Superman and Madame Xanadu: Retribution, Chapter 1: The Depression Plague

by Libbylawrence

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Alice White was concerned when she turned over and noticed that her husband Perry was not in their room. She listened intently for the telltale sounds that would reveal his location. After so many years together, she knew to listen for either the click of a typewriter from the study or the clatter of dishes and bowls from their kitchen. Oddly enough, neither work nor a late night snack seemed to be the source of the famous newspaper editor’s absence.

She donned a robe and entered the living room below, where she saw a dim light. Perry White was poring over a stack of photo albums. He sniffed as if he had a cold or, even more miraculous, had been crying.

“Dear, what are you doing? It’s three in the morning,” she said softly.

Perry sniffed and said, “I was looking at the family album, seeing old shots of the kids that were almost new to me. It just took me back — made me aware of how much time I robbed myself of by working all the time.”

Alice drew near as the light revealed a worried, sorrowful face. “Perry, you know the kids adore you. So do their wives and the grandkids,” she said, soothing his concerns.

Perry frowned. “But I was a bad father, lousy husband. I was raising a paper, a thing of paper and ink. I neglected you all. How can you forgive me? How can I forgive myself?” he said with emotion in his voice.

They sat up until morning with little improvement in his attitude. He was a man who felt that he had lost precious years and had cost his loved ones more than he could ever repay.

***

The next day brought no relief to Perry White’s troubled mind. He was a strong man of heroic principles, yet he also lived and died by these selfsame values. One of the things dear to him was his family, but he was suddenly obsessed with how his ambition had deprived him of time that he could have spent with them. He sat morosely in his office at the Daily Planet Building, and the hum of conversations barely intruded upon his thoughts.

The office walls were lined with awards, ranging from a 1940s Press Association Award for his story about the Blackhawks and Hitler’s Secret Olympics to Pulitzer Prizes.

I wasted my life! he thought. Those awards are nothing but cold reminders of time I could have better spent at home. Other men ran papers, yet still kept regular hours. That’s why a man has staffers. But not the great Perry White, with printer’s ink in his veins where warm blood should have been.

***

Meanwhile, in an office that could best be described as cute, feminine decorations marked the room as opposed to bland office practicality.

The occupant of the small office was also best described as cute. Even today, with her normally perky features devoid of any makeup, young Meg Tempest was adorable by any definition of the word. Still, the girl reporter known for her fluff pieces on quaint lawn ornaments or Elvis impersonators was not feeling her usual chipper self.

She sighed as she looked at old photos from her pageant days and grew more depressed. “All I am is my looks,” she mused. “The beauty queen titles that got me this far don’t change a thing about the reality. I am no Lois Lane. I can do light filler pieces, and people like me because of my looks. I don’t have the journalistic credentials to back up my demand for heavy stories.”

That day Meg had arrived at the Planet weary and worried without her usual stylish makeup and feathered hairdo. She was trying to see if people would still treat her well if she was ordinary. The experiment was rather pointless, since everyone else seemed oddly preoccupied with their own concerns.

She was feeling unworthy and wished she could offer the working world more. She had never lacked for self-esteem before, but now she wondered if she should not head back home to the small town that launched her career as a pageant winner and journalism student.

***

Jennifer Owens sat at her usual spot as Daily Planet receptionist and almost wept. Her curly hair and vibrant manner usually marked her as a perfect greeter for the very busy office building, but today love’s slings and arrows brought her down.

“Jimmy may be with me physically, but his heart belongs to that flashy Lucy Lane,” she sighed. “It’s just a matter of time before she flies back in, and he’ll rush off after her like a lovesick puppy. I was crazy to try to compete with a beauty like her.”

In other offices, other staffers suffered their own crippling feelings of guilt, shame, or lack of value. The atmosphere was draining and defeating, and yet an unseen being fed off the dark emotions with pleasure.

***

Mr. Action, as Jimmy Olsen liked to call himself, wanted some action. He walked listlessly down the streets of New York but saw very little of the dynamic city around him. Jimmy Olsen had departed from the Planet on a morning flight, yet he still could not shake the feelings of uneasiness that plagued him.

“Am I a true journalist or just a thrill-seeker who attracts readers and viewers through sensational stunts?” he muttered. “You don’t see Clark jumping off planes, but he has a loyal following. I’m just a flavor of the day who will lose his readers when he can’t pull off daring stunts.”

He didn’t understand the doubts that haunted him. He had been ready for anything up until the last day or so. Then he began to wonder if he lacked depth, and he also questioned the distance between his wealthy father and himself. Oh, sure, Mark Olsen had turned out to be a willing and proud parent in recent years, but still Jimmy ached over the years apart. He thought of Lucy Lane, the love of his life, who had teased and tormented him by being warm one moment and cold the next. He wondered if being Superman’s pal really meant much, since in truth he lacked the true confidence of the hero.

“He never tells me many things about his life. I mean, a true friend would share everything. For all I know, Superman could be a coach or taxi driver when he’s not wearing the cape. Why can’t he trust me?” he wondered somewhat irrationally. He had neglected the scheduled interview that had brought him to New York, and yet he still could not pull free of his worry, doubt, and negativity.

Then he spotted a weird little shop, and something urged him to enter. He walked over and read a sign. “Madame Xanadu,” he muttered and swung open the door.

As Jimmy glanced around the odd little shop, he saw shelves lined with jaws and containers, as well as odd scrolls, pictures, mirrors, and things he could not identify if his life depended upon doing so.

But the most striking and precious object in the shop was not inanimate. Nothing of metal, glass, or wood could equal the dazzling glamor of the woman called Madame Xanadu.

She swept into the room without a sound except perhaps the silken rustling of her alluring purple gown. Her spike heels made no sound as she seemed to float across the shop in a sea of exotic perfume that intoxicated the observer almost as much as did the lovely woman’s dark and compelling beauty. For once in his life, Jimmy Olsen was speechless.

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