Monday, May 29, 2006

Hughes High: Power to the People

The thing that strikes you about Michael Albright when you first meet him is how normal he looks. He has a warm face with too many lines from the California sun. He walks with the practiced measure of someone that has dealt with disability for the majority of his or her life. He says please and thank you to the waitress at the coffee house. He also is the only known survivor of the Event, and has known many names as a cape throughout his career.

"I wanted to be a teacher, with the elbow pads and a pipe," he says as the waitress sets down our order. "I was going to be one of those new professors that let you call them by their first name and sat cross-legged on his desk. I guess I still could be, but my career in public service called."

Most people get into public service by running for Alderman or volunteering for an election. Albright chased after a meteor that landed in a nearby field and discovered the last Scion of the Okava. The Okava was drawn to Earth by the Aldrin Monolith and passed his powers to Albright. He was given control over the cosmic power of the stars, as he was now their final guardian.

"I thought the best place to start was at home," Albright said. "Of course, I probably should have waited for the buzz to wear off before I designed that costume. I even made into Superhype's 100 Worst Costumes Ever."

Professor Power debuted in 1969. He flew everywhere to hide his identity and the facts that his legs were severely damaged by a car accident when he was 6. He was looked upon as a hippie. Established heroes ignored him because of his laid-back demeanor and the government was afraid the counter-culture would rally around him. He rechristened himself several times and found the most success as The Living Power through the early 70's. But Albright felt that he was not doing enough

"It didn't make sense to me how punching Dr. Deathtrap through a wall would bring about real, lasting change," he said. "The system is there for a reason."

Albright found inspiration in our very own Rudolph J. Mueller, aka The Silver Sentinel. After giving up his cape after World War II, Mueller was drawn into local politics and became one of the longest tenured mayors in the United States.

Albright won a Senate seat in 1976, holding it ever since. While he runs as a Democrat, he is the standard bearer for anyone calling themselves a moderate. He introduced the bill that brought Stronghold into existence and has done a lot to protect superheroes from litigation and public scrutiny. Albright is also a staunch opponent of superhero regulation.

"These guys put their lives on the line every day," he said, and the laid-back demeanor fades for a moment. "The last thing we need to do is have them stand in line, put all of their secret identities in a big list so VIPER can steal them. They wear masks for a reason. Nobody likes going to the DMV. Can you imagine what sort of bureaucratic nightmare a Department of Super Powers line would be?"

Albright still has his share of masks to fight. He was one of the most famous members of the Senate Committee that tried the Seventh Sorceror and was the only confirmed living being to come out of Ayers Rock alive. His most recent re-election campaign was his most brutal. His opponent, Vanessa Krueger-Kensington, implied that Albright used his powers to influence the public as well as his colleagues in Congress.

"My powers don't work like that," Albright said with a laugh. "Vanessa's campaign was very shrewd. She never actually said it, so I never had to deny it, but it planted the seed of doubt in some voter's minds. I'm sure her father would be proud."

Many cape fans wonder if we will be seeing President Power in 2008. Albright shrugged.

"I'll go wherever the people take me. They are the true power in this country."

Monday, May 22, 2006

Hughes High: Property Of Principal Dorcas

The school jacket is an important part of everyone's closet. Most of us haven't touched it since senior year (though I remember seeing them on the backs of a few college freshmen when I went to school). I still have my letter jacket, which I got for, of all things, debate. I remember the coolest guy at my school my junior year had merely bought his letter jacket. Of course, it was from Hughes High.

In 1983, Ronald Reagan announced plans for what he called the Superhuman Defense Initiative. SDI, as the media would refer to it, put the defense of the USA from a Russian-fueled nuclear attack in the hands of our superheroes. Billions of dollars were spent trying to figure out how capes ticked, and just as much was likely spent trying to create more. Reagan poured money into anything superhuman related.

A lot of people disagreed with this plan. Some didn't like it because it seemed like a tacit approval of costumed vigilantism. Some were upset that social programs were cut in favor of trying to make people that could throw cars at enemy soldiers or punch ICBMs back towards Moscow. The plan took heavy fire during the Seventh Sorceror Scandal, even though the administration did everything it could to outline that its programs had nothing to do with mystics.

