ASH/WRIMO: Catman: Minor Arcana #2 - Staves

Dave Van Domelen dvandom at
Fri Nov 12 22:15:36 PST 2010

     [The cover shows Edouard dodging frantically out of the way of twin
force beams fired from the hands of Devastator.  Partially visible behind the
visual effects array is a bank of video monitors showing cities burning.]

 .|, COHERENT COMICS PRESENTS                            An ASHistory Series
 '|`      Catman: Minor Arcana                           #2 - Staves
                   copyright 2010 by Dave Van Domelen

[October 4, 2026 - The Serengeti, Africa]

     "It was like someone hired the 1980s BBC effects department to design a
spaceship," Set had told him once.  At the time, Edouard had had no idea what
that meant, but even then he could grasp that the statement was utterly
incongruous coming from a hulking brute with a jackal-like head.  The timid
little archaeologist inside the godly avatar tended to come out at the oddest
times, which made ASH's original powerhouse much less intimidating than he
should have been.
     During Edouard's time in quarantine, the Academy of Super-Heroes had
gone on many strange adventures, and Set had been the first one to think to
come visit the dimensionally displaced catman upon their return.  He'd come
back carrying a strange bronze-colored rod, which he'd claimed was pretty
much unbreakable, making it handy in cases where Set didn't want to actually
touch something he had to hit.  The divine avenger relied more on rapid
healing than physical toughness, and had quickly learned that breaking his
hands on armor was no fun even if they healed in seconds.
     "There was just this rack of these rods, sitting there looking skiffy,
but serving no real purpose.  Just set dressing.  So I took one, found I
couldn't bend it, and hung onto it," Set had explained.  
     By the time Edouard had finished with the required regimen for
interdimensional immigrants (he was amazed at the time how smoothly the
process went, only later finding that his new home had experienced enough
interdimensional incursions that the flaws had been worked out years before
his arrival), Set had switched to using an ankh-shaped mace he'd found
somewhere.  But on the fourth anniversary of Edouard's arrival, Set
remembered the unbreakable rod and made a gift of it.  It was surprisingly
light, and fit in nicely with the capoeira-like martial arts style Edouard
had learned in the Underground.
     Edouard picked it up, brushing some dust off, and thought of the first
mission he'd carried it on, during his second year of leading the Academy of

               *              *              *              *

[December 17, 1993 - Near Earth Orbit]

