Background (Mainstream Universe)

From WestGuard

Background (Mainstream Universe)

Optimism and fairness

In the Mainstream Universe, things usually work out for the best. It is a tragedy and a shock when they don't.

Moral clarity

Good and evil are clear, although an expansive gray area exists. People of good will do not differ on ultimate ends -- all good people believe, for example, in working for Truth and Justice, although they may wonder if the American Way is always the right way to get them. Personal ethics will conflict, and even universally acknowledged goods can come into opposition -- how do you ensure both Liberty and Equality, after all? "Good" people regret killing, even when there is no satisfactory alternative.

Solving moral problems can require some uncomfortable confrontations, but most of them can be worked through.

Weirdness

The world contains a great deal of weirdness -- and hence, has come to accept it. Things that would be the news story of the century in a world without paranormals -- such as an ancient Norse god coming back to life, or contact with aliens -- seem to fit into the Mainstream Universe without a ripple. Not only paranormals, but angels, parallel dimensions, and magic have accepted places in the cultural world view.

An alien invasion, the awakening of Earth itself to sentience, or events of a similar scale would seem unprecedented, but a single alien ambassador or a living mountain is par for the course.

Paranormals

Superpowered humans, or paranormals, first appeared in 1908, and have become more common each generation, until now at least 6,000 are known worldwide. Despite their proliferation, paranormals have not had -- and have chosen not to have -- a great impact on world affairs.

Paranormals have served the authorities as soldiers, but their use has traditionally been limited to fighting their peers on the opposite side of the conflict. For example, in World War II, paranormals served both the Axis and the Allies, but primarily fought each other. Similarly, civilian police agencies such as the PTRC employ a small number of paranormal agents who are explicitly tasked with the arrest and capture of paranormal criminals.

In rare cases, paranormals have faced ordinary humans in combat. In the attempted coup by the military during the fall of the Soviet Union, the Russian superhero Comrade Soviet held the line against the hardline generals who tried to seize the reigns of power, holding his own in a fight against a battalion of Soviet tanks. In more recent years, a small group of paranormals sanctioned by the United Nations have tried to help keep the peace in East Timor and the former Yugoslavia.

These occasions are notable both for their rarity, and for the constraints within which paranormals have chosen to act. Organized superhero groups such as WestGuard, and even solitary heroes such as Grimknight, have consistently refrained from participating in non-paranormal civil and political disputes unless one of two conditions have been met:

  1. one or both parties in the dispute are clearly and unambiguously breaking the law, or
  2. a recognized civilian authority, such as the United Nations or a head of state, has requested it.

Rarity

There are fewer than 10,000 paranormals worldwide (good and bad). Approximately 3,000 of them are in North America, two-thirds of those in the United States. The distribution of paranormals is not uniform: a significant number of paranormals who originate elsewhere eventually migrate to the United States, and most of those settle in large cities.

Role in society

In general, paranormals have a recognizable public role, much like firefighters, police officers, and soldiers. Their role (and the public perception of it) changes over time, but only in response to major social upheavals, massive scandals, or other large-scale stimuli. Peer pressure, or other factors such as an ongoing crisis like World War II, keeps paranormals acting according to social expectations of them.

A paranormal that differs from the social norm stands out and draws attention; society generally refers to such deviants as "supervillains".

Because paranormals are relatively common, a subculture has developed around and for them. There are businesses and services that exclusively serve the needs and wants of paranormals.

Influence on the law

The law has survived the existence of paranormals with surprisingly few exceptions. It is still illegal to steal from, injure, or kill someone, and the fact an individual has used paranormal abilities to do so makes little difference. However, paranormals are common enough that case law has developed to address the more common criminal (and judicial) uses of paranormal abilities. For example, some jurisdictions consider the use of paranormal abilities in the commission of a crime tantamount to using a gun (and carrying the same minimum sentence), while psychic evidence is no more admissible in court than are lie detector results (which is to say, not admissible at all).

A few isolated cities, Los Angeles and New York among them, have instituted "paranormal licensing", requiring paranormals to register with the local authorities, giving a complete description of their powers, as well as a local address. Those using paranormal abilities without a license in such jurisdictions could be charged with a misdemeanor crime, and face a $4,000 fine and one year in jail. This has caused quite a bit of controversy, albeit locally, since it's obvious only paranormals who obey the law would register, thus crippling their ability to fight crime.

Unofficial estimates state that less than 15 percent of the paranormal population of Los Angeles (for example) has registered, and that 99 percent of those who have registered don't have any paranormal abilities at all.

