From the author: If you don't make any money doing your job, why should other people make money off of you?
FILM FLAM by David Perlmutter 3, 865 words
You have to literally be prepared for anything that comes your way as a superhero. Rescues from peril, dispersing angry mobs, protecting the needy and the oppressed, helping out friends in a jam. Those sorts of things. And you have to do those things with a sense of humour, and/or a cheerfulness that suggests that you live for any challenge coming down your way.
Even if, on that particular day, you don’t.
What you don’t expect is that your every movement will be tracked and recorded, in an effort to provide entertainment for someone else. For profit. And you are not only not consulted about it, you are taken to be a figure of someone else’s imagination, and, therefore, it doesn’t “matter” what you think about it!
So what do you do?
Well, if you’re anything like me and my friends, you don’t take it lying down.
Let’s start with me.
I am the super heroine known as Muscle Girl. I am eight-going-on-nine, have short blonde hair and blue eyes, and plenty of the items that gave me my name. Along with a mind like a steel trap, which is why I might not sound like a “kid” to you. On the job, I wear a dark pink and white uniform, with silver boots that add an inch or two to my short stature.
Suffice it to say, I am an extra-terrestrial being who gained my powers when I arrived on Earth due to the scientific differences between my home planet and here. And I use them as often as I can, working out of Canada, when not going to school and such as mild-mannered Gerda Munsinger.
In other words, the usual story.
Like I said, when you choose this life (or, more often than not, it chooses you), you become accustomed to all sorts of strange doings and comings and goings. But, even based on what I had previously experienced, this was undeniably strange.
I live in a little town located on the shores of Lake Winnipeg in the Canadian province of Manitoba. My parents chose the spot because it was remote enough to give us all the privacy we needed, but close enough to Winnipeg, the nearest big city, where they (and sometimes I) need to commute for work. Looking at it from the outside, you’d think “nothing” went on there, but that’s not always the case.
This being summer, I was taking advantage of the small window of hot weather we get there by (as Gerda) having some fun on the nearest beach with one of the few close friends I have, Bob Bloch. He befriended me (as Gerda) when I first arrived in town, but our bond tightened when (as Muscle Girl) I saved him from a terrible fate. He has no idea we are one and the same, and I have no intention of letting him know that. Besides, Gerda knows she’s no match for Muscle Girl when it comes to impressing him.
In any event, Bob went into the lake to swim, while I concentrated on getting the dimensions of the sand castle I’d been working on to my satisfaction. That didn’t work out too well, and I soon started staring out at the lake again, looking for Bob and trying to figure out where he was.
One minute, he’d been diving loudly up and down like a porpoise. Then, he was gone.
The lake can be treacherous sometimes. It can be shallow going in, and then suddenly deep. And then it alternates between the two, unexpectedly, until the shallowness is gone and the deep is all there is.
Had Bob been swallowed up by the deep?
No. He’s a smart guy. He would know better.
Then what had happened?
For a moment, a chill ran up my spine. But only for a moment.
Because I knew what I had to do.
Quickly, I rushed home, put on my uniform, and returned to the lake, flying, as Muscle Girl.
Honestly, I said to myself. You’d think that they had no imagination.
Early on in my career, my enemies determined that Bob was the Lois Lane to my Superman- i.e. the person I valued the most other than myself- and, therefore, had regularly made him a kidnapping target to lure me out of the shadows and fight them. That I did, and they were always the one who ended up the worse for it.
I dove into the lake. The water was extremely cold on impact, as it always is, but my superhuman biology lessened the impact considerably.
Lake Winnipeg is one of the largest freshwater lakes in Canada, extending from the southern shore (where I live) towards the northern part of Manitoba like a giant finger. As I patrolled my way over, under and around the water, I wondered if I would have to cover every inch of it before I found Bob.
But maybe I was too late. Maybe he’d already gone under…
I was spared any further despair of this kind when I spotted him.
He was bound, with a gag in his mouth, on a chair.
Inside a submarine.
Which would be easy for me to catch and overtake.
Great, I thought. He’s bait, and I’m the fish. But what for?
I shrugged off the question. It was more important to rescue Bob and get out of there.
I pinpointed where I could enter the craft from the outside with a minimum amount of damage, flung myself towards the spot, used my strength to open up a hole big enough to pass through undetected, and passed into the ship’s interior. Then, I figured out where Bob was likely to be, and sped towards that spot.
He started to move and speak upon seeing me, but I shushed him.
“Hang on,” I said. “I need to figure out what’s going on here, and then we can….”
Then the ground shook, and the door opened.
It was a being, larger than me, covered with blue fur, sporting green eyes and a snout, and silver-coloured horns on the top of its head. A being belonging to no form of biology known to the science of Earth.
