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From the Notebooks of Doctor Brain

by Minister Faust

Paperback, 390 pages, Random House Inc, List Price: $15 |


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Book Summary

After defeating all of their enemies, the Fantastic Order of Justice, Earth's most powerful team of superheroes, finds itself adrift in a peaceful world without villains, until Dr. Brain-Silverman is enlisted to save them from themselves.

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Excerpt: From The Notebooks Of Doctor Brain


Operation: Cooperation!

Friday, June 30, 1:43 P.M.

There’s No “I” in Team, but You Can’t Spell “Teamwork” Without “Me at Work”

Omnipotent Man,” shouted Iron Lass, “help me knock ziss monster off balance!” Her cloak exploding like coal dust and transforming itself into huge black wings, the Valkyrie streaked into the sky with Omnipotent Man behind her as a red, blue, and white flash.

The rest of the team scrambled in the badlands sands, narrowly escaping being crushed. With ever-increasing speed, the mile-high metal wheel of mayhem rolled its juggernaut path northwest toward the ten million people of Los Ditkos.

“What is that thing?” screamed Power Grrrl.

Buzzing above us and almost silhouetted by the flaming sunset, the Brotherfly whooped, “Muss be Codzilla’s hula hoop!”

“Don’t either of you know a kot-tam thing? That’s Cyclo-Tron!” yelled the X-Man, gaping at the terror wheel rolling its long arc to merge onto the interstate toward its target. From this distance, Cyclo-Tron’s twirling lights resembled an ultramassive Ferris wheel, but only for a carnival of destruction in which the cotton candy is made of pink insulation and the corndogs have sticks of dynamite inside them. “Nearly destroyed Houston in ’78,” yelled X-Man, “until—”

“—until Captain Alamo and the Confederate Wrecking Crew turned it into the world’s largest spare-parts yard,” said the Flying Squirrel, focusing his Squirreloscope on the retreating spectacle of Iron Lass and Omnipotent Man failing to knock over the unicycled behemoth. “Well, X-Man? We need a vehicle!”

The X-Man closed his eyes. Slowly, carefully, he enunciated the word au-to-mo-bile.

A geometry of shadows—onyx curves, lines, and planes—congealed in front of me, composing themselves into the finned sleekness of a shining 1955 Ford Fairlane. X-Man and his elder jumped inside, rocketing down the cracked and splintered highway. Meanwhile, Brotherfly wrapped his arms and legs around Power Grrrl to fly her away, scraping the ground occasionally with her legs from bearing the additional weight.

Clicking forward several miles, I found Iron Lass and Omnipotent Man swirling like chaff in a dust devil, desperately dodging deathbeams from the sinister spokes of the Cyclo-Tron. The wheel’s blinding neon rays slashed mile-long smoking scars into the badlands, the rubble reeking of sulfur. Omnipotent Man was virtually invulnerable, but Iron Lass lacked the protection of her impregnable wings while airborne, and was ignitable as a chicken breast marinated in ethanol.

After witnessing Cyclo-Tron nearly incinerate the Brotherfly and Power Grrrl, Iron Lass swooped down to where they were flying mere inches above the badlands floor of cactus and purple sage. “Get her out uff here, you verdammt ik-noramus!” she yelled.

“Like, we have every right to be here?” shouted Power Grrrl, clinging to the Brotherfly’s midsection like a baby possum to its mother’s belly. Even while furious, she intoned her statements like questions, as if expressing uncertainty or seeking the permission of some unknown agency.

“You cannot do any goot here, Broderfly!” yelled Iron Lass. “Get aheadt to Los Ditkos—get ze civilians out of ze way!”

“But damn, Lass,” said the Brotherfly, “you c’n fly faster than I can, specially with this lil girly-girl weighin me down!”

“Omnipotent Man unt I vill slow Cyclo-Tron down—now you get her out uff here!”

