Tommy Preston, the once superpowered champion of justice known as Golden Lad, refused to leave the few remaining spoonfuls of his beloved noontime chili, opting instead to dissuade a surprisingly persistent pest vocally when it became painfully obvious force hadn’t worked. Yet. “Gotta hand it to ya, kid, you’ve got stones the size of Mount Rushmore… but if you don’t stumble back out of here right now, they’ll be scraping chunks of you off the walls.”
(A mystical Aztec artifact, the “Heart of Gold”, kept the ‘Lad’ locked in chronologically at about thirty when he was really approaching a century of fighting the so-called good fight. So, he was polite but short-tempered. Imagine your grandfather as a Kryptonian.)
“Yeah, that’s not happening, you outdated, jaded son of a bitch.” The delivery was indomitable and intense. This pest was ready to make the prophet Petty proud.
In other words, he wasn’t about to back down.
The bowl and the beaker of milk that always accompanied it were both pulverized by the force exerted against them by the now-truly pissed off paladin. “That’s it. You’re about to become the latest example of why it’s NOT a good idea to interrupt my lunch break, you wannabe side-“
Golden Lad spun around, expecting to see the young would-be hero struggling to maintain his footing after being tossed out of the diner via one of the front windows.
The source of his tantrum, however, was far from spent.
It had been a long time since he’d faced an adversary who could take a hit, especially one delivered with fifty percent of his extraordinary horsepower, and so, the Lad was understandably bewildered by the sight of William Nemesis, his sunglasses discarded and his ad hoc costume torn and filthy but relatively intact nevertheless, in a fighting pose.
“What seems to be the problem, boyo?” Nemesis inquired. “Shocked to be facing an adversary who can take a hit? Even one struck with, if I had to guess… half your battery power?”
Nemesis hit the superheroic nail right on the noggin. In the years since an epic conflict between this reality’s actual superpowers there were very few beings of the Lad’s abilities left roaming the streets of NYC. Or anywhere else for that matter.
In fact, as far as Golden Lad knew he was the only one left. And so, the antagonists he faced were of a decidedly less extraordinary nature. Though they now bred and spread across this once gleaming metropolis like psychotic cockroaches, mobsters, terrorists and petty criminals folded like cheap deck chairs against his might.
Tommy Preston wasn’t sure how he felt about this realization. Seeing his confusion, Nemesis helped him decide.
“You know, one of the reasons I wanted to meet you was to ask a question that’s been bugging me ever since I started studying your, what do my fellow nerds call it? Oh yeah, your ‘secret origin’.”
Preston tensed, every knuckle cracking as his gloved hands became fully loaded fists.
“Doesn’t the rattle of all those skeletons in your closet ever get to you? How did you ever swoop around the city, a shining beacon of gleaming American values, knowing that your unlimited power was derived from an artifact empowered by the blood of a thousand martyred Aztecs? Talk about cultural appropriation!”
The Lad began to shake, his taut muscles vibrating as one of his most covert, grisly truths was dragged into the light. “How the hell does he know all this?” The question painfully burned in his broken mind.
But Nemesis wasn’t done.
“And whatever happened to Peggy Shane
(No! Don’t you dare!)
the feisty, teen damsel who somehow got ahold of part of the Heart of Gold? The one who became Golden Girl, your partner-in-crime… and much more I’m guessing?”
Breaking point… reached.
Golden Lad lunged forward, hurling a table directly at his young foe’s head. Seconds later that same table hovered motionless in the air.
“It’s called telekinesis, Tommy,” was all Nemesis had to say before launching the item back at the Lad who promptly smashed it into a million
(give or take)
splinters before charging at the object of his growing rage, roaring like a wounded animal.
Nemesis was so engaged preventing the fragments from slicing his already damaged ensemble and form that he was helpless to bring the Lad to a standstill. Two generations of caped – and non-caped – crusader collided. Both opponents grunted and gasped, their super charged bodies reacting from the blowout. Nemesis crumpled to the Empire Diner’s grimy floor, overpowered by Tommy Preston’s hemorrhaging mania.
