LNH: Easily-Discovered Man #51 (2/2)

EDMLite robrogers72 at gmail.com
Thu Mar 15 12:58:28 PDT 2012

(Part 2 of "Easily-Discovered Man #51" begins here)

     It wasn't that Substitute Lad's face was scarred, or
even scratched -- in its porcelain perfection, Sub's face
looked better than it had before the attack, better than
any human face had a right to look.

     And that was the problem, really.  As in _The Polar
Express,_ or _Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within,_ or any
other early-2000s movie designed to frighten children with
the cold, uncanny perfection of its digitally-rendered
characters, Substitute Lad's face looked like the eerie
approximation of a human face by someone who understood
design better than they understood humanity.

     It was all I could do to keep from looking away before
he returned the mask to his face.

     "I can bench-press buildings.  Read the minds of
dead people.  Fly through the heart of the sun," said
Substitute Lad.  "There are times I think that my powers
make me the closest thing this universe has to a god.
I've even thought about calling myself 'Substitute Lord,'
just to make the point."

     "A being with the power of a god, but none of its
wisdom, would be like a rudderless ship," Easily-Discovered
Man said.  "Powerful, but ultimately directionless, and
useless as a vehicle either for understanding or confronting
the world."

     "You're probably right," Substitute Lad agreed.
"Point is, in the world we live in, even gods can get
mugged.  And if someone with my powers can't come away
from a scuffle with a minor super-villain without looking
like a monster... then what chance does someone like you
or Lite have?"

     He turned to look at Jennifer and the Prof's wife.
"And I'm a guy without a family, without people who care
about me... hell, the Professor and Hector and a couple of
stalkers from TMZ are probably the only people who would
show up at my funeral," Substitute Lad said.  "Nobody would
have to usher my wife down to the morgue to identify the
body.  No daughter of mine would ever have to watch my death
broadcast over and over again on cable news."

     Easily-Discovered Man placed one hand on Substitute
Lad's armored shoulder.

     "No one shall be sounding the dirges for you, son,"
he said.  "Not while Easily-Discovered Man draws breath."

     Substitute Lad turned to look at him, then, and I saw
Easily-Discovered Man's glowing face reflected in the dull
red mirror of his mask.

     "You're a good man, Professor.  But you aren't
listening," Substitute Lad said.  "You always talk about
what we do as a never-ending battle.  But you know as well
as I do that there's no such thing."

     "Clearly, you've never asked a fan of Spider-Man how
he feels about 'One More Day,' " I said.

     "Sooner or later, the adventures of Easily-Discovered
Man have to end," Substitute Lad said.  "You know this.
And you can keep on going, hoping that today, you'll be
strong enough and Lite will be smart enough and I'll be
powerful enough to keep whatever it is we run into from
ending our lives, even though you have to know that one
of these days, one of us -- maybe all of us -- is going
to fall."

     Substitute Lad turned his mask from the Prof to the
men and women perched on the chairs and couches around him.

     "Let the world remember Easily-Discovered Man in his
prime," he said.  "You don't even have to formally retire.
Let the details of your disappearance remain a mystery.
Like when Captain America became Nomad.  Or when Batman
got sent back to the past and became... a pirate, or a
caveman, or something.  I never could figure that series

     I could see by the Prof's expression that Substitute
Lad's words had hit home.  If there was one thing that
Easily-Discovered Man liked more than actually being a
super-hero, it was the thought that his actions were
following in the footsteps of some famed fictional hero.

     "That's not going to be easy," I pointed out.
"Disappearing isn't the easiest thing in the world to do
when you show up on Google Earth as a big glowing dot."

     "Minor -- though, indeed, crucial -- details," said
the Prof, as though shaking off the remnants of a dream.
"However, I must take issue with the notion that it was my
choice to don the mask of Easily-Discovered Man and become
a crusader in the cause of justice.  For ever since Fortune,
that most tempestuous of divine beings..."

     "Gave you the radioactive finger," Jennifer Wong said.

     "...did choose to bestow upon me that unearthly
power that e'en now causes evildoers to quake in direst
fear, I have had no choice but to employ those abilities
a a force for good," the Prof continued.  "I did not
seek these strange and wonderful powers, but neither
can I run from the responsibility they confer."

     "Didn't seek... You spent twenty-four hours
hanging around the microwave lab at Dave Thomas Deluxe
University," Jennifer said.  "What did you _think_
was going to happen?"

     "If I could..." ReVamp Lass began, but one glare
from Mrs. Prof sent her scampering back to the sofa.

     "I'll grant you that you have probably done more
in what you call the cause of justice than any other
glowing man in history," the Prof's wife said.

     "Why... thank you, Irene," said the Prof, touched.

     "But what about your other powers, Theo?" she asked.

     "My... other powers?"

     "When my sister died last April, you had the power
to console me.  To comfort me. To make me believe there
was still someone left in this world who truly cared
about me," Irene Wong said.  "Instead, you chose to
spend your time fighting a giant goldfish."

     "Carassion!" cried the Prof and I at the same time.

