Thursday, July 31, 2014

Villain Morality: Religion (part 2/3)

In "the Prince", Machiavelli writes of two Popes - Alexander and Julius - who "showed how a pope with both money and arms was able to prevail". He refers to the Vatican and similar states as "ecclesiastical principalities", which are sustained through the continued religious impulse of their citizens and neighbors. The idea that even the Pope was a creature of politics shouldn't have been shocking to Machiavelli's contemporaries, since the Western Schism (1378-1418) left Europe with multiple Popes.

Religion has always walked together with power, in one form or another. In the 1970s, "Operation Snow White" was carried out to purge the government's files of a religion that was founded by a science fiction writer. About 5000 covert agents were sufficiently convinced of the authenticity of this religion that they were fine with risking the wrath of the law. In 1977, elements of the Korean intelligence apparatus used a religious movement to gain political influence in the United States, by having Church members volunteer in Congressional offices as staffers. In 1984, followers of an Indian guru organized the largest mundane bioterrorism attack in United States history, by trying to poison the voting population of the city they lived in so that their man could get voted into office. A year later, the investigation into that case uncovered a plot by the same people to assassinate a US attorney.

A few supervillains have spotted the advantages that starting a cult - I'm sorry, a New Religious Movement (NRM) - can bring. While I'm not really on board with doing this, I feel it's my duty as a veteran villain to inform people of what's involved.

Tax exempt status

My friend Dr. Tornadeau says, "the First Amendment has unintentionally created circumstances where the most powerful organization in America is a cult." He's looking at the examples above, as well as more recent NRMs that have been formed and are still thriving today.

A small but well-organized church can move millions of dollars, legally and tax-free. It's been estimated that the Catholic Church - a minority in the US - still moves upwards of 170 billion a year. "But Mr. Big," you ask, "what do you mean estimated? Don't we know?" So now you know one reason supervillains like the idea of starting new religions. Churches can ignore any number of regulatory and disclosure requirements in the United States, and are tax-free for the most part.

Protection from criticism

Churches are notoriously hard to criticize in today's culture. That doesn't stop them from saying any damn thing they want, about any damn person they please, of course.

Big names like Amazon and Google have been pressured to pull materials critical of churches, even when those churches are by any objective measure a fringe presence in the American religious scene. More directly, critics of such churches have found themselves harassed either by church members or members of law enforcement by proxy.

Supers and cults

The superheroine Diver, though she doesn't talk much, is known by a few of us to be a runaway from one cult in the Pacific Northwest, or maybe further north - Canada or Alaska. She was being used as a figurehead of divinity to inspire cult followers. She doesn't claim any supernatural powers or divine blessing, just good old fashioned superpowers.

Singularity had a pretty good apocalyptic cult running before her disappearance. These were the same sorts of people who got into Jim Jones or Heavens Gate - "the aliens are coming, let's all be good people and/or kill ourselves". In such cases, "cult" is still the right term despite "aliens" taking the place of "god". This is nothing new - many, many conspiracy theories have no problem throwing space aliens and Satan into the mixer and hitting "blend".

In general, supers make very convincing cult leaders, and are very difficult to dislodge. The reason is obvious: their claims to extraordinary ability really are true, and most of their claims about origin either can't be disproven, or sound credible enough (in the face of the reality of superpowers) that otherwise-sensible people will buy into them. The strongest threat that such a cult faces is the defeat of its leader by a law-abiding superhero. This is usually enough to break the cult up sufficiently to begin mopping up the lieutenants, but sometimes another super can swoop in and take over the fragments, and build a new flock.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Villain Morality: Religion (part 1/3)

Today I want to talk about religion and supervillainy.

I'm not going to offend anyone's religious beliefs here. Well, I am, but it's not deliberate. But since this is a touchy subject for a lot of people, let me put my cards on the table. I'm a casually committed Asatruar, which you can find on Wikipedia under "Germanic neopaganism". I like drinking, I like partying, I like doing my job, and when I give my word, I take that shit very seriously. There's a bunch of people under the larger "Asatru" or "Odinist" umbrella who use these beliefs as an excuse for racism. I'm not down with that shit, so don't get in my face with accusations.

The Big Four religions today are Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, and Islam. Aside from Buddhism, each of them has a billion adherents or more, and Buddhism has almost half a billion. That's not bad. Of course, people being what they are, there's a huge amount of disagreement and sectarian conflict, even armed violence, within each one. The Shia and Sunni, the Protestant and Catholic, and so on. I hear Christians talk about "revealed truth", but I guess not enough got revealed to make everyone agree with each other. So I think I have room to talk here, since my truth isn't any less valid than anyone else's.

Rather than break down the pros and cons of any given religion - especially since I'm not a real believer in any of them - I want to talk about religion in general.

As a villain, should I be religious?

A 2012 Gallup poll in the United States ranked "atheist" as the least electable group - beneath women (traditionally under-represented in government), Hispanics ("illegals crossing our borders!"), gays or lesbians ("the homosexual agenda!"), or even Muslims ("9/11!"). Apparently if you want to roll in the USA, you need to get yourself a god.

Even if you aren't being elected to high office, villains benefit from having a recognizable code of behavior. It confers a certain level of trust from heroes, the public, and so on. You don't really have to stick with it, just show it some amount of respect.

If you're worried about public reactions if you break that code, I want you to look at the decades-old child abuse scandal from the Catholic church, the long line of con men televangelists and gay pastors, and "family values" politicians on both sides of the aisle. Notice that the guys who say "Jesus forgave me!" get re-elected, while the guy sending dick pics who isn't a holy roller gets strung up. Like I said in the introduction, villainy is in the condemnation, not the crime.

As a superhuman, should I be religious?

This is a pretty good question. A lot of people feel that super-powers are divinely granted. Names I've mentioned in the past, like Asiri and Illumina, explicitly claim religious origins for their abilities.

I think if God or Allah or some other divine being is giving out superpowers, it's not going to the "worthy". Precious few people who actually receive powers are living up to anything like what's taught in the holy books of their respective religions. Plus, if powers are divinely granted, they're really being granted to the mothers of these super-kids, because every kid of every Eve-active mother has super potential.

Barbara Fall, of the "quantum visitors" school, wrote an article about this, although she's talking about some sort of extradimensional reptoid observers instead of "traditional" gods. She says that the distribution of powers are an ethical test for the species as a whole, and that we as a collection of societies are being evaluated for our response to such powers. So the people with the powers are meaningless in the larger scheme of thing, but the people passing the laws and forming public opinion are under scrutiny. Take that as you will.

Could it be that the gods give out powers to some deserving people, and the rest are just being born lucky? Sure. On the hero side, supers like Illumina and the Good Shepherd certainly walk the walk. If you told me you had proof Illumina really was an angel, I'd believe you. Even non-heroes like Doctor Cross, who works at a religious hospital, has been known to patch up villains and their henchmen when they needed it. But if you believe this, you'd need to buy into the idea that the gods created this lottery for physics-breaking superpowers and then only hand them out at random to a few nice people, instead of flooding the world with Stage 4 missionaries and bringing about Utopia.

This concludes Part 1. I'll be back with Part 2 soon!

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Villain Morality: what is villainy?

"Angel's Dance", starring Jim Belushi and Sheryl Lee, is otherwise forgettable. But Belushi does a great job portraying a casual, detached assassin. When asked about the morality of killing by his trainee, he casually responds, "I believe in reincarnation". He's built his morality around his job.

Some villains have high-minded goals, at least when they start the life. Some are in it for money, power, sex, love, adoration, or any number of other ambitions. Some of us feel that it's our personal calling, that we should do the thing we're good at and have fun with it. Sooner or later, though, some villains stop and wonder, "is what I am doing what I should really be doing?"

To help you answer that sort of question ahead of time, I'm writing a series on villain morality - moral, philosophical, and religious systems, the ethics of super-powered crime (and crimefighting), and more.

To kick it off, I want to answer the basic question that defines us, the one we rarely really think about: "what is villainy?"

Merriam-Webster's dictionary gives us these definitions for "villain":
  1. A "villein". This basically means a peasant from the Dark Ages - someone who was subservient to a Feudal lord.
  2. An uncouth person, or boor.
  3. A deliberate scoundrel or criminal.
  4. A character in a story or play who opposes the hero.
  5. One blamed for a particular evil or difficulty.
If we read Shakespeare, we see "villain" used in a mixture of these senses - an insult by comparison to a common, low-born person. In Titus Andronicus, when Aaron says "villain, I have done thy mother", Shakespeare was doing more than inventing the first yo-mama joke. He was giving an example of the first truth of villainy: the villain is someone looked down upon by civilized society.

Richard O'Connor paraphrases the French novelist HonorĂ© de Balzac by saying: "Balzac maintained that behind every great fortune there is a great crime." The original quote is a little more forgiving, and translates to "The secret of great fortunes without apparent cause is a crime forgotten, for it was properly done." John Steinbeck wrote, "Socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires." We idolize wealth and power, even when they originated in criminal activities, or facilitate them.

