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Long Post Warning: About some of the issues I see with Mila’s art and a reluctance to acknowledge them
Now let me get this out of the way first: I greatly dislike Mila’s art in FEH, and I say that as someone who summoned for her. Mila has long-been one character most I wanted to see in FEH, and the way IS chose to realize her in this game has left an incredibly sour taste in my mouth. I’m not trying to come at this from a “neutral” stance, because I don’t have one and I won’t pretend I do. But it’s precisely because of all these issues I see with it that I dislike it so much.
I want to preface my points with this: I appreciate art with different styles, and I really like how FEH uses tons of guest artists to draw the wide variety of characters in the game. I love Amano’s traditional Final Fantasy artwork, and I like how Yamada Ahihiro has captured the look of the tough guys and old men in FEH, just like I like the soft bright colors used on Halloween Nowi and Bridal Ninian or the harsh lines AKIRA came up with for Raven and Olivia. But Yamada Akihiro’s renderings of Mila has clear issues that stood out to me immediately in relation to her portrayal in Echoes, and I think too many people are letting their appreciation of his artstyle in general impede their perspective on Mila’s art. He can draw young women well, as we’ve all seen in his Street Fighter art and assorted fantasy drawings. But there are clear issues with his Mila art, and everyone who proclaims that it is amazing and among the best in FEH seem to be willfully ignoring clear flaws.
First off is what’s the biggest one, since I have to look at it up in the corner literally every time I use her; her face in the attacking art has an extremely unusual perspective and shape. Both eyes are drawn as if facing forward even though her left eye is drifting off the side, and she has no cheekbones or curvature to speak of that should be below that same eye, in addition to her left eyebrow starting far higher up her face than the right does. Everyone roundly criticized Saias’s attacking art for having two weirdly-facing eyes on a side perspective, but we seem apt to ignore Mila’s. Also, perhaps even more galling, the line showing the curve of her nose stops where if it continued it would clearly cut into her left eye.
Additionally, Mila has monstrous yaoi hands in her attacking art. Reinhardt has been mocked relentlessly for years for having slightly tiny hands in his original art, but these hands are so big Mila could place the bottom of her hand on her chin and touch the top of her head with her fingertips. Her left thumb starts where her wrist should be, going off of where her fingers are, and bends in the wrong direction, and most of her other fingers take on a grotesquely thin or spindly shape. I have seen the defense applied to this one that she’s beginning to transform into a dragon, and so her hands take a grotesque shape, but I find that defense uncompelling. If she’s truly mid-transformation, then why is the only other evidence veiny feet? Her special art is actually mid-transformation, and her hands look more normally proportioned in that one, barring the weird spindly fingers again! Maybe she is mid-transformation, but her special art is clearly further along the transformation and yet her hands are actually more normal-sized.
Speaking of her special art, why is her right arm so elongated after the elbow? It is as if the top half was drawn in one smooth line from shoulder to hand, and then the armband, elbow point, and underside of palm were added in later. I would actually accept the “mid-transformation” argument on this one, but her left hand and arm clearly are not cast as far away as her right is, going off of the perspective, and either way neither Mila in Echoes nor any other dragon in FE to my recollection is seen getting monstrously thin bird arms while transforming, and even her scaled legs are still shaped like relatively normal legs. We’ve roasted lack for their absolutely atrocious proportions on Hot Springs Camilla, a piece of art far below their usual quality level, but everyone seems keen to overlook or excuse Mila’s strange shoulder-to-upper arm-to-forearm geometry.
I actually like her damaged art the best, although this one made it clear to me that her horn is somehow entirely different lengths in every piece, while Echoes gave no indication that her horn wasn’t just jewelry. I wish the other three pieces were at this level of quality in terms of the lines behind the colors.
And there are other little details I’ll chalk up to artistic liberties that aren’t really issues, but stand out to me all the same, like her ears being unlike any other manakete’s (or herself in Echoes) and being tall as well as long, or her dress hem not having the simple pattern it did in Echoes and looking far more frayed. Her hair being seemingly made of jagged feathers instead of just being hair that’s shaped like wings was another interesting take. Though, her hair being neon-green actually does bother me a bit, considering how poorly it matches all the other green-haired manaketes or her sprite in FEH, but I guess that one is an artist’s choice too. Really, her sprite in general looks so much more like her Echoes design it’s pretty clear that it was made first, otherwise they probably would have included the hair color, hair-wing design, and dress fringe change. A lot of map sprites in FEH are clearly modelled after their in-game art, but it would seem Mila’s was made first.
I also feel as though her frightening expressions in her attack and special art go too far in making her intimidating and imposing, without basis in Echoes’ portrayal of her. Almost none of Yamada Akihiro’s other characters manage to look ugly and distorted when they’re attacking, while Mila takes on a face that is downright unappealing and out-of-character, and not in a good way. I’m sure he was relying on this moment in Echoes, where Mila attacks Rudolf for trying to capture her, but you’ll notice that all that happens is she gets a malicious grin, beadier irises, and small lines beneath her eyes, far from as, I’ll say it, ugly as her attacking portrait makes her look. There are plenty of beautiful characters in FEH who look fierce and even deranged without looking ugly, and I feel like this attack art really missed the mark.
