One scientific mishap, and hours later I’m sewing a costume. Déjà diddly vu. Okay, world, better hang on to your hat

- Peter Parker, Alpha: Big Time .1

The heroes appeared around about World War II. Some say it was a result of the Nazis’ mystical and scientific experiments; others say it’s what the Manhattan Project was really all about; others blame it on the Babalon Working, or solar flares, or global carbon dioxide levels, or anything else you can imagine. All that is known for sure is that the scales of the world suddenly tipped toward wonder.

It started with Hitler taking the Spear of Longinus, affording him access to divine magics: the secrets of flight, searing blasts of pure light, mystical shields that protected his armies from bullets. He called himself the Volkengel – the Angel of the People.

Then in the midst of Der Fuhrer’s reign of terror, a hero emerged: Union, a super-strong, nearly invincible woman from Morocco who would not allow the Volkengel to sweep the Allies before him. She met Hitler in battle in Berlin, a fight that took several hours but ended in Der Fuhrer losing the Spear of Destiny and his powers and taking his own life rather than admitting defeat. Weakened from the fight, she was nearly destroyed by Japan’s superhuman defender, Kusanagi, a former kamikaze pilot in a highly advanced suit of powered armor, but was rescued from defeat by the similarly-equipped American flying ace, Sky Knight. Union may have been the world’s first superhero, but it was obvious from that moment she would not be alone.

The floodgates were opened. Men and women appeared who could control flame, read minds, travel at the speed of light as easy as jogging. Brilliant minds produced suits of armor and weapons that seemed to make dreams come true. Lab accidents and spilled waste were as likely to produce supermen or monsters as cancer or pollution. Magic, dismissed as legend, began to work again; myths began to not only come true, but come to visit. Two years after Union defeated the Volkengel, the first alien contact was made; the intellectual cross-pollination coupled with supergeniuses working for various governments accelerated the planet’s technology at lightspeed.

Of course, there was darkness with the light. Mad inventors created world-rending doomsday devices. Selfish and fickle people stole miraculous devices, or inherited powers that were not to the world’s benefit. Dark gods sent their minions to sow strife among humanity.

Superheroes and supervillains did battle. Gods and monsters walked the Earth. The world inside the world was explored, time was traveled through, the Moon and various nations were conquered and liberated. Aliens invaded and were repelled. But little by little, the world edged toward utopia.

Until…

In 1985, the West Coast of California lit up with reports of attacks from what were described as “the shadows of giant spiders.” They appeared seemingly at random, attacking in packs, with a seemingly unerring ability to track down their preferred targets: superhumans. They were assumed to be creations of Dr. Next or Genepool or the Engineer, new monsters from old hands; but then those madmen were attacked themselves, and it was clear this was something new. Psychics and seers and detectives sought out the source of this new threat, and found two things: one, the creatures were spreading; two, the creatures had a leader who had not yet reared their head. The newly-christened Stalkers were found in the Midwest, then Mexico, then Ireland and Japan; uneasy alliances formed as heroes and villains found themselves fighting for their survival. After weeks of battling the Stalkers, the Honor Guard took the great risk of capturing one alive; Panoply and Dr. Phase, two of the most brilliant minds in the world, joined up with Mainframe the living supercomputer and Prometheon the hyperintelligent robot to attempt to communicate with the creature. Weeks of work and a Stalker siege of the Honor Guard headquarters finally bore fruit, and the creature began to speak, telling the heroes that “The end is near” and that soon “the skies would be empty once more.”

Then came the trump card – while the heroes were focused on finding the Stalkers’ leader, the Stalkers were seeking the supervillain known as Loophole, a minor villain with the power to create portals through space. When the Stalkers found him, they threatened him into opening a portal in the middle of San Diego to an unknown location, out of which stepped the towering, coruscating shadow of a ten-foot-tall man, an image as iconic as that of JFK being shot. The figure announced itself to the city of San Diego as “The End,” and declared itself new monarch of the city.

When the police attempted to stop it, the End incinerated them. The National Guard succeeded in bothering it with tank fire, but that was not enough to save them. Then the heroes began to respond – Union, the second Sky Knight, Fujin the Japanese god of wind, the un-powered vigilantes called the Posse, and more. The End slew the leader of the Posse within seconds of facing him for the first time, mortally wounded Fujin’s human host, and in another iconic and horrifying image, broke Union’s neck on live TV.

The heroes – the world – were crushed, and uncertain of what to do next. The Stalkers took over the ruins of San Diego, holding horrifying rituals in honor of the End, which they seemed to worship as a god. It seemed hopeless, but in that moment, a plan was hatched.

The heroes rallied, and in an unprecedented move, teamed up with the villains of the Death Squad, the Invisible College, the War Machine. Soldiers and police and first responders armed themselves with weapons developed by the world’s foremost gadgeteers, designed to destroy the Stalkers. Under the leadership of Apex and the Honor Guard, they developed a stratagem that might stop the slowly unspooling swath of destruction radiating from the West Coast of the United States. Apex, Megalith, and the other hard-to-kill supers engaged the End head on, while the psychics of the world assaulted its mind. The gadgeteers and mechanical supers piloted massive mechs and ships into battle against the Stalkers, providing air support for the heroes and heroic normals on the ground. The Stalkers were destroyed, overwhelmed by superior, creative strategy, and the heroes were able to take the fight to the End itself, hard. The magician known as Seeress freed Loophole from the End’s control, and he re-opened his portal. The heroes drove the End back through the portal created by its slave, Loophole – and they followed.

No-one knows to this day exactly what happened on the other side of the portal; only that the End was defeated, and that only three people came back through the portal – the supervillains called Fracture and Bloody Mary, and the superhero called Savant. Bloody Mary voluntarily committed herself to the Morrison Psychiatric Hospital, giving up her former moniker; Fracture was arrested not weeks later, ranting and destroying a mall. Savant addressed the media, simply saying that the End had been defeated, and that the only request from the fallen was that people not mourn, before flying away from the conference. It was the last time any superhero was seen on Earth.

People did mourn. Statues were erected. Public funerals were held. And when the weeping and the wailing were done, the planet did something too many who lived through the Battle of San Diego remember all too well – the planet moved on.

It’s been almost thirty years. The wonder has leaked out of the world. There are no superheroes anymore. Even the brief fad for vigilante gangs has faded, leaving the heroes to the realm of memory and fiction. Magic and super-tech are all but gone, devoured by the black market and greedy collectors, the stuff of legends or rumors rather than the everyday. Villains are simpler, if no less egotistical – fanatics and drug kingpins, militias and sociopaths. The only reminders of the heroes who were are the statues in the town squares, the advanced technology created by their hands, and the sad, nostalgic memories of the forty- and fifty-somethings who were children of the Age of Heroes.

Until now…

Great Responsibility

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