“Newt Gingrich’s Hot Tub Vigilantes and Devils Do Somebody Unimportant the Ultimate Indignity and Then Some. Justice, Justice Once Upon a Timewarp Unto Death.”
Paragon lay face down, burning on the floor of the Candy Commando’s secret bunker, miles below Washington D.C. The smoke he produced activated the sprinklers, which doused Paragon.
Over him towered the maniacal Enthropy, the universal embodiment of chaos and decay.
“Your Omniversal Composite body has warped reality to the breaking point,” Enthropy said. “I was going to kill you before. But you had retired, and I hoped that you would refrain from the ridiculous reality-straining crimefighting. But here you are, back in that silly costume of yours, surrounded by silly Candy Commandos. I guess you’ll never learn.”
“Wait a minute,” interjected Paragon. “If you’re really the embodiment of chaos and entropy, like I’ve heard in the legends, wouldn’t you approve of the chaos I’m creating?”
“Of course not! I’ve got a hell of a racket here, and the last thing I need is competition from the Ultimate Entropic Engine!”
Then, the remaining Power Enforcement Ziggarauts launched a missile attack on Enthropy. He snapped his fingers, and the hamsters which powered the robots’ engines all suffered heart attacks. The robots fell inactive.
Paragon’s mechanical limbs still needed oil, so he remained on the ground as he spoke. “You don’t have to do this, Enthropy. I know how to repair reality! I have to break my body apart, so that each Dirk Darrenger which comprises me can return to his home dimension!”
“Oh yes,” Enthropy said, dripping with sarcasm, “I suppose you learned that from your Ultimate connection to the Universal Wide Web. The connection that’s supposed to give you Ultimate knowledge. Yet, you had no idea that I was responsible for the sun’s instability.”
“How did you know that?”
“Link into the UWW. Tell me what happens five minutes from now.”
Paragon closed his eyes and used the power of the Ultimate Marble, which was now infused into him, and connected to the Web. “Five minutes from now… a strikeforce of bikini-clad babes rescues me. Oh, and Newt Gingrich will be leading them.”
“See!” mocked Enthropy. “Your ability to see the future is totally unreliable! And how could a Universal Wide Web allow you to see the future in the first place? It can’t! It’s just another symptom of this reality’s fracturing!
“I’m afraid you’ve spread this paradox infection to all Earthlings, Dirk. For example, look at these Settlers.” Enthropy pointed at Aridalla, Midge, Masheik, and Torbin (the other Settlers were still unconscious). “The Settlers claim to be from the future, yet their Gammani colony exists now. They even took you there when they built your mechanical body. And they didn’t travel through time to do it.
“Yes,” continued Enthropy, “I’ll have to kill you and wipe out the entire solar system. Can’t risk any Earthlings running around causing further paradoxes. Then I’ll have to destroy the PRICKworld and Gammani-”
“The hell you will!” shouted Midge. He jumped onto Enthropy to pound the living daylights out of him. Unfortunately, Midge’s luck power and Enthropy’s chaos power created an incredible energy feedback, which threatened to destroy the entire city.
(by Mike Mendoza)
And that is when the proverbial shit hit the proverbial fan making a proverbial splat. Midge wasn’t the only Settler to take action. Torbin had noticed that they were underpowered, so he decided to open up a couple of portals. One was to the Delta Squadron’s headquaters, another was to the control room of Baron von Frankelin’s castle and two others to places that humans have never seen.
Malloc had regained conciousness and threw up a force field around Enthropy.
Enthropy laughed, “You’ll have to do better than that! You can’t stop me!”
“I don’t have to stop you”, stated Malloc as he concentrated with all of his will, “only contain you.”
Through one of the portals, four pairs of energy beams hit Enthropy and knocked him to one knee. Out of that portal stepped two sets of blonde bikini-wearing twin babes and one Newt Gingrich. The buxom babes kept up their energy attack on Enthropy.
“I don’t believe it!”, cried Enthropy. “I’m being attacked by the Doublemint Twins!”
“No, silly,” said one of the twins. “We are the grand-daughters of Law and Order. I’m Buffy, and this is Candy, Peaches and Bunny.”
“And I am Newt Gingrich!” screamed the male as he punched Enthropy across the face.
“Newt Gingrich?”, asked Malloc, exhausted from containing the backlash produced by the unconcious Midge and Enthropy.
“No”, said Pira. “It’s only the Law, he just thinks that he’s Newt Gingrich.”
Law and his grand-daughters continue to pound the suprised Enthropy as a extremely large being enters through one of the portals.
“It is now time for your demise, Enthropy”, stated the newcomer as he raised his huge fist to crush Enthropy.
“Spurgo?”, said Enthropy as the giant fist started to come down on him. Enthropy then raised himself up, spread his arms wide and screamed “Enough!” as he let loose with a blast of dark energy that knocked everyone back and caused Spurgo to land on Paragon.
Paragon, a little thinner than normal and still unmoving, realized that they were still out-powered by Enthropy. Paragon linked up to the UWW and sent out a distress e-mail to everyone on the local hub. Someone really important responded and then teleported to the room.
“No. Not you.”, cried Enthropy, “Anybody but you!”
(by Frank W. Patnaude, Jr.)
“That’s right,” the newcomer stated. “It’s me. Mary Lu Retina Darringer von Frankelin, the Ultimate Woman and Empress of Earth.”
Enthropy was surprised. The Settlers exchanged bewindered glances. Law and his granddaughters were stunned speechless. Dirk just groaned.
“Stay down, Dirk,” she called, launching herself into the air and blasting twin eyebeams at Enthropy. “I’ll take care of Enthropy.”
Mary Lu grabbed the staggering Enthropy by the neck, and launched herself into the air. Up into the upper ionosphere she carried him, then tossed him in the general direction of a red super-giant star.
