ASH: Mega-Sized Coherent Super Stories #1 - Gilded Age
Dave Van Domelen
dvandom at haven.eyrie.org
Sat Oct 6 19:42:52 PDT 2007
The cover is an homage to Giant-Size Invaders #1 (1975), with five
heroes striding across a globe into Nazi machinegun fire. Front and center
is Minuteman, in green bodysuit and black helmet. To his right is Gauntlet,
crackling with electrical power and armored in green and brown platemail. To
Minuteman's left is Lady Lawful, who seems to be all but ignoring the rain of
bullets. Behind and between Lady Lawful and Minuteman is Johnny Angel in sky
blue aviator's jacket and domino mask. Behind and between Minuteman and
Gauntlet is Centurion, his gladius drawn.
.|, COHERENT An ASHistory Series
'|` SUPER STORIES Mega-Sized #1 - Gilded Age
Featuring the Freedom Alliance copyright 2007 by Dave Van Domelen
Minuteman, brought to the peak of human perfection by chemicals found in
a strange glowing meteor!
Centurion, the patriot who put the American in Italian-American and had
an uncanny knack for surviving certain death again and again!
The Gauntlet, given his namesake weapon by friendly aliens seeking to
defend the precepts of Civilization!
Johnny Angel, sent by Heaven itself to earn his wings by protecting the
Lady Lawful, whose Enhancer Belt made her the equal of any ten men!
Together, they were the Freedom Alliance!
And, except for Lady Lawful, you have never known their true stories
until now! (And even some of the details of her story may be unfamiliar to
you, but you'll have to wait for next issue for those!) Attend, dear reader,
as I relate to you the shocking origins of some of World War II's finest!
Johnny Angel in "Earning Wings"
[October 13, 1939 - Burkhardt Field, California]
"So, Johnny, you think we'll ever see combat?" Fred Peters asked as he
shrugged into his flight jacket.
"Heck if I know, Jinx," John Travers replied, closing his locker.
"Looks like we're just gonna let the Krauts do whatever they want in Poland,
although I hear the Chinese are making noises about how crappy their Russian-
built crates are, and how it'd be nice to buy some shiny new American planes.
I suppose we could always see if the Lucky Bastards could get a job shooting
down Japs over China."
The "Lucky Bastards" were the newest Air Attack Group in the Army Air
Corps, and like a lot of military nicknames, it was meant to be ironic.
Whoever had thought assigning the number 13 to a group was nuts to begin
with, but the whole logistics shuffle in the AAC lately had meant that the
13th Attack Group had more than its fair share of equipment problems, lost
mail, and just plain rotten luck.
"They'd probably just make us fly those Russian deathtraps," Peters
"Oh, like our P-12's have been doing a whole lot better lately? I
swear, someone put the engine on mine in backwards!"
* * * *
[Over the Sierra Nevada]
"Peters to Travers," came the voice over Johnny's headset, "you seem to
be lagging a bit. Get back in formation."
"I'm trying, Captain," Johnny replied. "I've got balls to the wall,
it's not getting me anywhere. Permission to break off and take her home?"
"Simpson, peel off and follow Travers back to Burk," Peters ordered. "I
guess you get to start your weekend a little early. Everyone else, close up
"Mayday, mayday, mayday!" Johnny broke in. "I have flameout!"
The sky bloomed with smoke as the biplane's engine coughed and belched
fire. The world started to spin as Johnny went into an unpowered dive. For
some reason, the stick wasn't responding right...instead of going into a
possibly survivable glide, he had flipped over into a death spiral.
The mountains whirled around in his view as he struggled to unstrap and
bail out, but he hadn't even gotten one of the buckles open when things
started to go red.
* * * *
The blackness flared to white and then Johnny could see again. He was
seated in a diner.
"Whu...huh?" he stammered, looking around and pulling up his goggles.
It was about as empty as you'd expect for midmorning, but the waitress
noticed him and turned around.
"Hi, hon, didn't hear ya come in," she smiled a bit wearily, a wad of
gum in one cheek. "You look like y'could use a cuppa joe." He noticed her
nametag read "Angel" in friendly green letters.
"Where am I?" he asked.
She cocked an eyebrow. "Coffee might not be enough," she started
pouring, "but let's start with some. I think you might need it black," she
placed the steaming cup in front of him. "And you're at the Slice of Heaven,
in case y'missed the sign over the door."
Hands shaking, Johnny carefully picked up the cup and took a gulp.
"Last thing I remember, I was falling outta the sky...."
Angel laughed. "Musta been some party! Couldn't wait for tonight to
get started, I guess."
"No, no, not like...I gotta get back to the squadron," he stammered,
pulling some change out of his pocket and slapping it on the counter. He
started to stand...and then everything went white again.
