August 26, 2011
It was only recently that Sky City Memorial Park was the location for a special event paying tribute to The Standard, with Alex Thomas unveiling a statue in his likeness to stand next to the statue of Gilbert Graham that has long been a familiar city landmark. But a lot has happened since then. Now, Alex Thomas is dead, brutally murdered in a crime that remains unsolved. With Sky City embroiled in an atmosphere of grief and confusion, Zena Zarthos – CEO of Zarthos Industries and Alex’s friend – will be using Memorial Park to host a special tribute evening in The Standard’s memory.
“We are all still trying to process this monumental loss,” Miss Zarthos said in a statement earlier today, “It is perhaps our city’s darkest hour. But in this difficult time, we must take a lesson from Alex, and find the strength within ourselves to carry on. I have arranged this event in Memorial Park so we can all come together to remember Sky City’s favorite son. And I shall be unveiling something that I can only hope pays suitable respect to his heroic legacy.”
The twin statues in Memorial Park had been a celebration of life, of a city – and its heroes – moving forward, staying relevant, and changing with the times. But now it stands as a commemoration of a tragic death.
July 7, 2011
I’ve spent some time reporting on this blog about the search for missing girl Amy Harris. But as I’ve done some research into her disappearance, I’ve stumbled across an alarming trend. Amy is one of a surge of children declared missing in Sky City over the past several years. Of course, children go missing in every city in every country, but what makes Sky City stand out is the large spike in the statistics between 2002 and 2003, with the numbers remaining unusually high ever since. It is the story of Amy Harris that has caught the world’s imagination, but she is by no means Sky City’s only missing child.
Kyle Snyder, 7 years old, went missing in 2007, last seen playing in the street near his home.
In 2009, Tom Holland left his daughter Beth home alone for a few minutes while he ran to the store to buy some milk. When he got back, the back door was open, and she was gone.
Jamal, Raymond, Chris and Zach, all 9 years old, were a group of friends who lived in one of the poorer areas of Sky City. In 2006, all 4 went missing within a week of each other. Police assumed they had all ran away together, and the case wasn’t investigated much further.
Late last year, 4 year old Sara Braithwaite wandered out of a grocery store on Morrison Avenue when her parents were busy packing their bags at the checkout. She was never seen again.
These are just a few of many such stories. As mentioned in an earlier blog, police are not treating any of these cases as linked. If they’re not linked, why are so many children running away or being taken? And if they are linked… who is responsible?
June 6, 2011
The world was shaken today by the tragic passing of Alex Thomas. The news is still breaking, and at first there was some uncertainty over whether or not the rumors were true, but it has now been confirmed that Alex Thomas was found dead in his home this morning. Police have not yet released details of the death, but foul play is believed to be involved.
For someone so important to the world to die so young is a monumental loss. The Standard has changed so many lives and helped so many people, it already feels like there is a void, an emptiness where he used to be. Who can hope to fill it?
Of course, more news will be shared as it becomes available, but for now we all need to just try and process this unbelievable tragedy. I’m still in shock myself. If any of you wish to share your thoughts at this dark and difficult time, feel free to do so in the comments section. This blog was made to celebrate the history and legacy of The Standard. I had no idea I would be documenting that history’s darkest hour.
May 20, 2011
Back in the second week of this blog, when discussing notorious supervillain Zachary Zarthos, I briefly mentioned his daughter, Zena, and her notable work as CEO of Zarthos Industries. Today, we’re going to take a look at how this gifted, driven woman overcame the long shadow of her family history to become one of Sky City’s greatest success stories.
Zena always excelled in school, even from a young age. Interestingly enough, she credits this to the encouragement of her father, who apparently wanted her to grow up to become a better person than him. As Zena got older, she began to specialise in sciences, and went on to study at Cambridge University, where she graduated at the top of her class. But despite her academic success, upon returning to Sky City, the story goes that nobody would hire her. Due to the actions of Zachary, the Zarthos name was mud, and no one wanted their company associated with it. So it was by necessity that Zena built her own technological empire from the ground up, one which has grown into an international conglomerate that, even in this time of financial decline, continues to see ever-rising profits.
“Our business is the future,” Zena once said when asked to speculate on the reasons behind her company being seemingly recession-proof, “And no matter what the economy’s like, the future’s always going to be there.”
