Sunday, July 29, 2007

Hughes High: Studying Abroad

Most kids growing up in the 80's spent at least one summer wishing they could go to SpaceCamp. Before the Challenger Incident, astronaut was still considered one of the prestigious jobs that young and old alike looked up to. This was long before cross-country love triangles and duct tape. I even spent a summer down at Muellerburg School of Engineering building rockets.

Of course, for the kids at Hughes high, there was something above and beyond even those lofty aspirations. Starmada was a collection of supers from across the galaxy. Threats to peace and justice existed on a cosmic scale, and the best and brightest donned the famous uniform to combat those threats. When the Aldrin Monolith was activated, it became only a matter of time before Earth was asked to contribute to the peace.

Earth's most famous member of Starmada was Commander Nova. Astronaut Carl Washington, one of the first black men in the space program, volunteered to test an experimental craft built from an alien design. The craft's advanced drives malfunctioned, and Washington found himself drawn to a star ready to explode. But the activation of the craft's engines altered Washington, allowing him to absorb the explosion and return to Earth. When the time came to send someone to serve in Starmada, Washington, then calling himself Lieutenant Nova, volunteered.

Nova felt it was important for heroes to get a larger perspective of their responsibilities, so when his patrol would require members, he would often recruit from Earth first. Many students signed on for short hitches during the summers. Why spend your summer working at a fast food joint when you could be guarding a galactic envoy? Nova also became an advocate for civil rights amongst the cape community, amazed that species warring with one another for centuries could serve on a patrol squad.

When Starmada refused to aid Earth before the Event, Nova disobeyed his orders and made a stand with his patrol members as well as a few other friends and foes at the Aldrin Monolith, hoping to stop Omnus. The fuzzy images of Omnus during the battle were some of the first images that we saw of the creature. With his sacrifice, Admiral Nova (posthumously promoted) allowed the world just those few extra hours of preparation.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Hughes High: Stanley Schuster: 1921-2007

I'm sure anyone that reads this column saw the funeral yesterday. If you don't know who he was, or why so many people showed up, let me break it down for you.

Stanley Schuster was a 21-year old man that signed up for OPERATION:STAR-SPANGLED in 1942. At the time, there was a real fear that Germany's beliefs about their superhumans were right. Allied heroes seemed to be created by accident, while a new hero for the Axis seemed to show up every week. We know now that it was all part of Hitler's propaganda machine, but the powers that be were very worried. They started the first serious study of superpowers and how to get them. In many ways, STAR-SPANGLED was the grandfather of both the GUARD and S.I.S.T.E.R. The test subjects were exposed to a variety of stimuli, ranging from radioactive animal bites to injections of strange formulas.

The most famous of these subjects became Captain Patriot. While the others weren't exactly washouts (except, of course, for the ones that banded together in the military unit that many consider to be a precursor to the modern super team known as The Washouts.), most of them developed abilities that weren't exactly useful on the battlefield. Stanley, for example, was struck blind by the injections he received, but gained an uncanny sense of touch. He could read newspapers by touch and could tell the colors of your tie by holding it.

After the war, Stanley started a small tailor shop in New York. He soon found himself serving a very peculiar clientele. Supers on both sides of the law came to him to help make and maintain their costumes. While not every memorable costume came from Stanley's fingers, it was hard to forget the ones that he did. Stanley gave Jack Jupiter his golden cape and Seventh Sorcerer his emerald glasses. Stanley's studio was one of the few places where cape and cloak could go and know they would be safe. The few supers that violated the unspoken sanctuary soon found themselves fighting Stanley's friends on both sides of the law.

Schuster passed away in his sleep last Tuesday. The funeral was one of the largest gatherings of masks since the Event and it was full of memorable moments. I know I watched the whole affair with a tear in my eye. Who knows, maybe some old enemies buried hatchets?

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Hughes High: Hard Knocks

Not all of the teenagers that came out of Hughes High went onto careers as do-gooders and capes. In fact, a few of them started on the wrong side of the tracks and never really crossed to the other side. Whenever an organization thinks about restarting Hughes High or something of a similar nature, these are often the names that get used to shoot the idea down.

