[ASH] Coherent Super Stories #11 - Minutes of the Man

Dave Van Domelen dvandom at haven.eyrie.org
Fri Nov 9 07:26:42 PST 2007

     The cover is dominated by a featureless glossy black oval of a helmet,
and is otherwise split down the middle.  The left side has the helmet's
wearer in a stylized army uniform, with a U.S. flag waving in the
background.  The right side of the man's costume is matte black and
utilitarian.  Behind him on the right is a city at night.

 .|, COHERENT                                            An ASHistory Series
 '|` SUPER STORIES                        #11 - Minutes of the Man
      Featuring Minuteman and Black Opal  copyright 2007 by Dave Van Domelen

[September 12, 1983 - Manhattan, New York]

     One hundred fifty-seven thousand minutes, give or take.  From the
official ceremony on July 4, 1938 until the last day that the real man behind
the mask served a country not his own, on September 3, 1945.  The official
career of the Minuteman dragged on for another two years, with a succession
of doomed men behind the ebon helm, and none but a select few knowing the
true face of their great patriotic hero.
     Back in April of this year, his true face finally came out.  Some
disgruntled bureaucrat with more access to official secrets than he should've
had, an agenda he should have given more thought to and a friend at a
newspaper "leaked" the information.  Jiang Sheng, son of the infamous Doctor
Huang Sheng, was the real man in the Minuteman costume.
     To give the nation some credit, the racism-based howls were fairly
isolated and came from people that almost no one took seriously anymore.  But
the real concerns, or at least the ones that anyone would admit to having
lest they not be taken seriously, revolved around how our great patriotic
hero had been a fraud.  A servant of evil.  The result of an alliance worse
than bedding down with Joe Stalin.
     Not that Jiang was really evil, as he proved over and over again in the
past fifteen years or so.  It just took him a while to wake up.  And now he's
gone into seclusion, stating that he'd rather not feed the fires of publicity
rising up around the matter.
     Yeah, like that ever works.
     But, whatever else happens, however angry or disappointed or fearful
some people might be at the revelation, some of us are glad it happened.
Maybe Jiang Sheng had to serve humanity behind a mask that didn't even let us
know he was Chinese, but he served.  He set an example for others like him,
those who wanted to protect the weak and don't care so much if we get praise
for it.  Like a butt-kicking Buddha.
     Most of the time, I go by Robert Chin.  My father named me Chin Tseng,
although I suppose these days it'd be more correct to spell it Qin Zeng.
But, like Jiang Sheng, tonight I'm taking on a new name.
     Tonight I become the Black Opal.

               *              *              *              *

[Minuteman #1, October 1938 cover date]


     Splash page.  Minuteman, in helmet and uniform, is front and center,
walking out of the darkness into a spotlight.  Behind him in various levels
of shadow are members of the Second Squad, in modified military uniforms and
domino masks of different solid colors: Corporal Red, Private Green, Private
Yellow and Private Blue.  They seem to be bursting into somewhere, guns
drawn.  Caption 1 and the logo are at the top, caption 5 is in the bottom

CAPTION 1: Brought to the peak of human ability by strange chemicals from
     a space rock, these are....


BURST 3 (MINUTEMAN): Fan out, everyone!  Boss Cravat's men have got to be
     in here somewhere!  Corporal Red, be sure they don't sneak up behind


CAPTION 5: But exactly how did Minuteman and the Second Squad come to serve
     their nation?  More specifically, what brought them into the lair of
     Boss Cravat?  Turn the page and find out!
               *              *              *              *

[August 3, 1938 - Brooklyn, New York]

