Monday, June 5, 2006

Hughes High: Silver Lining

One of the genesis events for Hughes High (known in its early years as Project: Superyouth) were the Mathers Committee. An offshoot of HUAC, Dr. Drew Mathers began to question the influence that sidekicks were having on the youth of America. The psychiatrist wondered about the relationships these apprenticeships were encouraging, and the newspapers listened intently for any lurid accounts they could find. Most superheroes with sidekicks or other support staff were targeted by Mathers. The most famous, of course, was the Scarlet Shortbow. His refusal to let his sidekick Shaft testify at the hearings brought the worst out of the media. It also put Shaft on the road to supervillainy, as he later became the mercenary assassin known as Sure Shot.

After the Mathers Committee, many supers were gun shy about taking on young heroes to mentor. One of the few exceptions was the Grey Ghost. Thanks to his campy 1960's TV series, the Ghost was one of the first capes to use the media to his advantage. He almost became more famous for going to movie premieres and dating starlets than he did for fighting crime. The Grey Ghost bucked the 'no sidekicks' trend, and brought on a young boy of ten years old as Spooky. That boy was Nick Nelson, the orphaned child of a Chicago mobster and one of his mistresses.

"It was a big risk for the Ghost to take," said Nelson, "but I think he knew he wasn't going to be around forever. I also think he wanted to have some sort of family. Being a solitary avenger of justice is, unsurprisingly, very lonely. Sometimes he would tell me the real stories behind the stuff that got put on TV and my mind boggled."

The adventures of Grey Ghost and Spooky in the late 1970's heralded the final era of the Grey Ghost. He was one of the few adventurers to run alongside The Gargoyle and the Maid of Honor that was still running around. While never officially retiring from capedom, the once camera friendly hero showed up less and less frequently in the public eye. To date, Nelson has never revealed the identity of The Grey Ghost, nor whether or not he has passed way.

"The Grey Ghost was the best father someone like me could have ever hoped for," said Nelson. His beliefs factored into his decision to create a new identity as he outgrew his Spooky costume. Silverwing appeared in 1981 and soon announced his intention to attend Hughes High.

"Technically, I probably should have gone to a regular high school since I don't have superpowers," said Nelson. "But the staff knew that's where I belonged. Many of the students began their career at Hughes High. I was already a five-year veteran."

"Silverwing was a very well-respected member of the student body," recalls Principal Arnold Dorcas. "I wished more students followed his example."

"I tried to avoid fights mostly because I knew I didn't have backup. I was well-trained and had my pouches on me, but I was still a regular human kid. Luckily, most of the kids were fans of my work as Spooky."

Nelson's connections at Hughes High paid off in the long run. Nelson retired as Silverwing shortly before the Event. He founded The Nelson Agency, a representation firm allowing for heroes to market their costumed identities. Many of the costumes have taken advantage of his services. So many, in fact, that he announced his retirement at the end of this year.

"Our clients do a lot with the endorsements that we get them. Some donate it to charity. Some use it to fund their activities. I can sympathize. A Silverang cost two bucks to make, and that was back in 1993."

I asked Nelson if he would consider a return to the cape like many of his fellows after the Event. He took a long moment to consider it and finally shook his head. "It's a young mans game. I'm happy helping out in a way that doesn't cause leg cramps at three in the morning."