For his part, Golden Lad was raining blows on a number of demons of his past. His neglectful parents, who never once questioned their young son’s never-ending absences as he engaged in a double life. His grandfather, who, as it turned out, arranged for his grandson to “stumble” upon a mystical relic imbued with the souls of an entire tribe of slaughtered natives. The Heart of Gold itself, that altered his appearance to friend and foe alike when in his Golden Lad persona, thus destroying any chance of establishing meaningful, lasting relationships as Tommy Preston.
And of course, there was the reminiscence of the vilest figure of them all. Bingo, the Wonder Boy, once a regular, All-American kid named Jerry Jones Jr, who, after finding a genie known as Yama Lama of Ka-Bang, became the “strongest and fastest boy in the whole world!” whenever he uttered the magic words, “KA-BANG!”
(To be fair, it was a different age, though that origin is ludicrous in any era. One can only assume old-time comic book creators drank a lot of cheap booze.)
Once the most trusted ally in the Lad and Girl’s stable of colleagues, his will irrevocably broke as their literal war with the forces of evil dragged on. As a brainwashed acolyte of darkness, his soul completely void of light, he visited an untold number of torments upon Golden Girl before the Lad severed his head from his shoulders as Peggy Shane’s lifeless bag of bones lay a mere five feet away.
Needless to say, neither Tommy Preston nor Golden Lad were ever the same after that day.
Years later, in his bloodshot eyes, it was Wonder Boy that Golden Lad was attempting to beat to an unrecognizable pulp, not Nemesis.
But it was Nemesis who struck back.
One formidable telekinetic blast later, the Lad was pinned against a wall thoroughly covered with crumbly, framed, signed photos of an entire generation of ultra-powered saviors. Though to be fair, the pictures were now a testament to that same era’s complete and utter failure to resist the united might of foes they once vanquished with ease.
He focused every ounce of his magical potency into breaking free of the metaphysical hold Nemesis exerted against him, but Tommy Preston had been rendered immobile – though his tongue was still fully functional.
“I’M GOING TO ANNIHILATE YOU JUST LIKE I DID THE REST OF THEM, YOU MONSTER!”
“Jeez Louise, Tommy… I thought… you golden age guys… were all about being polite!” a run-down, flabbergasted Nemesis declared as he peeled himself off the Empire’s debris covered floor. He examined his shredded costume and muttered under his labored breath. “Man, what I wouldn’t give to have a costume like the Lad’s… one that’s protected from damage by an enchanted antique. Why do some superheroes get all the luck?”
Then William Nemesis recalled all that Golden Lad had been through on this world and a wave of shame overcame him as a crushing wave of reality assaulted his consciousness.
“I’m going to release you, Tommy… but only if you agree to point all that white-hot rage I’ve finally drawn out in the direction it belongs.”
His mind racing, the Lad only had one obvious question for his captor. “YOU’RE THE ONE PINNING ME AGAINST A WALL, YOU DEVIL… WHO THE HELL ELSE SHOULD I BE BRAWLING WITH? I TOLD YOU… I DESTROYED THE LAST OF THEM! THE DARK’S ARMY IS ALL GONE!”
Other shoe… dropped.
The merest reference of the embodiment of mankind’s darkness was all it took to shatter this reality’s veneer. Two distinct ear-piercing, harmonic pitches drowned out Tommy Preston’s ranting, drawing the two battling hero’s curiosity to the Empire’s counter.
“You just… couldn’t listen… could you, sweeeetie?” The inflection was more of a hiss than a voice, barely female, but not fully human either. The tone that emerged from the establishment’s kitchen next was unmistakably male but equally inhuman.
“I’ve told you… their kind never learns,” the allegation came in the form of an inhuman growl. “And that’s why they always fall.”
“What… the… hell?” was all Golden Lad had to offer.
“You’re a wordsmith, buddy,” was Nemesis’ response.
You know the drill by now…