In 1934, Major General Smedley Butler testified in front of the McCormack-Dickstein committee that a group of wealthy businessmen were conspiring to overthrow FDR and institute Fascism in America. The committee found the allegations credible - yet no one was persecuted. Prescott Bush, who had done quite well for himself, was connected to these allegations. His son - former director of the CIA - became President of the country. His grandson - who kept breaking the companies he was given, and who kept being given new ones to break - was also elected President. Under his administration, the United States employed methods of interrogation which had gotten people prosecuted for war crimes during World War 2. I want to say this again, just so it's very clear. The son and grandson of a guy strongly suspected of collaborating with the Nazis and overthrowing the United States government both got put in charge of that government.

This is hardly the only time that money, influence, and power have elevated someone to high station. It won't be the last. Why? Because people love winners, especially when they can bask in their reflected glory. This is second truth of villainy: villainy is about condemnation, not criminality.

Piracy was rife in the Age of Sail. Ships carrying the wealth of the New World - whose exploited, smallpox-ridden natives weren't using it anyway, right? - would get attacked at sea by cutthroat buccaneers, arr. You'd find a ship, attack it and force it to surrender, then take its stuff. This was obviously a criminal enterprise, except during the frequent outbreaks of war. Letters of marque, issued by the warring states, authorized those very same pirates to attack the very same ships they'd been attacking, only now it was legal, and called "privateering".

Sir Francis Drake - that's right, he was knighted - was a hero to the English but a pirate to the Spaniards. Henry Morgan, from whom the "Captain Morgan" brand of rum draws its name, was a famous pirate and privateer. These guys were the rock stars and culture heroes of their day, to the extent that they're remembered even today in America. Did they commit crimes, even by the standards of their home culture? Yes! Absolutely. Did they commit acts that would be criminal today? Oh, absolutely yes. But they weren't always villains. Lots of people loved them. Lots of people hated them. It all came down to what they could get away with.

Supervillains are the pirates of the modern day and age. Are we looked down upon by civilized society? Naturally. Are we criminals? Yes - but many powerful criminals hold high office and enjoy widespread admiration from the "common man". We are the outsiders who go our own way. We are the iconoclasts who reject the establishment and build our own. We are the new generation, who have no need of society's protection and need not fear society's disapproval. In short, supervillains are the sovereigns of a new order. We may feel fondness, admiration, or amusement for the old order, but we do not respect it, because it does not respect us.

In future installments we'll talk about specific topics. As usual, write in with questions, comments, and other observations!

Monday, July 28, 2014

Q&A: Law enforcement and superheroes

"Al Capony" writes in with a very logical question:

If vigilante justice is illegal, why do the police tolerate superheroes? Why am I the only one they're trying to arrest?

Detective Mark Jamieson of the Seattle PD notably said, "just because he's dressed up in costume, it doesn't mean he's in special consideration or above the law." This is high-minded, but impractical. The cops run into a number of problems trying to restrain supers. Let's run down that list, then see what they did about them.

Jurisdiction: Almost every law enforcement agency (LEA), from the FBI down to the campus cops, has a jurisdiction. This can be national or even international in scope, or it can be at the city or state lines. Outside of their turf, the cops lose their power. But by their nature, supers can easily move from place to place, often undetected, and frequently faster than the cops can move themselves.

One of the legal tools created to work around these problems was the escalation of severity for any crime where powers were used. By this, "powers" meant "abilities which a reasonable observer would recognize as superhuman", though that definition has been challenged in court. By making powered crimes, from murder to jaywalking, a Federal case, local LEAs could get Fed assistance, but more importantly, Fed money. In practice this doesn't work as well as anyone hopes. National law enforcement doesn't have the money or manpower to shut down every supervillain.

Technique: A lot of police technique boils down to "exhaust the suspect" - like the early humans who hunted wild animals on the plain, we'd simply out-run the prey until it was tired, then pounce. But supers have far more stamina, resilience, and physical strength than the average police officer. Perp sweating fails miserably for similar reasons. You can still get to supers psychologically, but you can't just lean on them until their bodies grow tired - you'll fail first.

Education has been available for decades on how super biology works, and the international law enforcement community has traded tips on how to effectively deal with supers, but not every little podunk town has the budget to send its officers to class for this sort of thing, and even larger cities like Atlanta or Minneapolis find themselves choosing between supervillain containment training and a few new squad cars.

Economics: The actual cost to restrain a supervillain can be 10 to 50 times that of any dangerous mundane. Apprehension, processing, and incarceration can take a big chunk out of any department's budget. Corporations like Persona might be selling power-suppressing drugs to bigger prisons, but that still costs somebody money.

Alright, so there's serious problems. Then what do the cops do about it?

Stool pigeons, snitches, ringers, and insiders have been tools of law enforcement since there was such a thing as law enforcement. The cops have never shied away from using outsiders to help them do their job, and superheroes are just the latest incarnation of that phenomenon. If a "civilian" wants to "assist the police" in apprehending a bad guy, the cops are perfectly willing to turn a blind eye to how it happened.

Everyone would strongly prefer that heroes turn "legit", of course. Some people, like Bluescreen, did just that - he gave up his old life and became an official lawman out of a sense of civic duty. For those that are willing to work with the cops, but don't want to wear a badge, ACTION exists to bridge the gap and file the paperwork so a hero's bust doesn't get thrown out in court. Some heroes want to do their own thing but not be tied down at all, though. Some do get chased by the cops, but most don't, because it's far more practical to go after the dangerous lawbreakers than the helpful ones.

So the short answer is that the cops tolerate vigilante heroes because they can't afford not to.


P.S. Pyrepower was squealing at your moniker and wanted to know if you're a My Little Pony fan. Kids these days.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

New hardware, old problems

Mr. Big got himself a shiny new computer today, so he's screwing with it. He says being an inch high will make fixing the cable problems easier. I told him to get a phone instead, but he's sooo old fashioned. We'll be back tomorrow! -- Pyrepower

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Groups of Note: Persona

The Persona Corporation, formerly Transhuman Research Solutions, started life as one of the million or so companies that sprang up after the Weizmann Institute released its findings on superpowers. Everyone thought they had struck gold, and venture capital flowed like water. 95% of those companies went under, and the other 5% either consolidated or went totally private.


TRS was founded in the late '70s, a decade after the public emergence of superhumans. It was the first to replicate, even at its most basic form, the benefits of a superhuman biology. Although it could not give people super-powers, its line of human enhancement drugs, revitalizing agents, and medical processes have given it a decisive edge in the marketplace.

9/11 left the American All-Stars, the United States' national super-team, in a state of total demoralization. As the Iraq war got underway and more information came out about the attack, everyone tried to figure out what the hell happened. In theory, ACTION was supposed to coordinate, integrate, and distribute intelligence information, and the All-Stars felt that something had gone horribly wrong in this process. Days after the release of the 9/11 Commission Report, the All-Stars announced they were disbanding.

The Icons

In 2003, TRS responded to the lack of a national team by announcing a contract with the government. It would recruit selected superhumans, form them into a team, see to their specialized needs, and so on. This team became known as the Icons, and they were meant to act as role models for unaffiliated superhumans who weren't sure how to use their unique skills. And the company announced a name change: it was now the Persona Corporation.

Since then, the Icons have been a model not only for American supers, but for other national teams around the world. Persona's supers have been selfless, loyal, and dedicated to their cause. A whole generation of young superhumans have grown up idolizing them.

Persona's two main sources of income are the licensing of its research and technology into superhuman powers, and the manufacture and sale of various pharmaceutical and biochemical products derived from that research.

Persona and Supervillains

The Icons don't normally fight supervillains directly. They're more of rescue organization, though they will step in when a fight gets out of hand. This is good for us, as they're well-financed, well-trained, and professional.

Most of the problem Persona represents is a morale or PR issue - they make superheroing look good, which promotes more superheroes. This is obviously not awesome for villainy. That said, more novice heroes vs. experienced villains can be a good thing - if we can get the upper hand and establish a mindset of villain superiority, we win the long game. The Icons haven't radically changed anything in the hero-villain power balance in the decade or more they've been a team, so it remains to be seen which way that balance will shift.

Groups of Note: Wavelength

I've shared posts from Wavelength before, but I haven't talked about who they are, how it got started, and what's really going on.

What it is

Wavelength is a combination of Internet forum software, file service, and chat room. It uses strong authentication. The admins supply secure file hosting using the latest encryption, and access to the site is only available via the Tor network for serious users. Casual users can browse it via any number of Tor gateways, like

Many of you will be quick to dismiss Wavelength as the home of crackpots, loonies, and conspiracy theorists. And you'd be absolutely right. But what many people don't know is that Wavelength has a pretty good predictive success rate. Part of the reason for this is the deep anonymity the site works hard to provide. Real supers (hero and villain), government officials, private military contractors, and other people interested in the superhuman world have all been known to post there under assumed names. Many of the veteran posters are pretty well connected, and really do know their stuff.

