June 1, 2014

Tales of a Web-Slinging Hero – Origins of a Hero

Wow, is it June already?

Not too much to say as far as new things going on, other than I'm coming off a fun session of Mutants & Masterminds.  It wasn't quite as action-packed as some of the past couple sessions, but that's fine as it gave the Stormbreakers (you know, Emerald City's greatest heroes, it's what the media calls us) a chance to catch their breath and be people instead of heroes.

So in that vein, here's a little something I wrote a few weeks back, pertaining to Spidey's history.  It's not something that would really be discussed during the campaign, but I still wanted to flesh out some of the details of how my character got into the superhero gig.  Plus, it's been a while since I did any sort of fiction writing so I wanted to try and get those creative juices flowing.

So without further preamble...

Tales of a Web-Slinging Hero – Origins of a Hero

 “Mister Reilly, if you would be so kind as to answer the question?”

Peter’s attention snapped back to the classroom, his thoughts having drifted off during the teacher’s lecture on some aspect of European socialism.

“Oh, uh, sorry… um… what was the question again?” Peter asked in his usual fumbling manner of speaking, drawing a collection of derisive snickers from several students.

The teacher simply gave Peter a disproving look before shifting his attention to one of the students that had laughed.  “Mister Potts, perhaps you can enlighten the class as to the primary faults of socialist policies outside of theoretical applications?”

Peter breathed an inner sigh of relief, more due to the attention being taken off of him than any worries about not knowing the answer.  One of the big perks of having such a great memory was that he could just read an assigned chapter once and retain most of what he’d read; it was part of the reason why he was in the Honors Society for several years running with a 3.9 GPA.  His relief was short lived as after Jacob Potts, one of the top jocks in the school, had fumbled his way through an answer, the teacher turned his attention back to Peter and asked him to elaborate.  And one of the downsides of being so brilliant, Peter thought briefly, is that the teachers expect you to have most of the answers because you probably do.

As the final bell rang and school let out for the day, Peter barely paid attention to the various insults made as he passed; mostly referrals to his scrawny build or that he was such a know-it-all.  Downside number two to being so smart, Peter mused.  Of course, if anyone at the school had the faintest idea why he’d started showing up to school looking like he’d barely slept, or why he was far less attentive in class than he’d been just a month ago, they’d probably be amazed.  Heck, he was still amazed at how his life had changed, and Peter was the one living it.

Truthfully, it had all started just under two months ago, when Peter had gotten accepted into ASTRO Labs’ junior intern program.  While the program was typically reserved for students of at least the collegiate level, Peter’s GPA and high score on the application tests had earned him a spot on the spring schedule.  Since he was still a minor, that meant that he had to get his Uncle Jay’s permission, which the older man did without hesitation; while Uncle Jay may have been a simple repairman by trade for most of his life, he had always encouraged Peter’s interest and passion for all things science, even if his Aunt Martha sometimes fretted that such enthusiasm came at a cost of having a social life.
The first few weeks working at ASTRO Labs was almost like a dream come true, as Peter was surrounded by and working with people that appreciated him for his smarts and couldn’t have cared less about his physical appearance; he was a science nerd in a building devoted to scientific research in the company of other science nerds.  Sure, there were a few nights he’d get so wrapped up on the experiments he was assisting with that he’d missed the last bus home and had to take a cab instead, but it was worth it.  The on-staff researchers had nothing but praise for Peter’s dedication and intuitiveness regarding some of the higher theoretical principles of the projects he assisted with; one of the department administrators had even suggested that Peter could very well have a job waiting for him once he graduated college if he kept up the good work.  But then came that fateful day late in the month of April when everything changed.

