The Phantom Casebook

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The truth is that when you’re so chest deep in the shit, the line between hero and villain is a matter of prospective. Welcome to Century City, the home of the Superhero since 1947. However, when a rising female heroine is ritualistically murdered, a once ace consulting detective with deep ties to the hero community is forced out of retirement to investigate a string of occult murders. Now, surrounded by political protests and media circus, the son of a notorious detective and a beloved superheroine from another world must face his haunted past to solve the serial murders that resemble the signature of the arch-villain who murdered his father.

Mystery / Fantasy
Age Rating:

Chapter 1

They’ve lost sight of what’s important.

That’s the thing that most say these days. If you think about it, really think about it, then maybe they didn’t realize what it was all about anyway. Truth, justice, it gets you killed out here. If they wanted all that, then they should’ve taken journalism classes at the community college. Six thousand a semester so a drunk with two ex-wives, his college sweetheart and the third string weather girl that started as an affair and ended with a unique way to lose a 401K, could tell them all they needed to know about what not to do in the local broadcast news business.

The real reason that anyone puts on the mask is strictly personal; Psych 101: Rudimentary Human Bullshit. You put on the mask to hide the real you. Not to protect your loved ones, or to make sure your identity is safe from retribution. Nah, most of them would welcome an all-out assault on that shitty b-level apartment they pay too much for anyway. They do it because they can pretend that ‘It’ didn’t happen to them. Age old story about a dead parent, parents, wife, husband, girlfriend. Most who dawn that mask, who go out into the night and hunt humans, they’re all trying to make up for who they weren’t when It went down.

Most say that they forgot what it was all about. The truth of the matter is that those in that life don’t forget. When you’re so chest deep in the shit, the line between hero and villain is a matter of perspective. People idealize their heroes. Kids cut out the newspaper articles to feed their captured, blurry imaginations, fight on the playground and in the cafeteria about a cousin or older sibling who saw them one night. But at 6:30 AM, bloody nose, mouth filled with Scope that burns like hell, that hero is still the asshole that was scared when the gun was drawn. They’re still the moron that didn’t pick up the phone when his crazy ex-girlfriend was texting death threats. They are still the weaklings, the failures, the cowards that go about their everyday lives regretting their existence in this imperfect world. It’s a type of madness that hits with the rhythm of a sledgehammer on a chain gang. Every hour the clang pierces weariness, longing, and real life. With every ring it recalls a picture in static that slowly cleans up as the day continues. Till the clarity is so crystal that it’s in and is everything that can be seen, heard, and felt. Whatever motivates them to do it, failure, vengeance, or guilt, it hammers till there is only one way to drive it from their mind. Masks, spandex, tight leather, and rage.

Nothing but rage.

Truth and justice? Right and wrong? The truth of the matter is that a clash at City Hall, at the Reservoir, is about as complicated as a bum fight. One’s an idealist and the other is just pissed off. One is trying to get money, the other is trying to stop them from getting it. In the end it goes down like a brawl at a frat house on a Saturday Oktoberfest: a lot of cussing and slobber-knocker punching with a crowd cheering them on. Sometimes the cops come, and everyone scatters with the babes and goods. And sometimes the black and white hangs back with everyone else when plasma beams as hot as the sun comes from someone’s hands.

Maybe if you tell them that, it scratches the gloss, chips the glaze off the veneer that everyone idolizes. Maybe if you told them that behind those masks, glowing auroras, and great asses in tight leather, is a life of pain, misery, and uncontrollable anger, they’d understand it. They might even tell you that your opinion is valued and noted. But in the end, they were going to do it anyway. It’s the age-old conflict: one generation thinking that they were reinventing the wheel, the other telling them that they’re just throwing on new rims. Yet, in the end, no matter who believed what, it is still a wheel and everything goes around and round.

The mistakes, the failures, and the apathy of it all.

They say that they lost sight of what’s important. But what is important isn’t truth and justice. It’s the drive, the reason, the madness. What makes a person go out there night after night? Was it the trauma, the self-loathing, or just the need to pretend that tonight would be the night they make everything that led them to this point right? Sometimes the lines get blurred, sometimes a mistake is made, and sometimes your luck just runs out.

But it’s everything that they agree to the first time they look down and see those group of kids eyeing that third shift nurse who just got off her shift at the pediatric ward. Not the ER nurse that is still hyped up. But the nurse whose time was spent with crying babies, rushing back and forth, and all between long hours of tedious nothing. She’s the nurse who isn’t alert and won’t run far, about to crash off protein bars and stale second shift coffee from the cafeteria. They hear that first scream as the kids grab her, arguing with one another about keeping her quiet, about who was going to go first. Like most rapes, they’re crimes of opportunities, hard to catch or predict. But the figure’s glove makes an audible squeeze as it balls into a fist. They don’t really hear her screaming as the kids rip down her scrub pants. It all becomes white noise, an inescapable chorus of whatever it was that they heard, saw, or felt the first time they realized that their lives were over, that they’d never be the same again.