     Not for the first time, Catman reflected on how well being a member of
the Underground prepared him for leading a team of superheroes.  Fractious
but idealistic membership, diverse and bizarre talents, overwhelming odds and
impossible missions.  And the fate of the world at stake, one way or another.
     "You can't sneak up on me, you know," Devastator said from across the
room.  Given that the entire structure was a spaceship with interdimensional
drives, it was remarkably spacious.  It was as if Devastator was more
interested in impressing people with his mobile base than actually having it
serve a functional purpose.  On the other hand, a stereotypically cramped
spaceship layout wouldn't have held some of the allies Devastator sometimes
employed, like Titaness.
     "The Santari antigravity rig was a clever idea, masking yourself from my
gravitational sense," Devastator added.  "And in the wild it might even have
worked.  But you're in my *home*, Moreau," he taunted.  At some point, the
villain had learned something of Edouard's native reality, claiming he'd
witnessed the utter destruction of its Sol system.  "The sensors in every
room, every corridor report back to me.  I expect you were hoping to score a
knockout blow before I noticed you, since there's really no other way you can
defeat me.  You should have concentrated on freeing your teammates instead,
'Catman'.  Not that they would have been too much help, separated from their
devices.  Your current roster is far too dependent on powered armor, you
really should have recruited someone with inborn light-based powers before
coming after me."
     "So, what's your plan this time, Devastator?  Make the Sun go nova?
Chronal inverter?  Revisit that mass-sterilization effect you tried two years
ago and try to make it permanent?" Catman asked, slowly circling the
perimeter of the room, seeking out likely hiding places for the sensors that
were keeping Devastator from being blind to his presence.
     Devastator tsked.  "Make the Sun go nova?  Please.  If I simply wanted
to destroy *everything* I could probably recreate the accident that destroyed
your home," he twisted the emotional knife a little.  "I have no animus
towards the Earth per se, or most of the life on it.  It's humanity that I
find to be a plague on reality.  I'm trying to save the world *from* humans,
while you waste your time trying to save it *for* humans."
     "Is this where you give me the 'join me and be spared the coming storm'
speech, where you try to convince me I owe humans nothing?" Catman mocked.
     "Ha!  Hardly.  I won't go out of my way to kill you, but I know you well
enough to not waste my time trying to recruit you either.  Now, is this the
part where you try to convince me that if humans are so vile, I should kill
myself?  As long as were indulging in cliches."
     "No, I tried that before, remember?"
     "Oh yes, and I pointed out that I'm happy to let old age take me once
I've excised as many humans as I can possibly manage," Devastator turned
slowly to keep facing Edouard, even though his eyes had been destroyed years
ago in the accident that awoke his powers.  The featureless mask he wore
concealed a moderately scarred face that Catman had seen once or twice.  He
wasn't sure if it was vanity that caused Devastator to don the mask, or a
psychological game...if people knew you wore a mask to cover scars, they
would inevitably invent far more gruesome injuries in their imaginations than
what you actually carried.
     "Back to the point," Catman was pretty sure he'd identified most of the
sensor lenses, although synthetic aperture radar units could be concealed
behind just about any surface, "what's the doomsday device of the day?  What
clever means have you devised to kill off just the humans, leaving Earth to
the animals and a few robots?"
     "Oh, this one will probably eliminate some of the mammals other than
humans.  It's a little less discriminating than I'd like, although Doctor Pue
pointed out that refining it too closely would risk leaving a breeding
population of humans alive.  Better to wipe out a few extra species than to
let humanity continue to blight the universe," Devastator shrugged.  "But,
no, you're not going to get any of the details you're fishing for.  I may
have a penchant for melodrama, but only when I think I can safely get away
with it."
     The room shuddered as something rocked the titanic craft.  Having been
expecting something like that, Catman had been using his borrowed antigravity
harness to hover just above the floor, but Devastator was startled and nearly
lost his footing.
     Catman took advantage of the momentary shock to bounce rapidly around
the room, using his new staff to destroy the sensors he'd identified and a
few random locations that might have hidden something.  "Thanks for allowing
yourself a little too much melodrama, Devastator," Catman mockedm then
shouted into his wrist comm.  "B-squad, execute!"
     A ring of fire appeared in mid-air, disgorging a trio of superheroes,
all refugees from their proper time and place in some way.  Psiberbunk,
formerly a gang member from the year 2112.  Hellbound, who very few knew had
gone by the name Johnny Angel back in the 1940s before being exiled to the
hellish subdimension that the trio now used for transport.  And Delta Rose,
