"No Longer the Icon We Need"

"I think the one question on everyone's mind during all of this crisis and confusion, is where is Allegiance?"

"Allegiance, previously one of the most beloved of America's icons, has disappeared off the face of the Earth, right when we need him most,"

"Where is the flag now?! Where is your icon?!"

"America is gone to sh!t and he flees like a coward. Just like those wannabe heroes. Just leave it to...The Champion I guess. He's the only one out there doing anything,"

"STRIKE has been accused of environmental terrorism because of what they have done during the Cataclysm. But they were also the only ones to really and truly respond to the crisis at hand. Where was Allegiance during all of it? Nowhere to be found,"

"He's no longer the icon we want. He's not only a coward and a liar, but he's also a bigoted loser who believes in something no one else believes in,"

"He believed in us. We believed in him. He had no strength left in his body, and we kept trying to lift him higher and higher. He's gone because we pushed him too far,"

"He's gone because he's afraid of continuing to fight for a country that's always going to tear itself apart,"

"He's gone because we don't need him,"

"He's no longer the icon we need."


It's all well and good while you're fighting. The people love you. They send you flowers, surplus packets, porn magazines, mixtapes of your favorite artists. Family keeps you going. I knew a few people whose only family were the ones they brought with them. The ones who fought with them, and died alongside them. Something always changed at that point. They either kept fighting and lost their minds, or died then and there. Grief can shred a man's soul apart faster than a grenade. It hurts worse, too.

It hasn't changed.

The people are always with you when you fight. They've got your back. They're holding your hand. They're pushing you through the next trench, through the heat of the inferno. Then they start dying off or they lose interest because the fight's going on for too long. Or because you lost a few limbs and can't work. Or because you died. If you found a nice piece of mud to stay in, they left you behind. Trampled your grave. Kept going. It's the war machine effort, grinding forever onward. People spat on it back in the day. They hated the gears and grinding treads. They wanted to dismantle it back in the day.

But, like human nature has shown us time and time again, the war machine trudges forever onward. It keeps going, consuming young boys and girls, men and women, just to keep going. So that's when the peace lovers became warmongers. They wanted to feed the machine. Forty years later, and the mutants became top priority. Genocidal maniacs preached about mutant superiority. They wanted to exterminate the human race. They wanted to eliminate their only possible competition at the top of the food chain. What did humanity instantly put down on the field?

They unleashed the war machine. They unleashed the boots, and the guns, and the bombs. Venezuela happened. Paris happened. Washington DC happend. All over the world, and humanity suffered. It's the same story all over again.

Again and again and again and again.

Take one step out of line, and you're trampled into the mud. Spat on. Forgotten. Other people have already taken up the shield and stripes. Allegiance isn't the icon America needs. Not anymore. The country's moved on without him. The war machine keeps going, forever onward.

It hasn't changed.


A Tattered Flag Can Still Fly

Charlie Hudson. Born in the same hospital, lived across the street. Died in the trenches.

Sammy Baretta. Stepped on a mine. Sniper round through the skull.

Benny Thompson.

Bennett Jackson.

Langley Ryder.

Jack. John.


They kept dying. Everyone he knew and loved. A heart can only take so much before it starts to crumble. The soul begins to wither with age, and the passage of time just keeps marching on.

James Palmer, one of the last of his kind. The mark of a generation, the brand of rebellious youth. Protest songs. Love instead of war. Topple the corrupt government. Burning Man. Woodstock. Acoustic guitar. Mary Jane. Artillery shells. Rolling Thunder. Tear gas in the streets. Kent State.

Bring our soldiers home.

For God's sake, bring them home. No one deserves this. No one wanted this.

But they kept dying. Recycled visions of the past, haunting him. Nightmares made real. Prying his eyes open for the next phase of the terror, and it would always get worse. Sammy's brains splashing on his face. Bennett's punctured lung filling up with fluid. Benny's guts dragging on the ground. Make it stop.

Jack and John. They were almost perfect twins, born into the world by only a second difference. Jack was the older, and John always knew that. They were inseparable. So when Jack was shot in the leg, John operated on instinct and went back for him.

James heard himself screaming. He felt the sound emerge from his throat, but nothing escaped the muffled thud of North Vietnamese artillery chasing after them.



"Are you okay? Mr. Palmer, are you okay?"

The bandages were fresh, but already flecked red. Shrapnel in his skull that, upon removal, would threaten the structural integrity of the bone it had demolished. It took a delicate facial surgery to alleviate the bone fragments from causing any further damage. As a result of the explosion that caused the shrapnel, he had no right eye to speak of. Scars would mark his face forever. His left arm, mangled to the point of necrosis setting in, was amputated.

