ASH/HCC: CSS #24 - Rebirth Part 4 featuring Warendja
Dave Van Domelen
dvandom at eyrie.org
Thu Oct 14 18:08:25 PDT 2010
[The cover shows a man in a brown and gray bodysuit with gray mask
bursting out through the page with a high kick. The logo "WARENDJA" is
across the top, with "Rebirth Part Four" in a smaller font below it. The
price is proclaimed to be "Only $1!"]
.|, COHERENT An ASHistory Series
'|` SUPER STORIES #24 - Rebirth Part Four
Featuring Warendja copyright 2010 by Dave Van Domelen
[Excerpt from the Foreword to "ASH Origins: Coherent Comics' Third Heroic Age
- 20th Anniversary Edition" hardcover, published 2008 by Coherent Comics.]
The indie implosion of the late 1970s took a number of established
publishers with it, though, and Coherent Comics was one of the victims of the
collapse. It changed ownership five times over the next decade, always
printing just a bare minimum of reprint stories to maintain trademarks and
the occasional "the publisher's son always wanted to be an artist" comic.
The second "heroic age" of Coherent Comics had definitely come to an end in
the late 1970s, and it coasted along on the publishing equivalent of life
support for several years.
However, in the wake of the mid-80s "black and white implosion," things
were starting to look up for superhero comics. DC was revamping its entire
line in what became known as the "Post-Crisis" era. Marvel had discovered
several hot artists who would later split off to form Image. And the
speculator market's usual lack of long-term memory meant that another bubble
was forming, a bubble that Coherent's current owners decided to exploit.
However, unlike many companies that rode the speculator boom of the late
1980s and early 1990s into bankrupcy court, Coherent Comics took a more
careful approach, taking advantage of the market without succumbing to its
siren song. Expansion was slow and well-planned, even if the stories
themselves didn't seem to be quite so carefully plotted at the time. As a
result, twenty years later, while the Malibus and Valiants have come and
gone, Coherent Comics still maintains a small but sustainable niche on the
The book you hold in your hands collects phase one of the company's
plan, a series of $1 16-page one-shots released over the course of early 1988
that were used to test the waters. The cheaper, shorter format had been
tried before without a lot of success for ongoing titles (such as with
Eclipse's "New Wave" comic launched in 1985 and cancelled two years later),
but these were intended to be as much advertisement as product. The six with
the best sales would be assembled into the planned Academy of Super-Heroes
team book, which launched with Set, Bubba, Warendja, Strafe, Barnstormer and
Stormcloud. By the tenth issue, though, all but Rasher had joined, and the
Colonel and Barnstormer had been spun off as the core of the Veterans book.
Each issue was titled "Rebirth" followed by a part number:
The Mighty Set - Rebirth Part 1
The Colonel - Rebirth Part 2
Bubba da Gargoyle - Rebirth Part 3
Warendja - Rebirth Part 4
Barnstormer - Rebirth Part 5
Mylink - Rebirth Part 6
Strafe - Rebirth Part 7
Rasher - Rebirth Part 8
Stormcloud - Rebirth Part 9
EMerald - Rebirth Part 10
As you'll find, each story was written to be largely standalone, but
there's just enough connections that reading them in order is recommended.
While each featured an entirely new character, existing Coherent properties
were used to build the backstory (and drive sales for the reprint books that
were released at the same time). You'll notice very few "origin stories" in
this collection: an editorial decision was made to keep origins simple enough
to be related in flashbacks or through dialogue, concentrating on telling
stories about heroes AS heroes. If a character proved popular enough to
support a regular solo book, as in the case of the Colonel, EMerald or
Warendja, their origins would be delved into more deeply later on (see, for
instance, "The Colonel: Project Electric Warrior" TPB, most recently
republished in 2005).