How it got started

I don't know for sure, but I'm told that Wavelength actually started life in the packet radio network, which is a low-tech network maintained by hobbyists, like the BBS scene from the 1980's. At the time it was started, and even today, proponents of HAM radio were working to legitimize themselves as a system to benefit first responders - fire, emergency medical response, police, that sort of thing. Packet radio used the same sort of technology, but for data instead of voice, the way modern cell phones evolved to carry more than just telephone calls. Some of the radio operators who maintained these networks wanted to help with disaster relief and information sharing from super-battles. So they started the site which later became known as Wavelength.

Over time, Wavelength evolved into a general clearing house for information - and speculation - about superhumans in general. The site was moved onto the Internet and kept secure through volunteer efforts. I don't know if the original founders are still involved with it today, but the people I've talked to who do run things say they've been at this for the past 15 years.

The truth is out there?

Bullshit is the price you pay for accepting unvetted, anonymous information. The irony is that most of the real stuff that makes it onto Wavelength is only recognizable as such if you're already in the know. This makes it hard for the general public to find out what's really going on. Plus, nothing stops ignorant idiots from jumping on an otherwise-reputable thread and crapping out whatever conspiracy theory is in their head.

That said, this cuts both ways. Some people find the easiest way to leak sensitive information is to post it to Wavelength, knowing that it will be disregarded by 95% of the serious readers. If you're lucky, whoever is in charge of the information you leaked may not be part of the remaining 5% and won't notice. The Pentagon and the CIA both have small teams in charge of reading Wavelength full-time - think "Three Days of the Condor" - but not everyone can afford to be so vigilant.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Groups of Note: the Grasscutters

I've mentioned these guys here and there. Some of you might have heard stories from elsewhere, so I thought I'd help set the record straight on what they are, and are not.

The Grasscutters

The Grasscutters are what's left of a KGB-sponsored program to create a team of assassins capable of killing supers. It emerged from the Cold War and survived until the collapse of the U.S.S.R. The name refers to a Russian proverb: "the tall blade of grass is the first to be cut".

The Russian oligarchs who emerged in the chaos of the Soviet Union's dissolution acquired many of these agents to eliminate their rivals (or their rivals' security), but many more went underground and became mercenaries. They command high prices, but their training is top-notch. They allow supers into their own ranks but do not depend on their abilities, preferring stealth, misdirection, and exploitation of any weaknesses a target might have. Their first rule, translated, is "they too are only men".

Grasscutters will stalk a target for days, weeks or even months. They learn his routine, research his powers and tactics, and set up a series of ambush points - purposefully missing a sniper's shot (which might not hurt a sufficiently tough super) to lure the target into a more deadly trap, for example. Their contract stipulates that they will lose at most three men before returning the client's money, and acknowledge that there are a few individuals against which they have no chance.

Hiring them

I've never tried, so this is all hearsay. Supposedly the Grasscutters set their price at $100 million a head, but will negotiate their rate upward for difficult targets. The CIA gives them 23 confirmed kills and 3 misses, so presumably someone is buying. You need some pretty deep underworld credentials to even get in touch with them, and I'm not going to leave any breadcrumbs in this guide.

The most prominent miss on their record is Faduma, the vampire queen of Somalia. The weirdest miss is Doctor Cross, of Cross Hospital in Seattle, WA. He's a completely innocuous super-healer, so I guess he had to have pissed off somebody. Speculation is that he healed (or didn't heal) the wrong person. For my money, I'm more curious how he survived them than why they tried to hit him.

Current activities

The Grasscutters are, obviously, considered international terrorists. They typically don't operate in western Europe or the States. Aside from mundane law enforcement, any superhero worth the name will try to stop them if they pop up - even if they're after a known supervillain at the time.

Supervillains take a dim view of any anti-super organization, but some very unscrupulous villains have supposedly tried to get them to knock off rivals.

Former Soviet state supers, like the Marxman, might have more reliable information. He and I are obviously not on speaking terms, but if you want to learn more about the Grasscutters, you can try him.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Groups of Note: ACTION

Individual supers are good to know about, but organizations are pretty important too. Today I'll start by talking about the biggest and most important one any supervillain should be aware of.

The American Counter-Terrorism Intelligence Operations Network, or ACTION, was created by the UNCLE SAM Act, passed in April of 1996 and signed into law by then-President Bill Clinton. If you were curious, UNCLE SAM here stands for Upholding National Counter-terrorism and Law Enforcement by Supporting American Metahumans. I hope you guys know that there's interns on Capitol Hill who do nothing but think up witty acronyms.

American superhumans had contributed a great deal of effort in cleanup and rescue operations in the immediate wake of the Oklahoma City bombing, and the public reaction to the supers' presence was extremely positive. Newspapers, television stations and media figures all clamored for the government to reward these heroes somehow, and to "do more" (though just what more could be done wasn't clear).

An early draft of the legislation was making the rounds among super advocacy groups, modeled on the Peace Corps Act of 1961. After a newspaper editorial famously declared that "these incredible men and women and their god-given gifts have bravely sacrificed for their fellow man, and they deserve to see some action from the government", the law was rewritten for the particulars of the moment and passed with a healthy majority in both chambers of Congress.

The UNCLE SAM act provided the following:
  • Health care benefits identical to those of firefighters and other first responders, for any volunteers who made a "significant effort" toward rescue efforts. Practically speaking, this was unnecessary given the recuperative powers of superhumans - but it made a big difference when a court case in 1997 extended these rights to immediate family members.
  • An agreement to "respect and honor the anonymity of persons rendering significant assistance" to such rescue efforts. Without this clause, most supers would be reluctant to help.
  • Additional college tuition or credit incentives for American superhumans who joined law enforcement bodies.
  • The creation of ACTION, a joint effort from national intelligence agencies and law enforcement organizations who would in turn contribute their expertise to NGOs and private super-teams.
What ACTION Supposedly Does

On paper, the agency was meant to do the following things:
  • Eliminate inter-agency barriers and share intelligence information (subject to regulation) between organizations like the CIA, the NSA, the Defense Intelligence Agency, the FBI, and so forth.
  • Facilitate the granting of security clearances to individual supers or teams of supers, subject to appropriate background checks and a record of reliability.
  • The sharing of relevant intelligence information with cleared individuals.
  • Tasking individual supers or super-teams based on intelligence gained.
Members of ACTION are U.S. Marshals, FBI special agents, or similarly trained individuals. They will possess a security clearance and are pretty hard-assed about sticking to it.

ACTION falls under the purview of the Executive Branch, though it isn't a separate department the way the FBI falls under the Department of Justice. It's more like a shared agreement between DOJ, DOD, the Secret Service, and other departments. As a result, it's immune to many types of Congressional oversight (if Congress calls your department head in for questioning, your activities shift to another department), but vulnerable to a lot of Congressional meddling.

What ACTION Actually Does

These days, ACTION acts as the "super-cops". If there's a supervillain committing crimes (go us!), they theoretically have jurisdiction because of the way laws about using powers have been written. The use of superpowers in the process of committing a crime automatically raises the "act of terror" flag and that lets the Feds come in and wave their dicks around.

One of the reasons this works is that state and local law enforcement frequently do not have the budget, training, time, or interest in working up a super-crimes division internally. ACTION provides the muscle and picks up the tab, but no cop likes having someone from out of town come in and throw their weight around - and especially not when they keep secrets like ACTION does.

ACTION can't directly involve the military, but they can get the National Guard mobilized without too much effort, which is often good enough to deal with a newbie Stage 4. If that isn't sufficient, they can deputize friendly supers to help out.

They are well trained in anti-super tactics. Unlike the Grasscutters, their goal is generally containment rather than assassination. They use power-jamming chemical cocktails developed by people like Transhuman Research Solutions (now Persona).

Dealing With ACTION

In general, if you attracted their attention, you've made it to the big leagues. They don't have unlimited resources, and often let local heroes deal with villains who aren't endangering large numbers of civilians or destroying property en masse. But once they're on your trail, you had better be awesome.

I've had ACTION after me since their founding - I've been around for forty years, kids - but they always find someone more important to chase. I'm not enough of a public menace to merit a dedicated squad, which means I'm free to do the things I really want to do. And that is how to be a supervillain.

Relations: organized crime

Let's talk about "The Godfather", because it's both your key to understanding organized crime, and a great movie. Why is it the key? Not because it was an accurate depiction of the Mafia as they were when the film came out, but because they adopted some of the conventions of the film. The "Dapper Don", the effect of the film as a recruiting tool for the Mafia, even the fact that Joseph Colombo first attacked and then later influenced the picture.

Everyone has images of themselves. We love those larger-than-life self-portraits we draw in our minds, and we absolutely love it when someone else contributes to that grandeur. And we'll fight to the death to protect those images from harm by reality. You all know what I'm talking about. You got into villainy for similar reasons.

Maybe this sounds like a lot of pop psychology. But it's useful, because when your business consists of the threat of violence and the management of dirty money, anything that dresses it up will help you sleep better at night. Realizing this is important.

