on Oct 4, 2009
I apologize in advance. This was a bit of an experiment. I wanted to come up with a really off-the-wall superhero origin. Starting with the assumption that you have to be a little crazy to be a superhero, I tried to create someone that fit that description without leaning on ANY of the long-standing tropes. For example: No dead parents / uncle / significant other, no mutual nemesis feud, no destiny / chosen one. Instead I wanted to build one around young-adult foolishness and dumbassery. (Okay, Spider-Man had a bit of that, but I wanted to explore that theme a bit more.
I’m trying to avoid the Mary Sue thing here as well. It’s easy to make an idealized hero. I’m not trying to make someone you’d necessarily like or admire, just someone with an interesting story. Note also that while I’m using Champions Online screenshots to illustrate it, I’m aware that it doesn’t exactly fit seamlessly into the universe we see in the game.
Using her contacts, she joins the small-time group “Steel Defenders” under the pretense of wanting to become a hero full time. She creates the persona “Gold Angel”, a flashy white and gold hero armed with a pair of stun sticks.
Violet spends all of her weekends with the Steel Defenders, mopping up two-bit criminals and scuffling with lowlifes. She hangs back and watches at first, but eventually her confidence grows and she becomes an active combatant. She’s always been remarkably athletic despite never making any sort of effort or taking an interest in sports, and she’s surprised at how capable she is in a fight.
The Steel Defenders don’t have the clout to have police contacts and a mop-up crew, so they mostly play catch-and-release with their foes. If not for the spandex and property damage, this would be nothing more than a series of public brawls. There are many such groups in the world, always working to deter crime and hoping for a shot at catching the public spotlight with big-time heroic deeds.
She’s surprised at how young the rest of the team is. None of them are over thirty. Maybe the paper should be about the changing needs of the younger generation and their dissatisfaction with traditional means of improving society?
It’s amazing how easy it is to keep warm in the dead of winter when you’re getting this much exercise, despite the skimpy outfits everyone wears.
The other heroes are constantly in and out of relationships with each other, and often their interpersonal drama spills over into their work. The guys are often taking a lot of crazy risks and trying to out-macho each other when they’re courting a female member of the team. The girls are all very catty with each other, swinging from BFFs to spiteful adversaries on a week-by-week basis. It’s all very much teenage drama, except more intense. And they’re all well out of their teenage years.
Maybe her paper should be on the sexuality of superheroes?
Violet skips going home for the holidays and stays at school so she can keep fighting crime with the team.
She’s more and more excited about the prospects of the paper. Her plan is to out herself when the project ends, publicly announcing her identity and then giving the world a unique look into the superhero life.
She begins to fantasize about signing a book deal when it’s all over.
During one of their night patrols, the group crosses paths with Malignus, an honest-to-goodness, top-notch, A-list supervillain. Encounters like this can propel supergroups to stardom, and the Steel Defenders go at him full force. In the ensuing battle, Malignus throws a bus at them. A small two-lane bridge ends up getting destroyed. Eight civilians are killed. The defenders are forced to retreat.
Thwarted, they are nevertheless excited about the encounter, and all refer to it as “Our greatest defeat!” They vow revenge.
Violet is shaken by the civilian deaths. They were just some commuters who were in vehicles that were destroyed in the battle. (Six of them were on the thrown bus.) She doesn’t say anything to the other team members. She doesn’t want them to think she’s weak, and she doesn’t want to jeopardize her paper after so much has gone into it.
She should be writing her paper now, but the hunt is still on for Malignus. She doesn’t want to leave the group while he’s still on the loose. She doesn’t want to let the team down, and she tells herself the paper would be better if it included his death or capture.
The group is becoming increasingly aggressive. Everyone is trying to compensate for their public defeat. Their fights become more destructive and angry. They still have no way of legitimately dealing with captured villains, and they often end up fighting the same goons over and over again.
Someone in the group suggests, half-jokingly, that they should think about killing their defeated foes. Nobody argues. Violet doesn’t know what to think.
Malignus appears again. He’s in another city, about an hour away. This is well outside of the team’s usual territory, but they all deem it necessary to meet their nemesis wherever he appears. They drop what they’re doing mid-week – leaving jobs and school without explanation – to rush to the scene and face him.
Malignus is doing… something. They don’t even know what he’s up to, really. He’s causing destruction and tearing the hell out of the city for no apparent purpose. The Steel Defenders meet him in the street and challenge him head-on. It’s obvious he doesn’t remember them at all, nor does he seem to care.
The fight is short. One of the Defenders is killed, and another ends up in one of those full-body casts. Violet manages to get away unscathed.
The news reports that Malignus had shown up in an attempt to provoke a fight with A-list superhero White Sun. The two apparently have a bitter rivalry going. The news doesn’t mention the Steel Defenders at all, except to say that “an independent crime-fighter was killed and another injured”. Nobody seems to care who they are, or connect them with the previous battle with Malignus at the bridge.
Violet realizes that being a superhero is like being an actress: For every famous superstar you see on TV, there are a thousand other people languishing in obscurity. Some people are openly hostile towards “independents” (heroes without some sort of official backing or blessing) and of course there is the ever-present demand for supers to register themselves with the government. (Which leads to the hot-button debate over just how you define “super”.) Violet hates politics and has never paid attention to this side of things before, and only now is she realizing that the debate actually concerns her.