My bottom-line is this: I feel as though those who claim to love this art and who want more like it are engaging in a clear double-standard, excusing obvious issues with the art because Yamada Akihiro is a legend. This subreddit has roundly criticized past art for not being up to snuff with the rest of the art in the game for one reason or another, and I’m not sure I’ve ever seen someone say “I actually like Reinhardt’s tiny hands” or “Saias’s eyes look best this way!” or heaven forbid “you know, Hot Spring Camilla has a real unique take on proportions I’d like to see on more units.” But because the art is presented by someone whose style we appreciate for its historicity and uniqueness, everyone seems to be looking the other way on the actual flaws. And I won’t mention how contradictory it is that the subreddit seemed to agree that his work on Ogma had clear issues with the face and biceps meanwhile those who dislike Mila just “can’t appreciate classical art.”
Putting it bluntly: try to picture if the lines in the art were the exact same but were colored by someone with a modern style who we also like such as HACCAN, or Asatani Tomoyo, or Wada Sachiko. We would be all equally upset over things like the nose clipping into the eye, or that same eye running off the face. We would wonder how on Earth Intelligent Systems let through something like the giant hands, or gawky forearm, or off-model face. Summer Lilina was touched up by BUNBUN after release for issues I couldn’t even notice were issues until they were fixed, meanwhile Mila’s art gets a pass because it’s traditionally done by a living legend. And for someone like me who really wanted to see Mila in FEH, it's a real bummer to see so many people excusing genuine issues and saying the haters just wanted another titty monster to whack it to.
I am not at all opposed to Yamada Akihiro doing more Heroes in the future. I like his style, and how it makes characters stand out in this game. But Mila stands out, to me, for all the wrong reasons and I think this fanbase is giving the art too much of a pass simply because we like the style itself and many of us were pleasantly surprised they didn’t “anime bimboify” her (something I’m grateful for as well). I wish he would have given it another draft on the linework, or taken a second pass on a couple of aspects of the final drawings. His coloring (save the hair color) I really like, and I agree with the common opinion I’ve seen that making her look like a Greek goddess was a cool move. But as a fan of Mila’s gorgeous design in Echoes, I feel like my only hope for a Mila who actually looks like her in FEH is for her to get a seasonal at some point, the likelihood of which is depressingly low.
If you’ve made it all the way to the end, I’m impressed. I ended up writing more than I planned to, but I hope some will reconsider what their thoughts are about Mila’s art, and why they dislike it or like it. All I have for you at this point is some of my favorite fanart of Mila.
Thank you, and may the light illuminate your path.
Night Force #13 - Void
Written by AdamantAce
Edited by PatrollinTheMojave & Dwright5252
<< First | < Previous Issue
Arc: Neron’s Gambit
Bloom Studios, Los Angeles, California. 14:30
Eddie Bloomberg stood in the middle of the road of the studio backlot. Aunt Marla’s studio pumped out summer blockbuster after summer blockbuster, affording her great money, influence and power. Yet despite coming into her care and living that same luxury, the loss of his parents made Eddie feel powerless. But that would soon change.
“Power,” nodded Neron, who stood tall in his forest green suit and suave sunglasses. His white-blond hair was gelled back like a slick salesman’s. “I can give you power like the greats: Superman, the Flash, Wonder Woman.”
“Y-You can m-make me a superhero?” Eddie stammered, brushing his long brown hair out of his eyes.
“That part I’ll leave to you, power does not a hero make,” Neron explained. “But I can give you all the tools you need.”
In his hand, Eddie clutched a black candle, one he found on his doorstep which - when lit - summoned the demon before him in a cloud of green smoke. “What do you want?”
“Your eternal soul,” Neron said plainly.
Neron shrugged, “Fine.” He adjusted his glasses to the bridge of his nose, revealing the unearthly emerald glow behind his eyes.. “Another offer then: I will grant you incredible power and, once I have, you have one year, 365 days to prove your worth as a hero. Do that and you get off scot-free, I’ll even let you keep your powers. But fail… and your soul is mine.”
“That’s stupid,” Eddie scoffed.
“It is?” Neron readjusted his sunglasses.
“That’s the whole reason I want these powers. Batman and Wonder Woman are dead, the Flash is gone. The Green Lantern from the Teen Titans is dead, and the other one killed them all,” Eddie choked on his words. “I know I can do it, I can step up. Pop always said I was brave and Aunt Marla doesn’t need me here. You give me powers and I will be a hero, no matter what. I promise you that.”
“Then do we have a deal?” Neron stretched out his pale, bony hand.