What they want

Organized crime, like any big organization, looks at the world through its own lens. They acknowledge things bigger than them - governments, the military, and so on - but they look at those things as opportunities. Anything smaller than them was business. "The Corleone family was like the Roman empire," says Frank Pentangelli.

What you have to understand is that even if you have superpowers, even if you walk like a demigod among mortals, organized crime will still see you through this lens. They will think that they can manage you, or use you, or influence you. They will look for chinks in your armor. They will try to identify loved ones, favorite hangouts, habits, vices. They will have you followed. They will try to plant listening devices or tracking devices on you. They will look for leverage.

Once they have it, they'll try to work you into their program, whatever that might be. If you're hip with this, that's fine, but you're not really a supervillain any more - you're a mob enforcer with superpowers.

What you want

Generally, what you want from organized crime - the Mob, the Yakuza, whoever - is their interface between legitimate and illegal interests. You want guys who can handle a hit and launder money. You want a source of henchmen whose presence won't automatically get them arrested, even if they might tip off the cops. In short, you're doing business with a company whose existence is illegal but whose services are vital.

How to interact

Everything you want is a business transaction, so treat it as such. Don't get suckered into "free favors" or "benefits". Pay for everything you ask for, and do everything you accept money to do. Cash is your mediator for everything.

The rules for business transactions with organized crime:
  • When money is the subject of the transaction (such as money laundering), the fee should be a percentage of the total.
  • Always get a handshake or other clear acknowledgement of the deal, in the presence of witnesses.
  • Let them make the security arrangements, within reason. They want to feel safe from you, so respect that.
What to watch out for

The number one thing to worry about with organized crime is deviations from the norm. If you're used to meeting with your contact at a certain place, and they say they want to meet somewhere else, ask why, then independently check out what they tell you. If your normal contact isn't available, find out why and check it out. Ronald Reagan learned the Russian proverb "doveryai no proveryai" and used it a lot in its English form: "trust, but verify".

The number two thing to worry about is power plays within the organization. If you're used to dealing with one particular lieutenant, and he decides to get ambitious, he may try to compartmentalize dealings with you as part of his program. Maybe you're on board with that, maybe not - but if you think it's happening, always have a few members of the organization in your Rolodex that you can check with.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Relations: civilians

Normals. Mundanes. Stage Zero. Muggles. Well, that last one is from Harry Potter, but it's always been a thing to separate the privileged and powerful from the masses.

In The Communist Manifesto, Karl Marx talks about a class emerging from self-realization and then acting against those who exploit them. His perspective on economics gave us the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. Superpowers gives us mundanes and supers. Like a lot of capitalists, we supers are born into privilege, though often we don't realize it until adulthood. While I don't necessarily subscribe to Marxist class theory, I think it says a lot of interesting things about supers and normals interacting.

What got me thinking about this was a conversation with Ekaterina Avrilova. She mentioned a talk that the American All-Stars' ex-member Link had given last year. I want to reproduce part of that here:

"A superhuman has fewer physical needs than a normal. He doesn't get sick. He will not understand when someone is sick, because he is not. He will not understand hunger if he doesn't feel it. He may remember these sensations from before his progression to Stage Three or higher, but those memories will fade. Empathy is based on a shared framework of experience. A super who doesn't understand mundanes will simply stop knowing how to care about them."

"Superhumans have their own masks. The hero and villain and monster masks, imposed on us by a legacy of mythology and religion and popular narrative. Masks forced onto us by the jealous or the fearful. Masks we adopt of our own accord. What you must understand, ladies and gentlemen, is that the face behind the mask is increasingly inhuman. Removed from the concerns of mundane life, and without those same social pressures, the superhumans you know are becoming something other than what they were born and raised to be."

Clearly this is some heavy-duty shit. But what does this mean for villains?

Mundanes as a class will continue to be important to you throughout your career

Unless you retire to an island with a hot significant other and plan to live there, you will always interact, in some capacity, with mundanes. This means you need a policy in place for how to deal with them. Even if it's "normals are insects", you've at least thought about it.

Almost every time you want something that you can't produce or steal yourself, you'll be going to a mundane. Casual friends, lovers, henchmen, financiers, fixers, fences, and so on will probably be mundane. Maybe you don't think you will have a use for such people. I'm here to tell you that you will, sooner or later.

Mundanes as a class can curb-stomp individual supers

Father Freak hangs out in his Detroit church all day, sure. He can get away with that because the military hasn't made a concerted effort to kill him, and they haven't done that because he hasn't made himself enough of a nuisance to demand it. My little excursion to Virginia was a necessity because the CIA had in fact captured a super and were experimenting on him - and he was definitely not the only one.

Dr. John Schindler's rules of spycraft includes this wisdom: "All important intelligence methods have already been perfected by the Russians. We need to figure out how to do them nicely." His advice also applies to anti-super tactics in general, both intelligence gathering and wetwork. The Grasscutters are all mundanes, as far as anyone knows, mostly ex-KGB, and they have killed dozens of supers since the fall of the Soviet Union. A lot of people are sitting up and taking notice, especially when a noob villain overreaches and blows up something (or someone) important.

Yeah, there's a lot of talk about how easy villains can escape from prison, but there's plenty of holding facilities where that's not true. By and large, what's lacking in villain containment isn't the technology, it's the funding or the political will to effectively use it.

Individual mundanes can be just as sneaky, smart, interesting, or useful as supers - maybe moreso

I have some mundane acquaintances, and even a few friends. Some know my villain identity, others don't - and a few could figure it out if they read this guide. Those people that I choose to keep around me are there for a reason. More than a few times, I've been blocked on a caper, only to run it past one of the most intelligent, canny motherfuckers I know, who always had a solution. I've had some amazing romantic relationships with mundanes as well.

Powers are only one part of the human equation. Yeah, they're a game changer in a lot of respects, but they don't replace all the other things that make humans interesting. Given the choice of spending time with an intelligent normal girl or a super like Beaver Boy, uh, sorry BB but I'm going out for drinks and dancing with the lady.

The best parts of mundane life are still fun for supers

As a villain, you can stop paying taxes, house payments, auto insurance, and all of that dreary stuff. But you can still go for dinner, see a movie, travel the world, stay at five-star hotels, and all that great fun stuff. I encourage you to go enjoy such things whenever you have some free time. And when you do, look around, and watch people. Remember that this is as good as it gets for them.

Villains can give back to mundanes without losing their game

My discussion on presentation and showmanship talks about crowd management. I've made the comparison to professional wrestling and lucha libre in the past. I want to repeat those things now and say: as a villain, your actions can actually provide a sort of entertainment to your audience. When doing capers, you'll have more fun if you make a sport of it. If they feel they're part of something exciting, they'll appreciate it more. And you can make it exciting for them - and in doing so, you'll feel gratified by their enjoyment. Seriously, go out and have a blast. Don't be a bore. If you're robbing a bank, talk smack to the bank officers and compliment the cashiers. Make it exciting.

Villains have so much opportunity to profit from mundane attention. A cooperative crowd is a rare and precious thing, and you can cultivate it. By understanding their feelings, by remembering that their feelings matter, you'll connect with them, entertain them, but most importantly they'll give that back to you.

So, Mr. Big's words of wisdom: "To be superhuman, you have to be both super and human."

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Relations: other villains

As I talked about in my guide to villain sidekicks, fraternal association works much better with heroes than with villains, because heroes tend to have compatible goals and villains do not. Despite that, many villains can and do work with each other for their own reasons. Here are a few key tips to interacting with your fellow villain successfully.

Respect is key

Every villain relationship is based around respect. Sometimes it's mutual, other times it's not. But villains who don't respect each other are eventually going to squabble, and then fight, and that is how relationships end.

You may not like your fellow villains, but you might still need them. If so, find something about them that you can respect. Their technique, their soliloquy, their power, even their enemies. Find something to latch onto that you can get on board with before you ever talk to another villain.

Trust is expensive

Every bank you rob is a bank your rivals can't hit. Every dollar that goes to the police budget thanks to your shenanigans is a dollar spent to lock up your fellow villains. Every death, accidental or otherwise, poisons the public against all villains, not just the instigator. In short, villains don't trust each other because we always run the risk of making each others' lives harder.

Like I said in the introduction, relationships are a balance of risk vs. reward. With other villains, you can mitigate the risk by creating trust. Open your communication with any of the following:
  • Territory agreements - where your turf begins and another villain's turf ends
  • Mutual non-aggression agreements
  • Information exchange - police tactics, hero weaknesses, and so on
It's instructive to note that these sorts of things are how both gangs and nations interact. And people ask me why I distrust government.

Power level matters

If you're a novice Stage 3, and you're thinking about interacting with a veteran Stage 4 or even the rare Stage 5, you aren't dividing territory. You're offering your services as a powered henchman. In my opinion this is the worst thing that can happen to an aspiring villain. If you're okay with this life, stop reading my guide and get out.

Even if you don't personally like the more powerful villain, you should show him respect. If you disagree, pick a fight. I'll come visit you in the hospital and you can tell me how it worked out for you.

