When I was a little kid, back in New York, I didn't read comics.
It wasn't that we couldn't afford them, though we really couldn't. And it wasn't that my brothers wouldn't share theirs, though they really didn't want to, especially after stealing them from the newsstand or digging through the trash to get them.
In fact there was one epic battle with a neighbor's satanic, man-eating doberman just to get their hands on one issue in particular. I thought it was !@#$ hilarious, especially when they banged on the door to be let in and, in the time it took me to slowly saunter down the stairs, they got about fifty dogbites apiece, most of them on the !@#$.
(No, my family and I don't talk much. Why do you ask?)
But no, son. I read the !@#$ newspaper. And not the funnies, either. The rest of the newspaper. You know, the bits kids think are !@#$ boring. Police blotters, national news, celebrity pages. Things like that.
Why? Well, I was looking for stories about my hero.
See, my hero was !@#$ real. He was a masked crimefighter who operated over in Chi-Town. He had a dark and scary outfit, a belt full of neat tricks, a fast car with a horn so loud and shrill it broke windows and busted eardrums, and one !@#$ of a left hook.
They called him The Owl.
Garbed with all the tricks he could carry, the Owl busted the mob, ordinary crooks, and a regular rogues gallery of morons who decided to dress up all fancy and help themselves to the big bucks. He used to fight them alone, but after a while they started seeing him with a younger fellow named Talon, who wore a different costume, and brought a different dynamic to the fight.
(Yeah, yeah. Sounds a lot like you-know-who. But The Owl was first, so there.)
When I was a kid, I wanted to be Talon. And when I grew up, and the War came along, those old dreams were part of what made me sign up for Camp Rogers. So you can imagine my surprise when I get there, and on the first day they're talking about our advanced training, they bring in a bunch of surprise instructors.
And who's there to teach us street fighting?
For a dream come true, it hurt like a mother!@#$, even after the treatment. He had a knack at being able to size up an opponent's weaknesses just from how they moved, and use them to his advantage. He told us to avoid talking during a fight, showed us how to not telegraph our actions, or bluff an opponent.
He also taught us how and when to run like !@#$, the better to fight again when you're more prepared. Not a bad piece of advice, that. If more heroes followed it, they'd still be alive today, and I always make sure my Agents keep that in mind.
I learned all I could from my hero, but he wasn't there long. He had to go back to "his city" and keep it clean, especially now that saboteurs and spies were on the move. On the last day I tried to tell him about how I'd idolized him since I was a kid, but he just gave me that look, and I stammered myself into silence.
Then he smiled, clapped me on the shoulder, and said "Kid, I idolize you. You're going to go over there and fight for your country. Make us proud."
Did I? I never caught up with him to figure it out. See, the next time I saw him, The Owl wasn't The Owl, anymore. He was someone else, under that mask.
How does that work? Well, think about it, son. You read any news bulletins coming out of the Windy City, and there's news about my favorite superhero to this day. You think he could survive more than a hundred years after being shot, stabbed, poisoned, blown up, drowned, death-trapped, and thrown down an elevator shaft at least three times a month?
The answer's in the byline. You'll note that, when we talk about The Owl, there's always an ampersand in there, somewhere. As in The Owl & The Talon. At some point, The Talon becomes The Owl, and the old Owl, if he isn't !@#$ dead, stays on in a mentoring capacity. Sometimes he takes the costume back for a night or two, or for a special reason, but the rest of the time it's the new kid's turn.
How do I know this? Well, son, other than being more than a century old and having kept an eye on my hero the whole time, and having an eye for the change of body language, I'm one of the few outside people who get to go to the handover ceremonies.
Yes. That's right. I'm there when The Talon becomes The Owl. Sometimes I'm even there when a new Talon gets invested with the costume. And sometimes I even get to attend the official funeral when one or the other bites the kevlar, as they say in the business.
See, normally, if you want to operate as a Superhero in America, you have to be a Strategic Talent and be allied with The COMPANY. However, there are exceptions. The Owl is the most prominent one, mostly because I trust him (and I mean all of them) not to buck the horse too much.
(Mr. USA's another, too, but !@#$ him. Totally different story, there.)
But part of the trust thing is being close by. So when things get kind of weird, they're sort of obligated to call me in and let me know what's going on. And, by extension, if I ever needed a big !@#$ favor that needed to stay off the books and under the table, The Owl's the first one I'd go to.
Which is why I'm in Chicago, tonight. (That and some proper stuffed pie). Item one is the handover of the costume, which is, for the first time ever, going to a woman. The great-granddaughter of the original Owl is going to be The Owl, and while they've gone out of their way to make sure the costume's as sexless as possible, the old guy might have to step in a few times, early on, just to keep the story straight.
And as for item two, well, I could tell you, but I think we're gonna keep it quiet. There's a situation brewing that I think I need the Owl clan in on, if only because I can trust them not !@#$ me when things go really bad.
What can I say? Sometimes you just know who you can trust.
(SPYGOD is listening to Black Light Trap (Shriekback) and having the Owl Drink (Don't ask)