The Hammer-Royal Ten Step Model for Making the Superhero A-List
by Jason Kimble
1. Have super powers
Mom and Dad insist I’m too young to consider a career in the hero business, but I’m seventeen and I need to prepare. I figure if I pay attention, I can put it all together. I’ve only got the one piece for the list right now, but I know I’ll add more as we go.
So, I have powers, and that ought to be enough, but I have to be honest: being immune to mom’s laser constructs and dad’s emotion dampening is too niche to be any good patrolling the streets. If Mom and Dad took me out on patrol I’d be way more likely to develop better powers, but Laserica and The Peacenik are retired, they say.
Even so, ‘powers’ is kind of subjective. Aunts Taneisha and Shelly use gadgets to do their gooding as Twist and Shout. Then again, Aunt Taneisha’s the only person with the brains to invent her crazy gadgets in the first place, and the bureaucratic somersaults Aunt Shelly does to import material, pay for it all, and somehow not throw IRS or customs red flags is just as mind-blowing. Seems like super powers to me. And I’m not just saying that because I was ring-bearer at their wedding, though getting to work the trans-dimensional ring box was pretty cool.
2. Have a name that alliterates
I had to fill out an extended emergency contact list for the Senior trip today. There I was, scanning the names, when this step fell in my lap.
Hank Hammer would have been perfect, with bonus points for a last name that says I’m made to give a beating, right? Instead, I’m Hank Hammer-Royal, because my folks insisted on hyphenating their names. They claim it’s progressive gender politics, but I think it’s them doubling down on the retirement by killing the alliteration.
Here’s the thing, though: my middle name is Raleigh, which makes me Hank Raleigh Hammer-Royal. Double the alliteration — like, double the hero pedigree. That has to be enough, doesn’t it?
Besides, if Uncle Cecil gets away with Cecil Samuels, which is sound-alliteration and doesn’t even look right on paper, I ought to be safe with what I have.
3. Be a social pariah
Declan Tort got the whole school calling me “Hank Hammer-Yank” when he caught me at the hole in the girls locker room wall freshman year. The trend hasn’t ebbed yet. Last year they stuffed the ballot box to make me Winter Fling Queen. Which was extra awful since my friend Roberto is gay and Liesl is trans, so I felt like a complete tool even being embarrassed by it because what the hell?
The latest: I had to take the bus in again this morning after they slashed my tires for the fourth time this year. At least this time it came with a Eureka moment:
The kids at school terrorized Mom. She bounced from one foster home to another, and the other foster kids weren’t much better. Dad’s happened a little later. After his folks’ life insurance claims were denied, he got to college on full scholarship, but the trust fund kids called him Little Orphan Handout.
At Uncle Cecil’s school they pranked him all the time. Stole his regular clothes during PE for a whole week once. Which was a big deal when he and his widowed aunt were living on the little bit she could bring in with her odd jobs. People are awful sometimes, which is part of why we need superheroes: to stand up for the little guy.
Aunts Taneisha and Shelly didn’t have any of those problems, but they were both super-rich as well as orphaned geniuses. I figure there’s an opt-out clause when you have enough money. There is for most anything else, so I don’t see why there wouldn’t be for superheroes.
4. Discover your powers in a dramatic fashion
No one will ever beat Uncle Cecil, but if everyone had to be gored by a longhorn infected with experimental germ warfare while being struck by lightning, then The Bison would be the only superhero ever, as well as the biggest show off.
It’s a little more sedate, but at least narratively consistent, that mine happened with Declan Tort at graduation today. I knew it would egg him on, the story I spun about muscles going to fat, and how high school was only the “best years” for the real losers who’d be stuck hanging around the football field hitting on underage girls because they didn’t get into a good school. I figured it would be the perfect parting shot at him. I didn’t count on him cornering me afterward.
My aunts taught me some self-defence even with Mom and Dad’s moratorium on crime-fighting, so I kind of sort of held my own, but Declan’s a slab of beef. I was laid out on the ground inside of a minute, palms raked, knees bloody, and I’m pretty sure that scream in my nose was a break.
Then I didn’t feel anything at all. Not blissed out and happy like from a Peacenik attack. Just… numb. No distractions. The whole situation was laid out in my head. Like a picture I could turn around and twist to examine. Whether it was that clinical headspace, or some kind of instinct, I wondered: if it was just a picture, if I swiped across it could I…?