So how do you manage relations with more powerful villains? By carving out a niche that the more powerful villain doesn't care about, and sticking with that niche. If the senior villain in your area doesn't do kidnapping or prefers not to mess with the police or whatever, learn how to do these things well, and start doing them. If the senior doesn't do these things, you've got a career unimpeded by his presence. If the senior discovers a need for something you do, they'll hopefully come to you - and if so, even if it's not as equals, it's as peers.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Relations: the media

I know what every single last one of you are thinking. You've read Superman comics, you've watched documentaries on Deep Throat, and you bought into the hype. You're convinced that you'll meet some plucky reporter who will hang breathlessly on your every pronouncement and give you an easy route to fame.

This is your wake-up call.

The media, taken overall, is interested in selling interesting material through their channel. Television, radio, newspapers, magazines, whatever. They make a profit through sales of their product (if they have one), and through advertising revenue. Those profits are used to pay the journalists, editors, and other staff who work at the media outlet. Their profits fluctuate based on how interesting their audience finds their content - or how much the owner thinks the audience will enjoy it. But all that money also buys access - people will take you seriously when you have an airbrushed anchor, a blonde reporter, a news van with a professional logo painted on it, a building in downtown New York with your name on it, and so on.

What this means is that the people most willing to talk about the stories you want them to talk about are the people least likely to have incentive to do so. The more powerful the organization, the more their agenda will dominate yours when you play along with them. This is why Internet forums like Wavelength, ATS, and so on will post absolutely anything, while big news companies like CNN have strict rules about speaking with villains. Independent media - local papers, local-access or the old UHF news, college radio, bloggers, and so on - fall somewhere in the middle.

So how do you decide who you'll contact? The rule is: work with the outlets covering the area in which you can pursue your villainous capers at your leisure. Your stature as a villain dictates the people who have their own reasons to talk to you - if you run roughshod over the heroes in Topeka but Chicago is beyond you, talk to the Topeka media. If you can do crimes anywhere in the Eastern Seaboard, congratulations, you don't need my guide, but at that point you're ready for MSNBC or Fox News.

You should expect to work with a media organization, not a specific person. Reporters come and go. Journalists can get reassigned, quit their jobs, or be fired. Accusations of favoritism, bias, and compromise can cost you the reporter you've been carefully cultivating for weeks or months. Always make it clear that you're willing to cooperate with any member of the organization that speaks to you. And also, always beware the crusading reporter who insists on being the only person to talk to you. If you can get a hold of their editor, explain the situation - you'd rather work with known quantities, and reporters who make you their pet cause are anything but.

Any reporter or blogger coming to you wants something they can put to good use in their publication. They're not your fan club, they're talking about you to their real audience - their readers. You're an interesting curiosity, a means of accessing a world most civilians never get to experience, or an intelligence asset for learning more about super-crime. If you have an agenda, you're going to need to pay for it somehow, and information is the fourth estate's coin of the realm. This goes both ways - they can trade you something useful if you do likewise.

You might consider establishing a drop-box, prepaid phone number, or some similar means of contacting you, if you want to hear from journalists. This adds complexity, because it's one more thing to keep track of and one more avenue for tracking you down (were you dumb enough to bring a cell phone along for your heist?) It's better to demand that journalists who speak with you provide their own contact information. The more removed this is from their physical location, the better - for example, an email address, a voice mail service, or a Post Office box. This also sets the proper psychological tone. You aren't at their beck and call - they are able to speak to you only at your pleasure.

The Bourne movies are a great model for how to make contact with people in the media. Make phone calls from anonymous phones in random locations, never give them too much, and set up face-to-face meetings in places you trust. Always offer them some compensation for their time and risk.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Relations: Introduction

There's a difference between a successful villain and a career villain. The successful one has a set of objectives and is making progress on meeting most or all of them, and villainy is a method for doing so. The career villain, on the other hand, has proficiency as a villain as their goal.

This topic is advanced villainy, and is geared toward the latter sort of person. Today we're going to talk about relations - between you and other villains, heroes, the press, civil servants, private citizens, organized crime, the works. We'll cover specific classes of relation in specific posts, so the goal here is to lay down a few ground rules.

Every relationship is a balance of risk vs. reward. All the rules you must follow are based on that truth.


You're a villain, duh. What you have to remember is that this strongly affects the reactions people have with you, and dictates the sort of people who will work with you openly. Note the keyword "openly", kids - this is your ticket into legitimate channels, and you have to be careful when using it.

Anyone who isn't a worse person than you is risking their professional reputation - and, they think (rightly or wrongly) their lives and sanity - by interacting with you. To cultivate a successful relationship with someone, you must find ways to mitigate that risk. Saying "trust me" isn't going to cut it.

You have three methods to mitigate risk. The first is anonymity, the second is utility, and the third is reputation.


The easiest way to convince someone that you're a villain worth talking to is to pretend you aren't a villain. This is a common reason to leave a civilian identity or two laying around. But don't expect to pick an alias like "John Smith" and expect to roll into a new social situation. The key to making a new nom de la paix work is to be a known quantity. You can't just come off like Deep Throat. Wherever your target tends to hang out, you need to seem like you fit into that setting too.


Woodward and Bernstein listened to Deep Throat because Deep Throat had meaningful, important shit to say. If you want to build a relationship with somebody, you need to have something to offer them - you can't just lean on them for information or favors without reciprocity.

At the same time, as a villain, you don't want to give away the goodies. For example, a reporter who knows they're talking to a villain but does it because they get good intel on the super scene might eventually be hauled into court. At that point, they face a choice: protect their source and go to the clink for contempt, or narc and lose their access? Your goal is to avoid forcing your people into that kind of choice. Frequently, the only level of useful stuff you could offer to make a reporter take that gamble is also the stuff you don't want to be talking about anyway - for example, dishing dirt on your fellow supervillains will get you in trouble fast. Nobody likes a rat.


You might have solidly established yourself. Maybe you've cultivated such a reputation that people now take you at your word. If so, risk is mitigated if your code of behavior also includes treating people well, not atomizing them if they offend you, that sort of thing. Nobody wants to risk being the first to push you over the edge, of course, but it does sweeten the pot if you are already offering something of value.

I'll be talking about villain morality (soon! I promise!) and that's one way to build up this sort of rep. But assuming you already have one, work it to your advantage.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Discovering a hero's secret identity

Some of you wrote in about my comment on Illumina and "the usual people" trying to discover her identity. This is as important for villains as heroes, so let's talk about what sort of information people use to discover a super's identity.

Face recognition software

This is a pretty new option for me, though kids these days are familiar with it. When I was growing up, computers were a toy for academics and big companies and the military. These days you can keep one in your pocket. Similar oldie villains should really wise up to what's going on in this space.

Basically, there's face recognition software developed by people like Facebook and Google. And there's dedicated groups of super-hunters who do nothing but snap up old high school yearbooks and so forth, scan the photos, and upload them to a central server to be analyzed by this software. They compare pictures of known supers to the database, hoping for a match. This has gotten a lot easier with Google's image search feature, where you can just Photoshop a mask onto someone's yearbook picture and see if you get any hits.

Since everything you put online tends to stay there in some form, you can probably be found if you've ever had a civilian Facebook or something similar. Just let this be a warning if you were thinking of starting a page: never put your real face up there, ever.

Activity Triangulation

As I wrote in my guide on Lair placement and size, a supervillain's lair can be traced back to them if it's at the center of their sphere of activity. The same goes for superheroes. I talked a little about this on my article on Stage 2, but it holds true to a lesser extent for more powerful supers.

The general rule is that the more powerful your movement abilities, the harder it is to triangulate you. There's an adrenaline junkie named Exodus who's doing time in Riverbend maximum security. He can go anywhere in the world, because he's a teleporter. The only reason he's in jail is to impress the mundane prisoners with his exploits, and score points with prison gangs by smuggling things in for them. Supposedly he's got a whole stockpile of stuff buried in an abandoned mine - odds are good that they will never, ever find his real base.

You can start by getting a map of the city your hero is in, and getting a supply of pins and note cards. Start tracking sightings on the map. Put a pin onto each sighting's location, along with the date and two times - as accurately as you have them - for when there was an incident there, and when the hero responded to it. Once you have about three dozen data points, look at the data you have. Start drawing connecting boundaries on your map - "always takes at least 30 minutes to reach these spots", for example - and try to draw narrower and narrower circles as your data collection gets better.

If necessary, create incidents of your own. The ideal incident will be one which the hero feels compelled to respond to, and at times when the hero is likely to be in a familiar place - i.e. the place you want to track down. Only you know your own hero enough to determine these things, but in general, a couple hours after a major disaster or combat is the most ideal time to rouse a hero from their lair. You can set up an incident on the boundaries you drew earlier, to test the validity of your assumptions about travel time.