Off flew the two youngest members, and Iron Lass shouted to her partner to follow her lead. Zooming miles ahead on the highway and then hovering low, she swung her black longsword Darkalfheimsdottir toward the road. Muspells-fire belched from her blade, turning a hundred-yard stretch into a hundred-foot-deep flaming crater.

Streaking back another mile, the valorous Valkyrie dragged her white Grendelsmuter shortsword with her, the entire distance crackling into ice in her wake. “Vally, rip it up!”

Sweeping low like a stealth bomber, Omnipotent Man dug his arms beneath the skin of the road, ripping it into the air like grass clippings.

Cyclo-Tron rolled right through their speed bump, slowing slighty but not stopping.

Iron Lass: “Odin damn it!”

Omnipotent Man: “Hnossi, I unnerstand y’upset, but there’s never any need for that kinda language, even if y’are invokin’ your heathenish blasphemy again—”

“Vally, for ze love of fuckink Loki, just do sumsing!”

“Roger that, Iron Lass, ma’am,” he said, streaking off.

Clicking over to Route 22 on the outskirts of Los Ditkos, I found the Brotherfly and Power Grrrl struggling to evacuate a Squirrel Burger drive-in franchise.

“Yo, my peeps,” yelled the Brotherfly, crawling along the ceiling and yelling down toward the customers, “you gots to get your Squirrelly Fries and Nut Shakes on an turn yo highways to bye-ways, cuz danger is biz-anging on the door and briz-anging hell with it, kwamn sayin?”

Apparently none did know what he was saying, for staring back at him were nothing but blank eyes, while mouths kept chewing and seam-popping polyestered legs remained motionless beneath the bright pink furry tables.

“I got this one, Brotherfly!” said Power Grrrl. “Hear ye, hear me,” she called out, disco lights streaming out of her bustier, a dance track thumping out of her Power Pumps. She sang:

“You got to get the move on, your groove on!

It’s time for PG’s smooth song, the lube song!

And o-o-o-O-O-uh-uh-UH-UH-UH—”

she intoned, rippling in her trademarked R&B/gospel trill,

“—can you think! slink! and JINK like ME?”

In a Squirrel Burger blink, sixty diners of all ages, body shapes, races, and genders simply disappeared.

Replacing them instantly, in the same chairs and the same poses, were threescore uniformed Power Grrrls, “booty-shaking” their way behind the original as she dance-beat them to safety outside and away.

A moment later, a gray-haired man in plaid slacks shuffled his way out of the restroom, reclasping his eagle-shaped “Elvis” belt buckle. Swooping down on him, the Brotherfly plucked him up and out of the restaurant an instant before Cyclo-Tron flattened the diner into an inch-high greasy crust of flaming rubble and burning food products.

Burning Bridges

Checking my display, I clicked myself over to the fringes of mainland Los Ditkos where the X-Man and Flying Squirrel were speeding at 160 miles an hour over fractured highway right behind the thundering Cyclo-Tron. Lacking any real op- position, the hurricane wheel had ceased aiming its particle beams—otherwise X-Man and Flying Squirrel would have been reduced to nothing but costumed puffs of smoke.

“Omnipotent Man, Iron Lass,” shouted the X-Man into his comm, “what in the hell’re you two doing in southeast Los Ditkos? We’ve gotta stop this thing out here!”

“Wellsir,” crackled back the voice of Omnipotent Man, “we can’t let this here monsterosity cross the Centurion Bridge over to Bird Island. If downtown Los Ditkos is destroyed, th’whole free ennerprise system of the state could be at stake!”

“So you’re gonna bring down that big metal bastard in my neighborhood? So what if all the coloreds buy it, so long as you can save Ivory Town?”

“Son,” snapped the Squirrel, “this isn’t the time for your Zulu goddamned nationalism, do you hear me? For once in your life, listen to people who know what they’re actually doing and let them bring down this giant steel cocksucker like they know how to!”

