Sunday, March 21, 2010

Villain’s Anonymous

“Hello, my name is Professor Dread, and I’m a super villain.”

“Hi Professor Dread.”

“I’d like to welcome everyone to the ‘Not Such Bad Guys’ Villain’s Anonymous group. This is the last Friday of the month, and, as many of you know, that means this is a speaker meeting. Before I introduce our special guest, however, let’s get some business out of the way. First, are there any new comers to the meeting that would like to introduce themselves?”

“Uh, Hi. I’m Bruiser Bill, and, uh, I’m a super villain.”

“Hi Bruiser Bill.”

“Uh… my last act of villainy was, uh, yesterday, I was, uh, trying to rob a bank and was, y’know, trounced thoroughly by, uh, Captain Valiant. It was my third time in, uh, three days to be beat by that guy, and I thought, uh, maybe something’s wrong with me. A friend suggested I, uh, give VA a try, and here I am.”

“Welcome, Bruiser Bill. Keep coming back. Okay, now onto reports. Any news from the secretary?”

“Greetings, I am Mind Master, and I am your secretary. I just want to remind everyone the District Fifteen Tenth Annual Villain Fishing Weekend is coming up, in two weeks. It is a three day event, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and takes place at Liberty Lake. A good time is had by all, as everyone gather’s in group activities, such as boat building, group fishing, and, of course, the big dinner. If you have never been, you should think about it seriously, because it is fun, and I speak from experience here.”

“Thanks Mind Master. All right, now it’s time for the main event. Allow me to introduce a villain who’s name by itself was once cause for fear. He’s been in the program for a very long time, and was friends with some of its founders. I give you the one, the only, Luther Van Dyne!”

“Greetings, fellow villains. My name is Luther Van Dyne, and I’m a super villain. My last act of villainy was 20 years ago.”

“Hi Luther!”

“So, I understand that this month’s topic for your group is the fourth step. That is fantastic. It’s one of those steps that everyone stumbles over, but you come out the other side so much stronger and better for it. I remember my first fourth step, and let me tell you, it was a fucking bear! But, before I get into that, I’m going to start with a little back story. I know that a lot of you have heard my story before, but for those that are new, or haven’t heard it before, I’ll go over it again here, in brief.”

“I’m not really going to get into my childhood, it’s too long a story to cover at this meeting, but suffice it to say, I was born to a wealthy family. My father, Richard Van Dyne III, was the fourth in the Van Dyne line to hold the position of CEO and Chairman of the Board of Directors for Van Dyne industries, and I was to inherit that when my father retired, probably by the time I was in my 30’s. I had a very dysfunctional life growing up. My father was a workaholic, as well as an alcoholic, and my mother mostly spent her time shopping or at a beauty salon. I was raised by my nanny, a very kind lady who’s name I have been asked to keep anonymous.”

“Inside the home I was ignored and a nobody, at least to my parents. Outside the home, however, I more than made up for that. I was a star athlete at the private school I went to, playing football, basketball and water polo. I was big man on campus, class president, a straight A student and the favorite of all the teachers. I had a different girlfriend every quarter, and a line of male students willing to do whatever I told them just to learn at the feet of the master. I was well on the way to becoming the villainous mastermind I would one day become.”

“My first real act of villainy was a simple one. I stole some money out of my mother’s purse when I was ten. I never got caught, so I did it again, later. I discovered that it was pretty easy, in fact, because she never tracked her purse or how much money was in it. It became boring by the time I was twelve. I moved onto bigger things. By then, I had discovered computers, and that my father’s company was heavily into developing them. I learned all I could about them, and from that, I learned how to hack into my father’s company’s files. For fun, I would move files to different locations, or change key words here and there. They never figured it out. Later, I learned that banks had computers as well.”

“Stealing out of my mom’s purse was always just for some quick cash. I used the money to buy candy and soda, comic books and movie tickets. But banks. Now they had some serious cash. I found that I could easily hack into banks, because back then, not many people were doing this, so banks had no defenses for it. I stole thousands. And I loved the rush I got from it. I was hooked at that point, a real villain. I started seeing how I could easily manipulate people, especially my mother, how I could use computers to forge documents, and I could easily assemble an army of minions quickly. And then I formed my plan. I was going to take over daddy’s company, and I wasn’t going to wait until I was 30 and too old to enjoy it.”