Tracking devices

These aren't useful for a lot of reasons, so don't rely on them unless you already have the expertise to use them professionally. Here's the problems:
  1. Like clothes, a tracking device is usually a lot less durable than the super you attach it to. If he's got flame powers or something, it's going to be trashed well before you ever get a line on his home base.
  2. Most villains don't know how to follow a radio signal properly.
  3. Of those that do, many can't keep up with a fast-flying super.
Some villains have better luck with burst-transmission tracking devices, of the sort used to track animal migration patterns. Companies like Telonics make devices that use GPS and the Iridium satellite network which could be used to track someone almost anywhere in the world. Finding a way to attach one of these to your superheroic nemesis without alerting him is left as an exercise for the reader.

Military groups like the Grasscutters are fully equipped to utilize these methods. They have tiny transmitters that they shoot onto their targets, along with a topical anesthetic mixed with DMSO to neutralize the sensation of the transmitter after the initial hit. If the super is busy fighting, he may never notice it.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Wavelength Posts: Agartha

This is by far the funniest topic I've read in awhile. Some of these posts are old, but who cares? As usual, my comments are italicized.



In ancient Hindu texts, and in the knowledge seeking of the Theosophists, we learn of the Agarthi, or endless interior Earth, where the devas and the asuras do battle. Today we would call these superheroes and supervillains. The tunnels to Agarthi are found under Tibet. The Tibetans have always honored the primal wisdom and kept these dangerous secrets sealed from the outer world.

More truth about Agartha emerged last year. A John Doe patient - for those of you in the United States - was admitted to the Heath Hospital in Cardiff. He was badly dehydrated and showed small puncture marks across his body. He was hallucinating and babbling, in English and two other languages. The attending doctor prescribed what medication she thought appropriate, then sat down to puzzle through this mystery.

The subject experienced moments of lucidity, during which his story came out in fragments. The doctor and one of the nurses called in a psychologist to help make sense of the man's mental state. Together these three pieced together the thread of narrative.

The man, a native of the north, had been exploring the mountains near his home. He had slipped and fallen into a crevasse. The doctor found no evidence of broken bones, so he was presumed to have survived that accident relatively unharmed. He had a light and used it. He must have tried to find a way out - any sensible person would - but the only thing he felt the need to talk about in his delirium was going further into the darkness.

The crevasse was the entrance to a cave system. There was nothing but rock and darkness for what felt like hours, but he reports seeing a faint glow that wasn't his torch. The light led to a bioluminescent fungus - and a flowering, fruit-bearing plant he had never seen before. Hungry, he threw caution to the wind and ate. This was the beginning of what the doctor concluded was the start of the hallucinations - the plant was undoubtedly some local specimen that had taken root and was not suitable for consumption.

The hallucinations took a strange turn. An unspecified amount of time later, the man reported hearing voices echoing from the tunnels ahead. He describes a pair of beautiful humanoid figures, male and female, who glowed with an inner light and found him slumped against the wall. They carried him, as though he were lighter than a child, through the tunnels and emerged into a magnificent underground grotto.

He stayed for several more hours. The strangers fed him, garbed him in robes of light and song, and showed him the wonders of their world. His descriptions of this period of recuperation are exceedingly confused, but he was clear on one point: the strangers had to take leave of him for a time, in order to rescue fallen comrades, who they said were at war with other similar beings elsewhere in the grotto.

In time they judged him healthy and escorted him to the surface. The man professed no memory after that. He had been found alone in the mountains and airlifted with a helicopter to the local hospital, which found its facilities unsuitable to treat his condition.

He stayed for several days. During that time, the doctor found something significant, something she omitted in her report at first. John Doe's brain was infected. The infection wasn't a natural organism - it was a sort of synthetic nanomachine, of the same sort that was reported in the brains of animals the supervillain Beast-Boss reportedly put under his mental control. John Doe had shrieked in pain at one point during an MRI, and was found to be sensitive to strong magnetic fields for several days after. The nanomachines slowly washed themselves out of his body, and the doctor collected numerous urine samples that contained their remains.

Could John Doe have really entered an inner Earth? The doctor believed something else: John Doe had taken part in a shared hallucination, a dream world created by someone or something that had transmitted information into his brain. How much of his experience was real? Only the Agarthans - if they exist - may truly know.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Wavelength Posts: Cyborgs and Super-Science

Today's collection of Wavelength weirdness concerns high-tech topics like super-cyborgs. As far as anyone knows, nobody has cracked the secret of superpowers, but that won't stop our intrepid troupe of truth-seekers on the Internet. That said, significant strides have been made in incorporating super-tissue into existing systems. For example, the American mercenary Cloud has a sort of bio-radio or bio-radar built into his cells, and he's used radio rebroadcast equipment to extend his own range. So who knows.

As usual, my comments are in italics. Here goes!



CONFIRMED SIGHTINGS are coming from an Army base in the Midwest about a new project undertaken by THE MILITARY. They have a super in a laboratory and have grafted several artificial systems onto his body. IS HE A VOLUNTEER SOLDIER, OR SOMETHING ELSE...?

This individual's superpowers are being ELECTRONICALLY CONTROLLED and REGULATED through the secretion of hormones and neuroelectric discharges. His body's powers can be amplified and driven BY COMPUTER, used in whatever fashion his MILITARY MASTERS SEE FIT.

Yeah, and if you TYPE IN ALL CAPS, it has to be true. Lowercase is for liars.

A highly placed source has provided my newsletter with tech specs, photos, and more information about this BRAVE AMERICAN whose body is now the plaything of his SOULLESS SUPERIORS. At this time, we are unable to release the information due to concerns about being shut down, but we all agree that something needs to be done.

The individual's capabilities are said to be at Stage 4.5 and combat testing is expected to commence within the week. Our source also confirms that this is only the FIRST OF MANY SUPER CYBORGS.

My source confirmed you need to cut the crap. Stages aren't fractional - if I was feeling charitable, I'd say the author meant "Stage 4 but more awesome".


I know a Stage 2. Are we looking at the re-institution of the draft for American supers? Are we going to be sending super-cyborgs to Iran or China? Someone tell me what to tell my friend!

How about "Wavelength is full of shit?"


The cyborg program under discussion is called Project Equinox. You can download a complete PDF from my secure site. Here are the details:
  • Stage 2 soldiers are being screened and recruited.
  • The program artificially progresses them to Stage 3 or Stage 4.
  • Candidates have titanium and ceramic implants introduced into their bodies, grafted onto bone.
  • Implants are electronically controlled and siphon power from the Stage 2/3/4 mitochondrial proton-motive force, the same thing that augments ATP recycling in the body.
  • The implants provide a far superior control system for many powers, allowing candidates to choose from a menu of preprogrammed options or devise their own.
  • The implants also stimulate the cells' mitochondria and synthetic symbionts, allowing new applications of existing powers that the natural Hashmal process didn't provide.
There are eighteen candidates in the program, found in bases around the world. They are being prepped for counter-terrorism, not S.O. or assassination.

Now I'm a little worried. If this guy is talking shit, it's convincing-sounding shit. Every so often, Wavelength does get it right.

The biggest obstacles in the Equinox program are technological, but they also have a simpler problem: how do you keep your soldiers from retiring or going AWOL with a billion dollars worth of state secrets in their bodies? Implanted bombs, brainwashing, or similar techniques are likely, but I haven't been able to learn more.

And this sort of thing is why I hate the military.

I did download this guy's PDF. From the illustrations, the implants are about the size of a grape each and clustered throughout the body. There's no metal-plated Terminators here - the cyborgs he's describing could easily hide in a crowd, which makes sense. I'm not saying I buy into this story, just that it's better than 75% of what appears on Wavelength.


I heard a rumor that they're able to do "cross-specimen grafts" and give normal people superpowers now. Any truth to this? If not, could some of these implants do it?

Cultured tissue has been successfully grafted onto supers, but the body has to be able to cope with the resulting rejection problems, same as blood transfusions. A Stage 0 receiving a Stage 2 graft would get very sick. A Stage 0 receiving Stage 4 tissue would probably die. It's conceivable someone could encapsulate such tissue into an implant and give it to a mundane, but that's a huge expense for little gain.


How much of these physics-breaking superpowers have been replicated in machinery? How soon until I can buy a force field belt?

Unlikely. Study of superpowers has let us make great strides in theoretical physics, chemistry, and other fields. As yet, we haven't been able to translate those into meaningful inventions. That won't be true forever, but that's how it is today.


That's it for another dive into the pit of rumor we call Wavelength. Go forth and have fun.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Wavelength Posts: Undead Edition

I want to collect the best (or worst) of posts to Wavelength, the popular (?) board for super-related gossip, weird stories, and far-out theories. It's not that I particularly give credence to these ideas. But a lot of newbie villains think having powers makes them awesome. Attention you guys: there's shit out there that will make you run screaming, so get some perspective.

With that, let's start with the undead posts. I've added some commentary where appropriate.



DEVELOPING - Researchers at a prestigious university in Berlin averted a potential cataclysm that could have engulfed the human species. Their research subject: an actual zombie. This creature was born with a Lilith-type meta-gene. The mutation concentrated all metabolic activity into the bones, creating connective tissue and muscle out of some sort of carbon nanotubes, similar to the American superhero Brawl and his carbon alchemy.

Yeah, "meta-gene". I smell bullshit coming. There's a true story here, but it's not a zombie apocalypse.

