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Author Topic: EP185: Union Dues - All About the Sponsors  (Read 17375 times)

Russell Nash

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on: January 02, 2009, 10:07:56 AM
EP185: Union Dues - All About the Sponsors

By Jeffrey R. DeRego.
Read by Stephen Eley.

Sponsored by CONTAGIOUS, by Scott Sigler.

I suck in my chest and tighten the buckles before getting lightheaded. I don’t have to wear the costume anymore, but it seems disrespectful to leave it in the closet for this one last mission. I get the boots on and struggle with the leather straps and silver buckles until my fingers feel like they’re ready to fall off. I surrender and creak back up to standing position. “Ok screw the boot buckles, Jim,” I whisper. “This is it.”

I glance at the open briefcase laid across the corner of my desk but I’ve got everything I need. I pick up the silver frame with the little black and white photo of me, Frida, Alex, Paul, and Steve in our original Liberty League getup. Frida Freedom called me four hours ago. Her voice broke when she said the words, “Alex is dead.” I drop the frame into the case atop a weathered manila folder then close the whole thing up before hobbling out towards the waiting jet.


Rated PG. Contains some profanity, some violence, and strong rhetoric.




Listen to this week’s Escape Pod!



Void Munashii

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Reply #1 on: January 02, 2009, 03:55:47 PM
  The first EP of the new year, and it's a "Union Dues" story? Wonderful. I really enjoyed finally learning the origin of The Union. I clearly saw the story in two distinct art styles in my head; all of the 1956 stuff done in a brightly coloured Silver Age style, and all of the parts in 2006 done in a heavily detailed dark modern style.

  I found this story, as dark as the content really was, to not be as sad a story as many UD stories are. It was a fun way to start the new year. When is someone going to turn this into a series of graphic novels? It's better than half of the stuff Marvel and DC are churning out right now.

  RE: New Years Resolutions; I only resolve to continue working on my writing, maybe even finish Mallville.

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Hatton

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Reply #2 on: January 02, 2009, 04:16:31 PM
I really enjoyed this one!  Normally repetitive flashbacks make my head hurt but in this case it worked in a way that made a lot of sense.  I kept seeing the difference between Batman the TV Series and the Batman Beyond comic in my head.  Please don't shoot me for that - my brain goes there sometimes and I can't stop it!

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Zathras

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Reply #3 on: January 02, 2009, 04:31:10 PM
Wow!  What a way to start the New Year.  This is my second favorite UD story.  

Steve, I don't think I've heard you do a better job with a female voice.  I had no problems distinguishing any of the characters, and wasn't distracted by any of them either.

Even though I pretty much figured out what was going on at the military base raid, it didn't bother me in the least.  It does, however explain how the Union is so good at finding new recruits and why there are 5 kinds of Supers.

This was not only a solid origin, it was also a profound ending.  It really gives a new insight into Nova's manipulations.




alllie

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Reply #4 on: January 03, 2009, 10:54:42 PM
It was interesting to have the Union and Superheroes finally explained. It relieved my mind.



600south

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Reply #5 on: January 04, 2009, 06:08:12 AM
I'm still listening to the story, but I just wanted to say how great it was to hear that Daikaiju riff and Steve Ely's voice through my earphones again. Thanks, have a great new year and please keep it coming :)



JoeFitz

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Reply #6 on: January 04, 2009, 09:40:35 PM
I think I generally enjoy the Union Dues universe. This story was a solid offering. It answers many questions - and raises even more.

I'm a little ambivalent on alignment of corporate success with moral leadership, but I like how that discomfort works with the tone of the overall UD universe.

Well done.



Raving_Lunatic

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Reply #7 on: January 05, 2009, 12:29:03 PM
I think this fits nicely alongside the other Union Dues stories, and certainly explains a lot, but wasn't hugely better than the rest for me.



Listener

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Reply #8 on: January 05, 2009, 01:35:39 PM
I liked this better than most of the other UD stories I've heard.

That's all I got.