“Old man, we can clear the path to Centurion Bridge, destroy the bridge, and drown this motherfucker in the river, we can destroy Cyclo-Tron here while we still can, or I can personally rip you to pieces and fry you into hot wings. Now either shut your caviar-hole or help me blast this freak—or better yet, both!”

“And how do you suggest we do that, Rochester?”

“What’s its power source?”

Even behind the mask, the Flying Squirrel’s eyes glinted. “Get me as close as you can to that super-colliding sonofabitch!”

As if he were piloting a ship in a tsunami, X-Man ripped at the steering wheel, hurtling along in the ditch at station-keeping with the giant wheel’s hub, all the while dodging the storm of crushed cars, spinning street lamps, and flying trees pouring down on them. Dialing his comm, the Flying Squirrel waited for his connection and then unleashed thirty seconds of fury at the person on the opposite end.

Instantly Cyclo-Tron’s lights went black. Slowly, the peak of its rotation dipped left, and the device fell straight for the Ford Fairlane.

X-Man cranked hard to the right, arcing 180 degrees east. Behind him, the entire mile-high apparatus that was Cyclo-Tron plummeted. From that height, the distance to fall was so great that the descent appeared to be in slow motion, until the wheel clapped the earth with a sound like God backfiring His truck, turning every window within four miles of the shock wave into a mutilating hurricane of slivered glass.

“I can’t believe you pathetic bunch of cripples!” snapped the Flying Squirrel, ripping off his Event Helmet, unstrapping himself from the Event Chair, and storming out of the Id-Smasher® before I could call him back.

I tapped my panel, releasing all my sanity-supplicants from their Event Chairs. Each one detached him- or herself, stretching and groaning, before exiting the techno-pinnacle of my analytical career. At more than three stories tall, the neuro-dimensional Id-Smasher® was a glittering titanium tower of nine hundred terabits of cognintegrated processing power. I held back a moment, admiring the technology which interlaced the psychespheres of my patients via the long, slender transduction rods through its two black processing bulbs.

“Looks just like a giant shrimp, Doc,” said the Brotherfly, observing me observing. “Come to thank of it, I’m hongry for some some takeout now that we up outta there! Brotherfly be sayin ‘ka-pow!’—or should it be ‘kung-pow’? Bzzzt! Somebody, anybody, can I get a witness?”

Laughing at his own joke, he looked around for reinforcement, holding out a hand palm-up for slapping reinforcement. He received none.

“Thank you for sharing, André,” I offered.

“Now could somebody fill me in on something?” said Omnipotent Man, rubbing a dried trail of drool from the side of his mouth. “How exactly did we bring down ol’ Cyclo-Tron, anyway? Cuz I think I mighta missed how that happened.”

Festus shook his head. “Since you people couldn’t destroy it, I went after its power source.”

X-Man snorted. “Only because I told you to!”

The Flying Squirrel rippled an eyebrow in my direction, then said, “When we were driving alongside that mangler, I called the Defense Department, which is what kept Cyclo-Tron operational. I got them to yank its funding.” He harrumphed, fluttering his flaps. “Hell of a simulation you’ve got there, Doctor, to’ve actually arranged a simulated DOD for me to talk to. Do you have a Hoover in some other section of that program, too?”

“I’m glad you approve, Festus. The program improvises according to the essential logic of any gambit you take, responding accordingly.”

“Hmph. Anyway,” he said, “that’s how it’s supposed to be done. Analyze the situation first. That’s what Hawk King taught us—those of us who bothered to learn. Forget the brute-force idiocy. That’s for amateurs. We’re the professionals.”

“Now,” I said, “if you’d all like to get dressed, we’ll pick up in the Group Dynamics Verbalarium.”

Back to Base, and Back to “Base Sicks”

All teams, super or otherwise, function and dysfunction like all families do: having to cope with intergenerational misunderstanding, birth-order clusters of privilege and disfavor, brutal grudges, pathological codependencies, tragically “scripted” behavior loops, pathogenic levels of neglect and abuse, and phony displays of affection and loyalty.

