Paragon City: Globalism and the 90's
The fall of the Warsaw Pact profoundly changed the global balance of power; changes to which the world’s super-powered heroes were by no means immune. For all the time spent fighting super villains, battling invaders from other dimensions, and foiling mad schemes, a super-powered arms race had raged on throughout the Cold War. As the Soviet Union and its satellite allies in Eastern Europe split apart into sovereign, independent political entities, the allegiances of their heroes split apart as well. The Soviet Bloc utilized a highly regimented and controlled system of finding, registering, and controlling super-powered heroes. Now, as the 1990’s dawned, thousands of such heroes found themselves free to pretty much do as they pleased.
Many heroes remained patriots and worked to fight the corruption and organized crime that quickly took root in the stripling democracies of Eastern Europe. It took less than a year for a band of discontent former Soviet heroes to become a powerful mafia force with significant influence over much of the region’s oil supply. Fortunately, most former State-Sponsored Heroes lived up to their title and continued on as freelance heroes, fighting for justice and helping preserve the safety of Russia’s people as best they could. In 1993, the first independent Russian Hero Organization, Valiant Defenders of the Motherland, set up operations in Moscow. Statesman himself had given his advice and aid to the new group and was on hand at the ribbon-cutting ceremony (which was only slightly marred by an attempted attack by an equally fledgling villainous cabal that didn’t manage to survive the afternoon when faced with the combined might of Russia’s greatest heroes.)
The immediate and public success of the Valiant Defenders showed that the Paragon City-born model for organizing heroes could work well in other parts of the world. Interestingly, it was not the heroes themselves who first made the leap of logic, but rather an enterprising woman named Rebecca Foss. The London born executive had made her fortune and earned her fame buying and selling commercial real estate. By 1992 she was one of the forty richest women in Great Britain. Stellar success aside, this was still a relatively humble beginning for the woman who is today recognized as the manager and chief business advocate for several thousand of the world’s most powerful super beings.
Foss happened to be in Moscow on business when the Valiant Defenders had their public grand opening. She immediately saw not only the potential for good the group could accomplish in a chaotic country like Russia, but also the tremendous profits that could be made along the way. Already street vendors were selling Valiant Defenders T-shirts. Valiant Defenders memorabilia (as well as home videos of their first public battle) ended up selling to news organizations around the world for hundreds of thousands of dollars each. Foss saw huge potential for franchising such hero organizations around the world, especially in developing markets where the local government did not have the resources or know-how to establish effective super-powered organizations on their own.
Foss returned home and immediately began putting together the business plan for what became Hero Corps. She and her sales force shopped the plan around to heroes first, looking for a notable spokesperson around whom they could forge a corporate identity and media campaign. While literally thousands applied for the job, Foss knew she had found the right man for the job as soon as he walked through the door: Kit Rafter, AKA, Luminary. Possessing the ability to project, bend, and control light, Luminary had served for a time with both the Dawn Patrol and the Freedom Phalanx and had garnered international attention when he saved a cruise ship from certain doom at the hands of the evil Torrent and his watery minions. Luminary had recently resigned from the Freedom Phalanx in order to move from Paragon City to Paris with his wife Jeanette Vesey, a world famous actress/model (indeed, it was their honeymoon that Torrent had so maliciously interrupted.) Already a little bored with the low risk life of a married man, he jumped at the opportunity to become Hero Corps’ new worldwide spokesperson.
In 1995, Foss and Luminary joined hands and cut the ribbon on the world’s very first Hero Corps (HC) franchise, located in Mexico City. This first Corps team consisted entirely of home grown, Mexican heroes, although they received most of their training at the Hero Corps Training Campus in Provence under Luminary’s watchful eye. The HC Mexico City proved a resounding success, and later that year three more franchises opened up in Rio, Jakarta, and Johannesburg. In each case, the HC always employed local heroes who operated under the guidance of corporate executives.
In every area where Hero Corps set up shop, crime decreased dramatically. Most city’s paid for this wonderful service through bond measures and special taxes -- a fact the drew the ire of many who took a dim view of public money paying what they considered outrageous fees to a private multinational corporation. One puzzling side effect that Hero Corps public relations has tried to downplay is that, while crime rates drop in most cases, each city has actually seen an increase in super-powered crime. It’s almost as if opening a Hero Corps franchise attracts costumed villains. Conspiracy theorists claim that the Hero Corps itself creates these super powered crises in order to justify their high fees. While there is no proof for such accusations, many cannot help but wonder if there might be some truth to them.