Indeed, many of the most innovative scientific and technological advances of recent years have come from Zarthos Industries and its subsidiaries. Through groundbreaking research, they have found cures to previously-incurable diseases. Several years ago they developed smartphones so advanced that other companies are only now playing catch-up. From advanced weaponry for the US military to microwaves and toasters, Zarthos Industries seems to be involved in everything, and as such has become the biggest employer in Sky City – the very city that once associated the Zarthos name with its greatest enemy.
But despite all of this, I believe that it took Zarthos Industries’ association with The Standard for the world to truly trust Zena. People saw a lot of symbolic power behind Alex Thomas endorsing Zena Zarthos. Their respective previous generations had been the most bitter of foes, so to have them align suggested progress, a call for unity in the name of a greater good. Together, with Zena’s resources and Alex’s name power, they have masterminded several highly ambitious charity campaigns, both at home and abroad. As Zarthos Industries became the premiere sponsor of The Standard and his various business ventures, the pair began working even closer together, to the point where some speculate if they are more than business partners. Both dismiss any such rumors as nonsense, but one can’t help but imagine… what a power pairing that would be!
From a pariah suffering for the sins of the father to the Queen of Sky City, Zena Zarthos has come a long way. Her father might have been the city’s greatest villain, but she seems determined to be remembered as one of its greatest heroes.
May 9, 2011
A couple of weeks ago on the blog, I highlighted the ongoing search for missing girl Amy Harris. It is a case that has really captured the hearts of the public, perhaps because of how invested Alex Thomas seems to have become in spearheading the search for her. Again, I wish to help find Amy in whatever small way I can, so today I’m going to go over the history of the case, and try my best to raise awareness and remind people that a child still needs our help.
One month ago, 9 year old Amy Harris went through her usual morning routine. She was woken up early by her mother, Jacqueline. The two of them had breakfast together, before Jacqueline set off early for a commute to work. Around 8:15am, neighbours saw Amy leaving her house. She then walked along her street to the house of her friend, Grace Womack. Normally, the two would walk to school together, but on this particular morning, Grace was ill. So Amy headed to school herself. She never made it there.
The walk to Amy’s school is by no means a dangerous one. Her route took her through quiet, peaceful suburbs, areas mostly populated by elderly people and families. The urban areas nearer the school were busy, open streets like Morrison Avenue. It was a walk she had taken many times with no incident. But on this occasion, for whatever reason, she never completed the journey.
“She didn’t seem out of sorts in any way,” commented Nancy Womack, Grace’s mother, at the time, “She was her usual happy self. She was such a happy girl. There’s no way she would run away.” Nancy Womack is the last person (who has come forward, at least) to have seen Amy before her disappearance.
When Jacqueline received a call from the school about Amy’s absence, it soon became apparent that she was missing. A wide-scale search by police, school officials and volunteers was quickly underway. Sky City’s media broadcast Amy’s picture everywhere, and soon it got some air-time on the national media as well. For a while, her sweet, grinning face seemed inescapable. But despite all the resources the police dedicated to the search, it was to no avail. It was like Amy Harris vanished off the face of the earth. After that first fevered week, the search for Amy slipped from the top story on the nightly news, to a lower spot, to a quick bulletin update, until one night it wasn’t mentioned at all. Police dialled back the investigating team to a couple of officers. The world moved on. But Jacqueline Harris didn’t.
This is where The Standard comes in.
A couple of weeks ago, Jacqueline Harris is said to have made a heartfelt personal appeal to Alex Thomas to help find her daughter. It remains unclear exactly why Jacqueline felt The Standard was her last hope. Was it because of his standing as the most famous man on the planet, able to get his clout behind a fading cause and get the national spotlight on it once more? Or was it because The Standard is still seen by many to be Sky City’s greatest champion, the hero people can still turn to when all hope seems lost? That’s what some have been asking, but I don’t think it’s very important. What is important is that Alex Thomas has put Amy Harris back in our hearts and minds, and reinvigorated the search to find her.