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Peter Tupper

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Reply #9 on: January 05, 2009, 05:52:50 PM
I liked the way this story was written, showing a lot of the setting's history and giving a feel for how these people operated when they worked for the Army. But the way these stories go keeps leaving a bad taste in my mouth.

Let me explain:

In Watchmen, we are told that these characters were once superheroes, and did heroic things. When we look at them as they are in the story's present -- the billionaire CEO, the depressed has-been, the street crazy, the black ops thug --, we wonder if they were ever heroic, much less "super." The few glimpses we see of them in the past further tarnish their images. However, and this is an important part of the story, the heroic ideal is still there in the minds of the characters, and takes many forms (not all of them good). Despite the devastation at the end of the story, there is still room for hope.

In Union Dues and particularly this story, we're shown, unmistakeably, that the Liberty Legion never did anything heroic. They barely even did anything useful. The Union was founded out of one part good intentions and three parts self-interest. By the present day, it has evolved/devolved into a corporate bureaucracy (and cash cow) that excludes the possibility of heroism in the people who comprise it. There's no room for heroism, just the empty trappings of silver age and bronze age superhero media.

That's why I find the Union Dues stories even more anti-heroic than the Wild Cards books (which I stopped reading a long time ago, when they became, "What crap can we do to Dr. Tachyon this time around?")

There is a potential for a heroic epic in this setting. Every Union Dues story makes me wish that this is when somebody rises up and refuses to join the Union; in other words, a heroic moment. It doesn't come, and it may never come. The question is how long I will want to read about bureaucrats and corporate shills who happen to dress up as superheroes.



Darwinist

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Reply #10 on: January 05, 2009, 08:01:21 PM
Excellent tale!  I've really enjoyed the UD stuff on CP also.  Great start to '09. 

For me, it is far better to grasp the Universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring.    -  Carl Sagan


Talia

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Reply #11 on: January 05, 2009, 10:41:29 PM
An excellent origins story. Definitely adds further depth to the universe, and the poignancy of "superheroes" aging and dying of causes just like the rest of us gives it a distinct poignancy. The cynical feel at the end really gave it an edge.

Three thumbs up.



JoeFitz

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Reply #12 on: January 06, 2009, 12:19:08 AM
There is a potential for a heroic epic in this setting. Every Union Dues story makes me wish that this is when somebody rises up and refuses to join the Union; in other words, a heroic moment. It doesn't come, and it may never come.

I think you've hit the nail on the head. For me, the UD series is an anti-hero epic (but not anti-heroic). It certainly puts "hero" in stark relief, no? I find the message uncomfortable, but it works, really. It's more grounded and, for me, satisfying. The need to believe in "heroes" is so strong that it can be exploited so that "the people" will overlook the nature of these genetically-engineered "freaks" and not "dissect" them.

I'm still not inclined to venture into the Clonepod, but I know that's just chauvinism and I figure I'll break down eventually.



Corydon

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Reply #13 on: January 06, 2009, 03:00:49 AM
In Union Dues and particularly this story, we're shown, unmistakeably, that the Liberty Legion never did anything heroic. They barely even did anything useful. The Union was founded out of one part good intentions and three parts self-interest. By the present day, it has evolved/devolved into a corporate bureaucracy (and cash cow) that excludes the possibility of heroism in the people who comprise it. There's no room for heroism, just the empty trappings of silver age and bronze age superhero media.

I really like, and mostly agree with, the thrust of your post.  Still, to be fair, I think you overstate your point.  There are several scenes where the Union engages in heroics: stopping natural disasters or a crazy behind the wheel of a truck (carrying explosives or chemicals?  I forget.)  And there's a bitter reference in this story to the Union as glorified firefighters.  So the Union are genuine heroes, even if they don't live up to their own hype.  But heroics aren't the focus of the stories, so we don't see them.

