Book: Junior Hero Blues
Publisher: Riptide Press
Publication date: November 5, 2016
Length: 183 pages
Last year, Javier Medina was your average socially awkward gay high schooler with a chip on his shoulder. This year, he's . . . well, pretty much the same, but with bonus superpowers, a costume with an ab window to show off his new goods, and a secret identity as the high-flying, wise-cracking superhero Blue Spark.
But being a Junior Hero means that Javier gets all the responsibility and none of the cool gadgets. It's hard enough working for the Legion of Liberty and fighting against the evil Organization, all while trying to keep on top of schoolwork and suspicious parents. Add in a hunky boyfriend who's way out of Javier's league, and an even hunkier villain who keeps appearing every time said boyfriend mysteriously disappears, and Blue Spark is in for one big dollop of teenage angst. All while engaging in some epic superhero action and, oh yeah, an all-out battle to protect Liberty City from the forces of evil.
Welcome to the 100% true and totally unbiased account of life as a teenage superhero.
I mean, aside from being gay, Rick was, like, standard bully material. He was a football player, even—six feet of lean teenage muscle and popularity. And I have a theory that being gay in high school just pushes your social standing to an extreme either way. Like, if you’re already popular and then you come out as gay, you become like this amazing, brave individual who inspires change (exhibit A: Rick Rykov). But if you come out as gay, and you’re that weird little Spanish dude who came to America in first grade and couldn’t speak any English, who decided to compensate for that fact by eating a bug in front of his entire class, which was never forgotten, ever, by anyone . . .
Well, see exhibit B: Javier Medina (that’s me, by the way). Skinny, brown, nerdy. I’m sure you can picture it. That, combined with my family not exactly being wealthy, meant I got picked on a lot in school, even before the bug thing, so I’m a little skittish. Or possibly a lot skittish. You decide.
So anyway, naturally, considering my rather extensive history with bullies, when a super hot, super popular football player came striding down the hall toward me after class one day, my first instinct was to run away. Unfortunately, Kendall (who apparently has superhearing that I don’t know about) had overheard that Rick was planning on asking me out, and grabbed my arm to keep me from escaping. She’s pretty heavyset, and I guess she was using her weight to her advantage, because I was basically rooted to the spot despite having, you know, moderate superstrength.
So then Rick strolled up, cool as you please, and introduced himself. Like, he full-on shook my hand. As if it was a job interview. And then he asked me out, and I was thinking that I might be stupid enough to eat a bug, but I sure as hell wasn’t stupid enough to think that Rick Rykov was actually asking me out on a date. So I told him to eff off.
Yeah right. I actually said something along the lines of, “Uhhhh . . . you want to go . . . on a date? With me? Wh-hyy?”
And he said, “Because I like you. I think you’re cute, so I thought we could get to know each other a bit better, over coffee.”
At this point I was basically giving myself whiplash looking around trying to see if I was in the process of being ambushed with the eventual intent to stick my head in the toilet. And then I got kind of angry because, like, here I was, busting my butt every single day to save people’s lives and keep the public safe—screw putting up with this high school bullying crap.
So I decided I would go out with Rick, and if he or any of his buff football friends decided to try to pull one over me, I was just going to spontaneously snap and beat the crap out of them (or at least use my powers to pull some fun tricks with them) and plead temporary insanity to Captain Justice after the fact.
Rick seemed pleased, and a little surprised that I’d agreed. We set a date, and I went in fully expecting to be doused with whipped cream, or laughed and jeered at, or at the very least stood up.
But Rick was there, leaning back in one of the little spindly café chairs that looked like it might break under his weight, and sipping some frothy drink. When I sat down, he shook my hand again, and then we just sort of . . . started talking.
Which I know isn’t a big deal, because, like, people talk all the time. But not me. I mean, I talk to Kendall, because she’s my best friend and has been forever and we tell each other everything. I talk to my parents, in Spanish mostly, which is still a bit easier for me, funnily enough (although I’m sure you can tell I have an absolutely superb grasp of the English language). But with everyone else? It’s kind of like the fewer syllables I can use, the better. I mumble my way through life. I just can’t make myself say what I’m thinking most of the time.
