In Hero Years... I'm Dead is New York Times bestselling author Michael A. Stackpole's first Digital-Original novel. It's Superhero-Noir—what you'd get if Dash Hammett had written The Watchmen®.
Twenty years ago someone stole him away from Capital City. Having been released from captivity he returns to find everything changed. The great heroes of his day, men who could move planets or tear apart criminal syndicates, have all retired. A new breed of hero has sprung up to deal with a perplexingly new brand of villain. It's a world that makes no sense, and a world which, if he persists in playing the hero, will surely see him dead.
In Hero Years... I'm Dead mixes action, dark humor, satire and strong characters into a thrilling page-turner. It's superheroes facing challenges both in costume and out, battling a cunning enemy bent on destroying all they have worked so hard to preserve.
The Deluxe Edition of In Hero Years... I'm Dead includes a long essay about the story's genesis and the author's process in writing it. It's full of insights about the labors of producing a novel and is a rare chance to look behind the scenes at how a book comes together.
Yet In Hero Years…I’m Dead is a different kind of story. This isn’t Star Wars; this is superheroes. There is no fighter combat; there is hand-to-hand combat. But the characters are still deep, flawed, and completely compelling. For fans of Superman, Batman, or any other superhero franchise, this is right up your alley.–Skuldren for Roqoo Depot
“Very good. Yet another fine novel that your garden variety characters didn't know what to do with.”–Blue Tyson for Not Free SF Reader
“The book is very fun and Stackpole (who is perhaps best known as a New York Times best-selling author for his work in the Star Wars universe) is clearly at home in the fights and tights genre. He adds a dystopian twist to the genre not seen played this well since Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns.”–Bryan Young for Big Shiny Robot
I wandered into Argus Square. Graviton Drive split it, dividing the city in half. No surprise he had a street named after him. I wondered if, after sundown, the signs flipped and it became Nighthaunt Road.
Argus Square had always possessed lights and glitz, but now thousands of Murdochs flashed countless messages. Grouped into Jumbotrons, they advertised soap, encouraged good citizenship and told people how they, too, could be chic.
Chic being the by-product of drinking the right beer, wearing the right shoes and eating the same brand of baked beans as Colonel Constitution.
Not everyone drifted with the cultural tide. Ground-level Murdochs had been pasted over with posters for some Grunge-Goth-Glam rocker named Gravé. City maintenance supervisors oversaw chain-gangs pulling community service. They scraped, but did so lethargically. More than once supervisors had to prod workers to stop them staring at the newly revealed images.
That was pretty much the only place where anyone interfered with viewerism. Murdochs were everywhere. Playing-card sized screens imbedded in bars lit taverns. Slightly larger ones graced diner booths. Upscale restaurants didn’t have them at every table, but just try finding a spot where you didn’t have sight-lines to one. People stared as they drank or ate. Images flashed, conversations lapsed.
Lenin once called religion the “opiate of the masses.” He meant television. He had opiate wrong, too.
Should have been embalming fluid.
Not wanting to be one of the living dead, I tore myself away from the colorful screens and flagged a cab. I gave the driver the address Selene had given me. He grunted and started chattering. I grunted at the appropriate moments. They came when he said, “Am I right, pal?”
Fourteen grunts later I paid him and got out in front of a ten story building on the corner. The bottom floor was the “Rock Solid Gymnasium.” I entered. The owner’s smiling portrait hung behind the reception desk.
I connected the dots.
A perky blonde looked up from behind the desk. “I can have an account executive with you in a moment, sir.”
I nodded at the picture. “I’m here to see Grant Stone. No appointment.”
“Would he know what this is regarding?”
I gave her an easy smile. “I’ve not seen him in years. I thought I’d say hello.”
She returned my smile, but slowly. “And who should I say is here to see him?”
That’s where I almost blew it. I had to think. I peeled back the years, but it wasn’t easy. “Tim Robinson. He probably won’t remember. It was a long time ago.”
“Please have a seat.”