Part Four introduced Warendja, the mystic martial artist with the totem
spirit of an ancient wombat. Yes, it sounds silly. In fact, much of the
character concept was salvaged from an aborted "funny animal" book that would
have been published in 1985 in an attempt to ride the coattails of Teenage
Mutant Ninja Turtles, but the erstwhile publisher went bankrupt and by the
time the property settled in new hands the TMNT-ripoff fad had passed.
However, it was decided that given how successful Spider-Man and Wolverine
were at the time (thanks in no small part to artists who would later found
Image), an animal-based but still visibly human hero would sell. And they
were right! While not the best selling of the Rebirth one-shots, it had a
strong enough showing to support a solo book from 1989-1992. Of course, in
1992 there was a significant reorganization of Coherent's publishing
practices, so one could argue that Warendja's book wasn't cancelled due to
poor sales so much as because it didn't fit the new editorial vision.
And now, for the stories! Hope you enjoy reading them as much now as
people did twenty years ago!
- The Editors
If there's one thing working with "Bubba da Gargoyle" last week taught
me, it's to stop complaining about how I got my powers. The poor guy's
cursed to slowly turn into unliving stone thanks to something horrible his
ancestors did...he's lucky some quirk is letting him switch between his
mostly human body and a stone form that is able to move around, but unless he
can find someone to lift the curse, he's not gonna live to see the 1990s. By
comparison, my story's just a little embarrassing.
But it didn't look like I was gonna have the time to sort out my
personal issues today.
I whirled around a lot faster than you'd expect, given how my default
mode is "couch potato". But keep in mind that housecats look like lazy lumps
until they totally freak out, too. I caught the ping pong ball that had
bounced off the back of my head before it had gone even two feet.
I didn't see anyone who could have thrown it.
This one came from the side, and I didn't bother trying to catch it,
just started moving towards whoever'd decided to pelt me. Probably some punk
kids. Chicago hadn't seen any supers since Lady Lawful moved to Detroit.
[As seen in the classic Brightsword #50! - Ed.] I still got a lot of people
treating me like someone who'd gotten lost on his way to a costume party. Or
like a nutcase. I might have a hard time arguing against that one, though.
Costumes might have a history going back to the old Freedom Alliance in WWII,
but they were still a bit insane if you thought about them too hard.
Back of the head again. Enough. I sat down on the sidewalk, cross-
legged. "Whatever," I stage-sighed, loud enough for my mysterious assailant
to hear. If this was meant to be an actual attack, something lethal would
have arrived already. They were just screwing with me. One thing the spirit
of the warendja taught me was to cool my jets. Let the world come to me,
don't run unless I have to. And if that didn't seem so heroic...well,
consider the competition! An evil Egyptian god trying to pass himself off as
a hero, a living gargoyle statue, and a gung-ho cyborg whose mere existence
could cause an international incident. [See the soon-to-be-classic The
Mighty Set #1, Bubba Da Gargoyle #1 and The Colonel #1, assuming your shop
hasn't already sold out! - Ed.]
"Aww, you're no fun," came a voice from the empty air in front of me
after a few minutes of waiting. Figured. Some animal-based powers included
special senses that would've let me find an invisible person, but the
warendja apparently wasn't that much better endowed than a human. Okay, good
night vision, but it was daytime at the moment.
"Depends on your definition of fun," I replied, calmly. My merely human
senses told me the speaker was farther away than he probably thought I could
reach, but well within the range of any of five kicks I could deliver out of
a sitting position. Invisibility probably made him a bit cocky. Or he just
had no combat training and didn't realize what an actual threat range was.
"I *am* the definition of fun," my invisible taunter replied. "But,
good thing for me, I don't need someone else to be fun. I can do that
myself. No, I need someone to be not-fun all upside the head of the guy
who's holding a friend of mine captive."
"Not-fun upside the head I do very well," I nodded. "I go by Warendja
when I wear this costume. And you might be...?"
"I might be Oprah Winfrey, but I'm probably not," came the snickered
reply. "And you might be a wombat, or I've wasted my degree in paleontology
from MIT. Wommmmmbat," he clearly found the sound of the word amusing.
