Mark A Davis
Smoke rose from the peak of the tropical volcano and up into the sky. Mount Infinity was erupting again, bright orange lava flowing down to the sea, where it hissed and snarled and turned to stone amid clouds of steam. In one corner of the island in a protected cove, Grandpa Anarchy, world's oldest hero, grappled on the sand with a thug clad in dark blue and covered with silver symbols. Grandpa was dressed in his usual rumpled gray suit with the silver anarchy symbol stitched over the left breast. Nearby three more thugs faced his sidekick Hexcoder, a young black man in a red robe and wizard's hat, with red high top converse sneakers. He clutched a smartphone.
Above them all floated Kid Calculus, about fifteen feet in the air. He was dressed in his usual form-fitting suit of blue so dark it was nearly black, over which silver mathematical symbols and formula floated, constantly rewriting themselves. Near his right hand floated the small holographic keypad with which he controlled his dimensional gateways.
"Motivation!" Kid Calculus exclaimed. "It's what separates me from the pack! Every morning I wake up and ask myself: what do I want to do today? And do you know what that answer always is? I want to defeat you, Grandpa Anarchy! That is my motivation!"
"You'll never get away with this, Kid Calculus!" Grandpa exclaimed. "My sidekick and I are here to stop you!"
"Oh, Grandpa," said Kid Calculus, "Did my manifesto scare you? My apologies but there is no plot to destroy Tokyo. My threats were merely a ruse to draw you to this island, and to your death -- on this, the tenth anniversary of my sojourn in hell!"
Grandpa slammed his fist into the thug's face. The thug in turn grasped Grandpa's lapels and tossed him towards the lagoon.
"Magic Missile!" Hexcoder yelled, pressing a button on his phone. Spears of fire struck the three thugs before him.
"Tell me," said Kid Calculus, "do your other enemies have half the motivation that I do? Do they have the tragic backstory that I possess? The scars of the past which drive me forward, which fuel my hatred for you?"
"Tragic backstory my ass!" Grandpa Anarchy growled, punching another thug. "Look, Kid, you're a broken record. You've been going on about how I ruined your life for forever!"
"Only ten years," Kid Calculus replied.
"Well I've got a news flash for you!" Grandpa said. "Being a hero's sidekick is a dangerous business. Nothing that happened to you was anything special."
Grandpa landed a roundhouse kick to the thug's chin. The man spun about like a top.
"You left me stranded in an alien dimension on Nogloria, a desert planet filled with poisonous spiders!" Kid Calculus exclaimed.
"Yeah?" said Grandpa. "Yer still alive, ain't you? That's what your fancy schmancy dimensional gate doodad is for." He punched the thug again, knocking him out cold.
Kid Calculus tapped his holographic device, and a gateway opened up. A foul, rotting stench filled the air, and through the portal came a massive thing with rubbery black skin that was apparently part octopus and part bat. It landed in the shallow lagoon and immediately snatched up one of Kid Calculus's own henchmen in a tentacle. It dropped him screaming into a maw filled with razor-sharp teeth.
"You placed me in danger dozens of times," the villain said. "You abandoned me on backwater planets, left me tied up or chained to bombs and other devices of destruction, chose to save some random citizen or fight the villain or monster while I was in mortal peril. And for what? You never paid me one single cent!"
"Experience," Grandpa Anarchy exclaimed as he was lifted up in one thick black tentacle. "...is its --" He slammed the rubbery tentacle with his fists. "...own reward!"
Grandpa Anarchy drew a pistol and fired several shots into what he presumed was the creature's head. The beast thrashed violently, emitting a piercing scream. Grandpa was flung to the far side of the beach.
"You can't put a price on experience!" Grandpa exclaimed, rolling to his feet. "Hexcoder! Kill it!"
Hexcoder pressed an icon on his phone. "Bigby's Iron Fist!" he yelled. A massive magical fist appeared and smashed down on the creature, crushing it.
"Well," said Kid Calculus, as ink and ichor seeped into the water, "You current sidekick seems like a clever fellow, if a tad too focused on rpg games. Tell me, what are you paying him? Oh, but I know the answer -- despite being quite wealthy yourself, you've never paid any of your sidekicks."
