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No one ever really believed in superheroes. They were great for movies and comic books and cartoons and children's fantasies, but they were about as real as Santa Claus.
Then, in 1967, all that changed.
At a suburban hospital in Sacramento, California, Leslie Finch gave birth to her first child--a small boy. It is a given that the doctor followed procedure, though he may have been surprised at the baby's initial appearance. After the routine smack on the bottom, the doctor ceased to exist. So did the baby's mother, the nurses, and most of the east wing. In a fiery explosion the small baby evinced the first publicly recorded release of metahuman abilities. Several hundred patients and staff were killed or injured in the blast, but rescue crews discovered a small, blue-skinned baby, seemingly unharmed but deteriorating rapidly, amidst tons of charred rubble. The baby survived for three more hours, his skin nearly unbreakable by normal means and thus preventing the necessary medical attention.
The public went crazy, to say the least. The baby was an alien, some said, or the Devil incarnate. Even Christ reborn. Scientists labored relentlessly to find an answer, and eventually Dr. Parcell Fournier, a French geneticist, discovered the Metahuman Gene. At first the public was skeptical. The baby was a superman of sorts? Preposterous! Public opinion was soon swayed, however, as more and more individuals stepped forward and revealed superhuman powers of greater or lesser magnitude, or were discovered under the new scrutiny of a nation. Emily Thorinson of Dayton, Ohio could change the color of any plant she touched. She had been winning awards for her yellow and blue roses for years. Charles Keating could lift his Harley Davidson motorcycle over his head with one hand. Xian Chow of Beijing sneezed in a restaurant and shattered windows for nearly a mile in all directions. Suddenly the world had to deal with a brand new situation - a metahuman population.
Government records indicate that some evidence of the metagene existed prior to The Finch Baby in 1967, and later research indicated that the metagene may have existed as early as the 1800's, but nothing had ever been proven and the exact cause of its activation is unknown to this day, though speculation leads modern science to ambient radiation caused by the detonation of nuclear weapons. The origin of the metagene itself remains a mystery, though several projects exist specifically researching the topic. The Human Genome Project, by far the best funded and staffed of the projects, has determined that it is as often as not psionic in nature, meaning that a person's power or powers are either directly tied in with the mind (mental powers), or seem to have some basis in their psyche. Even physical mutations have been related to an individuals mental state of mind, or even their current thoughts at the time of the change. Subconscious stimuli and psychological states at times of metagene activation are being considered as both catalyst and metagene programmer. The circumstances causing the activation may also have a bearing on what alterations in an individual take place. With the notable lack of hard data, however, further research is warranted, and everything from prehistoric genetic tampering to cosmic radiation is being investigated as a source for the metagene's recent activity. In all cases, however, the metagene is fundamentally uniform in structure. Also, no individual who has demonstrated powers is without the gene, and no individual without the gene has ever demonstrated powers. If one does not possess the gene at all, one will not gain superpowers ever.
Many of the early metahumans were gathered up for tests, persuaded one way or another to contribute to scientific research. Many of these individuals, though later released, spoke of mistreatment, physical and psychological abuse, and in some cases, death at the hands of their "doctors". Nothing was proved, but it wasn't too far fetched, all things considered, and people began to embrace the metahuman population as a "needy cause". Some of the names heard in the news, however, were never heard from again. Charles Keating was sent to Viet Nam in 1968 and is still listed as MIA. There is no recorded evidence of Xian Chow's whereabouts after 3 days following her outburst.
By 1973 several more incidents of metahuman births were recorded, but scientists had discovered a screening process to ensure the child's safe arrival into the world. The advent of Project:Lifeline was instrumental in finally bringing the reality home to the average citizen. Founded by Dr. Robert Mayer, Project:Lifeline was set up to be the foremost medical facility in dealing with metahumans. Powers rarely manifested at birth, but the Project enables doctors to determine if the metagene is present in unborn fetuses, and takes steps to ensure a safe birth as well as pre- and post-natal care of the infant. By the end of the decade metahumans were being discovered or born on an almost daily basis. Virtually all demographic denominations were affected, though notably affluent countries experienced a higher presence of metahumans than, for example, Third World countries.