I sat. The upscale lobby screened the gym from the street?visually at least. A gym’s scent is unmistakable, and pervasive. The rhythmical clack and clank of weights rising and falling made for a clunky soundtrack. Distant voices encouraged people to go for one more, then pretty laughter eclipsed them. Flirty-laughter, the kind you hear when the guy has used his best line and the girl is waiting for better.
Grant paused in the doorway, striking a heroic pose. In his nature, I guess. He broke it fast and crossed to me. Simple short-sleeved shirt, chinos and loafers?more casual attire than I recall him favoring before. He still sported the tinted aviator glasses. They’d always seemed to be an awkward attempt at appearing adventurous. His black hair had lost the battle with white, save for a stubborn forelock.
“Tim Robinson. Been a long time since I’ve heard that name.”
“The prodigal returns?”
Not if you knew my father. I stood and offered him my right hand. “Good to see you, Grant.”
His right remained in his pants pocket. He offered me his left. “Passing through?”
“Maybe.” I shook his hand. “Gonna show me around?”
He nodded, then turned to the receptionist. “I’m not available for an hour.”
Grant waved me further into the facility. The room spread out. Mirrors covered the walls and Murdochs had been strategically placed so folks could watch while they sweated. Entryways to locker rooms stood on either wall and a juice bar lurked along the back.
“State of the art facility?my fourth, third in the city. Sauna, massage and hot tubs in the back, through the locker rooms.” He jerked a thumb toward the ceiling. “The thumps are from the dojo and the boxing ring. Cardio is done up there, too.”
I nodded. “Everything anyone needs to get in fighting trim.”
“Is that what you want, Tim? To get in fighting trim?” His questions came with a challenge.
“You tell me.”
He stared at me for a moment. His eyes tightened, then his voice. “How is it you’re even walking?”
“It pisses off the guys who don’t want me to.”
He took a moment to process my response, then nodded. “We have personal trainers. Terry Veck is the best.”
I followed his gaze. Veck I recognized quickly. He was older, of course, and had shaved his head. He’d gotten stout, but in that drill-instructor way. He was helping some skinny guy pump iron, really driving him. The victim was working hard?more out of fear than any desire to bulk up.
“Veck. He’s not…?”
“Golden Guardian? Retired eighteen years ago. Came to work with me.”
“What happened to his sidekick?”
“Goldie?” Grant shook his head. “You really have been out of it, haven’t you?”
“Buried any deeper, it would have taken a paleontologist to find me.”
“So why would a fossil come back?”
“I want to know why I was buried.”
Grant frowned for a heartbeat, but that melted into a smile. He turned toward the entrance. He was ready before I heard anything, or caught the white glare.
Had to expect that. Grant Stone wasn’t human, and had the hyper-sensitive senses to prove it. Last son of some distant planet that got eaten or sucked into another dimension or blew itself up, he’d rocketed to Earth as an infant. He’d been raised on a farm, had been an eagle-scout and otherwise all-around all-American Boy.
As Graviton, he’d been the most powerful being on the planet. Able to shift tectonic plates, so fast he could lap the sound wave he made breaking the sound barrier, and invulnerable; there was no stopping him. Well, not wholly true?magic gave him trouble, and jadarite could kill him. His radiographic-vision, nano-vision, hyper-hearing and therma-vision all provided him means for avoiding most traps; and when he got stuck, someone like Nighthaunt or L’Angyle?the French sorceress he’d eventually married?helped him out.
I turned toward the doorway too. A TV camera-man backed into the room, lights bright. Another one tried to maneuver around, but smacked into the doorway. Two reporters?both young, gorgeous and eager?thrust microphones into the face of a slender young man. He had a thick mop of wild black hair, smoldering eyes and half-sneered smile oozing equal parts contempt and amusement. Silver chains decorated his black leather jacket and silver buttons ran up the side-seams of his leather jeans. He had a couple t-shirts on, black over red, with the black slashed artfully. He’d bisected his own image on the black.
I glanced at Grant. “That the rock guy, Gravé?” I pronounced it like the hole in the ground.