As Eddie shook Neron’s hand, he instantly felt something pass from the demon to him - an energy. Starting from his extended hand, flames erupted and spread across his skin, enveloping his whole body. But it didn’t burn; if anything it was cold. The taste of ash filled his mouth. Feeling faint, Eddie dropped to his knees, and as the flames snuffed out he looked at his hands outstretched ahead of him. His skin was cracked, leathery and blood red. What the hell had happened to him?
He threw his hands up and clutched at his head, screaming out in agony as this skull crunched and reshaped. From his temples, twin horns broke through the surface of his skin and extended outwards. As the black candle he dropped at his feet turned to ash, Eddie watched the street around him be once again enveloped by green smoke. He looked up to Neron, who grinned while inching back into smoke.
“What did you do to me!?” he roared.
“I have granted you the physiology of an infernal beast, a devil,” Neron chuckled. “You should find your might more than sufficient, though it will perhaps be difficult to convince anyone to regard such a creature as a hero.”
“You didn’t tell me that--” Eddie spat, still writhing in pain.
“There is much I didn’t tell you, Eddie,” Neron replied, vanishing into the mist. “You’ll see. 365 days.”
⬣ ⬣ ⬡ ⬣ ⬣
364 Days Later
HIVE Facility, Somewhere in the Mojave Desert. 19:00
After the destruction wrought from Kid Crusader’s rampage, the horde of abominations he released, and the unbridled power of Jennie Hayden, otherwise known as Jade, to defeat the villain, the HIVE Facility was a sorry sight. The damage to infrastructure and systems was immense, hundreds of agents were dead, and those remaining were powerless to stop dangerous monstrosities from escaping into the night. The Hierarchy of Investigation to Vanquish the Extranormal, was well and truly crippled, and soon a swathe of freshly escaped supernatural monsters would tear across America. But more personally, for Traci Thirteen, her father was dead.
The young city mage walked alongside Jennie through the depths of the HIVE Facility. On either side of them, agents in white overalls scrubbed the once clinically-white walls to remove the blood that belonged to the victims of their prisoners’ wrath. After a short while, they came to the medical bay where they found Eddie and Alice. Eddie was visibly ashamed of the mistake he had made in allowing the Crusader to temporarily strip him of his powers, feeling responsible for all that had happened, while Alice looked off, numb. The doctor declared her good-to-go, having stitched up one of her injuries while the Crimson Avenger sat deathly still. And, while Alice rose slowly from the stretcher, Eddie threw his arms around Traci.
Despite the carnage that they had all survived, the world seemed to move slower now, for Traci as she mourned her father, and for Eddie as the seconds ticked by the last day before the period on his contract with Neron elapsed.
Then, after what Traci could only guess was seconds later, a voice spoke from behind them. She turned and faced a tall man in a black three piece suit with pale eyes and vanilla white hair. Traci only knew him as the man that had spoken at Grant’s funeral, but Jennie, and other agents of HIVE, knew him as the elusive Damien Darhk, Chief Director and Adeline Kane’s superior.
“I can only offer my more severe condolences, Miss Thirteen,” Darhk bowed his head. He spoke as a one person addressing another, without any of the grandstanding expected from someone of his position, that which Traci saw so often from Adeline. “The doctor was an invaluable asset to HIVE, and a truly treasured friend.”
Traci nodded as she had gotten used to, and smiled as she had rehearsed. “Thank you.”
Darhk looked between Traci and her friends, who all moved to stand around her. “Some of you might not know me by name. I’m Damien. Damien Darhk, with an H. And despite some…. past misalignments in interests--” Darhk looked to Eddie in particular, “-- I can be confident in saying you’ve all done great work in the line of our pursuit. And so - though I think it’s impossible to pretend we aren’t incredibly desperate - I would like to invite you all to the central conference room to consult on our next steps.”
⬣ ⬣ ⬡ ⬣ ⬣
HIVE Facility. 19:15
A large, round table sat in the centre of the conference room, with Night Force scattered around it. They were joined by the best agents HIVE had left and anyone else willing to lend a hand. Damien Darhk, the enigmatic figure who’s authority went beyond even Director Kane’s, clasped his hands together.
“So, what do we know?”
Shifting uncomfortably in his seat, Slade Wilson spoke first. He was tired, his eyes dark, his skin pale. “In a day, the end term of my deal with the bastard demon arrives. Joseph survived getting this throat cut and all I had to do was keep the trust of Grant, my other son, until tomorrow’s date.” As Slade looked about those assembled, both Adeline and Joey, his ex-wife and son, refused to look him in the eye. “But since the fucker killed him the second I lost his trust, I didn’t get to win it back. So tomorrow my soul belongs to him, and he’ll come to collect it.”
“He’s coming for mine too,” Eddie said. “He gave me powers and a year to turn myself into a hero. And he also made me look like this. And I don’t see the Justice Legion coming to sign me up.”
“No doubt the deal Terrence made had the same expiry date,” added Director Kane.
Traci didn’t look up from the conference table. “He saved me from the disease that killed my mom. In return, he had to stop the one among HIVE who was going to betray us. He thought it was Eddie,” Traci shot a dirty glare at Slade, the world’s deadliest assassin, “I think it was you. With how you tried to stop us from confronting Neron using Dad’s code.”
