“We’re not going to have a problem are we, pal?” the boisterous voice was husky, weary and subzero, with only the slightest trace of a youthful, hopeful tone detectable. “Because I assume you know who you’re dealing with?”
The young man at the diner’s counter waited a moment to answer, as the greasy spoon’s limited space was still filled with the clatter of the lunch crowd’s swift exit. This particular hash house’s lunch crowd had seen enough combat between superpowered fighters for their collective lifetime, so they headed for the hills. The Empire Diner’s lunch dishes, silverware and even the chairs were still rolling around the dirty linoleum floor when the query filled the virtually empty space once more.
“I’m not going to ask again, beanpole.”
“Actually…” the remaining patron replied as he swung around on the tarnished silver lunch counter stool, “I’ve done my homework, so I know exactly who you are. You’re Tommy Preston. a.k.a. Golden Lad. In 1945 you were a mere blonde-haired, blue-eyed white boy of eleven who was forced into a child labor situation in your grandfather’s antique shop when you found an ancient, sentient Aztec artifact. The so-called ‘Heart of Gold’ scanned your pure, adolescent heart
and deemed it worthy and devoted to justice. So, the Heart not only gave your powers of super strength, flight and ‘high voltage vision…'” the diner punctuated that specific ability with highly animated air quotes before continuing as Tommy Preston took a seat a few stools away where a piping hot bowl of chili was already wafting for him.
Preston began to devour his lunch when he noticed his unwanted dining companion had taken a pause, and so he shot a brief glare to his immediate right.
And so the golden age origin story continued.
“It even created that nifty costume which appeared every time you enthusiastically uttered the words ‘Heart of Gold!’ Incidentally, I notice you’re still sporting that magical ensemble even though you’re not so golden anymore.”
At this point, I have to interject to pose a question to you, my ten readers: Can you roll your memory bank back to see yourself at eleven-years-old?
(You can? Thank you for participating.)
Now imagine eleven-year-old you, a soaked-behind-the-organic-listening-devices rugrat with the powers of a pint-sized god. You’d be so powerful parental decrees wouldn’t matter a lick, if you wanted to go flying around the city on a school day, that’s exactly what you’d do. All the power in the world without any restrictions.
It boggles the mind to the Nth degree, doesn’t it?
Fortunately for his parents and the world for that matter, little Tommy Preston grew up in an age of innocence. Sure, a global conflict had just ended, but the world was still full of hope and the same purity that made this tween worthy of said powers. And so, he used his newfound abilities to fight for truth, justice, blah, blah, blah. Golden Lad was an anomaly though, a standalone hero who, under other circumstances would have been relegated to junior partner.
For him it really was a golden age.
But eventually his world went down the crapper as everything around him was burned to the ground. Any other champion would have hung up his tights for good.
But not this superguy.
Indeed, the middle-aged crusader born of another era was still soaring around the Big Apple in an emerald full-length shirt (and matching shorts!), an indigo belt, brown boots and gloves, a sunny colored cape and of course, an amber heart on his chiseled chest. He was a grown-ass paladin with perpetual five o’clock shadow Doctor House would be envious of, but in a uniform you’d swear belonged to his sidekick.
Perfectly styled hair had been shaved down to a military cut. Blue eyes that were now once brimming with hope were now ice cold.
“Huh,” was all the golden-no-longer Golden Lad had to say after listening to this retelling of his life story.
“That’s it? was the stranger in the unconventional superhero getup’s reaction to being summarily dismissed. “I know haven’t got to the best part, but I can’t believe you’re not impressed! I’m a walking Wikipedia! Wait… do you have that here?”
The veteran costumed warrior crushed a few crackers into his half-empty bowl. He gazed into the mixture of beans, dead animal flesh, spices and spaghetti sauce as though it had the answers to his life’s multitude of questions. Then he fired off an indignant frown at his would-be biographer. “I have no idea what the hell you’re talking about, but you can relax. You get an ‘A’ for the book report, buddy. Here I thought you might be an actual threat… when you’re really just another pathetic fanboy.”
“FANBOY?!” That particular term lit a fuse in the Multiversal traveler. He leaped off his stool, ran the lengthy digits of his left hand through the dirty blonde mass of tousled hair atop his dome and took a position behind the object of his exasperation.
Tommy Preston refused to turn away from the sole remaining joy in his tortured existence. “I know this world’s a never-ending nightmare, boyo, but there’s no need to get so stressed. I’m just not in the market for a sidekick… especially one who can’t walk the walk. But I am curious, what’s your handle, junior?”
“You can call me Nemesis, Not-So-Shiny-Anymore Lad, but I’m hardly a fanboy! Far from it in fact. The truth is, I’ve come a long way to…”
Nemesis’ words died in his throat as a pair of sinewy hands clutched his green leather jacket and hurled him across the breadth of the dining room – until he collided with one of the joint’s oversized, curved windows, that is.
The window broke. Nemesis didn’t. Though he did wind up on the unimaginably grimy New York City sidewalk outside. “Guess I shouldn’t have chosen a trade name that means literally means ‘adversary’…” he uttered just under his breath.
Then came the sobering realization that he was surrounded by dozens of horror-struck rubberneckers. Their collective panic should have sent them fleeing in terror, but they were compelled to gawk at him with scrutinizing fascination.
Nemesis put them out of their misery.
“I’m not what you think.” His tone was booming and cocksure but laced with genuineness. “I’m not a part of Them, the bastards who tried to drain this world of everything good and decent. But the enemy you’ve all been living in fear of, the ones that’s kept you all from living your lives for so long now, is in there… and you have no idea how far I’m willing to go stop it once and for all.”
And with that proclamation Nemesis shook the tempered glass off his haggard frame and marched back into the Empire Diner to face his own fears for what he was certain would be the final time.
Needless to say…