"It's an internship!" Grandpa exclaimed. "They learn how to be real heroes -- how to deal with idiots and jokers like you!"
Kid Calculus tapped his device again. Another portal opened and another creature stepped through. This was an amorphous humanoid monster which glowed a bright orange -- apparently made of living lava.
"Everything's Better With Lava!" Kid Calculus exclaimed. As the two heroes circled the lava creature warily, he added, "That's a well-known TV Trope, you know. Can't you hear the capitalization in my voice? That's why I built this volcano lair, you see -- I want to be recognized as your true arch-nemesis, and it's a trope that all the best supervillains have a volcano lair. Doctor Zero had one, and I know you've always considered him your greatest foe. Committed to the Third Reich, striving with every fiber of his being to bring about the vision of his Führer. Now there was a villain with motivation!"
The lava monster lunged. Grandpa Anarchy blocked with a short piece of driftwood. The wood burst into flames. The lava creature slammed one arm into Grandpa's side, sending him rolling across the beach, his jacket aflame.
"Also Spectre in You Only Live Twice. Dr. Evil in Austin Powers. Syndrome in The Incredibles. They all had volcano bases! But the granddaddy, I suppose, is Captain Nemo. Do you remember Mysterious Island, Grandpa?"
"Remember it?" Grandpa asked. "That's where I fought Nemo's homunculus!"
Calculus raised an eyebrow. Grandpa dodged the lava monster while Hexcoder tried to hold it back with a giant magical palm. "And yet I'm certain you don't remember what today is," said Calculus. "This is the tenth anniversary of the day you hired me as your sidekick." The villain's eyes flashed with anger. "I'm particularly motivated to kill you on today of all days, Grandpa Anarchy! Perhaps, if you remember that day at all, you regret your actions. Perhaps you imagine that your failure as a hero, a leader, a teacher, and as an example of all that is good and just and righteous led me down a dark path. Perhaps you regret your part in creating a monster -- but that is not how I see it at all, Grandpa, for it is you who are the monster!
"Motivation is why I left the League of Former Sidekicks to pursue my own solitary path of revenge upon you. Oh, they claim to hate you, but their hate was not a seething, open sore at the core of their being, eating away at their soul day by day. It is more like a simple flesh wound cured with a band aid. My pain and anger, meanwhile, are bottomless! I hate you like darkness detests light! I despise you with the intensity of 10,000 stars!
"My tragic back story, my personal torment at the hands of Grandpa Anarchy himself -- all of this is what makes me your greatest rival, your one and only true arch nemesis. None of your other foes can claim to have the tragic backstory that I have!"
Kid Calculus laughed like a hyena. "Let us consider your other major enemies, Grandpa -- my rivals to the throne, as it were. First, I think we can all admit that, until his death, Carnival Act was your arch nemesis. But what was his motivation? He was just a crazy clown, no backstory to speak of."
"See, that's where you're wrong," Grandpa Anarchy said. "Carnival Act was a doctor, did you know that? He never knew his father, but his mother worked in the circus and was left to raise him. She worked two jobs to provide for him and to put him through medical school. In the end she died of an obscure disease six months after he graduated. See, he was really bitter about that -- nobody had ever tried to cure this disease; it was too obscure and not worth the money. In his own mind, the world didn't care about him or his mother -- so why should he care what happened to the world at large?
"That was his motivation. The death of his mother, and the circumstances that lead to it, broke his will and fractured his mind. It's what drove him to become one of the world's foremost supervillains. You can't seriously tell me that your little sob story compares to that!"
As he spoke, Grandpa circled the lava monster. "Now, Hexcoder!" he called out. A giant fist appeared in the air, knocking the creature into the ocean. The magical fist held the creature down as it sizzled and cooled, sending up clouds of steam. In moments the creature was reduced to motionless rock.
Kid Calculus sighed. He tapped his keypad, and a new monster emerged from another portal -- this one a sort of giant black cat with long saber teeth and eight legs.
"Okay, granted, that sounds like a good background," he said. "I'd never heard that story. But after all, we're talking about your previous arch nemesis -- a man even I feared. I shouldn't be surprised that there was more to him than met the eye.