Then, they leap off that building and into that life of violence, rage, and mental anguish.

If one does this enough, you realize that the ones that hate themselves, who do it all for revenge, are the actual sane ones. It’s the idealists that are the real danger. The ones who get their powers and decide that they were going to help everyone. The person with the ultimate form of ‘might makes right,’ who decides that they are going to make the world into their own virtuous image. It’s noble, it’s what anyone would want to do given the circumstances, sure. But the world is rarely black and white. Most people live in shades of grey. A master writer who treats his wife like shit. A world class brain surgeon who likes them too young. A cop who shoots a racial activist, yet, that same cop was defending a little Korean shop owner from violent rioters. The world is not what anyone wants it to be, nor can you mold it without making concessions toward whatever definition of personal liberties they live by. Soon enough all that power, that idealism, cumulates into a tiny voice that gets louder as time goes by. A voice that convinces them that they’re right, righteous even, and that everyone else just doesn’t see that perfect world because the little people are at a disadvantage. Then, they make it their own personal crusade, believe that it’s only them, the most enlightened, that can help the existing world out of its dark ways. Even when they’re bleeding after going ten rounds with a former ally in boilermaker iron suit, in jail, and cursing ‘the pigs’, they still don’t know what they’ve come become …

And they don’t want to know.

They say that they’ve all forgotten what this is about. Yet, perhaps, in the end, it isn’t about one thing or the other. Perhaps it’s about a damaged person trying to hide their pain. Perhaps, it’s about someone who thought they were doing right and find themselves behind bars. Or maybe, just maybe, it isn’t about anything at all. In the end no one knows what it was that brought out the hero or villain in the men and women that have such extraordinary abilities …

But it’s something that can’t be replicated by slogans, marketing, and branding.

They say that they’ve lost sight of what’s important. And they’re right. There is much that is lost in the years since the tragedies, fear, and uniting of a citizenry against the threats of tyranny. At the end of the dark times, we all stood up and said in one voice, “Never again.” We applaud the safety measures, the philanthropy, and the causes championed. Then we, rightfully, took to our new lives with glee, flinching at the dark clouds, at the building fires that burn on live tv, and sigh in relief when it’s just an electrical SNAFU. Then, one day, in the middle of taking the kids to school, agonizing over what to have for dinner, and critiquing the unevenly cut lawn of our neighbors, we grew nostalgic.

Now there is a dozen of these heroes in every color, variation, and target demographic. They go to movie premieres, they champion social causes, and they make speeches that inspire the youth to act in virtue. If you look, you can tell who each one is by the distinctly crafted and heavily market tested symbol that is on their chest. For a time, there were some that questioned their existence, their need. They equated these new heroes to ‘Black Water’ type thugs, corporate funded ‘private security’ for the city. But then these heroes started talking, social advocating for all ‘the right’ causes. When they suddenly spoke out in lecturing PSAs and press conferences, when they began calling into question the police department’s handling of minority crime. When that happened, when they changed the narrative, took the narrative, and became the narrative … they were untouchable.

Yet, since then, the biggest question that grips a city is the one that no one answers …

“What exactly do these ‘Superheroes’ do for us?”

You ask the mayor and he’ll tell you that they ‘help’ with problems that need an extra pair of hands … preferably ones that glow. If you ask the social elites, they’ll say that they give ‘everyone’ something to strive for. And if you ask ‘them’ what they do for us, they’ll simply feed you a catchphrase that a whole acre of cubicles somewhere on the West Coast meticulously tweaked. You look at these paragons of virtue and nobility and you don’t see it. Sure, they’ve got the colors, the symbol, the great ass in leather. But the hammer ring is not there. The drive, the purpose, they’re nowhere to be found. You look into their eyes and you don’t see the pain, the rage, and the delusion. You only see something that was born out of a factory, out of a sociology professor’s checklist that is double checked by the corporate lawyer’s office.

But anyone who remembers those dark days knows that it takes more than speeches and advocacy to put on the mask.

They say that they lost sight of what’s important. They’re right, they have. These new guys have it all, the costume, the symbol, and the right, non-offensive opinions. But in the end, it doesn’t amount to much when something more important is missing from all of it …


As we get closer to “Cape Week” here in Century City, as people from all over the world come to stay in our fair city, see the sights, and live up the life we take for granted … we must ask, if it comes down to it, can a continental view of Diversity in America save us when villainy strikes?

No, I’m not talking about the old has-beens that get a pension from some hedge-fund shell for planting a giant puzzle box in a park or to perpetrate a smash and grab down Republic Street for the Nightcrawlers to shoot. Can these new avengers of justice really protect us when the bad ones come back? When the real monsters find their way out of the old cages they were put in? Do they have that inner rage, shame, or honest belief in a false utopia to do all that is necessary to protect this city when the shit hits the fan again?

One of their own was raped and murdered in Victory Park last night …

I guess we will see, won’t we?

-Paul Steven Pool

Contributing Editor of “The Gonzales Voice”

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