There were no more heroes.
Kennedy was dead, shot by an assassin in Dallas.
Batman and Robin were dead, killed when the Batmobile slammed into a bus carrying black children to school in the suburbs.
Superman was missing, and presumed dead, after a Kryptonite meteor fell on Metropolis.
The Marvel family was dead; struck down by lightning.
The Lone Ranger was dead; found with an arrow in his back after Tonto returned from a Red Power conference at Wounded Knee.
Mary Mantra was dead; cut to pieces by an Amtrak locomotive when Dr. Spock tied her to the tracks and she couldn't remove her gag.
Captain Mantra was in a sanitarium near Edgeville; said to be a helpless wretch ever since seeing his twin sister cut to shreds.
Only Wonder Woman was still in the public eye. And she had forsworn forever the use of her superpowers. Using her real name, Diana Prince, she was a leading spokesperson for women's liberation, an associate editor of Ms. magazine, a frequent guest on late-night talk shows. Her message was that the strength of Wonder Woman resides in all women and they must learn to use it. Battling to liberate womankind, she said, was more important than catching petty crooks. She sounded at times like a sinner repentant.
Even Snoopy had bought it; shot down by the Red Baron; missing in action over France.
In this fading pantheon of heroes, the very last to give up combat against the forces of tyranny and evil had been the most powerful hero of all. And he had not been seen in almost a decade. Not since, unknown to the world, his superpowers had unaccountably begun to fail.
Using his secret identity, David Brinkley, he had slipped into the humdrum routine of middle-class life. He was forty-two years old. He was married, with two children; and a third was due any day. He expected never again to dash into a phone booth, strip down to his uniform, don his purple mask, and leap into battle against the forces of darkness.
He had outgrown such childish notions. They lived on only in his dreams.
So he thought.
His six-foot-one-inch frame was slumped in a brown-leather easy chair, his legs resting on a hassock. He was wearing a beige turtleneck, brown slacks, brown and beige argyle socks, HushPuppies. He had blue hair.
His black horn-rimmed glasses were perched on the bridge of his nose. Years ago the glasses had been part of a disguise, and were fitted with clear plastic . Now they contained prescription lenses.
Light from the color-television screen mingled with smoke from his cigar, creating ghosts. The dog, a golden retriever, leaped at the empty air, snarling; and landed heavily.
"Bernstein!" he shouted; and shoved the dog away with his foot.
The dog was eight years old. Punch Rosenthal had given it to him when David gave up broadcasting and returned to the newspaper. Punch had gotten a good laugh when he heard the name. Punch hated West Side Story.
In truth, Brinkley had named the dog after the Everett Sloane character in Citizen Kane; one of his Top-Three movies. His favorite scene was when Bernstein recalls the girl in the white raincoat. At forty-two, Brinkley was still a romantic; a prisoner of illusion. Though in recent years his view of the
world had started to change. Justice did not always triumph. Happy endings were not necessarily the rule.
The commercial for Preparation H ended. The asshole dissolved on the screen. The Monday-night football game was about to resume. Oakland was coming out of its huddle, advancing to the line of scrimmage. Brinkley leaned forward in his chair, the cigar clenched in his teeth. Oakland was leading Kansas City by three points. With thirty seconds to play, Oakland had the ball on the Kansas City nine-yard line. Oakland
needed a touchdown to reach the point-spread of nine. If they didn't score, Brinkley would owe Freddie News another twenty bucks. That would make two hundred and fifty bucks he owed Freddie News, between the World Series and the half-eaten football season. Freddie News was stealing the braces off Allison Brinkley's teeth.
The dog was chewing the toe of Brinkley's left HushPuppy. Brinkley let him chew. It was better than the dog pissing on his leg.
In Brinkley's dreams lately , the dog was often pissing on his leg.
Oakland was at the line of scrimmage, the quarterback calling signals. Brinkley held his breath. All over Middleville, men were leaning forward, holding their breaths. Waiting to see if Oakland would make the point-spread.
The screen went dark. The football field was replaced by a blue-and-white sign. The sign said BULLETIN.
"Damn!" he said. .