“Yes, and look where that got us all!” Slade cried. His son was dead because he failed to stop them.
A second later, Joey leapt up from his chair and slammed his fist down on the table. He may have been mute, but his fury alone was enough to command the attention of the room. He made a single, rapid sign, pulling his hand up to his mouth. The room was similarly silent.
Quietly, Adeline sighed. “He says to shut it, Slade.” Joey returned to his seat, and Adeline continued. “What we know is that this demon made a dozen deals, maybe more, all with conditions. Do ‘x’ or I get your soul. He asked them to do simple tasks, things that seemed entirely accomplishable so that the marks would agree, thinking it the obvious choice. But all these deals, these conditions, they overlap. He designed this… gambit to trick people, to that in trying to beat him they all made sure each other failed. And he gave them a deadline. Tomorrow. Why?”
Alice spoke up, roused from her trance. “Cosme. The immortal Spanish sailor. He was stranded at sea and Neron returned him to shore in exchange for his soul when he died,” Alice explained. “But Cosme outsmarted Neron when he drank from the Fountain of Youth. If he’s immortal, he’ll never die and Neron will never get his soul. So he learned. He started giving out time limits.”
“I hate to change the subject,” interjected Damien Darhk, commanding the room’s attention from the head of the table. “But we also have the problem of the escaped monsters. They will take some time to adjust, but we need to mobilise the forces we have left before they can return to their dark deeds.”
“I agree,” Adeline replied. “Fifty-two were released from their cages. The kid killed eighteen of them, we slew another sixteen and returned another six to their cages. That leaves twelve to take care of.”
“Well, Adeline, I propose that while the rest of us prepare to face down the demon, you and your son should lead a task force of our best remaining agents in pursuit of the escaped subjects.”
Joey resisted, throwing up his hands, but Darhk stopped him.
“It’s best we make our stand against the demon here,” Darhk continued. “And if we fail and die, we need you to survive to start over. The world needs HIVE.”
Jennie rolled her eyes in disgust. As if HIVE weren’t monsters themselves.
“You demonstrated great power earlier, Jade,” Darhk took note. “Far exceeding anything in your record. The damage done to the facility is... forgivable, considering we have the Crusader in custody. Though you might want to consider using that power against the demon when he arrives.”
“It’s not that simple,” Jennie replied with disdain. That power came from her burning anguish, her desperation mixed with all the trauma HIVE had brought her in raising her and using her a weapon. She couldn’t summon it on command.
“Then we better hope it starts being that simple, girl,” spat Slade. “It could turn the tides.”
“And your firearms,” Adeline spoke across to Alice. “Our files say they can kill anything. When you summoned the demon before, when it killed my son, why didn’t you fire?”
Alice turned her head. She hated what Kane was implying. “They fire. I don’t fire them. I point them, they judge, and they kill what’s ahead if they think they deserve it.”
“And this devil fucker doesn’t?” Slade asked.
“He seemed pretty confident it was because all the bad he caused was done by other people by their own will,” Alice’s eyes glassed over. “He said he just gave them what they wanted, and they chose to fuck up the world with it.”
Slade looked to Damien Darhk. “Where do you want me?”
“Here, with Night Force,” Darhk replied promptly.
“For all I’m good for, for as much as I want to blow the bastard to bits…” Slade shook his head and cracked a twisted grin, “I’m not sure anything in my trunk can kill a demon.”
“We all have our role, Slade,” Darhk continued. “And until midnight to prepare. So it’s best we’re prompt.”
⬣ ⬣ ⬡ ⬣ ⬣
Somewhere else in the Mojave Desert. 05:30
Out in the desert, a short walk from the HIVE Facility, Night Force was preparing to make their final stand. The team took stock and recounted what semblance of a plan they had. Traci had unearthed and practiced a spell based crudely on the sigils she had previously used to summon Neron. If her predictions were correct (which she hoped they were), the spell would be more than enough to bind Neron to their location once he arrived to collect Slade and Eddie’s souls. It was messy, and though he wouldn’t be able to escape, the spell was effectively locking them all in a cage with a wild animal.
The rest of the plan… was not much of a plan. Alice would try again to use the guns, despite her sinking fear they would let her down once again, while Jennie was scared to death to unleash her full power like she had before. That was why they were out in the desert, away from anything she could destroy.
Traci trudged through the dirt, triple checking the quality of the sigils she had painted about the area. Her eye was on the horizon, awaiting the sunrise. Eddie sat on a crate of munitions thinking back to how he ended up here. In a quiet moment, Slade Wilson approached him and took a seat beside the Kid Devil. He was decked out in his Deathstroke armour, a garb Eddie had barely ever seen him without, though his orange-and-black helmet layed discarded in the sand. In his hands, Slade clutched a long white rifle, a heavy-powered repeater that fired energised bolts of white light. HIVE hadn’t tested them much on demons of Neron’s calibre, but even outmatched, Slade couldn’t stand by while the children went to bat for him. Alice was equipped similarly, in addition to her cursed revolvers, just in case they decided to disappoint once more.