Historical impact

Paranormals slightly alter the course of history, but tweedy historians can sit back in their armchairs and wave away the contributions of the Indestructible Man to the war effort as "epiphenomenal". Maybe World War II lasted a month longer, or ended a month early, as a result of paranormal involvement, but it's difficult to be certain. Paranormals cause no major changes except cultural and social ripples that damp out after a few months.

Origins

Paranormal abilities in the Mainstream Universe typically fall into one of seven broad categories: alien, artificial, birthright, magic, science, training, and transformed. There is necessarily some overlap between these categories, but one origin will generally be dominant.

Alien

A small percentage of the paranormals in the Mainstream Universe are not native to Earth. They are visitors -- intentionally or otherwise -- from a different planet or a different dimension.

Artificial

Artificial life forms -- androids, sentient robots, and other kinds of constructs, such as golems -- are relatively common in the Mainstream Universe, but for some reason, they are more often found among villains than among heroes. Heroic paranormals whose origin is artificial are relatively rare.

Birthright

The "birthright" origin means that the paranormal was born with or destined to develop superhuman powers, and encompasses a number of different sources. What these have in common is that the paranormal ability is natural for the organism (or the result of a prenatal transformation), rather than the result of an external modification, and that the organism is native to Earth.

The most common "birthright" origin, and one of the most common origins for paranormal abilities in general, is the result of evolution. A small number of Homo sapiens parents give birth to offspring which possess extraordinary mental or physical abilities. The offspring of these children also have extraordinary abilities (these abilities are often similar to those of the parents, but this is not always the case). The source of these abilities is not completely understood, but the evidence appears to indicate that it is genetic and the result of the natural process of evolution. This new species has the scientific name Homo sapiens potens; although the term "mutant" is more widely used, it is technically incorrect.

Magic

Magic and the supernatural are relatively commonplace in the Mainstream Universe. Character whose powers are achieved either by supernatural means or through knowledge of occult natural laws are not uncommon.

Science

The application of science and technology is one of the most common sources for paranormal abilities.

Training

In the Mainstream Universe, human potential appears to be much greater than it is our universe. Training alone, without resorting to technological augmentation, is often enough to achieve paranormal levels of ability. Training is a relatively common source for paranormals abilities.

Transformed

The hero was once a normal human, but became superhuman through some outside agency, often an accident or experiment. The source of the transformation might have been magic or science, but unless the paranormal abilities themselves are distinctly "scientific" or "magical" in nature, the paranormal is generally considered "transformed". One exception is the case of a transformation which occurred before or during gestation: such individuals are considered to have the "birthright" origin.

Transformation is a very common origin for paranormals in the Mainstream Universe, but for some reason, most transformed individuals either become criminals, or were criminals to begin with.

Extraterrestrials

Dozens of alien races have visited or contacted the Earth, with few long-term repercussions. There are no alien embassies on Earth, and Earth has never been successfully invaded from outer space: in every case, superheroes have repelled the invasion long before it has had a significant impact on world affairs. In most cases, alien visitors have been solitary, and intent on committing crimes (up to and including conquering the Earth), or on donning a costume and fighting crime.

Magic and the occult

The Mainstream Universe is home to a bewildering array of gods, devils, and legendary figures. The occult, the supernatural, and the mythological mix freely. As with paranormals in general, the quantifiable existence of magic and the supernatural has little to no impact on everyday life for the vast majority of normal people.

Technology

Technology available to the public in the Mainstream Universe is virtually identical to that of the real world. Super-technology exists, but it is limited to rare or unique items, generally in the hands of the people who invented it. Some inventions, such as Ultraweave, Versatex, and Incognito make their way into the marketplace, but even these are generally reserved for those with deep pockets or connections to the government.

One exception is in the realm of devices which block or neutralize paranormal abilities. Due to the prevalence of paranormals in the Mainstream Universe, measures have been taken to cope with paranormal criminals. The United States federal government, as well as most states, have access to technology designed to restrain and detain paranormals. This equipment is expensive and in short supply, but it is relatively effective, and readily available (in limited quantities) in larger municipalities.

Time/Dimensional travel

There are very few individuals in the Mainstream Universe capable of travelling through time or to alternate dimensions. Any time or dimensional travel technology currently in existence is, at best, unreliable. Exceptions are usually plot devices which cease functioning or leave our universe after their purpose in the story has been fulfilled.

Of those individuals (typically magicians) with the power to travel to other dimensions, such travel is extremely rare in practice. In much the same way that paranormals rarely interact with everyday society, they rarely venture to other dimensions. There is no "phantom zone" where dangerous prisoners are kept.