* * * *
Johnny staggered, shocked by both the flare of light and the sudden
change from warm diner to cold mountainside. He almost fell flat on his face
in the early season snow.
Getting his bearings, he turned around slowly and saw a flaming wreck a
few dozen yards away. He could smell the horrible stench of burning
airplane, with a faint tang of what might have been burning flesh. The
coffee, along with his breakfast, nearly came back up right then and there.
"Oh my God," he whispered, fighting back shock and nausea. "I didn't
get out of the plane. I didn't make it!"
The shock finally won, and he passed out.
In the blackness, strange dreams came. Angel, the waitress, was back.
But instead of holding a coffee pot, she now held a pin much like the wings
Johnny wore on his flight jacket.
"You're in a new air corps now, Lieutenant," she smiled warmly. "But
it's gonna take a little more work to earn your wings...you've been a good
boy most of the time, but no man is perfect. Just tip the scales a bit more
in your favor, and you can come on up into formation...."
He awoke with a start. The wreckage was still smoking slightly, and the
Sun had broken through the clouds. The dream was clear in his head as he
stood and brushed the snow from himself.
"Angel?" he said to the empty air. "I guess I'm an angel in training,
then, ain't I? I hope they've updated the uniforms, though, 'cause I'm
freezing my hinder off, and if I hafta switch to robes..." he trailed off,
pulling his goggles back down against the rising wind.
"I guess I'd better get started on my new life, then," he mused. "Or
afterlife. I didn't know guys got to become angels, I thought God just made
angels direct, but I never did read the whole Bible. So," he addressed the
smoldering airplane. "Where does a guy go to do some good deeds up here in
the mountains? Any goats need rescuing?"
When there was no response, he shrugged and started walking. West
seemed like a good idea, and this time of year the Sun was mainly to the
south at midday, which he was pretty sure it was, so he kept the Sun to his
left and started trudging.
Several minutes later, his feet starting to go numb, Johnny sighed.
"This isn't getting me anywhere. And I don't got wings yet, so I can't fly
outta here. What I really need is to get somewhere with peop..."
Suddenly, things went white for the third time that day, and when
Johnny's vision cleared he found himself in an alleyway, in a city.
"Hot diggety. Looks like there's travel benefits to the job!" he
stamped some feeling back into his feet. He was about to lift the goggles
back up again when he heard a scream.
"Like a sign from above," he muttered, running towards the scream.
Rounding a corner, he saw two men holding knives and threatening a young
"Ya picked th' wrong alley t' take a shortcut down," one of the toughs
snarled. "This is a TOLL alley."
"W-we don't have anything to pay!" the young man under threat
"Then we're just gonna have ta..." the other tough started, before
turning to notice Johnny approaching. "Hey, back off, flyboy! This is a
private conversation. Unless you wanna cover their tolls and yours too?"
"They say the wages of sin are death," Johnny smirked, his gloved hands
curling into fists. "Would the tolls of sin be a punch in the kisser?" he
speculated, launching himself at the two hoodlums.
The two may have been armed, but Johnny was a pretty good scrapper, and
his leather jacket provided some protection against the couple of near misses
they got in. Within seconds, the thugs were running away as fast as they
"Th-thank you mister..." the young woman said with great relief.
"Say, what's your name?" her beau added.
* * * *
[March 21, 1940 - Los Angeles, California]
"Lieutenant Travers," came a voice from behind Johnny.
He turned to see a nondescript man in a gray trenchcoat standing in the
doorway of the automat. "I ain't been a lieutenant for a while now,
"Doe. John Doe. I've been following your career for a few months now,
and I have some information I think you'd like to hear. In private,
Lieutenant," he emphasized.
Johnny shrugged and turned back to the small knot of dockworkers.
"Thanks for the grub, guys, I'll be back as soon as I've heard what this guy
has to say."
"We could take care of 'im fer ya," one of the longshoremen suggested.
"Nah, he looks like a G-man," Johnny smiled. "Better go talk to him.
I'll see you all later!"
Standing, Johnny followed John Doe out of the automat, and down the
street to a black car with government plates. Doe opened the passenger door
and motioned for Johnny to get in.
"Ah, what the heck. It's not like I can't get out whenever I feel like
it," Johnny chuckled to himself.
Once they were in motion, Doe said, "Open the glovebox. There's a file
Johnny did as he was instructed. It was a pretty thick file, in fact.
Pictures of him, his military record, what looked to be an investigation of
the wreck...and a picture of Angel? "What's all this?"
"Your life, Lieutenant Travers. Which you are still in possession of."
"Don't kid a kidder, Mr. Doe. I died in that crash," Johnny tapped a
grainy black and white aerial photo of wreckage in the mountains.
"There were no human remains in the plane," Doe replied as he drove.