So yeah, it was pleasantly surprising to be able to talk to Rick. He asked me questions, and waited patiently while I answered them, and then offered information about himself. He lived with his parents in a really nice part of town, although pretty close to me, and had a sister and a cat. And I told him, a bit defensively, that I lived with my parents in a crappy little apartment that didn’t allow pets, and that my dad worked on computers and my mom worked at a gas station so we could have a little extra income. I was all set for Rick to be all judgey or awkward (or worse, feel bad for me) about my poorness, but he didn’t seem to care about that at all. He actually seemed to genuinely want to get to know me.
And then, just when I was starting to relax and believe that this was actually a thing that was happening and I wasn’t going to, you know, die, Rick’s phone rang. He had a sort of awkward conversation and said, looking really let down, “I’m sorry, I’ve got to go to work. Last-minute thing.” Then his face brightened up a bit. “But we should do this again sometime.”
I agreed, and he went off, and I was left sitting there for about ten minutes finishing my coffee and thinking. And then my phone rang too.
I should have figured it out right then and there.
It was the League dispatch, about as polite as ever, which is to say one step up from a robot. Actually, scratch that, the League AI was way friendlier.
So she was all like, “There’s an incident downtown, not far from your location. Can you respond?”
And I figured why not, since I was pretty pumped at that moment, and anyway, it was my job. Like, I got paid for it and everything. So I told her I’d be there in like two minutes, and grabbed my bag and headed out.
Now, listen up, because I’m going to let you in on a little secret about switching from your civilian clothes into your superhero getup.
The telephone booth thing?
I mean, maybe except for old pros like Captain Justice. I’ve seen him change into his costume so fast it was like he must have been wearing a tear-away outfit, complete with, like, origami cape and boots in his back pocket. But for the rest of us, it’s three-plus minutes of awkwardly hunching on top of a building—try even finding a telephone booth these days—ripping off your clothes and pulling on the parts of your costume that don’t fit under them, and then you have to try to fit everything, including your shoes, into your backpack. And then you have to look for a place to stash your backpack where it won’t be stolen or, like, crapped on by pigeons or something.
And the League really does expect you to respond to a call within like five minutes. I don’t know why they haven’t invented some sort of quick-change technology. Maybe they have, and they just don’t make it available to Junior Heroes.
It’s a complete rip-off being a Junior Hero, by the way. You’re supposed to be only assigned to low-risk stuff, but half the time it’s just as dangerous as anything else anyway, and the rest of the time it’s freaking boring. You don’t get any of the cool gadgets, and there are all these rules . . .
Anyway, I guess I should skip ahead to the action.
I hadn’t really been given any info by dispatch besides that the incident was a jewelry store break-in, and when I arrived, the alarm was going off already, so that meant the police were on their way. But of course by the time they got here, it probably would have been too late. It was up to me to stop the thieves (if they hadn’t already finished up and left in the time it had taken me to find my mask in the bottom of my backpack), so I jumped down outside the glass doorway and warned all the civilians to take cover, before heading on in.
The thieves were still here, but it looked like they were getting ready to leave. My first clue that something was up was the fact that none of them were holding any loot, besides the head guy, and all he had was a briefcase. The second thing was that they weren’t wearing normal robber attire (not that robbers have a uniform but, you know) and instead they were wearing dark-colored skintight suits that looked a lot like League costumes only . . . well, darker. Also, they all had on masks, but not your old-fashioned balaclava-type masks. No, these were molded ones, heavy-duty, doubling-as-face-armor-type masks, like only heroes wear. Well, heroes and villains.
That confirmed my suspicions: these guys were with the Organization. I reached for my watch and subtly tapped the panic button that alerted the League that I needed backup. In the meantime, I knew it was up to me to either stop them, or else stall them until some more powerful League members could arrive and take them out.