As the creature's body became less and less dependent on flesh, tissues and internal organs necrotized and started to fall away. Researchers were forced to wrap the creature in heavy bandages - not because it needed them, but because it expressed a horror at what was happening to it. Eventually even the bandages were not enough, and the mummified zombie was little more than an animated skeleton. Researchers were baffled at the ability of the creature to think and perceive despite a complete lack of nervous system, brain, or sensory organs.

I feel really, really bad for this poor sad son of a bitch.

During the mutation cycle, it was discovered that the adaption was contagious, like a vampire's viral infection. Researchers were quarantined until the infection could be halted. But for the diligence of the German authorities, this plague could have easily spread, until zombies were overrunning the globe!

Uh, go Germany, I guess.

The worst part of the story is this: as the subject was losing his own tissue, he started expressing a growing hunger for the flesh of the researchers, and actually attacked several of them. Although nobody was killed, it confirmed our worst fears about zombie cannibalism. This is real, folks.

He didn't try to cannibalize anyone. The guy was going mad from his ordeal and he flipped his shit. You would too.


The ancient Egyptians stored their dead rulers' internal organs in canopic jars. More recently, we read about the "lich" - a powerful undead mage - and his phylactery, a repository for his soul. We have discovered that the zombie above has actually transformed himself into a lich and escaped from Germany. He even has a phylactery! Read on for details...

He didn't escape, he was moved to a secure - and anonymous - containment facility for his own protection and mental health. By Thor, these people get some weird ideas.

Studies of shape- and size-shifters produced a very interesting question: where does the brain go, when there's no room for it? Well, it turns out that supers with such powers develop a micro-miniaturized "backup brain". In the case of the zombie, he advanced a Stage during his incarceration. His backup brain is now fully in control of his body, and he can pull it out of his skeleton and conceal it anywhere.

This "backup brain" theory is highly controversial. I don't have one, for example. My control of the electro-weak force means my body stays structurally the same, just that the spaces between atoms changes. Still freaky, so I don't think about it.

As long as this phylactery stays intact, he can stay conscious, regrow himself a body, or anything else he pleases. He is immortal, unkillable, and a danger to the human race.

Nobody actually knows what happened to the guy, so this is all speculation.


Does anyone know if his powers include real magic or mind control?

No, they don't. Idiots.


We've known for a long time that vampires and werewolves are real. Good vampires like Edward Cullen, or evil vampires like Dracula, are all real. So what about good and evil zombies? Maybe he is a good guy and doesn't want to hurt anyone.

Twilight? Real? Say it ain't so.


If Zombie Man rots away completely, maybe all that'll be left is his ghost. Do we have any confirmed evidence of other super-ghosts? Maybe he will be the first.

On Wavelength, "confirmed evidence" means "sufficiently uprated posts". Caveat emptor.


Paranormal researchers have uncovered evidence that human consciousness can be preserved in the "backup brain" described earlier, even if the only physical remains are a few living cells. For example, a haunted hotel was found to contain trace amounts of a dead super's blood and nerve cells. But this was enough - his consciousness was still distributed among the cells, and his gravitational powers gave him the abilities of a poltergeist. He was quite mad, of course. Go do the research, people, this is real.

The paper in question was retracted after serious issues with its methodology, data, and personnel were raised. Go do the research indeed. Downthread, some of the more astute people commented "we can't find this paper" and someone predictably replied with "THEY don't want you to know", so yeah.


So yeah, undead are sort of real? There's some truth to some of the things talked about here, but even "Zombie Man" wasn't dead, just.. not as fleshy as before.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Monsters of Note: the Jersey Devil

Today's Monster of Note is a real monster. People like Father Freak at least have recognizably human motives. But this thing...

The Jersey Devil

Rather than do the usual background stuff, I just want to talk about this thing, because I'm not 100% sure it's human. The traditional "Jersey Devil" was a thing for decades, but this creature has supplanted the old definition in the minds of most people.

The Jersey Devil is a Child of Lilith. The DNA it's left behind tested as human, so there you are. Not that it matters. I don't hesitate to call it a creature, instead of a man. It attacks campers and hikers in the New York and New Jersey areas with unthinking ferocity. It's shown absolutely no signs of self-preservation or any wish to communicate, and attacked park rangers who came too close. It runs from supers, and can somehow sense their presence.

Physical descriptions of the Devil are a mixed bag. Either it has the ability to change shape, or most people are too busy shitting their shorts to get an accurate picture. The most reliable reports come from flying supers who can get a good vantage on the thing. They generally agree that it has a massively exaggerated musculature, claws, fangs, and a snout like a wolf. Sometimes weird, ropy tentacles have entered the description, always coming from the creature's chest - so it might have some sort of extra limbs that aren't visible from the air at a distance.

Naturally the authorities want this thing caught and contained for study. Heroes and villains alike want it gone for their own reasons. There's a standing bounty on information leading to the capture of the beast, and a much larger one for any super (or mundane, but come on) who can actually corral it themselves.

The most successful attempts at capture have involved supers going into the woods in teams and trying to flush it out. There's been an interesting theory proposed, about using a friendly jacker (or chemical means) to de-power a super, send him in alone, and somehow regain his powers at the exact moment the creature is going to strike. Obviously this is a stupid plan, and hard to do, or someone would have pulled it off by now. If you think it sounds daring and fun, take my advice and get your head examined.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Monsters of Note: the Scarab Guardian

Another African super is our Monster of Note today. He has a bunch of Egyptian names that translate to "scary mofo", but the most common English alias he has is "the Scarab Guardian".

The Scarab Guardian

The stories say that a European grave-robber was trapped in one of the pyramids he was looting - buried thousands of feet under unforgiving stone, pinioned in the lightless void of the realm of the dead, the curse of the Pharaohs gave him a choice. Serve them, or face the judgement of the ancient spirits he had offended. He was transformed into an eternally undead guardian and sentenced to guard the very tombs he had pilfered.

Of course this is all bullshit. The Scarab Guardian is a former villain who operated in Egypt. He was given a better offer by the Egyptian government after his capture, pardoned, and assigned to an Egyptian super-team: the National Historical Preservation Society. He's one of the uncommon "hero monsters", and an example of why personal feelings trump the "hero" and "villain" divide.

Like Beast-Boss in America, his powers include control over animals. Unlike Beast-Boss, he can't empower his animals, but he can physically merge with them and acquire their physical characteristics (in whole or in part). Physically, of course, he's ugly as sin - stark gray skin, glowing red eyes, unnatural bulges in his skin, and a weird scuttling gait due to the way his muscles and bones are structured.


The Guardian started life as "the Scarab", an Egyptian villain. His M.O. was industrial theft around the port of Suez. The Egyptian government has sealed any records of the members of the NHPS's supers, but those in the know tell me he was an Egyptian native, probably born in Cairo from his accent and familiarity with the area, and apparently poor to lower class in his upbringing.

The authorities managed to trap him in a reinforced container along with a member of the NHPS. They had a conversation, and the outcome was that the Scarab came out peacefully, surrendered himself, and spent about a week in the slam before joining his new team.


The Scarab Guardian usually operates solo, but his powers make him an excellent infiltrator, spy, and perimeter alarm system. He can see anywhere his animals can be, and he can shapeshift into anything you might commonly find in the region.


A big part of the Guardian's motivation is pride in the relics of Egypt and the history of the country. His own comments mark him as an Egyptian nationalist and patriot.

He's actually better adjusted than a lot of Children of Lilith. He avoids endangering people, mundane and super alike, and shows genuine compassion for lost tourists he's located with his powers. He's believed to be a Sunni Muslim, though how devout he is remains unclear.

He harbors a big grudge against Israel for the Six-Day War of 1967, and it's been suggested that his father might have been an Egyptian soldier who was killed during that conflict.


Like Beast-Boss, he can control animals through some sort of radio link to their nervous system. He has to physically contact one animal to bind to it, but those animals can apparently spread the control system like a contagion. This lets him take over whole swarms of animals at a time.

Aside from this, he can physically take on the traits of any animal he touches, partially or totally. He uses this power mostly to emulate the gods and monsters of myth - jackal-headed creatures, for example - for psychological purposes.

Aside from the reconnaissance value of his swarms, and the combat potential of certain animal types, the Scarab Guardian mostly uses his control for terror tactics. There was a story of a gang of tomb-robbers who descended into one particular pyramid. Only one made it out, covered in beetle bites, and he was committed to an insane asylum. No, the rest didn't die - the Scarab Guardian had managed to capture them and hand them over to the authorities. But you didn't read about that part in the papers, which is unofficially how parts of the Egyptian government like it. The more people who decide not to mess with the tombs, the happier everyone is.


Aside from being one ugly son of a bitch, the Scarab Guardian is somewhat averse to direct sunlight. Like most vampires, the Scarab Guardian's body is photosynthetic and he slips into a hibernation state if he receives enough bright sunlight.