Or, more precisely, a monster.
He looked at me with an inexplicable look of shock. But only for a moment, as he seemed to defer to the standard attack mode. But he didn’t count on having me for an opponent.
Before he could make another move, I ran into him, and knocked him so hard that he flew up into the air and came down, face first. Then, grabbing what was clearly an outer garment by its top, held him aloft, threatening him with a left-handed fist.
“All right, you,” I said. “Talk! What’s the meaning of all this?”
He didn’t answer. Not because he was contrary, but he seemed somewhat awed by me, for some reason.
Like he’d heard of me before, and I was to be revered.
“Well?” I prompted, impatiently, as I forced him up into a sitting position.
Finally, he spoke.
“I can’t believe it,” he said breathlessly. “You’re real.”
I was confused.
“Why would I not be real?” I said. “That makes no sense.”
“Well, I didn’t mean it like that. It’s just….”
“Then what did you mean?” I growled.
“I’m sorry…” he said, apologetically. “I didn’t mean to…”
“Look, friend. You are commanding a vessel patrolling the waters of the lake upon which I reside, and you have my closest companion tied up like the main course at a Hawaiian luau. No one can expect to do that and not gain my attention. So I will ask you again, and, if you do not respond in the affirmative to what I request, I can assure you my response, in turn, will not be pleasant. So I ask you: who are you and what do you want with me and my friend?”
I expected another fight on my hands. But what I got, instead, was him grovelling at my feet.
“Please!” he shouted. “Spare me from your wrath, O mighty one. I….”
“Knock that off!” I commanded.
He stood up, soldierly, as I barked, but the nervousness was still there.
“Okay,” he said. “You want to know, and I’ll tell you. I make movies.”
“You’re a director?” I asked.
“Not a full director. Right now I’m strictly a second-unit director. We do the location shots, the filler footage, the action scenes. All the stuff that doesn’t involve dialogue or the lead players…”
“And this involves me and Bob-how?”
“Well, on my planet, superheroes such as yourselves are kind of….worshipped?”
“I get it.”
“Not in a religious way, though. As movie stars.”
“And you make these movies?”
“The second-unit parts, yes. The important stuff’s made at a studio back on the home planet.”
“Whose name is?”
“Do you have any promotional material on hand for these “movies” of yours? Posters, lobby cards, and things like that?”
He went over to a trunk, and retrieved some promotional material. And gave it to me.
And I became incensed.
For not only was there an ad for a movie starring yours truly, there were also ads for movies starring all of my colleagues in our superhero team, the International League of Girls With Guns (muscles, not firearms). And all of us together in another film under the latter name!
To my knowledge, I had never stepped foot on the planet Gravlax in my lifetime, and it was doubtful my friends had, either. And yet somehow we were starring in motion pictures there, without either our knowledge or our consent!
I pointedly turned my gaze to the monster.
“I had never even heard of your planet until now,” I said, through clenched teeth. “And yet, I would have had to have spent a lengthy period of time filming a project there if this was true. But it’s not. Are you fooling me?”
“No, ma’am. This is legit.”
“How can it be “legit” if I, the purported “star” of the thing, was never even consulted as to its very existence?”
“Don’t ask me, ma’am. I’m not high enough in the ranks for my opinion to matter about that. Besides, these are only reboots of the original franchises, so…”
“Reboots?” I shouted. “You mean that this isn’t the FIRST time we’ve been subjects of movies?”
“Of course, ma’am.”
“And….me and my friends, all of us, are just franchises to you?”
“Yes, and valuable ones, too. They regularly make a lot of your dollars in the theatres….”
I was burning up.
“Oh,” he said. “You must not have gotten your royalty cheques from…”
“I have received no such thing. Nor do I want one. I, sir, and all my kind, do not do this work for money. And we despise all who try to manipulate us for it!”
He backed up in horror as I marched towards him.
“But you haven’t answer my other question. What about Bob?”
“Oh,” he said, nervously. “Well, that’s another story…”
“Tell me it….Now!”
“Look. I don’t want to be second-unit forever, okay? I have more ambition than that. When they assigned me to do second-unit for this project, I wanted to make a big splash instead. So I read up about you and figured out how to possibly get you out of the shadows. If I could tell that gang of money-loving suck-ups that I had film footage of the real Muscle Girl in my back pocket, well, my stock would rise, wouldn’t it? Getting that Bob fellow was easy, him being so trustworthy and all. But I still wasn’t sure…”
I silenced him by grabbing his tongue.