"It took a while to track down all the pieces, but you should recognize the
waitress in that other picture. She told me that you vanished in a flare of
light on October 13, after showing up nearly as mysteriously."
"Yep. I can trans-substantiate or whatever you call it. I don't have
my wings yet, but I've got that much."
"I call it teleportation, actually. And it's how you escaped the crash
of your P-12," Doe replied. "Lieutenant, I have some familiarity with
celestial powers such as angels, and I can assure you that you're not an
angel, trainee or otherwise. You're a man gifted with a special power."
"So I didn't die. That doesn't mean God doesn't have a job for me down
here," Johnny snapped back.
"No, it doesn't. But it does mean that you are, strictly speaking,
Absent Without Official Leave from the Army."
"So, you've come to take me back to base? No way. I do a lot more good
out here than I would in the Air Corps," Johnny started to concentrate. It
was harder to safely trans-sub...teleport from a moving car, but he'd worked
out the kinks a few months ago.
"Not at all. I think you're doing more good where you are as well. And
I can make arrangements to have you retroactively transferred to a branch of
the Office of Strategic Services, so you were never AWOL in the first place.
A little outfit called Division 13."
"Thirteen, eh?" Johnny relaxed. "Well, I guess I won't even need to
change my unit patch then," he tapped the shoulder of his jacket....
The Gauntlet in "Inner Child"
[January 20, 1942 - Denver, Colorado]
"Look, kid, I know you wanna serve, and you're sure big for your age,
but your mom's been around to all the recruiting centers in town and showed
us your picture and birth certificate. We can't take a fourteen-year-old!
Not for the Army, not for the Navy, and definitely not for the Marines!" the
recruiter said as he firmly showed Kevin the door.
"But I'm almost fifteen!" Kevin protested.
"Good for you. And when you're sixteen, if your parents are willing to
sign the paperwork, maybe you can enlist then."
Kevin sulked his way down the steps and kicked at a pebble as he walked
down the street. He'd almost managed to get in last month, but ma caught
wind of it and raised holy hell. It wasn't fair! He wanted to go fight the
Japs, and it's not like he was a little kid anymore. Heck and all, he was
almost six feet tall! Sure, it'd been great being bigger than all his
buddies in school, and the varsity football team hadn't cared that he was
only fourteen, but it all seemed so...stupid now. Compared to the war.
Finally, despite dawdling as much as he could, Kevin got home. He was
about to stomp loudly up the stairs and lock himself in his bedroom, but was
met at the door by a man he'd never seen before. His parents were visible
behind the man, looking concerned.
"I'm John Doe, and I'm with the government. I understand you're looking
for a way to help with the war effort, and I think I can offer you
something. It won't be as direct as picking up a rifle, and you probably
won't see any fighting, but it'll help your country."
"Ma?" Kevin looked past Mr. Doe. His mother nodded silent approval.
She looked worried, but whatever the agent's proposal had been, she was okay
"I'm your man, Mr. Doe!" Kevin smiled.
* * * *
[March 2, 1942 - Division 13 Headquarters, Arlington VA]
"So, I'm not a man, I'm a freak?" Kevin asked, his voice almost
Doctor Parker looked up at the young man from his wheelchair, and shook
his head. "You're a Mage, of sorts. Not a freak. There's a power inside
you that's itching to get out, but for some reason you can't release it on
purpose. So it's been working on your body, making you age more rapidly. It
also makes you stronger and faster than you look, and you already look pretty
strong. But, yes...you're not just a kid who happened to hit his growth
"Am I gonna keep aging faster?" Kevin asked, his voice tinged with
"I...don't know," Doctor Parker admitted. "If we can find a way to tap
your excess energy, that should slow things down. Maybe even to normal
levels, so you won't have lost more than a few years. I think, if we pierce
your skin with some kind of electrode, we'll be able to draw the energy off
as simple electricity, but your skin has a much higher resistance than
normal, which is why you can't just shoot lightning out of your hands or
anything dramatic like that."
Kevin blinked. "Whoa. Lightning from my fingertips? Like a
"Exactly like one," Doctor Parker smiled. "And maybe we can rig up a
way for you to zap some Japs...."
* * * *
[May 12, 1942 - Division 13 Headquarters]
A newsreel played out on the screen of the briefing room, streamers of
cigarette smoke drifting across the harsh white beam of the projector.
On the screen, a baseball game was underway, filmed from the press box.
"It was just about time for the seventh inning stretch as the Dodgers'
pitcher got ready to retire his third batter when the sky fell on Brooklyn!"
the newsreel narrator announced breathlessly. A streak of light cut across
the outfield, ending in an explosion from the bullpen behind the left field
"Nice effect," one of the men in the briefing room commented. "Camera
"Nope," another replied. "Doctor Parker rigged one of his Magnaluxes to
fire on the spot, and the explosion was your basic Hollywood flash and bang.
