Author Topic: EP154: Union Dues - Freedom With a Small f  (Read 54919 times)

Russell Nash

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on: April 18, 2008, 06:38:18 PM
EP154: Union Dues - Freedom With a Small f

By Jeffrey R. DeRego.
Read by Nuri (of CandyCorn Studios and Artist Alley).
Closing Music: “Juzt Mizunderztood” by Norm Sherman.

My head throbs. I think about the mess in the fridge, the heaps of crap in the flat while I force the clumps of wet clothes into the dryers.

As far as I know I am the only Union member who works outside the system, the only one tasked specifically with fighting crime, secretly, of course. Darksider put the program together with one of the Luminaries as a way to explore expanding our role in the maintenance of Normal society. He chose me specifically because I am the only super-agile who is also an orphan. Therefore, I won’t be tempted to throw my costume in a dumpster and make a break for mom and dad.

Communication with the Union ended seven months ago. Darksider was supposed to make sure that a stipend was deposited into a bank account under my phony name every month. But that stopped too. I don’t know why. I tried everything to make contact short of walking up to the Boston Pyramid and knocking. Not that it would have done any good since none of the regular Union knows I even exist.


Rated R. Contains sordid occupations, drug use, and violence. Welcome to the city.


Referenced Sites:
The Union Dues Series
Tales of the Zombie War
SciFiDig interview with Jeffrey DeRego
The DrabbleCast



Listen to this week’s Escape Pod!



Listener

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Reply #1 on: April 18, 2008, 06:47:14 PM
I've not listened to the story yet, but I just want to reference this post from the EP153 thread...

http://forum.escapeartists.info/index.php?topic=1501.msg24347#msg24347

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Mr. Tweedy

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Reply #2 on: April 18, 2008, 06:52:05 PM
Jeffrey,

Do you want me to hate the Union?  Because I do.

In the previous stories the Union has been an organization devoted to the preservation of liberty, justice and peace.  Perfect?  Hardly.  Many of the Union's policies seem to be necessary evils, and some of its actions have been disastrous mistakes, but up to this point the mistakes have been honest and the intentions pure.  The Union has struggled to do good in an evil world, and done a less-than-horrible job of it, all things considered.

But the Union here is completely different.  There were two sets of villains in this story.  The first were the various male slime inhabiting the city.  They're scum, but they're just scum: The take what they want and don't mind using people as stairs on the way to it.  The second, the Union, is far more sinister.  The Union is deliberate and calculating in its evil, selecting a victim specifically for her vulnerability and deliberately subjecting her to isolation, privation, and horrific personal degradation.  They take her freedom, her dignity, her identity and any happiness she might have had, and they do it for what is (at best) an experiment of dubious value.  They do this without a hint of shame (to the contrary, they're please with themselves).  They're going to keep on doing it.  They will do it to others.

If this is how the Union operates, then we listeners are really going to have to tax our imaginations to think of anything worse than themselves for them to combat.  Maybe that was the point.  Maybe this is supposed to be a cautionary tale about what happens when people with good intentions become too zealous.

In any case, this fact remains: I hate the Union.  Consequently, my interest in stories about the Union has decreased from "lots" to "none."  Unless the next story is about the Union itself being either reformed or destroyed, I can't say I have any interest in hearing it.

P.S. This story totally bummed me out.  Anything that can make me feel this crappy must be effective writing.

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Darwinist

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Reply #3 on: April 18, 2008, 06:57:24 PM
Nice call by Listener!

After I listened to the last Union Dues story (All That We Leave Behind) I commented that these stories weren't my thing but that I had enjoyed that story.   I feel the same way about this one - so maybe they are my thing.  I really liked this story, it was dark and it held my attention the entire time.  Nicely done. 

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


ChloeH

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Reply #4 on: April 18, 2008, 07:19:36 PM
I gotta say that getting sent to the Village sounds better than the life she is currently living. At least there you get regular meals and you know that you are nobody's pawn.