The most famous cloak team in its day was ARCADE. Even though it did not have Hughes High students as members, it clashed with various teams all throughout the 80's. For awhile, ARCADE was even seen as cool 'anti-heroes' and their merchandise became a hot seller. Even after the Astro-BOOM! caper, where thousands of video game cartridges were programed with mind control screens, ARCADE merchandise was popular for those that followed the super-scene but wanted to be on edge. Many also consider it the theme-team of the decade, with such names as Player Two, Cartridge, Zapper, Bison Kong, and Leaper.

The Myth-Fits began as a group of escaped experiments of the infamous Atlantian scientist (and later Ambassador of Mu) Dr. Korbana. He kidnapped human children and genetically redesigned them to have the powers of of various mythical creatures. While they escaped his lab, in the early days they often turned to crime to survive. Eventually, many of the members were sent to Hughes High instead of prison, and the team expanded to include mystics and other outcasts.

A group that skated the line between good and evil were The Street Sentinels. Krush Groove's vigilantism definitely made faculty advisors sweat. The Sentinels were more likely to bring down a drug kingpin than a VIPER nest. This often brought them into conflicts with other capes, since the capes usually got the press. A few members also had more militant views on crime and criminals, especially repeat offenders like cloaks often are. Fights sometime broke out between the Sentinels and teams that ended up on their 'turf', letting cloaks escape in the process.

Finally, the most infamous group of Hughes High students were The Dropouts. The name is even a bit dishonest, as many of the teens that came and went never saw the inside of Hughes High. One of the main reasons why so few teens were expelled from the school was that it was a sure-fire way to send that child to the dark side. The few teens that were kicked out of Hughes High generally ended up on this team at some point. The sad thing about the Dropouts is their durability. The most recent edition showed up last year, under the guidance of Sure Shot.

I remember Silverwing and Vorpal facing off on top of the bus that I took to school. The Silver Sentinels had caught The Dropouts trying to sabotage Glitterdance and the fight spread out over the city. Putty and Goober stretched each other to a stand still. Krush Groove and Winterfist turned the Bankridge Mall into a dojo. Silerwing drew Vorpal across the rooftops, trying to keep himself out of the way of Vorpal's dimensional claws. I felt them both impact on the roof of the bus, saw Vorpal's claws slash through the roof, and almost had a chance to take a Silverang home.

Ultimately, an institution like Hughes High is a tool. Good kids and bad kids both went there. Some of them turned out better than others. But there were probably just as many kids that went to sleep at night dreaming about the Dropouts as there were about Varsity.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Hughes High: Extra Curricular

While Hughes High did not have sports teams, they did have something unique to the school that most of the jocks at my school would have gladly been covered in toxic waste to try and join. While winning the state championship might get someone on the front page of the sports section, being part of a school-sponsored super team gets them on the Tonight Show. The school had no shortage of both official and unofficial teams, not to mention several heroes working together on Big League teams around the world.

When Hughes High was still know as Project: Superyouth, most of the teams were formed as necessary and dissolved just as quickly. When Principal Dorcas took over the school, he formalized the process a bit. School-sanctioned teams required the sponsorship of a faculty member. While the faculty assumed responsibility for the team's actions, that didn't stop teams from ending up with a tongue lashing from the principal.

Unsanctioned teams were often pressured into finding a sponsor on staff. While ad hoc teams were generally forgiven for operating outside school, ones that seemed to continue to work together often got more trouble from the students. Some captains of Varsity took it upon themselves to 'punish' unsanctioned teams, while the unsanctioned teams often saw the sanctioned teams as a perfect example of why they didn't want to be official in the first place. The conflict between school ties and teenage friendships often caused problems that spilled out into the streets.

One of the advantages of being sanctioned was that the administration of the school generally came down on that side even if the sanctioned group had started the trouble. Unsanctioned teams often had to peddle for support amongst the cape community. Some heroes preferred operation on their own, as it was often a baptism of fire to the trials and tribulations capes go went through in their public lives.

The most famous sanctioned team was Varsity. Varsity was generally sponsored by whomever is considered the most senior staff member. This was often a point of contention amongst the staff members themselves. The team traditionally was made of two squads of 4. One squad, usually with the most popular members, was considered the main squad, and the other squad was considered the back up squad. While a few members resented being on the backup squad, most were just grateful to get a spot. Having a spot on Varsity virtually guaranteed a minimum of one year on a major superteam. Most of the members were juniors or seniors, with sophomores a rarity and freshmen unheard of.