On that particularly day, not that much different than today actually, Peter had been let out of school early due to his reduced class schedule (technically he’d met all but a few academic requirements to graduate) and had headed over to ASTRO Labs to see if there was anything he could help out with.  Things had gotten a bit chaotic with the advent of the Silver Storm and the creation of “stormers,” people who’d been altered in various ways while often gaining superpowers of some sort or another.  On that particular day, a stormer of unknown identity (not that he’d wanted to know at the time) had decided to stage a raid on the labs for reasons unknown.  The raid was violent, destructive, and caused a significant panic amongst the staff, Peter included.  In the rush of that panic, Peter had stumbled into a highly-restricted area that he was definitely not cleared to be in.  His curiosity got the better of him though once he noticed that an active experiment was in progress, one that at first glance seemed like something right out of those B-grade mad science movies that he’d seen on many a Madame Macabre show while growing up.  And if he was reading the monitor display correctly, the experiment in process was attempting to splice the genetic material from one species into a different host species while using various degrees of radiation in low-degree bursts to merge the two individual DNA strands into a single stable strand.  Having enough knowledge about bio-chemistry to grasp the fundamental concepts, Peter was so engrossed that he didn’t notice that in the commotion one of the subjects of a prior attempt, this one a spider that had been infused with the traits of several different breeds, hadn’t been properly returned to its storage cage.  He only became aware of the spider after it crawled onto the base of his neck and bit him, but a fresh round of alarm klaxons put it out of his mind until much later, when he’d gotten home.  In hindsight, he realized he probably should have been a lot more worried when the spider that bit him didn’t match the description of any known genus of the species, but at that point he was simply too fatigued.  Or at least that’s what he’d thought at the time.

The next couple days had certainly been weird as the spider’s irradiated venom worked its way through his system, but to say that Peter was a changed man afterwards would be a gross understatement.  For starters, slamming the snooze button on his alarm clock usually didn’t result in said clock being smashed to pieces, and a look in the mirror while dragging himself to the shower revealed that Peter was now sporting the kind of build that would put most pro athletes to shame.  After a brief yet perfectly understandable freak-out, Peter put his scientific aptitude to work and came to the only conclusion that made any sense, no matter how unlikely or improbable it seemed… the spider’s bite had granted him abilities very much like those of a spider, running the gamut from enhanced agility and strength to a reaction time that bordered on precognitive thanks to a heightened sense of awareness of his environment, especially in regards to immediate danger to his person.  Naturally, Aunt Martha had been worried that Peter has been exposed to something during the attack on ASTRO Labs, but they were at least willing to accept his rationalization that it was simply the shock of the event and the psychological comprehension of just how much danger he’d potentially been in finally catching up with him, and that even his increased appetite wasn’t anything to be too worried about.

Once his body had found its new biological equilibrium, Peter had set about testing what his new limits were; since ASTRO Labs was closed due to damages incurred from the stormer’s attack, he didn’t have much else to do with his free time.  Before the spider bite, it’d been pretty clear what his future held; graduate from Emerald City University, get a job at ASTRO Labs or some other high-end research company, work on getting his doctorate.  But with these new powers came new opportunities that he had to at least consider.  He’d overheard talk at school about some kind of “secret underground stormer fight circuit,” but Peter quick dismissed that notion, mostly since the notion of becoming a glorified pro-wrestler was patently ridiculous on top of the fact he wasn’t a stormer to begin with.  He could just keep his powers a secret and continue on with his life the way it’d been going, but Uncle Jay had instilled in Peter the notion that people owed the world their gifts, even if it took them a while to figure out how to best use them.

Five days after the bite, Peter had been on an extended late night walk when he heard a woman call out for help from an alleyway on the other side of the street; without even thinking about it he made a quick leap across and found himself facing several gangbangers, behind them a lone woman cowering at the alley’s end.  Lucky for him the lighting was pretty bad, not that he really needed it as much, but the gangbangers wouldn’t be able to see his face.  One of them snarled a warning to turn away and get lost, brandishing a vicious-looking knife while another grasped what was probably the poor woman’s skirt.  Peter’s response was a pretty lame quip about them being in the wrong part of town for the urban poetry slam and dance recital, but that was enough to incense the thugs to forget the woman and focus on him.

Five days ago, Peter would have gotten overwhelmed and butchered… but thanks to his recently-acquired powers, in less than minute the gangbangers were scattered in a heap of fresh bruises and smashed-up faces, with Peter only suffering a very minor cut that was already healing by the time the fight was over.  When the young woman stammered a quiet ‘thank you’ for coming to her rescue, Peter had that flash of clarity.  Naturally, his uncle had been right, and now Peter knew how to best make use of his new gifts; it not only felt good to help someone in need, but it felt right.  The fight had drawn the attention of others, and noticing that one of the approaching parties was police officer, Peter figured it was in his best interest not to stick around.   He was almost out of sight, having literally climbed up the side of the building in moments, when he heard the woman ask who he was.

 “Just a friendly neighborhood hero,” was Peter’s reply before vanishing into the night.