Mary Lu landed, wiping her hands. “That takes care of Enthropy for the next few years.”
“Well done, my dear,” stated Baron von Frankelin, stepping through one of Torbin’s portals. “Now that that destructive brute is gone, my only real resistance is gone.”
“That ‘destructive brute’ is the only way the timestream would have been fixed,” Paragon stated, dusting himself off.
“And I think you miscalculated the strength of the Deltas, my love,” Mary Lu stated, indicating Blackfoot and company stepping through the fourth portal. One of them, someone Dirk hadn’t seen before, carried a bottle of champaign and two glasses.
“Nonsense,” von Frankelin commented. “My unwitting spies have relayed their strengths to me already. My Molevo-clone army is more than a match for their pitiful band of so-called ‘heroes’.”
“In that case, how about a drink before the big fight,” Roger Price stated, pouring two glasses of champaign, and handing one to the Baron. “Cheers.” With one gulp, he downed the clear bubbly liquid.
“I know not what you intend to gain, Price,” von Frankelin chuckled sipping his glass. “Still, I commend your choice in wines.”
Dirk approached Mary Lu. “Look. I know you want me dead. In fact, I’m not even going to try and stop you. At least allow me to pick the way you’ll kill me.”
“Go ahead. This ought to be fun.”
“Throw me into Enthropy, and let us both be consumed by a star.”
“All right, Dirk. Consider yourself killed.” She grabbed him by his costume’s shirt, and carried him into outer space.
(by Lone Warrior)
What he saw amazed him. The Earth was shaped like a donut. He vaguely recalled from high school that the Earth was supposed to be shaped like pear, or an apple, or some kind of fruit.
Still, this wouldn’t be the first time that something he learned in high school turned out to be absolutely wrong.
Dirk looked at Mary Lu. She didn’t hit him.
“The Earth is now the center of both time and space,” she said. “We, Earthlings, are now the center of the universe.”
“That’s why it’s shaped like a donut?” he asked.
“Looks like a donut to me,” said Dirk, and his stomach rumbled. He realized he hadn’t had anything to eat since at least Chapter Eighteen, and that had been just a glass of mango juice while he sojourned in hell after dying from a nuclear explosion while trying to help his old friend, the Ultimate Co-Ed.
Dirk forgot what he had been thinking about.
“Now,” asked Mary Lu, “do you know what you must do?”
He thought for a moment. He felt lost again, which made him feel right at home. He remembered that they’d been talking about donuts.
“Find some coffee?”
“I’ve got to remember that there are a billion twelve-year-olds trapped in that metal body of yours.”
“We planned this all out, Dirk, remember? You were hallucinating a bit from the de-power ray that the Collective used on you, but you must recall something about the plan.”
“That was when Malevo used grapefruit to take away my powers.”
“Your uncle, Dirk. Malevo is your uncle! He restored you to life with the Ultimate Marble, using special incantations from the Book of Duck and Candle. But you lost the Marble, weakening the bonds of time and space. The Ultimate Twins were the first result. Malevo decided it was too dangerous to be your sidekick, so he gave up the Ultimate Internship and became the Ultimate Villain, Dr. Malevo. That kept you in line for a while.”
Dirk’s mind whirled, and stopped before incorporating everything.
“The Ultimate Twins were my fault?”
“Exactly. And we had to fix it. We manipulated Dr. Merton Flagler into discovering what he called the Marble of Power, after you lost the Ultimate Marble. That was step one. Now, you’ve got to travel throughout time and fix everything that you broke.”
“Seems like a lot of trouble just for a cup of coffee.”
“Yes, Dirk. You must find some coffee. And there’s a great Denny’s just the other side of the donut hole.”
She slam-dunked him through the hole in the Earth.
“Now back to take care of the false Baron,” she said, and dived back towards Washington, D.C.
“Honey, I’m home!” she cried.
The Baron was drinking another glass of wine with Thanatos. Roger Price was nowhere to be seen, and may have been just another in a long string of authorial constructs.
“Love!” cried the Baron. “I’ve just made a great deal with this gentleman. He came through Tobin’s other portal.”
The Ultimate Woman looked at the Baron. She looked at Thanatos.
“What did you get in return?”
“All the superheroes on the Earth are de-powered. Except you, of course. We’re set! No more Brussels Sprouts or Flemish Waffles… no more Candy Commandos.”
Thanatos waved his hand.
“Oh, any time. Just say the word.”
“Do it. Do it now.”
The rest of the heroes in the room laughed, and launched en-masse at Thanatos. He just stepped back and disappeared, saying, “I have to submit some paperwork, of course. Give it about five or ten minutes.”
“Love, what are you giving him in return?”
“Oh, we haven’t decided yet. But it’s got to be just one thing, and I’m sure I can afford anything—I own everything.”
“Dear, you have nothing to sell.”
“I’m the richest man on Earth. I rule the Earth. I can sell whatever I want.”
“Not to him you can’t. That’s a third level Demon Bureaucrat. The only thing he wants is your soul, and you don’t have any.”
“Look, I can jazz with the best—”
“No, you’re a clone. The Baron died. The paperwork probably hasn’t reached what’s-his-name here yet. I’d hate to be in your shoes when he finds out. Demons don’t usually take well to being swindled. Still, he’ll be doing a good job for us. It makes the Ultimate Collective’s plan to restore Earth that much easier.”
The members of Delta Force, left with no one to fight and worried about their impending loss of power, milled around uselessly. No one had the strength of will to fight either the emperor or his queen.
Mary Lu kept looking from her watch, to Delta Force, to the Baron, who finally walked dejectedly into a corner to finish off the bottle of wine.
“I’m not a clone,” he said. “I’m the emperor of the Earth.”
(by Jerry Stratton)
Luckily, it was now.
Jorge Steinhoofer crashed through the wall. He was wearing a white baseball cap and a black neckerchief tied over his eyes, which peeped out through custom-made neckerchief-holes.
