Thursday, September 25, 2014

Hell Frozen Over: Chapter Fourteen [BUFFY]


Although the rally wouldn’t start for a few more hours, by late afternoon hundreds of dedicated First Principles members had already arrived at Weatherly Park, determined to stake out the best places to watch. For the next hour, people slowly trickled into the park, but then suddenly it was if a dam had burst and hundreds and hundreds of people hurried to secure a place. By sundown almost four thousand people gathered before the stage, surrounded by tall speakers, electric lights, huge “First Principles” banners, and several crews from Sunnydale’s television and radio stations. Although far smaller in size than the crowds that assembled annually at other Sunnydale events—such as the Thanksgiving Day parade—First Principles was considered quite the phenomenon by most reporters, especially considering the organization was barely three weeks old.

Anticipation was in the air. Many in the crowd had already attended at least one First Principles meeting, but most of them had also brought a friend or a relative, and some had even brought their whole family. Non-First Principles people had found it hard to turn down something that promised patriotism and community, especially since the Fourth of July was just a few weeks away. Many of the reporters in the audience considered it remarkable that the crowd was in such high spirits considering how warm it was--Sunnydale was always warm in the summer, but today, as predicted, was the hottest day the town had suffered yet. On the outskirts of the crowd,
vendors set up stands charging exorbitant prices for bottled water, while other vendors sold hastily manufactured First Principles T-shirts. The vendors were in perhaps the best spirits of anyone—the organization had given them carte blanche when it came to merchandising, and had even taken the unprecedented step of refusing a cut of the profits. It was as if money simply didn’t matter to First Principles.

The crowd continued to swell. Dedicated First Principles members grew even more tense and excited as the beginning of the rally drew closer and closer. They walked around excitedly and often jumped up and down to get a better view of the empty stage. Energetic conversations regarding the importance of community, vigilance, and all of the other tenets of First Principles took place throughout the crowd. When the beginning of the rally was less than half an hour away, the crowd began chanting “First Principles! First Principles! First Principles” Slowly at first, but then faster and faster. Within minutes it was loud enough that several networks had to cut to commercials in the middle of their live broadcasts.

“Will, you sure picked a great day to make us stand in a crowd of several thousand people,” Xander said as beads of sweat rolled down his face. His shirt, half-unbuttoned and with rolled-up sleeves, was soaked with perspiration.

He looked over at her. She didn’t respond, but instead kept her attention focused raptly in the direction of the stage. He didn’t think she could actually see it, considering how many people stood between her and it, but she stared intently all the same. He kept a hand on her arm, both to make sure they weren’t accidentally separated and to keep any First Principles goons from snatching her away.

He shifted his weight and looked around, hoping the damn thing would get started already. He scanned the crowd and something nagged at the back of his mind. He looked around again, and then gently pulled Willow with him as he squeezed through the crowd and walked around for several minutes, eyeing everyone carefully. It was as he had thought: Every single person here is white. Sunnydale’s no Philadelphia, but it’s not Finland either. And not a single wheelchair or cane or seeing-eye dog—no disabled people. No gay couples holding hands. It’s like Mayberry, only Barney Fife’s about to get up on stage.

The crowd had been chanting loudly and rhythmically but hushed instantly when Wittingstone appeared on stage, dressed as always in his dark suit and pinstriped shirt. He was momentarily dazed by the spotlights, but quickly found his way to the microphone and adjusted it. Thank the gods this is the last time, he thought, looking out over the crowd. He glanced to the side and saw that Michelle was pouting—she was slated to introduce him, but Wittingstone had decided to go it alone. It doesn’t matter anymore. No more niceties or shaking hands with strangers or having to smile as idiots jabber on. Just one more speech—a very special speech—and I can go back to being myself. 

He looked out at the audience again and began to speak.


Castillo was nude. It was what the ritual required, and although his entire body was covered with deep scars that even a vampire could never fully heal, he felt no hesitation or embarrassment. He walked, with a slight limp, around the summoning circle and carefully checked for the slightest error. This was no mere spell of communication with other planes like he had cast before—this was to be a full-scale manifestation, and the ritual had to be carried out with precise attention to detail or serious problems could result. Still, the fact that he was a relative novice at magic did not dissuade him from undertaking the dangerous ritual. He’d come too far to stop now, when what he had been waiting four years for was finally within his grasp.