“So I did just that. I created documents that indicated my father was involved in some nasty, illegal stuff. Insider trading, bribing of government officials, paying off rivals, corporate espionage. Later I learned that he really was guilty of all those things, but was a master at hiding it. I, however, got him arrested on false evidence for real crimes. I used that knowledge to justify my actions for years to come. At any rate, at the age of 19, I inherited Van Dyne Industries, the youngest CEO in the country. And I turned my brilliant mind to the business. I thought that, with my focus on the company, I would put villainy behind me. Petty crimes had no place in the corporate world. What I found however, was that a whole new level of villainy was opened to me. All the things I framed my father for, I was now doing. Manipulation, lying, forging documents, corporate espionage. At the same time, I thought I was on top of the world. I was the youngest CEO of a Fortune 500 company in the history of this country. I had vast amounts of money going to charities, and I had a new, famous girlfriend every month. I was America’s darling, on my way to being the richest man in the world, and nothing could even touch me, never mind take me down from the top of the mountain. Then, a new player entered the field, and I was about to find out how wrong I was.”

“At first, no one knew his name. They just saw him flying around, in his red and blue uniform. He stopped natural disasters, or saved people in them. He rescued kitties caught in trees. And most importantly, he stopped one of Professor Dread’s giant robots. Remember those, Dread? No one made giant robots like Dread. Finally, one love smitten report named him, Ultra-Man. He was the hero of the city, and the new media darling. In the first month of his appearance, I could have had the worst sex scandal of all time, and no one would have even noticed. I’m sure you all understand, my ego just couldn’t accept that. I was Luther Van Dyne, the most powerful man in the city. And I needed to find a way to remind everyone of that.”

“Before I could make any move against Ultra-Man, I had to learn about him. Costumed heroes were nothing new, we’ve had them as far back as the American Revolution, with the Masked Musketeer, but Ultra-Man was different. Or at least, it looked that way. He was the first hero to have multiple powers. Flight AND super strength. Invulnerability AND laser vision. And on top of it all, he seemed to be the first hero that wanted to work WITH the law, rather than around it. Not a vigilante, but someone that wanted to aid the police, to protect the people from threats that cops couldn’t. He never interfered with the police unless they asked, or if it appeared that they weren’t going to be able to stop the criminals on their own. He seemed to be a genuinely good guy, a law abiding citizen with the power to make a difference.”

“But, I didn’t believe it, not at first. Everyone had a price, right? At least, that’s what my villainy had taught me up to that point. I just had to find out what Ultra-Man’s was. Imagine my arrogance. This man could latterly move mountains, and I thought that if I waved a stack of money in front of him, he would move those mountains for me, at my whim. I even tried the direct approach. I arranged a meeting, offered to ‘sponsor’ his activates in exchange for some endorsements. Oh, I wasn’t asking him to wear my corporate logo on his chest or anything, just appear on billboards, telling the world to buy my stuff.”

“Of course, he wanted nothing to do with any of then. In fact, he committed that sin amongst sin. He insulted me. He called me a corrupt businessman, who treated the world as if it were my toy. He told me that he was going to find a way to arrest me, find proof that I was a criminal. And I couldn’t believe how arrogant he was being.”

“After that, I stepped things up. I had set up a dummy corporation that funded illegal activities. Crime sprees, protection rackets, random bouts of destructive violence. I even ended up funding your chairman here, Professor Dread. He used my money to build a truly impressive giant robot. It looked like he was on the verge of getting the city to give him all his demands, too, before Ultra-Man stopped him. Eventually, though, I slipped up.”

“One of the times I had funded a group of thieves to rob every bank in the city in alphabetical order. It didn’t take Ultra-Man but two bank hits to figure out the pattern, and capture the guys committing the crime. Sadly, one of them was wearing a Van Dyne employee badge at the time. It was pretty easy to get one of them to rat me out. The dummy corporation was discovered and a mountain of evidence against me was gathered. I was arrested, tried, and sent to jail. You would have thought that was enough. That going to prison was my bottom, and I would have turned over a new leaf right then and there. Instead, it had the opposite effect on me. I became more determined.”