“Enough out of you!” I ordered. “You are going to head south, to the shore of this lake, and be quick about it! And you are going to let me leave with that entire trunk of your propaganda in my possession! My friends and I plan on calling on whoever is paying you- to settle this once and for all! Then I’ll leave to you to your miserable second-unit existence. Now beat it!”
I released his tongue, and he fled. Then I released Bob from his captivity- but I refused to tell him the nature of my conversation with the monster. And what had made me so mad.
A quick message sent to my associates on the phone, or through social media, and then I sped to meet them at the abandoned space station we used as our group headquarters.
They came in at a brisk pace. Candy Girl, the most powerful teenager in the universe. Power Bunny, an anthropomorphic heroine from the fabulous alternate dimension of Anthropomorph. The Brat, a mighty half-metal warrior in the form of a female kindergartner. And Cerberus, the all-powerful canine alien, though her small and seemingly fragile Dalmatian puppy body disguised that fact entirely.
Each of them, when I had relayed the message regarding what I had uncovered, was suitably enraged. But I calmed each of them down enough to insist that this should be a group effort. Each of us had been wounded by this grave insult to our integrity, so it was necessary for us to achieve justice together. There was no need in going over this again when we convened. Now we needed strategy.
“I’d like to raze the whole thing!” said Candy, alternately showing in her face the red of her hair and the purple of her uniform. “Who are they to treat us like their toys?”
“That solves nothing,” countered Cerberus, with her intelligent dignity belying her monogrammed T shirt wearing body, as always. “They can always reconstruct the studio and start again.”
“And,” interjected the Brat, “it’ll give us all a bad name.”
“How?” asked Candy.
“Do you even need to ask that?” I said. “If we end up killing someone, even one being…”
“I never said that we should do that!” said Candy.
“There could be an accident. Someone caught in the crossfire.”
“Some things are more important than…”
“Muscle Girl has a point,” said Cerberus. “We don’t know how many people are employed by this studio. The average one has thousands of employees. Not counting the people actually producing the movies, which could possibly be a couple of crews or more working at the same time, there are also the other employees- secretaries, accountants, lawyers, commissary staff- to consider. If there are any.”
“It’s probably just a fly-by-night job,” said Candy, cynically.
“You don’t know that,” snarled Cerberus.
“Well, you don’t know that it’s MGM, either!” answered Candy.
This might have devolved into another one of their cheap theatrical fights. However, Power Bunny saved the day by clearing her throat and speaking for the first time.
“We could save a lot of time and agro,” she said, “if you’d follow the advice of an old pro who’s actually lived in a place that’s been run ragged by the movie business.”
“So lay it on us, PB,” said the Brat.
“What you need to understand, first and foremost,” she said, “is that the business of making movies is ground zero for the conniest con artists who ever lived. I don’t necessarily mean the people making the flicks. Some of them are honest, some not. Who you have to watch out for are the behind the scenes people. Hollywood was founded by salesmen, and it’s still run on the same principle. If you can’t sell anybody on your worth there, you’re nobody. That’s why some people get to make the flicks of their dreams and a lot of others don’t. I figure the folks running the industry in Gravlax have to be made of the same stuff. They like us; otherwise, why would they make the movies? So we drop in, and then, after we’ve been properly received, we get our point across.”
“So we just talk instead of fight?” I asked.
“No. We come on to them like we’re their pals. And then, when they’re not looking, we slip them the muscle.”
“It sounds rather dishonest,” interjected Cerberus.
“They were dishonest to us, first, Cerb’,” retorted Power Bunny. “Dishonesty is show business’ middle name.”
“And besides which,” said Candy, “they also conned us out of all the dough they said our films made…”
We all looked at her as if she had uttered profanity in church.
“Not,” she said, apologetically, “that I care about any of that, of course.”
“Well,” I said, “if there aren’t any other options, it’s probably best we try PB’s approach.”
“But will it work?” asked the Brat.
“Will it work?” PB guffawed. “Ask the folks in the richest neighborhoods in Anthropomorph. They got so good at movie business con games that they conned them out of millions! The evidence is all over their houses- solid gold.”
So, obviously, it worked.
So, as planned, we scheduled an ILGWG outing to Gravlax. Making sure to let them know that we were coming in advance, of course.
The Beatles never had the kind of reception we got.
We realised all too well the level of adulation the planet had for us. We were genuine movie stars to them. The police had their hands full trying to keep the very infatuated public away from us. They sought pieces of our hair, fur and uniforms. We had questions shouted at us from all directions. And we heard declarations of love from all quarters, even in the most embarrassingly obscene of ways.