The seventies were a time of great social upheaval and tension within the United States, and indeed even other parts of the world. With the Viet Nam conflict highly unpopular, America was having a difficult time adjusting to the rise of metahumans in it's midst. Organizations were formed for the advocacy of metahuman rights, such as Project:Lifeline, and even MetaFriends--a national support group for metahumans and their friends and family--as well as SANE (Superhumans And Normals as Equals). Other groups rose up to condemn metahumans as being "mutants" or "freaks of nature", and a potential danger to humanity in general. SLAM (Stronger Limits Against Metacriminals) was one of the first and is possibly the best organized and reasonable of these groups. The Friends of Humanity (FoH) are one of the most vocal and notable of these organizations, and exist in one form or another even today. The FoH is known for their aggressive stance against metahumans, going so far as to picket the houses of known metahumans. Thus far, violence and hate crimes that can be tied to them have been held at a minimum though suspicions run high when such a crime is committed. A splinter group, however, used private sector funding to move underground, becoming a paramilitary organization with vast resources, eventually emerging in the early 80's as Genocide. Their views are public and violent, and they hold that only through genetic cleansing can the human race save itself. They have extensive international political and economic support, though rarely is there open support for the group.
Nations across the globe reacted in a variety of ways. Some adopted an open-arms policy, believing the metahumans to be the blessed of God. Certain Muslim nations are well-known for this. Others believed them to be some sort of planted threat, either by neighboring countries, aliens, or an as yet undetermined foe. The now-devolved Soviet Union instigated a "collection" of known and suspected metahumans, utilizing them in research, national protection, or slave labor with little regard for human rights. Many metahumans were captured, or enslaved, or killed outright. The breakdown of Communist Russia and it's subsequent breakup allowed for a certain amount of restructuring in regards to their stance on metahumans, but Slavic metahumans still face oppressive governments. Amnesty International began working to free some of these metahumans by 1980, thus giving the metahuman population a certain amount of credibility.
Science was already beginning to advance in leaps and bounds by the start of the Reagan Era, due in part to a handful of scientists, technicians and engineers possessing heightened intelligence thanks to the metagene. Progress was being made on a level heretofore unseen, and the world was struggling to adapt. Prior to this the space race had been about satellites and lunar rockets; now it was about space ships and orbital stations. The stuff of science fiction was rapidly becoming science fact. Lasers, force fields, alternate power sources, high tensile strength plastics and alloys, all were being discovered at a break-neck pace. Changes were coming about almost faster than humanity could handle them, though advances slowed somewhat by the late 1980's and early 90's, and once again Humanity mastered their environment.
At first metahumans were a curiosity rather than a serious danger. In the 70's, however, many had begun using their powers for personal gain, breaking the laws of man and physics to carry out their crimes. This led to local, state and federal law enforcement agencies to begin recruiting their own metahumans. Collateral damage increased, but the public again found confidence in their police forces as previously unstoppable criminals met with resistance. As supervillains began teaming up for bigger crimes, so too did the first superhero teams form, and not all of them were government-sponsored. The first of such groups was The Justiciary, based in San Diego, California. They formed as private citizens to oppose the first incarnation of the Ultimates in 1984. This brought up another concern, however; metahumans and the law.
The mid-1980's saw the first lawsuit against a hero team, as the city of St. Ives, NY, attempted to sue The Protectors for collateral damage caused in the capture of the Grim Reaper. The case went to the Supreme Court. In brief, the suit was to determine the legality of costumed individuals with no direct ties to law enforcement apprehending criminals of any variety, and the responsibilities and repercussions of such actions. A "vigilante" mentality was imminent, the prosecution stated, unless these costumed metahumans be reigned in with rules and regulations. It was pointed out, however, that while many law enforcement organizations did in fact, have their own metahumans, many refused to expose themselves to the public for fear of discrimination or reprisal. This was a valid point, the defense argued, and the metahumans weren't trying to dodge responsibility, but if they didn't stop the Grim Reaper, who would have?
The courts ruled in favor of The Protectors, setting a precedent which has been built upon steadily since. Superheroes are considered private citizens in terms of their legal rights, but many law enforcement agencies will work with them to avoid such hassles. Heroes and villains both concealed their identities in order to live more normal lives when not actively using their powers. Some went public, or never bothered to hide themselves in the first place. There's a man in San Francisco who can stretch to nearly three times his normal height; he's a house painter. In Chicago there resides a woman who can freeze time around a person for minutes at a time; she's a grade-school teacher. The point had been made that until such time as it could be proven otherwise, superheroes would be considered private citizens wishing to remain anonymous while upholding the law. Their secret identities would remain inviolate for as long as the metahuman in question provided no threat to persons or property. A whole new branch of law was opening up, and metahumans would have to tread carefully in the future, but America supported them and that was what mattered. Insurance was being made available to both metahumans and normals, in the event of death, injury, or property damage due to metahuman activities. Law enforcement agencies began providing classes so that superheroes would be able to follow the law in their citizen's arrests. Product endorsements, financial status, even medical treatment, all were being revamped to accommodate the superhero. Once again Project:Lifeline stepped in and expanded their facilities to range across the country, and they began treating known metahumans on a special payment/insurance plan.