Heradel

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Reply #5 on: April 18, 2008, 07:34:14 PM
Jeffrey,
Do you want me to hate the Union?  Because I do.
In the previous stories the Union has been an organization devoted to the preservation of liberty, justice and peace.  Perfect?  Hardly.  Many of the Union's policies seem to be necessary evils, and some of its actions have been disastrous mistakes, but up to this point the mistakes have been honest and the intentions pure.  The Union has struggled to do good in an evil world, and done a less-than-horrible job of it, all things considered.
<snip>

I'm on the opposite side, I never liked the Union as an organization, and I've never gotten the sense that we were supposed to. Individuals in the union yes, but it seems to me that this unionization of superheros has the main effect of stunting their abilities and morality. I've always triangulated this super-world as a X-Men world where the government (or the recent Civil War arc in DC) won and enslaved the mutants/heros. Also, this didn't seem an official Union action, it was just a few of the top guys experimenting without letting anyone know.

I really liked the story, it's a nice illustration of someone in the Union trying to do some good and being punished for it. I'm also feeling that a rebellion is being set up, if feels dystopian enough that there needs to be a righting of the world, but not so dystopian that I get the sense that the world can't right itself. Maybe the Team Shikaragaki arc will start dealing with that, since it seems like with more persistent characters you'd have a better chance at rebellion rather than the bunch of discrete slices of life we've been getting.


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Reply #6 on: April 18, 2008, 07:49:13 PM
i am a long time escape pod fan and in general i think ya'll do a FABULOUS job.
i dread union dues stories.
everytime one of them runs, i have to listen to the hype about how everyone loves them.
and i just want to cast my vote too. i hate them. if i weren't so desperate for a story to make my busywork go faster i would just skip them all together.
it has nothing to do with how well they are written, or that they are superhero stories or that they are depressing. it has everything to do that i learn nothing from them.
it has everything to do with the characters not really being likeable to me. it has everything to do with WHY they are depressing. these stories seem to be to be universally about people being horrible to other people who can't do anything about it. they have set up an organization that was once based on ideals, but has fallen to a place where it really doesn't even pretend to be doing any good anymore. i read/listen to stories in order to escape. and these stories are about exactly what i am trying to escape from. i can look around me any time and see miserable unlikable people being cruel and hypocritical to one another. why would i want to read a story about it unless it was going to teach me something. i loved the bright red star even though people did bad things to each other because it gave me a cool idea to think about, the characters were sympathetic, because there was some greater cause .... these stories bring a spot of dull, drab sorrow into my life without paying for it by offering me a cool idea to think about it, without introducing me to a compelling character and without pointing to any way out or higher cause to justify any of it... it isn't just that i hate the union. it's that none of the people in the union have anything to make them interesting. they are superheros who still manage to be failures because they fail to stand up to the system. they fail to save anyone who needs it, they get bogged down with beaurocracy or coked up on drugs...and that's just boring to me unless i can personally fix them. i know people love these stories although i can' t understand why, and i don't expect them to go away...but please don't assume those who rave about them speak for all of us.



jrderego

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Reply #7 on: April 18, 2008, 07:51:13 PM
Jeffrey,
Do you want me to hate the Union?  Because I do.
In the previous stories the Union has been an organization devoted to the preservation of liberty, justice and peace.  Perfect?  Hardly.  Many of the Union's policies seem to be necessary evils, and some of its actions have been disastrous mistakes, but up to this point the mistakes have been honest and the intentions pure.  The Union has struggled to do good in an evil world, and done a less-than-horrible job of it, all things considered.
<snip>

I'm on the opposite side, I never liked the Union as an organization, and I've never gotten the sense that we were supposed to. Individuals in the union yes, but it seems to me that this unionization of superheros has the main effect of stunting their abilities and morality. I've always triangulated this super-world as a X-Men world where the government (or the recent Civil War arc in DC) won and enslaved the mutants/heros. Also, this didn't seem an official Union action, it was just a few of the top guys experimenting without letting anyone know.

