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Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Skye, from Becoming Hero--Character Interview

I've never gone to a superhero's house before. I wish I had--someone's living space tells you a lot about them, and I would've loved to meet Natasha's mom. Oh well. Ding-dong, goes the doorbell by a little screen door that looks like it was installed in the 80s, and then the door opens and there's a tiny middle-aged Japanese-American woman in--

"Is that your rapper outfit?" I joke.

She takes off the beanie and adjusts the sagging pants. She's not joking. "Mmhm. You've caught me recording. Can I help you?"

"I was actually here to talk to Skye--I'm a volunteer with his mentorship program at school. But now, wow, I just have so many questions!"

"Well, rapping's not my day job. I've been doing some small local shows and youtube MVs. Come on in, I'll call Skye."

I don't know what I expected--it's just a cream-carpet living room and a vinyl kitchen in here--but for some reason I'm surprised. I brush my fingertips across the eggshell-blue walls and the simple picture frames as the little woman scurries ahead of me to shut off the base-heavy beat blaring from the master bedroom down the hall.

"Skye, you've got company!" she calls. To me, "Can I get you something, miss?"

She's back in seconds, before I can answer, and trailing behind her shuffles a teenager in jeans with torn edges--edges worn to a fray not by pretentious Abercrombe fakery, but by real overuse. Skye's eyes glint curiously at me.

"Skye, get the tea box," says my hostess.

"Thank-you so much," I say, "but actually I was going to take Skye out for our volunteering activity, and--"

"One cup of tea won't make you late," she says. Skye's already sliding across the vinyl on his socks, snatching the box off the counter without stopping as he skids over to me. I take out a white "momo" tea.

"Good choice," he says. "Mom won't let you leave until you have tea. I think she's trying to take over the world by forcing nanobots into everyone--through tea."

"Skye!" Mother scolds.

Skye grins. He takes the kettle from his mom and taps her shoulder. "Aren't you trying to finish that hook before Dad comes home? Lemme get this."

"I am, and thank-you, but--well, just make sure you don't steep it too long, or it'll--"

"Mom, it's putting a bag in hot water. I think I can figure out tea."

"I don't know, you did put the laundry in the dishwasher yesterday."

"Mom!" He looks at me, then back at her. "That's embarrassing!"

"So is a son who interrupts when I'm talking." She stretches way up to ruffle his hair. His glowering's as fake as her scolding, and they both laugh at her awkward reach. "So tall," she says as she disappears down the hall again. The beat starts up, and Skye hides the kettle and mouths at me to sneak out the door.

"We can't really talk here," he says when we're outside. He's still hopping on one foot to get his shoe on. "My parents don't know still. About me."

"Your mom seems nice."

"Sorry, she's taken," he says. "She's out of your league."

"Dude, I'm like thirty years younger than her!" I protest as he swings open my car door like he owns it.

"Ha! Don't be hurt, she's out of my Dad's league too. Hey, where we going?"

"Wherever you want."

"You look weirder than I thought you would."

"Thanks," I say. This is normal. My interviewees all know me before they see me, and their brains usually fill in some kind of false memory about an appointment or an interview, or, like in Natasha's case, a therapist. It's my dimension-traveling superpower: they'll never need an explanation about me.

"You're welcome," Skye says. "I hate it when people take weird like it's an insult. I'm weird, too."

"What's weird about you?"

"Turn right up here," he says, pointing at the road. "I guess the way I talk. I'm funny in like a stupid way."

"You think you're stupid?"

"No, I'm funny, in a stupid way. There's a bunch of words in the middle that you missed there, lady."

I'm not sure how to respond to that.

"I'm not sure how to respond to that," I say.

"It's cool. Don't you have, like, a bunch of questions to ask me? Gimme a hard one."

"Sure." I'm feeling mean. "Are your parents fighting?"

"Why you keep asking about my parents? No my parents aren't fighting. They're just hiding a lot from each other right now. My mom's in the middle of recording a song for my dad's birthday, and he's in the middle of planning her dream-vacation to Spain 'cuz she's always wanted to go there, and apparently the thing he wants for his birthday is her smile." Skye grins. "I wish they were fighting--then maybe I could go to Spain instead."

"Really? You wish they were fighting?"