Everyone at that game saw what we wanted them to."
"Was it a meteor? Was it the Germans?" the narrator continued as the
camera tried to zoom in. "No! It was the spectacular arrival of America's
newest mysteryman, who calls himself the Gauntlet for reasons that should be
The image changed abruptly to show a man in plate and chain armor,
wearing what looked to be an Army helmet and aviator goggles. His right arm
was loaded down with a bulky yet clearly high-tech contraption. He stood in
front of a number of microphones, and had pulled down the armor piece that
covered his mouth.
"I'm as human as any of you," he said to the gathered reporters. "But
I've been to space. Emissaries of Galactic Civilization picked me to wear
the Gauntlet," he held up his arm, "the tool I'm to use to defend the ideals
of freedom and democracy from aggressors both Earthly and otherworldly."
"Laying it on a bit thick, isn't he?" one of the watchers asked.
"If anything, we were hoping for thicker," another replied. "As long as
we're selling the public a tall tale, why not make it as tall as possible?"
"The armored mysteryman declined to reveal his true identity," the
narrator continued, as the Gauntlet was shown demonstrating the various
powers of his weapon. Beams of light, bolts of electricity, even an
invisible magnetic attraction that pulled a microphone stand into his hand
from several yards away. "He claimed that, as a symbol of Galactic
Civilization, he had given up his old identity, and should be known only as
the Gauntlet. And with power like that, would you tell him that wasn't
The reel ran out, and the lights were brought up.
"I still don't like this," one of the earlier speakers said, now clearly
visible as a Colonel in the Army. "We're depending on a teenager to keep a
pretty complicated story straight."
John Doe shrugged. "Would you rather the truth? That he's a fifteen
year old freak of nature being sent into dangerous situations because he has
superhuman abilities? Besides, we have a number of fallback options in case
the cover story starts to break down. For one, if anyone discovers his true
identity, he can claim to have spent several years in a time warp training
with the aliens...so he's not a kid anymore, right?"
"I'm not thrilled either," Doctor Parker added. "But the Nazis are
getting too much propaganda value out of their 'Futureman', or
Zukunftmensch. People believe his claims of being from the future, even if
Division 13 is pretty sure most of his technology is good old-fashioned mad
science from known present-day Nazis. Kevin lets us counter their plausible
lie with one of our own. And on a personal level, he's far more comfortable
pretending to be an agent of space aliens than with spreading around the fact
that he's some sort of mutant. I think he half-believes the story now
"What about his aging problem?" a man with the demeanor of a scientist
asked. "Will this really help him in that respect, or are we just using an
innocent child as a pawn and then letting him die of old age when we're done
Parker frowned. "I think that we've managed to slow the cause of his
rapid aging. Draining his energy through the gauntlet takes pressure off his
system. However, we know so little about the biology of aging, it's possible
that all we can do is keep it from getting worse."
"In any case," Doe pointed out, "since it's become abundantly clear that
Beacon will not be going back into action any time soon and Johnny Angel is a
part-timer at best, the Gauntlet gives Division 13 a new overt agent. Kevin
wants to serve his country, and we're giving him the chance to make the most
of whatever life he has left. Now, unless anyone has anything to add that
isn't a rehashing of old arguments, I'd like to move on to the next item on
The Centurion in "We Who Are About To Die"
[April 2, 1944 - Brooklyn, NY]
Joey Calvano stood for a long time over the unmarked grave after the
diggers and priest had left. They hadn't asked why he was there, and he
hadn't offered. Probably thought he was with the Mob or something. He
supposed he should be catching a cab back to Manhattan, but he didn't feel
like the company of the living just yet.
At least Tony'd gotten buried next to Rico and Bert adjacent to the
family plot Grandpa Russo had bought off some stock market loser back in
1930. "Sorry we're filling it up so soon after you got here, Grandpa," Joey
nodded to the modest tombstone a few feet away.
Still, once the war was over and the secrets out in the open, everyone
in the family could know that Tony Calvano was buried here. But unlike Rico
and Bert, who'd been passed off as accidents, and poor Tony Russo who they'd
never found the body for, Joey's brother had a cover story. He was
supposedly off in Italy, fighting in the "soft underbelly" where he got shot
in his own underbelly. Everyone had been so proud that he'd finally gotten
accepted by the Army, after the family's ties to Mussolini's cronies had made
the War Department turn 'em down for so many years. Of course, the whole
"fighting in Italy" thing was all a pack of lies put together by the OSS, but
they did their jobs well. The guy who came to deliver the news to ma had no
idea he was just a piece in someone else's lie, and that Tony hasn't died in
the European Theater.
"Hell, you probably *did* fight in Italy a little, big bro," Joey
muttered at the freshly-turned earth. "And the Pacific too, from what I
heard past the censors. I guess they'll be telling me the whole story soon
enough, if I want."
