Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Strange and Storied History of Silence Do-Good, part 7: Costumed Crusaders

"There are those who will say that I have made a mistake, that I have betrayed my country. To those people I simply say: Let history judge my actions today." -- Silence Do-Good, 15 November 1920

On the face of it, what Silence Do-Good did on that cold November morning was a small thing,but it would have repercussions which would forever echo down the ages.

A shipment of illegal alcohol was being smuggled into Chicago by elements of Johnny Torrio's criminal empire via the docks, there to be dispersed by truck to hundreds of downtown speakeasies. Not only would this continue to fuel the growing war between the Italian Chicago Mob and the Irish North Side Gang, it would also dictate a strong response by Dylan, Michael, and Thomas Callaghan, a.k.a the Quiet Men.

The Callaghan brothers were all WW1 veterans, possessed of typical Irish tempers and a strong Catholic sense of right and wrong. They were among the first to take up arms against the growing wave of crime in their city, using infantry tactics learned in the harsh Mexican Campaign. They used their heritage to their advantage, making their attacks on Torrio's mob seem the work of the North Siders. Unfortunately, the Torrio was tired of these attacks, and alongside the alcohol were large amounts of automatic weapons and ammunition for same. Open warfare was about to break out in the streets of Chicago, and the Callaghan brothers were about to light the fuse.
Side note: The Quiet Men were, despite their lack of powers or costumes, the first "super group" ever to appear in this universe. They wore similar outfits -- World War 1 uniforms with any identifying marks removed, trenchcoats with upturned collars, and fedoras pulled down low. They used code names -- Lieutenant, Sergeant, and Private. They even used different weapons -- Lt. Quiet (Michael Callaghan) carried a Colt .45 pistol in his right hand and a swagger stick in his left; Sgt. Quiet (Dylan Callaghan) used an M1903 Springfield with affixed bayonet; and Pvt Quiet (Thomas Callaghan) used a Thompson SMG* with drum magazine.

Given the similarity of clothing, obvious command structure, and different yet complimentary choice of weapons in lieu of power, they not only set the mold for all future super groups, but also dictated vigilante fashion for decades. 
Silence knew that Torrio's mob could not be allowed to smuggle their contraband into Chicago, but she also knew that any police response would be out-manned and out-gunned. Worse, the Quiet Men knew about the shipment as well, and planned to hit the trucks as they left the docks. Therefore, she did the one thing that would not result in catastrophic loss of life: direct intervention.

The battle, if you can call it that, was short. Silence waited below ground as the mobsters transferred the contraband from the ship to the docks. Her plan was to have the earth swallow the crates once the ship was unloaded, then appear and take them all into custody. Unfortunately, this plan was foiled almost immediately as the gang members chose to begin loading the crates immediately into the first waiting truck, sending each out as soon as it was loaded.

When the first truck began to leave, Silence sprang into action. She partially liquefied the ground underneath the truck, swallowing it to its axles. The gangsters in the truck, not knowing exactly what was going on but aware that something seriously wrong had occurred, leaped out and sounded the alarm. Immediately the other gangsters pulled out weapons and ceased the unloading of the ship as the crew hastily made to depart. In the confusion, no one noticed the large woman rising from the ground, or saw her grasp the bow line and tie it about her waist. "YOU ARE ALL UNDER ARREST," she then shouted in a voice which carried like a foghorn. "PUT DOWN YOUR WEAPONS AND..."

The rest of her sentence was drowned out by gunshots as Torrio's mobsters opened fire on her with their automatic weapons. None of them seemed to hit her, however, for the concrete of the pier rose up and encased her as she assumed her Golem Form, granting her the strength and durability of the earth itself. This had the added effect of fusing the line to her body and anchoring her to the dock. Then she gave the line a good, solid yank.

A rare glimpse of Silence in her true Golem form

Later, one of the gangsters was reported as saying, "First we was shootin' at this big dame in blue. Next she was a statue. I dunno where the boat came from, one minute it was in the water and the next it was landin' almost on toppa us! As we was pickin' ourselves up, the statue-thing rises outta the ground with the biggest dang hammer I ever seen, like a telephone pole with cement foundation bein' held upside-down. I dunno what it said after that, but me'n the rest of the boys figgered it'd won so we all raised our hands and cried uncle."