When he had checked the circle and was satisfied, he paused for a moment to look out over the city. He stood on the top of Kingman’s Bluff, a place of great mystical power in Sunnydale. He had been surprised to find that the hilltop had been damaged somehow, with trees uprooted and grass overturned. It hadn’t been like that when he had scouted it several months ago, but this would not disrupt what he was going to do.

With all of the lights coming from the busy city below, he couldn’t tell where Weatherly Park lay. But he knew the crowd would be assembled and that Wittingstone would be delivering the proper speech, as instructed. It was time to begin.

The ritual was long and complex. It included recitation of several difficult incantations, but Castillo had studied them carefully and did not stumble. One portion of the ritual required the fresh hands of young men. He removed these from their jars carefully but gleefully—he had handled their collection personally, disposing of troublemakers within First Principles at the same time. He interlaced the fingers of two of the severed hands—one from each man—and continued with the ritual.

The wind picked up as he completed the summoning spell. He stood back and waited patiently. Soon the wind grew stronger and stronger. The smallest speck of white appeared in the center of the circle. It was really there, however, not a representation or a blurred image as Castillo had communicated with before.

He watched as the speck slowly, very slowly, grew larger. A thin smile showed on his face as he
contemplated the enormity of what he had done. It worked—the barrier is weakened. Once the hatred comes— and enough of it will, if Wittingstone does not fail me again—Solasheyk will be strong enough to shatter the rest of the barrier. Of course, this little box had better do as promised or the frost demon will melt as soon as he arrives.

Castillo walked over to the wooden chest. It was sitting unceremoniously on the hilltop, several yards away from the summoning circle. Except for the runes carved carefully into it, it looked like little more than a child’s toybox. He bent down to examine it one final time. The Cask of Winters. The power to unleash the very essence of cold itself, to chase away one season and replace it with another. And everyone thought it was just another Norse myth. When will they learn that every myth is a forgotten fact? Perhaps when Sunnydale in summer becomes like Moscow in winter. When everything Buffy Summers loves is buried under a dozen feet of snow and trampled on by a demon from the netherworld. When I am finally satisfied and avenged.

He cast the spell of opening he had obtained from Anya days before. It was a simple incantation, and completed in seconds. The runes of the chest began to glow a bright white in the darkness. Castillo looked back to the summoning circle. The white speck had grown larger, pulsating slowly, and was now the size of a fist. He reached down and with a steady hand flipped the lid of the chest open.

He was blown back several feet as a mystical blast of cold and ice shot streamed forth from the chest and headed towards Sunnydale.


Dawn breathed a sigh of relief as she noticed that the oppressive heat was finally starting to dissipate thanks to the cool breeze that blew through town. She picked up her pace, feeling energized in the cooler air. It was still warm—but better.

“So I still don’t get what the big deal is about this guy. Vampire? Okay. You’ve slayed like a hundred thousand of them.”

Buffy shrugged. “I’m not sure why Spike’s freaked out either. I mean, I’m surprised Castillo’s back too— usually when I throw bad guys off cliffs, they stay down. But I wouldn’t worry about it. Castillo’s a powerful vamp, but nothing really special. I don’t really even remember that much about him. I think he was smart—like maybe he stayed awake in World Lit while I napped? But I can handle him.”

“You sure?”

“Yep. This time I’ll just plunge a stake in his chest before I throw him off a cliff.”

Dawn smiled as they hurried through the streets of Sunnydale. They had left Spike to his own devices back where the tunnel had collapsed and were now planning a quick stop at home to clean up before heading to the rally.

“Well, he has to have something up his sleeve,” Dawn observed as they turned on to Revello Drive. “I mean, organizing First Principles and all that—a lot of trouble just to have groupies.”

Buffy’s reply was cut off by the shriek. She turned and readied a weapon, only to see an hysterical woman rushing towards them, tears streaming down her face.

“Isn’t that your friend?” Buffy asked.

Ex-friend. Jamie.”

Dawn stood there with arms crossed but was almost knocked to the ground as Jamie crashed into her. The larger girl wrapped her arms around Dawn and sobbed. Dawn rolled her eyes at Buffy, who shrugged slightly but looked concerned. Buffy knew what Jamie had said about Willow, but she hated to see someone in such obvious distress.

