, because there are civilians in there, and windows that can be broken and dropped onto people below. Instead, I drive straight into Baltazar Bay.
And this may not have been the smartest thing I've done, because the Corvette's a convertible. And not even a demigod can keep water out of a convertible when you drive it into the ocean.
So ya know -- underwater, buckled into a car, not really able to breathe very well. On the bright side, Finky Chicken and Bunny Fink are in the same predicament, but they don't have a demigod's endurance. So it's only two-and-a-half minutes of all three of us driving around on the bottom of the bay before I'm able to drag them out of the water onto dry land. We'll survive. Our cars probably won't.
I'm a little worried I'll have to try that trick with every one of the Finks, which is going to be really tedious. But luckily, Express and Phantasmo finally zoom their way onto the scene -- and they have a special guest in tow.
I'm getting into another car -- they just seem to pop up any time I need one, which is why it's really cool being the Greatest Driver in the World -- when the radio suddenly snaps on. After a brief crackle of static and a blare of surfpunk, an echoing voice comes over the airwaves.
"Hey, Cool Kats and Fancy Finks," says the voice. "I wanna see all you guys out at Steranko Plaza downtown! No hesitatin' -- get groovy and get going!"
I hear wheels all over town peeling out, and my curiosity gets the better of me. No one's faster than I am in a car, so the only Finks I don't beat to Steranko Plaza are the ones who were already there.
The Express and el Phantasmo are both there, and both looking incredibly smug. And the other guy with them is floating, transparent, wearing a tux, top hat, and goofy grin.
The ghost of Big Daddy Roth. I don't know whether to laugh or cry. The Finks seem to feel the same way, but they settle for falling into a rapt, worshipful silence. I hope that's a good sign.
"Never thought I'd see all my Groovy Gruesomes in the flesh," he says as the rest of Metro City's superheroes fly into the plaza. "Good to see you all out riding and representing."
There's a murmur from all of them. It's hard to tell with their giant bugged-out eyes, but I think some of them are crying.
"I understand that you all come from another world, an alternate universe," he continues. "And while I'm gratified to see some of the miracles out beyond my own plane of existence, I think I'm gonna have to ask you Rockin' Roadhounds to stand down."
Some of them start to howl about that, but when Big Daddy raises his hand, they all quiet back down.
"I know, I know," he says. "Your Big Daddy told you to ride out and bring all the worlds down, to spread Kustom Kulture across the multiverse, right? Well, boils and ghouls, I don't think you can spread art with fighting. You gotta do it with love and peace. Hell, I'm an old beatnik -- I believe there's no better way to make the world cooler than by being cool. And maybe building a really great engine and laying down a really sweet pinstripe. Am I talkin' too much, gang? Let's boil it down to the basics -- you gotta make a utopia of all kinds of cool before you can take the message out to other worlds."
"Who will teach?" says one of the Finks -- I think it's Funky FrankenFink, who's stitched together from a half-dozen other Finks. "Finks need Ghost Daddy to teach."
The rest of them start chanting together: "Ghost Daddy to teach, Ghost Daddy to teach, Ghost Daddy to teach."
Big Daddy glances over at el Phantasmo, who shrugs. "Your call, mister," the kid says.
"Well, I guess it beats letting you guys roam all over the multiverse," he says. "Alright, guys, we got room up in Nevada. I guess we can take the old garage out of mothballs for ya."
"Wait, we can't just let them stay in this dimension," says the Star. "They're monsters, dangerous monsters. Their cars are loaded down with serious weaponry. They can't stay here, especially not in the company of a ghost."
"What's wrong with monsters?" asks Hybrid.
"What's wrong with weaponry?" asks the Cobra.
"What's wrong with ghosts?" asks Phantasmo.
"Okay, fine," Star groans. "I'm just going to go stand over there."
"Phantasmo, can this guy actually corral the Finks?" asks the Cobra. "The last thing we want is for Las Vegas to get wrecked because we let them all drive away."
"Why don't you ask Mr. Roth?" says Phantasmo. "He's free-willed, you know."