     "Sarge, permission to remove this stupid mask?" one of the supersoldiers
hissed as the Second Squad crept through the darkened warehouse.  "It's
killin' my side vision."
     "Sorry, Private Blue, we have orders.  Don't worry, this should be a
cakewalk, the point is to be seen in our party outfits," Sergeant "Red"
replied.  Part of his own "party outfit" was the false rank of Corporal,
something that rankled him a little bit.  Sure, he was really in charge of
the mission, but for public consumption the helmed hero Minuteman was the
squad leader.  The fact that his actual paygrade was closer to a full bird
Colonel helped ease the irritation a bit, though.  "Minuteman, you okay on
sight?" he finally thought to ask.  If these flimsy little domino masks were
causing problems, a smoked glass fishbowl wasn't gonna help much either.
     "My eyesight has adjusted, Corporal Red.  I shall be unhindered."
     Typical.  The kid was fully into role, and sounded like he was in a
school play.  His English might be textbook great, but they were gonna have
ta work on helping him sound like someone who might actually be an American.
     "I'm startin' ta think this was a bust," Private Green hissed.  "Ain't
jack-all here."
     Sergeant Red shook his head.  "Nah, this Cravat creep just ain't got a
pot ta piss in right now.  Limey bastard was hot back in '36, maybe, but
Beacon busted up his operations good.  He got away, but he never really got
his bankroll back.  Only reason we're even after him now is because there's
rumors he might be looking for Nazi backing, and he's got enough of a rap
sheet that we can get some good press for haulin' him in.  He ain't supposed
ta have more'n three or four goons."
     "Treat no enemy as small, and no enemy shall be too large to fight,"
Minuteman warned.
     Sergeant Red stifled a groan.

               *              *              *              *

[September 12, 1983 - Manhattan, New York]

     My suit had been ready for a week.  The textbooks said that some of the
things I did to make the silk as strong as steel shouldn't have worked, and
I'm sure my M.S. advisor in Chemical Engineering would have had a screaming
fit at some of the safety protocols I ignored, but it came out perfectly.
Probably more than a little of that paranormal "cheating" I've read about in
papers by Baines and Blair.  I'm not sure I like the term "Violation
Physics," though...sounds like the mechanics of rape.
     Now I just needed to make a good first impression, like Minuteman had.
Find someone who needed stopping, was reasonably high profile, but hopefully
an easy target.  Getting killed on my first outing wouldn't help my
reputation any, after all.  And Ling'd kill me if I got myself murdered,
leaving her to raise Jake and run the store all by herself.
     Well, okay, she wouldn't actually track me to the afterlife and kill me
again, but she'd probably write some very scathing letters on the ghost money
she'd burn for me.  Something about how she and Jake only got mugged, but I
managed to get myself killed like an idiot.
     In the end, I'd settled on Freddy Ascot, a small time pusher who liked
to dress like a character from an old kids' show.  It made him stand out
around Chinatown, especially the way he bleached his hair a sort of orangey
blond (he didn't have the patience to do it right) and kept a bunch of big
dogs around.  But aside from the dogs themselves, he wasn't that dangerous.
He only had a small crew, and they were generally too busy working his tiny
territory to actually protect him.
     So, there I was skulking along a back alley, all in black.  My helmet
was another homage to Minuteman, but I'd improved it with some lowlight
optics and other treatments to make it so I could see out just fine, even if
no one could see in.
     Yep, it should have been an easy first case.

               *              *              *              *

[Minuteman #1]


     Four panels in a two-by-two grid.

     Panel 1: Minuteman is holding a stunned goon by the collar, as little
"stars and birdies" swirl around the goon's head.  He points off panel.

BURST 1 (MINUTEMAN): Alright, Boss Cravat, we've taken the starch out of
     your hired muscle, now let's see what you've got!

     Panel 2: Boss Cravat, dressed like a Victorian gentleman complete with
trademark cravat and a monocle, points his cane at the reader.  Ominous
energy crackles at its tip.

SPEECH 2 (BOSS CRAVAT): Oh, I've 'got' plenty, Yank.  You should see the 
     science being done on the Continent, it's really quite --

     Panel 3: Boss Cravat fires an energy blast from his cane at Minuteman,
who is mostly obscured by the crackle, and it shouldn't be certain from the
art whether he dodged or was struck.



     Panel 4: Boss Cravat stands over a scorch mark on the floor.  His head
is out of panel, we're looking at his legs and maybe lower torso.  The
smoking cane should be in shot as well.

SPEECH 6 (BOSS CRAVAT, OFF): Hm.  A bit more powerful than I thought, it
     didn't even leave a corpse.