This catalog of psychological cancers forms what I call the “base sicks,” the bombed-out foundation of every human being which is the source of all adult misery and the terror of every “inner child.” Because these base sicks are buried at the deepest-level programming of any group’s origin, they’re as invisible to the individuals they’re poisoning as a rainbow is to Dog Man.

It’s Easier to Change One’s Uniform Than One’s Mind-Set

Emerging from the changing room, Power Grrrl stumbled, falling into me. I helped her along while she regained her “reality legs,” noting the extraordinary change in her appearance. Gone was the black and silver Sensosilk Event Tunic, replaced by one of her more restrained uniforms: a dazzle of sequins, a lace vest with garters, and thigh-high leather boots whose skyscaper heels had no doubt contributed to her tumble.

“Like, Eva,” she asked me, “could we have, like, died or something in that simulation? Because I am totally not cool with that?”

Behind us, Iron Lass ground her teeth so loudly that for a moment I thought she was chewing ice.

“No, Syndi, not to worry,” I said, intercepting the Valkyrie’s objection. “The release form you signed cleared me of any liability in the unlikely event of your mental incapacitation, grievous bodily harm, or life-cessation, but while you could experience the illusion of pain inside the Id-Smasher®, your bodies couldn’t be killed, even if your somatic simulations could be.”

“It’s precisely that kind of cowardice,” grumbled the man waiting for us inside the Verbalarium, “that’s destroyed this organization.”

Sitting already in the ring of chairs, the Flying Squirrel almost glowed from the sunlight streaming onto him, the fur of his world-famous mask gleaming with its oversized animal ears, snub nose, long white whiskers, and giant, pink-rimmed black eyes. With his Olympic build, tight skin, and laserlike stare, he looked more like a young Brian Dennehy than the seventy-year-old he was. But no one could mistake the power throbbing inside his clawed and furry gloves for that of anyone else.

“Cowardice, contempt for chain of command, lack of discipline,” sneered the Flying Squirrel, “and a hundred other maladies of character forming a toxic cocktail that has shaken, not stirred, everything that Hawk King spent decades building. If he’d seen how you invalids performed in there today—”

“O-kay, we get it?” said Power Grrrl, snapping her bubble gum. “You know Hawk King, you, like, worked with Hawk King, you used to fetch coffee for Hawk King—I got it the, like, first thousand times?”

“Aw, man, Squirrelly,” said André. “Brotherfly say girly-girl just put the Bzzzt! on you—”

“Quiet, you,” said Festus Piltdown III. He paused to scrub Power Grrrl with his glance. “And as for you, your juvenile blandishments which reduce every statement to an interrogative don’t erase the simple fact that your performance was subfar- cical!”

“Oh, now jess tether yer ponies a sec, Festy,” said Omnipotent Man, making a “whoa” gesture with his hands. “I’ont think we was all s’bad in there. We set ’er up, an you an th’X-Man knocked ’er down. That’s the hokey-pokey, right?” He grinned and winked at the ravenish woman in the winged helmet. Iron Lass’s ivory faced flushed. He sang, “Now we turn ourselves around . . . that’s what it’s all about!”

“Ah, poor, pathetic, possum-fried Wally,” said the Flying Squirrel, shaking his head minutely. “Would you be giving that moonshine-and-stained-overalls assessment if Hawk King were here? Did you happen to notice that your so-called settin’ ’er up amounted to virtually zero role in the mission’s success?”

The X-Man spat, “ ‘Success’?”

All faces turned to Kareem Edgerton, HKA* the X-Man, before flitting toward my hand, which I kept poised above my whistle, like a gunfighter fingering his Colt.

Kareem leaned back in his seat, letting out a breath while reconsidering his tone. “If today’s ‘combat’ had been real, there would’ve been a hundred thousand people lined up outside of hospitals looking like bleeding pincushions from the flying glass. ‘Success’?” he repeated, catching his voice just as it spiked. He glanced toward my whistle, looked down, loosened his fists, and stage-whispered, “You call that success. . . . I’d hate to see failure.”

