by Doc Quantum, partially adapted from Starman #29 by James Robinson and Tony Harris, and Starman #46 by James Robinson and Gene Ha
Jake Bennetti, nicknamed Bobo by the newspapers, was nothing more than a bank robber, a big thug with super-strength who fought a lot of super-heroes in the 1950s and ’60s. But when an opportunity comes by for Bobo to change his stripes, will he take it? Introducing the Goon!
Listen up, kiddies, and I’ll tell you a tale. ‘Bout a guy — young guy, rakish good-looks. Did his Navy stint, saw Korea in the first few weeks of that whole mess. ‘N got a floating mine shoved up his ass in the process. He is me, of course. Me, Jake Bennetti.
So I wake up in a hospital. I should be linguini and clams from the waist down. But no, I’m whole. In fact, I feel better than I did before. How much better only became clear as time went by. I got my Navy discharge. Couldn’t wait to get back in a pair of pants with pleats and turn-ups. Couldn’t wait to sleep in until half an hour before the first rays. Couldn’t wait to do a lot of things, like try out the super-powers I discovered I got from the blast.
Super-strong. Super-tough. And when I get scraped up, I heal quick.
Back in ’51, when I first learned I had powers, I thought about being a super-hero… for maybe a half a second. But me, I knew who was. Certainly not a bleeding heart. Was I a bad guy? Can’t say I know. But when it came, the test of my morals — no, wait up. I gotta confess: there was no test, no crossroads. I needed dough for a tip I got at the track, so I robbed a bank — a small bank. And with my powers, it was easy. And fun!
Deliver ice? Everyone was getting refrigerators. Tend bar? I would’a drunk away the profits. I was a bank robber. Pretty soon, the newspapers saddled me with a nickname I hated — Bobo — and I ended up fighting some super-heroes in the process. Sure, the JSA’d retired the same year I got back from Korea with my powers, but some o’ the members were still around in the ’50s. And there were still plenty o’ holdouts from World War II back then. My main enemies were Doctor Mid-Nite and Starman. Even fought Green Lantern once — the old one with blond hair and broad shoulders, not his much-younger double who replaced him a couple years back. (*) Now that was a fight. Scraped skin off my knuckles that day. It wasn’t his power ring that was the problem, since I found out pretty quick that it couldn’t affect me directly, but a giant green hand could still drop a grand piano on my noggin.
[(*) Editor’s note: See Green Lantern: Emerald Renaissance for the real story.]
I wasn’t no killer, though. I was a bank robber. And once, I even saved Starman’s life, when I heard that he was gonna be offed by three of the big guns, as far as super-villains go — the Fiddler, the Icicle, and the Gambler. But they wasn’t about to kill him the old-fashioned way, see? They staged a robbery and hired snipers to pick Starman off when his back was turned. How’d I hear about it? Well, these things get around. One guy starts bragging, tells his buddy, who tells someone else, and so on and so forth.
Anyways, where was I? Yeah, I heard about this around the same time as I fought the Jester, back in ’52. It was one of his last public appearances, and he was on my trail. I knew this, but I also knew about the plan to shoot Starman in the back. I went to a guy by the name o’ the Shade back in Opal City, Starman’s town. I knew he was an Opal boy. And he’d never fought Starman, only did his crimes out of state. Fought the Flash over in Keystone City, so that told me he liked the way things were. And this guy was big-time, too; I wasn’t. I figured that made him smarter than me, and I wanted advice. I was no killer. Knowing a man was about to die and not telling him made me culpable, in my books. But I was also not a rat. Only problem was, the Shade didn’t give a care. I was on my own.
So the deal went down. The Gambler, the Fiddler, and the Icicle came out in plain view, planning on getting Starman out in the open so their hired gunmen could pick ‘im off. The Jester was there, too, and they began to mop the floor with ’em. Up on the rooftops, though, I did what I had to do. I picked off the assassins myself. Got four of ’em in seconds, but there was a fifth, and I was too late. I wasn’t gonna make it to him in time.
Well, I’ll tell you, I had the surprise o’ my life when outta nowhere, the Shade came from the shadows and got the fifth hitman. I glanced back down to the street and saw Starman and the Jester shaking hands. The big-time super-villains were sprawled all over the pavement. Me an’ the Shade just looked at each other. It was tense. I said to him, “One thing — if you tell anyone I did this, I’ll kill you.”
All he said was, “Likewise,” and we parted ways.
Six months later, I returned to Opal and ended up fighting Starman for the first time after a haul. Got arrested and spent some time in the stir for it. But I knew I’d done the right thing. I said I wasn’t no hero, but every man’s got some good and bad in him.
I robbed a lot more banks, right through to the mid-’60s, and fought a lot of super-heroes during that time, too. Even defeated a few of ’em, like the original Fury and Air Wave. Small fry. I was in and out of the joint so much during those years that I never got rich from my schemes. It became a way o’ life more than anything.