"Actually, given my career, I've definitely wasted my degree in paleontology,
but that's neither here nor there nor in the Burgess Shale."
"I studied martial arts with a Chinese master who'd fled to Australia
in 1949. He had some weird ideas about totem animals he'd picked up
somewhere, and helped me get in touch with one. Didn't expect it to be a
prehistoric wombat, but you take what life gives you," I shrugged, deciding I
probably wasn't going to get any straight answers out of the invisible man,
and that badgering him would just make me look even crazier since I'd be
arguing with empty air. Best to play it cool and look like I was meditating
or something. "If there's a point somewhere in walking distance, I wouldn't
mind if you meandered over to it."
"Your mission, Mortal Wombat, should you choose to accept it, is to face
an eeeeevil mage who has captured my friend, the light in my eyes, Babs. I
was able to follow him after he captured her, but I can't get too close or he
senses me...somehow. And, well, the only martial arts I know come from
watching Bruce Lee movies and the Three Stooges. So I'm not really cut out
for this rescue mission."
"Does the evil mage have a name?"
"Probably. But he didn't go around saying things like, 'I, Lord Devious
Frevious, will sacrifice you to summon my dark masters!' to the empty air.
All quiet and shadowy, he was. No sense of theater, no sense of tradition.
Back in the old days, the bad guys told you who they were, even if they
didn't think anyone conscious was listening."
"I notice you're not telling me who *you* are," I replied, raising an
"Hey, I'm not really a bad guy, just an overaged juvenile delinquent,
Officer Krupke. I bring joy and happiness wherever I go, except maybe to the
janitorial crews who have to clean up the results."
"That still doesn't tell me what to call you, other than &%#$@!!,
"Who's there?" I played along.
I paused a moment. "Right. Third Base. Moving along, can you tell me
anything about the mage's powers, other than he's shadowy?"
KnockKnock sketched out what he'd been able to observe, and gave me the
address where his friend was being held captive. It was an apartment in one
of the less notorious projects...not as bad as Cabrini Green, but still the
sort of place where a few screams would probably get ignored and people
minded their own business.
"Come on, I'll give you a lift," KnockKnock's voice drifted away. A
garishly painted VW Beetle emerged from the alley, blinking the eyes that its
headlights had been shaped into. "Say hi to Sluggo the Buggo!"
"No thanks, I know a short cut," I really didn't want to be caught dead
in that clown car, and unless KnockKnock could turn it invisible as well,
dead is about how I'd be caught. Besides, I really did know a short cut.
There were a lot of downsides to channeling the spirit of an extinct species
of Australian critter, but one of the upsides was the connection with the
Dreamtime, a sort of next-door reality that permeated the waking world
without really being the waking world. Not dreams in the usual Western
sense, more like...legend. Stories. A realm of abstractions, what one of
the gen-ed courses I took in college called platonic forms.
All I had to do was "burrow" sideways into the Dreamtime, concentrate on
the essence of where I wanted to go, and dig back out. Saved a lot of
running around, once I knew where everything was, although it took a bit too
much concentration to use in a fight. Fortunately, I'd been to that
neighborhood before, so I knew the short cut and didn't have to ride in
It was a calculated risk. Most of the people would ignore me like they
ignored whatever the mage was doing. But there was a chance my target was
smart enough to pay some of them to act as lookouts, and odds were I wouldn't
be able to figure out who was on the payroll before it was too late.
Reaching the door KnockKnock had told me about, I simply kicked it in.
My upper body strength wasn't much better than what could be had from years
of training, but the spirit of the warendja gave me impressive leg strength,
and the door flew across the room, with me following before it had come to
"No!" hissed a man dressed in a cheap business suit, standing behind a
table just off to the side of where the door had landed.
I took in the room quickly, noting where things were and making snap
decisions about what was important. It was a purely mundane skill that my
old master had drilled into me. "The battlefield defeats the unprepared
warrior more surely than any enemy will," he had been fond of saying.