"But let us consider your current crop of foes. Baron Climate Change, for example -- a wacko who thinks he's responsible for global warming? Tell me how that, in any way, even makes sense, let alone can be attributed to a convincing back story...."
"It can," Grandpa Anarchy said. "He was a climate change scientist. Lost his government job during the George W. Bush administration. He was angry about that, and angry at the government's lack of concern over global warming, and it sent him over the edge. He decided that if the government right-wing types were going to deny that climate change existed, then he was going to prove that it did, or bring it about himself.
"Now, that ain't exactly rational thinking, I'll give you that. But he's still got a brilliant mind, in his own way. He's got quite a few patents in renewable energy fields, strangely enough. That's why he's so rich, and that's why, as crazy as he is, I ignore him at my peril."
Kid Calculus sighed. "Okay, granted, I didn't know the Baron's backstory, but it sounds plausible enough. Not that I consider him your true nemesis of course -- but I'll give him a pass for now.
"Let's consider Death Medal, then: a heavy-metal obsessed human with a flaming skull who wants to destroy the world? That's straight out of central casting. He's the modern equivalent of the villain in the top hat who twirls his mustache as he ties the heroine to the train tracks. Tell me that makes logical sense in any kind of context...."
"Oh," said Grandpa Anarchy, dodging a leap from alien cat, "but it does. His name was George Turner, and he was a twenty-something sub-par guitarist in a forgettable heavy metal band -- a young rock and roll loser whose life was going nowhere. But when he wasn't stoned out of his mind, he was actually pretty smart. He figured out how to craft a spell that summoned a very powerful demon, and he struck a bargain that he thought would bring him power and make him cool: he asked to become a demon himself, a human with a flaming skull. You didn't think a normal human would have a flaming skull, did you?
"Unfortunately, instead of becoming cool and tough and relevant, Death Medal found that he was now on the lowest rung of Hell. See, he went from being a human loser to being a demonic loser. But instead of accepting that he would always be a loser, Death Medal set out to prove himself as a great demon. See, that's why he's bent on destroying the earth -- I mean, sure, there's the whole death metal blow things up angle, but he wants to show that he's a serious contender in the demonic realms. He wants to make it big. That's his motivation."
As he spoke, Grandpa Anarchy continued to dodge the alien cat, while Hexcoder blasted it with fiery missiles. One struck a nearby rock, shattering it. Grandpa snatched up a piece of sharp obsidian to use as a weapon.
"But he's so bad at it," Kid Calculus whined. "Am I really supposed to take such an incompetent villain seriously?"
"Being incompetent is not the same thing as having no motivation," Grandpa replied. "You said he lacks a backstory to explain who he is and how he got that way -- but obviously you're wrong."
Kid Calculus scrunched up his face. After a moment he said, "What about the Literate Lemur? Huh? Explain his amazing backstory!"
Grandpa Anarchy frowned. "He... likes old books? And constructing elaborate riddles and puzzles that explain what he's about to do?"
The eight-legged cat leaped. A massive magical hand met it in midair. Grandpa launched himself forward, driving his makeshift knife into the creature's throat. The alien cat screamed and writhed.
"Yes! See?" Kid Calculus crowed. "Clearly I have greater motivation than that clown!"
"Well, sure." Grandpa replied, scratching his chin. The alien cat ceased to move. "I can see that. Actually, I never really considered the Literate Lemur much of a foe... more of an annoyance, really...."
Anger filled the eyes of Kid Calculus. He tapped his keypad and a portal opened beneath Grandpa and his sidekick. They fell into a hot, sandy desert. As the portal above them closed, Kid Calculus called out, "Enough trying to justify myself. Let's see if you have half the motivation that I've already demonstrated!"
The portal winked out. Grandpa and Hexcoder looked about. Rolling dunes of hot sand stretched in all directions.
"Let me guess," said Hexcoder. "Nogloria, the planet with the poisonous spiders?"
"Yeah, looks like," Grandpa replied. "Predictable, really." After a moment he added, "You can program a way to portal us back home, right?"
"You know," said Hexcoder, "he's got a point. I'm getting paid nothing for this...."