Dawn was disgusted by the feeling of  Jamie’s tears running down her neck, and pushed the girl away. She wasn’t one to forgive easily, and as Buffy well knew, she could hold a grudge.

“What do you want?” Dawn snapped.

Jamie blubbered incomprehensibly but Buffy managed to pick out a few words.

“Who’s dead?” Buffy asked, suddenly becoming alarmed.

“He—he said he didn’t need me, but that the other’s had ca—caused trouble by drawing your att atten— attention!” Jamie sobbed.

“What others? Where?” Buffy demanded.

She pointed feebly towards a side street.

“We’re just a few blocks from the house,” Buffy said, looking at her sister. “Take her home and get her cleaned up. Call her mother maybe. I’ll check this out.”

“I don’t want to take her home--you know what she said about Willow and Tara. I hate her!”

“First Principles is messing with people’s minds, Dawn. Like it did yours. She probably didn’t really think all that stuff, but right now I don’t care. We can’t just leave her wandering around at night.”

Buffy strode quickly down the street, her senses alert and ready for action. It took several minutes for her to find what Jamie had spoken about. Two crumpled forms were on the ground in a narrow alleyway behind a row of houses. Buffy knew corpses when she saw them, and these two were definitely dead. She walked over to get a better look--it was difficult to make out details in the darkness. She checked their necks first and found the twin puncture marks she had expected. This one looks like that guy Dawn liked—Timothy. Not sure about the other one. She crouched down closer and then looked around. What happened to their hands?


“This is all about the whole Spike thing, isn’t it?” Anya asked indignantly. “So Xander sends the first pretty girl he can get his hands on to come here and show off that he’s found someone too. Well frankly, I don’t care. I’m over him, and I just don’t care.”

Anya held her chin high but couldn’t help noticing how pretty this girl really was. She regretted the fact that it had come to this, but she put a hand to the door and prepared to slam it in the girl’s face.

“Listen!” Amara said, jamming a foot into the doorway. “I’m not dating Xander. I swear. But I can’t seem to find him and I’ve been trying to tell him he’s in danger.”

“Danger?” Anya opened the door slightly.

“Yes. This guy I used to work for—Castillo—is back in town. He’s planning on unleashing this big winter demon thingie. But first he has to get enough people in town mad enough, because that’s where the demon gets its power. But as long as it has a human to channel through, the demon can use its power to influence people—getthem to hate each other, and make itself stronger.”

“Listen lady, I know demons okay? I am one. And this all sounds—“ Very possible actually. I remember being told the stories as a child. “Solasheyk the Frost Demon, also known as the Winter Wraith and the Norse Scourge?”

“I don’t know,” Amara replied impatiently. “But once Castillo makes it cool enough for it to fully manifest, and I’m sure he’s figured out a way, Sunnydale’s going to be flattened by the worst blizzards it has ever seen!”

“I don’t think Sunnydale has ever seen any blizzards,” Anya replied. “Though I’m not sure.”

Amara shook her head in frustration. “Just tell Xander, okay? I’m leaving, and I won’t be coming back. Just let him know.”

“Why do you care so much,” Anya asked, narrowing her eyes.

“He’s a sweet kid,” she answered simply. “He made me laugh once, a long time ago. I owe him one. That’s all.”


Xander slipped the earplugs in just as Wittingstone began to speak. He had purchased an ample supply of them for construction work, but he had never been so grateful for them as he was now. Although he couldn’t hear what the speech was about, he didn’t see any reason to end up like Dawn or Willow, and prepared accordingly.

Willow and every single other person in the audience was listening carefully, however. No one was chatting away in the audience or thinking about what they were missing on television. They were all focused on Wittingstone, registering every word he spoke.

“One way or another, this is the last meeting of First Principles,” he announced, gathering their attention immediately. “Tonight will see either our greatest victory or the realization that it is too late for First Principles to triumph.” He paused momentarily while several in the audience shouted out “Greatest Victory!” “My friends—no, my community, we are on the cusp of something special tonight. We have a chance—or should I say it is our destiny—to make Sunnydale a First Principles community through-and-through.”