“My board of directors was very loyal to me. After getting out, they reinstated me as chairman, though I couldn’t also serve as CEO. I made a decision right then and there that if Ultra-Man were going to try and call me a super villain, then I was going to give him one. I spent thousands of dollars, almost none of it mine, building the power suit. For those of you old enough to remember the suit, allow me to apologize. For those that weren’t, just allow me to say that it was horribly ugly, and you weren’t missing a thing.”

“As bad as it looked, however, it allowed me to do the one thing I had planned on doing all along: take down Ultra-Man. In my power armor, I actually managed to defeat Ultra-Man. That’s right, I actually managed to defeat Ultra-Man in a straight up fight. Oh, not right away, to be sure. We battled back and fourth, as a true hero and villain should. I came up with scheme after scheme. He thwarted me over and over. I even went back to prison several times. But I had very good lawyers, and never stayed there for long.”

“But in the end, I pulled off my grandest scheme. In all this time, I had not just been fighting Ultra-Man, but also observing him. I noticed that a certain lovely, lady newspaper reporter always managed to get the scoop on our fights. The gossip rags had been reporting that the two of them had a secret love affair, and I started to wonder if maybe they were right. So, I kidnapped her in an attempt to stop Ultra-Man. I didn’t demand a ransom, or that he give up being a hero to get her back. Neither of those would work. No, I demanded from her she tell me all there was to know about him. Everything she didn’t publish.”

“It took some doing, but she finally broke. I learned his dirty little secrets, and most importantly, his weaknesses. I re-tooled my armor to take advantage of said weaknesses, and then let him know that I was the one that had his reporter, and where to meet me. I choose a private location, outside the city. I wanted this to be a private victory. I would bring the battered and defeated Ultra-Man back into the city later. This battle would be an exclusive for our dear lady reporter, the only witness. And it was a glorious fight. The warehouse we were in was destroyed in the processes, but in the end, I had defeated Ultra-Man. He was battered, bleeding, powerless.”

“I was drunk on the victory. I had him on all fours, coughing up blood. I told him to surrender to me, and I would spare his life. Surrender, become my lackey, and he could live. He, of course, refused. Then, I threatened the reporter. I turned my ray blasters to her. I could see the fear in his eyes. Work for me, I told him, or she dies. He hesitated, and in my insanity, I blasted away. There was little left of the woman but charred bone. I couldn’t believe what I had just done. In my entire criminal carrier, I had never killed anyone before. I had never even had anyone killed on my order. It just didn’t happen. But there I was, a dead woman before, my arms pointing the armors weapons at her, smoke still coming from the barrels.”

“I turned to look at Ultra-Man, tears in his face, truly defeated. I was to learn later that the two of them had just married. I had killed not only a woman, but also this man’s heart. It was like waking from a dream. I had won, but at what cost? In victory, I couldn’t go on living. I flipped a couple of dials on my armor, restored Ultra-Man’s power to him, and shed the battle suit. I came up to him and surrendered. I expected him to punch my head off for what I had done, but instead, always the law-abiding citizen, he took me to the police, and charged me with murder. The trial was swift, for I pleaded guilty. I was hoping for death row, a little box with no windows where they would lock me in and throw away the key. Something like that, because a part of me knew that if I got back out, I would eventually become a villain again. I needed to be in prison to protect the world from me, to protect myself from me.”

“I got a life sentence, in a special prison for super-villains in Colorado. I know some of you know it, it’s called The Vault. It was in there that I first heard about Villain’s Anonymous. Mr. Mole and Lord Pain, the two men who founded the program, were there, along with Lady Death and the Anti-American, a small little group that worked their program in prison. At first, I didn’t understand them. They had all done hideous crimes in their times, yet they walked around happy, doing what they could to aid others, making what amends they could from in prison. They never once tried to recruit people into their little group. In my first few months, two new villains joined their group, and as I watched over the next year, they cleared up, became happier and… free. Yes, right there, in the four walls of The Vault, these men and women were free. And I found that I wanted that.”

“So, when their next meeting happened that week, I went. No one looked at me oddly, or told me I couldn’t join. They welcomed me with open arms, and no expectations. It was odd. At first, I only listened. I was in awe at what these people said, about how they had turned themselves over to a higher power and how that higher power had guided them onto a new spiritual path that lead them to clear thinking and happiness. At first, I wondered if I hadn’t stumbled upon a cult. But it was Lady Death that said something that caught my attention.”