Until 1965. I was out doing a job in Salem, and I fought Doc Fate. Now, bro, you ever get the inkling to fight a super-hero, a word to the wise — stay clear of the magical ones. Anyway, I got out of that one with fifty bucks and the skin of my teeth, and it ended up confirming something I’d begun to suspect about myself ever since my tussle with G.L. — that I’m impervious to magic.
So I get home, back in Opal, and I find my wife with another man. I go crazy. I’m super-strong. I kill ’em both before I know what I’ve done. Then I call the cops and wait for them. I surrender, meek as a lamb.
I spent the next fifteen years in jail. I didn’t care. My girl was dead, and inside I was dead, too. I tell you, there ain’t a day went by that I haven’t thought of her. Even now, she’s still under my skin, as ol’ Blue Eyes said. Anyways, they let me out at the end of those fifteen years. They’d only charged me with manslaughter and were convinced of my reformation.
Me? I wasn’t so convinced. I hadn’t done anything but rob banks and spend time in prison since Korea. I’d never held down a job, and the girl I began dating back in ’51 and later married was now dead, by my hands. What was I gonna do? Wait tables?
This was 1980. I was back in Opal again, back home. I took a walk around town. Great thing about Opal was that it never changed. At least not the old city. Pretty soon I found I had a tail on me. Some family o’ cops by the name of O’Dare were dogging me. Followed me around everywhere, convinced I was planning on robbing a bank. Sure, I was in my mid-fifties now, but I’d only aged about ten years since 1950, if that. It wouldn’t have been a problem for me. Thing was, I think they knew me better than the parole board did. Maybe even better than myself. I was too old. I couldn’t fit in on the outside. All the old guys, Frank, Dean, and Tony — they were really old guys now. Relics. Just like me.
So I planned to rob a bank. ‘Course I knew I’d get caught. There was a million and three cops hiding around me, all waiting to pounce. Plus, the Star-Spangled Kid was in town, visiting his old buddy Starman, who hadn’t really retired but had given him his own cosmic rod, which he’d turned into a cosmic converter belt. With all that manpower, I’d be nabbed and shipped back to the pen, which I figured was where I best belonged.
Funny thing happened on the way to the bank robbery.
I take a drag on my smoke and push over a scrawny bank guard, saying, “All right, folks, this is a hold-up,” when I hear a yell from behind me.
I turn around and go bug-eyed when I see three circus freaks dressed in red devil costumes shouting, “Freeze right there! This is a hold-up!” I almost laughed. They were some ex-circus acrobats who called themselves the Daredevils, and had fought the big black Bat over in Gotham a few times over the decades.
A few seconds after these jokers show up, in comes the Star-Spangled Kid crashing through the bank window, confused as hell. It went something like this.
“You the Star-Spangled Kid?” I said, taking my jacket off.
“You must be Bobo,” he replied.
“The name’s Jake,” I said as I took off my tie and stripped down to my undershirt.
“Who’s the bad guy here?” he said.
“Not me, pal. Not today. But I’m plenty mad at these cupcakes for queering my gig. I feel like doing an exorcism. How about you, Stars? You feel like sending these Devils back ta Hell?”
I sure didn’t mean to start teaming up with no Star Kid. I just had this feelin’ in my gut. One of the reasons I wanted to go back to the pen was ’cause I still felt I needed punishing for my wife’s death. The law may have said I’d done my time, but I didn’t. As I saw those costumed Charlies standing there trying to look tough, though, it was like my wife was in my head. Cooled the rage, like Scotch on the rocks.
She said, “My bad caused your bad. Good redeems us both.” I mean, she didn’t actually say it, but I kind of felt the words, if you know what I mean. ‘Course, I’d have appreciated her also telling me that the third Daredevil was a real devil — one tough demon from Hell, boy, complete with hellfire and brimstone. I’m not making this up. Still, I had him leaking ectoplasm before long, and pretty soon the demon was outta him, and he was just a normal guy again. That wasn’t the first time I’d encountered the paranormal, so I’d had a bit of experience with it by then, even if I didn’t like it all that much.
And there was this moment — in the heat of it — when me and Stars looked at each other and smiled. And then the cops came bursting in.
The cops arrested me. They arrested everyone except the Kid. The Daredevil gang took the rap, though. Lady Luck had us picking the same bank, same time. No, the cops grabbed me for slugging the bank guard. That’s assault. He dropped the charge later when he learned what I’d done.
The wild part was that the bank hired me after all of this. They wanted me to supervise security in their locations all over town. I know I was just free publicity. They were the bank that had its own superhuman watching the dough. And I guess they figured you set a thief to catch one. But hey, a gig’s a gig, as Jackie Gleason said on more ‘n one occasion.
Funny thing. Remember how I said I wasn’t no hero?
I still ain’t, but my bank-robbin’ days are over. My brief career at the bank ended up turnin’ into a full-time security job with Pinkertons. I know I’m not the smartest guy in the world, but I know crooks. I know how their minds work. Hell, I was one of ’em. Things were copacetic all around for ol’ Jake.
