THE FOLLOWING STORY IS SET DURING THE 1990s
Abner Jenkins bared his teeth, his body quaking in anger as he glared at the TV.
"The Beetle," said the young man with curly dark hair. "I mean, can you come up with a less intimidating name as a supervillain?"
"Yo, what's so super about the Beetle?" a smiling black youth asked. "The guy's always getting his ass kicked by Spiderman or Iron Man. I think even Shooting Star beat him up once."
The two community access show hosts roared with laughter.
"Hey, here's a hint. If you want to look tough, don't go wearing anything purple."
"Yeah, I mean, The Beetle has fourth-rate battle armor, a wussy name and loses more than the LA Clippers."
"That's why we here on "The Super Beat" put the Beetle at the very top of our top ten list of the lamest supervillains in the world."
Jenkins screamed and threw the remote at the screen. It shattered, sparks flying out of it. He shot to his feet and stomped about his apartment, ignoring the smell of smoke and ozone.
Lamest supervillain in the world? How dare they? Stupid punks. He should fly down to their crappy little studio and fry them with his electro-bites. That would show them. He didn't belong anywhere on that list. Not when he had fought the likes of the Human Torch and Iron Man. Not when he had formed the Sinister Syndicate.
Not when someone like Turner D. Century makes the list at number two!
How could I lose out to a man who dressed like a Vaudeville reject!
Jenkins pounded down the steps to his basement. He stabbed his finger at a keypad in the wall. Part of it slid aside to reveal his form-fitting green and purple Beetle armor. He reached out for it, then froze.
What would killing two stupid college kids on a community access show prove? They couldn't be the only ones who thought him a joke. When People heard the names Dr. Doom or Magneto or Venom, they trembled in fear. Why? Because they had gone toe-to-toe with some of the greatest heroes, even bested them at times.
Had he ever done that? No.
And until he defeated one of them, the world would never take him seriously.
Jenkins walked away from the armor and opened another hidden door, this one leading to a storeroom with various pieces of electronic equipment.
Time for a long overdue upgrade for the Beetle.
Three months. Three months of redesigns, of rebuilding, of testing. But today, finally, his new armor was ready. He'd gotten rid of the tacky green and purple. Black and blood red looked much more menacing. He'd attached mini-missile launchers to his shoulders and a curved horn to the middle of his head that could shoot bolts of electricity. The thick, more muscular looking armor could stop an anti-tank missile and boosted his strength to where he could lift up to 25 tons.
The Beetle glared down at Southern Manhattan, watching hordes of people walking to and fro.
I'll show you. I'll show you all.
He dove at them. A target scope appeared in his helmet's Heads-Up Display. Beetle settled it over a parked minivan. A lightning bolt shot from his horn. The van turned into a fireball. He smiled as people screamed and ran.
Another bolt blew up a parked car. Two mini-missiles blasted a newsstand to splinters.
"Fear me!" Beetle screamed as he landed. "Run! Hide! Cower before my might!"
He crushed a mailbox with a single blow. "Send one of your heroes to try and stop me! I shall crush them. I shall leave them broken at my feet!"
Beetle grabbed a motorcycle and flung it through the window of a convenience store. He glimpsed the bike smash into a short, stocky man carrying a case of beer. Both man and motorcycle soared through the air and crashed through the glass doors of a cooler.
"I am unstoppable! I am your greatest fear come to life. I . . . AM . . . THE BEETLE!"
"What you are is pissing me off."
The Beetle's eyes widened at the sound of the gruff voice. "What? Who dares challenge me?"
He spun toward the shattered window . . . and gasped.
"I dare, bub."
Tremors of fear went through his body. Standing before him was none other than Wolverine.
"Not only did you bust up my bike, you busted up all this beer I just bought." He dropped the case, foaming liquid oozing all over the floor of the convenience store.
"Tell me, what did you have for breakfast?"
"Because whatever it was, it's gonna be your last meal."
Long, adamantium claws popped out of Wolverine's hands.
Beetle's shaking grew more violent.
Stop being afraid. Your armor is more powerful than ever.
But what good would that do him against a psychotic mutant who healed quickly and possessed metal claws that could slice through anything?
The Beetle's wings buzzed. He rose into the air just as Wolverine leaped through the shattered window.
"Come back here so I can skewer you, you pansy!" Wolverine shook a fist at him, the sun glinting off his claws.
The Beetle took rapid breaths, his heart slamming against his chest. Through his fear, anger flared. The word, "Pansy," echoed through his head. He gazed at the street below. People looked up at him. Did they think him a pansy for fleeing?
It's Wolverine. Many of the idiot heroes out there were dead set against killing. Not that nutjob. The word from other villains was Wolverine actually delighted in racking up a body count.
Screw that. There were other heroes out there to fight, ones who would never eviscerate him.
Beetle flew over a few more blocks before diving for another street. He blew up more vehicles, then ripped out a streetlight and smashed it against a storefront, caving in the brick siding.
"Tremble in terror, you vermin! Look upon your doom! Look upon the Beetle!"
"Cease this mindless destruction at once," demanded a smooth-sounding voice behind him.