“How’s it going, kid?” Slade took a deep breath.
“I’m an idiot,” Eddie hung his head.
“Excuse me?” Slade cocked his head.
“I had a year to prove myself, to prove a red devil could be a hero,” said Eddie, “I haven’t even met any superheroes.”
“You met my boy Joey,” Slade replied. “He was a ‘hero’, for better or for worse.”
“I guess,” Eddie shrugged. “Maybe I should have asked for an introduction to Robin.”
“I doubt that would have gone well,” Slade added, recalling how he had threatened the Teen Titans with certain death if the first Robin didn’t have Joey removed from the team. “I’ll say though: You remind me of Joe. You both have that… spark, that dumb hunger for justice.”
“I don’t think so.”
“The crusader kid betrayed your trust, used you to hurt a lot of people. You had every chance to tear that evil bastard to pieces,” Slade reminded him.
“I wanted to.”
“And you didn’t,” Slade added. “Hell, Alice would have done it for you, all you had to do was let it happen. I would have. She told you the guns would have shot right through you to get the kid and you’d both die, and you didn’t budge one bit. Pretty heroic to me. Or stupid.”
Eddie chuckled and joked, “What’s the difference?”
Slade stood, took a step forward and held out his hand to Eddie. He lifted him to his feet. “Sun’s up any minute now. Let’s see how this goes.”
The yellow sun crested over the rolling mountains of the Mojave desert, cutting through the purple glows. From the sky poured a brilliant golden glow, a triumphant spectacle. Though they had nothing to celebrate, not yet. But as the sun rose higher and higher, the clouds grew denser. The magical landscape lasted only a moment, leaving only dread in its place. Gone was the amber shimmer that once refracted through the air, instead thick clouds cast shadows onto the clay-like dirt below.
Traci twisted her wrists and the sigils she had spread across the area burned a deep violet. From point to point, the symbols were connected by a rapidly expanding golden ring, a barrier large enough to give them a modest battlefield, containing enough tall rocks and hills to allow for decent cover points, places to disappear behind. Traci hoped the barrier would hold. Then, as Eddie looked up at the rapidly changing vista, the sky flashed lime green for an instant, and with a singular bolt of lightning, Neron appeared at the centre of the ring. There was no heavenly glow, no tear in spacetime, not like before. Just the towering figure of the demon in a white bodysuit and forest green cape.
Everyone was deathly still, spread out wide. Traci stood with her back towards the far edge of her magical barrier, hoping it wouldn’t even have to be tested. Jennie raised her hands towards the demon and let them glow with jade energy. Eddie dug his feet into the ground, and Alice and Slade readied their firearms.
“Is this it?” Neron grumbled in a voice that reverberated across the plains. “I would have thought it wise to try a different tactic than last time, considering where that got you.”
Slade pushed forward. “I’m here this time, you fucker. And plenty’s changed.”
“Excellent point, I do find the older models tend to be more reliable.. You’re welcome,” Neron grinned, delighted by his murder of Grant Wilson. “And plenty has changed, I’m impressed. I didn’t expect you to come out on top against young Gabriel. Oh, but Traci, it’s such a shame ol’ Terry failed to spot the traitor in your midst, though at least you finally know the truth about where your powers came from. You’re welcome for that one too, it was a freebie.”
Traci didn’t rise to it. Instead she began reciting an incantation under her breath, readying an offensive spell.
“And let’s not forget el hombre inmortal!” Neron cried out. “I did not plan on you guys running into my old pal Cosme. You’re lucky, Slade, he had your other boy by the throat. Would have totally undone that deal we made. Not that you’d be any less mine. I’m not in the business of refunding damaged goods.”
Slade gritted his teeth.
“And, to be clear, you are mine.” Evidently, Neron liked talking. “Deadline is here, and I don’t see young Grant rushing to trust you. Unless you’ve got him hiding behind one of these rocks, in which case I’d be thrilled to pop his heart a second time.”
Slade leveled his weapon.
“Oh, Mister Wilson. You should have trusted your son more. Trust is mutual,” Neron mocked the grieving father. “And the best part is that if you hadn’t driven him away from you, if he hadn’t made it explicitly clear how full of shit he thought you were before he came knock, knock, knocking on my door… I wouldn’t have been able to kill him. The contract would have forbidden it. But don’t feel too responsible for his death. After all, I knew you’d drive him away before I made the deal. It didn’t take much scrying to see that you’ve always been an awful father.”
Slade let out a ferocious roar and charged towards the demon, feeling the weapon in his grip grow hotter and hotter and he unleashed a volley of white-hot light towards Neron. But before the first blast could even touch him, Neron vanished with a flash, reappearing behind the Terminator.
“You were always going to lose.”
Slade drove his elbow backwards to strike the demon, but Neron simply held his arm out and launched Slade through the air. He soared, tumbling, and stuck the invisible barrier Traci had conjured at the edge of the battlefield, illuminating it in gold briefly before he fell to the ground.