*Heroically Known As

The Utility of Aggression-Aversion Therapy

Festus Piltdown said, “If you’d been in this business as long as I have, Edgerton, you’d know that sometimes tough decisions—executive decisions—are required when the professionals take on the hard jobs no one else is qualified for—”

“Professionals?” said the X-Man, extravagantly sweeping invisible lint from his black blazer and pants. “Mr. Squirrel here said ‘professionals’ like that’s something to be proud of. But there’re professional killers, too. And those two”—he wagged his chin across the circle, first to Omnipotent Man and then to Iron Lass—“were willing to professionally liquidate everyone in Langston-Douglas to protect the borough of Bird Island. Don’t the people in Stun-Glas have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of not being blown to kot-tam hell?”

I moved my whistle toward my lips.

“Excuse me, Doc,” said Kareem, “blown to golly-gee-whiz-gol-dang heck. Or was it just that not enough ‘professionals’ live over in mainland Los Ditkos?”

Hnossi Icegaard shifted in her chair. “It vuss only a simulation, Kareem,” she sighed, adjusting her gleaming silver-gold breastplate and black-feather cloak. “No actual human beingks vut haff been harmedt. Just like in ze moofies.”

“So why not—!” Kareem stopped, lowered his volume and tempo. “Why not . . . just let Cyclo-Tron hit the island, then? Like the Squirrel said, when we were inside the simulation we all believed it was real. And yet you and Wally had no hesitation to sacrifice how many of us to save how few of you?”

“Oh, Kareem!” snapped Power Grrrl. “That’s, like, not even—”

“That didn’t take long, did it?” said Festus. “Have we gone to simulated Las Vegas now? Because once again Kareem is playing his race cards!”

“You know, in my experience,” said Kareem, caging his fingers and drawing out his words, “the jokers . . . who talk the most about ‘playing the race card’ . . . are the people who own all the diamonds . . . who’ve picked up the clubs . . . to beat down the spades . . . because they’ve got no heart.”

The Brotherfly laughed, slapping his knees in exaggerated delight. “You gots to admit, Squirrelly-man, Kareem just put the Bzzzt! on y’all!”

Kareem switched his gaze to Omnipotent Man and Iron Lass. “Five times more people live on the mainland than on the island. I even told you two to clear a path for Cyclo-Tron to get onto Centurion Bridge so we could sink it there. Did you even consider moving into position?”

“For all you know, Kareem, even if ve’d destroyt ze bridch, Cyclo-Tron vut haff continuedt rollink out of ze vaater. Dit you sink about zat?”

“X-Man, hold up there a minute,” said Wally. “What if Bird Island got flattened, and then th’entire economy crashed? Then all the mums and dads in Langston-Douglas woulda lost their jobs! Well then how they supposta pay their mortgages?”

“Wallace, have you ever even set foot in Stun-Glas? You think the people there have mortgages? You think half the people there even have jobs?”

“Now jess round up yer rangers a spell, Kareem. Jess last week I got a ball off the roof at one a them Langston-Douglas midnight basketball dealies. And don’t be saying they don’t have jobs, no sir. I saw lots a fine automobiles there with some very shiny, expensive-looking hubcaps, an that means hard-working folks, car loans an auto dealerships fulla happy employees. Gracious jiminny, th’folks down there even try t’dress like superheroes—evra-one wearing red or blue—”

“This monolithic level of ignorance about life in Stun-Glas,” said Kareem, imploring the ceiling itself, “is exactly why the F*O*O*J lost its HUD contract to police the neighborhood in the first place, and why the L*A*B picked it up and protected our homes, reduced crime to almost nothing, and earned the loyalty of the people there—”

“Maybe, Kareem,” said Festus, “if your L*A*B wasn’t such a bunch of spear-sharpening, whitey-hating racists, they would’ve kept in HUD’s favor. But then they wouldn’t be the League of Angry Blackmen anymore, would they?”