As a point of interest, Silence's actual words were as follows: "Naughty, naughty, shooting a lady. If you don't surrender right now I shall be forced to spank you." This delivery was made more impressive by the massive war-mallet she had taken from the earth, and that her voice in golem form sounded like an avalanche.

The mobsters weren't the only witnesses to Silence's actions that day. Also in attendance was Max Fairfield, a junior reporter for the Chicago Tribune on the crime beat, who had received an anonymous tip about "something important" happening at the docks, and that he should bring a camera with him. In so doing, he made history, for he was the first journalist to photograph, and then interview, the first Super Hero.

Excerpted from Max Fairfield's Pulitzer-winning article, Silent No More:
I called you here as a witness to history, Mr. Fairfield. It is your job to ensure that my words are heard across this country and throughout history. If you misquote me I shall be quite cross with you.

Know this: A new war is upon, a war against the criminal element, and I shall not sit idly by as this war consumes the country I love. My father created me to defend our nation against all threats, both foreign and domestic, and this I do now.

Also know that just I will not abide criminal behavior, neither shall I tolerate murder in my name. There has been enough killing, and as I stand before you now, it will end. There are those who sought to emulate me and fight for justice, and their thirst for justice does them credit. But violence only multiplies violence.

I say to you now, before God and Country, that these "Mystery Men" cannot exist in America, for our country cannot, will not abide assassination in lieu of law. Let those who wish to follow me do so using my methods! Do not keep to shadows, but instead proclaim yourselves as proud defenders of law and order. Work with the police, and not against them. Do not kill the guilty; defeat them in their crimes and allow our system to put them to trial.

Do as I ask, and I shall see to it that every police force in the country will cooperate with you in your capacity as an anonymous, concerned citizen. But those who murder again in my name shall receive a harsh reproach from me.

Her gamble worked. In the weeks that followed, the mystery men stepped out of the shadows and into costumes -- muted at first, and many based upon military or police uniforms, but gradually becoming more colorful. They reduced the lethality of their attacks, using billy clubs, hand-to-hand techniques, or in some cases adopting more unusual weapons as the bow & arrow or the fencing sword. Those who kept their guns, usually pistols, either left them for use only in emergency situations or became exceptional trick shots.

Silence kept her word. Using her many connections in state and federal government, the "Do-Good Statute" of 1921 made it legal for easily identifiable (i.e. costumed) and known (having a relationship with state, local, or federal law-enforcement) vigilantes to work with the police through an extension of citizen's arrest laws.

As quickly as it had come, the day of the mystery men had set. This was the dawn of the Costumed Crusader.

Next: The Golden Age

*Before anyone says that the Thompson SMG didn't enter military service until 1938, I have only one thing to add: This is Alternate History. The needs of the Mexican Campaign resulted in its early invention.

The character of Silence Do-Good is copyright Erin Palette 2011. All art in these sections is either public domain, or machinima from the City of Heroes MMO. I do not claim any ownership of art.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution- Noncommercial- No Derivative Works 3.0 License.
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  1. Please tell me that the origin of the term 'do-gooder' as employed by those of villainous intent is, in some way, implicit in all this. :D

  2. Implicit? I thought I stated it outright with the "Do-Good Statute of 1921."

    What I was going for here, and I hope I succeeded at, was giving a logical explanation for some of the weirder aspects of superhero culture (outlandish costumes, strange weapons, reduced fatalities, vigilantes with good police relationship). Alas, I still can't explain the "underwear on the outside" trend.

  3. The noun still has to be verbed at some point, though, and that has yet to be addressed explicitly; that's what I was referring to. I'd just be interested to know how it caught on and, for that matter, how the villain community emerges in the context of all this. I assume that's coming up later.

    I do get what you're trying to do - I just didn't phrase my comment terribly well, and evidently came across as obtuse as well as vague. Serves me right for doing the Blog Thing first thing in the morning most days.


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