“Steinhoofer!?!” gasped the cloned Baron von Frankelin.
“That’s right, I wasn’t killed in that explosion of Malevo’s office hide-out in Tampa Bay after all. Far from it, I gained a sense of morality and a strange new superpower…” exposited Jorge.
“Ah-hah hah hah hah!”, laughed von Frankelin’s clone. “New superpower or not, it will vanish in…” (he checked his watch) “six and a half minutes from now!”
“That’s plenty of time to take care of you, Frankelin, and your army of Malevo clones”, snarled the baseball owner turned super- hero, “for I am the Clone Deranger!!!”
He started to hum the William Tell Overture while his brow furrowed.
“What? No! Stop… head spinning… room spinning contrariwise… can’t… stay… cognisant…” The clone dropped to the floor, its clone-brain hopelessly mangled, as did every other clone on the planet, irrevocably. Somewhere on the net, thousands cheered.
“Well, you took your sweet time getting here!” fumed Mary Lu.
“I couldn’t leave the Dixon City Dodgers before they finished winning the World Series, now could I? Hee hee! Who’d have thought that Spurgo would have made such a good team manager? Especially after he ran amok at that first press conference…” replied Jorge, nonchalantly spitting out a stream of tobacco juice.
“Anyway,” he continued, “I still got here before Larry Lent did. And I had a useful superpower as well. Just think if you had to depend on that ex-insurance adjuster to save the world, heh heh…”
“Look, we don’t have time to worry about the lameness of the powers of the Loans Arranger now…” Mary Lu started to expostulate.
“Oh, why not? I thought we’d done all we could here, and just had to wait for Paragon to fix everything, and spread out across the multi-omni-everi-verse as an infinite number of twelve year olds…” interrupted the Most Powerful Baseball Team Owner on the East Coast.
“But… but… actually, you’re right. There’s nothing more we can do here except wait five minutes and see if he pulls it off” opined the Ultimate Woman. “Hear that, all you strange characters from other universes brought in from left field? ‘Nothing more we can do here’, so get out of here already!!!”
Realising she was right, all the Settler/Omega/Conigli/Delta Squad/LNH/NTB/Bulk-Crossover-Reading-Suddenly-Required interlopers picked themselves up and dissolved into thin air, or their own universe elsewhere in RACC, as may be appropriate. And stayed there…
Once again, at last, it was all up to Paragon - after all, wasn’t this his annual?
As he sped through the hole in the doughnut-shaped Earth, Dirk realised that if he was going to expand out in a billion billion dimensions, first everything here must be wound up as tight as tight could be. And hot on the heels of that realisation, others started cascading through his brain.
“Of course!”, he muttered, “It’s all so clear now! Why didn’t I see before…?” And, like jigsaw pieces suddenly turned over so the picture side was face up, he started to realise many things, among them:
- That it hadn’t really been Newt Gingrich, but a still transformed Matt Rossi III (now finished his honeymoon with London) who had charged in through the portal earlier… (Of course, it was an easy mistake to make, considering…)
- That in his world(s), Supreme Creative Power migrated from being to being, each of which was free to change the basic laws of physics, history and logic from those set by their predecessor - and many of them did just that, just because they could…
- That the reason his recent life and numerous deaths (each with their own unique version of an after- (or at least, between-) life) seemed to jump around so chaotically, is that his consciousness had roamed from universe to universe inhabiting similar, but not identical versions of himself, in similar, but not identical (and sometimes insanely different) circumstances…
“Pontificating Pandas!” he puzzled over this last revelation, “So that’s why I only exclaim in animal imagery intermittently!”
He knew, somehow, he had to wrap it all up himself, so that it all made sense. Now where was that Denny’s?
(by Bill Keir)
Mary-Lu’s toss not only propelled Paragon through the center of the torus that was planet Earth, it brought him in to a gentle landing on the other side. Curiously, the other side wasn’t rounded at all, but flat, except for a few stalagmites. (Paragon supposed that in this particular reality, Columbus was only known as some idiot who’d fallen off the center of the Earth. Or possibly as an even greater idiot who’d managed to fall off the middle of the Earth.) The other side of the Earth was also very dark; there weren’t even any stars in the sky. But there was a Denny’s.
Paragon wandered in. He wasn’t exactly sure how getting a cup of coffee would foster his spiritual illumination, shatter his body into millions of cross-temporal counterparts, or destroy the Earth’s sun. Then again, it was Denny’s coffee. He stepped up to the counter and placed his order. Then he noticed the gorgeous woman sitting next to him.
“Say,” Paragon said, hoping she wouldn’t notice his horribly burned metallic robotic body, “don’t I know you from somewhere?”
“Sure do,” she said dejectedly. “I used to write you.”
Dirk checked her out a little more thoroughly. “Wait a minute! You’re Doctor Mercedes Silver! But you’re —”
“Dead?” she laughed bitterly. “Only part of me —the character part of me, that killed the original Baron von Frankelin. The other part was a writer.”
“Then shouldn’t you be turned into Newt Gingrich like Rossi, or sent to hell and then brought back and then given massive super-powers and then forgotten about like Aaron Levitz?”
“No, that stuff only happened to real writers. Even when I was a writer, I was just a character of some guy named Stratton. So when I died, none of the Supreme Beings or Deaths or Thanatoses in any of the twenty-four different continuities’ afterlives knew what to do with me. So they sent me here. Purgatory.”
“Purgatory?” Paragon looked around at the seventies decor and the languid waitresses. And, come to think of it, the place was filled with all the forgotten characters who haven’t previously been mentioned in this annual. Even Aaron Levitz. “It’s all so obvious now… although really, I’d think Denny’s would be more of a Hell.”