1991's Desert Storm saw metahumans active in several capacities, most operating under their respective national authorities, but a few being independent. Like the myths and legends of old, these super-powered individuals championed their causes, and it became widely known soon after that many countries employed metahumans in their military. For the most part they cancelled each other out, leaving the 'standard' forces to wage the war in general. Without this match-up, however, the war would have gone very differently, one way or the other. The potential of military metas provided enough fuel to begin a UN-backed detente on government-sponsered superhumans. This, in turn, led to the development of UNTIL, the United Nations Tribunal of International Law. Designed to be a global peacekeeper, all members of the United Nations were required to provide personnel and support for UNTIL. In 1995 UNTIL applied for, and received, independence from the UN, keeping their name but publicly promoting a world peace and submitting their own charter and mission statement. They provided military and metahuman support to any nation that requested it, and was in good general standing politically. Their primary focus would be on global threats, or support in the capture and/or termination of metahuman threats.
Too, a new breed of criminal emerged; that of the hi-tech. VIPER is the most recent organization to make a name for itself, but there are others. Using a combination of military tactics, hi-tech weaponry, and metahuman agents, these terrorists and criminals put a strain on national security at a level never before felt. In the U.S., The Guard has been formed in part to supplant the role played by UNTIL. The Guard's main objective is to put a stop to such terrorist and criminal activities that VIPER and other criminals, either human or metahuman, might pose to the United States and her citizens. The Guard supports other agencies rather than supercede them, providing whatever level of aid is requested, from simple intelligence to metahuman response teams. Other countries possess similar paramilitary organizations designed to deal with similar threats, though UNTIL is still in great demand and is considered the premier opposition to metahuman threats.
The new millennium has seen the beginnings of a new era for humanity, as human and metahuman learn to live in relative harmony. There are still superheroes and supervillains in the world, but the rate of discovery has tapered off greatly. In America, roughly 1 in every 10,000 has the metagene, though not necessarily active. About 1:100,000 is currently active in a metahuman sense (roughly 3000). However, many of these remain low-level (designated Beta's by scientists and the public). Low-level telekinesis, minor energy manipulation, cosmetic transformations--all these constitute Beta level metahuman abilities, and occur in roughly 80% of the metahuman population. The remaining numbers are made up by "Alpha's", those metahumans with significant powers. The ability to fly, generate high levels of energy, invulnerability--this is what makes an Alpha, and these are the individuals who become superheroes and supervillains.
Metahumans in Modern Society
Public Attitudes Towards Metahumans
The origins of super powers and nuclear power are inextricably linked. The advent of the atom bomb and nuclear power plants added the final change to human DNA necessary for super-powers to arise. Like nuclear energy, superhuman abilities can be a great force for good, or an extremely destructive one. Like atomic power, it has been a part of peoples' lives since the sixties, and in many peoples' minds is bound up with memories and feelings of the Cold War and VietNam. Therefore, it is understandable that peoples' attitudes towards super-powers are very similar to their feelings about nuclear power.
The vast majority find metahumans to be a distasteful necessity. They don't mind having them around, and in fact they can be quite useful, but they'd rather not have them next door. A sizeable minority on one side is enthusiastic in its support of super-powers, while a similar minority considers them dangerous. And, as with any emotionally-charged issue, there are fanatics on both fringes, advocating or engaging in voilence to advance their viewpoints. [see related topic: Genocide]
The exception to these generalities is mental powers, which are generally met with a greater degree of fear, mistrust, and revulsion. This attitude stems in part from the depredations of several notorious criminal mentalists, including Ravage, who used his powers to mentally torture women; Hypnotica, who touched off the mental disorder that led to the death of the world's first superhero, Atomic Man; and Macabre, who played on his victims' worst fears in order to "consume" their minds.
Here are the results of a Gallup/USA Today/CNN poll, conducted in 1994, in which 4200 randomly-selected adults were asked their positions on super-powers and superhumans. The poll has a 1.5 percent margin of error. Percentages may not add up to 100 due to rounding.
Which of the following do you favor? (Respondents could choose more than one.)
- Increased penalties for use of powers in the commission of a crime 81%
- Restrictions or limits on the use of super-powers 38%
- Government registration of metahumans 31%
- Complete ban on the use of super-powers 19%
- Mandatory prenatal metagene testing 14%
- No restrictions 8%
- Exile, death or other severe penalties for metahumans 4%
- Other/No Opinion 6%
What would happen if you found out your friend/spouse/relative had super powers?
