Justice Wing, Serial, Superhero

Interviewing Leather, Part Three

And here we are, a random Tuesday, and right now that means it’s time to Interview Leather. I’d say more, but I’m not feeling terribly good, so have a cut block and see you tomorrow for Storytelling.


This particular costume, Leather informed me, was her ‘formal’ wear. Meant for talking more than fighting. She said that every villain and most heroes had five or six costumes, designed for different situations. “You know how villains always seem to look good in those first few minutes of a fight?” she said. “That’s because they’ve picked the clothes for the situation. This is my fuck-me outfit.” And she was right. It was a black leotard and it looked poured onto her, all glossy, with stiletto heels on her boots and vinyl fingerless gloves. She’d teased her hair out and put on one of her masks — a black, batwing affair. “Sticky tabs,” she said. “Like spirit gum, but better.”

“Should I be taking your picture now?”

“Suit yourself, but if you’re looking for a cover shot, you’re going to want one of the high end combat suits. I look better in those.”

I blinked. “If you look better in those, why is that your ‘fuck me’ suit?”

She giggled. We were in her ‘study,’ which did have a computer and bookshelves, and a couple of nice leather chairs. The henchmen brought us coffee and didn’t interrupt. There had been an almost casual feeling to the morning so far. Now, she was on the clock, and everyone in the building knew it. I knew it too. Her ‘fuck me’ suit doubled as a ‘don’t fuck with me’ outfit. “The combat outfits take like a half hour to put on or take off. They kill the mood. Besides, they’re not all that comfortable — not good for talking in. This is what I’d wear around the tied up super hero as I told him my nefarious plans in a seductive voice. The heavy leather outfits are what I’d wear after he broke free.”

I laughed. “You have this down to a science.”

She giggled. “You have to. Look, I know everyone thinks we get up one day, think ‘I wanna be a supervillain,’ put on a bathing suit and halloween mask and everything falls into place. The simple truth is, it takes work to do things right — same as anything else. You need the right clothes, the right tools, the right connections, the right introductions — and you still actually need to be good at it.”

“So how did you decide to do it?”

She leaned back, stretching. She was inhumanly flexible, which can be distracting when she’s wearing her best ‘fuck me’ costume. “Mine’s a pretty standard story,” she said. “I went through metahuman expression in early high school, figured my powers out, and decided that I had a destiny.”

“To rob jewelry stores?”

She laughed. “To save the world.”

I blinked. “Huh?”

“Oh yeah. Check any ten super villains, and nine of them started off as super heroes. I started at sixteen years old. Red white and blue leotard, with pale tights. Cheesy as Hell, since I didn’t have a patriotic thing going, but there’s not a good ‘starter kit’ for super heroes out there. You have to grab what you can find at dance supply stores, costume shops and the like.”

“So… wait. How long did you fight crime?”

“Like two years. I was ‘Dynamo Girl.’ Well, I started as ‘Dynagirl,’ but it turns out that Sid and Marty Kroft did a TV show with a Dynagirl in the seventies.” She laughed again, shaking her head. “I stopped muggings, got cats out of trees, took down a street gang or two — even fought a couple of entry level villains.”

“Huh. That must have been something to see.”

She arched an eyebrow — I was impressed with how expressive she could be with the leather mask on — and smiled naughtily. “Oh, you like the idea of sixteen year olds in star spangled lycra beating down bad guys?”

“You make it sound perverse.”

She laughed. “Nah. It’s par for the course. We all know it. The lifestyle involves being leered at, on both sides of the aisle.”

“So why’d you give it up?”

“You mean — why’d I go bad?” She grinned. “I wish I had a good story for you — some moment of truth where I fell from grace. But the simple answer is, being a super hero’s hard work.”

“Harder than being a super villain?”

She laughed, as though the question were silly. “Any time you make an effort, you’re trying to receive some kind of reward. That’s human nature. We do the things that benefit us. We work at unrewarding wage slave jobs because they give us money to buy alcohol and cigarettes. We do backbreaking charity work because it gives us warm feelings and assuages our liberal guilt. Being a super villain is, if anything, harder than being a super hero. But the rewards are tangible and immediate and can be spent on computers and slinky black dresses. It’s not like that for heroes.”