Declan didn’t know how his belt suddenly wasn’t there. How his zipper and buttons had both snapped at once. But there he was, pants around his ankles distracting him long enough for me to get to my feet. And when he took a swing at me, he realized the fingers on his right hand weren’t there anymore. Grown over like they’d never been there, point of fact. Wiped out of the picture.
I put them back when he turned, screaming, to run back to the crowd. The online stream of him, jeans still around his ankles, blubbering about disappearing fingers while waving a hand with all its proper digits, is at around 300,000 views last time I checked.
So, I might not be the product of an electrified bio-terror bull, but I’m not complaining.
5. Learn costume construction
Alternately, sneak into the costume fabrication room of your super-rich aunts while they’re off investigating a lead in New Zealand. I’m glad I made them teach me how it worked last year when I was just toying with all this, before my real powers manifested. Laser measurement and advanced 3D printed nanotech are much more amazeballs than fighting with leather needles in the sewing machine.
Color schemes are the worst. Like, I don’t want to pick anything that anyone else has. I’m new and young. If I matched an active hero, some stupid social post’s going to call me so-and-so junior or label me a sidekick and that would take forever to live down.
I was tempted to go with something reminiscent of Dad or Mom at one point. They’re retired, and have been for long enough that I could come in as a replacement. I’m not opposed to being a legacy hero. This zen thing I’ve got going is kind of like Dad’s bliss turned inward, and erasing things is kind of the opposite of the way Mom makes stuff out of thin air. New twists on classics or whatever.
But both of them together is something new. I’m something new. I ditched the notion and went for broke. I’ve been noodling with costume designs since I was six; had more than a few ideas to use.
I feel bad about Firehide, but he wouldn’t let me in, which is why they left him to guard the place. I had to erase him temporarily to get by. I put him back after, but, well, he was ancient even for a dragon-phoenix hybrid. They’ve had him since the interdimensional jaunt they took hunting down The Hellbeast before I was born. This trip, Aunt Shelly worried about leaving him to guard the lair, that he might enter his final combustion molt while they were gone. So maybe the erase-and-restore cycle from my powers triggered something, but it wasn’t like he had a lot of life left in him. They should have been glad I’d saved them the agony of waiting.
6. Lie to your friends and loved ones
Eventually your heroic peers might learn your secret, but until then, the way to protect the people you care about is to keep your secret identity a secret.
Also, I’m pretty sure Mom and Dad will cut off helping with my rent if they find out.
I finally see what everybody means about how hard it is. When Mom and Dad asked if I’d heard about Declan Tort’s medical complications, it was excruciating to keep my smile from showing. But I nodded my head while they chewed over how awful it must be for his family, not knowing how the infection in his right hand started.
And then when Uncle Cecil came over to brainstorm with Mom and Aunt Taneisha? They’re jabbering on trying to pin down the exact transdimensional variable that’s breaking down Declan’s arm. I’m right there and I can’t brag to three of the biggest brains around.
7. Make friends with a reporter or police officer
Hedging bets here. I’m doing both.
Maybe Roberto is officially an intern, but he’s close enough. And his unexpected luck getting pics of me as Wipe Out, the city’s newest super, has him working the social media account instead of fetching coffee. The world’s going new media, anyway. Close enough.
Liesl was a bit more difficult, but she’s done most of the work herself. Plowed through the academy like an ace. And if the other top applicant took a sudden spill when her front tire disappeared biking a mountain trail, sometimes fate’s unkind, right? And she’ll get the sympathy card with her next application. After toughing it through physical therapy, anyway.
Friend in the media. Friend on the force. Double check.
8. Make someone else keep your secret
If two decades listening to Mom and Dad whine about their past has taught me nothing else, it’s that this hero life is a burden. Finding the right confidante is tough. I would have gone for Roberto or Liesl, but they’re already filling the networking slots. If they find out, it has to be from proving their chops in their job. Until then, they’re on the “lie to” list.
Then Jessalyn Jasper cried on my shoulder at Declan’s memorial. I’ve kind of carried a torch for her forever. When her friends couldn’t make it because their fuel line ‘mysteriously’ disappeared, guess who filled in? She fit, there, wrapped up in my arms. I asked her to coffee, afterwards, listened to her ramble about her feelings or whatever, and: yeah. So that’s going to be a thing.