“Only if they ever got around to bringing you the coffee.” Suddenly, Paragon’s UWW uplink began humming (”When Johnny Comes Marching Home,” if you must know) and sending him information. Apparently, Purgatory was reputed to be perched on the brink of the Ultimate Abyss… like any other Denny’s. Paragon asked Dr. Silver if she knew what that meant.
“I see and hear a lot of stuff from here, Dirk. You see, as a temporary pseudo-writer, I had access to Baron von Frankelin’s RACC Challenge! Homepage—that stands for Radically Altering Countless Continuities, by the way —and I got to read all the chapters, er, continuities that were created before I was.”
Outside, something started rumbling.
“Back in the fifteenth continuity,” Dr. Silver continued, with an added urgency in her voice, “your little friend Mary Lu had a chat with some of those losers from other imprints, where she revealed that two villains were masterminding the whole RACC project. One of them, ‘Franke,’ was of course Baron von Frankelin, and he’s been defeated. But the other one… he’s so damn powerful, Dirk…”
The rumbling grew louder. Dr. Silver grabbed Paragon by his wide “Saturday Night Fever” lapels.
“Mary Lu doesn’t want the Earth’s sun destroyed, Dirk! She’d rather rule Earth, with all the other menaces like von Frankelin and… him… out of the way! That’s why she killed Enthropy, that’s why she threw you here instead of the sun! A supernova is the only thing that can kill this monster! Nuclear weapons, Flemish superheroes, they’re peanuts to him! Major uncalled-for retcons like that Rosendorf guy’s, even they can’t stop him! He started it all! And now your arrival has awakened him! Mary Lu has pitted you against each other, and now he’ll kill you before you can separate yourself!”
The whole Denny’s started shaking, and Dr. Silver hugged Paragon for support. “Who is this foul fiend?” Paragon screamed.
“He’s been lurking on the fringes of every continuity… he was the one who made me retroactively give Tito brain damage… his psychic projections have been known to stand on mildly spooky asteroids and chat with Rex Reeves… but you know him as…
“Hold on a second,” Dr. Silver said, adjusting her Jas Rswert. “I had this thing set on ‘Ellipsis.’ You know him as The Ultimate Menace!”
The ceiling of the Denny’s started to cave in, and Paragon quickly whisked himself and Dr. Silver out of the Purgatory. Seconds after they leapt out the front door, the entire structure collapsed on itself and then exploded, killing everyone within, although this in no way damaged any of the coffee. As Paragon picked himself up off the ground, he realized why the other side of the Earth was so damp and featureless. He even realized why there were no stars; something was blocking the view. The Earth wasn’t a torus at all, but a big round opening…
“THE LEVIATHAN IS A BROAD MONSTER,” cried a huge voice from all around them. There was a gust of air so strong, it knocked Paragon and Dr. Silver back to the ‘ground.’ Paragon grabbed a stalagmite for support, though by now he knew it wasn’t a stalagmite, but a giant tooth. The entire Earth was nothing but the Ultimate Mouth of the Ultimate Menace. But who could it be…?
“THE TIAMAT IS EVEN BROADER,” said the voice. Paragon still couldn’t place it. Was it Rex Reeves? Myrna Malevo? No, they would’ve been in Denny’s… Doctor Malevo? But his clones were all gone… Then the Ultimate Menace could only be…
“Oh no,” Paragon whispered. “Not him!”
“BUT I…” said the Menace… “I… AM THE BROADDUS!!!!!”
(by Marc Singer)
Dirk clutched the Ultimate Incisor like his life depended on it, his fingernails somehow digging into the enamel like some desperate rock climber. Mercedes Silver clung to Dirk in a manner rarely seen outside the covers of romance novels. All this barely saved them, however, as the Broaddus drew in another breath and began ruminating upon the nature of puns.
Suddenly the devil appeared to Dirk.
Startled, the Ultimate Man gave him a questioning look, tilting his head like a confused dog. “Uncle Horst?” sputtered Paragon. Sure enough the Prince of Darkness did bear a striking resemblance to Malevo dressed in a poorly fitting red devil outfit replete with tail and a red plastic pitchfork that had blinking red Christmas lights at the end of each tine.
“No, I am just one of von Frankelin’s clones,” said the devil. “After our destruction, we were put to work as Substitute Satans, Messengers of Malice, Harbingers of…”
“Sorta like Department Store Santa’s?” queried Paragon.
“What do you think we do in December when everyone is on their best behavior?”
“It beats being von Frankelin’s lackey. ‘Clean my toes, Nuke that European city-state, Rip off your arm and let Mary Lu play with it.’” The devil/clone’s surprisingly good impression of the Baron would’ve probably continued unabated had not the Broaddus paused in his ramblings to take in a deep breath that sucked Mercedes into the inky depths of the Ultimate Menace. “Diiiiiiiiiiiiiiirrrrrrrrrrrr!!!!!!!” she howled as she disappeared.
“That’s got to be the Ultimate Indignity, to be inhaled by the Broaddus,” said Dirk, who was in all likelihood talking to himself again.
“No. Watch.” The devil/clone then snapped his fingers and three more red jumpsuited Malevo clones appeared. They then began firing red beams from their pitchforks at what could only be described as the Broaddus’ throat. The original clone spoke, “Cross the beams on my mark… Now!” The resulting energy discharge triggered a gag reflex from the Broaddus, the end result of which was the ejection of Dr. Silver. “Diiiiiiiiiiirrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!!!!!!” she howled as she disappeared.
“That is the Ultimate Indignity, being hacked up like a hairball in the nether reaches of the Universe,” the original clone stated proudly.
“That’s sick. You really are Malevo’s clones.”
“Not the point, boy. We are here to warn you that you cannot defeat the Broaddus. That is what makes him the Ultimate Menace. No matter what, when all is said and done, when all the histories have been written, ultimately it is the Broaddus who will have the final word. He is the Alpha and the Omega, the Creator and the Destroyer, the Big Bang and the Final Implosion, the living personification of the RAC Challenge!, the…”
“Enough already. You’re definitely Malevo’s clone. But… what can I do?”
