I remember turning on the TV and seeing my dad fighting King Bullet. It’s probably stupid to start by saying that I remember the most influential moment of my life, but I’m not sure how to start this.
That was the first and only time I ever saw my dad on TV. He wasn’t on the national news often like Omega or Bluebird, but in the Midwest he was on the news all the time. My mom never let me watch it. She always turned off the TV or changed the channel. I knew my dad was a superhero but that was the first time I ever saw him in action.
The only reason I saw it then is because my mom was on the phone. Back then a phone was a thing that you had on the wall of your kitchen. It had a curly cord that was like a little slinky covered in plastic. I used to spend time fixing the cord after my sisters got it all tangled up. I liked straightening it out.
Point is that she was in the kitchen when I turned on the TV. I almost changed the channel right away because I wanted to watch GI Joe, but then I realized that was my dad flying around above a big bridge. I had seen his white and gold super-suit in the house before but never saw him wearing it until then.
I wish that I had felt proud or excited about seeing my dad doing superhero stuff but I was just confused. I couldn’t reconcile seeing my dad like that. He was just a guy who could never start the grill and always bought the wrong thing at the grocery. I don’t think kids can handle seeing their parents out of context. I wonder if kids with parents who are pro athletes or famous actors have the same thing at first. It probably takes a while to get used to.
It wasn’t even thirty seconds after I turned it on that he fell out of the sky. At that point I had no idea that he was dead. I think most kids, even if they kinda understand death at that age, can’t imagine their parents being vulnerable to anything. And then throw in your dad being a literal superman on top of that? There’s no way you can really understand what’s happened.
Despite that, I was worried about what I saw so I ran in and told my mom that dad was on TV. I don’t think she really heard me at first. She gave me the “don’t bother me while I’m on the phone” look but I said that that dad was on TV and he fell into the water. The look on her face scared me more than I’ve ever been scared before or since in my life.
Seeing my mom so scared made me feel like the entire world was going to end or something. I tried to grab onto her leg but she kind of shoved me off and ran into the living room. I used to tell people that she picked me up and ran in with me because when I said that she pushed me, people would look at me like my mom was a monster. But that’s not the truth.
My mom is the kindest nicest person ever. People have said that if she did that, she must have been abusive. If you judge her for that one moment of panic and fear, you’re wrong. You weren’t there. You don’t know what it was like. You can’t say that.
When I came in, she was on her knees in front of the TV switching the channel back and forth. This was before TVs had remote controls, you had to change the channel on the actual TV with a knob. After a little while she started to cry. Not sobbing or anything like that, but tears streaking down her face. I know this is a weird thing to think/remember, but what really struck me is how ugly it made her look. Up until then, she had been the prettiest women in the world. In that moment, it was like she had turned into a witch or a monster. That scared me pretty good too.
She told me to go to my room and when I did, she shut the door behind me, which she never did. She always wanted to be able to see me, make sure I was okay. I hunched over by the door and listened for a while but eventually I started reading some of my books. I was still freaked out, but I went about my little kid business. It’s hard to explain what it felt like. Maybe because I didn’t understand what I was feeling at the time.
I remember that my aunt (my dad’s sister) and a neighbor came over with their kids and we were playing in the backyard while they talked in the living room. I knew that something was on, but I felt like it was grown up stuff. One of my cousins asked me what was going on and I said that I thought maybe my dad was in trouble. But that was the extent of it.
The strangest thing of all to me at that time is when my mom left and my aunt stayed over with me. I had stayed at her house before, but it was very weird to me that she was there in my house without my mom or dad. She took me to MacDonald’s for dinner which wasn’t right either. I told her that we only had that after church on Sunday. She said that it was okay, but that really upset me.
The next day, my mom told me that I wouldn’t see dad anymore because he had died. She really tried and I think she said all the right things, whatever that means, but I still didn’t really understand. For a long time after, I expected him to come home. I think I was ten before I really got it. And even then there was a part of me that still thought he was out there somewhere.
I talked to a couple different child therapists over those years, but it never helped. I don’t blame them, I doubt there’s much anyone can do, but talking to these strangers about how my dad was never coming home just made me more confused.
I was 12 when I did what any good red-blooded American kid would do, I swore that I would grow up and become a superhero myself and I’d get revenge on King Bullet for killing my dad. When I told people that, some of them said that superheroes don’t kill people. I asked them, what about Skull Malone? Or Crosswire? Or Red Skurge? They killed bad guys all the time.
I become a connoisseur of those who killed the killers. They didn’t get talked about on TV as much, but there were magazines all about the heroes that killed. I knew I couldn’t have them in the house but I’d buy them at the drug store, read them, and then throw them away before I got home. People said those men weren’t heroes, they were vigilantes. Fine by me, I’d be a vigilante then. And King Bullet would pay for what he did.
In my memory, I didn’t see my mom much after that. I know that’s wrong, I know that she still spent a lot of time with me, but I can’t help but remember it the other way. Even though I was only with my aunt or a neighbor a few nights a week, in my mind it was most of the time. Memory is funny like that. I felt abandoned so that’s what I remember even though it wasn’t strictly true.