“You’re a slave to your fears,” Neron appeared behind Alice. She leapt forward and turned to face him, unloading a volley of white energy from her repeater rifle. And while the blasts seemed to singe the edges of Neron’s form, while the demon winced at each hit, he pushed forward, closing the gap and knocking the rifle out of her hands with a backhand. “Useless at the one thing you’re good for.”
Alice pulled the cursed guns from their holsters, but before she could raise them, Neron vanished in another puff of smoke. This time, he appeared by Traci. However, his goading would have to wait as he instantly triggered a seal by approaching her, detonating a blast of golden light that threw him back. “Ugh,” he growled. “Everything you are… you got from me.”
Neron vanished again and reappeared directly ahead of Jennie. He grabbed her by the throat and dragged her off of her feet like she weighed nothing. Instantly, the others came running. “And you… are a monster. Created to hunt and kill,” Neron grinned, staring Jennie dead in the eye. “To think you thought you could be a force for good is laughable.”
A second later, Eddie, the Kid Devil, leapt up into the air and landed on Neron’s back, bringing his weight down to topple the demon backwards. And while he dropped Jennie to the ground, he easily reached up and grabbed Eddie by his shoulders and tossed him into Jennie’s gasping frame.
“You’re all the same. Losers.”
But Jennie pulled herself to her feet, bloodied, bruised, and determined.. “That’s not true,” she resolved. “Eddie isn’t like us, he’s a hero.”
Neron’s lip twitched. He let out a shrill and inane laugh. “So - a few people think he’s brave, or more morally righteous than the rest of you. But that’s a low bar,” Neron cackled. “All he’s done with the powers I gave him was right a few wrongs behind closed doors and chase the consequences of his own actions. No reputation to speak of. Hardly Justice Legion material.”
“You made a mistake, Neron. Just like with Cosme,” Jennie continued. “You told Eddie he had to ‘prove his worth as a hero’. You didn’t specify who to.”
Traci inched closer, carried by a disc of lilac energy, her wrists and eyes glowing gold. “This last year, he’s evolved. He’d give his life at a 1% chance of saving the life of someone we all saw as beyond redemption. He’d die for nothing if it meant challenging his friend to help her redeem herself.” Traci looked to Alice, and the two exchanged a soft smile.
“Face it, Neron,” Alice approached, the guns at her side. “You lost.”
Neron stumbled back, agitated as he stood in the centre of his opponents. “There’s no way I lost, you fucking amoeba!” he growled vehemently. “Those guns of yours won’t work. I’ve committed no wrongdoing. I gave people what they asked for, and they chose to use it to cause harm.”
“They chose no choice at all,” Eddie spat, catching up to Jennie. “They were always going to do what they did, because you set them up to fail. People don’t make good choices without support, without fair circumstances, and you’ve been pulling our strings every step along the way.”
Alice nodded and began her condemnation. “Cosme: You led him to an endless life of misery. Traci’s mom: You let her die to prove a point.” She took a step closer. “Dr. Thirteen: You let him live his life in regret and paranoia, then had the Kid Crusader get him killed.” On the far side of the arena from her, flanking Neron, Slade pulled himself to his feet. “Slade, Joey and Director Kane: You took away their family out of nothing but spite.” Slade gave Alice a terse nod. “And Grant Wilson: You fucking killed him. If you don’t deserve to die, then who the fuck does?”
Alice leveled the guns.
And nothing happened.
With a truly devilish grin, Neron surged forward, leaving a trail of green smoke in his wake and closing the gap between him and the Crimson Avenger in less than a second. With another backhand, he sent Alice tumbling across the jagged desert dirt. Jennie and Slade poured on fire, the former with her jade blasts and the latter with his rifle. All the while, Neron stomped back over towards the floored Alice.
Eddie wound back and pushed forward, unleashing an inferno of hellfire from his maw. But the flames barely fazed the demon at all.
Then, while Traci scrambled for a spell - any spell - that might help, with Neron inching ever closer to his downed quarry, Eddie charged. He pounced forward, breaking into a sprint on all-fours before vaulting ahead. He threw out his clawed hands and went to grab Neron by his flowing green cape. But as his grip closed on every handful, the fabric dematerialised, rendered smoke. So he leapt onto Neron’s back once again, this time swinging his weight to drag the demon to the floor. The pair of them fell and hit the sand with a thump and, sitting on the demon’s chest, Eddie raked his ebony claws across Neron’s flesh. And, for the first time, they drew blood.
Neron’s eyes widened and a green energy pulsed, launching Eddie up and off of him. Neron sprung to his feet and, with the smokey dash he had used to assault Alice, made a beeline for the edge of the arena. Then, when he hit the translucent barrier, he began pounding against it with unmatched strength. With every punch, the dome illuminated in gold, it’s surface appearing to crack more and more. But then Traci flicked her wrist and the whole dome flashed a scarlet red. In an instant, Neron was catapulted back into the arena, directly into the range of Deathstroke the Terminator.