Joey walked over to the simple marker for his eldest brother, Rico.
"Great idea you had, Rico," he said, with a trace of sarcasm. "Fight crime
at home since the government didn't want anything to do with our family.
Dress up like an old Roman soldier, with a little steel plating under the
vest to stop the occasional bullet. Took you, what, a year to get yourself
shot in the face?"
He moved to Alberto "Bert" Calvano's marker. "And you had to pick up
the sword and start the myth that the Centurion was immortal, didn't you? At
least no one shot you. No, your own lousy driving did you in. At least you
weren't in costume yet in the car, so it wasn't too hard to pass your death
off as an actual accident. Got a lot of sermons about how driving slower
saved gas and lives after that, though."
Sitting down on the damp ground, Joey shook his head. "Still dunno what
happened to *cousin* Tony. But at least you learned from that," Joey patted
the mound of his brother Tony's grave. "You trained for six months solid
before the Centurion 'rose from the dead' again. And I'll give you your due,
bro. Against guys like the Extortion Racquet, Boss Lyon and Agent K you did
all right. You almost made it to the four year mark."
Joey lay back in the grass and stared up at the cloudy sky. "Too bad
you didn't have the sense to stick to your own level, Tony. Hanging out with
those mysterymen who actually had powers? You were just begging someone with
a future-time zapgun or weird freak abilities to see if the Centurion really
was immortal. I hear it was one of those Bakajin that did you, super nips.
Those guys don't even live for a month after they get their powers, do they?
Happy as long as they take enough roundeyes down with 'em, I guess. You were
an idiot to get involved with the Freedom Alliance, Tony."
After a long moment, staring at the unchanging iron gray sky, Joey stood
up and brushed himself off. "Of course, being an idiot runs in the Calvano
family, doesn't it? I guess I better tell Sal I'm taking the sword, he gets
to live a little longer...."
Minuteman in "Strange Bedfellows"
[May 12, 1937 - Szechuan Province, China]
"It's a good thing you speak the local lingo, John," a short man with
Mediterranean features said as the two climbed the steps of the castle. "My
Cantonese is pretty good, but I can't make heads or tails of what they're
saying out here."
His partner shrugged. "It's a knack, Sil." He didn't elaborate, but
sometimes Silvio suspected that John Doe's "knacks" bordered on the
supernatural. "Anyway, something tells me we should stick to English in
here, rather than butchering Chinese."
"Oh? Wouldn't it be more diplomatic to at least try to meet this
mysterious Doctor Sheng halfway?"
John shook his head. "We know he speaks about a dozen languages, it'd
be more like talking down to him. Especially since we can't speak his own
language well enough to avoid sounding like barbarians anyway."
At the top of the steps the pair was greeted by a small squad of guards
dressed in elaborate and archaic armor. Sil couldn't help but notice that
they carried perfectly serviceable and modern automatic pistols in addition
to the spears and swords, though. And the decorative facade of the palace
could hide any number of firing slits.
"We have come to speak with the inestimable Doctor Huang Sheng," John
said, holding out a scroll tied with crimson ribbon. "We come with a letter
Silently, one of the guards stepped forward to take the scroll,
disappearing through the doors with it. Moments later, the doors swung fully
open and the other guards stepped aside.
"Looks like we're in," Sil observed.
"The hard part might be getting out," John countered.
Sil had seen a lot of fading chinoserie around Europe and America, most
of it tacky enough to merit the epithet "chintzy". But now, in this place,
he could see the original, the real deal. The reason people had been
attracted to the designs in the first place. Sheng may or may not be a
brilliant scientist, but at the very least he had great taste. Or the sense
to hire people with great taste. Either one spoke well for him.
Finally, they reached what was clearly a throneroom, as finely enameled
screens slid apart to allow their entry.
"Come in, my American guests," a voice emanated from within. It had the
accent of one who had a full grasp of the language but felt no need to learn
any more than was necessary to be understood. Of a man who learned a new
tongue to expand his horizons rather than to assimilate into a newly dominant
John and Sil stepped into the throneroom, which was well-lit and airy.
Hardly the den of a mad scientist, although perhaps Doctor Sheng kept those
"John Doe and Silvio Archangeli, United States Army Signals Intelligence
Service," John introduced the pair.
"Greetings. I presume that your visit has something to do with the
impending unpleasantness with Nippon?" Doctor Sheng smiled faintly behind
John nodded. "Japanese diplomatic communications indicate they intend a
major push some time this summer, a fact you're no doubt well aware of. And,
while certain elements in our government would like to think otherwise, Japan
will undoubtedly turn its eye to American interests soon enough as well."
"And you wish an alliance with the nefarious Scourge of the Pacific Rim?