In HS, I was writing a paper about my dad and I asked my mom who she was on the phone with that day and she got very upset. I didn’t get it at the time, but she felt guilty for not protecting me. Part of the reason it didn’t feel like she was always there when she was, is because she had her own problems. And I was a real asshole to her. I guess you can’t help that when you’re a kid.
I know more than one summer, I went to live with my cousins in Idaho because she was in rehab. The really sad thing is when she finally did get herself straight for real and tried to reconnect with me, I was an angry teenage douchebag and I pushed her away. We barely had any kind of relationship for several years. All my doing.
Most kids grow out of the revenge thing, or at least sublimate it into some other kind of self-destructive behavior, but I didn’t. I didn’t have powers like my dad, but I figured that was okay because there are plenty of heroes without powers. The Archer. Wraith. Ultraweapon and Nighthawk don’t have any powers and they’re founding members of the freaking Sentinels!
I actually did become pretty good with a bow, but where the hell do you get exploding arrows? Let alone arrows that turn into a giant net or release sleeping gas. Plus, as I found out, even a hunting bow isn’t durable enough to be running around getting into fights with. That’s just not what they’re made for. Go figure, right?
I tried bodybuilding and training in martial arts but it became clear pretty quickly I was never going to be able to forge myself into a living weapon. It helped me realize that when a kid from my gym got beaten so badly trying to be a vigilante himself that he never walked without aid again. There’s a reason there’s only a few people like Wraith out there.
I read somewhere that being rich is the best superpower and I came to the bitter understanding that that’s true. Whoever Nighthawk is in real life, he has to be rich as hell to afford to design and build all those gadgets. And Ultraweapon runs a Fortune 500 company. Unless I won the lottery, I wasn’t going to be a tech-hero either.
Someone asked me why I never just loaded up on guns and threw on a flak vest like Skull Malone or all those other killers I was once so eager to read about. Honestly, it never occurred to me. I think deep down in my soul, I knew that my dad wouldn’t approve of that, that they weren’t real heroes so I shouldn’t be like them. Strange but true.
Not that the path I did go down was any more heroic.
After Ace and the Four Kings were brought down, other villains kept popping up who had some (usually less effective) version of the Megatron Serum that Ace had invented (or stolen depending on who you believe). If anyone knows why a highly addictive super-steroid is named after the leader of the Deceptions, let me know. I figured that was my path to super-powers.
After HS (I did graduate despite what Wikipedia says) I made it my mission to get my hands on some “meg”. A 19 year-old kid from the suburbs looking for some illegal super drugs? That went about as well as you can imagine.
The first time I got a hold of what I was told was a version of meg “only better,” all it did was make me crap my pants and give me awful night terrors for three weeks. Which is luckier than most kids like me. A lot of people died trying to do exactly what I was doing.
Much has been written and said about how searching for super-drugs led to my own issues with substance abuse, but that’s not right. I was angry and depressed and looking for an escape. The two things have nothing to do with each other.
I spent the next several years doing fuck-all other than getting high and mooching off everyone I knew. I got a lot of mileage out of the “poor me, my dad died” act. I got a lot of people to give me a lot of money. I feel sick about it now. Hell, I felt sick about it then, but I still did it.
I still talked loudly and longly about how I was going to get my revenge on King Bullet to anyone who would listen, but it was all just talk. I wasn’t going to do shit other than party and then feel bad about it. The funny thing about it is when I sobered up, things actually got much worse.
Getting clean gave me the motivation and clarity I needed to actually make progress. If you want illegal stuff, you need to make contacts with criminals. I knew plenty of dealers after all, and some of them I hadn’t ripped off. I may not be Wraith or Nighthawk but I knew enough about the practical applications of violence to be useful. More than anything, what you need is the willingness to do violence. People would be surprised how many folks involved in the drug trade don’t have the stomach for that.
In honesty though, I rarely had to actually mix it up with anyone. Just standing there and looking tough is usually enough to prevent any issues, most criminals aren’t looking for a fight, they’re looking for an easy mark. Just having some back-up makes a world of difference.
The final irony of all of this is that I’m 90% sure I had a line on some legit meg when I heard that King Bullet was dead, killed in that mess in Cincinnati.
It wasn’t like a weight being lifted off my shoulders. It was more like an itch that you can’t help scratching suddenly being gone. For a while you keep scratching that spot anyway because that’s what you’ve always done, but ultimately what’s the point? The itch is gone.
I was very afraid that I would fall back into my old bad habits, but I was able to work around that. I got a real job. I talked to my mom and my sisters for the first time in years. What really helped me is meeting my nieces. It’s a total cliché but it made me feel hope for the future.
It would be nice if you could just turn a corner and then everything would be fine after that, but it doesn’t happen. Your problems and issues are still there, under the surface, and you have to figure out every day how to keep moving forward. As someone said in group once, there’s no solution to life, every day is a new challenge. It’s easy to roll your eyes at someone who says that they’re a work in progress, but we all are really.
Sometimes I feel like my life has passed me by, that I’ve wasted all my time and it’s too late for me to do anything. But I’m not that old. There’s still time. It’s never too late to do some good in the world.