Neron and Slade exchanged strikes, the former with a strength that could grind Slade to dust with a single blow if he willed it so. But Slade was faster. His mind far more expanded than the average man, Deathstroke had incredible reflexes, anticipating each and every one of Neron’s attacks and evading them. And though his punches and kicks did no damage, it was plenty enough to keep Neron occupied. They rallied against each other and Slade barked “I can’t kill you, but I won’t let you hurt these kids.”
“You still owe me a soul, Slade Wilson,” Neron spat. “We had a deal.”
“You took my son’s,” Slade roared.
And Neron just shrugged. “His life for yours. Fine, we’ll call it even.”
Neron drove his hand forward once again, blasting Slade into the air a second time. But this time, purple energy coalesced around the airborne assassin, and Traci lowered him safely to the ground a good distance away.
Jennie poured her brilliant energy onto the demon, who cried out in anguish before teleporting across the arena with a streak of green embers. And, with the demon now in range, Alice leveled her guns once more. She cried out, feeling no pull from them at all. She was desperate to avenge Grant. His soul wasn’t Slade’s to barter with.
Slowly, Neron raised himself into the air, lording over the other combatants. Up above, he closed his fists and conjured from the desert sand five looming sand titans. However, before he could sic them on his enemies, three more similar looking creatures rose to combat them. Traci grinned, accomplishing mastery of the power Jasper Winters had commanded against her not long ago, the power Traci had unwittingly taken for herself when Winters’ ritual backfired.
From the ground, Jennie fired at the levitating demon, but her bolts of green energy dissipated into ineffectual wisps before they could close the distance. She growled in frustration. But Eddie encouraged her.
“We’ve seen what you can do, Jennie,” Eddie called across the arena, “You’re more powerful than any of us. You can do this.”
“I can’t!” Jennie cried back in turmoil. “I… was scared before. It was a primal response. I can’t control it.”
Slade dug his feet into the ground. “Of course you can’t control it,” he spat. “You’re pathetic. HIVE made you to be a weapon, your one purpose is to cause harm, and if you can’t do that… you’re worthless!”
Jennie flared up, her eyes burning with energy, her green skin beginning to glow. Slade leapt back, throwing his hands up in protest.
“Use that rage,” he smiled. “Prove me wrong. Avenge Grant and prove that HIVE underestimated you.”
Neron hovered several dozen feet in the air with absolutely no cover other than the sand titans who trashed and fought against each other. So, with a clear shot, Jennie let loose, commanding furious, relentless energy that scorched the air and roared, eclipsing Neron’s form whole with emerald light. Then, as the light faded, through the sand titans all fell to ash, Neron grinned, maintaining his place in the sky. Sanctimoniously, he lowered himself back to ground level.
“Was that the best you’ve got?” he mocked her. Jennie was speechless, both from shock and exhaustion.
“Well then,” Neron continued. “This has been entertaining, but I think the time has come to begin wrapping up.” The sand crunched under his feet as Neron slowly approached Eddie.
With unnatural speed, Neron raised his arm behind him. A promethium blade landed snugly in Neron’s bare palm. Its wielder, Slade Wilson, could only look on helplessly as the blade snapped like a twig in the demon’s grip. “A fine attempt, Terminator, but I expected-”
Neron gritted his teeth. “How?” He saw Slade’s off-hand clutching a pair of daggers, buried deeply in the wound Eddie had inflicted. Surprise turned to rage and Neron bellowed “Enough!” He gripped Slade by the forearm and squeezed until it made a sickening crunch. Neron flung Slade across the battlefield. Alice rushed to his side while Neron continued his progress towards Eddie, fuming.
The only obstacle left in his path was Traci, who frantically flipped through her spellbook to find a solution. She began an incantation and heavy iron chains broke through the ground, shooting towards Neron in a serpentine pattern. Neron scowled at the girl and her plastic binder of arcane knowledge burst into green flames.
The spellbook singed Traci’s hand before falling to the ground. The chains went limp. The golden barrier lasted a few seconds longer before flickering out. With the few moments Traci had bought, Slade had risen to his feet beside Alice. “So the guns fire if you point them at something that deserves to die?”
“And they’ll kill anything else caught between them?”
Alice hesitated for a second, realising what was happening. “Yes.”
Slade ducked and vanished, and Alice raised the guns.
“You’ll never be a hero,” Neron taunted Eddie across the arena. “Not only because you look like a monster, but because you asked for superpowers out of fear of your own weakness.”
“No I didn’t,” Eddie protested.
“You didn’t want powers so you could do good. You wanted them for the recognition,” Neron explained. “That’s why you’ve failed. You failed to get the one thing you sought after. You spent your year as far from the public eye as possible. Really, it makes no sense. You’re a walking pack of contradictions, one that results in the most inconsistent, most pathetic soul I’ve ever seen. And I can’t wait to own it.”