But nothing official, naturally," Sheng's smile broadened an almost
"Correct," Silvio replied. "We're not currently worried about full
military action, that's for the politicians to decide on. But there are
other threats that have been rising for some time now, threats that are
difficult to fight with ships and tanks. Threats that require exceptional
individuals to deal with."
"Individuals such as my son?" Sheng motioned, and a young man stepped
out from behind a curtain. He looked to be about fifteen or sixteen, but
there was something older behind his eyes. He was well-muscled and moved
like a panther on the prowl. "The product of my own research, as well as of
my loins. Modifications to his essential genetic code have given him the
best humanity has to offer, both in body and mind."
John bowed to the newcomer. "Exactly. The Knights of the Thule have
been seeking ways to use the power of old gods to create superhumans who
could infiltrate a city or nation and bring it down from the inside. And
while we have no evidence that the Japanese have a similar program...."
"It is only a matter of time, yes," Doctor Sheng agreed. "I do warn
you, while I have had considerable time to advance my own work, despite the
occasional interruptions as the Nationalists and Communists squabble, I have
yet to find a way to significantly alter the essence of an adult without the
results proving fatal within, oh, a year. So, any exceptional individuals I
might be able to provide you with would last only so long. But...why should
I do this in the first place?"
"Because you are a man who takes the long view of things, Doctor Sheng,"
John replied. "You may have been able to keep China's warring factions at
bay, but if left unchecked Japan will simply destroy both and then move on
you. It might take a decade or more, but it's inevitable. If America is
weakened too much by the actions of supernatural agents to intervene, you
face exile at best."
"This is true enough," Sheng nodded. "Chieng, fetch the box wrapped in
violet ribbon," he told his son, who silently left the room. "To tell the
truth, I have been waiting for one of the western powers to approach me on
this matter, and have prepared notes that will be of some help to you in the
short term. I have even, quite generously, determined how to modify my
processes to work on those not of Chinese ancestry, since I know we all have
our prejudices," he grinned in a manner most unsettling.
Chieng returned with a well-crafted but simple wooden box tied in a
ribbon, and handed it to John without a word, then stepped back.
"You may wonder at my generosity with you, when I have obviously not
shared my talents with my own countrymen, yes?" Doctor Sheng leaned back in
"The thought did cross my mind," John ventured.
"I have no love for either the Nationalists or the Communists, and would
just as soon they exhaust themselves without my help. Perhaps I will help
pick up the pieces when it is all over, perhaps not. But I have even less
love for the Axis powers, and do not wish them to be on the winning side.
You might say I do not care for the competition," his grin became positively
evil. "All I ask from you is detailed results of your work, and the future
goodwill of your leaders. Or, at least, their willingness to cast a less
than keen eye on my endeavors when the current struggle has passed."
Silvio Archangeli was certain that he'd just helped make a deal with the
devil, and prayed it was the lesser evil this time.
* * * *
[July 4, 1938 - Washington D.C.]
"Back in the 1700s, the Minutemen were citizen-soldiers ready to jump
into action at a minute's notice to defend their a'borning nation from
tyranny," Senator Williams declared from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
"Of course, today England is our friend, but tyranny still threatens, a cloud
looming on the horizon. And there are threats that our armies and the
vastness of the ocean cannot protect us against, requiring a new kind of
soldier who can jump to our defense, a new kind of Minuteman. I'm sure
you've all read the exploits of Beacon, the scientist-detective in the
newspapers, but he's just one man. It's time for us to help him out, help
him face the threats that can cross the globe to strike at our very hearts.
And that help is here today...ladies and gentleman, I give you Minuteman, and
his Second Squad!"
Previously unseen, a quartet of men in modified military uniforms
vaulted from the roof of the Memorial. Three, who wore domino masks over
their faces, slid to the ground on ropes, but the fourth was far more
dramatic. Wearing a shimmering ebon helmet that looked like a black opal,
the figure executed a dazzling mid-air flip before landing with the grace of
a cat next to the Senator. Straightening up, he waved to the crowd, which
erupted in applause as the other three ran up to stand beside him.
"You may ask why Minuteman wears a mask?" the Senator leaned towards his
microphone dramatically. "That's because he could be anyone, any good
citizen who wanted to serve. Well, any good citizen willing to be exposed to
a secret formula our scientists derived from a meteor from outer space," he
chuckled, and the audience laughed along with him. "Who he is under the
helmet, and who the Second Squad are behind their masks, aren't important.
They're not in this for the accolades or the fame, they just want to serve
their country and protect it from all who would harm her. And like the
Minutemen of old, you never know which of your fellow citizens might just be
ready to take up arms at a moment's notice...as Minuteman!"