“So, you’re saying there’s no such thing as altruism? Of doing the right thing?”

She laughed again, and slipped a cigarette out of a pack on her desk. “Of course there is,” she said, lighting up. “But that’s the reward. That good feeling. That sense you’re making a difference. You have to understand the tier system.”

“Tier system? You sound like tech support.”

She ignored me. “See, you have your first tier heroes. The ones everyone’s heard of. Paragon. Freya. The Nightwatch. The founders of Justice Wing. The ones who make the national news every day. They get adulation from all quarters, which makes sense because they’re also the ones saving the world. Then, you have your second tier. The other guys in Justice Wing. The guys most people have heard of, but who don’t make the national news. Specialists. Transit, say. Or the Beacon.”

“That was you?” I asked.

“Not even close. Below them you have the third tier. The regional heroes. The home town boys. Guys like Darkhood, here in Meridian City. Outside their home town, no one’s heard of them, but in their home town they’re hot stuff.”

“Okay?”

“And then you have the fourth tier. Everyone else. The neighborhood heroes. Members of second rate superteams. All the guys and girls who own lycra, before they make it in the magazines. That was me.” She shook her head, breathing smoke out. “Imagine a really top notch high school quarterback. No matter how good he is, he’s still a high school quarterback.”

“So, you would need to put in the time to move up the rankings?”

“It’s not that simple. See, I was a pretty good ‘good girl.’ I saved some lives. I stopped some crime. I fought the good fight. But look at me.” She ran a hand down her stomach, sliding smoothly up out of the chair. I don’t mind saying it was easy to look at Leather. Especially in that costume. “I look good. But I don’t look ‘super heroine.’ My hips are slender, not broad. And I’m a well shaped B cup, and I can work it well, but I’m still a B cup. You look at most superheroines and they’re double D’s. You look at Freya or Paragirl — they’re double F’s. You look at any of the well known super heroines, and you’re seeing mighty tits. Hell, the only C cup in the second tier is the Beacon, and she’s so tiny they look bigger on her.”

“So… because your breast size wasn’t big enough, you got stuck in high school varsity?”

“Exactly. You know what they call it? ‘Sidekick physique.’ In fact, that’s what most thin chicks have to do if they want to get attention — partner up with a solid second tier heroine and let their first name be “and.” Like, Darkhood and Dynamo Girl.” She shook her head. “Not that I’d partner up with an SCA reject with a bow.”

“That reject with a bow’s likely going to try and stop your jewelry heist.”

Leather snorted. “Yeah, well. Super villains fight super heroes. If you don’t want to fight super heroes find some other way of making a living. That’s one reason I’m going to pull jobs here this week. Transit’s in California at a conference all week. She’s second tier and way out of my league. Darkhood’s third tier. Maybe I can take him and maybe I can’t, but he won’t teleport me into jail the moment he sees me.”

“Gotcha.”

“Anyway. Here I was. Going out, working hard every night. And there was a night I took out two super thugs. Red Beast and Shocker, if you keep up. Anyway, that fight hurt. I was lucky not to be hospitalized. But I managed to stop them. Get them locked up. And saved a whole crowd of people.” She took a long drag off her cigarette. “I got page four of the Bay City Chronicle.”

I kind of shook my head. “So, because you couldn’t get good press, you gave it up?”

She considered, and nodded. “Yeah. See, that’s the acid test. If you realize that no one gives a shit, and you go out and keep trying to save the world? You’re a super hero. A real one. Your reward comes from inside. If you go out, kill yourself, and get upset because no one gives a shit? You’re in the wrong line of work. That was me.”

“How’d you make the transition?”

“It was my next trip out. I nailed a crook who’d robbed a big liquor store. It was a Friday night, so he’d taken like eight thousand bucks in a cloth laundry bag. I took him down. He dropped the money. He took a shot at me and missed. I knocked him into a wall, and he started running, dropping his gun. And I was all alone, in the dark, watching him run, and wondering why in God’s name I’d run after him. And there was a cloth bag full of money right next to me, and no one would finger me — who’d even believe the crook, if he got caught?” She stubbed out her cigarette. “So I picked up the bag and went home. I was living on my own then, so it was a boon. I paid my rent, paid my bills… bought new clothes.” She shook her head, laughing. “It was midway through my next shift at the restaurant that it hit me that I didn’t need to hustle for tips any more. So I walked out the door.”