All this happened in about five seconds, of course. Basically I walked in, the tinkly bell on the door went off, the guys inside looked at me, and I pressed the button on my watch. And then the guy with the briefcase turned around and distracted me with his junk.
Okay, you have to cut me some slack here, because one, I am a hormonal teenager, and two, it was, like, right there, and, um, big. And it’s not like I’m not used to seeing guys in spandex and/or spandex-like materials, seeing as I belong to the League and everything, but jeez, this guy was really impressive. It was almost obscene.
So at that moment I had about two thoughts in my mind, one of which was Distract them until backup arrives! and the other of which was Holy crap, his bulge, so my first instinct was to distract him by pointing out his penis to him.
I know. Shut up.
“What the hell is that?” I gestured dramatically at his crotch. “That’s not appropriate for children!”
The guy just stared at me, and I’m pretty sure his expression was something like incredulous, although it was hard to tell because, you know, mask. His eyes flickered over me though, and I remembered belatedly that as a superhero in a midriff-baring costume, I was not exactly above the “not appropriate for children” criticism. Also, the way he was looking at me was . . . I don’t know, kind of sexy but in a way that made me feel a bit uncomfortable and squirmy. And angry too.
“Hey!” I said loudly. “I’m talking to you!”
The guy shrugged, seeming a lot more relaxed than his two cronies, and grinned at me. “What’s the problem? I have nothing to hide.”
“Oh yeah?” I flushed under my mask. “Then why are you hiding your face?”
I’m sorry, by the way.
If you went into this thinking that it was a story about one of those epic, always cool heroes with the witty one-liners, who only pretends to be shy and dorky for the sake of his alter ego, you’ve probably realized by now that that is not what you’re getting. I, Javier Medina—or Blue Spark, as I’m known to the citizens of Liberty City—am one-hundred-percent dork, through and through. The mask only makes it worse. So yeah, I apologize. If this isn’t what you’re into, I’d recommend Captain Justice’s autobiography. Not the current Captain Justice, though, I’m pretty sure he’s super boring. But the Captain Justice in the forties was pretty cool and witty. Except that he was kind of a huge raging misogynist. Kendall’s all into the feminist history of superheroes, so I know these things.
What was I talking about? Oh yeah, I was detailing my epic levels of fail.
Well, let’s get on with that, then.
So the guy took a step toward me, and then another. And then he was staring down at me with this dark, evil glint in his eyes, and smiling like a crocodile. “Listen, kid, if you knew what you were dealing with, you’d get the hell out of the way.”
“I know what you are,” I said, pretty bravely in my opinion, considering that the guy was like three times my size. “You’re with the Organization, aren’t you? What’s your name, Evil McBigDick?”
I was stalling here, just so you know. I’m usually a lot more to the point. I think.
Anyway, I must have struck a nerve, because the guy’s smile went away, and he made a little signal to his cronies with his fingers. Then he said, “It’s Jimmy,” and brought his fist up into my stomach, catapulting me into the air and through the glass display window. “Jimmy Black.”
Stupid name for a supervillain, if you ask me.
So I went flying through the glass and it shattered all around me, and there I was lying on the pavement, staring up at the tall buildings and the sky. My stomach hurt pretty bad, and I was trying hard to breathe, and little bits of glass were digging into the bare skin on my back. I know, I know, midriff-baring costume, really, really stupid. But it shows off my abs, and my cool markings (more on those later), and I don’t think it’s fair that only the girl superheroes get to look sexy while fighting crime. Plus it’s not like the rest of my uniform is super heavy-duty. The thing about me is, I’m generally fast enough to get out of the way before taking any blows. And if Jimmy hadn’t been distracting me with his junk, I would have been able to. Okay, that’s probably enough about his junk.
The minute I could actually take half of a proper breath, I sat up to see that my backup had arrived, finally. Two superheroes—I think I recognized Lady Deathquake (awesome name) and Wolfhound—were locked in battle with two of Jimmy’s cronies. But Jimmy himself, not to mention the briefcase of whatever he’d been in the process of stealing, was nowhere to be seen.