an alien cop who had gotten out from behind a desk for this mission.
     Catman didn't explain any of this to Devastator, of course.  Another
thing being in the Underground had drilled into him was that you don't tell
the enemy your capabilities, even when you're in the process of beating them.
Let 'em stew.  So he didn't explain what a profoundly bad idea it had been to
lock EMerald, Banshee and Ravenfire up without their armors on the satellite,
no matter how fetching the three women might look in their undersuits.  His
roster wasn't heavy on "power armor heroes," after all, it was heavy on "mad
scientists who like power armor."  Even though Ravenfire and EMerald wore
armor designed by other people, they'd both had years to learn a lot of
technical skills, if only to help maintain the suits.  And Banshee had been
the one who designed Ravenfire's armor.  So leaving them on a spaceship with
minimal guard because they were just "normal women" (leaving aside
Ravenfire's very minor telekinesis) had been pretty stupid.  By this point,
the real complication would not be stopping Devastator's plan, it'd be
surviving whatever insane means the "Armor Angels" had used to stop that
     "System owned," Psiberbunk reported.  They already knew his artificial
psionics wouldn't do much against Devastator himself, but his off-the-shelf-
in-2112 cyberpathic implants still let him tear through "primitive screwhead"
systems pretty easily.
     Devastator himself was having extreme difficulty fending off Delta Rose,
between her race's inborn antigravity sheath and the photonic bursts that had
led to her recruitment by the Galactic Warrior Corps.  Catman had damaged
enough sensors that the self-styled Master of Force was having trouble even
seeing Delta Rose, and his defenses were largely ineffective against light.
     "I did recruit someone with inborn light powers, by the way," Catman
allowed himself a little gloating.
     Another beam of coherent light crackled in from the doorway, although
Devastator clearly saw that one coming and managed to avoid it.  Catman
hadn't disabled the sensors in the hallway, unfortunately.
     "Mind if we join the party?" EMerald asked, dropping the hologram that
had let her and the others evade detection up until that point.  She had
found her bulky green armor and donned it at some point.  She was flanked by
the rather more feminine hardsuits of Banshee and Ravenfire, the hair-like
coolant fibres on their helmets flaring as systems powered up to full.  "Let
me just jam that radar for you," she tapped out a command on the wrist keypad
of her suit.
     "I've got the active and passive sonar," Banshee added, an unsettling
thrum from her sonic systems permeating the air.
     "Goodbye thermals!" Ravenfire giggled, snapping her fingers and causing
small flames to run along all the walls.  The same basic system that let
Banshee vibrate the air combined with Ravenfire's telekinesis to create
vibration at the molecular level.  Not the safest thing to do on a spaceship,
Catman reflected.  But it was probably Highly Doomed already anyway, if the
ladies had been suited up for long.
     "By the way, boss-cat, we found his latest plan.  Nanomachines designed
to attack human DNA.  Nasty stuff.  Already sent along a countermeasure and
destroyed the on-site research.  Any orders?" EMerald was probably smirking
behind that helmet of hers.  She'd led ASH for the first year Edouard had
been on the team, but it was clearly a matter of being the least unsuited to
the task.  Once everyone got to know and trust Edouard, they agreed that
while he was probably the least powerful of their number, he was also the
best person to lead them.
     Suddenly, a wave of force lashed out and pinned everyone against the
walls, which were still on fire a little bit.  
     "ENOUGH!" Devastator roared.  "I'm impressed.  In a few seconds, you'll
probably manage to get free...I can't maintain a blind omnidirectional
assault for long.  And while I might be able to defeat you anyway, it's clear
this isn't a battle worth having.  Just remember, I only have to win once on
this world, and I've already won on many others!"
     With that, Devastator activated some hidden device and vanished.
     The ship shuddered again.
     "Owned, Psiberpunk?" Ravenfire made a moue of annoyance behind the clear
faceplate of her hardsuit.  "Shouldn't you have been able to stop something
like that?"
     "Rented?" Psiberpunk shrugged.  "Lease with an option?  He probably had
a physically isolated system I missed.  It's not like I've got milspec
intrusion systems.  I *did* keep him from making the whole ship leave this
dimension, though.  I'm not sure we would have gone along with it, either,"
he frowned, cables under the skin of his face making the expression far more
disturbing than it should have been.
     "Time to get out before the Terrible Trio's handiwork finishes
exploding," Catman nodded to Hellbound.
     "Once more into the hellhole," the literally flame-haired hero smirked.
     "That's what SHE said," Ravenfire quipped as she headed for the fiery
portal.  If Hellbound's dimension of exile wasn't *the* Hell, it was
certainly a reasonable facsimile, and none of them used it for transit
without a really good reason.
     Being on a Highly Doomed spaceship was a really good reason.