“You hear that, Doc? Where’s your whistle now? Festus, those sheets you ride around in at night—they made of satin, or silk?”

“I don’t have to take that from you, Edgerton!” said Festus.

I blew my Mind Whistle™, and the bickering ceased as quickly as the migraines sucked everyone’s hands to their skulls.

“Ladies and gentlemen, we went over the rules yesterday,” I reminded them, while resentment skittered across my group’s faces like silverfish across a dinner plate.

“I’d thought we might go a few weeks at least before the whistle first had to be used, but . . . well. While controlled venting is a necessary part of the therapeutic process, aimless unleashing of antihappiness merely blasts psychemotional shrapnel into the vulnerable underbelly of our healing community. Your real task inside the Id-Smasher® wasn’t tactical training, of course, but to prepare you for postsimulation self-observation of how you are decapacitizing the life-potentials you seek.

“Your board of directors—pardon me, your Fantastic Order of Justice Leadership Administrative Committee—was quite specific with me, and with all of you. Unless you six can resolve the problems that are making you, and I quote, ‘contentious in the extreme, dysfunctional, and impossible to work with,’ end quote, the F*L*A*C will terminate your employment with and membership in the F*O*O*J.”

I let the weight of my words rest like rhetorical cement blocks upon their psychemotional fingernails. Each hero was still wincing from the beneficial operant conditioning of the Mind Whistle™.

“Now, while some of you are unconcerned at the prospect of losing your benefits and pension, either due to your personal fortune,” I said, nodding to the Flying Squirrel, “or due to your immortality,” I continued, nodding to Iron Lass, “I assume the real threat is that of dishonorable discharge from the Fantastic Order of Justice.

“And while such scandal might be a temporary boost in the ‘no press is bad press’ mode, dishonorable discharge from the F*O*O*J could severely damage a young heroine’s outside commercial endorsements,” I said, nodding to Power Grrrl, “distance oneself from the command of dedicated soldiers,” I said, nodding again to Iron Lass, “or from a community of friends and admirers,” I said to the young black man with the floppy transparent wings, blue-bottled bug-eye goggles, and hairy antennae.

I finished by nodding to the thirty-four-year-old black man in his conservative black suit and tie. “And it would annihilate an ambitious man’s career aspirations.”

Everyone finally took their chairs in the circle, leaving the X-Man as the last man standing, since he’d been jockeying to avoid sitting near either Power Grrrl or Festus. Finally he sat on the opposite side of the circle from his implacable adversary, the Squirrel.

Perhaps ironically (for those untrained in psychoanalysis), the quietest of the group stood out the most. He’d made neither fuss nor folly during the just concluded mini-fracas, and he sat serenely resplendent in his blue suit, golden epaulets, red necktie, and cape. Were I not a highly perceptive practitioner of the healing arts of psychotherapy, I might have believed this man had no worries at all, with his massive brawn and his hands folded in his lap so immaculately they appeared to have been carved by Michelangelo himself.

But I did know better. For Omnipotent Man was as wracked with self-destructive pain as any of his comrades beside him.

Every Superstrength Is Also a Superweakness

As you just saw, conflict on a hyper-hominid team is virtually inevitable. That’s because careers self-select for personality type. The irony, of course, is that success during the workday can mean severe interpersonal and psychological dysfunction at night.

Take Clifford David Stinson, HKA the Blue Smasher. His heroism demanded his willingness—indeed his eagerness—to smash anything, anywhere at any time. But during domestic disputes, he also smashed several of his own homes and vehicles as well as those of his neighbors in Los Ditkos’s upscale Royal Arch district. In 1988 he so flattened Bucksome Hills that the city council had to rename it Spinster Flats.