Strangely, one of the programs that didn't suckle on the tax dollar teat was the recently renamed Miranda Hughes High. Hughes High was partially funded by tax dollars, but the majority of tax monies went to the training and funding of GUARD personnel. Hughes High was one of the first superhero organization to realize that there was gold in the tights. The merchandising of Hughes High began in 1977, and it took off like a rocket. The original offering of jackets, hats, and the usual school paraphernalia was soon augmented by lunch boxes, action figures, and even a short-lived Saturday morning cartoon. Who would have guessed that the marketing genius behind the blitz that inspired George Lucas was a round balding man that didn't even own a television?

Arnold Dorcas found inspiration when he was antiquing. "I was always disgusted with how much superhero memorabilia outsold actual antiques," said Dorcas, 63, now working with the Department of Education. "A fine Victorian desk sits in the corner and gathers dust, but put a manhole cover in your shop and claim Pendragon threw it at a VIPER getaway vehicle and buyers are falling all over themselves to get it."

Dorcas worked his way up through the Muellerburg School Board as an efficient administrator. He came to Hughes High in 1972 when Mayor Mueller wanted some local personnel to keep an eye on all the capes, feds, GUARDsmen, and kids that were now coming to the school from around the world. He quickly moved up in the ranks thanks to his knowledge of local politics and shrewd bookkeeping. While other schools struggled for funding, Dorcas handled the ugly task of keeping the school running. Dr. Hughes provided a face to present to the public.

"Dr. Hughes was a brilliant scientist and I admired her greatly," said Dorcas. "But she also understood that you needed the right tool for the right job, and that's what I was." Dorcas took over as principal of of the high school in 1981, shortly after the disappearance of Dr. Hughes.
He held the post until shortly before the school's closure.

Most people consider the memorabilia sales to be his greatest contribution to the Hughes High legacy, but Dorcas disagrees. "I'm most proud of my tenure as principal," said Dorcas. "I was allowed to shape the minds and destinies of some of our best and brightest young people. They might not have thought so at the time, but the discipline and rules I put in place helped them develop themselves both as heroes, but, more importantly, as people."

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Hughes High: The Art of History

The Muellerburg Art Museum was once the gateway to Hughes High.

When people find out where I am from, they ask me one of three questions:

"Do you own a cheesehead?" No. But I often rent.

"Are you related to The Fonz?" Contrary to popular belief, he was a fictional character.

"What high school did you go to?" Miranda Hughes High, of course. Go Heroes!

This one stops them in their tracks. They wait for me to crack a smile, or possibly leap over a tall building in a single bound. I usually just sip my drink and wait for them to explode with more questions. A few people still believe it. In the interest of journalistic integrity, I will come clean. I went to a Catholic High School near Wautosha. I never ran into anyone of note at Glitterdance, nor did I ever date Savior Flare. I was just a normal kid with the usual problems of a teenager in 1985.

But every kid I knew at my school (and, I suspect, in Muellerburg) wanted to go to Hughes High. Who wouldn't? It meant you were special as well as cool. It meant that you had powers beyond those of mortal man, which is probably one of the things a sixteen-year-old wants more than a car. It meant that you had a chance to become part of a superteam like the All-Stars or Galactic Guardians. It meant that Madonna and Michael Jackson wanted to meet you.

Of course, it was never that easy. As I grew up and started following the cape and mask beat, I realized how hard it must have been for those kids in that shining chrome castle out on Lake Michigan. They must have had their own share of bullies, breakups, and bad school pictures.
Add on top of that things like the VIPER Identity Scandal, the coming of Dred, and the closing of the school meant that these kids weren't just dealing with strange powers, but a lot of other things as well.

These days, the small reminders of Hughes High are barely remembered for what they once were. The man-made island has long since disappeared beneath the sea. The orange Steel Sunburst is often thought of as an eyesore, rather than as a reminder of the tragedy of Graduation Day. And the Muellerburg Art Museum has moved into the shell of Sentinel Station, recently hosting an exhibit by Darla Kinney, once known as a student by the name of Material Girl.

Hughes High has been closed for almost 10 years, but the ideas behind it are very much alive. The Event changed the world five years ago, and there is a generation of young heroes without guidance and without the wisdom of the heroes the disappeared at Ayers Rock. With the help of the Muellerburg Sentinel, I have been in contact with many of the people that made Hughes High what it was, for good or for ill. In the coming weeks, I will speak with these people about that special moment in time when Muellerburg wasn't jokingly referred to as the northern most suburb of Chicago. When people bragged about being from here. When, in my dreams, I was the most popular kid at Hughes High.