With the outbreak of the Silver Storm and the advent of so many new superhumans appearing in Emerald City, Peter felt that maybe there had been something more than just random chance at play at here; he had never been big on religion due to his preference for hard facts over something as intangible as “faith” but sometimes you just don’t argue against providence.  Opting to run with the theme, Peter set his considerable intellect and tech-savvy to creating the tools he’d need to complete his spider-powers, those being a bio-degradable web fluid and a pair of pressure-activated wrist-mounded devices to store and launch the substance in tightly controlled bursts.  A few days of further practice and Peter was ready to hit the streets as a super-powered crime-fighter… except that he’d lacked a decent costume.

His initial attempt at a costume was pretty laughable, being little more than a glorified ski-mask, sweat pants, light gloves, track shoes, and a silk-screened shirt with a spider emblem, but it did the job until Peter could save up enough of his allowance to put together something that wasn’t quite as embarrassing.   His new costume was a spandex bodysuit in dark blue with red spider-theme designs on the chest, shoulders, forearms and ankles; not only did it have the advantages of fitting better while providing far less loose fabric for any bad guys to get hold of, it also looked pretty cool, especially with the mask’s enlarged eyepieces giving him a slightly creepy look that had been quite unnerving to some of the hoodlums that had the rotten luck to cross this spider’s path.  The whole ensemble made it a lot easier to do a full costume change since all he really had to do was slip on the gloves and remove the outer layer of casual clothes he wore.  With a proper costume, Peter felt as ready as he’d every be to take on whatever the seedy underworld of Emerald City could throw at him…  now he just needed to figure out an appropriately cool and intimidating name.  Peter had come up with a handful of ideas, but none of them really clicked or had the right flair.  There was the blatantly obvious option, but he really didn’t want to be that unsubtle.

“God Peter, you have been such a space-case lately, you know that?” said a very familiar voice that instantly snapped Peter out of his reverie.  Peter flinched as though he’d been slapped, ealizing that without meaning to, he’d walked right past the Starbase Coffee shop that had been his destination this particular afternoon.  He knew what was coming and that he deserved it, so with a muted groan and slouching of his shoulders, Peter turned around…

Standing there was Elizabeth “Liz” Warren, arms crossed and giving him a look that suggested she wasn’t quite as upset as she had sounded.  Liz was probably his best friend, the two having met during middle school, when Peter had wound up being volunteered as an assistant stagehand for the drama club’s presentation of Shakespeare’s ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream.’  Most girls, especially the really pretty ones, had generally ignored Peter, but Liz never had.  She was more in the “approachable girl-next-door” type of pretty than “curvy bombshell” or “slender yet haughty” types, especially with the glasses she wore, her slightly up-turned nose, and reddish-brown hair that was worn short and seemed to be in perpetual need of combing no matter what she did.  Her expression softened at Peter’s physical act of contrition.  “Just so you know, I’ve been trying to get your attention for the past two blocks,” she said, her face softening into that smile that had always made Peter feel better when he’d had a particularly rough day.  They went to different high schools, but had still tried dating for a brief time during their sophomore year before agreeing they worked better as “just friends” rather than being an “item.”

“I’m really sorry Liz,” Peter said sheepishly.  “Just, you know, had a lot on my mind, what with the internship at ASTRO Labs and college starting next fall,” he offered in what he hoped was a properly apologetic tone.  As understanding as Liz could be, the fact remained that Peter had little experience in talking with girls of any stripe outside of very limited circumstances.  “Um, how about, um, about it being my treat, to make up for up?”

“You think you can get my order right?  Because last time…” Liz inquired teasingly.

“That wasn’t my fault, the guy at the counter used two-percent instead of skim and only added two packets of sugar instead of two,” Peter replied defensively.  “And it’s not like the owner didn’t give you a freebie by way of apology.”

Liz shook her head before giving a quick little laugh. “Why am I not surprised you remembered exactly what they got wrong.  C’mon Pete, I left my backpack at the shop and I’ve got a school laptop in there.  And you did promise to help check my pre-calc homework.”

As usual, Peter didn’t have to do much in terms of checking Liz’s homework; while not in Peter’s league academically, she was still quite smart and good with numbers.  Still, it was a chance for them to hangout and just talk about “stuff.”  For Liz, it was about the issues the high school drama club was facing, both in getting a production of MacBeth (or “the Scottish play” as she kept calling it as part of what Peter felt was an utterly ridiculous superstition; not that he’d ever say that within earshot of Liz) off the ground and how the cheerleading squad was trying to get their funding increased at the expense of the drama club’s already limited budget.

