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Lightspeed July 2013Stories that embrace the surreality of a world filled with superheroes are difficult to do well. It’s all too easy to simply laugh at the old genre conventions, and equally easy to create something so absurd and silly that you couldn’t imagine any real people actually living there.

For a while I thought today’s story fell into the latter category. After all, it starts off with the superhero Granite accidentally killing his nemesis, Mr. Malevolence, and within a year his life has fallen apart. It’s not that he’s angsting about having killed, but that he no longer has a nemesis. He even goes to a support group for heroes who’ve lost their nemeses. Surely the story’s toppled into the ridiculous by this point.

And yet, the more I think about this story, the more it’s grown on me. Because one day Lady Obsidian comes to the group and announces she’s lost her nemesis as well: her superhero.

Lady Obsidian sighed. “Listen, I’m a villain without a hero. You’re heroes without a villain. Surely I could come to some sort of arrangement with one of you?”

There was a brief, stunned silence. Then the room exploded into flying coffee cups and rage.

“You can’t just replace your nemesis,” Captain Justice said. “He’s not a—a flat tire or something!”

Reluctantly, Granite agreed with him. You could recruit an enemy, perhaps—like lovers, there were always more fish in the sea, and certainly any number of those fish might be interested in killing you—but a nemesis was much, much more than someone who simply wanted you dead.

Despite this, Lady Obsidian leaves her contact details at the meeting, and after a while Granite writes her a letter. They correspond, arguing about the merits of Robert Frost, and eventually meet in a coffee shop in their civilian guises. Slowly, tentatively they wonder whether they’d be suited to be each other’s nemesis.

Yes, on the face of it auditioning someone to be your nemesis is ridiculous. But by couching it in the language of a relationship, of loss and gradually learning to love one another, Carlie turns it into an experience you can recognize and relate to. It walks a fine line between comedic and serious and succeeds at both.

Incidentally, I had two songs running through my head while I wrote this: Nemeses by Jonathan Coulton, and Joker’s Song by Miracle of Sound. Different takes on similar subject matter.

This Villain You Must Create by Carlie St. George
Availability: free online, free audio
Word count: 4,800
First published: Lightspeed, July 2013 (available here)

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