“She told the story of the town in Arkansas that she had poisoned. Twenty people dead, because of her. It was a crime she was not sure she could make an amends for. But, she knew she had to. So, she called the mayor of that city, and asked if she could meet with a representative of the families she had killed, so she could attempt one. She described how the young man, angry and not happy to be there, had arrived a few days later. She told how she explained the processes of making an amends, that she wanted to list all the things she had done to him and his town, and then ask him what he could do for the town that would balance the books. Anything that was in her power to do.”

“She said that he looked her in the eyes, and tears started coming down his face. He confessed that he was planning on telling her she could die. It was all he wanted. But now here, faced with her, he couldn’t ask that of another human being, even one that had committed such an evil act as that. She listened to him silently, and he finally said that what she could do was stay in prison forever. He wasn’t able to ask her to die, but he was still unwilling to forgive her. He said, however, that the people in his town would sleep better knowing that she was someplace where she could never harm another person in her life.”

“Then came the amazing part. She said that the next day, she wrote a letter to the courts, asking for a life sentence, that she not ever be allowed to leave The Vault. It was an odd request, given that she already had a life sentence, but she reiterated that what she was asking for was no chance at parole. After some deliberation, the courts agreed. She mailed a copy of the court ruling to the man that had visited her, proof that she was doing as he asked. She would stay in The Vault for the rest of her life, as her amends to those she had killed and those she had left behind.”

“It was an amazing story, and it gave me a glimmer of hope. This woman had confronted the most heinous crime she had committed, confronted someone who’s life she had directly affected, and came out the other side free. It was amazing. And I realized that I wanted that freedom. So, I started participating in full, sharing at the meetings, showing up early to help with set up, and even asked Lord Pain to be my sponsor. He refused, but directed me to Doctor Madness, who became my sponsor and guided me through the steps. He was ruthless, exactly what I needed.”

“We worked hard, he and I. Even though I wanted the freedom, I rebelled against doing the work. My ego was unwilling to admit I was powerless. I began to fear that I would fail at step one, ending my VA career before it even began. But Doc Madness was ruthless. He never gave up on me, and eventually, we worked through it. I saw that I was powerless, that my mind was somehow broken. I was bodily and mentally different from my fellows, and that I didn’t have a choice but to act the way I did. Was truly powerless over villainy, and my life was very much unmanageable.”

“Then came step two. Once again, I stumbled. I had never had strong religious beliefs, and God was something that I felt, even if he did exist, he didn’t do anything for me. I had to do it all on my own. But, going back to Step One, I remembered that doing things on my own didn’t really work out so well for me, did it? My dilemma, Doc Madness told me, was a lack of power. I had no power, and thus my life was in ruins. But God, now, here was all the power. Not just some power, but all of it. And all I had to do was believe that some kind of Higher Power, God, if you will, existed that could use that power to restore me to sanity. And so I did.”
“The third step was easier. After being willing to believe, it was easier to release my will and my life over to a Higher Power. I just had to figure out what that higher power was. I worked hard to come up with a basic definition of my higher power, but through all this, the Doc kept me focused. He let me know that at this point, I didn’t have to have a super clear idea of my higher power, just hat had I one was enough. So, armed with my basic concept, I took the third step. After this, my sponsor said to me, I was no longer in control. I left the driver’s seat for the passenger’s. After this, I was not to do anything that wasn’t a direction from God. And if I wasn’t sure, I was to pray for that direction. I nodded. I was willing. More than willing, I needed to surrender, because life run on my own will result in death. And death wasn’t going to help anyone. So, I took the third step, and felt pretty good for it.”

“Then came the truly hard work. Step Four, the personal house cleaning. It had been hard enough to go over my life in step one, but now I was going to go through it in detail, and be brutally honest with myself about what I had done. We used the method that was outlined in the grandfather of all 12-step programs, AA. We used the four-column inventory, and I wrote mine with vigor and brutality. I wanted to get to the roots of my problems; I wanted to see exactly what kind of man I had truly been. The results were not pretty.”