On the other end of the spectrum was Detention. This team, while sponsored by a teacher, was thought to have been overseen by Principal Dorcas himself. It had a very unstable membership base, as it was generally made up of students that had fouled up elsewhere and were often sent on extra missions as punishment. Detention was primarily used in the defense of Hughes High, but also was sent on missions no other student wanted, such as the protection of "Senator Albright" during his campaign for the RSHHA.

Other teams came and went. Some of them were formed by the friendships that come from high school. Some were formed by faculty looking to get out of the office and crack some heads again. Two of the more active teams I remember from my youth were The Silver Sentinels and Hecate's Heroes.

Silverwing started the Sentinels his freshmen year and for a while, they were rivals with Varsity in terms of popularity and effectiveness. When the team suddenly disbanded, rumors flew ranging from one too many clashes with Squire to a falling out between Silverwing and Krush Groove. Groove would go on to form the Street Sentinels, an unsanctioned team clearly modeled on his previous team. When I interviewed him for his spotlight article, I asked Silverwing if this was one of the things that led to his retirement as a cape. "No," he said, "but I often wonder if things with Squire would have been different if we would have talked more with our brains than our fists."

Hecate's Heroes were an all mystical team, generally sponsored by the Mystics faculty member. The name originally stemmed from a joke in the Muellerburg Sentinel referring to Hecate in a manner similar to Col. Klink from Hogan's Heroes. The press was leaning heavily upon mystic heroes, and Hecate claimed to be unaware of the shady dealings going on within the OTH involving Watergate. She started the team that would bear her name both to give a positive focal point for mystic activity, as well as to teach mystic heroes that they were protecting a world that often didn't want their protection. After her death at the hands of the Seventh Sorceror, the team kept the name in honor of her.

Next week, I'll talk about some of the most famous adversaries of Hughes High students, including its most infamous unsanctioned teams; The Dropouts.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Hughes High: The Homecoming Queen Has A Plasma Rifle

One of the driving forces behind Hughes High was providing teenagers with superpowers as close to a normal high school experience as possible. While not every power was useful, the fact that every student had powers let life inside the walls settle into something that we could recognize. For example, there were cliques. There was a drama club. Copies of the school paper, "the Watchdog", are now highly sought by cape collectors. In fact, the only thing that Hughes High couldn't really give students were athletics.

The school had a mascot (three, actually), but no football, baseball, or swim teams. This often caused problems with athletic students that transferred in after developing powers. Students and parents often campaigned for programs, but the issues were always the same. Other schools didn't want their students competing with superhumans. Who wants to swim in a swim meet where half the competition is from Atlantis and the other is from the waterworld Sedaron 7? But if the school had all the typical trappings of a regular high school, what did the jocks do when they weren't trying to chat up the girls from Royalty or stuffing the Brains into their lockers?

Most students with a competitive edge tried out for one of the many superteams that the school fielded. The most famous is Varsity, who staged something of a reunion during The Event. But don't forget the others: The Freshmen, Detention, The Science Club, The Dropouts, and so on. That's not counting the 'unofficial' teams or the ones started by Hughes High alumni. (At least 3 members of The Bad Seeds have matching class rings.) Many teams would recruit out of the Hughes High teams when they went looking for new members. Many members of Varsity have gone on to both prestigious teams and solo success. But even this solution had a few problems. Part of the allure of sports was the socialization. Football games were as much about the players playing as they were for the other students to have someplace to go on a Friday night. And while many of Hughes High's proms were legendary, they never held a homecoming dance on-site.

Hughes High homecomings were always held in cooperation with local schools. The schools opted to be put into the drawing for the events. The school that hosted the homecoming got a big boost to their budget for that year. Smart administrators often stretched out the windfall for a few years before submitting to the lottery. Every school in the state submitted at least once. Of course, the dangers involved kept conservative administrators away. Malice used the opportunity in 1972 to replace every living being in the Bankridge Academy gymnasium with a Dopple-Destroyer robot. In the 25 years that the school was able to hold dances, 5 of them caused some sort of damage to the host school. And that's not counting the disastrous debut of Ringmaster and his Robozos in 1991.

Students were eligible for court but few were ever elected to court. The glaring exception is Savior-Flare, who was homecoming queen three of her four years at Hughes High. She chose not to run senior year. It was a good chance for both sides to see how the other half lived, or even to give someone that grew in to their powers a chance to feel like a regular kid again for a night.

Of course, my real alma mater was the one school out of the district that was in the running every year and was never chosen. I cite this as my number one reason for never making out with a super hero.