By Any Other Name
Mark A Davis
Grandpa wore his usual rumpled gray suit with the anarchy symbol stitched in silver thread over the left breast. Today he also wore black leather gloves, a gray fedora, and a black diamond mask. His sidekick was a young dark-skinned girl with black hair in cornrow braids, who dressed in a scooped-neck leotard with a mirrored surface, knee-high boots with the same polished surface, and wraparound mirror shades. She went by the name of the Glass Cannon.
The air was chill. Marching music with Fascist slogans echoed throughout the massive cavern. The actual words were nearly unintelligible, but there was no mistaking the Nazi flags hung from the ceiling, nor the rows of tanks and military vehicles lined up on the cavern floor, ready to roll out.
"Grandpa, every hero is a Fascist by definition," the Glass Cannon said. She blasted a gun-wielding Nazi with a force bolt; the man screamed and tumbled from the steel railing to the floor thirty feet below. "We all believe in Might Equals Right."
"No I don't!" Grandpa insisted, as his fist slammed into another Nazi.
"Grandpa, when anyone disagrees with you, you punch them in the face."
Blood spewed from the nose of the soldier in front of them as Grandpa's fist rebounded from it. Grandpa and his sidekick charged down steel stairs. On the next landing Grandpa plowed into a soldier with a gun, knocking him over the rail.
"Not everyone," Grandpa said. "I haven't punched my neighbor Ninugtus the Unspeakable yet, and he's been really annoying. Mind you, I've wanted to punch him in the face -- his Glugian Slime Worm pets keep oozing under the fence and leaving mucus all over my lawn...."
"But you know that Ninugtus is an alien bent on world conquest," said the sidekick patiently. "And when he finally makes his move...?"
"I'll punch him in the face!" Grandpa exclaimed.
By now the two were only ten feet above the cavern floor. The Glass Cannon unleashed a barrage of force bolts, knocking down a dozen soldiers below them. Both she and Grandpa leaped from the steel stairs just before a missile from a rocket launcher obliterated it.
"There. See?" she said, as they landed before a group of twenty armed soldiers. "That's how you solve all your problems!" She fired several force bolts, knocking down six soldiers. Grandpa charged the rest.
"You're overgeneralizing," Grandpa said, swinging and punching. "If I tried to solve all my problems with Mayor Doomhollow by punching him in the face, I'd spend most of my time in jail. You've got to pick and choose your battles."
"The point," said the sidekick, "is that superhero stories are by definition tales of meta-humans -- members of a super race, in other words -- who exert their power to win battles because they can. And another thing -- they're almost always straight white males -- all things I'm not!"
"You're not straight?" Grandpa asked, one eyebrow raised. He grabbed a soldier and swung him into two of his companions like a battering ram. "But you went on a Valentine's date with Electrofrog!"
"I'm bi, okay?" the young woman said. She fired a half-dozen force bolts into a line of soldiers. "I like both guys and girls, but that's totally not the point. What I'm saying is, the only thing that separates you from a Nazi is the uniform."
"Hey, I've fought Nazis all my life, thank you very much!" Grandpa growled. He lowered his shoulder, grasping and flipping a charging Nazi over and onto his back. "I think I know a Nazi when I see one!" He stared at the soldier on the ground. "For one, they wear black or gray military uniforms with lots of silver skulls...." His voice trailed off. The Glass Cannon raised an eyebrow, and Grandpa frowned deeply. "You're trying to trick me with words into saying things, but the plain truth is that I'm good and Nazi's are bad, and that's just the way it is!" He punched the soldier in the face, knocking him out cold.
"Look," said Grandpa, "I know where you're going with this. It's been a running theme in the superhero world for forever, so I've dealt with the issue time and time again. The important thing to remember is that I'm fighting for the side of good! I only fight criminals and villains and people that get in my way. Also, there's that whole thing about great power and great responsibility -- all that crap's important.
"Being a hero means more than defeating the bad guy," said Grandpa as he plowed through a half-dozen more soldiers. "It means handling power responsibly. It means working to ensure the freedom of others. It means that while I work with the government on occasion, it's on my terms. I'm not simply the superpowered enforcement wing of any governmental power or agency. When I defeat a villain, I don't take their power for myself. I let the wheels of justice step in and handle things from that point, and I return to my life as an ordinary citizen. That's why I'm not a Fascist."
Grandpa Anarchy slammed the heads of two soldiers together. Bullets whizzed past his ears. He spun one unconscious soldier about and used the body as a shield as he charged three more. "Let me add one more thing," he exclaimed. "Many heroes wear masks precisely because they don't want to take credit for their victories. Everyone knows who I am, but consider Guy Shadow: he's just a guy in a mask, cape and fancy hat. He could be anyone -- and that's the whole point. He's not seeking power or glory, he just wants to make the world safe for normal folks."
"Sure," said the Glass Cannon. "And because of that he's handed nearly unlimited freedom to act outside the law in whatever manner he deems necessary, do whatever he feels is required to capture the criminal and solve the crime. Our society hands absolute power to anyone wearing a costume. But if he were to decide tomorrow that he's not actually an incorruptible paragon of virtue and justice, who's he accountable to? No one.
"In other words, the only thing that keeps us all from a superpowered Fascist dictatorship is that the straight white men with all the power just happen to be super nice. So we all have nothing to fear." She rolled her eyes.
"You know," said Grandpa, "those force blasts of yours sure look like they hurt a lot more than one of my punches."
"Yes?" she replied. "I didn't say I was against the use of power on bad guys -- only that it's a concept that lends itself to Fascism, and that's exacerbated by the kind of heroes we put on a pedestal."
They were quickly running out of Nazis to punch. But in the distance, at the back of the cavern, the head villain and her toughest henchman waited on a raised dais.
"Okay," said Grandpa. "But look -- we're up against Nazi Sorceress Fraulein Hatra and her Hatra Organization. They are trying to bomb the Pentagon and the White House, with an extended goal of the conquest of all of North America. There's no negotiating with these extremists, so how do you suggest I stop them?"
Grandpa carefully cleaned under his fingernails with a small pen knife. Nearby, a stunningly beautiful woman with a cruel face was being blasted across the room by a force bolt. She wore a form-fitting suit of scaled armor which looked remarkably like snake skin. Over this was a short skirt, a cropped coat, and thigh-high leather boots, all designed to suggest a Nazi SS uniform while hiding as little of her curves as possible.
The Nazi Sorceress staggered to her feet, but before she could so much as think to cast a spell, another force bolt struck her in the stomach, knocking her back fifteen feet.
"Grandpa Anarchy!" the sorceress exclaimed, "I surrender already! Reign in your sidekick! She is out of control!
"Well, of course I'd love to help you out, Fraulein Hatra," Grandpa said, inspecting his nails carefully. "But I'm afraid that would perpetuate the myth of -- what was it again? Oh, right -- the myth of supremacy of the straight white male. So I'm going to sit this one out and let the Glass Cannon handle it. Turns out she's part Roma, so when it comes to Nazis she's kind of a hothead, but don't worry, I'm gonna step in and show that I can solve problems without resorting to violence...."
"When I'm good and ready," the Glass Cannon exclaimed.
"Right," said Grandpa. "When she's good and ready!"