- Our relationship would become closer and more supportive 9%
- Nothing, our relationship would remain the same 22%
- Our relationship would become more difficult but continue 11%
- I would end my relationship with that person 16%
- I Don't Know/Other/No Opinion 42%
Do super-powers have a beneficial or detrimental effect on society?
- Very beneficial 11%
- Somewhat beneficial 17%
- On balance, equally beneficial and detrimental 32%
- Somewhat detrimental 19%
- Very detrimental 14%
- No Opinion 8%
Would you like to have super-powers?
- Yes 61%
- No 22%
- It Depends/No Opinion 18%
Superpowers And The Law
Despite the proportionately small number of active metagene carriers in the United States (estimated at 3000, or 5 percent of the world's total of approximately 60,000), and the fact that they have no lobbies or PACs, the government has been reluctant to place restrictions on super-powers or the people who wield them. This may have something to do with the fact that these people wield great physical, if not policital, power. All such laws now in existence deal exclusively with super-powered lawbreakers.
In most states, use of super-powers in the commission of a misdemeanor elevates the crime to a felony. The exeptions are Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon and Washington. Simple display of potentially destructive super-powers is a misdemeanor in many cities, treated the same as discharging a firearm. In areas where no such law is on the books, using dangerous super-powers in public is still likely to bring prosecution under public endangerment statutes. Prosecutors often look the other way, though, in cases of so-called "superheroes" acting in the public interest.
The death of the world's first superhero, Atomic Man, in 1976, and the government's mishandling of the Champions superhero group , was one factor in the 1976 defeat of President Richard Nixon by Georgia governor Jimmy Carter. One of Carter's first acts in office was to abolish federal involvement in superhero teams. Much of the rest of his first term was spent passing a string of restrictive anti-super legislation.
The Super-Powers Registration Act: Passed in 1974, shortly after the "super-boom" began, the Act required people with known superpowers to register their name, Social Security number and permanent address with the federal government. The government, in turn, shared this information with local and national law enforcement agencies. The ostensible purpose of this registration was to allow the government to call on these individuals in the event of a national emergency. Nobody really doubted, though, that the Act was born out of paranoia. Decried from the start as a gross violation of super-powered peoples' right to privacy, it was met with spotty compliance. It wasn't until 1976, though, that a metahuman mustered the courage to challenge the Act in court. It took three years for United States Vs. John Doe AKA Firebrand to work its way up to the U.S. Supreme Court, where the law was declared unconstitutional in September 1979. By that time, 120 people had registered, representing a broad spectrum of powers. Most authorities believe that at least twice that many had refused to register and were operating "dark."
The Storer Law: Named for the Secret Service agent killed by supervillain Entropy in his 1981 assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan, the Storer Law of 1983 makes the use of super-powers in the commission of a felony a federal crime. The FBI and federal anti-super-terrorist agency The Guard are authorized to investigate such crimes. Federal charges under the Storer Law does not preculde prosecution for the same crime under local, state or other federal statutes. Conviction under these statutes requires physical or recorded evidence, not just eyewitnesses or victim testimony, high courts have ruled. As such, of the 30 or so super-powered criminals convicted under this law since its passage, none are mentalists.
The McCumbrie-Hull Act: Passed as a pre-election "look tough" measure in 1980, this bill was named for its House and Senate sponsors, respectively. It made use of super-powers in the commission of a felony an aggravating factor, just like using a firearm, and added a federally-mandated minimum of 10 years to any sentence imposed. It also authorized funding for the first federal prisons designed to hold super-powered criminals--Stronghold--, in Old Forge, N.Y.; Fort Valley, Ga.; Marion, Ill.; and Sentinel, Ariz. Six more are planned nationwide, and a new "Super-Supermax" facility, designed to hold twenty-four of the most powerful supervillains, is currently under construction deep underground at Tok, AK.
Wolfe's Law: There is one class of superpowers which is illegal to use in any way on an unwilling target. The tireless campaigning of Rebecca Wolfe, who was kidnapped, held captive and mentally tortured for three months by a sadistic mentalist calling himself Ravage, resulted in the passage in 1985 of Senate Bill 1985-176, colloquially known as Wolfe's Law. The law closes the loophole in the Storer Law, making use of mental powers on an unwilling target a crime equivalent to rape. Since mental powers usually leave no physical or other observable evidence, victim testimony is admissible in Wolfe's cases. Expert testimony of psychiatrists trained to recognize the psychic aftereffects of mental powers is also often called upon in such cases. The man who inspired the law, Daniel Drew, aka Ravage, was coincidentally the first to be prosecuted and convicted under the law for a separate abduction and torture incident in 1985. The case made its way to the Supreme Court, but unlike the Registration Act, it was found constitutional, with a 6-3 majority asserting that the use of mental powers was itself an invasion of privacy. (Side notes: Ravage was bludgeoned to death by fellow prisoners in 1986, shortly after his prison sentence began. Hypnotica, the mind-controller responsible for Atomic Man's death, was prosecuted under these statutes in 1987 and sentenced to 10-15 years in Marion. But the most infamous mentalist ever known, the mental vampire Macabre, has never been prosecuted under these laws; the few victims to survive his attacks are permanently comatose.)