The regenerative healing factor he had relied on for this long couldn't keep up when that happened.

"Mr. Palmer, we have something for you. It is a generous donation from a friend of yours,"

Tony? No, he's dead. Malcolm? ...No.

"There's a letter, too. I'll let you read it yourself when you get a chance."

The nurse left the box and parchment near James' bed on the table. It took him a few minutes to even care about the gift. He kept trying to think of people it might have been from. Crimson Vigilante? Dead. Kurt? Haven't heard from him in months. A long sigh escaped him. Might as well find out instead of siphoning through a list of mostly dead and missing friends and family members.

A cold shiver strangled his spine.

It's time.

At the bottom of the letter was the royal insignia of Elysia. He recognized it anywhere.

All that remained now rested inside of the box. He left it there, staring at the metal contraption for a good hour. No tape or glue holding it together. Doom would be more intelligent than that. What if the entire thing was a bomb? He wouldn't take the steps to deliver it or write the letter himself. An elevated platform seemed to be the only blemish on its surface. Reaching for it, James stopped himself.

"It's time?"

Doom knew many things. Did he really know where James had gone for the past few months? Where he was taken, and tortured? For that entire time, it seemed like he had finally died and gone to Hell like all those university students wanted him to. Swallowing his pride, James put his hand on the device's only readable blemish. In a flash, the process was over.

But James felt it to be more complicated than that.

Reading James' input, the box erupted into unprecedented activity, crawling across his chest and stabbing through the stump on his left side. Implanting itself through the exposed nerves and fresh surgery wounds, the many wires and attachments became his new veins, arteries, and flesh. He grunted in a minor effort of biting down the pain. Closing the fingers on his new metal arm, he tried to ignore the fact that he had just accepted something like this from someone like Doom.

It really was time, however.

Time for James to stop sulking around and be someone. Time for him to live up to the sacrifices of his fallen comrades. Time for him to be a hero again.

But how could he with Doom's help? The man was a bonafide tyrant, a step away from putting undesirable people into ovens or sending criminals in his prisons into death traps. This new arm - was it really his?

Or did it carry the banner of Elysia no matter how many times he confirmed to himself that he controlled it?

One way to find out.

Get up out of the damn bed. Get up out of the damn bed and walk. Walk until you can run. The people don't have a symbol anymore. James' shield was broken during his absence. They thought he had been broken too. If he could thank Doom for one thing, it was that the human spirit existed even in his cold metal chest. He gave him a reason to fight again.

The inspiration of vengeance coursed through his veins.


ALS Ice Bucket Challenge: Allegiance

The unprofessional camerawork is solidified by his heavy handed approach to actually setting the thing up on a tripod. He backs up into focus, confirming that the device is stable with a smile. Little did he know, this video would be viewed over 6,000,000 times in little more than a couple of weeks. He had a YouTube channel for just a day, his first shot at social media, and it surprised him.

"Uh, hello," he started out awkwardly. "My name is Allegiance. Normally, I don't get asked to do stuff like this much. I don't even have a cell phone, so networking is impossible for me. I only heard about this when a friend of mine showed me the phenomenon on his phone,"

Thanks Luke.

"But, this is the ALS ice bucket challenge. I've heard about the research going into helping this disease, and I've donated about $5,000 dollars to it. I'm not rich by any stretch of the imagination, it was mostly money people gave me for food and other necessities that I've already been offered for free. So, I thought donating donations would be a thing,"

His little hand movements, caught on camera, for all to see were the hallmark of a high school dork who never grew out of liking dorky things, even in his advanced age. He flipped through invisible books, finding that it calmed him down while talking to a tiny lense.

"But without further to do, this is to raise awareness for the ALS organization. I had a war buddy who developed ALS later on in life, and he had to be carried everywhere, even to the bathroom. I visit him every single time I go to Waco, Texas,"

Instead of a mere bucket, James gestured towards a disembodied bathtub filled to the brim with icy water. He sighed as he lifted the contraption over his head, and the last words before he tilted it were:

"Rest in peace Roger,"

But after the fact, there was a slurry of "Oh Gods" and "Aaaaghaghagh" as the nearly frozen liquid drenched his costume, making it tighter around his thick pectorals and upper arms. This did not help in the slightest. Like climbing out of a swimming pool barely above freezing, but he did not move from his spot. He did bend down once, but came back up almost immediately with a big thumbs-up.