“At first, going through my resentments, I figured it would be limited to Super-Heroes, but I found that I resented a LOT of people. Members of the board of Van Dyne industries, my father, even employees, all faced my ire. Police, town councils, city mayors, the President of the United States, all ended up on my list. And I wrote my four columns with as much honesty as I could muster. I have to admit, at one point during the processes, I told my sponsor that I felt I wasn’t being as honest as I cold, that I was sure I could go deeper, but I just couldn’t figure out how. He laughed at me. He said, if I couldn’t see how to go deeper, than this was as deep as I was capable, and to move on. Remember, God ran my life now, now me. There was only so much God wanted me to see right away. Then he told me something that has stuck with me for the rest of my life, and something I tell all my sponsors too.”

“This won’t be the last time you do these steps, he said. You’ll come back, and you’ll find that some of these people and resentments will still be on your list. You’ll work them again, and get deeper when you’re ready to. For now, don’t sweat it. Just work as best you can. And so I did. It’s an important piece of information to be armed with. God wasn’t being gentle with me, let me make that clear, but he was only giving me what I could carry. And that meant I could only dig so deep before I was over loaded with the dirt. So, I learned to bear the dirt I had before looking for more.”

“The hardest resentment I had to write about was Ultra-Man’s. I had so much guilt around him, I was afraid of the resentment. But, I prayed about it, asked God for the strength to go on, and I wrote. I discovered that, to my shock, not only were there the resentments I expected to see, but I was also resentful at him for the death of the reporter. Somewhere in my twisted way of thinking, I had blamed him for making me kill her. Can you believe that? Even though I felt guilty over her death, part of me blamed him. The heights of arrogance. Doc Madness pointed out to me that this was how my disease worked. It was how my mind was able to justify all those acts of villainy. And I realized he was right.”

“At that point, I started to sense that feeling of freedom that I had seen in the others. I realized that there was a light at the end of the tunnel. I also realized that in doing my fourth step this way, I had set myself up for my ninth step, but that was to worry about later. No, not even worry about it. I would turn it over to God when the time came. In the mean time, I was still working on my fourth step, and I needed to finish that. One step at a time, as my sponsor would say. One step at a time.”

“Now I’ve been in program for a long time. And I’ve worked hard to get where I am. Van Dyne Industries is in the hands of the board of directors, I no longer have any thing to do with it. Instead, I live off the inheritance I got from my parents, and spend most of my time working with other villains. One of my amends, in fact part of the amends I made to Ultra-Man, was to do just that. When he saw how I had changed, what VA could do for even someone like me, he realized it was important that I work with others, that I bring them through the program. He realized that it was not only good for the world, but it was good for these men and women as well.”

“In all this time I’ve been working program, I’ve done numerous fourth steps. I try to work my steps each year, from scratch. And so I’ve gone through a lot of resentment inventories. Lots of fear grids. Lots of house cleaning. I know that this is news for some of you. I mean, once you do your first fourth step, that it, right? You’re cleaned house, now you’re done, right? Maintenance only? Well, no. Let’s continue with the house cleaning metaphor for a moment. You live in a pig sty. Then, you go through it all and do a through cleaning. You put things away, get rid of things that are no longer serving you, and make the floors sparkle. It’s perfectly clean. Now it’s just a matter of maintaining that clean, right? Sure, except that a year later, you look around and notice that the place is cluttered again. You did your best to keep it clean, but here you are, looking at dirty floors and rooms filled with junk you didn’t even realize you had collected.”

“So, you go through and clean again. And the next year, again. Its spring cleaning, the big, through clean that has to happen to make the maintenance easier. This is the biggest thing I can tell you about the fourth step. Don’t fear it, just realize that it’s a vital part of your program. Despite your best efforts, you will accumulate junk. New resentments, old ones that you forgot you had, or old ones you thought you had worked through but discovered that they were still there. Sometimes, it takes a resentment two or three times to be worked out of your system. At least, that’s been true for me.”

“So, just remember, work it to the best of your ability. When you think your missing something, pray and turn it over to God. Don’t worry about how this will affect your other steps, they’ll come soon enough. Stay on the here and no, work your fourth step to the best of your ability, and God will do the rest. If you want to be happy and free, then this is the work you need to do. The desire to do villains acts has been removed from me, but the spiritual illness that drove me to them in the first place requires constant work. And the fourth step is perhaps the biggest tool in my tool box at dealing with it. Thank you everyone for allowing me to come out here and share. I know I said would be brief telling my story, and I think I went over my time, but again, thank you.”

The End

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