Unlike Beast-Boss, the Guardian doesn't seem to be hurt or distracted if you injure his animals. He does care, though - don't just go around offing every bat you see and not expect him to pay you a visit.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Monsters of Note: Father Freak

The usual categorization for supers is "heroes, villains, and monsters". That's inaccurate, so here's the low-down:

When a child with super potential is born, they advance to Stage 1. Immediately the mitochondria in their cells starts a process of evolution, trying to bond with the cells and "repair" the body (which in reality has only been delivered, not injured). If they are successful, the child will advance to Stage 2 in a week's time. If they fail, they'll eventually bond, but imperfectly, and this process takes about three weeks. We call the former children "heroes or villains", but the original researchers dubbed them "Children of Eve". We call the latter "monsters", but they are also called "Children of Lilith".

Lilithim are invariably disfigured, grotesque, and inhuman, but they are still supers. Like any other human being, they can make moral decisions and do what they think is right. Since they tend to be rejected by society, they're more likely to be outcasts and misfits. They don't fall into the traditional "villain" role - they are often more destructive, and less social. And then there's some who are real monsters.

A great example is Father Freak. He is sometimes called "the demon of Detroit", and is monstrous both physically and mentally. He holds a twisted Black Mass at the St. Joseph Roman Catholic church, near Lafayette Park, and has destroyed the building's treasured stained glass windows.


Some say he's a former priest, or an ordinary man whose faith was shattered. Either way, it is known that he holds an undying grudge against Christianity, and most benevolent expressions of other religious belief (such as the practice of alms and charitable giving among Muslims).


Father Freak doesn't seem very tormented, although psychological profiles suggest a deeply-rooted self-loathing and persecution complex. He occupies the St. Joseph church as his home, and is known to be a Stage Five superhuman. He seems content to practice Satanic rituals and other defilement at the church, and the police have proven repeatedly unable to stop him. He isn't destructive enough to prompt the military to approach with sufficient force to pose a real threat to him.

He welcomes guests to the church, provided they make no obvious attempt to worship; he enjoys the company of nonbelievers, the wretched, the outcast, and other kindred spirits.


Father Freak stands eight feet tall. His "skin" is a deeply black armored chitinous shell and affords him significant protection. Numerous cracks or fissures in the shell, and other orifices such as his eyes and mouth, continuously emit a peculiar silvery light. His vision seems to have compensated by spreading into the infrared and ultraviolet portions of the spectrum. He has six fingers and toes, and an extra joint in each major extremity.

He is capable of generating tremendously strong concussive blasts at range, apparently via some highly energetic interaction with the atmosphere. This power can also be used defensively; if he focuses, he can wrap himself into a nigh-impenetrable shield of force. This combined with his armor and inhumanly fast healing rate make him almost invulnerable. Even without his shield, he has shrugged off rounds from anti-materiel rifles and is known to have walked through a barrage of 20mm rounds from an M197 Gatling gun without breaking stride.


Father Freak's numerous psychological problems seem centered around his hatred of spirituality and teachings of love or kindness. It is believed that his feelings are based on his development as a Child of Lilith, and that his monstrous form unhinged his mind. If so, reminders of that trauma would probably trigger a very strong response.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Superheroes of Note: Asiri

Due to requests from international readers, I'm going to call attention to the leader of the Lagos Guard, a Nigerian super-team, and their leader.


The superheroes and supervillains in Africa operate on a very different dynamic than those in America and Canada. According to my African contacts, they act more like Feudal lords and knights, patrolling a given area of turf and protecting the people who live there. The "hero" and "villain" distinction is a little looser, but mainly comes down to whether you're benevolent or not.

The Lagos Guard are the only heroic super-team operating in the city of Lagos. The city has between 17 and 20 million people and is located on the southwestern coast of Nigeria. It's a port city and is significant to the economy of the entire country. The Lagos Guard was formed to act as the city's super-protectors, and they deal a beat-down to anyone who tries to muscle in.

Asiri is the leader of the Guard. He (or she, nobody's sure, but I'll stick with "he" unless corrected) is a shapeshifter and a pretty powerful Stage 4 Child of Eve. He's an infiltration specialist and apparently has some military and command experience.


According to statements made by Asiri and others, he is a member of the Yoruba people, found in the southwestern Nigerian region. His accented English suggests he was educated in America at some point, and returned to his native home later. His combat doctrine suggests that he spent some time in the Israeli armed forces.

Asiri claims that his "spiritual self" was empowered by his god and that is responsible for the source of his powers. My Lagos contact tells me that his origin story is a variation of Yoruba religious beliefs and essentially the same as several other local supers, so whether he sincerely believes it, or just claims what he does to hold the support of the people in the region, is unknown.


Aside from being the team leader, Asiri is apparently also the team ninja. His shapeshifting powers let him adopt the form of anyone his enemy trusts, or at least will overlook.

In combat, Asiri will either use his powers to emulate an enemy's trusted subordinates and sow confusion, or transform into a monstrous form and fight on the front lines.


Asiri is a tough, no-nonsense sort of super. His military training, personal life, and education all point to a guy on a mission. His teammates, and commentators who have seen the Guard on action, report that he doesn't really have an "off" switch - he's always doing the job, and always serious.


Asiri can shift any or all of his body into any reasonably biological form. He can copy anything he's personally familiar with, or invent a shape on the fly. Since his strength, speed, and other physical traits are based on his body's composition, he can adjust his physical abilities as well as his form.

He can gain or lose significant amounts of mass. This isn't a super big deal for Stage 4 - find anyone with a serious enough healing factor, cut off their finger, then ask yourself just how it grew back. Asiri just does it a lot faster than many supers.

It's said that he's a student of psychology, theology, and mythology, and uses his education to construct forms designed to terrify specific targets, or to manipulate them. Specific information is scarce on the ground, for obvious reasons, but it seems plausible.


Asiri's biggest problem at this point is his disconnect from humanity, especially mundanes. If he has a home life, friends, lovers, or anything else, he's never given any evidence of it. To some villains, this sounds like an advantage - no attachments means no vulnerabilities. In a hero's case, though, it means he's got to come up with his own motives for fighting, and he's unlikely to feel any compassion for people he can't connect to.

As the leader of the Lagos Guard, he has a level of visibility and accountability that makes it possible to track him down, or at least find a date and time where you know he'll have to be.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Superheroes of Note: Illumina

Not every hero is a brick or a strong-man. There are some heroes who have a purity of heart, a strength of will, and an indomitable courage.

These are the heroes who, by Odin, piss me off more than anyone else in the world.


This lady has been around for only a few years, but she has a scary, scary power. The only thing that keeps her from being the strongest super on the planet, as far as I can tell, is that she doesn't want to be. Instead, she's made it her life's work to help people in need, redeem the "lost" (you and me, folks), and otherwise go around being an interfering busybody.


Illumina claims that she's an angel sent by God to Earth to save the planet, so uh, yeah. I guess that puts her origin story in the book of Genesis. More seriously, nobody's sure about her prior to her advent as a super. The usual suspects have been working to ID her, since she doesn't bother wearing a mask, but there's been no matches yet.


Illumina seems to prefer the team medic role when she works with others. She'll heal anyone who's injured, protect people from attack, that sort of thing. She likes bold, self-sacrificing sorts of moves. When operating solo, she's fully capable of fighting at Stage 4 levels. She's primarily a physical fighter at these times, rather than using energy blasts or force fields.


She really is the nicest, sweetest girl you'll ever meet. She's got that calm attitude that comes from being able to dish out a beat-down to anyone, but she's pretty non-violent. She gives off that martial artist vibe, so I think someone trained her at some point.

It's pathetically easy to take advantage of her better nature, but she'll always tell you she forgives you, and she doesn't seem to hold it against you. It's weird. I keep waiting for her to just snap. I can't really hate her either, though I really have tried.


Illumina's primary power is terrifying. She can jack powers from defeated supers - those who have been exhausted and injured - but the jack is permanent. That super goes back down to Stage 0 and stays there. It doesn't always work, but when it does, it never wears off. She apparently can't adopt everyone's powers, so not everyone is vulnerable, but still.

Aside from that, she's able to impose a healing factor on other supers, even mundanes. This is her go-to power for most encounters.

She's picked up a package of secondary abilities over the few years she's been in operation - always from villains who went and actually killed people. I think that's kind of her line that you don't cross, because she can heal anyone who isn't already dead and so probably doesn't care.


The biggest restraint on Illumina, right now, is Illumina. She's unwilling to siphon powers from people she thinks can be redeemed (which is a lot of people), and she won't hurt anyone unless they're actually hurting someone else at the time.

I made it clear to her during our last run-in that I wasn't about to turn goody-goody for anyone, but I was smart enough to talk that shit after I got out of her trap. I don't know how our next encounter will go, and I don't plan to find out.

She's clearly a nutcase for acting like she's an angel, but that delusion hasn't affected any of her other thought processes.

Apparently she's in a romantic relationship with a Polish super, alias Scrapper, who operates in New York state. He manipulates iron, which is cool, but he's not at her power level. Threatening him to get to her is a possibility, but you better have balls of iron yourself if you try it.