I can only hope and pray that the boost The Standard has provided helps us find her. Because if Amy isn’t found soon, even The Standard won’t be able to stop Amy from becoming just another statistic. And alarming statistic at that, as Sky City has seen a sharp rise in missing children over the past couple of years. “Yes, it’s a worrying trend,” said one representative of the Sky City Police Department in a press conference a few weeks ago, “But no, we are not viewing these cases as related. It is a tragic series of individual occurrences, and we are working hard to find a resolution to each one.”
“Someone in school said she was taken by the bogeyman,” said young Grace Womack when interviewed, “But they were just being stupid. I don’t know where Amy is, but I know she’s out there somewhere, and she wants to come back home to her friends and to her mom. I think a lot about her. Like, if I wasn’t ill that day, things would have been different. I don’t sleep much anymore…”
I hope Amy Harris is found, safe and well. Then Grace – and the rest of us – can sleep a little easier.
April 21, 2011
We’ve talked a lot about the history of both Gilbert Graham and Alex Thomas as The Standard, their impact on the world, and on the superhero world as a day. But one basic yet crucial aspect of the world’s greatest superhero hasn’t really been talked about in detail. So today, we’re going to discuss The Standard’s superpowers.
As is well known by now, Gilbert Graham got his powers when a meteorite struck his laboratory, showering him with a combination of chemicals and meteoric particles. The exact combination is known only to Gilbert (and, presumably, Alex), which is why we’ve not seen the chemical reaction that created The Standard replicated beyond Fabu-Lad. It’s uncertain what effects were the result of the very specific combination of chemicals concocted in the explosion, and what were a result of the meteorite of unknown origin, but the combination of both resulted in an impressive array of metahuman abilities manifesting themselves within Gilbert Graham.
The first power worth mentioning, the one that arguably captured the public imagination most keenly when he first arrived, is the power of flight. How The Standard is able to do this remains a mystery. His flight is not like that of a bird, there is no flapping of wings involved. When questioned about what it’s like, Alex Thomas had this to say:
It’s hard to explain. It just works. The way I do it, I stretch my hands upwards into the air, push myself upwards, and it’s like lifting off the ground is an extension of that. It just feels totally natural, like it’s a natural function of the human body. It’s almost like there’s muscles in our body we don’t know about that are always there, and it’s just a matter of unlocking them.
Also notable is The Standard’s incredible strength. The upward limit of this strength has never been fully measured, though in their time Gilbert and Alex have, between them, lifted a passenger jet, a truck, a house, a train carriage, a bank vault, a portion of a bridge, and The Gentleman Giant. Interestingly, The Standard may not be the strongest person in the world. Lodestar, San Diego’s masked heroine, claims to be stronger, citing the occasion when she moved the Convention Centre.
The Standard’s powers also grant him a degree of invulnerability. The famous shot above shows Gilbert Graham casually deflecting bullets with the palm of his hand. The Standard is not completely invincible, however. Some of the heavy-duty weaponry created by Zachary Zarthos did leave The Standard with a fair share of cuts and bruises.
Though not generally considered a “speedster”, and not amongst the elite in this field, The Standard is amazingly fast, with far quicker movement and reflexes than a typical human. It has been said that, when averting a bank robbery, he has been known to burst through the door, and have taken out every criminal in the building before the door closes behind him.
In combat, The Standard’s trademark weapon has long been the so-called “energy blasts” he can generate. This intensely bright, crackling energy accumulates around The Standard’s hands, causing them to glow. When focusing and directing this energy, The Standard can launch it at enemies and obstacles like a fireball. The strength of these energy blasts can vary greatly, suggesting the absolute control The Standard has over them. A small blast can be used to disarm or neutralise an enemy, while a massive blast can put a hole in a tank.
Throughout this analysis, when I’ve talked about The Standard, I’ve been meaning in both his incarnations: the original guise of Gilbert Graham, and the current form of Alex Thomas. As far as we can tell, the nature of their powers are exactly the same. This is rather strange, as only Gilbert was in the lab when the meteorite hit – Alex wasn’t even born at that time. Alex has never told anyone how he got the powers to become Fabu-Lad, but an educated guess would suggest that Gilbert Graham was somehow able to recreate the magic formula that turned him into a real-life superhero. He has the key to make a hundred Standards if he so chose, but right now it looks like he won’t be sharing the secret.