The crowd cheered wildly as Wittingstone worked to remember the next portion of the speech. He knew that Mr. Castillo would not be forgiving if he were to fail. Not that that’s likely, he thought. Nothing in the world exists for them now but me.

“Yes,” he continued. “The time for waiting, for talking, for contemplating is over. We’ve talked before about the importance of being proactive. Well tonight, ladies and gentlemen, I want each and every one of you to be proactive. In fact, I want you to consider yourself as soldiers, fighting a war to protect your community from those outsiders who even now surround our homes and threaten our way of life.” Wittingstone stopped briefly to allow the audience to boo and jeer “outsiders.” This lasted several minutes, and he could tell the crowd was becoming angrier and angrier.

Xander noticed this as well, and started edging Willow towards the edge of the crowd. He was surprised to see that she didn’t carry the same expression as the others, however. She just looked . . . defeated. He saw her lips move and realized she was trying to speak to him. He removed the ear plugs and put them in his shirt pocket.

“I said I’m tired. I’m ready to go home. It’s getting chilly. Why did you bring me here?” They were the first words Willow had spoken since they had left Xander’s house.

He looked at her carefully, confusion evident on his face. “I’ll get you out of here,” he shouted, unsure of whether her sudden change of heart was a good thing or a bad thing.

Wittingstone continued on as Xander and Willow pushed through the crowd. “Yes, warriors,” Wittingstone said. He noticed the breeze and knew Castillo had actually gone through with it. “Warriors are who you are. And the war is going on right now, between community and loneliness, between tradition and experimentation, between morality and degeneration. There is a war going on, right now, between First Principles and outsiders. These outsiders are dangerous—they don’t share what makes our community great. They envy us. And given a chance, they will tear us down. But there’s still time to win this war—if each of you begin to fight it right now!”

The crowd reacted to Wittingstone’s last words as if a bomb had gone off. They cursed “outsiders” at the top of their lungs and started reaching for anything that could double as a weapon—folding chairs, tree limbs, baseball bats. Seconds later the enraged crowd surged en masse towards the street. Wittingstone left the stage quickly and motioned for his driver. “Bring the car around. I’m finished here. We’ll wait things out in Los Angeles. Be quick about it!”

“Why aren’t we moving?” Willow asked. Xander held her close to him as they stood with their backs up against a tree. The crowd flowed around them, holding weapons aloft and scanning for “outsiders” everywhere.

“I’ve got two answers for that, Will. The first is that I’m glad you’re back to normal—at least considering everything that’s happened—and I want to make sure you’re okay. The second—well the second is that I think this crowd is going to riot, and I don’t want to be on the streets of Sunnydale when it starts. Anyone who’s not a believer in First Principles is going to be in trouble.”

“Where’s Buffy?” Willow asked dreamily. She rested her head on Xander’s shoulder.

“Somewhere on the streets of Sunnydale,” he replied.

Next Chapter

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Foolkiller (Ltd. 1990) [COMICS]

When I first got really big into comics, around 1986, the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe Book of the Dead issues were just coming out and I remember poring over each 64-page issue learning about all of the (usually violently) deceased characters in the Marvel Universe.  Reading and re-reading those issues gave me a warped introduction to the history of the MU, and a strange sense of appreciation and even false nostalgia for a lot of its forgotten little corners.  One of the characters I first came across in the Book of the Dead was a 1970s character, the Foolkiller.

There's truth in advertising with the Foolkiller: he kills people who are fools (or at least, people he thinks are fools).  Three people have worn the Foolkiller costume, and their definitions of fools have varied dramatically, creating room for the character to be seen as a deranged serial killer or a Punisher-like vigilante.  The first Foolkiller, Ross Everbest, was a religious zealot who "purified" those in the late 60s/early 70s counterculture; he only appeared in a couple of issues before getting killed.  The second Foolkiller, Greg Salinger, considered fools to be those who embraced crass commercialism, among other things.  After killing one supervillain and tussling with heroes on a few different occasions, Salinger was caught and sent to a prison for the criminally insane.  The 1990 Foolkiller limited series (10 parts) picks up a few years from this point and soon introduces the third, Kurt Gerhardt.