“This universe’s only hope is if you can get the Broaddus to destroy Mary Lu and split you up into component parts. He’s the only force powerful enough to accomplish this. This will smooth out the space-time paradoxes you created and remove the last Super Villain. Even that may be all she wrote for this continuum. The Broaddus may allow us to start with a blank page or he may close the book on us forever.”
“Ask Arch-Wizard Tempo. I’m just a measly exposition device.”
“How do I find…?
“Teleport to the Lodge for Heaven’s sake! Ooops. Poor choice of words,” the clone remarked as he and his cohorts were consumed by brimstone.
Paragon was left alone in the mouth of the quietly snoring Broaddus. “I guess even the Ultimate Menace has to sleep,” thought Dirk. “The Mount of Duck Lodge? I haven’t been there since my installation as the Ultimate Man. And I still haven’t learned how to teleport. Or have I? Hell, I don’t remember anymore. I guess I’ve died too many times. Maybe a chocolate cream pie survived that Denny’s collapse.”
Dirk began to dig through the restaurant’s remains. He didn’t find any edible pies (though not for lack of trying), but he did find the semi-conscious body of Aaron Levitz. “Use the coffee, Dirk,” were Levitz’ strangled words.
Levitz held up a cracked mug seething with genuine, non- biodegradable, asphalt grade Denny’s coffee. It sloshed over the sides causing Aaron’s flesh to dissolve wherever it splattered. “ You came here for coffee, now use it.”
“What about your UWW connection?”
“The moisture here seems to affect it.”
“OK you’ll have to pour it on the Broaddus’ uvula.”
‘Hey! I thought the Broaddus was a ‘he.’ No uvulas there.”
“Uvula, the fleshy thing that hangs down in the back of the mouth.”
“You fool, even I know that’s called ‘The Fleshy Thing that Hangs Down in the Back of the Mouth.’ Anyway, what then?”
” Lodge… Tempo… Mary Lu… If I survive long enough to write the next segment I’ll help you, “ Levitz croaked as he passed out from the pain of having his flesh boiled off.
“Wait I have more questions,” Dirk pleaded with the non-responsive Levitz. When it became clear that forcing the coffee down Aaron’s throat wasn’t helping, Paragon took off with the only functioning appliance left in the rubble, the vat-sized coffee maker. He then unceremoniously dumped hot black sludge over The Fleshy Thing that Hangs Down in the Back of the Mouth.
“AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHH!!!!” roared the Broaddus, “WHO DARES DISTURB MY MOST LONG, TALL AND BROAD PERSON? PREPARE FOR A MOST RIGHTEOUS AND WRATHFUL RETCON!”
“Now would be a good time to teleport,” thought Dirk
(by Kirk Ambrose)
Meanwhile, two figures stood outside the San Diego Convention Center of Reality 17, watching the building strain against forces inside that were trying to shake it apart.
“Remind me never to invite a Flemish horde to a comic book convention,” said Merton Flagler, looking sideways at his companion. “When is it supposed to happen?”
“Any minute now, according to my calculations. The extra mass given the Convention Center by the Flemish should be sufficient. And if I placed that wormhole properly, we should be getting the extra dash of cosmic creativity needed to produce the reaction we want.” Baron Jarald von Frankelin looked up from his watch. “How’s that new body fitting you?”
“Just fine, thanks. What made you decide to get me out of the Web anyway?”
“Consider it a reward for discovering the secrets of the Marble. Besides, since I created you, I felt a certain obligation.”
“But why am I here at all? Aren’t you dead? Paragon swore Mercedes took you out.”
“Did you think even once that wasn’t me? I mean please —setting up shop in Georgia? I wouldn’t be caught dead in Georgia, so to speak.”
“Temporally displaced duplicate, actually. The latest technology. They’re all the rage these days.”
“Oh,” replied Merton, trying to make it sound like he understood. “Hey, here she comes!”
“rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrk!” screamed Mercedes Silver, as she crashed from the sky into the center of the San Diego Convention Center.
“Good shot!” Merton exclaimed.
“Thanks. I used to be a fairly decent basketball player, you know.”
Lightning knifed from the roof of the Convention Center, a strange howling scream accompanying it. To the innocent passer-by, it seemed as though Highlander IV was being filmed in the heart of downtown. But then both light and sound ended as the building began to suddenly collapse upon itself and shrink. It became the size of a townhome. Then a Yugo. Then a large dog. Then a hamster. It continued shrinking until it was the size of a small round stone. Or a marble.
“To think that’s how these suckers are made.” Merton gingerly reached down and picked up the small orb. With a flick of the wrist, he sent it flying up against a nearby wall. “And they bounce pretty well, too!”
“There’s time for games later, Flagler!” von Frankelin growled. “Right now, Paragon needs some help dealing with the Broaddus, and I need to get back to work.”
“So you’re ending your association with all this, huh?”
“It’s about time, isn’t it?”
Merton looked down the page. “Yeah, only a hundred lines or so left to go. So how am I going to get there in time?”
“By taking the Ultimate Express, of course.” As the baron waved his hand, a small portal formed beneath Flagler’s feet. Merton’s universe faded from view as he flew down through the newly created wormhole, leaving von Frankelin alone on the now empty San Diego street. “Maybe I’ll catch a Chargers game while I’m here,” he thought, as he shuffled down the street. “After all, now that I’m done, I have all the time in the world…”
Time was something Paragon didn’t have. “Why won’t I teleport?!?” he shouted to no one in particular as he dodged yet another blow from the Broaddus. He was beginning to weaken, and a burning sensation flared in his chest. He stopped to rest against a wall, exhausted beyond belief.