"Nah, just a little." He sees the weird look on my face and explains. "I'm thankful they're cool with each other and all, don't get me wrong, but if they're always on each others' side about everything, and it's just them and me in the house. My dad's head is too big. He doesn't need Mom helping him when I'm in trouble. He's Army," he adds, as if that explains everything. "You know what I really wish, though--left, left!"

We swerve. "Tell me earlier next time!"

"I'll try. Anyway, I really wish I had a sibling. Brother, sister, I don't care."

"Too much pressure as an only child?"

"We call it 'attention,' not pressure. I mean, I don't even know how I'm gonna keep hiding my superhero job. But I want a bro or a sis to have a bro or a sis, not cuz of my parents. I like my parents. But Natasha has five siblings, and she grew up literally never alone. That sounds so cool!"

"Doesn't it also sound a little noisy?"

"I guess, if you're introverted or whatever. Sounds awesome to me."

"Me too, but you must know that makes you weird."

"I know, right? Pull over here."

I do, and we find a lake surrounded by sparse woods and a mulch running track. The track's choked with weeds.

"Check out how the sun hits the water. You can tell it's clean 'cuz it comes off bluish-clear, right? Natasha comes here sometimes. She pointed that out." He picks up a stone and skips it. "I'm not supposed to be here when she's here, she said. Like I'm supposed to read her mind and know when she's here. I mean, I try to avoid bothering her, but it's a cool spot. How's she gonna show it to me and then tell me not to show up?"

"But you're trying to give her space, right."

"Yeah, I mean, she doesn't own this lake though. And sometimes she's all happy if I show up by accident, and then she punches me and tells me to get, and that's confusing, you know?"

"I'd just go by what she says literally and ignore all the other mixed signals. It'd be unfair of her to expect you to read her mind, and you'll go crazy if you try."

"That's what my dad said." He throws another rock. This one goes PLUMPK! and sinks. "Mom says I need to learn to read between the lines, and that Natasha totally likes me. Like, like likes me. Mom's cool, but then there's consent and stuff. You know, how, like, consent's gotta be expressed? You can't assume it. I feel like that should work with everything."

"Aren't you like, fifteen? What's got you thinking about consent and communication and stuff like that?"

"BB spends a lot of time on tumblr. And when she's not, she's arguing with Natasha about what she reads there. I overhear stuff." He shrugs, and flashes a beautiful smile. "You know, we've just been, like, talking. Wasn't this supposed to be like a formal interview or something?"

"I don't mind letting an interview take its own natural path. But we can change it up. How'd you decide to become a superhero?"

He bursts into a long belly laugh. "Ha! Decide? I didn't decide! Robotman drafted me! Ha, decide. Who decides to become a superhero?"

"I think Robotman did."

"Well, Robotman's a real hero. Most of us just got stuck in crap too bad to ignore without fighting back."

"Mmm, but you could decide to stop helping people once you've solved that crap."

"I guess, yeah, but you can't go back once you're in. It'd be boring."

"You really don't have good insight into your own heroism, do you."

"Are you kidding? I'm totally cool. But I'm not like Robotman, or like Natasha, out looking for ways to save everybody from everything. She's crazy." He smiles distantly as he says this, and something occurs to me. 

"You keep talking about your friends and family, more than you talk about yourself, and more than anyone I've interviewed you just keep bringing it back to them. Are the Guardians, maybe, your brothers and sisters? Are they maybe the reason you run around in tights?"

"Whoa, whoa, whoa, I don't wear tights, I wear tight-fitting armor, and the ladies would revolt if I didn't." He points finger-guns at me and laughs. "No, maybe you're right. I dunno. It's true, I love seeing my teammates. I guess if we did ballet or sewing instead of superhero stuff I'd probably stick around." He glances around suddenly. "I hope Mark didn't hear that. Mark!" he yells. "I don't want to ballet with you!"

No response. Some ducks quack.

"Mark's my best friend. Sometimes he creeps up on people. It's totally weird. Cool, but weird." He raises his voice again. "You're makin' me look crazy, Mark!"

I try skipping a rock, too. "So what happens if a bad guy wins, and those friends die?"

"Oh, I'd straight up kill him." Skye doesn't hesitate. "Not even playing. I mean, I'm supposed to try to understand, and forgive, and justice, and so on, and BB and Robotman would hold me to that, but…"

"But if they're not around?"