“Heh. Makes sense.” I leaned back in my chair, stretching. Weirdly comfortable. “So when did ‘Dynamo Girl’ become ‘Leather?'”

“Well, I knew I didn’t want to stay ‘Dynamo Girl.’ I mean, it sounds weird, but… that was the hero thing. I know some villains keep their hero names when they cross the aisle, but that didn’t seem right to me.” She looked out the window, out over the field. “I mean, I did some good, you know? I saved some lives. Leave that part of me there. Besides. ‘Leather’ is a better villain schtick.”

“You sound like you respect super heroes,” I said. “That’s weird. You’re not gnashing or frothing about do-gooders and paying.”

Leather laughed. “I can. I’m good at it. But that’s just part of the whole theater thing. Really, not counting the real psychos like the Jack O’Knaves? Most super villains are fans of super heroes. We have to be, really.”

“Why?”

“Because they need us, and we need them.” She walked around to the front of her desk, hopping up and crouching. Which looked better in a PVC leotard than in flannel pants, it’s worth noting. “Cut either the heroes or the villains out of the equation, and you have one guy in tights showing up to do police work. It’s stupid. It looks ridiculous. But give a hero a villain and it becomes… I dunno. Cultural. It makes sense. If I’m there, robbing the bank, and I’m wearing bondage gear and making bad puns? Of course it makes sense that Darkhood shows up and shoots epoxy-spraying arrows at me. The absurdity cancels each other out.”

“But wouldn’t it be easier to just… how you put it? Work quiet? Go in, steal stuff in civvies, and get out?”

She cocked her head, and bit her lip. It was disturbingly adorable. “You don’t get it,” she said. “This is a lifestyle choice.”

I admit it. I didn’t look impressed.

“Seriously,” she said. “Take the world conquerers. If Leonardo Lucas was just after world domination, he wouldn’t build giant robots and death rays. He’d get an assload of patents, make three billion dollars, and join the fucking Republican party. He wants people to bow down before him. He wants everyone to know he’s conquering the world. And if that means he has to fight and kill Paragon to do it, so be it. Sure, I can go out, wear all black, break into jewelry stores after hours and liberate millions each year, but that’s not satisfying. When I was Dynamo Girl, I could barely get page four. Leather makes the front page whether she gets away or goes to jail.”

“How can that be,” I asked. “Seriously. Wouldn’t the heroes just stop dressing up, if that would stop the villains?”

She laughed. “They stop villains with their fists and their power rings. They don’t want to stop villainy, no matter how much they claim they do. They need us, even more than we need them. Without them, we’re weird and stupid looking, but we still steal shit. Without us, they’re just porn stars in capes.”


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14 thoughts on “Interviewing Leather, Part Three”

  1. Thats assuming reporter boy lives through all this. I see him being sold to Dr. Satan and his World Orginization of Evil as their sacrifice-of-the-week at the end of it all…

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  2. “He’d get an assload of patents, make three billion dollars, and join the fucking Republican party.”

    “Without them, we’re weird and stupid looking, but we still steal shit. Without us, they’re just porn stars in capes.”

    Brilliant.

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  3. “He’d get an assload of patents, make three billion dollars, and join the fucking Republican party.”

    (sipping coffee and murmuring) Well, we do have an excellent pension plan. Paid holidays, too.

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  4. (Actually, that bit was less about implying that Republicans were evil, and more about ‘if you want to have influence in the world, there’s easier and more effective ways of doing it than building a death ray.’)

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  5. That has to be the most practical, least melodramatic reason ever given to become a villain. Of course, it helps if you realize how absurd the whole thing is, and just play it for kicks.

    It’s interesting, though, how Leather still has that tiny scrap of good left, if only in an academic sense. She knows that there’s a right thing to do in a situation, but she also knows there’s almost nothing she’ll get out of doing it. She does what feels good for her, and really, isn’t that what they all do?