All over Middleville, an echo answered: DAMN!
A faceless announcer was intoning: LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, WE INTERRUPT THIS BROADCAST TO BRING YOU A BULLETIN FROM ABC NEWS.
"Thirty seconds," Brinkley spat at the screen, taking the cigar from his mouth. "Fucking bulletin couldn't wait half a minute?"
WE SWITCH YOU NOW TO OUR STUDIOS INNEW YORK.
"Another Heidi!" Brinkley said, addressing the screen again.
He noticed that the room was heavy With blue smoke. Since the "heart attack," as the doctors had mistakenly called it, he had given up cigars, for appearance' sake. He allowed himself only one a week, during the Monday-night football game; when Pamela was away at her consciousness-raising group.
THIS IS BILL BEUTEL IN NEW YORK. TURMOIL BORDERING ON ANARCHY HAS BROKEN OUT IN THIS CITY TONIGHT. LOOTERS HAVE SMASHED WINDOWS OF HUNDREDS OF DOWNTOWN STORES. MUGGINGS HAVE BEEN REPORTED THROUGHOUT THE MIDTOWN AREA . IN THE THREE HOURS SINCE SUNDOWN, NINE RAPES HAVE BEEN REPORTED IN CENTRAL PARK ALONE.
OFFICIALS FEAR THAT THE EXPLOSION OF STREET INCIDENTS IS THE BEGINNING OF THE CHAOS THEY PREDICTED WHEN NEW YORK WENT BANKRUPT TWO MONTHS AGO.
LAST WEEK THE CITY'S ENTIRE THIRTY-THOUSANDMAN POLICE FORCE RESIGNED, AFTER WORKING WITH NO PAY FOR SEVEN WEEKS. THE MEN WERE GIVEN JOBS WITH LEADING INDUSTRIAL FIRMS SO THEY COULD SUPPORT HEIR FAMILIES. BUT, THAT LEFT THE CITY WITH NO POLICE PROTECTION.
FOR THE PAST WEEK CALM HAS PREVAILED IN THE CITY. BUT ALL THAT APPEARS TO HAVE CHANGED TONIGHT. THE CRIES OF VICTIMS OF STABBINGS AND BLUDGEONINGS PIERCE THE DOWNTOWN NIGHT. CITY HOSPITALS ARE FILLED. THE NATIONAL GUARD IS BEING MOBILIZED. AT THIS HOUR CITY AND STATE OFFICIALS ARE MEETING TO DISCUSS THE CRISIS. ONE HIGH OFFICIAL TOLD ME JUST MOMENTS AGO: "IT'S THE DARNDEST THING I'VE EVER SEEN. IT'S ALMOST AS IF THE WHOLE THING WAS ORGANIZED. "
ACCORDING TO THE ASSOCIATED PRESS, SEVERAL EYEWITNESSES HAVE SWORN THAT THE ATTACKERS COULD NOT BE HUMAN; THAT HUMAN BEINGS WOULDN'T ACT THAT WAY. BUT WHEN PRESSED FOR DETAILS, THEY COULD NOT PINPOINT ANY DIFFERENCE.
THIS IS BILL BEUTEL IN NEW YORK. STAY TUNED TO ABC NEWS FOR FURTHER REPORTS.
The BULLETIN sign faded from the screen. The football field returned. Both teams were running toward the sidelines. The camera showed the face of a smiling coach.
"Not a great football game, but a good football game," Howard Cosell was saying. " Don't forget next Monday night, it's the Jets at MiamI. That one is always a bruiser. This is Howard Cosell saying..."
"Dammit, what was the score?" Brinkley said aloud.
"...we'll see you all next week. The final score once again: Oakland twenty-four, Kansas City twenty-one."
"Son of a bitch," he said.
The screen faded to a commercial for Odor Eaters. Brinkley shoved the hassock away with his foot. He eased up out of the chair, and snapped off the set. The knob came off in his hand.
He looked at the knob, puzzled. That hadn't happened for years.
Excerpted from Super-Folks by Robert Mayer. Copyright © 1977 by Robert Mayer.
Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.