"Now, I think it's time to challenge someone else to this. I think I'll pick Miss @lena_dante, oh Lord, this is cold,"

He paused to inhale deeply.

"Miss Lena Dante, President Pierce (@clara_mass), and - one of my personal heroes - Tombstone (@the_undying_tombstone). And no intangibility! Alright, thank you and God bless."



Enough is Enough

It was a quiet burial, just like James would have wanted.

Friends and family only, with Aaron constituting the only part of the latter.

However, the man they buried was not James Palmer.


"I'm sorry, James, but I have to do this,"

Arnold Schmidt, an old war buddy, pulled the last piece of Allegiance's costume over his head. James rested peacefully for the first time in years, knocked out by an elephantine dose of sleeping drugs snuck into his drink. Arnold did not possess the gargantuan strength of his comrade-in-arms, but what he did have was a heart that never quit. While in his sixties, Arnold still trained and fought at peak capacity. He would go in James' place to the battlefield Brahma Bull chose to have his continued crusade against governments upon.

When James would awake, he would turn on the morning news only to find all the headlines to be the same.

"Allegiance is dead."


His shield gone, his costume destroyed, and a dear friend gone in his place, James had no other choice but to seek out help. Aaron would not forgive him. This was too complicated, and in his fragile emotional state, Aaron could do something drastic. The Victories were disassembled long ago. James doubted Malcolm would do anything outside of trying to reclaim his city from the Court. The burning of Gothic City left too many lives scarred.

Then, in desperation, he considered going across the Atlantic and traveling to Elysia, only to denounce the notion entirely.

Teams were unreliable, to say the least. Though they could accomplish so much, organized groups of heroes were prone to corruption from within. One trusted individual could cause so much damage. That is what James learned from Malcolm. Even though the bat redeemed himself, he did so at the cost of the Star-Spangled Super Soldier's respect. Any bridges between them had completely disintegrated a very long time ago.

He had to face the fact that he was alone in this war. He had no brothers or sisters-in-arms this time. In all honesty, he preferred it that way. He had seen too much death and felt too much pain because of one careless misstep. Those looking to conquer the world by force often had the foresight to pick apart their foes and turn them into prey.

Not anymore.

Enough is enough.

He pulled his mask over his face, the iconic "A" branded on the forehead. He would start by getting his shield back.


Barksdale, Georgia

We got so far.

The signs were still up, welcoming Allegiance back home with a patriotism that only a small southern town could command. His heart is kept from breaking right then and there, but only because he has a larger purpose in coming back for a brief moment.

Six graves.

"Hey little guy," he says to the newest one. "How's ma, pa, and the boys doing?" he slips into a Georgian accent, more comfortable here than anywhere in revealing it.

Silence. A trembling lip.

"I...I miss y'all,"

He kneels and puts flowers on each of the graves except for the one named James - which is his own.

"I'm so proud of y'all. Dad, for fighting so hard and teaching his knucklehead sons to never give up and to love what they did. Momma for bringing us into this world and keeping us in line. John, Jack," a pause.

Their faces, but a distant memory, their deaths his eternal nightmare. He shudders once he realizes that he is forgetting what they look like.

"Oh God, you didn't have to follow me to Nam! You two were so bright and talented. It didn't have to be this way,"

He approaches the final grave with the most remorse.

"Hey little guy. I miss you something fierce. Last I saw you...you were just a baby in ma's arms and your brothers and I were shipping off to the war. I...I heard that you accomplished a great deal," he takes a moment. Quiet, controlled sobs interrupt what he's trying to say.

"Becoming dean at the University of Georgia, dean of science and biology, the world's foremost expert on insects. A hero based on ants. I remember watching you on the news, fighting in Venezuela,"

Same damn situation as Vietnam.

"You looked so proud, doing what they did on Saturday morning cartoons. Then, you knew. You knew the fallout of what you did and it fell on top of your shoulders like a ton of bricks. I wish I would have shared that weight, but...but you were CEO of Peak Industries before long. I couldn't contact you or anything. I should've said something. I should've been there to say 'I'm here for you.' Now Stark is running the country and I'm not sure what he has planned, but it's a bad feeling in my stomach,"

In contrast to his normally stoic and composed self, Allegiance dropped his hands to the ground, weak, and surrendered.

"I wish you were here, little guy. I want to tell you how proud I am of you so bad,"

The name on the tombstone: Dr. Aaron Palmer, born November 30th 1964, died August 13th 2013.

"Coming back here is always hard, because you never know what's changed."


The American Dream

Barksdale, Georgia - home of the Wild Dogs, state high school football champions three years running.