I really liked the story, it's a nice illustration of someone in the Union trying to do some good and being punished for it. I'm also feeling that a rebellion is being set up, if feels dystopian enough that there needs to be a righting of the world, but not so dystopian that I get the sense that the world can't right itself. Maybe the Team Shikaragaki arc will start dealing with that, since it seems like with more persistent characters you'd have a better chance at rebellion rather than the bunch of discrete slices of life we've been getting.


I'm glad you got the Team Shikaragaki tie in, or to use comic book terminology "EXCITING INTRODUCTION TO THE UNION'S EXCITING NEW HEROES!!!" :)

And yes, Crimson Nightshade was an experiment by Alex Nova and Darksider, no one else knows who Crimson Nightshade is or was, but you got a glimpse of her successors in the hospital. The Team Shikaragaki stories are much more in dealing with the personal problems of the team rather than the world as a whole. But that doesn't mean the Union isn't part of each story, there is an arc in them but you'll have to listen much more closely for it.

And for Mr. Tweedy and the others who hate the Union based on this story.... Haven't you listened to Off-White Lies? Alex Nova set up a whole bunch of Supers for execution in that one! As for standing for liberty, justice, and peace, nowhere in any of the stories has the Union stated that. They are a brand image, or as Megaton says in All That We Leave Behind, "We deal in disaster friend, and brand loyalty" or as Kinetic Girl says in The Baby and the Bathwater "The brochures don't show how we didn't put out the fire, and didn't rescue the family" or in Iron Bars and the Glass Jaw where Megaton can't say he's ever stopped a petty crime, because he hasn't...




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Mr. Tweedy

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Reply #8 on: April 18, 2008, 08:10:14 PM
I never liked the Union, and I'm pretty sure we're not supposed to.  What I did have was some respect.  Yeah, it's heartless and controlling and does mean stuff sometimes, but it always seemed like it was really trying to do what was best for everyone.  It controlled the super-powered because its founders honestly thought that was necessary to protect both them and the normals.  It was trying to pull as much good as possible from a very dangerous and complicated situation, sometimes screwing up but generally achieving that goal.  The Union was like an overbearing father who, despite his suffocating rules and lack of sensitivity, really does love his kids.

But it seems obvious now that the father really doesn't give a shit about his kids.

Down with the Union!

Okay, I basically said the same thing twice now.   :P  Signing out.


Added:
Quote
Haven't you listened to Off-White Lies? Alex Nova set up a whole bunch of Supers for execution in that one!

Oh?  I didn't get that.  I thought that those killings were a result of Ultra Magnus (right name?) snapping under stress and using more force than he was supposed to.  I was referring to that incident as a "disastrous mistake."  Listening to that story, it didn't occur to me that those supers were intended to be killed, just that things got way out of hand.

Geez...  Well, you'd better give the Union its Dues in some future story, otherwise I think I'm going to end up agreeing with eclipse.
« Last Edit: April 18, 2008, 08:22:03 PM by Mr. Tweedy »

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SFEley

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Reply #9 on: April 18, 2008, 09:10:13 PM
I've not listened to the story yet, but I just want to reference this post from the EP153 thread...
http://forum.escapeartists.info/index.php?topic=1501.msg24347#msg24347
I am apparently prescient.

Heh.  If it helps any, I had not read your comment when I scheduled this story.

As for lesser-known authors, I'm sympathetic to your viewpoint here.  But we're about to go into our Hugo run, so it's going to be at least a few more weeks.  (And you're guaranteed to get one more Resnick story in the next month, too.  He was Hugo-nominated.  My hands are tied.)  >8->


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Nobilis

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Reply #10 on: April 18, 2008, 10:03:07 PM
I'm ready now for the Union Dues story where the fecal matter strikes the air circulating device.