Watching from the crowd, Silvio Archangeli wished he could be as happy
and confident as the jubilant people all around him. But how could he, when
he knew the truth? The Second Squad wore masks so no one would know when
they replaced a fallen member, which was going to happen with depressing
regularity. And Minuteman himself? Oh, even the Senator didn't know that
* * * *
[February 15, 1938 - San Francisco, California]
This was not a part of Chinatown where Silvio could blend in and look
like just another slumming tourist, and he was more than a little nervous.
But the coded message had insisted the meeting take place here, at one of the
countless little medicine shops the area boasted. Fortunately, his Cantonese
was up to the task of finding his way around the city's ethnic enclave, even
if he did stick out like a sore thumb, to borrow a turn of phrase from Erle
In fact, the whole thing was feeling like Sil was in some sort of bad
He reached a door painted with the ideogram he sought and raised his
hand to knock, but it opened before he could.
"Come in, Mister Archangeli," a smooth voice intoned, having no trouble
with his name despite a fairly strong Chinese accent. Warily, he entered the
"I came alone, as asked, but I don't mind saying I feel like a bit of an
ass wandering around Chinatown," Sil said, taking off his fedora.
"Come now, I doubt you were truly 'wandering,' Mister Archangeli," a
wizened old man smiled. His long white mustaches waggled as he talked, and
he looked like the shop might have been built around him. Some time around
the Civil War. "The resplendent Doctor Sheng has heard your government's
reports with a mixture of satisfaction and disappointment. Satisfaction that
you are living up to your end of the bargain and reporting honestly.
Disappointment that you have not managed to fully solve the problems with the
Silvio shrugged. "Our resident eggheads are more about wires and atoms
than biology, unfortunately. We've got some good men working on the process,
but they're not inhuman geniuses."
The old man cackled. "True enough. Few mortal men can equal the great
sage Doctor Sheng. And he is not surprised that you have not solved in
months what has vexed him for years. He is moderately impressed, in fact,
that you have made such progress as you have. The process will work on you
foreigners after all, even if it is sadly fatal in the space of...what, nine
"Ten, we think. But a lot depends on the subject," Silvio admitted. He
was no scientist, but he'd been briefed on the latest results just in case
Huang's agent wanted an update. Or simply assurances that he wasn't dealing
with an ignorant lackey. "We think we can get enough volunteers to create a
small reaction squad, useful in backing up an existing 'mysteryman' sort, but
nothing on the scale we need."
The old man nodded ruefully. "Young men willing to throw their lives
away for a cause are a valuable resource, but it is important to get good
value for those lives. His most celestial majesty Doctor Sheng has provided
a solution to that problem, however."
"He's perfected the process?" Silvio took a step forward, eagerly.
"Sadly, no. But he has a solution nonetheless. Come," the old man
clapped his hands together with surprising vigor.
A curtain behind the counter was pushed aside, and a vaugely familiar
face emerged, that of a young Chinese man.
"Doctor Sheng, he whose brilliance lights the heavens, has sent his son
Chieng to be the man of mystery you require. He is the perfected man,
trained in numerous arts of war and the match of any ten warriors. You will
find Chieng's command of your language adequate to any task you set before
him, although some sort of fully concealing costume may be...advisable."
* * * *
[July 4, 1938 - Washington D.C.]
Sil sighed as he watched Minuteman and the Second Squad demonstrate
their acrobatic prowess, the crowd eating it up. The great American hero was
actually the son of a Chinese mad scientist. Doctor Sheng no doubt was
enjoying the irony right now.
Plans were underway to find a body double who could appear without the
helmet as Minuteman later on, since everyone agreed it was inevitable people
would want to see the man behind the mask despite the snappy patter about
being an everyman. That's why Chieng was wearing lifts and a padded costume,
making the wiry Chinaman seem to have the build of, well, a quarterback
maybe. Not a linebacker, though. It'd be easier to find someone with movie
star looks and that build than a wiry little guy. Besides, it made his
strength seem more plausible, and the padding could help protect the kid
some. Lord knows he'll get shot at enough.
Lord help us all if someone shoots him in the face and breaks the helmet
in front of witnesses, though....
And there you have it, Coherent Club Crusaders! The truth behind the
origins of some of the biggest names of the First Heroic Age!
Why no Lady Lawful story here? That's because her origin's getting
Coherent Super Stories #9 all to itself, as written by Andy Burton!
visuals on the members of the Freedom Alliance.