Beetle rotated in mid-air. His mouth fell open.
Are you kidding me?
A slender, distinguished-looking man with dark hair and gray temples dressed in a blue tunic, black pants and a long red cloak floated over the opposite end of the street.
"I advise you to surrender before -"
"No way! No freakin' way!" Beetle fired a volley of mini-missiles at Dr. Strange and flew away as fast as possible. He zipped over six blocks before glancing over his shoulder. The missiles evaporated into puffs of smoke with a wave of the hand by Dr. Strange.
Not him. I don't want anything to do with him. He'd heard plenty of stories from other villains about Dr. Strange. The guy journeyed to other dimensions, fought demons and cosmic entities. Hell, no one was really sure exactly what powers he did possess. All anyone could say was Dr. Strange used magic. Very, very powerful magic.
He was not cut out for that kind of stuff.
"Dammit!" Beetle landed on a roof four miles away. He looked out at Manhattan, anger replacing his fear. This was not how his plan was supposed to go. He was supposed to lure out a normal superhero to fight, not a psycho and the so-called Sorcerer Supreme.
Beetle bent over and put his hands on his knees. I gotta think. There's gotta be a way to do this.
He heard a thump behind him. A slight tremor shook the roof.
What the hell?
"Foul metal beast! Explain thy purpose for terrorizing the citizens of Midgard."
Beetle felt sick to his stomach. He stood paralyzed for several seconds. Swallowing he forced himself to turn around.
God help me.
Thor stood across from him, gripping that big-ass Mjolnir hammer of his.
"Thou must answer for the havoc wrought upon those people. Yield, or face the wrath of all-mighty Thor."
Beetle tensed, ready to fly away.
Again. How many times could he run away before the world knew with certainty those idiots on the community access show were right? That he was the lamest supervillain in the world.
No, he was worse than lame. He was a coward.
You wanted to make a name for yourself. What better way than by taking on a freaking Norse god.
Beetle took a deep breath, summoning all the courage he could muster.
"Y-Your wrath? No, Thor. You will feel my wrath. The wrath of the Beetle!"
He diverted all the power he could into his lightning horn. The bright blue bolt shot across the air and struck Thor. Beetle gritted his teeth. The HUD showed his armor's power levels going down. Eighty percent. Seventy. Sixty. Fifty. Forty. He didn't care. He was going to fry this bleach-blond mass of muscles. He would become a legend among supervillains. People would mention him in the same breath as Baron Zemo and Dr. Octopus.
He would be the man who defeated The Mighty Thor!
The words LIGHTNING HORN OVERHEATING flashed in his HUD. The bolt vanished. No matter. Thor had to be . . .
Thor still stood, unaffected by the lightning horn.
"You use lightning to battle the God of Thunder? You are a most foolish mortal."
Beetle just gaped at Thor.
"Now you shall learn the folly of your ways, and I assure you, it shall be a lesson most harsh."
Thor took a step toward him.
Beetle's mind screamed at him to fly away.
No! No more running away.
He let out a war cry and lunged forward, fist raised.
Thor drove his hammer into the Beetle's gut.
Pain exploded through his ribs. All the air shot from his lungs as he flew across Southern Manhattan. The digital symbols in his HUD winked on and off. He fought through the burning agony and tried to activate his wings.
They wouldn't work.
Beetle cratered the side of a brick building. He tumbled through the air and bounced off a delivery truck, caving in the roof. He landed face first in the street. Every inch of his body hurt. Sparks burst all over his armor. A cloud of smoke hovered over him. Groaning, he rose to his knees.
The screeching of tires pierced the air.
Beetle turned. The grill of a cement truck filled his vision.
The truck crashed into him. The grill shattered. Beetle went tumbling across the asphalt. His HUD went offline.
He lay spread-eagled in the middle of the street, moaning. Invisible, white hot knives stabbed his mid-section.
He had no idea how much time passed before a flash of red and blue caught his attention. Fear nearly overwhelmed him.
Slowly, painfully, he turned his head.
"Beetle? Is that you?" Spiderman cocked his head to the side. "Wow, you look like you got hit by a truck. Or by Thor. Oh wait, you actually got hit by both of them."
"Yeeeeeesss?" Spiderman leaned down.
"P-Please just web me up and t-take me to the police. I'm done."
"Hey, if that's what you want, fine by me. Wow, I wish all supervillains were like you."
Twenty minutes later, the Beetle, stripped of his wrecked armor and heavily bandaged, sat in the back of a special SHIELD prisoner transport. He gritted his teeth against the constant, battering pain of his broken ribs.
Stupid, stupid, stupid. What the hell was I thinking? Thor. He actually tried to fight Thor. How could he, one of the most brilliant mechanical engineers around, be that stupid?
Jenkins stared down at the bare metal floor, grimacing in pain. He had to admit, against the likes of Thor and Doctor Strange, he was way out of his league. Maybe even against Iron Man and Spiderman. When he got out of prison, either by escaping or by parole, he'd make it a point to stay away from them. There had to be other superheroes out there who'd be much easier to deal with.
I wonder if Rocket Racer needs an arch-enemy.