Eventually Clifford Stinson’s personal failings became professional ones. In 1983, when the Gasteroids threatened to infest the intestinal tracts of the entire population of Crystal City, Arizona, Stinson reduced its city hall, Jewel Museum, and 40 percent of its downtown to shards. No one doubted that smashing has its place—but never in Crystal City.

Similarly, Magna’s magnetic-seduction was powerful enough to sway even the Iron Eunuch and the Cobalt Castrati. But her overreliance on her erotipathic powers to the exclusion of all her others tossed her off the peak of her celebrated career and into a sewer of sexual addiction, facedown in the lap of the capes, the niche-porn market of ex-heroines and heroes.

The chief social advantage of the Götterdämmerung had been its demand from all citizens, and certainly from the college of heroes, for self-sacrifice—that is, the development of the superego. But lacking an overriding threat, many in our society, including its former champions, had by now developed overactive ids. Such was the case with nearly everyone in my team.

Who’s That Whispering from Your Shoulders?

Selfish desire and highest ideal—in the cartoons, they’re represented by a miniature devil and angel perching on our shoulders. In rare cases, these voices are literal, as with the tiny wizard Mage Mogdobnag and Lord Lizaard on the opposite epaulets of Noble Man.

But for most of us, these “voices” are expressions of our id and superego, our respective sub- and supercognitive urges toward selfish, violent gratification and altruistic self-actualization.

Our id isn’t evil. Its self-interest fuels our self-preservation and individual advancement. The id’s social defect is its incapacity to value the needs of others. And while the superego’s lofty goals might seem almost saintly, if left unmoderated a superego-controlled individual could starve to death from refusal to harm animals or plants, or be so possessed by her idealism as to slip out of our reality and into the Platon Dimension of pure Ideals.

That’s where the ego comes in. The ego balances selfish- ness and selflessness. But because the superstrength of most heroes comes from the interaction between super-ids and super- superegos, destabilization occurs when one capacity becomes stronger than the other. Unfortunately for several members of my team, a post-Götterdämmerung world has starved their superegos, letting their ids grow unchecked, like black-dripping toadstools on a yellowing psychemotional lawn.

Failing Checks and Balances Among Super Powers

Festus,” I asked the Howitzer of a man after he’d stopped grimacing from the effects of the Mind Whistle™, “despite the simmering soup pot of rage which has just bubbled over onto your behavioral stove, you haven’t walked out. Why not?”

He leveled his eyes on me like twin turrets, silently.

“As one of the country’s wealthiest men,” I probed, “you’re at the head of a corporate empire of mass media, defense contracts, surveillance technology, and fast food. You’ve led a distinguished career as one of the nation’s finest investigators—”

“The World’s Greatest Detective®,” growled the black-haired septuagenarian. “Period.”

Brotherfly: “Damn, Squirrelly. Takes balls to be trademarkin y’self as the world’s greatest dick, knawm sayn? Bzzzt!” Everyone ignored André while he laughed. “C’mon, y’all! All y’all can’t be that uptight, can ya? Who gon leave a brother hangin like that? Syndi-girl, snap me a bzzzt! from them bad girls!”

Syndi smirked and shook her fortified cleavage in tardy acknowledgment of his jape.

“That’s what I’m talkin ’bout! Bzzzt!”

“Kot-tam, André,” snapped Kareem, “would you please, for just five minutes, QC?”

“Whuzzat, Exxy?”

“Quit cooning!”

“Festus,” I refocused, “you’ve never been one to follow orders meekly. So why haven’t you defied the F*L*A*C and marched out the door?”

Festus Piltdown III sat back in his chair and crossed his gloved forearms across the flying squirrel silhouette emblazoned on the tunic across his massive chest.

X-Man: “I can tell you why, Doc.”

“Kareem, ze doktor dit not ask you.”

“And he didn’t answer her, Hnossi!”

“Gawd, Kareem, would you, like, shut up?” said Syndi, stamping her boots, one-two, and putting one hand on her hip-strung backlash. “You want her blowing her, like, whistle-thingy again?”