The Broaddus leered as he came in for the kill. That expression faded momentarily, however, when a hole appeared in the ceiling and Dr. Merton Flagler crashed to the floor. “Don’t worry, Dirk!” the doctor exclaimed as he jumped up and brushed himself off. “I’m here to help! This is the end!”
“Oh no,” thought Dirk. “This is the end.”
“THIS IS THE END!” laughed the Broaddus, and continued his attack.
(by Jerry “The Baron” Franke)
“BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!” continued the Broaddus. “DID YOU HONESTLY BELIEVE THAT YOU COULD EVEN THINK ANYTHING WITHOUT ME HEARING YOU?!”
“AND DID YOU,” the Broaddus directed his attention to Dr. Merton Flagler, “HONESTLY BELIEVE THAT YOU AND BARON JARALD VON FRANKELIN COULD THWART ME WITH A NEW ULTIMATE MARBLE?! HAVEN’T YOU TWO LEARNED ANYTHING? NOTHING THAT IS SET-UP IN A PREVIOUS EPISODE WILL WORK OUT AS THAT AUTHOR INTENDED! BESIDES, I AM OMNISCIENT!!!”
Dirk failed to see what was significant about being omniscient. After all, Dirk ate both meat and vegetables too.
“NO, YOU IDIOT!” roared the Broaddus. Dirk suddenly remembered that the Broaddus could read his thoughts. “I AM OMNISCIENT —I READ EVERYTHING THAT IS GOING TO HAPPEN IN THIS ANNUAL BEFORE IT OFFICIALLY HAPPENS ON REC.ARTS.COMICS.CREATIVE!”
“What the heck is that?” asked Merton Flagler, uncertain about whether or not he should still try using the Ultimate Marble to thwart this Ultimate Menace.
“IT IS NOT FOR LESSER MINDS SUCH AS YOURS TO KNOW!” boomed the Broaddus. “YOU ARE BOTH MERE PAWNS IN A SCHEME THAT YOU DO NOT BEGIN TO UNDERSTAND! YOU CANNOT POSSIBLY DEFEAT ME, BUT I WILL DESTROY YOU WITH THE MEREST THOUGHT!!! DR. SILVER WARNED YOU THAT MARY LU SENT YOU HERE IN THE HOPE THAT YOU WOULD DEFEAT ME SO THAT SHE CAN RULE THE WORLD, BUT THE TRUTH IS THAT I WILL HAVE MY WAY WITH ALL OF YOU!!!”
“Gallavanting guinea pigs! Don’t you believe in monogamy?” exclaimed Dirk.
“FOOL! I WILL SLAY YOU, YOUR FRIEND FLAGLER, MARY LU, AND ANYONE ELSE I DECIDE TO.”
Suddenly an apparition of Aaron Levitz appeared. “Dirk, the coffee,” wailed the ghost. “Use the coffee!”
“Well, this stuff hurt you once before,” said Dirk as he splashed what remained of the Denny’s coffee onto the Broaddus.
“HA HA HA!!! PATHETIC!!!” mocked the Broaddus, unhurt by the java. “THE COFFEE AFFECTED ME BEFORE BECAUSE YOU APPLIED IT DIRECTLY TO MY UVULA WHILE I WAS SLEEPING. NORMALLY COFFEE DOESN’T EVEN KEEP ME AWAKE ANYMORE. I DEVELOPED AN IMMUNITY FROM USING IT SO OFTEN TO PULL ALL-NIGHTERS.”
“I’ve had it with your arrogance. Let’s see if you really are invulnerable,” declared Merton Flagler as he hurled the new Ultimate Marble at the Broaddus. A small flash appeared where the tiny marble impacted the enormous figure looming before the two men. The Broaddus looked down at the tiny speck of light, unconcerned.
Suddenly, the speck grew. Giant flames swirled from its center. The marble became a star, and then it exploded!
“NO!!! NO!!! IT’S NOT TRUE!!! THAT’S IMPOSSIBLE!!!” whined the Broaddus so loudly that he was audible over the din of the explosion.
“Creeping Crayfish!” exclaimed Dirk “It’s working!” Merton Flagler and Dirk Darringer watched in disbelief as the Broaddus was consumed by a supernova. The flames subsided as the massive form of their final enemy faded into nothingness.
“We did it! We did it! We won!” cheered Dirk with the same emotion he used whenever the Dixon City Dodgers won a game.
“Are you so sure?” asked Dr. Flagler. If nothing else, he disputed Dirk’s choice of the word “we.” “Can we ever really defeat the Ultimate Menace? If that had been a bona fide supernova, would we still be alive?”
“Maybe the destruction of the Broaddus absorbed all of the thermal energy of the blast?” suggested Dirk.
“MAYBE THE TWO OF YOU HAVE LEARNED NOTHING IN TWENTY-THREE CHAPTERS AND AN OVERSIZED ANNUAL!” boomed a familiar voice from behind them. The two protagonists whirled around to behold the Broaddus unharmed.
“I ALREADY TOLD YOU ONCE —YOU CANNOT POSSIBLY DEFEAT ME! BESIDES, EVEN IF I WAS GOING TO KILL MYSELF, DO YOU REALLY THINK I’D ALLOW MYSELF TO DIE IN THE PASSIVE VOICE?!” The Broaddus bent over to show the two characters his Powerbook. Scrolling up, the Broaddus refered Flagler and Darringer to the sentence where “the Broaddus was consumed by a supernova.”
“But why did the ultimate marble cause you to utter despairing lines from The Empire Strikes Back?” asked Merton.
“OH, THAT. I JUST HAVE A FLAIR FOR MELODRAMA… BUT ENOUGH OF MY CLOWNING AROUND. I THINK I’LL GO AHEAD AND KILL YOU NOW. THEN I’LL LEAVE THE UNIVERSE IN RUIN. I MAY EVEN END THIS THING BY REUNITING WHAM! AND MAKING THEM MORE POPULAR THAN THE BEATLES. BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!”
