Too Many Long Boxes!
   
   

End of Summer
 

A Meeting on Earth Prime

by Bob Meadows

Clark heard the yelling eight blocks away. Navigating Manhattan's streets at super-speed, he arrived at the townhouse on Central Park West before the yells had begun to echo. He leapt to the tenth story balcony, where a thin woman with a shock of white hair opened the door.

"Hola, Freda. Que pasa?"

"Como esta, Senor Kent? Entre, por favor," said the housekeeper, her chin held higher than her confidence. "Everyone has joined Senor Wayne"

"In the reading room," Clark finished, a sly smile crossing his lips. "X-ray vision. Super hearing. You know."

Alfreda Leon gave a huff that let Clark know how unimpressed she was. Clark stepped through the doorway and headed down a long hallway toward the yelling he'd heard on the street.

"Dammit! Dammit! Dammit! I am going to break him in two!"

Clark entered the reading room, his face stern. He didn't notice the coin collection, the paintings of Pagliacci, or the stuffed pterodactyl that hung from the ceiling. His eyes watched Bruce Wayne storm around the room, clutching something in his hands. Clark glanced closer and saw it was a magazine. He knew why Bruce was enraged. The magazine was the reason they had all gathered.

J'onn J'onzz stood by the mantle, towering above it. Craig Batsun was late, but Flash Allen and Diana Al-Faisal sat on a hunter green leather sofa. A cup of tea rested before Diana; her cigarette sent wisps of smoke that Barry fanned away. Their faces told Clark the same thing as their heartbeats: They were pissed.

"That goddamn Miller," Bruce ranted, holding the magazine like a used piece of toilet paper. "Don't ever let me come face to face with him."

Flash looked at Clark.

"What are we going to do about this crap, Clark?" he said.

Clark lifted his chin toward Bruce, who stopped yelling.

"It's not just Miller," Clark said, a steel edge to his voice. "It's all of them. Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster sold me out from the start. I had a deal with them, but look what happened. They turned my character into a white man and put me in a skintight outfit. A brother would never run around in a getup like that. Not even in the Seventies."

"I'm not gay," Flash announced.

Clark cleared his throat and found the pterodactyl suddenly fascinating.

Diana reached for her cigarette and took another drag. Bruce and J'onn rolled their eyes.

"I saw that!" Flash yelled, his head moving so fast that his words were aimed at both men. "I'm not gay!"

"Well neither am I, Flash" said Bruce, throwing the magazine on the table. It was Frank Miller's 'Dark Knight Strikes Back.' "But look at what these guys have done to my namesake. Put him in some stupid bat costume. Had him running around with a little boy, an eight year old in red and yellow tights for God's sake. And then they named him Dick. What the hell are they trying to say? I'm Bruce Wayne, I'm one of the..."

"..Richest men in the world," interrupted Diana. "Yes, we all know of your inherited wealth, Bruce."

"And your inherited title, Princess" Bruce shot back. "Or should I call you 'Wonder Woman'? The way they portray you, you may as well be called Lesbian Chick."

Diana ignored Bruce. As a princess from Saudi Arabia's royal family, she had no use for capitalists. "The point," she said, putting out her cigarette, "is that each of us has sold these people the right to license our likenesses. We have all been adventurers. To borrow a phrase, we all have abilities far beyond those of mortal men."

Her eyes fell on Clark. He winked back and smiled.

"The Moulton fellow called my land Paradise Island," she said. "We consider it so as well, but the concept of me leading a race of Amazons who run around naked is an abomination against Islam."

"So is smoking," Bruce said.

Diana didn't bite. "Something must be done, Clark."

"No doubt," answered Clark. "J'onn, my man, you been quiet. Care to share your thoughts?"

J'onn often kept silent because Earth languages hurt his tongue. He'd come to the planet years earlier, crash landing in the Pacific Ocean. He'd lived underwater for years before discovering humans on dry land. He was far older than the others. When he spoke, they listened.

"Not given proper respect," J'onn said. His broken English combined with his alien throat to make his words sound like gargling. "Writers words change much. Too much."

J'onn was silent for an instant, then continued. This time he used his mind but made the others think he was speaking. He saw no reason to reveal the extent of his abilities. Mind control was easy to conceal.

"All of you know that I am not of this world. But I am also not from Mars. No one would ever think to call me a 'Martian Manhunter' or an 'Aqua-Man'. I find these names at best simple and at worst, derogatory. I see no reason for the writers to categorize me in that way, to place all of us in boxes with these preposterous names."

Bruce jumped in.

"He's right. Batman? Batman? Why would I call myself Batman? Why would I name myself after a bat?"

"Exactly," said Flash. "My folks nicknamed me 'Flash' before I can remember. But it's not the Flash. Just Flash. Geez, that?s so stupid. You're the only one with a cool name, Clark. Superman. That's great."

"I'd have called myself Superbadassman, personally," Clark said, chuckling.

The others laughed with him. "But why have code names at all? Why do they need secret identities?"

"Can't tell it's you, Clark, without the glasses," Bruce said, staring at Clark's glasses-free face.

"They are seriously tripping," Clark said. "Police don't have secret identities. Why do our characters need them?"

Flash said: "And that one character, Elongated Man? Who would take that as a code name? Plastic Man, maybe. But if you had powers like that, you'd probably just be Stretch. It's so ridiculous. Stupid names. Stupid costumes. What's with those ear things on my head?"

"On your character's head," J'onn thought/said.

"What?" asked Flash.

"You said my head, but it's not. It's the character's head."

"Right. His head."

"At least your character doesn't have a cape," Clark said.

"Or a cape that grows about 40 feet depending on how you're standing," Bruce added. "They may as well have called my guy ?The Cape?."