I don't need any more reason to want it.  In fact, I'm more than ready; I need it.  I need it like...

well...

Like a certain hyper-agile needs cocaine.



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Reply #11 on: April 18, 2008, 10:27:34 PM
Couldn't listen to this story all in one go. I was okay with the other Union Dues stories, but was never overly fond of them. I did not like this one at all. It was ... boring. The writing felt repetitive. I don't think it's absolutely necessary to keep telling the reader what EXACTLY the character is wearing. The story definitely had potential. Perhaps an editor could help out.



Whiskey and Nutmeg

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Reply #12 on: April 19, 2008, 03:36:37 AM
I love the mythic scope of the superhero genre, and a really hate to criticize Union Dues because it's an ok premise and it does have my attention. BUT, if you take out the minor superpower scene, the Union Dues  references and label you have a mediocre and cliched undercover cop story. This could have an episode of Alias.

I think Union Dues could use some super-villains. So far all we've gotten is day in the life type stories of Union members, and that was good for Golden-Silver Age type stories, but this is modern age comic style stories, which thrive on arcs. So I would like to see this come together somehow. I may not be seeing a larger picture yet, so I will reserve my final judgment on Union Dues as a whole until the stories end. I may not be seeing the forest from the trees. 
« Last Edit: April 19, 2008, 03:38:36 AM by Whiskey and Nutmeg »

a quick thought on war...
Cruelty has a human heart
Every man must play his part
Terror of the men will kill
The human heart is hungry still
Iron Maiden, Paschendale


Whiskey and Nutmeg

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Reply #13 on: April 19, 2008, 03:49:02 AM
Couldn't listen to this story all in one go. I was okay with the other Union Dues stories, but was never overly fond of them. I did not like this one at all. It was ... boring. The writing felt repetitive. I don't think it's absolutely necessary to keep telling the reader what EXACTLY the character is wearing. The story definitely had potential. Perhaps an editor could help out.
I thought the constant references to what she was wearing worked for the story. She WAS a stripper, her job as such was to play into the virgin/whore fantasy. The stripper character also works as it illustrates her transformation of from virtue to vice on the mission, just like a real stripper goes from wearing a virtuous uniform at the beginning of her (or his) dance to sexual nudity. The author was right to go on about the clothing, stripping is as much about what is worn as it about what is not worn.
« Last Edit: April 19, 2008, 03:56:30 AM by Whiskey and Nutmeg »

a quick thought on war...
Cruelty has a human heart
Every man must play his part
Terror of the men will kill
The human heart is hungry still
Iron Maiden, Paschendale


Thaurismunths

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Reply #14 on: April 19, 2008, 05:21:35 PM
Wow... this story sucked.

Just Kidding!

By far, above and beyond, your best story yet St. DeRego!
« Last Edit: April 19, 2008, 05:30:14 PM by Thaurismunths »

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CGFxColONeill

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Reply #15 on: April 19, 2008, 06:13:14 PM
ya this story pretty much sucked.  I have only listened to a few of the UD stories but this does not make me want to put the time in for any more
But we're about to go into our Hugo run, so it's going to be at least a few more weeks. 
SWEET!!!!!! The Hugo run always has a few good stories
the last 5 or so stories pretty much sucked... what is with all the social SF stories? what is this like 5 in the past few weeks?
Borderlands
behind the rules
The big guy ( sure robotic sports players but still more about the social ramifications than anything else)
Schwartz
Freedom
(this is probably a thread derailing argument about where the line is between social and "real" SF)
so ya all in all I will be looking forward to the Hugo stories for some non social SF)

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eytanz

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Reply #16 on: April 19, 2008, 07:14:18 PM
Let me add my voice to the "enough already with Union Dues stories" crowd? I know they have a large fanbase, so even though I don't really enjoy them (and the more I hear them, the less I enjoy them) I haven't been complaining, but that was when they were coming once every six months or so. Having two in six weeks is far too often.