Issue # 1 opens with Greg Salinger in prison during a session with his psychologist.  Canny enough to tell the shrink what he wants to hear, Salinger gets permission to write letters to the outside.  He sends his very particular views to newspapers and talk shows for months until a right-wing t.v. talk show host named Moody (who's very much a G. Gordon Liddy type) responds and invites him on the show.  Meanwhile, a white collar type named Kurt Gerhardt alternates between bouts of anger and depression; his father was killed during a mugging, his wife leaves him after he loses his job and can't find work for months, and so forth.  He eventually hits a new low when the only job he can find is working at the Burger Shack, and when robbers come to hold up the place, Kurt tries to intervene to impress a friendly coworker (Linda Klein) and gets knocked out.  While he's at home recuperating from his injuries, he tunes in to the Moody show and sees Salinger ready to debut as a guest.  The first issue features no costumes and no fool-killing, but it works well at setting the stage for what follows in the rest of the series.  My favourite part though, is that awesome cover.

In Issue # 2, Moody's talk show features a retrospective on the Foolkiller persona: how the first Foolkiller, Ross Everbest, was a religious zealot soon killed by the Man-Thing, while the second Foolkiller (and present guest) Greg Salinger was quite different, a "poetic critic" of hedonism and all-encompassing capitalism.  "The fools got the world they wanted," Salinger says when he appears on the show.  After watching it, Gerhardt writes to Salinger in prison, and they begin to exchange letters.  Knowing that his letters could be monitored by his shrink, Salinger tricks the shrink into allowing him to use a prison computer to "keep a therapeutic diary" when what he's actually done is set up an online bulletin board in order to converse with Gerhardt through pseudonyms.  After months of correspondence, Salinger directs Gerhardt to a warehouse.  A woman named Merle Singer, part of her face thoroughly scarred, is waiting and gives Gerhardt a box.  Inside, of course, is the Foolkiller costume and disintegrating gun.  In a rather cliched scene, Kurt stumbles upon a robbery outside and uses the gun for the first time.  This issue is a good example of the series as a whole insofar as the interior artwork verges on the poor to mediocre line, but the scripts and overall plot is really good.  One thing the series misses is a good letter's page where the interesting themes raised by the series could be discussed (the letters' page for The Question, for example, were a hotbed of philosophical debate).

Issue # 3 shows the aftermath of Gerhardt's first killing--he's sickened by what he's done, but also a little bit thrilled by finally having fought back.  Gerhardt ends up donning the costume for the first time and hits the streets, disintegrating a random drug dealer, an attempted rapist, and a would-be robber on a subway in a scene that must have been intentionally reminiscent of the Bernhard Goetz affair.  Later, after witnessing a murder, Gerhardt trails a drug boss back to his penthouse suite and tries to kill him, only to have a bodyguard throw him out a window!

Badly hurt, Gerhardt manages to escape the drug dealers and call Merle for help in Issue # 4.  As she patches him up, she says she did the same thing for Salinger many times--he helped her deal with the old boyfriend who used sulfuric acid to scar her face.  Later, back at his apartment, Gerhardt slowly recovers from his injuries.  His coworker from the Burger Shack, Linda, shows up for brunch and brings him some cash so he can pay his electric bill.  She offers to teach him self-defense, and although Kurt has doubts about whether he should remain the Foolkiller, he goes through three rigorous months of a self-directed regimen of strength training, pain endurance, and so forth.  The issue ends with him tracking down a gang in Central Park that's been attacking cyclists; it sees the debut of his new costume--an open-neck leather shirt with a funky gold medallion and an S&M style leather mask!  Suffice it to say, I far prefer the classic costume.

"Brutal" and "over the top" are good ways to describe the opening scenes of Issue # 5 as Gerhardt kills the Central Park gang.  There's eyeball-popping (literally) disintegrations, a thug getting cut in half by the purification gun, etc.  If you don't mind a bit of gore, it's entertaining.  The appearance of the new Foolkiller in public creates a media sensation; the drug lord who had Gerhardt thrown out the window in Issue # 3 appears (his name is Backhand) speaking to the true drug kingpin in the city: Emilio Mendosa, a white-collar type.  Gerhardt sends Backhand a warning that he's coming for him, and in the meantime kills an HIV+ prostitute who wouldn't stay off the streets and then an abusive husband/dog murderer.  This issue is far more in the vigilante justice vein, with lots of ultra-violence and little reflection.  Much like the Punisher, you sometimes start rooting for him despite your better judgement.

