Friday, December 2, 2016

A public history of the shared super-person universe

A public history because it leaves out things happening behind the scenes or in secret.



Who is in this universe anyway?

Not every superhero thing I write is part of a shared universe.  This story, for example, takes place in a world where the hero in the story is the only superhero (so far.)

That said, I definitely like the idea of an expansive and populated super-person universe.

Corv's team (elements of which are seen in Bunking Together, A confrontation in Hell, and Jailbreak) is definitely part of a setting where superheroes are more common place.  The first linked to post involves Corv talking to a hero higher in the hero hierarchy (a member of an international association with agreements from multiple countries allowing them to operate freely) the third involves a then-former member of her team imprisoned with other superpowered people.

Not Broken showcases two members, Des and Ge, of a copycat hero team (copying Corv's team.)  While not written yet, Des called on Page (the only story she's appeared in is being a background character in Schism) for help when she was initially unable to depetrify Ge and again when there were unexpected side effects from the eventual success.

Where Not Broken showcases an unauthorized knockoff team, Getting the Girl shows a team that was probably an official franchisee of Corv's team.  In something more important than winning Podarke and Downdraft both exist as solo people, but Podarke has access to things, like focus group data, from the larger hero community.

Not entirely sure whether the superhero prevention squad exists in this universe or not.

Super Artisans and Super People Get Together show glimpses into the lives of normal people who happen to have super powers.



It is said that superpowers have always existed.  That people with powers were hunted as demons and witches.  That by the modern age they had developed an almost instinctive drive to hide what made them different.

What is known is that before the 1970s, no generally accepted record confirming the existence of superpowers existed.

The first superhero

In the early 1970s a superhero emerged.  Super strong, flying without wings, allegedly fast enough to dodge bullets, definitely impervious enough he didn't have to.  He, briefly, seemed like he could save the world from itself.

He never got a chance to work on anything like that.  He was an ally when he could be, he would denounce apartheid whenever the opportunity arose, he'd gone on record as supporting the rioters at Stonewall over the police, and his stance on nuclear disarmament would have been considered downright treasonous if he'd had the opportunity to expound upon it, but his time was taken up with problems that seemed to be of his own creation.

With the escalation he represented in crime fighting, a counter escalation occurred in crime itself.  The emergence of the superhero begat the supervillain.  With supervillains, more every year, he didn't have time to fight ordinary crime, and certainly not an opportunity to fight the injustice he saw in the mundane world.

Some of the villains had powers like his own, others had immense resources and used them to build machines that drew upon aspects of science well beyond conventional understanding.  Some even used magic, something long dismissed as myth or superstition.

By then he was firmly located in New York City and most villains realized that for their plans to succeed they had to deal with him first.  Thus the first superhero and the supervillains he fought, were largely considered a New York thing that much of the country could ignore, and certainly an American thing that the rest of the world could take minimal interest in.

Various scientists from all over the world relocated to New York in hopes of being able to refine their understanding of the universe by studying the seemingly impossible things going on there.  The prospect was made difficult by the nature of the encounters (unpredictable, never the same thing twice, never in a laboratory setting, so forth.)  Still, many groups set up many sensors throughout the city in hopes of making world altering breakthroughs.

It only took a few years before the hero and the villains he fought rarely made the news outside of New York based publications.  They'd captured the world's attention for longer than moon landings, but not much longer.

Then, in 1986, he died.

Those who were present placed great emphasis on the fact that he could have survived.  He could have easily dodged the ray that killed him if he'd allowed an I-beam to hit a medium sized crowed of bystanders.  He chose to save those people, and that was why he died.

Those that killed him were so focused on his corpse that they forgot about the onlookers entirely.  The crowd that had been held at bay via the threat of their high tech weapons was forgotten.  That proved to be a nearly fatal mistake.

The villains were in the midst of self congratulations when the crowd rushed them and overpowered them.  The resulting mob would have beaten the villains to death if not for the fact that someone had the presence of mind to scream that the hero wouldn't have wanted them killed.

After the villains were taken away by the police, and the injured were driven off in ambulances, one question loomed large, large enough that the world's attention was captured for the first time in a decade:

What now?

The Age of Heroes begins

The hero had been singular.  He'd just been called: "the hero", or "hero".  Many acted as though "Hero" were his actual name.  All because he'd been unique.

The villains were not.  The encounter that killed the hero had resulted in the capture of only one group from his extensive list of enemies.  Most of them remained free.

Some expressed worry that there would be no one to stop the other super villains.  Some put forth the same idea with outright terror.  They needn't have bothered.

A new generation of heroes stepped into the light and filled the void left by the hero's death.

Immediately there were comparisons between the old hero and the new heroes.

No one had really cared about the gender, race, sexuality, nationality, religion, legality, or birthplace of the hero before.  Now it seemed to matter a great deal.