"Robotman's like our conscience. I'd try. I'd get to know the killer before…I guess. I don't know if I'd succeed without our conscience, though." He scowls. "Anyway, don't murderers deserve to die?"

"I think so, but--"

"Well there you go."

"But whose job is it to make sure they're murderers? Whose job is it to kill them? You think that's your job?"

"No. I'm not crazy. But I'm gonna stop you right now, because the sun's going down and this is depression city, right here. Next you're gonna ask me something sad about my parents, and I'm just not gonna talk about that right now. Let's go."

"Sorry," I say as we trek back to the car.

"It's okay. Just buggy. As in, that thought bugged me, and the air's buggy with mosquitoes. Bugs."

We talk about rap music and crunchy sushi rolls on the way back, and as I drop him off at home it's dark, I'm tired, and we're both a bit bummed out. We both know people do die in his line of work.


He just doesn't know how soon.

Learn more about Skye when his comic comes out in May! There will be a few limited edition physical prints, and of course it'll also be available for free online at becominghero.ninja. Head over there now, or follow our progress on twitter @petr3pan! To read another character interview, from another Becoming Hero protag, click here

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Interview with Natasha, a superhero from #BecomingHero (Comic coming May 2016; Book Summer 2017)

It's interview time again, but this time we're on a rooftop overlooking a city with the wind in our faces and only a hint of motor oil smell filtering up from the streets below. A river sparkles in the sunset as tugboats and industrial ships honk, and thunder sounds even though there isn't a cloud in the sky.

The thunder grows nearer, and rocketing towards us like a shooting star, arrives Natasha. Natasha lands with a thud on the rooftop, her fists pounding the cement before her knees hit. "You wanted to talk to me?"

She's my favorite.

"Yeah, yeah I did." I shake as she offers me her solid grip. The rings over her gloves pinch me a little; I point at them. "Those are cool."

"Thanks." She doesn't tell me that she shoots sonic blasts out of those to propel her through the air, or take on human traffickers, but she does say, "I designed them."

"Very cool. Aren't you still in high school, though?"

"That doesn't mean bullcrap. If I take out the time and put in the work I can do anything."

"Wow, okay then." She's a little intense, and I'm not sure how to answer that platitude. "Well, I bet you're busy, so let's dive right in. I like to start easy. What's your favorite food?"

She starts and doesn't stop. "I'm trying to eat more organic lately, I guess. I'm also working on eliminating food waste, to drive down world hunger. All the food resources we misuse could go to ending malnutrition. Did you know that if we all just ate what we needed, and saved our leftovers instead of throwing them out, we'd save $165 billion dollars that could go to supporting small businesses in less economically privileged areas?"

"Uh--" Yeah, I did know that (it's public knowledge through the NRDC), but I can't hand her the End of World Hunger on a plate as an interview snack. "You want...peanuts?"

She laughs. "Actually, I just ate. Guardian potluck. Black Butterfly made this awesome rice--some kind of Middle Eastern thing--and Skye brought his mom's takoyaki."

"What did you bring?"

She laughs again. She's the merriest person I've ever interviewed, for sure. "Collard greens and fried chicken. That's not usually my style--I go for that Japanese cuisine--but my mom's a Southern girl, and that's what she made, so that's what I brought."

"You didn't make anything yourself?"

"Ha! I can't cook for crap." She sits on the edge of the building and waves me to sit down, too. I kind of want to decline, but I don't want to let her outdo me, so I inch forward until my legs dangle over the tangling traffic, too. "You know what, though, I could go for pizza," she says.

"That I can do." I crawl back away from the edge, jump to my feet, wave my hand, spin, and when I'm facing her again I've got a piping hot pepperoni. I'm wondering if it's going to be an issue--pepperoni's a major abuse meat--but I couldn't think of anything else. 

She steps back. "Oh wow, that's super-generous. I literally was thinking like we could share a slice or something. This is a awesome--we should share with those guys!" She points down the street to the corner I can barely see.

"Oh, the homeless guy," I say. "Superhero work never ends for you, does it."

"Yeah, I don't believe in small talk, small thoughts, or small people."

"Wait," I tease. "Isn't that discriminatory against people with achondro--"

"Shut up, you know what I meant." Natasha punches my arm and grabs the pizza. "No small spirits, no small dreams. Let's go!"