Government Policies Towards 'Metagene Positives'
While it is the current Administration's policy to discourage discrimination on the basis of genetic content, getting such an equal-rights declaration into law is politically impossible, at least for now. Attitudes in Congress are considerably more conservative than the President's. The best President Clinton had been able to do is to sign an executive order banning hiring and firing discrimination for federal employees, excluding the military. President Douglas ran for office with a very neutral Metahuman stance, supportive of the existing laws but taking very little initiative on new metahuman legislation.
The military, officially, does not accept recruits with super-powers. These potent abilities make it impossible to maintain discipline and order within the ranks, they argue. The discipline necessary to forge a group of individuals into a cohesive fighting unit requires subduing the will of the individual to the unit. But nobody who can melt tanks with his hands would take abuse from a drill instructor for long, the logic goes. Rumors persist, though, in conspiracy-theorist circles, that the Pentagon covertly tests its soldiers for the Metagene and recruits a select few into a clandestine team of "super soldiers." The military denies this of course, and defies anyone to name any of these team members, show where they are based or point out any incidents in which this team has participated. Theorists respond by saying that is precisely this complete lack of evidence that supports their claim, and the the so-called "Meta Brigade" are merely latent, waiting to be activated when the proper authorities decide it's time.
The Guard does have a team, though, equipped and trained to deal with super-powered threats to national security. Force Prime is America's elite anti-super-terrorist team. With 10-man strike teams stationed at a dozen military bases around the country, F-P can scramble in a matter of minutes to respond to a supervillain threat. The members of F-P are chosen from the cream of the five uniformed services, and get the most intensive training and the best high-tech battle armor available. Recent military budget cuts have not touched F-P, a political "sacred cow" to a Congress obsessed with looking tough on super-crime.
Individuals encountering difficulty with their super-powers have little recourse. Currently, Social Security does not recognize super-powers, however inconvenient, as a legitimate form of worker disability. Metagene-positive persons must demonstrate that their powers have inflicted some other form of qualifying handicap -- such as blindness or loss of use of a limb -- to qualify for benefits. It has been argued by Meta-rights activists that such a policy is a second blow against those who suffer discrimination in employment due to a mutated appearance, and pushes some into supervillainry.
There are no government programs in place to help Metagene-positive people adapt to their powers. Several private programs do exist, though, the largest being Project:Lifeline and it's affiliated clinics. However, the program can only help 20 metahumans at a time, and the waiting list for specific treatment is 2 years long. Seven other private centers across the continent -- based in Yakima, Wash.; St. Louis, Mo.; Colorado Springs, Colo.; Clearwater, Fla.; Rome, N.Y.; Winnipeg, Manitoba; and Portland, Maine -- have similar "meta rehab" programs, though on a smaller scale than Dr. Meyer's. One drawback of these centers is their cost, which for the most expensive can reach six figures annually. Some major universities have programs for those who cannot afford one of these residential programs, but their facilities and treatments are not as advanced, their focus is research rather than assistance, and they can serve even fewer clients -- no more than two or three each at any given time
Corporate Attitudes Towards Superhumans
To the business world, metahumans represent a threat to the status quo. When they aren't breaking into their research plants to steal their latest technological development, or holding super-battles that spill over into company facilities, they're using their superhuman capabilities to found companies of their own and supplant them in the marketplace. And there aren't enough of them to make them an attractive market bloc. As such, most firms' attitudes towards metahumans can be encapsulated as official indifference and unofficial distaste. The only major industry to profit from the metahuman phenomenon has been the insurance industry, which lost a lot of money in damage and theft claims until they discovered the money to be made in selling their clients Parahuman Acts Riders, or PARs, to cover such damages separately.