All that said, as much as I enjoyed getting an origin story for the Union, it rang a little hollow.  Alex Nova might be the world's smartest man, and way ahead of his time, but I'm not convinced that people were doing coordinated, comprehensive marketing campaigns like he proposes back in the 1950's.  I may be wrong about that- but it felt like an anachronism.



Schreiber

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Reply #14 on: January 06, 2009, 09:29:12 AM
I was worried that this story was going to follow Watchmen a little too closely, what with the superhero funeral and 1950s flashbacks.  But this was very original and satisfying.  I like that this is how the Union was started.  I like that they've been fighting for survival since day one.

Something I find interesting:  It doesn't seem like Union members ever have children.  They date one another, but so far we haven't met any offspring.  This would suggest that every time a person "manifests," it signifies the end of one of the original 2,000 subjects line of super-succession.  At least, if they're an only child.  In any event, that means that over a set number of generations -and we're talking centuries here, but still- the number of manifesting superheroes will dwindle down and eventually drop to zero.

Just saying.



gelee

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Reply #15 on: January 06, 2009, 03:06:20 PM
Great story.  I don't think the marketing idea is so far fetched.  Remember Walt Disney?



MacArthurBug

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Reply #16 on: January 06, 2009, 03:57:43 PM
I really enjoyed this story. Exellent beginnings style story. Liked the way everything was tied neatly together. Exellant!

Oh, great and mighty Alasdair, Orator Maleficent, He of the Silvered Tongue, guide this humble fangirl past jumping up and down and squeeing upon hearing the greatness of Thy voice.
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slic

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Reply #17 on: January 06, 2009, 11:03:20 PM
I find it interesting that the super powered individual has become society's new "special" person.  Before it was stories about detectives or astronauts or fighter pilots or the occasional barbarian or gun slinger.  I can't tell you why this has happened, but it clearly has - look at the latest movies Iron Man, Dark Knight, and popular tv shows like Heroes, etc.  Stories have always been about archtypes, and the Union Dues stories are just further examples of this latest trend (and believe me there are a lot more) to use super people in this way.

There was a time when superheroes were a childish niche of fiction.  Considered two dimensional characters that had straighforward almost boring stories.  Serious writers wrote books - typed actual words on to pages to read by adults.  Then some of the best creators of our time go ahold of the comic book medium and started doing some fantastic stories (for me it was the late seventies and eighties with people like Denny O'Neil, George Perez, Neal Adams, Len Wein, Curt Swan,Dick Giordano, Paul Levitz and others (note I've included writers and artists)).

Not to take anything away from Mr. DeRego's obvious skill, but it's worth noting that these concepts of "superheroes behind the scenes" have been explored already in great depth in such titles as Watchmen, Marvels, and Astro City to name a few. 

I'm glad to see others enjoying the same types of stoies I do, but if I'm being honest, I have to say I'm a little miffed too - it's like being a fan of an underground band for years or more accurately, a particular style of music(like grunge or ska) and then it becomes really, really popular.  And now you have what feels like 100's of new-commers and they put their own "mainstream" twist on it - going over territory that seems new, but isn't, and, it feels like, making it harder to find the great stuff - having to wade through more.

I know it's a good thing, but still, it feels like I lost something, a part of my identity, I guess.  I have a t-shirt with the Flash symbol on it that is older than my oldest child (my daughter is 15, the shirt is 18) - it's faded and worn in a few places.  It is actually in style now - it has the "distressed" look and everything - go figure.



Schreiber

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Reply #18 on: January 07, 2009, 05:45:44 AM
Slic, I read a short story called "The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao," by Junot Diaz when I was nineteen years old.  I loved it.  And everyone who so much as mentioned the novel of the same title to me has to sit through me explaining to them that it was a short story in the New Yorker years before it as a best-selling, Pulitzer-prize-winning novel.  For awhile anyway.  I've learned that no one really cares.

The truth is that sometimes we're lucky enough to run into good memes before they become popular memes.  But that's what it is: luck.  We're not better, more authentic people for recognizing the virtue of  a comic book, story, or theme before the rest of the public catches on.   We just stumbled into it.  Bragging about it or pretending that it proves something about ourselves is about as attractive as comparing what age we lost our virginity or what car we drove when we were in high school. 