A member of the Steel Defenders quits without comment. Now down to just three members, they stop their weekend raids and begin to drift apart.
Confused, Violet goes to speak with her prof, wanting to talk about the paper she’s been “writing” (although she hasn’t actually sat down and put any words together) and her intended project. She is expecting enthusiasm, curiosity, encouragement, or or perhaps a little direction, but instead Dr. D’Angelo seems alarmed and agitated. She pours out her heart, but he doesn’t say much in response and seems to be eager to end the conversation.
He phones the police as soon as she leaves, and she’s arrested a few hours later just off campus.
Her case goes public, and it becomes apparent that her idea to publicly out herself would never have worked out the way she thought. The only people who knew the name Gold Angel were the other members of the team, and the criminals they fought. Her exploits never lead to any arrests, so instead of viewing her as a crimefighter the police see her as a confessed perpetrator of numerous destructive brawls, and a participant in a fight that destroyed a bridge and killed eight people.
Watching her story unfold on the news, she sees photographs of the people who died in their first battle with Malignus. The gravity of the thing begins to sink in.
The press talks about her youth, and about how society should “strongly discourage” young people from getting mixed up with costumed crimefighting. She’s heard this sort of thing before. Somehow she came all this way without thinking about how it might apply to her. She never thought of herself as a real superhero. She was just pretending to be one in order to study them.
Violet sees her mother once after her arrest. Their conversation is more strained than ever before, and if not for the armed guards they might have ended up in another one of their shouting matches. The only words Violet can remember are, “Four years of college. You were just about to graduate. How could you do this to yourself?”
They sort of mutually and silently agree to stay away from each other.
Motivated by guilt and not wanting to face the public, she pleads “no contest”. She decides to serve out her sentence quietly. The prosecutor wants to make an example of her, arguing that a stiff punishment now will deter other young people from following in the footsteps of Violet Baines. “Being tough on her could save the lives of countless other young people. We need more doctors, not more patients. More builders, not fighters.”
All eight deaths are placed on her head as counts of involuntary manslaughter. This is not remotely fair in a legal sense, but she’s anxious to get this over with and accepts whatever deal they give her. In the back of her mind, she feels like she deserves it.
Malignus threw that bus at them, and while she probably didn’t have what it took to catch it or stop it or save the people inside, the truth was that the thought never crossed her mind. She ducked, the thing sailed over her head, and she never gave it a second look. Seeing the photographs of the people who died was a shocking moment. She feels responsible for their deaths simply because she didn’t even think of saving them. She realizes there was never anything heroic or noble about Gold Angel, or any of the other members of the team.
The judge hands down the punishment: Eighteen years. Parole in twelve.
Since she was classified as a “super”, she ends up going to super-villain prison. She hadn’t anticipated this. Once inside she realizes that – whether the judge knew it or not – sending her here was basically a death sentence. Being a nominal hero makes it impossible for her to make friends here. Her reputation precedes her, and she’s a target from the moment the door slams shut.
She’s constantly hounded and hunted by her fellow inmates. Unlike the thugs she fought on the outside, some of these inmates have serious powers.
The (mild) local coverage of her trial and incarceration ends when White Sun is killed by Malignus, which dominates the national headlines for several weeks.
Four Years Later
When she was a nominal super, she always thought villains were just people who were poor, or angry, or misunderstood. She thought you could show them that “their way doesn’t work” by defeating them in battle, and then they would go get honest jobs or something. You just had to care enough and fight hard enough. But after four years of struggle she’s absorbed a lesson that not even Malignus could teach her: Evil is real.
Her life on the inside is intense and brutal. The inmates are too dangerous for standard prison guards, and so they are basically thrown into a warren of concrete and metal bars and made to fend for themselves or die at the hands of other inmates. Even the food delivery is automated. Every day is a struggle to get enough food, water, and sleep without being killed. She ends up killing some of her adversaries. She does so without anguish or bravado. She can’t even remember the exact point when she crossed that particular line. It’s just part of staying alive. Her days of idealism and spandex seem like a thousand years ago.
She regrets the civilian deaths, although even more than that she regrets the foolishness and selfishness she demonstrated during her time as a superhero. She hates the fame-whore superhero mindset, the destructiveness, and the childish self-absorption of the superhero life. She hates Gold Angel most of all.
She’s a quarter of the way to being eligible for parole, and she has little hope of lasting long enough to see that day. She’s almost thirty now, and she figures she’ll probably be too old or slow to stay alive well before parole time comes around.
Malignus intervenes. He strikes at the prison to free some of his servants. A few sections are blown open, including hers. The confusion and the gaping hole in the wall let out a lot of inmates in addition to the ones Malignus was after. Violet slips out with the rest of the runners.
The New Life
Four years after the last time Violet last skimmed the rooftops, she returns to the job. This time she’s hunting real criminals.
So that’s what I came up with. And in case you’re wondering about powers: She’s extraordinarily strong and nimble, but beyond that I left it intentionally vague. Is she a mutant or does she just train really hard? A bit like the world of Watchmen, the line between “training” and “supernatural ability” is blurred here, simply because I wanted to write the story of a person, not their powers.
Here is her bio as it appears in Champs Online:
That is the maximum space available. I think I could add two more letters to her story before it refused my input. I don’t expect the game to leave room for self-indulgent 2,500 word monsters like this post, but this is frustratingly small. Character creation is such a crucial part of this game, and they just don’t leave much room for the bio.