Finally Omnipotent Man put up his hand.

“See now, ma’am-doctor, maybe Festy’s a might modest, but as y’all probably know, he’s fixin’ to run in th’upcoming election for Director of Operations. You knew that, din’tcha?”

“I think I recall having heard it somewhere, Wally, but as I don’t follow politics, it must’ve slipped my mind.”

“Wellsir, an as y’can pro’ly guess, if the F*L*A*C shows ol Festy out through the F*O*O*J saloon flappers, he caint run for D.O.O. Then his dreams’re hooched, knowuttamean?”

“I, uh . . . I think so, Wally.”

“An Festy pro’ly figures, an I agree with im, that he’s earned this goldang job. He was in the F*O*O*J almost since the beginnin, he’s served almost evra other p’sition on the F*L*A*C—Director of Personnel, of Finance, of Investigation—he was even Chair once. So y’can unnerstan if the F*L*A*C sendin im to your woodshed an threat’nin to turn im loose altogether has got his fur up an hackled.”

I asked Festus how he felt about Wally’s remarks.

He glared back at me with all the glowering, terrifying, predatory intimidation of his mammalian namesake.

On the Receiving End of F*L*A*C

For a group of men and women who had devoted their lives to saving others, my six psychemotional journeyers were stunningly incapable of saving themselves. That many of them despised one another was obvious to anyone; that each one despised him- or herself was unknown to all of them.

And that is why the F*O*O*J’s F*L*A*C had ordered them into my care and analysis, since the infighting and dysfunctionality generated by their mutual- and self-loathing threatened to vaporize their organization at a time when the F*O*O*J was particularly vulnerable: election time. Three of the six directorships were up for grabs, and for the first time since the F*O*O*J’s inception, so was the post of Director of Operations.

In theory the most powerful position on the F*O*O*J Leadership Administrative Committee, the DOO was responsible for setting long-range mission goals, determining strategy and vetting tactics, outlining long-term needs for staff- and matériel acquisition, and, potentially, reforming the obese F*O*O*J bureaucracy. The retirement of Colonel Strom Flintlock from his grandfathered, unelected position meant that the F*O*O*J was poised for potentially massive change. And while many peo- ple had assumed that Festus Piltdown III, HKA the Flying Squirrel, was destined for the DOO post which was the de facto commander-in-chieftancy of the F*O*O*J, there was a surprise buried beneath the election field like a land mine in a miniature golf course.

If the F*O*O*J had been a vehicle for national and even global change, the F*L*A*C was the front axis of that vehicle’s wheels. So the candidate—or candidates—in our therapeutic sessions were in desperate need of a good greasing.

Back Issues: The Origins of the F*O*O*J

Forged during America’s now mythical Golden Age of Heroism to counter the threats of rum-running, communism, juvenile delinquency and marijuana, the (then) Fraternal Order of Justice was Earth’s foremost and finest fighting force of fury. Delivering the decisive blow against the German war machine following the Soviet invasion of Berlin, the F*O*O*J became a planetary icon for justice and freedom. Its founding members’ names are synonymous with glory: Omnipotent Man, Iron Lass, Lady Liberty, Gil Gamoid and the N-Kid, Captain Manifest Destiny, and their brilliant, mysterious, mystical mentor, the incredible Hawk King.

Returning to America and the expansive East Coast metropolis of Seagull City, the F*O*O*J moved into its first legendary headquarters, the Mando Mansion, and began recruiting among the nation’s growing ranks of costumed avengers.

Thus began the F*O*O*J’s Silver Age, whose new stars would shine as brightly as the originals—Siren, the Evolutionist, Flying Squirrel and Chip Monk—defending our country and our planet against some of the worst scourges imaginable: Nemesaur, the Leninoids, Codzilla, Black Mamba, Standing Buffalo, Cosmicus and the Hordes of Entropy . . . truly an unlimited series.