“Sauntering Salamanders! You really are evil!” exclaimed Dirk.
“Wait! You don’t need to do that to prove your power to us. Why can’t you write us a happy ending? Why don’t you destroy Mary Lu and split Paragon up into his component parts. You can even include a “don’t tamper with nature” theme like the one Steinbeck used in The Pearl or Shakespeare used in King Lear. It would explain that Dirk’s Uncle Malevo created all of the conflict in this epic when he resurrected Paragon by using the Ultimate Marble to combine all of the Dirk Darringers of alternate universes into one being. That was a violation of the natural order that has resulted in this chaos. Please have mercy,” begged Flagler.
Dirk wondered to himself if being split up was his idea of a happy ending. He decided he’d prefer for everybody to simply end up at a Dunkin Donuts. They had better coffee there.
“IT’S TRUE THAT I COULD DO THAT IF I WANTED TO,” responded the Broaddus. “BUT IT’S CLICHÉD. I’VE ALREADY DECIDED THAT I AM GOING TO END THIS IN AN ORIGINAL FASHION —THE BAD GUY REALLY WINS!!! EVERYONE WHO READS THIS WILL COME AWAY DISTURBED, BECAUSE IT CONCLUDES IN A MANNER THAT IS UNACCEPTABLE IN ANY NARRATIVE FORM, ESPECIALLY COMIC BOOKS!”
“Then I guess we really are doomed,” lamented Flagler. “We are the mere playthings of gods who are oblivious to our suffering.
“BWAHAHAHAHAHAHHA!!!!!!!!” cackled the Broaddus. “NOW I WILL DO THE DREAD DEED!!!!!!!” The Broaddus snapped his fingers.
“You, Flagler, stop getting so damn existentential on me,” commanded Dirk suddenly. “And you, Broaddus, stop using all caps like that. There’s no need for you to yell. And stop refering to yourself in the third person. It makes you sound like Bob Dole.”
“Huh?” I asked, strangely compelled to follow Dirk’s orders. “You’ve always been written as a dimwitted, weak willed, under-powered imbecile. The closest you ever came to saying anything pithy was when you made your animal exclamations, and those were almost as petulant as Burt Ward’s ‘Holy Whatever! Batman.’ Why have you changed so suddenly? What’s going on here?”
“What’s going on is that I’m sick of jumping through hoops for you or anyone else. What kind of creator are you anyway?” Dirk wiped off that stupid expression he had worn on his face for at least twenty chapters and pulled out a pack of cigarettes. “At least when the creations of people like Jack Kirby were screwed over it was because he lost control of his creations to profit-driven companies who will prostitute their characters for a buck! You willingly turned me over to people you don’t even know!!!” Dirk lit a cigarette and placed it between his teeth. “This annual may have an Image Comics style delay, but it has none of that Image Comics drive for creator ownership!!!” The cigarette wagged accusingly as he spoke. “And it’s all your fault! Without a second thought you turned me over to that band of hacks!” Dirk pointed to the computer screen that you are reading right now.
“But Dirk, think of what I’ve gone through!” I interjected. When I was away for the Spring I had to let Baron Jarald von Frankelin, er Jerry Franke,” I corrected myself, realizing that the charade was over now, “take over my position. I didn’t even know if the RAC Challenge! was continuing. Look at me now, working on this in spite of the fact that I have final exams to study for and final papers to write.”
“Think of what you’ve been through?!” exclaimed Dirk in anger as the lit cigarette fell from his mouth. “Try going through what I’ve been through!!! Do you think I wanted to end up like Robocop?!!!” He held up a metallic hand.
“That’s not my fault, Dirk. Blame that on wReam and Frank Patnaude,” I said meekly.
“YOU LET THEM DO IT!!!” screamed Dirk, ignoring his admonition against all caps. “You created me, and then you abandoned me!”
“You’re right, Dirk.” chimed Merton Flagler. “I’ve had enough of this crap too. Jerry Franke created me, extracted me from the Web, and then sent me here to die with you.” Flagler rolled up his sleeves and made two fists. “I oughta go show that guy a thing or two!”
“Wait a minute, you guys,” I said. “We’ve all become a part of this —the writers too. Do you think I wanted to make myself the ultimate evil? Do you think Aaron Levitz expected to attend the picnic of the damned? No way! But you know what? It’s been fun. You can’t say that you haven’t enjoyed yourself at all. Look at all of the adventures you had. Look at all of the villains you vanquished —Malevo, Spurgo, Mary Lu, Enthropy, and Bloody Beth among others. Look at all of the people you met —Tito, Tina, Dragonslayer, Omega, Mercedes…”
I proceeded to name every character that ever appeared in The Challenge!, and all of them appeared as I mentioned their names. Each one took his or her proper place in the Ultimateverse, and for the moment at least, there was peace and order.
“Don’t you see?” I asked. “When I started the RAC Challenge! I stipulated that I would have the last word. I am indeed the Alpha and the Omega. I sent my only son Paragon to save the world, and now-”
“Hold it! You’re going to turn this into Christian allegory now?!” exclaimed Flagler in disgust. “And you thought the nature theme was a cliché?!”
Dirk pulled out another cigarette. “Yeah, well if I’m the Christ figure, I suppose this is the part where I get split into my alternate selves,” he reasoned. “I guess this is where I sacrifice myself to save the world, right? Wrong, bub! I’m no martyr! As of this moment Dirk Darringer is his own man. As of right now people are going to stop giving me all the bad lines, misspelling my name with an “e,” or pulling my strings in any way, shape or form! I’m a self-actualized individual, and if you mess with me any more I’ll make you wish you had never copied DC comics with this little project in the first place! Got that, Broaddus?”