Once we were safely in the limousine sent to take us to the Gravlax movie studio, we knew that something had to be done. Affection is one thing, but infatuation…
They had offered to give us a tour of the facilities and see the projects in progress, but, to us, that smacked of being offered to tour the floor of a slaughterhouse, so we refused that. Instead, we requested a meeting with the head of the studio, Mr. Ogre. And, despite his protestations, we were to be alone. No secretaries, underlings, toadies, or anybody of that kind present.
So we spent an hour or so making nice in his office. Power Bunny had a whole truckload of jokes at her beck and call that broke the ice. Then we impressed Ogre by using our powers for some parlor tricks, which we never do otherwise, as it’s degrading. But it had him under our spell.
So, when he decided to give us a tour of the film vault….
We were all smiles going in, to keep up appearances. Then I waited behind while the others went in.
“Lock the door after we’ve gone in,” I told the guard on duty.
“What?” he said.
“You heard me,” I answered. “Lock it.”
“But….there’s only so much breathable air in there,” he answered. “You’ll suffocate.”
“Correction. Your boss will. The rest of us have respiratory tracts that will keep us alive long enough for what we intend to do in there.”
“DO it! Unless you want to be in there yourself! Don’t open it again unless you hear one of us knock on the door- and not him!”
Once the door shut, we were free to remove our jolly masks.
“Is there….something the matter?” said Ogre, sensing the mood.
“You bet there is, Ogre,” I said. “Something about you making movies about us without our involvement. Or permission!”
“Oh, that,” he said. “Well, I thought that once we got the payments out to you that…”
“You don’t get it, do you?” said the Brat. “We don’t want your money!”
This was apparently such a foreign concept to him that his head seemed to want to explode.
“Mr. Ogre,” said Cerberus, in her most deceptively “cute” tone of voice, “you don’t seem to realise that our jobs are not the kind that can be mocked up by your fantasy factory as easily as you think.”
“Mocked up?” said Ogre, indignantly. “We have special effects that can accurately reproduce everything you can do…”
“So you don’t need us, then,” said Candy. “You can make movies about stuff other than superheroes if you have the technology.”
“But we can’t,” said Ogre.
“Can’t?” asked PB. “Or won’t?”
“Ladies.” Ogre turned into the wheeler-dealer PB warned us about. “I’m sure we can come to a reasonable solution to this…”
“Sir.” Cerberus switched to a fire-and-brimstone voice. “Nothing about this is “reasonable”. You pirated our images, our logos, our reputations- hell, our entire identities! And you made yourself and your shareholders a small fortune doing it, without a thought to our welfare besides a token, pithy attempt to buy us off! That, sir, is hardly reasonable! And we, therefore, feel that we can only respond in kind!”
“By doing what?” he demanded.
“You know our powers, and what we can do,” I said.
“And you have your company’s entire film library in this vault, yes? Including the films supposedly featuring us?”
“And you print your films on nitrate stock, don’t you? Flammable, isn’t it?”
“What are you implying?” said a horrified Ogre.
“Just this,” said Candy. “You withdraw all the films you purportedly made about us from circulation, forever, and destroy the master prints! Or else we might decide to team up to produce a fire you’ve never seen before, and burn all the crap in here up- along with you!”
His mouth was almost to the floor.
“You’d….do that? You paragons of virtue and goodness and civility and good manners and….”
“Oh, shut up!” barked Cerberus. “That’s just how you brainwashed your citizens into thinking of us as being. And yourself, apparently. We’re never entirely in the right when we do our deeds, Ogre- just ask all of our enemies! All of us are more complicated than we can possibly appear on one of those oversized pieces of wood you call a screen!”
“Admit it, Ogre,” put in the Brat. “You thought all of us superheroes were like fairy tales and space operas and all that other bull-crap you manufacture here. Well, we’re all as real as the nose on your face. I got the scars all over me from a real, hard-lived life, and so have they. No movie making bastard could duplicate our lives no matter how hard they try.”
Ogre was silent for a moment. Then he spoke.
“I…suppose I’ll have to accede to your demands. Or you’ll kill me, one way or another. Either by leaving me here in the pit to choke, or burning me up, or even perhaps at your own…”
“We aren’t that monstrous, Ogre!” snarled Cerberus.
“What a relief,” he said. “But….if I have to get rid of you as idols for my public, who will I replace you with?”
“Oh, I wouldn’t worry about that,” said Power Bunny, in a final parting shot. “In your business, there’s always somebody willing to get screwed to get successful. All that happened here is that you got screwed yourself by some better screwers!”
She laughed, and it was infectious among us as we took our leave from the dank room.
Ogre, of course, wasn’t laughing at all.
This story originally appeared in Medium. com (2019).
Are the world's mightiest girl superheroes about to let an intergalactic cabal buy and sell Earth under the citizen's noses? Not likely! But it'll be a lot tougher to stop them than they thought....
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