A thunderous bang rang out across the desert. An explosion, a discharge, a gunshot.
Feebly, Neron dropped to the ground, blood pouring from his chest. There was no smoke, no light show, no flames. Just a corpse.
And as Neron fell, Alice looked beyond him to Slade Wilson. But, to Alice’s surprise, Slade was unharmed. Instead, another man sat in a pile on the floor beside him. Alice’s eyes sprung wide. Cosme.
Alice leapt to Cosme’s side, with Traci, Eddie and Jennie close behind. She threw herself to the ground, and cradled him.
“Mad bastard was hiding behind the rocks…” Slade heaved, seemingly offended. “He shoved me out of the way before you fired.”
Unlike Alice’s other victims, Cosme was still very much alive, but as the blood haemorrhaged from the gunshot wound in the centre of his chest, it was clear that the life was draining from him quickly. With a soft smile, he clenched Alice’s hand tight, bracing through the pain.
“I guess I’m still hard to kill… even for your guns,” he jested. “It will be over soon.”
“Cosme… Why would you…?” Alice struggled for her breath, dumbfounded by what had transpired.
“The guns didn’t fire before,” Eddie was confused. “You’re a good man, they said you didn't deserve to die.”
Cosme coughed and spluttered, hacking up blood as he lay on his back. “I lived my life with virtue and honour. I may not have deserved a bitter end... but I’ve also prayed that... I’d one day deserve peace.”
Alice was lost. “But… before, you didn’t--”
“Before, I was greedy, selfish,” Cosme’s eyes began to flicker and his chest jerked forward to snatch a breath. “I wanted to hurt that poor boy. I didn’t deserve peace then. But things change.”
“I…” Alice sobbed. She jumped as Cosme grabbed her by the scruff of her neck and pulled her close.
“You deserve peace too. Forgive yourself… or try to… For me.”
And, like Neron, he too was gone.
⬣ ⬣ ⬡ ⬣ ⬣
One Week Later
Outside the HIVE Facility. 13:00
The HIVE Facility was under heavy construction, with hundreds of contractors and builders swarming the place. Eddie wondered how much HIVE was paying to ensure they all maintained the organisation’s secrecy. It had to have been a lot.
Out in the sand, Eddie was joined by Alice, Traci, Jennie, and Joey - back from his mission with his mother to recover the first few of the escaped monsters. He couldn’t help but be blown away by how far they had come, how much they had survived, even if there were casualties.
Joey looked back at the construction occurring behind him and then back to Night Force. He signed ‘HIVE’s changing more than just the decor.’
After Jennie interpreted for him, Traci replied. “Oh?”
‘HIVE doesn’t want to keep being tyrants,’ Joey continued. ‘They want to get back to just protecting the normal world from the paranormal.’ Jennie couldn’t quite believe the words she was saying.
“I guess that starts with rounding up the rest of the monsters that escaped?” Eddie posed.
Traci looked to Joey. “And you’re staying with them? With HIVE?”
Joey nodded and continued to sign.
Jennie lowered her head and interpreted for him. Unsteadily, she said “He wants to know if we’ll join him.”
Traci looked to Jennie with apprehension and then back to Joey. “I… My dad died here. He spent his whole life with HIVE trying to make up for his mistakes. I… think I can finish that for him. I think I’ll stay.”
“We’ll I’m done,” Jennie interjected, somewhat curtly. “I’m done being their puppet. I want to help people, but on my terms. I’ll help round up the monsters to keep people safe… but as a freelancer. As a friend.”
Next, they all turned to Eddie. It was clear they were all at a crossroads. “I wanna make it in the big city.”
‘New York?’ Joey asked, harkening back to his days at Titans Tower.
Eddie shook his head. “The other one, LA,” he replied with a grin. “I’m going home. I hear there’s been more and more bad guys on the West Coast, and I figured Wonder Woman could do with a hand, right?”
“Right,” Jennie returned his grin.
Finally, they all looked to Alice, who stood further apart from the rest of them, looking off across the dunes. Without any of them saying anything, Alice answered. “I’m going to find my brother,” she nodded to herself. The rest of the group raised an eyebrow, and Alice remembered that Grant was the only one she shared that story with.
“He’s all that’s left of my family… of who I was before I was a killer.. He thinks I’m dead.”
“Any leads on where you’ll find him?” Jennie asked.
“I’ve always known where he was,” Alice replied. “He never left the place we grew up. I just let him keep thinking I died along with our parents. He found a good home, a virtuous life. And I’ve been too ashamed of the path I’ve taken to face him. But I’m going to try and see past that, for Cosme.”
Traci placed her hand on Alice’s shoulder in support.
“Not to mention there’s trouble brewing back home,” Alice continued. “With any hope I can save him from it.”
Eddie nodded. “So I’m LA-bound, Joey, Traci and Jennie are hanging out here,” he summarised. “Where are you headed next, Alice? Where’s home?”
Alice took a deep breath. “Gotham.”
Not the end.
Follow Alice to Gotham City in Gotham Knights #17