               *              *              *              *

[August 3, 1938 - Manhattan, NY]

     "You okay, Private Green?" Sergeant Red asked as he finished putting a
bullet into the last of the thugs.  His orders had been to try to take them
all nonlethally if possible, but the agency did have a few other actors ready
to play the part of "captured villains" if things went south.  Which they
had, when it turned out the thugs had tommyguns.
     "Yeah, I'll be okay.  Padding stopped the worst of it," the Second
Squadder mumbled.  "Still hurts like hell, but I don't think anything's
broken or bleeding."
     "Good," Red nodded.  "That's today's lesson, boys.  We're tougher than
most humans, but we're not bulletproof.  Not even Minuteman," he shot his
"leader" a glance.  The young man was padding about on the balls of his feet,
as if expecting another attack any second.  At least the helmet probably
preserved his hearing somewhat from all the gunfire that had just gone down.
     "Cravat is in there," Minuteman pointed to an office door.  Granted,
there weren't a lot of places the guy could have been in the warehouse at
this point, but he might have lammed it during the brief battle.  Boss Cravat
wasn't noted for his courage.
     "If you say so," Red replied.  "Okay, Blue, keep an eye on Green.
Yellow, take the window on the right," he pointed to the observation window,
currently blocked by roller blinds, "make sure he doesn't come out or try
taking a shot at us.  Minuteman, kick in the door and then get down to give
me a clear shot."  Red didn't say that he had no intention of actually being
visible in the doorway during that instant...he wasn't any more bulletproof
than Private Green.
     "As you command," Minuteman bowed, then stalked towards the office
door.  With economy of motion, he kicked it clean off its hinges, dropping
flat to the ground before the door had smashed against the far wall.  Red
waited a heartbeat and then swung out from cover and leveled his automatic at
the room inside.
     "Help me..." came a weak voice from under the broken door.  
     "Well, that's a whatchacallit, anticlimax," Private Yellow smirked.
"Doesn't even look like he had a gun out," he added, peering through the
     "Don't worry, we brought one for him to be found with, just in case,"
Red replied, drawing a 9mm Luger from one of the pouches on his uniform and
stepping forward to press it briefly in the stunned hand of the British
criminal before knocking it aside to fall somewhere believable.  "Makes
better newspapers if he was fighting back instead of just hiding in here
crapping his pants...."

               *              *              *              *

[September 12, 1983 - Manhattan, New York]

     I staggered back.  The silksteel had held, and I was a lot tougher than
I looked, but the three shots to the center of my chest by Freddy's .41
Magnum still felt like a mule kick to the chest.  Contrary to what you might
see in the movies, it didn't actually blow me over or anything, but the
natural "get the hell away from the thing that hurts" reflex accomplished the
same trick, sending me reeling into a stack of overfull garbage cans.
     "I said, back off, you gimp freak!" Freddy Ascot shrieked over the
barking of his ever-present trio of large dogs, deafened by his own shots and
having no idea how stupid he sounded.  If I hadn't built baffles into the
helmet, I probably wouldn't have any idea either.
     Banter.  Had to do some banter, regain the psychological upper hand and
prove he hadn't really hurt me (even if he had...I think a rib broke on one
of those impacts).  I tapped my helmet.  "Nah, Freddy, gimps wear leather
masks, with zippers.  Don't you study any history?  Don't recognize the
fashion statement I'm making here?"  I was still a bit unsteady on my feet,
but he was one of those stupid pushers who sampled his own wares, so he
probably didn't notice my weakness.
     "The only history I care about is the history you're gonna be," Freddy
snarled, letting go of the bundle of leashes he held.  "Tear him apart,
Scoobies!" he shouted to his "pets".  Calling the dogs pets, though, was like
calling a bazooka a tool...sure, it was by strict definition, but that didn't
really encompass the level of menace it represented.
     I jumped up and grabbed the fire escape, then dropped the special
smokebomb I'd brought.  More than just smoke, it contained a number of
chemicals that dogs really REALLY didn't get along with.  I may never have
been a Boy Scout, but "be prepared" is a great motto for someone in my line
of work.
     Almost instantly, the barking was replaced by whining and retching,
although some of the retching was Freddy's.  He started shooting blind, and
wouldn't you know it, he got lucky....

               *              *              *              *

[Minuteman #1]


     Large panel dominates the top two thirds of the page, the bottom third
is split into two smaller panels.

     Panel 1: Minuteman is dropping down on Boss Cravat, his boots smashing
into Cravat's back and sending the villain sprawling.  His cane flies off to
one side.

SPEECH 1 (MINUTEMAN): You know what they say, Cravat --

BURST 2 (MINUTEMAN, connected to SPEECH 1): No body, no kill!



     Panel 2: Minuteman is backhanding Cravat for good measure, but the fight
has clearly gone out of him.

SPEECH 5 (MINUTEMAN): Maybe this'll teach you that Uncle Adolf isn't the
     guy you want to take gifts from!