Shortly after I helped the Kid stop that bank robbery, I met Starman once again. Only this time not as foes. He wasn’t sure what to make of me. He’d only known me through my bank-robbing days and couldn’t get over the new life I was living. Well, you never would’a believed it, but me an’ ol’ Stars ended up becoming buddies. Pals. I even helped him out a couple o’ times.
Pretty soon, I was eating Christmas turkey with him and his sons, Dave and Jack. Now, Dave’s a straight-shooter like his pops, but Jack’s a whole ‘nother cat entirely. I thought I was trapped in the past — Jack lives in it. He loves it. Take Sinatra, for example. He could tell me about every album — when it was released, what the covers looked like, you name it. Old suits, old books, old this, old that. He’s the guy. I took a liking to him right away. And as soon as that kid gets outta his mad at the world stage, he’s gonna take the world by storm. Mark my words.
Anyways, Ted — that’s Starman’s real name — had a buddy in the FBI. His name was Woodley Allen, and he was some ace troubleshooter for the Feds back in the ’40s and ’50s. He’d been retired for years now, but still had contacts everywhere. Ted spoke to him for me a while back without my knowing about it, then came back to me and told me this Woodley guy wanted to see me. They both knew about my security work with Pinkertons and had seen my record. They also knew about my criminal record beforehand but were impressed with my reformation.
Woodley talked to some guys. They talked to some other guys. Before you know it, I was visitin’ Pennsylvania Avenue and shakin’ hands with a really old FBI chief named Branner, who started tellin’ me about some bank robber way back in the ’40s called the Eel. I’d heard o’ the Eel — Eel O’Brian — but until Branner told me about it, I’d had no idea he’d also been the mystery-man and special agent for the FBI called Plastic Man. He went missin’ with a bunch of other costumed types back in ’42, and not long after that was when Richard Branner learned Plastic Man — his best agent — had all along been a crook who’d never served time for his crimes but helped the Feds put away a whole lotta other crooks. And that was a problem, y’see, ’cause as everyone knows, if you wanna be a Fed, ya gotta have a clean record. But since everyone at the Bureau — includin’ J. Edgar himself — had been fooled, Branner never lost his job.
Instead, a new clause — the O’Brian Clause, as they called it — was invented to cover everyone’s asses, but kept off the books. Simply put, O’Brian was one big, gaping exception in the FBI — one that the Bureau will deny even exists until they’re blue in the face, mind you — secretly allowin’ for special agents with a criminal record if they got super-powers. Branner told me they never invoked that clause with anyone but me, but for all I know, the Feds could be employin’ a whole horde o’ super-villains as some kinda suicide squad or cannon-fodder or somethin’. I still got my ears ta the ground, so I hear rumors like that sometimes.
And ya know what? They made me, Jake Bennetti, a special agent for the FBI. Ted would’a been proud if he was still around to see this. Thing is, he disappeared to God knows where a couple years back. Once in a while I still talk to Sly Pemberton, the Star-Spangled Kid. Only he calls himself the Patriot now. As for Dave and Jack? Well, Dave is the new Starman, and he took his father’s place the JSA like I knew he would. And Jack — good ol’ Jack — he’s the new Star-Spangled Kid, and I couldn’t’a been prouder if he’d been my own son.
Who ever would’ve thought that me — the man the papers called Bobo the bank-robber — would one day join the ranks of mystery-men? I’m glad I ain’t a real super-hero, but it wasn’t for their lack o’ tryin’.
Y’see, ever since the days o’ Plastic Man, Chief Branner’d had a whole slew of special agents over the years, usually one at a time, each one carryin’ on for Plastic Man after he disappeared in ’42. There were several — the Green Cobra, the Black Adder, and the Purple Weasel, to name a few — all with their own costumes and motifs. And the Chief had the idea that I’d follow in their tradition. He even came up with a name for me — the Barracuda — and somehow got me to try on a stupid-lookin’ costume he’d designed for it. I looked too ridiculous to describe, and as I said, I ain’t no super-hero.
But the Chief was insistent that I adopt a new identity. After all, Bobo was still a recognizable enough name in some parts. So I compromised. I threw on a wife-beater, pleated pants, and a woolen flat cap, and called myself the Goon. Hey, it beats Bobo any day.
We’re based in a little office in New York City, completely off the reservation as far as the Bureau is concerned, and the Chief sends me tips to look into. Thanks to my experience on both sides o’ the law, I’m not all that bad at it. Most of the cases I handle deal with the paranormal — threats that are just too unbelievable or bizarre for your regular Fed, especially those who aren’t impervious to the supernatural like me. Mostly I beat the crap outta zombies, werewolves, and all kind o’ ghouls — and let me tell you, it’s a great thing ta be able to completely let loose every once in a while. And I’ve been at this for a couple’a years now, since just after Ted disappeared.
We’ve got a contact at FBI Headquarters who throws us most of these types of cases — Squirrel Mueller — just a lowly clerk in charge of the Bureau’s X-Files archive. He’s a scrawny little guy, and no one takes him seriously, but that just makes my job a little bit easier. Less red tape that way. Leaves me free to hold a zombie stomp or a vampire weenie-roast without havin’ to file paperwork.
Hey, it’s a living.