Then I spotted him: running down the sidewalk, shoving pedestrians out of the way as he went, and turning down an alleyway. There was no time to alert the other heroes, or call for more backup. I had to follow him.
I used my powers for the first time that day, catapulting myself off the ground with waves of sound that sent the broken window glass scattering. I bounced over the heads of the crowd, hit the ground hard, and screeched to a halt next to the alley that Jimmy had turned down. For a moment I didn’t see him, but then I looked up and saw a dark figure running up the sand-colored wall like it was horizontal.
Great, just great. I should mention at this point that I sort of have this issue with heights. I’ve had it all my life, but getting electrocuted and falling off a tower a year earlier probably hadn’t helped. The thing about my powers is, I can use them to fly . . . sort of. I can basically generate sound waves from certain spots on my body, mainly my palms and feet. If I shoot out wave after wave, I can propel myself through the air, or else do this stupid little hop to stay in one place.
I’m serious, it looks really ridiculous.
And I think that if I could, like, actually fly, my fear of heights wouldn’t be as bad, because I’d obviously never have to worry about falling. As it is, “flying” for me is pretty much constant jumping and falling, and the worst case of stomach butterflies anyone’s ever experienced. I deserve a medal for what I go through.
So anyway, there was Jimmy running up the wall sideways (what kind of freaking power is that?) and about to disappear onto the roof, stolen briefcase still in hand. I shouted at him, something like, “Hey, Jimmy BigDick!” hoping he’d slow down or turn around or be so surprised that he fell off the wall or something. But he just kept running, so I had no choice but to catapult myself up into the air, and do my stupid little bounce thing to catch up with him. At least no one was watching.
He jumped onto the top of the roof, and I came up over the edge and twisted in the air so that I was horizontal, and shot toward his back, slamming us both down. The roof was one of those stupid ones that are covered in gravel, and it burned my knees (although I will admit my costume does a pretty good job of protecting me, despite being lightweight—it’s some sort of secret League material).
Jimmy swore and rolled over to throw another punch into my gut, but I was too fast for him this time. I dodged out of the way and ripped the briefcase from his hand, and then he spun on the ground, surprisingly agile for such a big guy, and knocked my feet out from under me—which, rude—and I fell, shocked enough to lose my grip on the briefcase.
He grabbed it in midair, flung it over the other side of the building, and ran after it, catching it as he went over. I stood up and raced after him, angry enough to jump off the edge of a building without freaking out and stalling, for once.
He was running down the side of the building, and I was falling, but luckily I managed to fall right on top of him. I landed my feet directly on his shoulders and kicked hard, shoving him off the wall. He fell, face-first and grasping at thin air, and I twisted and sent out shock waves just in time to stop myself from hitting the ground. I made a bit of a crater in the asphalt, though, which was less than optimal, even if it did look cool. The League frowns on destruction of city property. Obviously the glass window wasn’t my fault, but the crater sort of totally was. Oh well, maybe they wouldn’t notice.
Jimmy had created some damage himself, cracking the asphalt and putting a decent-sized dent in a manhole with his head. For a moment I thought he was out, but when I took a step toward him, he groaned and lifted himself up onto his knees, glaring at me with a look of seething hatred. I almost took a step back, I was so shocked by the intensity of his expression, but part of me was pleased too that I’d actually gotten him angry.
I kept walking toward him, nervous that this wasn’t over, but also relieved by the fact that he seemed to be having trouble getting back onto his feet. I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do now, since we’re provided with handcuffs to incapacitate petty crooks, but based on the fact that this guy had just survived a ten-story fall and lived to tell the tale, I suspected they weren’t going to work on him.
There were civilians around too, gasping and screaming and pulling out their phones. All that stupid stuff that civilians do when they should be running for their lives. Sometimes I think that the League is so sensationalized people forget that what we do is actually dangerous, and that, you know, civilian casualties are a thing that happens.