Thaurismunths

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Reply #17 on: April 19, 2008, 09:05:55 PM
I have to admit, I'm really shocked by the negative response this story is getting.

i dread union dues stories.
...it has everything to do that i learn nothing from them.
In any case, this fact remains: I hate the Union.  Consequently, my interest in stories about the Union has decreased from "lots" to "none."
I wonder if there's something going on stylistically and JR is being too subtle, or if it's a fault of the medium? In every story we learn quite a bit about the Union, but none of it is spoon fed to us and each story doesn't cover a single aspect of the Union's history, there are snippets and bits in each story that the audience has to put together. Why I say "fault of the medium" is that these stories might need more attention than is being given to them, they ask more from the listener than something as digestible as Conversations With and About My Electric Toothbrush. If you're listening to UD while trying to do something else, like work, you might be grazing over the frequent casual statements that have big implications.

I think Union Dues could use some super-villains.
Actually, I think The Union are the super-villains.

How do you fight a bully that can un-make history?


eytanz

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Reply #18 on: April 19, 2008, 10:22:18 PM
I wonder if there's something going on stylistically and JR is being too subtle, or if it's a fault of the medium?

It's neither, at least as far as I am concerned.

I agree that every story we learn quite a bit about the union. But what we learn - at least in the four UD stories I've listened to, but by others reactions I believe this generalizes - is a message of hopelessness, despair, and general unpleasantness. Union Dues is basically 1984 with superheroes.

Now, there is a place and time for bleakness, and (as in the case of 1984) it can be great literature. But it's not enjoyable, in any sense of the word, at least not to me. EP's original mission statement included the word "fun". Now, there are quite a few stories that are dark, and maybe not as much fun as some other stories, but at least they are varied. UD serves the same serving of misery, over and over. Yeah, the details and circumstances are different. We learn more of the world. There's a mythos being built here, characters re-occur, and things happen. But there is no progress. No prospect of change, and, judging by jrderego's responses in this and other UD threads, no immediate intention for the tone to change in any way. Just the boot stepping over humanity and superhumanity's faces forever.

Count me out.



Windup

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Reply #19 on: April 19, 2008, 10:33:30 PM

I finally put my finger on what this last story reminds me of: John LeCarre's approach to spies in his novels. In both cases, we see a lot of the seamy underside of a supposedly glamorous profession, and the characters are often pawns in a larger institutional game.

By the way, did I miss something, or did we ever find our why the character's stipend was cut off?  Was that part of the "experiment" (seeing if the "hothouse flowers" of the Union could survive unsupported on the outside?) or was it a random event?

Also, am I the only person slightly freaked out by the notion of a Super Hero with a drug habit?  Regular people can be pretty dangerous when drunk or stoned -- imagine a super-strong as belligerent drunk.  Perhaps a new offense: "Invoking super-powers while under the influence."

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JoeFitz

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Reply #20 on: April 20, 2008, 02:53:35 AM
I do usually enjoy the UD series, but this was my least favourite so far. I did like the idea of a group within the Union with even worse motive than brand loyalty. But I did not appreciate at all that the main character is an orphan who is abandoned by the Union and becomes a stripper/superhero and does drugs as a sort of sleeper agent so save a baby. Nor did I think the idea of labour negotiations including kidnapping an infant was anything but over-the-top.

That being said, I'll still look forward to the next one.




Tango Alpha Delta

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Reply #21 on: April 20, 2008, 04:57:23 AM
I don't see myself as being in either the "over-the-top love them" camp or the "hate them" camp, but I do appreciate the Union Dues stories.  If they ever make an Astro City TV series, I think Jeff ought to be on the writing staff.