    Then there’s the… shape argument. Superheroines in the limelight seem to have one universal, unspoken power: gravity-defying anatomy. Often ridiculously so. That body shape is part of acceptance as a heroine is annoying, but very true in their world. I can definitely see a normal-shaped woman, especially a super-powered one, not wanting to be an “also-ran,” and resenting the bizarre standard. One would hope that outcries like this don’t just come from the villains’ points of view.

    And Yes! A Transit cameo!… Even if only as an anecdote.

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  6. Good writing, but still fails the contextual common sense test, as did “On Call.”

    It’s a common conceit among writers that want to be “dark and gritty” or “investigate the human state of moral ambiguity” or whatever the popular term is for it these days in postmodern writing classes— introducing some contextual justification for the dualist worldview. “What is light without dark?” “Batman needs the Joker,” all the way to the extreme of “Heroes and villains are the same, just different names…”

    Maybe a villainess would justify her own existence by clinging to the illusion that she was no different than the heroes or heroines— or that the heroes or heroines “needed” her (or the tacky justification that she was ignored for not having huge boobs…) but no sensible person would buy that excuse for a second. And it would obviously be an excuse. Every criminal or thug has some sort of convoluted self-justifying system: they were underappreciated, the world owed them for their hard life, their father abused them, they’re part of this “victim class” or the other, the good guys have it coming to them…. “The heroes need me to justify their existence” isn’t used so often in the real world, but it’s just as much a crock.

    It wasn’t flashy villains in tights that Superman and Batman first battled; it was gangsters, thieves, spies, crooked businessmen— Superman even took a few panels to knock some sense into a common gutter-variety wifebeater in his first issue. And even without those, there were fires, floods, earthquakes, rampant monsters, crashing airplanes, and more that were beyond the capacity of mere mortal men.

    Supervillains didn’t show up until late in the game. Lex Luthor was just another mad scientist, and the Joker was just a petty gangster thug who got maimed by his own stupidity. Their theatrics and garish costumes and gimmicks were in reaction to the superheros and their flashy methodology. (In fact most of the early stories revolved around LL’s and Joker’s envy and resentment of Supe’s and Bat’s overshadowing the villains’ accomplishments.) Supervillains are essentially little more than a shadow cast by the heroes themselves.

    Of course, none of this is something our heroic reporter would be stupid enough to point out to the supervillainess sitting across the table….

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  7. One of the core questions and principles of the Justice Wing stories is “why does this stuff happen the way it does?” Superman and Batman don’t fight anyone here — they’re comic book characters, to the people who are in this little playground.

    Leather’s thesis, deep down, is that superheroing (and villaining) is a lifestyle as much as anything else. And that by opposing heroes, she also justifies them. Which is her theory, not necessarily the theory.

    It is worth noting that very few people see themselves as evil. She alludes to some psychotics in the Justice Wing universe who do (the Jack O’Knaves for one), but for the most part, the ‘villains’ don’t consider themselves evil so much as amoral.

    However, Leather doesn’t justify her actions as necessary to superheroes. She justifies them as “getting lots of money to buy things, through crime.” Her point is she doesn’t need to dress up in bondage wear to be a super powered criminal. She likes doing it. Which is about as non-idealistic and real-worldly a reason I can think of.

    Also, there’s nothing grim and/or gritty about Leather. Just for the record. 😉

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  8. Put another way — this is how this superhero universe is unfolding. I have a rather pathetically detailed timeline for the introduction and rise of superheroes in this little world, along with their backstory, the time considered innocent, the time considered less so… lots of ‘stuff.’ That’s the bible I’m using when I write these, and yeah — I contextualize the mystery men based upon it.

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  9. Great story. For some inspiration on Leather’s self-justification, you might look at a real-life analogue. Wonkette has a column called “Anonymous Lobbyist” where a real lobbyist answers reader questions, and her tone is somewhat similar to leather, although separate–they’re worth reading on their own. It’s worth a look.

    http://wonkette.com/politics/ask-a-lobbyist/

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