Issue # 6 sees Gerhardt celebrating the fact that he's found a new job working for a credit reporting agency.  Things are starting to turn around for him, and his relationship with Linda is part of that.  He still corresponds with Salinger but starts settling into his new life when petty irritations start to mount; there are annoying co-workers at his new job, rude people on the streets, and so forth.  Gerhardt dons the costume and storms a crackhouse belonging to Backhand, disintegrating several addicts and (accidentally) Backhand's young son!  It's a well-written issue that I think plays into the "Angry White Male" narrative that was often circulating in the 1990s (Michael Douglas in Falling Down is a good example): the idea that society has become so alienating and grating that it wears a man down to the point where he has no choice but to give up or fight back.

In Issue # 7, Gerhardt realizes that his actions have consequences: he's tormented by having murdered a child.  He can't eat, he can't sleep, and verges on having a full mental breakdown.  He hits the streets again and interrupts a pimp beating a sex worker; when the woman defends her abuser, Gerhardt kills them both!  He resolves to look beyond the obvious fools and target the root of the problem: those in power.  It's pretty good, thought-provoking stuff.

Because you demanded it!  The obligatory Spider-Man appearance takes place in Issue # 8, which is shocking because normally he appears in Issue # 3 of a new series.  Even writer Steve Gerber must have just been humouring his bosses, because apart from a prominent position on the cover, Spider-Man only cameos in the book and doesn't even meet Foolkiller.  The issue begins with protests in D.C. over the Gulf War; when the protests turn violent, Peter Parker starts taking photographs.  Gerhardt, in his Foolkiller guise, starts zapping away, but by the time Parker can change into his costume, he's too late and Gerhardt has escaped.  Gerhardt uses his job at the credit agency to investigate Darren Waite, a developer who's been having tenants evicted to make way for yet another high-rise office tower.  While waiting for a chance to strike at Waite, Gerhardt murders a right-wing pro-war t.v. hack (a different one than Moody) and then lefty protesting war toys and action figures!  The issue finishes with Gerhardt offing a flag vendor who wouldn't give a mom a discount to buy a flag for her son.  Jeepers!

Issue # 9 ramps up the drama.  While surveilling one of Waite's properties, Gerhardt spots Backhand (who works with one of Waite's associates) and goes after him.  Backhand escapes, however, and Waite is alerted to the fact that the Foolkiller is coming after him.  He offers his minions $ 250,000 for the Foolkiller's head.  Nonetheless, Gerhardt still plans to take Waite down, knowing it'll be a suicide mission.  He sends a last message to Salinger and goes undercover as one of Waite's employees.  His chance comes and he assassinates Waite during a gun battle on a helicopter!  Somehow, Gerhardt survives the fall to a nearby rooftop.

A great opening scene in the series finale, Issue # 10.  For three weeks after the events in Issue # 9, right-wing talk show host Runyon Moody has been "killing" Foolkiller doubles and chastising the major for failing to apprehend Darren Waite's killer.  But when one of the doubles doesn't fall down when shot with a blank by Moody, Moody has just instants to realize the real one's in front of him!  Meanwhile, in prison, Salinger is ecstatic about how well his protege is operating, but his therapist discovers his trick with the model and bulletin board and is able to link Gerhardt with the Foolkiller.  Police start trying to find Gerhardt, who manages to avoid arrest while murdering some other fools and planning one last mission: he wants to go after Backhand and his boss, Emilio Mendosa.  Although Backhand (a pretty generic bad guy) escapes, Gerhardt has a fitting end in mind for Mendosa; he forces the man to dress up in the Foolkiller costume and run out the front door of a building surrounded by police; the cops, of course, shoot to kill.  Gerhardt reaches Merle's warehouse and has her splash acid on his face to conceal his identity and, when recovers, gets plastic surgery to have a whole new face.  It's a clever ending that leaves room for more while still offering a satisfying conclusion.

Foolkiller must be (seemingly) the only comic book series ever not collected into a trade paperback, and it's worth tracking down.  It has a good, suspenseful story, raises some interesting issues to think about, and provides a very different take on the classic vigilante idea.