An innocent explanation was that it was because, as the only hero, there was no one to compare him to.  A more cynical explanation was that it was because he fit perfectly into the mindset of the dominant culture in the United States, which was where he operated.

He'd been accepted, if somewhat controversial, during his lifetime, but now that he was dead the fallen hero was revered.  He could no longer say unpopular things, and so he could be appropriated however one desired.

He was a presumed straight (actually asexual) white protestant male from Nebraska.  (Never mind that he preferred New York City to his original hometown.)  The kind of hero that America was clearly supposed to have.  Not like this new crop who included women, people of color, women of color *shock. gasp. fetch the fainting couch*, some openly gay people, naturalized immigrants, outright foreigners, and so forth.  And as for religion, they seemed to come from all of them, and some were even atheists.

The fact that the hero was born on a farm even led to the rumor that he'd been born in a manger (no, he'd been born in a house, not a feeding troth.)

The fact that when asked about his hero he'd always talked about Bayard Rustin was quietly pushed aside, forgotten, and ignored any time anyone tried to remind people of it.

So the dawn of the age of heroes was also the true beginning of criticizing and mistrusting heroes.  The new heroes seemed to come from everywhere and that shocked and dismayed the comfortable masses.

They came in all colors.  They came from all places.  They came from all income levels.  They came from all religions.

At first they were at least (US) American, or Canadian which could be passed off as "almost American", but where before supervillainy had been centered on stopping a single hero who had seemed the only impediment in the way of world domination, and thus come to him in the US, now it was as decentralized as the heroes, and soon the entire world had heroes and villains.

The first hero had, in any legal sense, been a vigilante, but he'd never been treated as such.

Now things started to be looked at from a legal sense.

Laws varied by country.  In some merely being suspected of having "unnatural" abilities was grounds for imprisonment or, in some cases, conscription.  In others the fact that human rights applied to human+ individuals was enshrined in law.  At least two went so far as to create a definition of "person" that was sure to include human-level (or above) members of other species, artificial species such as AIs included.

Within the United States, the place the whole mess had been born, laws varied widely by state and sometimes even by city.

The time of Consolidation

It was only a matter of time before heroes started to band together.  Teams, sometimes underground, were not uncommon, but an official transnational organization of heroes had never been attempted.

Many heroes tried to stay out of the light, so creating a public organization was something they wouldn't even consider doing.

The Public Face

Building blocks were being put in place as early as 1995, but it wasn't until the year 2000 that the League of Heroes (which was hoped to be more useful than the League of Nations) was created.  It it worked with governments to have heroes registered with them (which required extensive vetting) to be authorized to work within their countries, sometimes in general, sometimes only under special circumstances.

It created an apprenticeship program so that that young heroes could learn the trade without having to resort to trial and error.  It worked to advance superhuman rights as much as it could without losing the hard won legal transnational jurisdiction it had achieved.  (In other words, it worked for rights, but not much.)

It aimed to be spotless and beyond reproach, which was of course impossible.  Even so it came close.  Connections to any less than legal organizations have never been proven despite frequent audits.

Yet, somehow, when they meet superhumans in danger who they can't protect themselves for whatever reason, those superhumans always seem to safely make it to underground organizations dedicated to protecting ones such as themselves.

The Underground

All of the hero groups I've written about so far are in places where the laws are fairly super-person positive.  That is not representative of the whole of the world in which these characters live.  Not at all.

There are organizations dedicated to hiding super powered individuals or smuggling them into jurisdictions where they'll have more rights.  Some are able to create entirely new identities for those they help.  These organizations have managed to largely stay under the radar.  Many people are aware of their existence in a vague general sense, but they work to keep themselves out of the public eye and off the public's mind.

There are also other organizations.

Within the United States there are four underground organizations, not all of them very organized, that rose to the level of making headlines.

The headline makers, and others of note:

The Resistance
The Resistance had begun organizing early in the first hero's career, believing that his actions would inevitably lead to the persecution of people with powers.  Their first members were drawn specifically from groups that had experienced other forms of oppression.

Someone ten years old when Auschwitz closed was in their twenties when the first hero appeared on the scene.  World War II had seen American interment camps as well.  While they weren't death camps, they obviously weren't right and individuals from them knew that such things could happen within the United States because they'd lived through it.

Likewise Martin Luther King Jr. had not been long assassinated when the first hero started his work.

Indeed history seemed to create an unending supply of people who were oppressed, and The Resistance was at work recruiting any powered members of those groups who were willing to fight against it ever happening again.

Some of those members dropped out when they learned how The Resistance planed to fight, but enough stayed with the organization.

When the world awoke to the fact that there wasn't just one hero and a handful of villains, but people with powers all over The Resistance was ready to stage counter attacks against oppressive reactions.