I follow, a little overwhelmed. The "homeless guy" has a name, and Natasha knows it well. Dave's having trouble getting back on his feet since his wife left him, and Natasha's trying to get him into a temp agency. "He's a super-talented architect, but with his trouble, well." She shrugs and injects an imaginary syringe into her arm. "I'm thinking of taking out the guy who deals to him, but I'm not really done figuring out what that might do to the local trade. I don't wanna make the sitch worse." She abbreviates situation oddly and makes a point of adding, "Not all the folks in this area are users, though, you know. They just really need a chance."

I just nod and smile. Watching her laugh and joke with Dave tells me far more than anything she's said so far. She's a different person in action--the preaching at me, the desire to prove something to a world that refuses to change, the subsurface unease, all drops away, and she's a fountain of strength that Dave seems to know well. She's cool. She's confident. She's not afraid to punch him in the arm and ask when he's going to hit up a methadone center to get off "it," and he's so comfortable with her he's not afraid to be honest about why he doesn't want to deal with getting clean right now.

"It'll be there when you're ready."

"I honestly don't know if I ever will be, Nat."

"You will."

"You're an amazing kid, you know, but some of us just aren't like you. When you get older you'll understand."

"No, I believe in you," she says. She notices me again, standing here like a cardboard cut-out, and jerks her head in my direction. "We gotta head out, Dave. I'll see you around, okay?" She leads the way, and I follow, as apparently she's decided to set a new location for this interview over which I just don't seem to have much control.

"We all have our crap to deal with," she says. "We're all the same. Dave, you, me, the freakin' president, it's all a battle. Everything's a fight."

"Everything? Even love?"

"You kidding me? Especially love."

"And what's your fight?"

"People say I have trouble picking my battles."

"Are you fighting that?"

"No really. It's just a thing people say. They also say I need to focus my priorities and become more realistic. They diagnosed me with ADHD when I was a kid, you know. I'm difficult."

"And what do you say?"

"Nothing. I've got stuff to do." She pauses, and then answers honestly. "I don't know what to do with my life."

She grips a fire escape and starts to climb. I'm out of shape, huffing behind her, as we rise. "What do you mean by that?"

"There's too much need. The hell am I gonna do when I graduate high school next year? World hunger? Human trafficking's a huge problem, and I can fight, but do I want to deal with the politics and corruption of police work? I love experimental physics. I love it! My internship's the highlight of my day. But what would I be doing playing with force and sound in a lab all day while people out there starving?" As she gets frustrated her grammar changes a bit, and I wonder if that's her southern mother coming out. "And now there's this guy I like, and I can't tell him, because I don't know if I have time to be a wife or a mom, and I know that's thinking way ahead but I don't wanna be wasting my time and my body with something that isn't permanent, you know? I'm better than that." She's not politically correct, and the passion's, again, intense, but I don't say anything.

"You believe in fate?" she asks suddenly.

"Whuh?"

"Fate. Like someone's planning your life."

"Well." This is awkward because she's in a comic book, which is inside a story, and in that story her author doesn't treat her right, and I'm not exactly sure what that says about me, the person who invented her author. But she doesn't know any of that yet, at least not beyond--well--"Do you believe in God?" I ask. There's my way out.

"Yeah. Not like my mom does--she's way baptist--but yeah. And if it's God, or fate, or whatever, I'm wondering why this guy just happens to be in a physics internship, like mine, and just happens to do rescue work in a suit like I do--I mean, how may people in the world do this? Like thirty out of 7.4 billion? And we've met, and I'm wasting time thinking about little things like how sushi's the best thing ever and he likes that, too, and how we both dig folk and weird alternative hip-hop like no one else likes, and I'm wasting my time but--shoot, what if it's meant to be?" She stops. "I sound like those stupid girls who think every thing with a flat chest is their soulmate. Listen," she shakes my hand with both of hers all of a sudden. "This has been great--really therapeutic--but I've got a history reading to do and a history teacher to argue with tomorrow. I'll see you around." 

"Good luck with your--decisions," I stammer.

"I don't need luck." She grins. "But if you're handing it out I'll take some." I wave my hand as if showering her with fairydust, and she bows, and rockets off.

The End