It seems odd to me to hear people just now figuring out that a) the Union is *supposed* to be seen as a deeply flawed, possibly evil organization, and that b) there is a deeper, more evil force within it, working toward some kind of nefarious goal.  From the start, the stories have clearly been outlining this larger structure, and Jeff even outlined it in another thread, which you super-fans ought to have found on your own, already.

By the way, did I miss something, or did we ever find our why the character's stipend was cut off?  Was that part of the "experiment" (seeing if the "hothouse flowers" of the Union could survive unsupported on the outside?) or was it a random event?

This puzzled me, too... I was changing freeways when Crimson was in the limo with Nova, and I'd like to know if anyone caught a line I missed at that point in the story that would shed some light.  (It also seems I've missed one or two of the older stories somehow...must investigate.)

Also, am I the only person slightly freaked out by the notion of a Super Hero with a drug habit?  Regular people can be pretty dangerous when drunk or stoned -- imagine a super-strong as belligerent drunk.  Perhaps a new offense: "Invoking super-powers while under the influence."

There were two guys in the bar of a restaurant on the top floor of a Chicago skyscraper, having drinks and B.S.ing each other.  The one guy was saying that the winds coming off the lake created an updraft so strong that if someone were to jump off the balcony, the updraft would just bring him right back up.  The second guy said the first was full of crap (and booze), so the braggart stomped over to the balcony, and threw himself off!

And, what do you know, he fell about 10 stories before floating right back up!  He grabbed the rail, and swung back onto solid ground, and gave his companion a smug look.  The second guy was so impressed, he just had to try it himself, and leapt over... only to plunge to his death.

As he strolled back out past the bar, the barman said to him, "You're the meanest drunk ever, Superman."

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Whiskey and Nutmeg

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Reply #22 on: April 20, 2008, 05:56:12 AM


Also, am I the only person slightly freaked out by the notion of a Super Hero with a drug habit?  Regular people can be pretty dangerous when drunk or stoned -- imagine a super-strong as belligerent drunk.  Perhaps a new offense: "Invoking super-powers while under the influence."

'Hero with a habit' goes back to the early 70s with Green Arrow's sidekick Speedy portrayed as a junkie. (Green Lantern #85-86 Sept/Nov 71)There was a Spider-man story that dealt with drugs, but it was a supporting cast member. (Amazing Spider-man #96-97 May/Jun 71)

This doesn't take into account previous substance users such as Hourman, whose use of the drug Miraclo was not shown as debilitating or addicting until late into the bronze/modern age.

Edit: I've forgotten, Iron Man has been an alcoholic for a long time.
« Last Edit: April 20, 2008, 06:58:05 PM by Whiskey and Nutmeg »

a quick thought on war...
Cruelty has a human heart
Every man must play his part
Terror of the men will kill
The human heart is hungry still
Iron Maiden, Paschendale


Heradel

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Reply #23 on: April 20, 2008, 06:20:44 AM
'Hero with a habit' goes back to the early 70s with Green Arrow's sidekick Speedy portrayed as a junkie. (Green Lantern #85-86 Sept/Nov 71)There was a Spider-man story that dealt with drugs, but it was a supporting cast member. (Amazing Spider-man #96-97 May/Jun 71)

They still play with Speedy's addiction and subsequent recovery in the current run of GA, though he hasn't relapsed (as of a few issues ago, I haven't made it down to St. Marks comics in far too long).

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deflective

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Reply #24 on: April 20, 2008, 07:32:58 AM
By the way, did I miss something, or did we ever find our why the character's stipend was cut off?  Was that part of the "experiment" (seeing if the "hothouse flowers" of the Union could survive unsupported on the outside?) or was it a random event?

i never heard it stated explicitly but it was probably intentional maneuvering on the part of Nova. within union rules he couldn't tell an agent to work undercover as a stripper or hooker but he could leave her on her own and use hypnotic suggestion to prevent her from supporting herself any other way.

union dues is bleak but i'm always left wanting to know what happens next. similar to the failed cities monologues.