“... The villain Ribald is currently engaged in a battle against the hero Phalanx atop City Hall. Residents are advised to stay indoors at this time. Residents are reminded that Ribald can control anyone who hears his bells. Take precautions.”
The old man took out the remote, shutting off the T.V. As he stood, his knees ached and he heard his spine pop. He began to shuffle towards the kitchen, where his friend Francis sat sipping a cup of coffee.
“Not like the old days.” he mumbled.
“What's that, Jerry?” asked Francis. “Did you say something?”
“I said that it's not like the old days,” he said louder.
“Of course it's not like the old days, Jerry,” Francis replied, taking a sip. “The old days are... old. Gone. Gold Star and Rocketman have retired, even Champion hasn’t been seen for a while.”
“I know, I know... but sometimes I can't even recognize the world we're living in. Even since before the old guard left,” Jerry continued. “Do you know what I mean? Sometimes I wake up, and it seems like the world has gone crazy. Not like when we were kids. I've lived in this city all my life, you know? Nothing is like it used to be. Absolutely nothing. Do you remember that park down by the river? Where we used to play ball?”
“Oh yeah, ol' Bicowskey Park, those were the days.” Francis said. “Whatever happened to that little park?”
“It was ripped up in a fight between the Bombardier and Aegis.” said Jerry. “The city decided it would cost too much to repair; they just sold it off to some fatcat developer.”
“But think about what would've happened otherwise, if Shield just hadn't fought. The Bombardier was insane.”
“That's what I'm saying,” said Jerry. “It all comes back to the capes. When they started to appear, everything suddenly started changing. I'm just not sure it was for the better.”
“Things weren't that great before, you know,” said Francis, waving his index finger in front of his nose. “Before the first capes came, this place was crawling with petty criminals. I knew three people who died in a robbery. All those criminals are pretty much off the streets.”
“Sure, things might have been bad,” replied Jerry, opening his hands. “I know that, you know that, everyone knows that. But... do you remember the day Champion appeared?”
“...of course I do, everyone does. Why?”
“He arrived in that white and gold costume, tan and square jawed, and I just thought that everything was suddenly going to get better… do you know what I mean? I guess what I’m trying to say is that he descended upon us like he was coming down from Mount Olympus. Like he was a god, omnipotent.
“When I looked at him I thought that all our problems would disappear, that the city would suddenly become the glimmering metropolis of the future that all the politicians promised,” he said longingly, his eyes pitched a bit upwards as if in rapture. His face fell. “For a bit it seemed like that was exactly what happened, but then the first super-villain appeared, then more and more and more. Suddenly it seemed like for every hero there were two villains. Now? Everything is worse than before, just with capes.”
“At least with those old criminals, you knew that you could sock them in the jaw, you could beat them,” said Jerry. “They weren't really all that much stronger than you, and I mean that relatively, you know? But these super-villains? You'd have to be crazy to go up against them, you'd be killed. It's scary.”
“They'd still be there, even if no heroes appeared.”
“Maybe, but for some reason it didn't seem to happen like that.” Jerry shifted his weight. “All the super-villains seemed to come with the superheroes. Almost as though they were just following them, following their lead, costumed icons of justice meet costumed icons of chaos and crime. Nowadays you can’t go two days without a robot fight over midtown; it just seems like everything is crawling towards disrepair, like nothing is working– everything is broken down.”
“Jerry, come now.” Francis stared hard at Jerry. “The capes are doing the best they can, we all know that. What would we do without them?”
“Live, maybe?” Jerry laughed at Francis’s disapproving glare. “I know, I know. It just feels like superheroes might not be the solution, they might be the root of the problem. I just see so much power within them. They’re the living refutation of all men being created equal, you know what I mean? If they break a law, who’s going to stop them, the police? The police couldn’t touch them, the only ones who could stop them would be one of their own. It just shouldn’t work that way.”
“Heroes make sure other heroes stay on the straight and narrow.”
“Some Roman guy once said a quotation I really like, ‘Custodes ipsos custodiet,’ it means–”
“Who watches the watchman.” Francis sighed.
“Yeah, that's it.” Jerry nodded his head. “Who watches them, who makes sure that the power they’ve got won’t corrupt them? People are corruptible, and in the end all these superheroes are just people. Maybe they’ll all continue to do the right thing, but who decides what the right thing is? What if they decide the right thing is different from what everyone wants? Who makes sure they don’t step over the fine line separating protectors from tyrants?”
“You’ve got a point Jerry, you definitely have a point.” Francis sighed. In his mind’s eye he caught a glimpse of that white and gold costume he had once worn proudly. He wondered whether it had been the right decision to put on the costume the first time, to become the Champion.