Even so, there are some jobs that just can't be done by normal corporate employees. In those cases, corporations will sometimes turn to euphemistically-named "independent operatives," or industrial agents. These individuals usually specialize in specific kinds of operations, such as espionage, arson, demolitions, computerized crimes or assassinations. These agents' capabilities are often technologically-based -- some companies have been known to reward successful missions with equipment rather than money -- but a few Metagene-active agents are in operation today. Though it is certainly within most large corporations' capabilities to create or recruit their own teams of super-powered operatives, the nature of their missions makes it more prudent to maintain legal deniability by paying the extra amount needed to hire individuals with no direct connection to the firm.
Organizations Concerned With Metagene-Positive Persons Many organizations and groups have changed or broadened their missions to adapt to the advent of super-powered people and their impact upon society.
The American Civil Liberties Union has been in the forefront of crusading for metahuman rights. While government attitudes -- and supervillain activities -- have made this job difficult, the ACLU has secured a number of significant victories, including the repeal of 1974's Super-Powers Registration Act, and the defeat of some of the more onerous provisions of President Reagan's anti-meta initiatives.
The Salvation Army has made helping metahumans with problems one of its key missions, just like runaways and the homeless. This help constitutes little more than a friendly ear, a hot meal and a warm bed, but such assistance is enough for many. Metas are welcome to volunteer at Salvation Army centers, and many who have received help there in the past do so. Such help goes a long way.
The American Red Cross is often called upon to assist individuals and communities in the aftermath of suervillain-caused disasters. It has no (known) metas on its staff, but it maintains a list of civic-minded superheroes it can call upon if necessary. Such calls for super assistance went forth was during 1998 to combat the effects of El Ñino; in 1999 in the aftermath of the earthquake in Izmit, Turkey; and again during the plains fires of Africa in 2001.
There are a few organizations founded in direct response to the metahuman phenomenon. With one exception, these are anti-meta groups.
A political group that lobbies at the local, state and national level for tougher sentences for supervillains, SLAM (Stronger Limits Against Metacriminals) is probably the most reasonable of these groups. Limiting themselves to issues concerning super-powered lawbreakers, SLAM has found support from members of Congress and even some superheroes. SLAM suffered a setback recently when a Florida court declared that their Proposition 99, requiring a life term for assault with a super-power, was improperly worded on the ballot and thus void. The group operates from donations and membership fees, has a paid staff of 25 based in Washington, D.C., and an estimated 14,200 members across the nation.
Friends of Humanity (FoH) is a group with a more radical agenda. The very existence of metahumans is a danger to normal humanity, they feel. This group argues that the U.S. Constitution applies to its human citizens only, and uses radical metas' assertion that they are a new and different species to justify suspending the Bill of Rights for them. They advocate mandatory Metagene testing at birth, with those testing positive being surgically sterilized, genetically catalogued in a central computer registry and tracked throughout their lives. They also support the death penalty for committing a felony with a super-power. Metas who wish to live among normal humans would submit to regular drug treatment to inhibit the functioning of the Metagene gene, in effect stripping them of their powers. More extreme members of this group have been suspected of updating an old Ku Klux Klan tradition, burning a wooden structure representing the DNA double-helix in front of metas' homes, in order to intimidate them and expose them to their neighbors. This is the second-largest group, claiming more than 4,000 members. Their meetings are held in secret.
Genocide is the most radical anti-meta group. Thought by some law enforcement agencies to be a clandestine arm of the FoH, this group has engaged in vandalism, terrorism and violence against metas. Genocide is suspected to have been behind the murder of the superheroine Whisperer. The FBI and The Guard thinks this group operates in "cells" of up to 50 people each in a dozen cities, operating mostly independently but taking direction for some missions from an unknown "cabal" of leaders. Genocide members are frequent participants in Internet chat and news groups, and coded Usenet postings may be how the cells coordinate their activities and receive orders from the leadership.
The sole group acting to calm passions against superhumans is SANE (Superhumans And Normals as Equals). Members of this group believe that when metahumans are accepted as the inevitable result of human evolution and regular members of society, the number of supers who choose to become villains will drop. This donation-funded group, which is only 5 years old, lobbies for federal anti-genetic-discrimination laws and against laws like SLAM's Proposition 99. The federally-registered nonprofit group filed disclosure forms for 1995 listing its membership as 510 and its annual budget as $163,219, spent mostly on salaries, postage and office supplies.
One other group, the Parahuman Rights League, was disbanded in 1991, only two years after its emergence, when it was discovered to be a front for Aries, a member of the metahuman criminal agency ZODIAC. The purpose of the group was to gather a database of information on metahumans.
Unknown to most, there is a small rebel metahuman group residing in Worcester, Massachusetts called The Organization. We are to believe that a metahuman named Darius Stone, is not only leader of the group but the true understanding form. He single-handedly discovered the system of metahumans by class. the purpose of The Organization is unknown.