With over thirty franchises spanning the globe by 1998, Hero Corps tried to open its first U.S. based franchise in Paragon City. This seemed a strange choice, and many stockholders and financial analysts questioned the wisdom of the move. Luminary made a three-week publicity tour through the city, touting all the benefits Hero Corps had to offer. His efforts were politely but firmly rebuffed by the existing Hero Organizations, particularly the Freedom Phalanx and the Dawn Patrol. They both assured the city that all of its needs would be seen to, and that they need not pay high costs. Hero Corps rejoined that, should the city sign up with their services, they might pay a premium price, but in return, rather than relying on the whims of independent vigilantes, the city would have a super-powered organization that was answerable directly to the city government.
The debate grew quite acrimonious, and much was made of The Freedom Phalanx’s decision to declare itself outside the politics and laws of any one nation. Many wondered just how committed to the local problems such groups could be. Advocates for the city’s existing heroes countered with accusations that Hero Corps seemed to cause more trouble than it solved and that the city’s safety should not be sold to the lowest bidder. Luminary replied that Hero Corps was actually the highest bidder and that surely the existing heroes wouldn’t mind if they had a little more help around the city while they were off saving the entire world.
In 1999, Hero Corps bought property and began building a facility in Paragon City, despite public resistance. The construction process suffered delay after delay due to protests, sabotage, and periodic attacks by previously unknown super-powered criminals. When the building was mere days from completion, a mysterious gang of power armor-clad soldiers descended on the construction site, overwhelmed the security and literally leveled the structure to the ground. This disastrous attack polarized the city, with many seeing Hero Corps as a magnet for danger and controversy and others saying that the city’s existing heroes were afraid of competition. Hero Corps was prepared to pull out of the city after this, having spent five times their budget already.
Then Crey Industries made an offer to subsidize the new Hero Corps facility. The Countess Crey made several public appearances lauding the corporation’s work over seas and stating that she had high expectations for HC Paragon City. Everything seemed set for another attempt at building the facility when the city zoning board revoked Hero Corps construction permits. A series of legal maneuverings proved costly but ineffective for Hero Corps, as every political door suddenly seemed closed. The Countess Crey told anyone who would listen that the Freedom Phalanx, and Statesman in particular, were using their influence to block Hero Corps’ efforts. Ultimately, Hero Corps had to withdraw from the city after all, but the whole process left a bad taste in the mouths of many Paragon City residents.
Hero Corps did not have the worldwide monopoly on organizing and hiring out the abilities of super-powered beings. Unfortunately, not everyone felt the need to make profit from doing good. Several other hero groups had no qualms about making money any way they could. After all, one super-powered soldier can be as effective as a hundred regular men, but usually costs much less to maintain. That doesn’t mean he should charge any less than a hundred mercenaries would demand for their services, it just means that his profit margins are higher. It doesn’t take a financial genius to figure this equation out, and by the mid 90’s, super-powered mercenary companies were active all over the world.
These super mercs, as they became known, operated in places and ways that no self-respecting hero would ever dream of. The Britain-based Directed Outcomes super mercs worked guarding diamond mines in East Africa, making the mines safe for near slave labor practices to go on uninterrupted while civil war raged all around. The Cayman Islands-based Mega Corps spent much of its time tracking down and terrorizing anti-globalization activists and other thorns in the side of multi-national corporations. The American-based Free Company fights mostly to protect oil wells and pipelines from any threat, whether terrorist attacks or attempts at unionization.
Most of these groups flirted with breaking or surreptitiously broke laws, but they did so under the cover of corporate PR firms and the tacit consent of world governments. Certainly the premiere Hero Organizations seldom came to blows with them unless they perpetrated some particularly egregious sin. In all fairness, groups like the Freedom Phalanx had more pressing concerns, whether it was delivering food and halting genocide in West Africa or preventing war crimes and ethnic cleansing in the Balkans. The 1990’s were a busy time for even the most socially conscious defenders of freedom. Some super merc groups did cross the line. Several signed on to serve not just shady corporations, but admittedly illegal paymasters like drug cartels and terrorist groups.
In 2000, in response to these blatantly illegal and dangerous super merc outfits, the United Nations decided to form the Special Council on Super Human Activities to monitor and police situations around the world involving super-human threats and non-governmental super-villains and organizations. The Special Council had no enforcement arm, but rather acted as a mediator for disseminating information and investigating complaints. The council would then pass this information on to local authorities or the UN Security Council, as they saw fit. Ironically, the biggest beneficiary of the Special Council’s efforts has been Hero Corps, who lobbied hard for the council’s creation. With over 100 franchises world wide in 2001, Hero Corps is the group most often called upon to act on the Special Council’s recommendations. While many of the older, established, pro-bono hero organizations resent this fact, there is little they can do until they come up with a plan to offer the same depth and breadth of service that Ms. Foss’ multi-national corporation has to offer.