There are nights, standing at the peak of the mountain on my volcanic island, looking at the stars, that I think about the old days. The first man to recognize me as a villain was Captain Strong – not the Captain of today, but his father, Captain Strong Senior.
When I met him, he was working in a sideshow as a young strong-man, pulling along cars with his teeth and breaking animal bones between his muscular thighs. He got into the hero business when he saw me rob a Jewelry Showcase. I wasn’t very subtle about it, back then I loved the flash and the bang – I was all chemical fireworks, knockout gas and alarm bells. I was robbing the showcase for the Emerald of Iris, which I was going to use to focus the power on my tissue enhancement machine. The idea was to create a machine that would allow living things to regenerate tissue. I liked to call it a controlled cancer, which was not a term that took off. It was an early prototype that sometimes would cause cells to develop out of control and kill a person. Science is a learning process. Everyone knows that.
We were both so young. That first time, he ran from his gym to the showcase, still wearing his leather weight-belt, the sweat of running in that summer day on his brow with barely enough breath from the run to tell me “Stop, Fiend!”
It was his first foray into the hero-business and I will never forget how his sweat gleamed on his sun-kissed skin, or how square his jaw was, or how broad his shoulders. Later he would don a short cape, get a color scheme of yellows and reds and wear a mask. But in that moment, it was just us sparring, a young bodybuilder and a new villain, dancing our first dance.
I shot him full of knockout juice and left him to die in a chemical fire. But I won’t say that I’m not glad he survived.
I built him the most elaborate death-traps, because though I knew he was strong, it’s his brain I always wanted to test, to understand, and he never disappointed me. It was like watching a mouse solve a puzzle – I could see how to get out, and watching his little mind figure out what lever to press to make the spinning blades of doom stop was always entertaining. Sharks, alligators, giant bear traps, rotating blades on a conveyor belt – oh the fun we had.
And then someone shot him. Right in the chest, breaking his breastbone and shooting through the muscle of his heart. He had been on patrol in his home city, and there was a break in at an electronics store. He rushed in, as always, half cocked, not wearing any armor –impeded his movements, he used to say – and was shot in the chest, twice. Bang Bang.
The police never found his killer. Oh, they traced the bullet that killed him down to a gun that was stolen and sold and resold, right to a small time crook, but by that time, the papers said that crook had skipped town. Changed his name and his hair and grew a beard. Ran like the devil was on his heels. Ran like a man who wasn’t afraid of prison, but of hell, of a creature who had loved someone very much, a person who was the only thing keeping that creature from becoming something more terrible, more evil than the world was ready for. A creature who had one man who was keeping her robbing banks rather than murdering entire towns for the pleasure of it. A creature who now could only be sated by the tears of pain from the man who killed the person she loved.
Like I said, the police never found him.
The old days are gone, and there is something more sharp and vicious about today. Change is inevitable, and the world spins beneath us regardless of gunshot wounds and death traps. In the face of all that, I like to keep my sense of fun. Even in tragedy, we can smile when we hear the screaming from the lava pit, knowing that even though the vocal chords of our enemies can be torn to shreds in their own pain, they can always be re-grown.
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