Back in high school, I was a big fan of the TV show Smallville, especially in the early seasons when it worked by a standard freak-of-the-week formula. Superman has always been my favorite superhero (you could count on him to save the day, no fuss no muss, no hand-on-forehead drama), so a show about a teenaged Clark Kent saving the day from that week’s villain was right up my alley. Especially when he looked like this:
I loved the show: impossibly handsome teenager (the actor, Tom Welling, was twenty-four when season 1 aired), last-minute rescues, and enormously fun villains to fight off week after week. But for years I wondered what it would actually be like if a fourteen-year-old had super powers in a small town. The two main conclusions I came up with were as follows:
- It almost certainly couldn’t be kept secret, especially if he’d grown up there. How on earth would you stop a toddler from accidentally using his powers? And how would you later stop him from wanting to show off to his friends? One mistake, and that would be it.
- Teenagers are teenagers. Give him super strength, give her the power to fly, and at the end of the day they’re still going to spend 90% of their time worrying over pimples and homework and the fact that they’re not popular or no one is ever going to like like them. I don’t mean this to make fun of teenagers (I like the age group a lot; I used to be one, after all) and taking small social disasters extremely seriously is exactly what equips us with the tools to deal with the heavy responsibilities of adulthood. But the juxtaposition of a super-powered being who may one day stave off the literal end of the world crying at the end of an awful dance because they were sure that that was the end of the world has always struck me as comedy gold.
This has lived in the back of my mind since high school. Many of my ideas stew for years before they become of use to me, and this one finally careened off another idea – or more like careened off a minor character in one of the worlds I created back in college. Megalopolis is the center of my almost-parody super world, where powers are common and heroes and villains clock in and out to fight each other. The series I have planned for this world swings back and forth between near-parody and serious storytelling, and Mr. Roboto happens to be a bit player in the grand scheme of the city. He’s an up-and-coming hero on the verge of recognition from the League, an android with super strength, a plethora of robotic attributes, and a penchant for disaster relief.
What most people don’t realize is that Mr. Roboto is actually a two-man team. Teddy does the legwork but Jer runs the missions. They’re both young men in this story, still in their twenties, though Jer is out of college and Teddy is still taking classes, though not full-time. They run an auto repair shop in the city, which is the unofficial hangout spot for all the young heroes and sidekicks who are trying to make it into the Leagues as pro heroes. Plans changed somewhat, between Jeremiah’s last conversation with Mrs. Grayson and now: Jer never did end up getting his medical doctorate (he worked as an EMT for awhile instead of going through the whole rigmarole of medical school, sacrificing a deeper understanding of medical treatment for the less time-consuming option of hands-on emergency care experience), and he didn’t worry so much about his eventual degree as what he was learning from the classes. He’s got enough schooling for a doctorate, but I’m not sure his studies were ever focused enough to get there – he went at his University with intense focus and practicality, taking whatever he thought might teach him something useful. On Ted’s part, he gets his ASE certification, but I’m not sure that he ever manages an official degree.
At the time of my series, Ted has actually received an invite to one of the Leagues – his first. Unfortunately, the invite only included Teddy. Jeremiah wants him to take it, but Ted’s being stubborn and absolutely refuses anyone who doesn’t recognize that they’re a package-deal. This ticks off Jeremiah, who thinks his little brother ought to be practical and knows they’ll never recognize someone who doesn’t have powers, but Teddy’s right this time: he does much better when his older brother runs the team. Though Teddy has certainly come into his own in the ten years since “Small Town Super Nobody,” he’s a follower and knows it; he’d just as soon sit around and play video games all day. He does much better when he has a boss.
Honestly, I’m not sure any of this is going to make the cut into the series (I’d like it to, just because it’s sort of a fun insight into how the “business” of saving the world works) but I’ve got a lot of other things to accomplish. At the very least I’m glad I took a time-out here on The Story Folder to tell their story. Major or minor, all of my characters have backstories – first because giving weight to even minor characters makes them talk and act more believable, and second because its fun and easy to do. The hard part is writing it down.
And last of all: the name “Mr. Roboto” is, of course, an inside-joke between the two brothers. It is also absolutely hilarious to the Banner High football team, who – once the Dunn brothers break into the big-time – like to tell their wives and children that they named the city’s most popular* hero.
*Debatable. Banner, NJ thinks so, and will argue into the ground anyone who suggests otherwise.