     Panel 3: Long shot of the entry of the warehouse, with Cravat and his
goons being led out to the paddy wagons in handcuffs.  Caption 6 is at upper
left, Caption 7 at lower right.

CAPTION 6: And so, justice was done, by Minuteman and the Second Squad!

CAPTION 7: Now, turn the page for another exciting story!

               *              *              *              *

[August 3, 1938 - Manhattan, NY]

     "Regrettably, one of the hired thugs was hit by the crossfire of his
fellows as we dodged the bullets," Minuteman explained to the gathered
reporters.  With only one actual death, they'd decided to go with Cover Story
C and keep the actors in reserve.  "But these secret documents found in the
warehouse office reveal that Boss Cravat had started taking orders from
unfriendly foreign powers, and could have done far worse than one person
killed if we hadn't stopped him in time."
     The documents were real, surprise of surprises.  Yellow had found them
in the half-crushed desk after they'd cleared Cravat out.  Nothing too
impressive, just some vague promises from Fritz Kuhn to funnel some Bund
money to Cravat in exchange for doing some dirty work.  No Nazi superscience
or secret bombing plots, just protection racket level stuff.
     Impressive or not, though, they'd certainly help take some wind out of
Kuhn's sails, and that made it a good day as far as Sergeant Levi Mankowitz,
AKA "Sergeant Red", was concerned....

               *              *              *              *

[September 12, 1983 - Manhattan, New York]

     One hundred fifty seven thousand minutes, the length of Minuteman's true
     Black Opal just managed to survive about thirty five minutes, getting
out with just a cracked rib and a bruised hand where Freddy's lucky shot
hit.  Freddy and a pile of his goods were tied to a lamppost in front of the
precinct house...even if no charges got pressed, the blow to his rep would
effectively put him out of business.  
     Not bad for 35 minutes' work.
     But...keep it up for one hundred fifty seven thousand minutes?
     I've got a long way to go....


Next Issue:

     No solid plans at the moment.  


Author's Notes:

     I'm pretty sure the fact that both Black Opal and Minuteman were
designed with featureless glassy black helmets was coincidental.  However, I
did use Black Opal in WarStar the same year that I came up with Minuteman, so
maybe I did borrow from him to make Minuteman.
     Black Opal was created by Matt Rossi in 1999 as part of the backstory
for Warden's supporting cast member, Maddie Chin.  He was meant to be more of
a 1930s Batman homage who just happened to have been active in the 1990s,
complete with a souped-up Deusenberg and an underground lair full of weird
trophies.  I upped his power level a little in WarStar so he'd be a credible
threat without resorting to the "Batman always wins" cliche stuff, but
otherwise tried to stick with the original concept.  
     In Warden #10, Black Opal's first mention, his career was cited as
lasting from 1976-1998, something I forgot when I was working up my Dragonfly
story.  It now officially ran from 1983-1998, just chalk it up to a "typo".
:)  However, I don't want to retcon him from being Maddie's grandfather into
being her father, so he simply started his active career at a later age.
     If anyone's really curious, I figure pages 2-4 of the eight page (but
not Eight Pager) Minuteman #1 story recapped the fake origin story in a
little more detail, page 5 had the team run into the goons and start
fighting, and page 6 was more fight scene.  Shorter stories were the norm in
Golden Age comics, with a full issue being made up of many stories (often
featuring different characters) strung together.  As opposed to the modern
style, in which several issues are strung together to make one story.
     And yes, Freddy Ascot is a Chinese guy who dresses up like Fred from
Scooby Doo.  Well, *I* find it amusing.

     Part of why I'm not sure what's coming next is that I've relaunched my
Superguy writing with New Exarchs, and wrote 4 episodes of that between rough
outlining CSS #11 and actually writing this issue.  Odds are good I'll be at
least a little distracted by New Exarchs for the rest of the month, but I do
hope to get at least one ASH-universe piece written for December.  I still
have a few CSS story seeds I want to mess with, including the first and last
missions of the Freedom Alliance, and the many deaths of Centurion.


     For all the back issues, plus additional background information, art,
and more, go to http://www.eyrie.org/~dvandom/ASH !

     To discuss this issue or any others, either just hit "followup" to this
post, or check out our Yahoo discussion group, which can be found at
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/ash_stories/ !

     There's also a LiveJournal interest group for ASH, check it out at


More information about the racc mailing list