Jimmy was still glaring up at me, his face sharp and angry, and then he glanced down for a second, and I saw that he was looking at the briefcase, which had fallen directly between us. I lunged for it, but he got there first. He grabbed it, and I went to tackle him, but he dropped out from under me. The manhole cover skidded across the cracked asphalt, and I landed over the open hole.
The crowd around us gasped, and, trying not to think about what this meant, I jumped down after him.
I landed in, you guessed it, sewage.
I propelled myself back up out of it, but not before it had pretty much soaked me through. It smelled like . . . well, I’m not going to describe how it smelled, because I don’t want to relive it, and I’m sure you can put your imagination to the task.
So there I was, bouncing up and down in the air and dripping sewage. I had always imagined that sewers were pretty small, but this one was huge. I’d fallen at least thirty feet, and the light from the manhole above did almost nothing to illuminate my surroundings. I tried to make my markings glow brighter, which they tend to do anyway when I’m upset or embarrassed or pissed off, but they didn’t help at all. I couldn’t hear anything either, besides a bunch of useless splashing echoes. I had no idea which way Jimmy had gone, or even which way the exits were.
For a moment I was completely stuck, and then I remembered that I have sound powers that are good for stuff besides destroying city property, and closed my eyes. I brought my hands up, and shot out little waves of sound, listening as they bounced back to me, revealing archways and tunnels in all directions, and down one, the water rippling as if someone was running atop it.
I lunged after him, nearly dousing myself again. I heard him gasp and swear as he realized that I was still following him, and again felt super smug at having managed to get a reaction out of him. I was mostly flying blind at this point, since I wasn’t staying still long enough for any echoes to get back to me, but I could hear him ahead of me. Footsteps on the wall, and then the sound of a manhole being wrenched open. I shot upward toward the blinding light, and saw his backlit figure disappearing through the hole.
I emerged out onto the street, ignoring the screams from the inevitable crowd, and squinted around to see where he had gone, but no matter where I looked, there was no Jimmy, and no briefcase. And there I was, panting, soaking wet, my body starting to throb in pain, and absolutely nothing to show for my efforts.
Oh, and I smelled like crap.
About J.K. Pendragon
J.K. Pendragon is a Canadian author with a love of all things romantic and fantastical. They first came to the queer-fiction community through m/m romance, but soon began to branch off into writing other queer fiction. As a bisexual and genderqueer person, J.K. is dedicated to producing diverse, entertaining fiction that showcases characters across the rainbow spectrum, and provides queer characters with the happy endings they are so often denied.
After writing in the romance community for several years, Junior Hero Blues is J.K.'s first book for young adults. Having been very positively affected by the queer books they came across as a teen, J.K. hopes their young adult books can have a similar effect on teens who may have a harder time finding books about people like themselves.
Notable works by J.K. Pendragon include Ink & Flowers, a contemporary romance novel with coming out themes, and To Summon Nightmares, a horror-fantasy that follows the journey of a young trans man into a world of magic and danger. To Summon Nightmares is the winner of the 2015 Rainbow Awards' Best Transgender Fiction award. J.K. also contributed to Less Than Three Press's Geek Out: A Collection of Trans and Genderqueer Romance.
J.K. currently resides in British Columbia, Canada, with a boyfriend, a cat, and a large collection of artisanal teas that they really need to get around to drinking. They are always happy to chat, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on twitter @JKPendragon.
Connect with J.K.:
- Website: www.jkpendragon.com
- Blog: www.jkpendragon.com/blog
- Twitter: @JKPendragon
- Tumblr: jkpendragon.tumblr.com
To celebrate the release of Junior Hero Blues, three lucky winners will receive $15 in Amazon Credit! Leave a comment with your contact info to enter the contest. Entries close at midnight, Eastern time, on November 12, 2016. Contest is NOT restricted to U.S. entries. Thanks for following the tour, and don’t forget to leave your contact info!