April 14, 2011
The story of The Standard has taken us through several decades, and in that time the life of Gilbert Graham went through many dramatic changes. But through all this life-altering upheaval, there remained one constant: Caroline Cole. The story of The Standard has been described in many terms by historians over the years, but few have recognised the undeniable fact that it is also a love story.
Caroline Cole was a wealthy socialite, daughter of millionaire business tycoon Seymour Cole. Given the high-flying social circles she moved in, it’s uncertain how exactly she met scientist Gilbert Graham in the first place. Perhaps it was meant to be. But however they first met, upon forming an acquaintance the pair quickly became an item. The romance initially had difficulties reaching the next level, however, given that Gilbert’s first love seemingly remained his work. It is said that Gilbert would often work in his laboratory late into the night, forgetting about planned dates with Caroline. Then that fateful meteorite hit the lab, turning Gilbert Graham into The Standard, and things got a lot more interesting.
At several points in his early career, The Standard had occasion to rescue Caroline Cole from some form of danger or another. It is around this time, so the story goes, that Caroline broke off her relationship with Gilbert, having fallen madly in love with his masked alter ego, The Standard, blissfully unaware that they were the same person. Desperate to win his love back, Gilbert resumed the relationship with her under the guise of The Standard, and so Caroline quickly found herself gaining fame as “The Standard’s girlfriend.” With this increased status came increased risk, and on a few occasions supervillains – most often Zachary Zarthos – would try to attack or kidnap Caroline to gain The Standard’s attention.
Perhaps it was all these threats to her life, or perhaps it was all the public scrutiny, but for whatever reason, a little under 30 years ago Caroline Cole ended her storybook romance with The Standard… and returned to her first love, Gilbert Graham. Shortly afterwards, the two were married. Gilbert and Caroline Graham remain a married couple to this day.
There is much speculation about how long exactly Caroline Cole has known the truth about the two great loves of her life being the same person. Some like to think that she only found out after marrying Gilbert, but comments Alex Thomas have made suggest that she was already aware of Gilbert’s secret when he first adopted Alex. A few have even proposed that Caroline always knew, and that her “breaking up” with Gilbert was a plan the pair concocted to avert suspicion from The Standard often being around to rescue Caroline whenever she was in danger. Nobody knows for sure, though, apart from Gilbert and Caroline themselves. And they aren’t spilling the beans.
Gilbert and Caroline never had children. Rumors that the meteoric particles that gave Gilbert his incredible powers also left him infertile remain unproven. But in every other way, the couple had a happy ending. Together before, during and after Gilbert Graham’s superhero career, Caroline Graham is a bigger part of Gilbert’s life than The Standard ever was.
April 13, 2011
The Sky City authorities call him a serial killer, and rank him as their most wanted criminal. A lot of the city’s residents view him as a saviour, some even suggesting he’s the closest thing to a true superhero the city has left. No one knows his true identity, but in the few years since The Corpse first emerged he has forged a formidable reputation at the furthest, darkest end of the heroic spectrum as the violent antithesis to all The Standard has come to stand for.
As yesterday’s newspaper article stated, The Corpse first came to prominence when he cut a swath through Sky City’s criminal underworld. Of course, the one thing you can always depend on with crime is that there will always be another guy to fill the void, so The Corpse has never been short of victims. But he hasn’t limited his killings to organised crime. He’s hunted serial killers, sex offenders, wife-beating husbands, and a whole array of thugs and lowlifes. He has also managed to kill numerous supervillains, and is credited as being a major factor in their decline: playing the bad guy isn’t so fun when it can get you killed. He’s even managed to kill a few people who weren’t even on police radar, making sure to leave some files at the crime scene proving their guilt. The M.O. of these killings varies distinctly with each murder, which is partly why originally police were unsure if the gang slayings were being perpetrated by one individual or many. Some victims have been assassinated by sniper rifle, others tortured for hours. But whatever the method, anyone in The Corpse’s firing line inevitably ends up dead.
However violent he may be, The Corpse seems to limit any violence to criminals. In the process of his killing spree, he has managed to save many innocent lives. These survivors have told press of him being gentle, even kind in his dealings with them. Whatever anger drives The Corpse, it seems only directed towards those who break the law.