For Peter, it was about the interesting stuff going on at ASTRO Labs, as Liz got a kick out of hearing tales of “beneficial mad science.”  More than once, he’d seriously considered telling Liz about the lab accident and his powers, but for some reason the words just wouldn’t come out.  His aunt had always told him that secrets come with a cost, and it was hard enough keeping his nocturnal activities a secret from his adoptive parents; if they knew what Peter was getting up to, he was certain that neither of them would take it well.  He was pretty sure that Liz would have a similar reaction, and knew that she was really trying hard to secure at least one scholarship to pay for her tuition to Emerald City Community College.  He really didn’t want to distract her from that with worries about his new hobby; smart as he was, Peter knew that not everyone was going to be lucky enough to have their tuition costs to Emerald City University completely covered by academic scholarships.

Still, he thought about testing the waters; Liz had made it clear that she was all for new heroes cropping up, having even gone so far as to indulge in some very fangirlish gushing over the plant-based hero Nature Boy on a couple occasions, not that she’d ever admit to it.  He was about to broach the subject of the surge in Emerald City’s population of superhumans when a loud crash followed by several screams grabbed both their attention.  Well of all the rotten…, Peter thought briefly even as he got to his feet to see what the cause of the commotion was.

Standing some distance down the street was an oversized robot, built like a linebacker and having just smashed somebody’s car front-end first into the street.  Just behind it were a pair of men wearing leather biker jackets and wielding pistols, and standing not far off from them was a guy with crazy bright-red hair in a white labcoat leaning on a cane, flanked by a statuesque blonde in a short pale blue dress.  The two guys with pistols were shooting in the general direction of pedestrians and motorists alike.

“Peter!  We need to get out of here!” exclaimed Liz, and Peter was suddenly aware that she was tugging desperately on her arm.  She was on the verge of panic; made sense as she didn’t have the benefit of super-powers like he did.

Peter nodded his consent and scooped up his backpack.  “Uh, yeah, let’s go,” he said as Liz started guiding them away from the commotion.  Gotta find a way to make sure she gets to safety before I go back and do the hero thing, Peter thought.  A group of panicked shoppers rushed past, bumping into the two teens, and Peter took this as his chance.  It wasn’t hard to pull his shirt sleeve free of Liz’s grasp while making seem like it wasn’t a deliberate action on his part.  “Keep going, I’ll catch up!”  Peter said as a portly middle-aged man cut between them.  He heard Liz cry his name, and the obvious tone of worry in her voice made Peter feel even worse about lying to his best friend like that; she was going to be furious and frantic when it became clear that Peter wasn’t going to be catching up to her.  But the his deceased father’s mantra of “great power carrying with it great responsibility” was something he’d grown up with, and compared to the scrawny geek that he’d been just a few weeks ago, it was clear where Peter’s responsibility was…

A quick leap up to the side of a building followed by an even faster scramble to the rooftop, and Peter had a pretty good view of the chaos.  Yeah, it was possible the Stormbreakers might show up, but there was no telling how long it’d take or how many people would get hurt in the meantime; for all he knew they could be busy, maybe even on the opposite side of the city.  Taking a second to calculate the angles and determine the best way to approach the mad scientist-looking guy and his coalition of rabble-rousers, Peter quickly ditched his regular clothes.  Oh man, am I ever glad I’ve got the new suit for this fight, otherwise I might die of embarrassment.  That is if I don’t die of a severe case of acute iron poisoning first.  Taking a final moment to steel himself for the fight, Peter sprang into the air and triggered his web-shooter… he might not have much experience with this sort of thing, but sooner or later he’d have to tangle with a member of the super-villain crowd.  In the back of his mind Peter wished he’d managed to settle on a cool hero name, but maybe something would come to him in the midst of the fight.  Provided he didn’t get squashed in the process…

*** *** ***

Yeah, bit of a cliff-hanger ending, as it's the as-yet-unnamed Spider-Man about get into his first fight with an actual super-villain.  Astute members of the Atomic Think Tank will probably have sussed out who the villain is.  Of course, since Spidey's gone on to become a member of the Stormbreakers it's pretty clear that he survives.  But the question is, does he win?  Or does his first public outing as a super-hero end in an embarrasing defeat?

Sadly, the details of that fight will have to wait for next week's post.  Hopefully, you found the above tale to be some flavor of entertaining, and that you'll find the my write-up of that first villain fight to be of similar enjoyableness.

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