"All they need is a little guidance," says Big Daddy. "Looks like they're conditioned to respond to the version of me from that other universe, and they seem to accept me as someone they can take instruction from. Who knows -- might be able to start taking 'em to car shows eventually."
"Ultimately, that's fine with me," says the Cobra. "If we send 'em back to their home universe, they'll just invade some other world. But it's going to take days for you to drive all the way back to Nevada. Are you all going to be up for that? Are you going to be able to keep them under control during the stress of a cross-country trip?"
"I think I can help with that," says Kumiko. "Give me an hour or two to research the right spells, and I'll put up a teleportation gate to get them all the way there."
So while Kumiko takes off to dig up some long-range teleportation spells from the Council of Thaumaturges HQ, the rest of us stick around to keep an eye on the Finks and watch the cops in case they're going to freak out about the whole thing.
But that sounds too much like work, so I just hang out with Big Daddy and shoot the shit instead.
"It's kinda hard for me to believe," he's saying. "A cool cat like little Greggy Brachemann settling down into a single city? Is there some dishy dame involved?"
"Big Daddy, there's always women involved with me," I say. "But I put roots down so I could be a superhero. And it's not like I'm tied to just one city anyway, not with these powers. I'll be hitting the clubs in LA and Milan this weekend, you know?"
"Sounds like too much time outside a garage," he says. "Not that there's anything wrong with dancin' and romancin'."
"So what've you been up to?" I ask. "Phantasmo's ghosts don't talk much about the afterlife. What's it like?"
"Beats me, brother," he says. "Seems like I knew before, but I've forgotten it now. I guess once you get called back to the land of the living, all the other stuff fades away. But I tell ya, it can't be any better than getting to meet your old cartoons in the flesh. Mighty groovy times, my man."
"Yeah, I guess so," I say. "I wish you'd put a little less detail into those cartoons now, Big Daddy. These guys turn my stomach. There's no way eyes should work that way."
"You just don't appreciate art," he says. "Anyway, I'm surprised you even have to ask me about the afterlife. With your connections to the gods, you should know everything there is about matters of the divine."
I wish it worked that way. Like I've said before, Hermes is almost entirely uncommunicative, and the rest of the gods are even worse. They don't particularly like talking to humans, much less answering pesky questions about the meaning of it all.
But I'm saved from having to explain all that when Express and Phantasmo show up for fist bumps with Big Daddy.
"Told you they'd listen to you, Mr. Roth," says Phan.
"That you did, youngster," says Big Daddy. "Glad you were able to convince me."
"So you guys basically ran to Nevada to recruit Big Daddy for this?" I say. "Who came up with that idea?"
"That was me," says Express. "I'd read about him and his cartoons and cars and all that. Once I realized what we were up against, I decided to see if Phan thought we could recruit him."
"And I said probably, but we'd have to go to wherever he was buried," says Phan.
"So we ran there," Express says.
"And I hope I never have to do anything like that again," says Phantasmo.
"It wasn't so bad," says Express. "I bet you'd never been to Nevada before, had you? And it's an easier trip than driving or flying."
"Long-distance superspeed is way unpleasant, Derek," Phan says. "I mean, it's fine to carry me a little ways, but that was a couple thousand miles. Being a few feet above the road when you're zooming around at something way above the speed of sound is really scary, you know? I was terrified you'd trip."
"Phantasmo, speedsters trip all the time," he says. "But we recover well. You never even noticed the times I tripped, because I got my footing back so quickly."
"Oh god, that doesn't make me feel better at all," Phan moans.
"Come on, it can't possibly be more unnerving than getting carried around by a bunch of ghosts," says Express. "I mean, who knows if they're gonna stay solid, or if some of them aren't going to try to possess you or something."
"There's no risk in getting carried around by ghosts," says Phantasmo. "The intangible ones don't even try to pick anyone up. And I do everything I can to reform the ones who try to possess people. They like me too much to do stuff that'd make me unhappy with them."
"Still better to be able to trust your own abilities than to worry that a bunch of dead people might turn evil on you at any second," says Express.