Raving_Lunatic

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Reply #19 on: January 07, 2009, 10:09:17 PM
Agreed with the above post- that particular kind of smug satisfaction really gets up my nose. For example, I post on a whole bunch of Radiohead forums (other than sci-fi, my great obsession of late) and for every decent poster there's one guy who takes pride in following them since their first (and unsucessful) album. Doesn't make him any more of a fan.

Anyway, that's slightly off topic, so I'll talk about what else I thought about the story.

This UD deserves closer analysis than at first I gave it. The cynical part at the end gave the story bite and made me think, as the whole series has done, about the supposed immortality and invunerability of superheroes. The whole piece did this- to the normal people, the superheroes seem invulnerable, god-like, and yet we see them wither and die. The immortality is just a facade of the heroes, behind which we have something more ordinary and human than we'd care to know about. "Believe in the story, revel in it." The whole UD series can be summarised as superheroes with problems, tainted gods (cliche alert) and this in particular made me reflect on that. We, as humans, are all too ready to put people on a pedestal, hold them up as gods, when beneath the image they are no less vulnerable than we are. They just have tight costumes and super strength.



Roney

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Reply #20 on: January 08, 2009, 12:21:49 AM
Some UD stories really work for me, some really don't.  At heart they're all about how there are no easy answers and how -- worse -- of those hard answers, none of them are good.  All you can choose is the hard answer that seems least bad to you at the time and hope that you can live with the consequences.  How much I enjoy a Union Dues story is directly related to how interesting I find the question.  Fortunately, this one tackled head-on the fundamental question at the heart of the genre: how can normal people and those with extraordinary powers coexist peacefully?

It's something that every superhero story needs to tackle (and some outliers, although you could plausibly argue that the Espers of The Demolished Man or Babylon 5's Psi Corps count as supers) and we've already seen the outline of the answer that the Union provides in the previous stories.  But I was gripped by the story of the people making that decision, the circumstances that led them to it, and their perspective on it having seen the monster that the Union has become.

An excellent origin story.



DarkKnightJRK

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Reply #21 on: January 08, 2009, 01:44:40 AM
This was great--an excellent spin through the morally grey that brings up some interesting questions about the idea(l) of superheroes while not having the trappings and cliche's of GRIMDARK GRITTY like "Freedom with a Small f" was dangerously close to being at moments.



CaptNova

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Reply #22 on: January 08, 2009, 05:49:03 PM
One thing the origins story makes me look at the story as a whole.  One is the co-existance of Normals and Superheroes and will it be a peaceful one.  The other thought that comes is something like Frankenstein.  The government is Dr. Frankenstein and the supers are the monster.  Will the normals revolt with something similar to Pitch Forks and Torches or will the creation turn on it's creator.  That is what we have to see in future installments.



TristanPEJ

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Reply #23 on: January 08, 2009, 08:57:17 PM
You know I've always had mixed feelings about the Union Dues story, but this story I really liked and it might lead me to taking another look at the ones I sort of slept through.

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slic

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Reply #24 on: January 09, 2009, 01:51:54 AM
Agreed with the above post- that particular kind of smug satisfaction really gets up my nose. For example, I post on a whole bunch of Radiohead forums (other than sci-fi, my great obsession of late) and for every decent poster there's one guy who takes pride in following them since their first (and unsucessful) album. Doesn't make him any more of a fan.
I didn't mean to come off as smug or that I'm "more of a fan" - frankly I haven't enjoyed the UD stories that much.  My point was more supposed to be that there's lots of stuff out there that is awesome that most people don't know about.  I don't think of that as bragging, but knowing because I've been reading comics for nearly 30 years. In hindsight, my "miffed" comment should have been left out - it had to do with derivative works being not as good as the original more than anything, and that's not fair to the writer or people who enjoyed the stories. 
This is the last you'll hear about it from me  :-X