"My hometown,"


"Coming back here is always hard, because you never know what's changed,"

Allegiance grew up in rural Georgia during a time in American history known as the Red Scare. With communism on the rise - sometimes forcibly - in Asia and Europe, American leaders feared spies and a possible global takeover by such forces. War began to brew, and in 1950 America sailed to Korea en masse for a confrontation with communist powers.

Born in 1947, Allegiance was taught all throughout school about the horrors of communism. Even service at church brought little to no comfort in hearing the propaganda. When his father went to fight in Korea, Allegiance swore to do his part and take up arms the first chance he got.

On the day of his graduation from high school in 1965, he announced that he would sign up for the Army and go fight in Vietnam. He did not expect to find what he did once he arrived, however. For the next five years, he served in combat against the Vietcong and North Vietnamese manning the front lines.

"From there, I can't tell you much. Top secret government projects and everything. But what I can tell you is that I became a super soldier after five years in Vietnam - not because I was used to fighting. You...never really get used to doing something like that. That's why I wanted to learn shield combat so badly. I...I never wanted to fire another gun ever again. Not after some of the things that I saw,"

He became an inspiration to soldiers across the warzone. Wherever he went, Americans were sure to follow close behind knowing that his shield and courage would protect them.

"Then, support at home started to dwindle. We wanted to fight a war like our fathers did in Europe, a war that would change the world. I remember my father saying something before I left,"

"We fought to stop evil people from putting other people into ovens. You're going to fight some poor farmer boy who doesn't want anything to do with you and I don't want you to go,"

"I remember calling him an idiot, among other things that I've since apologized for. We came back in 1975 and the only people who were glad to see us were our families. Some of us didn't even have a family to go back to,"


A moment of silence passed. The interview comes to an abrupt stop, as does the filming for the commercial. The small farmhouse overlooking what used to be the family ranch never felt emptier.


Allegiance has since fought for truth, justice, and the American way however he could. Soup kitchens, homebuilding, even crime fighting. He has since gained headway as a star superhero among America's favorite masked marauders. But, he has also gained some criticisms.

"A seven foot tall musclebound goon going around punching people? No thanks,"

"His costume is so old fashioned. Those wings are so stupid too, what era does he think he's living in?"

"This ain't 1965 anymore pal, get a life."


"Do you believe in equality? After all, coming from a small town in Georgia is bound to have some negative influences on your standing against other races - correct?"

"You're right about having negative influences. Barksdale had its own fair share of Ku Klux Klan meetings. I used to think they were early Halloween parties," a laugh.

"Everything they did, though, was horrible. I would never condone freedom to such an extent. That is borderline anarchy, what they practiced. Vandalizing homes, dragging people out in the streets, marching against love and tolerance. It made me so angry knowing some of those people graduated with me from school. But, I can't stop people from thinking differently I suppose. I can just nudge them in the right direction and hope they take the hint,"


"Domestic terrorism has been on the rise. People are scared. I believe in gun regulation, not gun control. People should have the opportunity and the right to purchase and own a gun for their protection. People should not be arrested for owning a gun. I've taken bullets in every part of my body at one point or another. It's a terrible thing, painful, nasty, bloody. I'm also a skilled medic because of it all. Guns are dangerous, true, but for those who are worried about their children finding such weapons are entitled to purchase security locks, gun cases, and any number of device suitable for hiding them from their loved ones,"

"Without guns, crime would vanish - your thoughts?"

"If criminals can't rob the nearest gas station with a gun, then they will rob it with a knife. Make knives illegal and they'll rob it with their shoes,"

"Single housewife loses her son because a high schooler shoots up the learning facilities,"

"It is an unfortunate reality that school shootings exist. I will not expressly say that I will outlaw firearms, but I will try to make the lives of students across the nation better. There is someone who cares. There is always someone who cares, and he is fighting for you," an intense glare at the camera, infusing the watchers with hope.


"Hypothetical question: if another candidate wins the election and makes what you do illegal, how would you respond? Do you think your actions will affect your popularity with the American people?"

"What I do is live, breathe, and fight for the American people. If they decide they do not want me in office, then I will respect them 100% for it. If their newly elected president wants to stop me from protecting the rights of the people, then that is my problem with the president - not the people. It is the people's decisions that drive this country, not those of a single man or a congress that agrees or disagrees with him based on political parties. If I am voted into office, I want to hear the people's voice, not the voice of someone who thinks they know what their state wants,"


"Closing statement: what is the American dream to you?"

"Freedom," a pause.

"But we have to wake up to have it."