“Don’t worry, Dirk. I have no intention of breaking you apart or correcting all of the paradoxes. You see, that’s always been part of the beauty of this epic. Multiple, even contradictory realities can coexist. There’s just too much room in the imaginations of twenty-three writers for one cohesive continuity. What we have synthesized here is a creative utopia. Anyone can write a chapter, and anything can happen. I mean, who’s to say that mine is the last word? I claim to be the Omega, but not even I, the Ultimate Menace, have the power to end this with ultimate finality.”
“I still say that you’re a dickhead,” said Dirk. He punched me in the nose.
“And I still say that this is a cheesy ending,” said Merton. “It’s so ‘happily ever after.’”
I wiped the blood from my nostrils, and a sinister smile crossed my lips. “Not exactly…”
Dirk Darringer, retired super-hero, former buffoon, and born-again badass, wakes up after another night of binge drinking undertaken in a futile attempt to forget the last twenty-four chapters of of his life. Darringer fixes himself a cup of coffee and retrieves The Morning Herald. The headline of the Arts and Entertainment section reads, “Wham! Reunion Album Outsells New Beatles!” Dirk puts down the paper, pours out his coffee, and looks for another bottle of Tequila.
(by Henry Broaddus)
Some parting thoughts by Jerry Franke and Henry Broaddus…
Every once in awhile, when I find myself at home during actual daylight hours, I’ll engage in a little channel surfing. It’s truly amazing that even with cable, there’s so little on t.v. One thing that does seem to be on about half the channels on my television is a little overly-long lived sitcom called Family Matters. You may have seen this: it features a little geeky guy named Urkel who runs around causing all sorts of amazing events to happen. Once these events run their course, you can expect the little guy to look up and whine “Did I do that?”
Well, now we’re finishing up the rec.arts.comics Challenge!. And I find myself, like Urkel, examining the events that have unfolded and asking myself the same thing.
It started so innocently. It was an ordinary day when I stopped by to check out the latest happenings on rec.arts.comics.misc. A thread had started about silly titles and stories. Of course I had to put my own two cents in. “Anybody remember that old DC miniseries called the DC Challenge!?” I asked. “Now that was some pure clean, stupid fun!” The next thing I know, I’ve started a new thread, with people bringing their own remembrances of the Challenge!. And then Henry Broaddus pipes up, organizing what he calls a rac Challenge!.
Did I do that?
It’s been a long, wonderful road to this grand finale. I’d like to thank all the authors for their participation, for their hard work under deadline pressure, and their mercy on me even after I became the major villain of the thing. I’d also like to thank Jerry Stratton for his wonderful web work in helping me keep my archive afloat —it would have died quite quickly were it not for him. And finally to Henry, father of the Challenge!, who I would nominate for rac sainthood except for his decided lack of judgment in leaving this inmate in charge of the asylum while he was gone. Congratulations, everyone, we did it!
Baron von Frankelin
Not a clone!
I had not planned to compose any parting thoughts, because I wanted to leave the editors plenty of room to respond to fan mail. Then I remembered that not only do we not have editors, not only do we not have fan mail, but this whole thing is being distributed electronically, so there’s no space limit anyway! You might regret that last part.
When you think about it, the whole concept of chain fiction is hardly a novelty. One writer devises a narrative structure that is continued by another writer or writers for a variety of reasons. Frequently the saga even outlives its original creator. For example, despite the fact that Ian Fleming died in 1964, James Bond’s adventures continue. A mere two weeks ago the latest cinematic installment of that saga, Golden Eye, met receptive audiences at movie theatres everywhere.
Chain fiction pops up in many other places too. It has become the modus operandi of mainstream comic books. Fans expect the rotation of creative teams on their favorite titles. Each new team changes, expands, and reinterprets the mythos left by their predecessors. It has even been said that the United States Supreme Court works this way too. American law is merely a glorified RAC Challenge!. Scary, huh? I don’t think so.
Sure, it irritates the hell out of me when some hack replaces one of my favorite writers and proceeds to undo everything good that was done. Sure, critics like Dave Sim are correct when they point out that work-for-hire titles go nowhere; every change in creative personnel produces a change in direction. Sure, the success of chain fiction diminishes respect for creators. Sure, the increasingly conservative composition of the Supreme Court threatens many of our individual liberties. All of this is true, and it is highly unfortunate.
Nonetheless, I’m fond of the concept of chain fiction. I’m fond of it because chain fiction demonstrates that people can share creative vision. It demonstrates that even though each contributor’s vision may differ dramatically, those contributors can collaborate in some fashion.
Lucius Seneca said that “the best ideas are common property,” and I think the same is true of stories. I’m sure that many of you remain unconvinced. Dirk certainly does at the conclusion of our annual. Is the RAC Challenge! a seamless story? Not even close. Is it still an enjoyable story that is worthwhile? I think so. Of course, what I said was that a common story is the best story. Does the RAC Challenge!, most of the crap being produced at Marvel and DC, or the entirety of the James Bond epic rank among “the best stories”?
That’s unlikely, but consider the following examples. Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man may not explicitly be Albert Camus’ Stranger, but he is another interpretation of the same guy. Shakespeare’s Hamlet is another version of a Saxo Grammaticus tale that was written four hundred years earlier. The Bible is a work of chain fiction.
Now, before I continue to bore you as much as many sections of the Bible doubtlessly do, I’ll say my thank you’s and get back to my term paper. Thanks go, first of all, to Jerry Franke. As my partner in crime Jerry was acting moderator during my absence this Spring, and he is also the diligent caretaker of the RAC Challenge! WWW Archive. Furthermore, Jerry started the thread which started my idea for this. Thanks go to Mark Evanier, who started the DC Challenge!, which started Jerry’s thread, which started my idea for this. Finally, to every writer who participated in the RAC Challenge!, thank you for making this so much fun.
“The whole world is about three drinks behind.”—Humphrey Bogart