Speaking of what drives him, nobody has any idea of what The Corpse’s motivations are. Is he someone who lost a loved one to crime long ago, who has since dedicated his life to seeking vengeance? Is he just a bloodthirsty psychopath out killing for kicks? Or could he be some supernatural being, as some have speculated, a new embodiment of some ancient, primal force of retribution? This last theory has been given some credence by the fact that, on several occasions, reports have filtered out that The Corpse had been shot, stabbed, blown up, or otherwise fatally wounded, only for him to soon resurface unharmed, and start killing once more.
The Corpse also has a noted rivalry with The Standard. When he was first revealed, Alex Thomas was very public in denouncing him, saying that he was a vigilante and a criminal, not a superhero. He vowed to hunt down The Corpse and bring him to justice, but time and again The Corpse managed to elude him. No one is quite sure whether it was his increased focus on his television career, or simply the humiliation of being unable to catch a wanted criminal after several years and a couple of close encounters, but it would appear that The Standard has unofficially abandoned this particular quest. Like everyone else, it seems he has quietly, grudgingly accepted The Corpse as part of Sky City, an inevitability.
But was the arrival of The Corpse truly inevitable? What does it say about the world we live in, that as the rest of our superheroes become more about flash and pizzazz and less about decency and substance, one of the few masked crime-fighters we can depend on to truly fight crime is a mass murderer? In Gilbert Graham’s time, the very existence of such a figure would be unthinkable, let alone the idea that he would be counted as one of the good guys. The world has become a very dark place since Gilbert Graham retired, a world that, ironically, needs true heroes more than ever.
April 12, 2011
A few years back, a major news story was a series of high-profile murders amongst Sky City’s underworld community. Drug dealers and gang leaders were being taken out by an unknown figure. There were never any witnesses, not even any proof these killings were being carried out by the same individual. Then someone managed to take a photo at the scene of one of the murders, and The Corpse was revealed to the world…
April 11, 2011
Today’s article closely follows on from the discussion of Standard fan culture last week, as well as the piece way back in week 2, when I talked about “The Age of the Superhero” back in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. Just like Gilbert Graham in his time, Alex Thomas has inspired many people to become superheroes in his image. He actively encourages it in his Hero Watch TV show. But what has changed about this new wave of aspiring superheroes?
To me, the definition is a very simple one. In the past, becoming a superhero was about doing something. Today, it’s simply about being something. Back in the old days, it seemed like even the most under-qualified and overweight wannabe heroes at least tried to make a difference, even if it was as simple as returning missing pets to their owners or cleaning up graffiti. Nowadays? Too often it seems like simply getting a fancy costume, giving yourself a nickname, and setting up a profile for yourself on social networking site HeroFace is all you need to do to start calling yourself a superhero. In America alone, thousands of people are registered to HeroFace as “superheroes”, yet very few seem to actually do anything apart from uploading pictures of themselves in their costumes striking poses. It’s like spandex bodysuits were simply the latest must-have fashion accessory.
The watering down of this definition of hero was worsened by HeroFace adding in an additional option for people to register themselves as supervillains, with little discernable difference between them and the heroes (apart from an increased prominence of emo teenagers in the villain category), and neither side actually doing anything to cement their status in their respective camp apart from arguing with each other. So, the great battle between heroism and villainy has gone from The Standard battling giant robots in the streets of Sky City to a bunch of kids having a message board flame-war.
Despite this trivialisation of the superhero, there are still those who wish to honor what Gilbert Graham originated all those decades ago. There is a small but significant movement that refuse to associate themselves with The Standard’s media machine, instead fighting crime on their own terms. Lodestar, San Diego’s resident masked heroine, is one particularly celebrated example. Claiming to be a warrior from an alien planet who has taken Earth as her adopted home, she has strength and speed to rival even The Standard (some argue she even surpasses him). She famously turned down an offer from Alex Thomas to join his celebrity superteam, The Trailblazers, saying – in a rare public statement – that her commitment to helping the innocent and battling the corrupt didn’t give her time to watch TV, never mind be on it. The Gentleman Giant is another individual who has remained more interested in public service than celebrity.
But amidst this new wave of dedicated crime-fighters, one is better known – and more feared – than any other. He is The Corpse. And over the next couple of days, we’ll be taking a closer look at him.