As a response to Darius's organization, a renagade scientist, whos name remains a mystery, has been kidnapping metahumans according to their power. He leads us to believe that though metahumans can only use one ability, Darius is capable of sensing and stealing others from metahumans as he pleases.
Metas And The Media
Exposes based on real supervillain crimes (and the intrepid heroes who stopped them) are extremely popular. These are written in a gritty, police-report style, with plenty of grainy photos of victims and villains and crime scenes. Lurid covers and titles like Debt of Blood, Deadly Consequences and Countdown to Genocide keep these paperbacks hopping off the shelves.
More scholarly works have also been written on the subject, though they are a bit harder to find in your local Barnes & Nobles. Pandora's Birthright: The Evolution of Superhuman Abilities, by genetic researcher and former costumed adventurer Adrian Simpson, is widely considered by academics to be the definitive text on the subject, and is used as a textbook in several university advanced genetics courses. An alternative theory of Metagene-gene origins, Gift of the Gods by Erich von Daniken, has sold more than eight times as many copies, though.
Modern reference books also contain entries dealing with the superhuman world. Webster's New World Dictionary, College Edition contains definitions for Metagene, meta, metahuman, parahuman, superhero, superhuman and supervillain. The 1994 Encyclopedia Americana contains detailed entries under the topics Atomic Man; Champions, The; Justiciary, The; Metagene; and Superheroes and Supervillains.
With superheroes existing in real life, superhero comic books are not very prevalent. Those superhero comics that do exist are oriented towards a young readership, are fairly cartoony in nature, and invariably feature an intrepid band of teenage heroes battling huge hideous space monsters. A very few, most notably "Yellowjacket," are licensed adaptations of real superheroes.
The majority of adult-oriented comics deal with non-superpowered adventurers. Marvel's "Conan the Adventurer," vanguard of a class of black-and-white "art" comics, is the best-selling regular comic book in the U.S. Similar swashbuckling fare, whether in a fantastic setting like "Dragonfire" or a historic one like "The Red Scimitar," makes up the majority of published comics. Other large subsets include science-fiction or so-called "dark future" comics, such as "Caveat Emptor"; Western comics, like "Desperado"; and pirate comics, such as "Tales of the Black Galleon." A handful of anthologies are also popular, such as Freedom's "True War Tales" and D.C.'s "Detective Comics," which feature adaptations of two-fisted characters like Mike Hammer, Jack Slade and V.I. Warshawski.
Fans of the superhero culture tend to be better educated than the average, and as such, metahumans have found a warm welcome on the Internet. All the major online services have discussion rooms and newsgroups devoted to metahumans and their doings. Some of the larger newsgroups on the Internet proper are alt.fan.superheroes; alt.fan.superheroes.nyc; alt.fan.supervillains; soc.metas; soc.metas.nyc; and sci.biology.genetics.metagene. Heroes and villains alike have been known to lurk and even openly participate in several IRC chat groups, the most popular of which are #supers, #superchat, #metagene and #meta_cafe. Perhaps the greatest crimefighter of all time, Manhunter, and the most notorious villain in history, Dr. Destroyer, have both published their E-mail addresses and have even been known to respond to messages on occasion.
Major crimes and battles involving metahumans always rate coverage in the papers; the amount of coverage, and its placement, depends on the scale of the event. Apprehension of a bank-robbing superhuman by the local hero would rate Page 1 in a small-town newspaper, but will likely be relegated to an inside page of the local news section of a metro daily. Otherwise, newspapers don't devote too much space to the everyday trials and tribulations of the local hero team. The largest metro dailies -- the St. Ives Examiner, the Chicago Tribune, the Philadelphia Examiner, the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times -- have reporters and photographers devoted full-time to the meta beat.
Being less tradition-bound and more targeted to specific readerships than newspapers are, magazines have adapted to the superhuman phenomenon more readily. Few magazines have not dealt with the impact of superhumans on their area of interest at one time or another. Some examples:
- Fortune: "Protecting Your Firm From Super-Disasters"
- Vogue: "Simply Smashing Super Swimsuits"
- InStyle: "Dr. Destiny's Montana Hideaway"
- Car & Driver: "Manhunter's Custom Pontiac: A Muscle Car With Real Muscle"
- Model Railroader: "Add An Animated Super-Battle To Your Layout"
Many periodicals, notably People, Psychology Today, Omni, Rolling Stone, Details and the supermarket tabloids, have added regular departments covering the super world. Rolling Stone's writer on the super beat, Kitty Wells, is generally considered The Authority when it comes to who's who and what's in or out. An interview with Kitty means that a hero (or villain) has Arrived.