The Resistance is an unabashed terrorist organization, and as oppression spread throughout the globe, so too did they.  They consider any government that treats individuals with powers differently from those without as occupying forces.  They believe that any registration is a prelude to internment camps and, perhaps, worse.

They believe that any powered individuals who work with such governments are collaborators.

They back these beliefs with assassination, bombings, sabotage, violence in the streets, and whatever else they can do to strike against their oppressors (real or perceived.)

The Outlaws
The Outlaws were, at first, the only other underground organization of note.  They're unregistered heroes who fight both villains and The Resistance.  They believe that the only way they'll ever gain full rights is if people like those in The Resistance stop providing excuses to mistrust individuals with powers, hence fighting The Resistance, and if currently oppressed individuals prove their worth, hence fighting villains.  Their choice of name was specifically to remind anyone they help or save outright that they're criminals under existing law, law that if obeyed would stop them from helping and/or saving those people.

The Outlaws are primarily based in the United States, though they do have some smaller cells in other nations.

Smaller groups with similar operations
The Resistance and the Outlaws are run by, as one onlooker put it, "A couple of old white guys."  While the general membership The Resistance was very diverse from the outset, that doesn't change the leadership.  The Outlaws started off overwhelmingly white and have been slowly becoming more diverse.

This has led to a variety of smaller groups with similar goals that didn't particularly like the idea of their only options in the fight for their civil rights being the organizations of . . . a couple of old white guys.

The Protectors
The Protectors were formed as an alternative to the terrorism of The Resistance and the inaction of The Outlaws.  Sometimes The Resistance and The Protectors find themselves working together, but it's always uneasy.  The Protectors chose their name because they are an entirely defensive organization.  They will fight tooth and nail, but only to protect victims.  Assassinations, bombings, sabotage, and so forth are beyond the scope of what they're willing to do.

They never go on the offensive, and never actively strike against the governments that oppress powered individuals.  Instead they step in to protect those individuals when one of those governments is actively striking against them.

If someone has been violating the Geneva Conventions against powered individuals for ages, and will continue to do so in the future, but isn't doing it right now, The Resistance would respond by assassinating them, The Outlaws would denounce them but not act against them, The Protectors would wait until the individual was doing, or about to do something, and act only then.

If an operation doesn't involve the other side currently in the process of doing something wrong, The Protectors want no part of it.  That's seen as the path toward the outright terrorism of The Resistance.  It's not quite that The Protectors never strike first, it is the case that they never strike unless the other side is trying to strike first.

In theory at least.  Mistakes happen.  Individuals become jaded and go too far.  So on, so forth.  The policy, though, is to be defensive only.

The Marchers
They didn't name themselves and are easily the least organized of the four major groups.

Since each of the other three groups were "The [blank]" news sources wanted to put them into a similar format and "Marchers" sounded better than "Sit Iners, Strikers, Occupiers, Blockaders, Marchers, and such."

The Resistance, The Outlaws, and The Protectors are all groups that use violence.  The Marchers are a non-violent group, or coalition of like-minded non-violent groups, that believe civil rights can be gained by non-violent direct action.

The Resistance are terrorists, The Outlaws don't even work for rights, instead hoping that their oppressors will reward them with rights if they're useful enough, The Protectors are the only other group that some of the Marchers support, but they themselves do not believe violence, even in defense of the oppressed, is the answer.

The Letter from Birmingham Jail is required reading in most cells.  Those who are illerate will have it read to them.  This this passage, in particular, is often cited as their goal:
Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored.

They don't really make the news.  Some people know about them, some people don't.  They aren't an organization.  Some people with powers have responded to hostile societies by simply dropping off the radar.  From transients to groups that have set up entire under-cites in sewers, maintenance tunnels, abandoned subways, and such, some individuals simply want to be left alone and are willing to abandon conventional society to achieve that end.

There are thus communities of super powered individuals that are off the map . . . in hiding.

Child Soldiers?

While groups like them had existed for at least twenty years, Corv's team was the first official, legally recognized, team of heroes in their teens.  And they were in the younger part of the their teens.  They came together quite by accident in about 2007 and were accepted as an arm of law enforcement in their city soon after.  They quickly established ties to the league of heroes.  Within a year they were famous.  Not long after they initiated a pilot program in which they set up another team in their . . . franchise in another willing city.

With the second team's success teenage and young adult teams began to spread, though (obviously) only in places where super individuals were accepted.

While the team has no part of it, and has officially denounced the practice, teams built on their model have also been created in places hostile to super individuals as a sort of perpetual community service that allows individuals who would otherwise be imprisoned, or at least in hiding, a measure of freedom.

In 2009 the fame of Corv's team led to a copycat team, which Desdemona and Ge belonged to.  Ge was petrified two years later.

In the present day (2016) teenage superheroes, and supervillains, hardly raise an eyebrow.  A ten year old probably won't get much reaction provided that their service is as sidekick to an older individual.