Especially after I'd tripped over some obstacle he'd introduced without my
The mage looked like some sort of middle management stiff who'd probably
picked up sorcery in the hopes he could use it to advance his career. He
certainly wouldn't have looked at all like a dark mage if not for, you know,
all the dark magic seeping from his skin. The table held a woman cloaked in
shadow, and not the sort of "keep it PG" artful shadows you might see on
television. No, this was like a sheet of dark silk, pinning the apparently
naked platinum blonde to the table. She was struggling, but didn't seem to
be fully aware of her surroundings. Most of the furnishings of the
apartment, assuming there had been any to start with, had been removed, and a
mystic circle was inscribed on the bare concrete floor in a variety of
substances, at least one of which was blood. All told, there was very little
in the room I could use, and it was quite possible that some of the
inscriptions were traps that could be turned against me.
"You will not stop me from feeding her light to my mistress!" the mage
hissed, the darkness pulsing around him. He might not have had the
traditional trappings, but now that he was talking he certainly had the
"Devious Frevious" dialogue down.
"So, you've got a mistress *and* a girl you keep here on the side? Must
be hell juggling your schedule," I snarked, putting on a burst of inhuman
speed towards the mage and then cutting away at the last second to drag my
foot across a big portion of the mystic circle. Wombats can briefly reach
speeds of about twenty-five miles per hour, and scaled up to human size that
meant I could hit highway speeds for a few seconds at a time on a good day.
As my foot crossed the boundary, it felt like I was dragging my leg through
boiling molasses, but the pain lessened as I defaced the symbols. Good to
know it wasn't totally boobytrapped. Just, you know, possibly lethal to a
normal person stupid enough to try to shove their leg through it.
"You little $#@*!" the mage hissed. Literally hissed, it was like his
vocal cords were out of commission and he was stage-whispering as loudly as
he could. "Do you have any idea what kind of deadlines I'm on? As in, I
will be dead if I miss them? Now I have to kill you, redraw the circle and
still get the ceremony completed in time to affect the quarterly balance
"Cooking the books with ritual magic? Okay, deregulation has gone too
far," I feinted a punch at his head, but then dropped to knock out two legs
of the table. I wasn't keen on touching him, what with the dark sheath that
practically boiled the air around him, but the table legs would make for
decent staves. And it might free "Babs," too.
"Oh, just die!" the mage rasped, reaching out and spitting darkness from
his fingertips. I rolled under the attack and grabbed the table legs,
sparing a moment's glance to confirm that Babs was still wrapped in the
darkness and staring blankly at nothing in particular as she struggled.
"Your aim stinks," I taunted, testing the heft of the wooden table
legs. "I'd say not to quit your day job, but I suspect you're actually more
dangerous to the public when you're behind a desk than when you're tossing
around magic blasts."
The floor suddenly turned black, and everywhere I was in contact with it
I felt a cold burning sensation, like frozen acid. A cold fire licked at the
tilted table where it touched the floor, eating away at it physically in the
same way the darkness felt like it was eating my spirit.
This would have been a really good time to discover that prehistoric
wombats could cling to walls or something. Too bad my totem animal wasn't a
spider or a gecko. As it was, I really only had one "safe" option.
I jumped, flipping over into a move I'd picked up from a Capoerista in
Brazil, and balanced for a split second on the end of the table leg held in
my left hand. I could feel my support weakening already, and pushed off into
a backflip that landed me straddling Babs at the high end of the table.
"...nice butt..." she mumbled.
"Great, NOW you wake up," I sighed. But I didn't have time to worry
about that, especially since it seemed unlikely she'd actually be awake
enough to make a difference in the next few seconds. And one way or another,
that's all the time that was left on the clock. The table was being eaten
away, and while the mage was obviously straining to maintain the spell, I
wasn't going to count on him giving up before I was dead.