I can’t tell her right away, but I figure anyone who makes it through watching her boyfriend discorporate over the course of a year has to have the intestinal fortitude to keep the big identity secret, right?
9. Be initially misunderstood by other super heroes
When Twist and Shout first met The Bison, they were convinced he’d gored the mayor. Turned out it was a complete frame job by Changeroo, who was masquerading as the mayor.
Closer to home, Laserica was on a one-woman mission to take down The Peacenik for robbing people of free will when he came on the scene. Mom, after all, was the only person who could block Dad’s powers before she had me. Something about the laser constructs interfering with the wavelength of his delta manipulator? The specifics aren’t important. Just the fight. Which. Was. Epic. Still one of the highest ranking streams online.
And now they’re royalty in the hero community. Even after getting married and having a kid.
I knew this was coming, then. Twist and Shout–legendary detectives on thirteen planets, four planes of existence, and a pair of alternate timelines–put Wipe Out together with what happened to Declan. My face-offs with NCO Nobelium, Blind Man’s Bluff, and the entire Roundabout Gang gave them a pattern in disappearing body parts.
I was ready. Been practising my erases to control the environment. Organics don’t come back quite right, but concrete and steel and even air work fine, so I’d built up a pretty good repertoire for the inevitable confrontation where we all tried not to hurt each other until we’d proved ourselves and gotten over the misunderstanding.
What I didn’t count on is Twist sussing out my identity right away. She skipped a step. Here I am suited up and ready to wipe Twist’s spinner-rangs and Shout’s sonic bombs out of the air, but nothing. A bunch of blathering about wanting to help me, and how it’s not too late to make amends.
Then Bison shows, and I figure: finally. I’d been working my acro skills to dodge his power charge forever. Only, he gloms onto the trend. Starts talking about how they’ve spoiled me, haven’t done me any favors by glorifying this gig of theirs. By talking up the fights and not the consequences.
Uncle Cecil tells me how he maimed someone in his first fight, and Aunt Shelly chatters about the gang members who suffered brain hemorrhages the first time she used the 2.0 build of her sonic bomb, and I’m baffled because they’re making my point. I’m like them and I’m going to get better. And why couldn’t they fight me like they were supposed to so I could finish the stupid initiation phase and be a real superhero?
Then Aunt Taneisha stepped up. Told me she got it. How all of them had it much harder, and they wanted to make sure the first kid in the bunch didn’t have to suffer through all that pain and loss. She supposed that’s what happened when a bunch of orphans got together. But she’d called Mom and Dad and they were going to fix this.
The chartreuse glow of the Laserica platform bringing Mom and Dad made it all clear for me. I thanked them. Told them they were right. Joined all five of them in the group hug. Told them I loved them.
Even with my inner zen going, it was beautiful, the tableau we made. I held it for one long breath. But it’s impossible to miss the pattern when I’m like this. Superheroes can’t keep soft-hearted, big family support. This life is about sacrifice. With one, long swipe across the picture, I made mine.
10. Be tragically orphaned.
Time to save the world.
About the Author
Jason Kimble left the tornadoes of Michigan for the hurricanes of Florida, because spinning air is better when it’s warm. He lives there with his finally-legal husband. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Escape Pod and the Speculative Masculinities anthology from Galli Books, as well as twice previously on Cast of Wonders. You can find more of his nattering at this website, Process Wonk, or on Twitter.
About the Narrator
Andrew K. Hoe practices Choy Li Fut Kung Fu and Tai Chi in Southern California, where he also writes speculative YA fiction. He has been a high school English teacher, an Assistant Language Teacher in Japan, and is now a college professor. His stories appear or are forthcoming in Cast of Wonders, Diabolical Plots, Young Explorer’s Adventure Guide, Highlights for Children, and elsewhere. Follow him online or on Twitter.
About the Artist
Alexis is a multiclass disaster-human living with her husband in Cincinnati. When she isn’t prepping art for Cast of Wonders, designing pins for pin-y.com, or yelling about TV into a mic for Bald Move, she dabbles in a revolving menu of hobbies and art projects. To list them all would be sheer madness. Like any good bisexual, she has a lot of jackets. You can find her on Twitter @alexisonpaper.