“Grah-vey. Publicist thought it sounded better.” Grant’s smile grew. “Musician by day?well, by midday anyway?hero after hours. He doesn’t maintain a secret identity.”
Gravé held his hands up. “You know the rules, ladies. Outside the gym or no more exclusives.”
The women groaned, and the lights died.
“How can he have exclusives with two reporters at the same time?”
“One covers music, the other crime fighting. He comes here for peace and quiet.”
“He’s also my son.” Grant waved him over and hugged him tightly. Father dwarfed son, but the hug was returned with equal affection. They broke the embrace and Grant kept his right hand hidden behind the young man’s back.
“This is Tim Robinson. Knew him a long time ago. He also knew your mother.”
I shook Gravé’s hand. “My pleasure. I don’t know your music. I’ve been on the road.”
“Europe. The Balkans.”
“Cool. I have a fan club in Montenegro.” He grinned easily, but his dark eyes watched me warily.
“Didn’t get over there.”
“Cool, man.” He nodded to the both of us. “Came to get a shower, do some scanning and bidding.”
Grant nodded. “Heard from Andie?”
“On the Cape. Beached whale. I talked her out of digging a canal.”
“What was she thinking?”
He smiled easily. “Like you wouldn’t have done it, Pop, and thrown up affordable housing and a hospital with the spare dirt.”
I smiled. “Wow, he really is your kid.”
“He and his sister are the joys of my life.” He turned to me. “Did you ever…”
“I know. Now. As of two days ago.”
“So she told you to come? Don’t answer. She must have. You wouldn’t have looked me up on your own.” Grant studied me again. “What do you want?”
“I need someone I can trust.”
“And you think that’ll be me?”
Gravé offered me his hand again. “Clearly you’ve got old times to talk about. Boring. Nice meeting you.”
“See you, dad.”
“I love you. Tell your sister to call me.”
Gravé had given his father time to think, and time to hide his right hand again. “We need to do some catching up, Tim.”
“Not here. Too many interruptions. Let’s get some coffee.” He turned around. “Terry, hold the fort. I’ll be back later.”
Terry waved, then went back to haranguing his charge.
We didn’t talk much on the walk. The idea that he and I were going to get caught up was for his son’s consumption?though I doubted the kid bought it. There’s not a kid alive who can’t read his parents like a book. It’s the only way to survive childhood.
Getting caught up implied chumminess, but Graviton and I hadn’t palled around back in the day. Part of that was the age difference. He and the others were already pushing fifty and I’d been was half that. I used to think they were pretty old, but now that I’d gotten to their age, it didn’t seem old. Then, at other times, I did feel like a fossil.
Halfway down the block Grant got us an outside table toward the corner of a coffee shop’s patio. We ordered and made small talk about people walking by. We avoided anything of substance. Maybe he was trying to find some sort of common ground or something. He was the type to at least try.
Finally our coffee arrived. He pried the lid off his and blew on it. Ironic. He could bask in the heart of the sun and was acting like the coffee could burn him. He added a couple packets of some sim-sugar and then fake dairy. I just took mine hot and black. Over the years I’d learned not to be choosy.
Grant leaned forward, his voice low. “Here it is. I never really liked you. I was opposed to your joining C4. I would have blackballed you, but Nighthaunt persuaded me. He said you were recommended highly. Your inclusion would set a precedent. I figured he hoped Redhawk would be invited to join, too, in a couple years. I didn’t think we needed you?you were just a pale imitation of him.”
“Any normal mortal with a bag of tricks was a Nighthaunt wannabe.”
“Well, here’s another thing. I never trusted you. Neither did L’Angyle. I was against trusting you with my secret identity, but I did it anyway. That was how we built trust in C4. You didn’t reciprocate.”
“Not for the reasons you imagine.” I met his stare. “I never betrayed your secret, and I could have. In fact, I knew it three years before you invited me to join the Capital City Crime Crusaders.”
Grant sat back. “What?”
“You heard me.”
“Doesn’t mean I believe. How?”
“Simple.” I smiled at him over my coffee. “Sunscreen.”