There are even magazines devoted completely to the super scene. SuperStar is a weekly supermarket tabloid, exploring in detail the intimate lives, battles, rivalries and romances of those folks in the flashy tights. Since it's practically impossible to file a lawsuit anonymously, SuperStar has shown no compunctions about playing fast and loose with the facts of heroes' lives. They have been a bit more circumspect about what they say about the villains, though, since their office building was razed by The Ultimates in 1989.
Meta is a more serious monthly publication. Ostensibly geared toward the super-powered reader, it nonetheless carries plenty of content of interest to the genetically unenhanced reader. Devoid of the fawning style of the groupie rags, Meta is the only publication to ever publish an interview with master villain Dr. Destroyer (conducted via the Internet, in August 1998).
There are many more underground publications (zines, in the vernacular) published by individuals using home computers. Most are one or two sheets, published irregularly, and show no particular regard for quality of writing, editing or spelling. Representative titles include "The Knightly Knews" (devoted to San Francisco hero Midknight); "Fallout" (for devotees of the first superhuman, Atomic Man); "Silver Bulletins" (for followers of the four Texan heroes to bear the name Lone Star); and the "I Hate Thunderfist Newsletter."
The first costumed adventurer, Gangbuster, was as much a media personality as a crimefighter. "The Masked Gangbuster" serials were produced from 1975 until 1979 (the final year's episodes being produced with a lookalike actor following the real hero's death in 1978). The series' success spawned a slew of imitators, though none was as successful as the original. When serials -- and costumed heroes -- became less popular in the late 1980s, romances, musicals and other more escapist fare took their places in the movie houses. "Hero flicks" -- full length this time -- enjoyed a comeback in the 1990s, thanks to the exploits of the government-sponsored Force Prime. This time, though, fictional heroes were the subject, in such classic films as "Foxfire," "Mr. Mystery," "Blackjack" and "Night of the Falcon" (the latter with Val Kilmer in the title role). However, three of the highest-grossing movies of the 1990s were old-fashioned hero flicks: "Justice," "Fire and Ice" and "Return of the Falcon" (this time, with Brad Pitt as the classic crimefighter). One of the biggest flops of the year, though, was "Sting," a fantasy about the real crimefighter Yellowjacket, indicating that the public still prefers its movie heroes fictional.
Television and Radio
Superheroes and their effect on society are today a constant topic of discussion on the nation's TV and radio talk shows. TV shows like "Oprah" occasionally focus on the effect some recent battle or villain plot has had on ordinary people's lives, and often take a negative tone towards metahumans, as they are understandably reluctant to appear in the studio to defend themselves."Peregrine's Perch" offers a pro-meta forum that has become increasingly popular in the last few years. Peregrine, herself a metahuman, has become the media darling of the day. On radio, though, metas usually get a fairer shake. Not only are a majority of talk show hosts friendly to metas -- they get more irate callers that way -- but heroes (and even villains) have been known to call in personally to set the record straight.
TV covers super battles and crimes in much the same way as newspapers. All three major network news operations and CNN have correspondents that cover the super scene; CNN's Mariana Villanueva also hosts the network's weekly half-hour "Meta Journal." On the show, Villanueva recaps the world's super news of import in the first half of the show, then interviews a newsmaker or authority on the big super story of the week.
"Meta Journal" is not the only TV show concerned with metahumans Tabloid TV shows like "Hard Copy" and "Inside Edition" cover supers whenever there's dirt to be found. CourtTV carries gavel-to-gavel coverage of supervillains' trials, when allowed. And "MetaFile" is a syndicated half-hour superhero news/chat show, as if "Meta Journal" was produced by the "E!" network. It airs in 46 markets.
A few fictional superhero-based TV series have appeared over the years, but none has been as successful as Paramount's syndicated "Suicide Squad," an hour long drama featuring five ex-government super-agents who travel the country helping people in trouble while dodging agents of their former employers and the super-powered pawns of fictional criminal agency "The Dominion." Other fictional meta-oriented TV shows currently on the schedule include ABC's "Justice," an adaptation of the 1990 film; CBS's "Moonstone," about an L.A.-based flying martial artist, and "Shatter," about a cyborg corporate agent turned good; and Fox's "Chance," about a gadget-wielding super-genius who solves mysteries in a fictional East Coast city (it's filmed in Toronto). For the most part special effects are used--they tend to be less damaging to property and personnel. Metahumans have been known to work in the business, however, though none have yet achieved "stardom" in the classic sense.