All except Diana laughed at Bruce's line.

"Allah give me strength," she said lighting another cigarette. "It's a complete indignity. Look at how they portray me. Look at how they portray all women in these books, with bosoms that would need anti-gravity devices and who 'fight crime' wearing swimsuits. Men must take these into the bathroom to relieve their sexual desires."

Bruce and J'onn shared a furtive glance.

"I saw that," Diana snapped. "My patience is how you say? Not without limits."

Bruce gave Diana a smirk. The princess growled.

"They even made a character out of that one guy," Flash said to break the tension. "Harold Something. Remember him?"

J'onn looked confused.

"J'onn, it was before we met," Flash continued. "There was this little guy named Harold. He wanted to join us. Said he had this little green ring that could do all these magic things. Craig invited him in. The guy starts doing all these tricks with this ring, making giant hammers and huge pile drivers and crap. Clark here, he asks if he can see the ring."

Flash's voice sped up recounting the story. At this point he sounded like a fast-forwarded Alvin and the Chipmunks cassette. Diana and Bruce, who didn't possess super-speed, strained to decipher his words.

"Harold takes it off, and Clark looks at it, turns it over a few times, then looks back at the guy. He says 'So what can you do now?' Harold just looks at him, not understanding. Clark repeats the question. The guy just starts in with 'I call myself Green Lantern.' Clark is getting annoyed. 'You mean you can't do anything without your ring?' The guy shakes his head. Clark throws him out. We kept the ring, though. It comes in handy."

"The guy had read too many of these so-called comic books," Bruce said. "Actually called himself 'Green Lantern.' And then they license him and make a book starring him. Green Lantern. That's about the most ridiculous name you could ever come up with. 'Hi, I'm Green Lantern. This is my partner, Blue Lamp Shade.'"

"Crazy, crazy, crazy," Clark said. "How could you expect to survive this, to be one of us, without special abilities?"

"Right," Bruce said. "My character doesn't even have them. They call him 'The World's Greatest Detective' and say he's trained himself to an Olympic level athlete. How the hell would that help? Carl Lewis would be dead his first night out without my invulnerability."

"These books are detrimental to us all," Diana said.

"Especially me," Flash said, pointing to the magazine before him. "Look what Miller's done to the Flash's costume. Black biker shorts and short-sleeved shirt? The guys at the department are calling me 'Flasher.'"

No one said anything, but avoided looking at Flash. After a moment of silence Clark spoke.

"Glad you could make it, Craig."

The others except J'onn looked toward the doorway. It was empty.

"Super-hearing, x-ray vision," Flash whispered to himself. "I keep forgetting."

A moment later, Craig stepped into the doorway. As always, he hovered a few inches above the ground. "Greetings, lads and lass. Hope I haven't missed too much."

Clark filled him in. Craig grimaced.

"Oh shazam, I hate that rubbish," he said. "My father's Japanese, my mother's half-Indian, half-English, and look what those racists did to my character, Captain Marvel. Gave him squinty eyes. How could I ever have agreed to straight out racist crap like that?"

"You didn't" Clark said. "None of us agreed to any of it. That's the problem."

"Exactly," Bruce said. "You'd think Bruce Wayne, multimillionaire adventurer would be enough for them. Hell, I'm already white with dark brown hair, so they didn't change me that way. Why wouldn't I want people to know it's me out there? The ladies love me for it."

Clark nodded knowingly. He and Bruce had had some wild nights partying when they were in their twenties.

"You are an embarrassment to us all," Diana snapped at Bruce.

"You like it, your royal heinie."

Without another word, Diana sprang from the sofa, her hand reaching for the dagger they all knew she kept under her shahtoosh shawl. Flash grabbed her hands. Diana was too strong for him to hold so he snatched the dagger and hid it in another part of the townhouse before a nanosecond passed.

Diana lunged again but J'onn was quicker. He morphed into a wall. Diana landed a blow on J'onn that would've tested Bruce's invulnerability. The multimillionaire cackled until catching Clark's eye.

"Bruce," Clark said in a measured tone that Bruce understood. The two men knew each other well. Bruce stopped laughing.

"What are we, the Crips and Bloods?" asked Clark. "Does every meeting got to end in a knife fight? Ya'll chill."

The combatants continued to glare at each other. But they understood Clark's tone and the veiled threat.

"Let's remember why we're here," Clark said. His eyes went from person to person and for a moment he wished he'd lost the combat trial that had made him leader." What do you propose we do about these books?" he asked.

Bruce, his voice remarkably calm, answered: "This has gone on for years now. We've tried to get them to clean up their acts. It worked for a while. They got rid of that 'Robin' character, at least for a while. Gave my guy a black outfit. But Michael Keaton? Val Kilmer? Come on."

"My character no longer carries that silly 'Diana Prince' identity," Diana said.

"They killed me, which was a relief. The new character doesn't have a secret identity either," said Flash.

"The two characters based on me both had their books canceled," added J'onn.

"They've had plenty of time to straighten things out." Said Bruce "But they haven't. We've been patient enough. I say we bring out the big guns. We should sue. Defamation of character. Libel. Breach of contract. DC, Warner, AOL, they're all going down. We'll own the whole damn company."

The others nodded.

"Are we certain this is for the best?" J'onn asked. "The books bring in a great deal of revenue."

"We make far more, though, in speaking fees," Craig said. "Conventioneers pay big bucks to see people who can really fly."

"Absolutely," added Flash. "I can't stand this stuff anymore. It's embarrassing."

Diana nodded and looked to Clark. The others did too.

"Then we're decided," Clark said. "Bruce will have his lawyers prepare a lawsuit on behalf of the six of us. We're going to put an end to comic books. Meeting adjourned."

Bob Meadows has a blurb.

 
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