I threw the half-burnt table leg at the mage's head, and he lifted a
hand to ward it off. But that was only a diversion, and it worked. Another
leap left me with my legs clamped around his head, and I twisted savagely.
"That...hurt..." the mage groaned, struggling to stand after I'd let go.
His head was at an impossible angle, and it affected his balance. Well, the
angle was impossible for anyone *alive*.
Any lingering guilt I might have felt about using lethal force was
replaced by the worry that I didn't have enough force available to BE lethal
to this twisto.
I didn't have to worry long.
"Not as much as THIS will!" Babs snarled, a stream of light like a
rainbow firehose lashing out from her fingertips and playing across the
mage. Having his neck broken hadn't killed the guy, but it *had* broken the
spell he'd been using on Babs. No wonder she was the light in KnockKnock's
eyes. I had to look away, and even then I was practically blinded. Like a
wombat, I paid for my good night vision by being susceptible to really bright
The howl that emerged from the mage's bent windpipe was chillingly
inhuman, a warbling ululation that was the first thing other than a hoarse
whisper I'd heard come out of him, and I'm not sure it was even a sound that
his throat could have made. More like the frustrated cry of a horror from
beyond space, wailing as its conduit to our world was severed.
Once the brightness faded enough that I could see clearly again, I could
see that the mage's body was decaying rapidly, more like a sand castle under
the waves than any sort of organic decomposition. Within moments, nothing
was left but some blackened dust.
The next thing I noticed was that Babs wasn't quite as naked as she'd
looked when pinned to the table. Well, she was topless, but she had on a
pair of bicycle shorts and something that looked like a more durable version
of ballet slippers.
I must have been staring, because Babs smirked and waved a hand,
suddenly wearing a frilly red top and a dark green skirt. "Why waste money
on clothes when I can make holographic ones that look like whatever I want?"
She made a motion like smoothing her skirt, but the effect was marred by the
fact her hands sometimes passed right through the "fabric".
"Chicago. Winter," I replied, trying to sound disinterested. She was
definitely good-looking, but there was an air of "trying too hard" around her
that put me off. The kind of girl my mother warned me about, and my mother
had been a hippie.
"Okay, I'll grant you that," she smiled. At least she didn't giggle.
"But it's...it WAS a lovely June day when I was last outside. If people
could only keep things cleaner around this town I might not have even
bothered with the shorts."
"I'm not wearing any shorts," KnockKnock's voice came from the hallway.
"Thank you SO much for sharing," I sighed.
* * * *
"It's not like he has no sense of humor," KnockKnock said from the
passenger seat as Sluggo the Buggo drove itself, Babette resting behind the
wheel. Normally, Babette flew wherever she wanted to go, but between the
whole captivity thing and that huge energy blast, she was a bit tapped out.
She hadn't even had the energy to maintain her holographic clothing more than
a few minutes. Fortunately, there was a t-shirt in the back seat that she'd
thrown on, so they wouldn't have to worry about any curious cops noticing a
topless woman "driving" Sluggo. "But I don't think he's JESTER material,
yanno? Might be able to convince him to help with a hack, I guess, but
membership ain't happening."
"Pity. He really does have the cutest butt I've seen in a long time,"
"I still don't see how a butt can be cute."
"Maybe once you hit puberty you will."
"I mean a guy's butt."
"Maybe once you come out of the closet you will."
"But it's nice and warm in the closet! And I'm still not wearing any
shorts, so it gets cold."
"You're not wearing any shorts because your invisibility suit covers
everything up anyway, KnockKnock."
"No need to tell Combat Wombat that. Anyway, back on topic, inviting
him to join JESTER would be a bad idea. He might be able to handle the
hazing, he seemed like a good straight man...unless he's closeted...but I
doubt you'd get the votes. Too much of an inconvenient ethical streak."
"Then maybe I need to find out whatever team he's on and join that,"
Babette mused. "Remember the Barnstormer ID I used for that prank in
St. Louis? Maybe I can tweak that and play at superheroing for a while...."