               *              *              *              *

[October 4, 2026 - The Serengeti, Africa]

     Of course, as soon as they left, the ship made its interdimensional
escape, since Psiberpunk was no longer holding it in place.  Either the
damage hadn't been fatal, or Devastator had a bulk discount on ships of that
build, because the next time he showed up he still had the thing.  It'd
finally become his prison, though, trapped halfway between realities and
unable to fully enter either.  Edouard wondered if Devastator was still
stuck, or if he'd gone away with the rest of the supers in 1998.
     Ah.  1998.  The end of the world again.  Almost everyone he knew or
cared about died that day.
     He picked up a simple metal camp cup from its place of honor on one of
the shelves. 


Next Issue:

     1998, the height of the Godmarket, and gods were always on the lookout
for a way to attract high-profile followers.  But how far would they go to
ensnare a simple catman?  Find out next week, in Catman: Minor Arcana #3,



     The ASH Champions campaign was marked by a LOT of crossovers, aka
totally ripping off other properties, not just Dreadstar.  One of the early
campaigns put them on board the Liberator from Blake's 7, hence the "BBC
sci-fi" space ship.  The high concept of that particular arc had been that a
superhero I'd designed in junior high had gotten thrown through spacetime and
stranded on Pern (Anne McCaffrey) a few years before the lost colony world
was rediscovered by the Federation that had established it.  Which I decided
was the Federation of Blake's 7, and Servalan was leading the recolonization
(well, recolonisation, she's British).  So, with the help of ORAC, the
draconic "between" and the faded echoes of the original time tunnel that had
gotten the hero stuck on Pern in the first place, the Liberator went back to
1989 to get help in fighting off a conquest of Pern.  Set found out he could
survive in a vacuum, and demonstrated that STR80 is reasonably effective
against spaceships built by the BBC effects department.

     Set actually had a Psychological Limitation worth 5 points, "Incapable
of making effective Presence attacks (-2d6 effect)."  His battle cries
included such memorable gems as "Nice tie, bozo!"  I think I actually gave
him a bonus for that one, on the grounds that he wasn't so much intimidating
his opponent as confusing him.

     Devastator was one of the Big Bads of the Third Age.  His real name is
Eric Harris, and you saw his counterpart in Edouard's world last issue.  In
the timeline diverged by Solar Max and Jen Kleinvogel at the end of Coherent
Super Stories #4, he instead went on to become Dragonfly II.  He did survive
past 1998 thanks to his half-in-half-out status, as seen in Academy #8 and
the first six issues of ASH, but didn't make it past 2023.  He mellowed a bit
during his decades of ghostly imprisonment, though.  Or went insane a
different way, sometimes it's hard to tell.

     The lineup presented in this story never worked together all at the same
time in the Champions campaign (which ended in 1992 in any case), in part
because both Hellbound and Banshee were played by the same person (who also
played Balder), Brian Biek.  Jason Campbell played Ravenfire, Matt Nelson
played EMerald (and her armor was modified from a Rocket Ranger suit from the
Torg RPG), David South played Oedi.  Set was played by Mike Molinsky, who
also wrote "The Day The Earth Cringed" (which can be found in the RACC
archives).  I can't recall who played Psiberpunk, it might have been the same
guy who played Rad.  Psiberpunk was a member of the same "Album" of The Rush
that gave us Superconductor, Chain Lightning and Mongo, but he hadn't earned
a song title yet when he was left behind.  And, of course, Delta Rose was
always an NPC.  Thanks to Facebook, I've actually reconnected with most of
the old ASH players.

     Surprisingly, there really wasn't a Dirty Pair undercurrent in that
campaign, but rather than try to find a way to call the three armored ladies
some variant of Knight Sabers, I figured a DP reference was more
appropriate.  The lack of DP is surprising both because it would have to be
about the only thing we DIDN'T rip off from such anime as was available to
us, and because one of the players had actually done subtitling on some Dirty
Pair.  I recently converted one of his tapes to DVD, in fact (Project

     At this point, everyone who appeared in the main action of this story is
in the ASH Gallery somewhere, except for Ravenfire.  Ravenfire's player
actually had serious aspirations of becoming a professional comic artist, and
did his own character art.  As far as I know, though, he never did go pro,
but given that his name is the same as one of the Image founders (different
middle initial, though) it's kinda hard to Google him.  :)


     For all the back issues, plus additional background information, art,
and more, go to !

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post, or check out our Yahoo discussion group, which can be found at !

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