Paul Stevens sat at the bar, staring at an unopened letter, willing it to go away. He knew what it said, but somehow it wouldn’t be real until he actually read it. Another beer wasn’t going to change anything, but getting drunk didn’t matter anymore. The #$@! could only fire him once.
He had already received his 30-Day Notice, so the letter was just a formality. Paul had known this day would come and thirty was old for the job, but a Character Reboot still hurt.
No more Thunderclap. His role, his paycheck, and his minor story arc were no more.
“They’ve taken away my tights,” he thought, “even though I can still do the job!” For a sidekick, he’d had a pretty good run and he knew it, but he still wasn't ready to give it up.
Being a sidekick meant everything to him. “As a kid, I loved reading about Lightning,” he thought. “Hell, I wanted to be Lightning.”
That was another change. He could swear out loud now. “Drinking, swearing, even sex,” he thought. “Whoohoo! Retirement won't be all bad. Maybe I’ll finally give Temptress a call.” Sure, she was evil, with the power to tempt men to their doom, but he’d always had the hots for her.
“Time to show her what the ol’ Thunderclap can really do,” he thought. “Besides, Lightning always wanted her, and it’ll kill him.” Finally, that #@!! Morals Clause would be gone. It had been hard to live a G-rated life with an NC-17 mind.
Paul switched to scotch. Beer was too tame and it was time to open that @#*!# letter.
“To: Paul Stevens
“From Lightning? It’s not as if I don’t know his secret identity,” he thought. Paul crumpled up the letter and dropped it on the floor.
He knew everything about Lightning, and the public was going to read all about it. “I’ll write a book about the dark side of the city’s favorite superhero.” He’d been tortured for this information by the best of them, even Dr. Evil himself, and he'd held out for years. But it was time to think about Thunderclap for a change. “I’ll make a fortune, and $#@!&# Lightning will regret the day he fired me!” he thought.
Paul knew that Lightning wasn’t really an orphan, haunted by the unsolved murder of his parents. There was no ElectroChair, which supposedly super-charged his body’s cells and allowed him to blast lightning from his fingers. It was really all just the suit. Anyone who wore it could be Lightning. Lightning hadn't even invented it, he just looked good in it, with his square jaw and deep voice. It really belonged to Hero Publications, which needed a live superhero to market their comics.
“They don’t know he’s only a goddamn publicity stunt,” thought Paul, “just like me.” Paul had won a “Sidekick for a Day” contest, and the writers had liked the idea. They had written him in as Thunderclap, whose parents had been killed by Mastermind while protecting America’s nuclear launch codes. Add in some red, white, and blue spandex tights, an alter ego, and he’d fought crime right next to Lightning.
“Hey bartender,” he said, “want to know the true identity of Lightning? Gimme another drink, and I’ll tell you.”
The bartender just shook his head. He’d heard it all before – all the drunks knew secret superstuff when they ran out of money. He was going to have to cut this guy off pretty soon. He hated the ones who climbed on the bar and tried to fly.
Thunderclap had always wished he’d had a superpower, but the writers hadn’t wanted it. “Look at Superman,” they'd said, “the guy was invulnerable, so they finally had to invent Kryptonite to give him a weakness. Talk about lame . . . . Besides, Lightning needs to rescue you – a lot.”
Thunderclap had been the villains’ favorite target. He’d been kidnapped, shot, dropped off buildings, or drowned, sometimes all during the same adventure. Whatever the bad guys hadn’t been able to do to Lightning, they’d done to him.
He’d been guaranteed survival in the end, but it had still hurt. “Good thing I had great insurance,” thought Paul, remembering the doctors who'd kept putting him back together. Not kindly old Doc Harris, who’d been overly fond of painkillers, but real doctors with real medical degrees, who had worked in real hospitals.
But that hadn’t been the worst of it. “I hated the endless cheerleading,” he thought. “Oh Lightning, you’re so strong! You’re so brave!” Or his favorite, “you’re so smart!”
Actually, Lightning was as dumb as toast, but that hadn’t mattered because the bad guys hadn’t been geniuses either, not with their endless talking. Just last week, Fire had been about to roast Thunderclap, but first he'd had to bore him with his evil plan, which had allowed Lightning to rescue a baby in danger before arriving at the last possible second to save the day.
Paul downed another scotch and picked his letter off the floor. “Better finish reading it,” he thought, smoothing it out.
“Due to creative factors beyond the control of Hero Publications, your services as Thunderclap are no longer needed. I regret to inform you that you no longer meet the demographic parameters for your position, and Hero Publications will be hiring Stormcloud as my exciting young sidekick. Per your contract, Thunderclap will die dramatically in a coming adventure.
Outplacement will be provided by Richard Grayson Enterprises, specialists in sidekick services. I wish you luck in your future endeavors.”
“So that’s what Dick’s been up to,” thought Thunderclap. “If anyone knows about a reboot, it’s Robin.” Batman had fired him after 48 years, which had scandalized even the Joker. After that, it had become open season on sidekicks. Even Jimmy Olson had been exiled into alternate storylines and no one knew where he was anymore, not even Superman, who didn’t seem too interested in finding him.
“Yeah,” he thought, finishing another drink, “I’ll call Robin and see what he can do for me. Residuals can carry me for a while, and then I can do the Comi-Con circuit and some late-night commercials.” But first he’d give Temptress a call.
Paul settled his tab and walked unsteadily into the cold night air, disappearing into the heart of an uncaring city. Off in the distance, he heard some explosions and saw the tell-tale flashes of lightning. Whatever was going on no longer concerned him. Lightning and Stormcloud would have to save the world instead.
Paul knew that someday Lightning would receive his own 30-Day Notice from Hero Publications. Maybe then Lightning and Thunderclap could have a drink together, in public -- the Dynamo Duo together one last time.
If Lightning was still speaking to him after Paul wrote his tell-all, of course. Because he hadn't forgotten about that. There was money to be made, and Paul hadn't spent all those years in tights for nothing.
Yeah. That book was definitely going to happen.
* * * * *
A super-thanks to halfshellvenus for beta-reading this.
I will be out of town and without internet access Sat. - Mon. Thank you to all who have read/commented on this entry. I will reply to all entries when I return.