Probably another High Concept Challenge. :)
One of the conceits of Coherent Super Stories, which I don't always
adhere to, is that it reprints stories that were published in some alternate
reality (called ASH-Prime) where the ASH Universe properties were part of the
media landscape stretching back at least as far as the silent films (The
White Hat), if not the penny dreadfuls or farther. Never a major player, but
a significant "second tier" publisher like Comico or Dark Horse. In this
issue I push that conceit extra hard. :) The corporate reorganization of
1992 doesn't map onto any specific incident in the real comics industry, it's
when I graduated college and closed down the old Champions campaign, later
mining it for background for my Modern Knights playtest (1992-3) and the ASH
stories online (1994 onward).
This issue was written for High Concept Challenge #14, "Awesome Animal
Heroes". Since I'd already done squirrels and penguins to the point that
they might not fit the spirit of the rules (take an animal you might not
expect to make for an impressive hero and make them impressive) I fell back
on the humble wombat. Albeit a prehistoric one...not that Warendja
wakefieldi was a Dire Wombat or anything. As far a I know, anyway. You can
check http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wombat for the basics of wombattery,
including things like their tendency to take shortcuts, appear lazy but move
rapidly when necessary, and their ability to kick your skull in.
MIT does not actually offer a degree in paleontology that I can find,
but they do have a program or two that is related (Earth, Atmospheric and
Planetary Sciences being the current major), so it's possible that KnockKnock
actually does have a degree in paleontology from MIT. Or he could have been
joking. But given that he calls pranks "hacks," he probably did at least get
thrown out of MIT.
There's a little bit of behind the scenes retconing in this story. The
original Champions campaign ASH had Badger (who later became Fracture) as a
founding member, but that was never actually important to a story here, so I
decided to change it once I decided I really wanted Warendja to be a founder.
Certainly, a lot of the Champions version had to be changed to work in this
universe, so another little retcon is fine. Badger/Fracture is still part of
the team, he just joined later and his early roles (including a sort of
Booster/Beetle duo with Bubba da Gargoyle) will now have been taken by
Warendja. I'll worry about when the transition took place later, if it ever
becomes important to a story. Every other character mentioned in the Rebirth
titles list, however, was a player character at some point in 1988 or 1989.
Rasher was created during our brief flirtation with the Enforcers RPG (we
switched back to Champions when 4th Edition came out), but never played,
hence the in-story "never joined ASH" bit.
Speaking of original campaign stuff, the criminal group CLOWN played a
large part in the early adventures of ASH, in large part because two of my
players (Stormcloud and the Colonel's players) used to game with the guy who
wrote the CLOWN supplement for Champions, so I had access to a lot of
supplemental material that hadn't made it into the book. Barnstormer really
WAS a double-agent for CLOWN in the game, although her CLOWN handle wasn't
Babette. I simply can't remember what it was, just that it was French (it
might have started with the letter M) and she dressed like a French Maid when
working for CLOWN. In Mainline ASH, CLOWN is replaced by JESTER (Justice-
Evading Superhero-Tormenting Entertaining Rogues) and TEEHEE the CLOWN Car is
Sluggo the Buggo. I haven't found analogues for all the members, since I
didn't need to...in fact, I came up with Sluggo and KnockKnock while writing
this story. KnockKnock may or may not take Merry Andrew's role as leader,
but he might just be a regular idea-generator. I did make up a few of my own
characters for CLOWN, and could conceivably use them here, but one was
Presto! (who I recycled as a leader of the Rush) and the only other I can
recall was March Hare, a martial artist who'd be too close to Warendja to
make sense in this story (as in, why go to an outsider for help if March Hare
Will the other Rebirth stories ever see the light of day? Well, I
currently have no plans for them, but it does give me an excuse to revisit
the original ASH later on if I feel a story comin' on.
For all the back issues, plus additional background information, art,
and more, go to http://www.eyrie.org/~dvandom/ASH !
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