"Derek, I don't even know what to say to that," says Phantasmo. "Other than maybe fuuuu--"
"Good grief, guys, chill out," says the Chrome Cobra as she walks up to us. "You guys just saved the damn day, and you still want to fight with each other. Break it up, separate corners, and don't force me to kick your stupid macho asses later."
Once Express and Phantasmo walk off, still fuming a bit at each other, the Cobra turns to Big Daddy.
"Alright, Mr. Roth," she says. "Kumiko thinks she's found the right spells, but has to dig up a few components. She may be able to get a portal spell going in 15 minutes. So you may want to start gathering the Finks together."
"Well, the fun always ends too soon, doesn't it?" Big Daddy says. "Thanks for bringing me along for the ride, boys. Never got to see Metro City before -- and never got to travel that fast either."
"Our pleasure, sir," says Express. "Couldn't have cleared this whole crisis up without you."
Express and Phantasmo take off to help clear a space in the plaza for Kumiko to cast her portal spell. They're probably still pissed at each other, but it'll blow over. Stuff like this always blows over with guys.
"Before you go, Mr. Roth," says the Cobra. "I've got a favor to ask. First, are you able to hold a pen? And second, do you think I could get an autograph?"
She opens up one of the compartments in her armor and takes out a ballpoint pen and an old copy of Car Craft magazine.
"Hope you don't mind," she says. "I spent my whole childhood obsessed with machines and gross stuff. Those cartoons helped break up the tedium while my parents were dragging me to dance and piano lessons."
"I can hold a pen just fine," says Big Daddy, taking the pen and magazine from her, "And I'd love to put my scrawl down on this. Where'd you get it anyway? Unless you're a lot older than you sound under that mask, these mags were published a few decades before you were born."
"Well, I wasn't always as scrupulous in my youth as I am now," she says conspiratorially. "When I was six, I went through a phase where I sneaked out at night to rob pawn shops. Wasn't that good at it -- didn't realize they took the money out of the cash registers at night. But one of the shops had all these old car magazines, and I took 'em all over a couple nights. Hid 'em under a floorboard for years. Had to run home once I saw you so I could get my favorite issue."
She breaks off and glares at me. "Keep your mouth shut, Greg," she says.
"Young lady," says Big Daddy with a gigantic grin, "I think I like you."
"Yeah, well, I definitely don't rob anyone anymore," she says. "I loved the magazines, but the guilt was so bad, I spent all my allowance for the next three years paying back the pawn shop."
He finishes signing the magazine and hands it back to her. "Thanks for the fun, young lady," he says. "You kids got a pretty groovy set-up here. And Greg, come see me on your next swing through Nevada. We'll have more time to catch up then."
"You bet, Big Daddy," I say. "Great to see you around again."
He pauses just before he floats away toward the center of the plaza. "The Chrome Cobra is a pretty cool name," he says. "Might have to design a car based on that name."
It's high-pitched and surprisingly quiet, but I now know what it sounds like when the Chrome Cobra squees.
I also know what it sounds like when she punches me in the chest and threatens to cave my skull in if I ever tell anyone about that. I still think it might be worth the pain, but I'll keep it confidential for now.
So Kumiko conjures up a gigantic glowing teleportation portal in the middle of Steranko Plaza, and we all watch and wave as Big Daddy Roth leads a few dozen of his alternate-dimension Finks through it into the Nevada desert.
Once all the Finks are through and Kumiko closes the portal, I turn to everyone and say, "Hey, guys, it's a nice, clean wrap-up for the whole day. Who wants to start the party a little early this evening? I know a nice little club where people like to give me free drinks."
"Wasn't that clean a wrap-up, Greg," says Atlas. "There was a lot of collateral damage all over the city."
"Don't be a spoilsport, big man," I say, "The important thing here is free drinks."
It looks like I'm on the way to someone else punching me in the sternum when the richest (and sleaziest) lawyer in the city walks up to us and makes everything better.
Benedict Alexander, senior partner at Severn, Alexander & Burke, strolls up, hands me a leather-bound folder, and says, "Mr. Brachemann, you've been chosen to compete for the title of Greatest Demigod in the Corporeal Realm."
Well, it's about time people started acknowledging my greatness, right?
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