     "Took me an entire week to get the smell of fish
out of the Easily-Discovered Van," I said.  "The detailing
place made me promise never to bring it in again."

     "And when I was performing at the regional dance
finals last April, you had the power to tell me you believed
in me, that you felt what I was doing was at least as
interesting to you as anything your... sidekick did," said
Jennifer Wong, glaring at me.

     "I don't know why I thought you'd be there for me.
You haven't attended one of my recitals since you began
wearing that costume," Jennifer continued.  "Sure enough,
on the day I stood in front of all those people and said
I was dedicating my performance to my father... where was
he?  Oh, yes.  Shaking his fist at some nut armed with a

     "Glockenspiel," I corrected.

     "And when the university was in danger of losing its
accreditation last April, and every member of every
department was working long into the night to pull together
all of the information required by the evaluating committee,
where was our most distinguished tenured professor?" asked
Professor Dahl.

     It occurred to me that an awful lot of things seemed
to have happened last April -- though, since the "Infinite
Leadership Crisis" had somehow transformed it into an
Infinite April" of 500 days, this really shouldn't have been
all that surprising.

     "That's the question I was asked over and over again
by my colleagues, by my students, by members of the
committee, and by the Board of Trustees," Dahl said. "And
as usual, I had nothing to tell them.  Professor Wong
simply disappeared one day, without so much as a text to
let us know where he was.  He had the power to change the
lives of every student, every instructor, every
administrator and every staff member... and he did nothing."

     "Not to get all Jeremy Bentham on you guys," I said,
"but if the Prof here hadn't stopped Doctor Glockenspiel
from blowing up the Brenton Island nuclear power plant
last April, none of you would be here to give him a hard
time about it."

     I looked from My-Dall to Mrs. Wong to Substitute Lad
to the woman who was still knitting away in the far end of
the Wongs' sofa.  I remembered what the Prof had told me
once, that most people forced themselves to ignore the world
of super-heroes and villains going on around them in order to
avoid  a constant, debilitating state of anxiety, and that
as a result, few people really appreciated what the Legion of
Net.Heroes accomplished.

     I thought about that, and I tried to keep the anger out
of my voice.

     I failed.

     "Don't any of you appreciate that sometimes -- just
sometimes -- saving the world has to come before anything
else?" I said.  "You're busting the Prof's chops because
he wasn't there for something that was important to you.
But if you looked at the big picture..."

     The Prof cleared his throat.

     "I fear that here I must interject, my stalwart
companion," said Easily-Discovered Man.  "Tempting as it
may be to embrace them, utilitarian ethics have no place
in the philosophical arsenal of the super-hero.  Were we
not to consider the needs of the individual as just as
important -- if not more so -- as the needs of the many,
we would fall into that error that causes so many of our
opponents to believe they are acting according to the best
interests of all."

     He took a deep breath, then sighed.  "My family...
my friends... are quite correct in intimating that my
conduct has been anything but heroic as far as they are
concerned," he continued.  "Every member of the Legion
must sacrifice his own well-being for the benefit of
the group, and the society it protects, but 'tis not
fitting that those closest to my heart should have
suffered as a result."

     "Some benefit to the Legion you've been," snorted
the woman at the edge of the couch, never looking up
from her knitting.  "Seems to me they'd have been better
off if you'd never been a member."

     "Well, thanks for your input, Madame Defarge," I
snapped.  "Who died and left you in charge of deciding
who deserves to be a member of the Legion?"

     The room, which had been relatively quiet before,
approached the stillness of absolute zero.

     At last, the woman spoke.

     "No one died," the woman said, laying her needles
down and looking me in the face.  "My son only lost his
mind while playing sidekick to your Professor."

     I stared, stunned.  I'd never seen this woman before
tonight, and yet there was something unmistakably familiar
about her squat, pale form and tiny, seedlike eyes.

     It wasn't until I glanced at the magenta yarn at the
end of her needles, however, that I recognized her face as
that of the most dangerous super-villain I'd ever faced
-- the Prof's former sidekick.

     "You..." I stammered.  "You're Plummet's mother."


    NEXT ISSUE: The secret origin of Plummet revealed!  The
untold story of the _other_ Easily-Discovered Man Lite!  All
this... and a dramatic decision that will forever change
Easily-Discovered Man in a story we're strongly inclined
to call "Unmasquerade."

    CHARACTERS: Easily-Discovered Man, Easily-Discovered Man
Lite, Cynical Lass, Substitute Lad, My-Dall, Plummet and
related characters are (c) the author.

     Kid Recap is (c) Matt "Badger" Rossi.  Footnote Girl is
(c) Saxon Brenton.  ReVamp Lass II is (c) Jeff McCoskey.

    SPECIAL THANKS: to those who chose Cynical Lass as their
favorite supporting character in the 2009 RACCie Awards.
Yes, it's been that long since the last issue.

    "If we burn our wings
    Flying too close to the sun
    If the moment of glory
    Is over before it's begun

    If the dream is won
    Though everything is lost
    We will pay the price
    But we will not count the cost"

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