On the Sidelines

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"On the Sidelines" was first published in Astro City #4.

Synopsis

Enjoying some time off between gigs, Martha "Sully" Sullivan is eating breakfast at one of her favorite spots, Astro City's Millrace, just soaking in the ambiance. She's about to bite into a delicious bagel when the mood is broken by the approach of a shady individual. He wants to recruit her for some mysterious, sinister cause but she'll have none of that. He backs off when she telekinetically lifts a fork near his eyeball, but he warns it's not over.

At age 14, Sully discovered she possessed telekinesis. She had excitedly created a superhero persona for herself, "Mind-Over-Mattie." However, on the first night on patrol, she found her predominant emotion was nothing less than fear. And when she used her powers to freeze a carjacker's brakes, the injuries the man suffered in the crash were quite a shock to her system. Eventually, the young girl accepted that she didn't have the mental constitution for crimefighting.

In reaction to the recruiter, Sully calls her agent to cancel all work for about a week. When she gets home, her apartment's ventilation suddenly begins to release knock-out gas. She takes a moment to consider what a cliche that is, then passes out.

The summer before college, Sully traveled to Las Vegas. Her plan was to use telekinesis to get rich off the casinos. However, upon her very first cheat -- using telekinesis on a slot machine -- she ran out of the building, unable to bear her guilt. She was all torn up as only a teenager could be, utterly lost. What was there for a super-person if both crimefighting and crime were off the table?

Sully wakes up in the clutches of a man who calls himself the Majordomo. He had hoped she'd be a willing part of the superpowered army he intends to build, but he's willing to resort to more coercive methods. He scorns her lack of ambition regarding her powers. Sully notices his underlings aren't fully used to calling him "sire"; he's very new. On the way to her cell, she discovers that some of the "others" have been kidnapped, too...

After college, Sully had become a bartender in Los Angeles, and a film student co-worker was making a low budget project. His model spacecraft proved too heavy for their wires, but Sully saved the production by using her powers to animate their dogfight. When the co-worker ended up starting a special effects studio, she became a key part of his operations, and over time she parlayed that into a successful career in the special effects industry. She eventually moving back to Astro City during her time working on the local soap opera Tomorrow's Dawn.

Also, over the years, she'd met others like her: Superpowered men and women whose calling was to live ordinary lives. She and her fellow "sideliners" are a loose community spread over the globe, and she enjoys her friendship with these kindred spirits. All in all, her life is good.

In her cell aboard the Majordomo's flying headquarters, Sully's watch begins speaking to her -- it's her friend Magda, who talks to machines. She's tracked them down. From a remote distance, she talks their bonds into deactivating, and the sideliners stage revolt. Sully explains to the flabbergasted Majordomo, whose armor she freezes, that after being approached by the recruiter, she gave a heads-up to Magda and other sideliners. Over the years, they've learned to watch out for guys like him. They toss the base, with the Majordomo and his men within it, into the river. Its equipment should keep the criminals alive, and even if it doesn't, hey, they're not superheroes. There are some strangers among the ex-captives, and they're welcomed into the newcomer fold.

Later, Sully's back at the Millrace when Samaritan swoops down for a brief chat. He tells her that, after all the help the sideliners have given Honor Guard over the years, the superheroes would gladly lend a hand the next time yet another villain inevitably tries a similar scheme. However, Sully's insistent that the sideliners need to show the bad guys of the world that they can take care of themselves. Samaritan departs, and Sully finally gets to get back to what's important: that delicious bagel...

Notes

  • Mattie Sullivan was a supporting character in Kurt Busiek's Astro City Vol.2 #22, the one-shot story "Great Expectations."
    • In the close-up of her keyring, we see a Tomorrow's Dawn tag. That was the show she was working on in that story (also briefly mentioned this issue).
  • The Majordomo's look, with its extreme complexity and elaborate piping, resembles a recent costume trend in mainstream superhero costumes. Is some gentle ribbing going on?
  • Magda's souped-up Model T is named Lizzie. This is a reference to "tin Lizzie," a nickname that was used for Ford Model T cars once upon a time.