In keeping with the "1970s reprint" feel of Coherent Super Stories, when
I felt the urge to look further back and cover the First Heroic Age, I
decided to do it in the tradition of Roy Thomas's Invaders or Gerry Conway's
All-Star Squadron, a 70s/80s "modern" retelling of the era, rather than
trying to go with either an authentic 40s feel or a more truly modern
treatment. I leaned more towards the Thomas style in storytelling, but with
an underpinning of Conway's "dark secrets" style. And, of course, one cannot
discount the influence of the recent Agents of Atlas series on at least this
particular issue. :)
This was originally going to just be Coherent Super Stories #9, but it
quickly grew in size and I decided it merited some sort of "Giant Sized" or
"80 Page Giant" treatment. As noted above, Andy's guest shot relating Lady
Lawful's origin will take over the CSS #9 slot. She's not included in this
issue because, well, LL is Andy's character, and I figured he should get to
tell her origin.
I apologize if anyone's offended by some of the language in this issue,
but it's hard to tell a story about WWII heroes without some of the wartime
ethnic slurs coming up.
Coming up with a team name was really hard, since just about every
decent name and most of the stupid ones have already been used. Freedom
Alliance has probably been used too, but not in a very high profile way, and
I wanted something that would sound like it would actually have been used at
the time, rather than just picking an unused name just for the sake of having
an unused name.
As for the real world origins of the characters and some story-specific
notes, here's the scoop:
Johnny Angel -
Johnny Angel was actually deep background for a character in the
original Champions campaign of ASH, named Hellbound. Hellbound had been a
teleporting, happy-go-lucky mysteryman named Johnny Angel until he helped
defeat a powerful sorceror and was banished to hell as payback. Spending
about 50 years in torment, he became more than a little demonic himself, but
was still a hero when freed by ASH. Claiming to be an actual angel was never
part of his origin, but I decided it'd make more sense as a 40s character,
especially since I'd decided on the theme of retconned origins.
The 13th Attack Group is a fictional part of the Army Air Corps, based
on the real 17th Attack Group based out of March Field, California. Like
them and the 20th Attack Group out of Mather Field CA, the 13th flies the
Boeing P-12 biplane: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/P-12 (and no, there was no
13th group or squadron in the AAC, probably due to superstition). Burkhardt
Field is equally fictional, and not named after anyone in particular.
In real life, the OSS did not yet exist in 1940, but its formation in
the ASH universe was accelerated by the activities of various mysterymen, and
both it and its mysterious Division 13 were formed in 1939.
Finally, Johnny's use of the phrase "balls to the wall" is a deliberate
anachronism on my part. The phrase can only be documented back as far as the
60s, and probably wouldn't even make sense on a P-12 (which I expect only had
a single "ball" to push to the wall on the throttle), but it felt right as
the sort of thing a 1970s-written story about WWII might say.
Gauntlet's a basic character design I've had kicking around in one form
or another since 1989, most of which have been "Champions Character Design
Testbeds". Yet another OIF Multipower, basically. Pretty much everything
about this version was created as I went, though, all I kept were the ideas
of a gauntlet weapon and the green/brown color scheme.
I did, however, throw in some references to the Patrol Universe, which
was my previous online "serious" fiction universe before ASH. The Green
Lantern analogues in that setting used the Gauntlet and worked to spread the
precepts of Civilization. :)
While I've done centurion-styled characters once or twice before, this
was another character made up solely to flesh out the ranks of the Freedom
Alliance. I decided that, having come up with all these fake origins to
"explain" the powers of those who had been born with 'em, I needed a
counterbalancing character who had no powers at all, but faked having an
I took the Calvano name from one of families in my neighborhood when I
was growing up.
Minuteman was actually part of a pitch I made to Danny Sichel when he
was trying to start up Haptic Press around 2000. The high concept was
"Chinese-American Captain America has lived to the modern day in relative
obscurity and now old allies have become enemies", you can see the full
treatment at http://www.eyrie.org/~dvandom/ASH/Minuteman.
After toying with how to add a Chinese super-soldier to the ASH setting
(since the origin as written originally wouldn't work here), I hit upon the
brain storm of just making it a younger Jiang (or Chieng) Sheng. He'd have
been physically old enough, and still dutiful enough to do whatever his
father told him to...but the experience would start planting the seeds that
would one day lead him to rebellion.
Long-time readers may be wondering about the connection between
Minuteman and Third Age hero Black Opal (mentioned in Warden and briefly seen
in WarStar), seeing how they're both Chinese martial artists who wear a
featureless black helmet. Well, there is a link, but I'm going to leave the
details for a future story. :)
Silvio Archangeli, by the way, is Pino's grandfather. The Anchor gift,
while strong in the Archangeli line, is still dependent on the world's need
to create "antibodies" against paranormals, and in the time when Silvio was
born there was little need. So he's not an Anchor, or if he is his talent is
too weak to noticeably mess with John Doe's or Huang Sheng's abilities. And
I figured that putting an Archangeli in this story would be a very Roy Thomas
sort of thing to do.
For all the back issues, plus additional background information, art,
and more, go to http://www.eyrie.org/~dvandom/ASH !
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post, or check out our Yahoo discussion group, which can be found at
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