In today’s #SaturdayScenes, Pete Halstein, aka Bulwark, the accidental hero of our superhero occult adventure novel Copper Knights and Granite Men, receives a challenge from an unexpected corner: his television!
“Hey, this is real life. It ain’t like professional wrestling where it’s all scripted and nobody’s worried about getting hurt, you know. And that ain’t stage lightning they were slinging around out there. That stuff hurts. Those were real people sticking their necks out there, and they ain’t doing it for laughs.”
Molly Halstein’s eyes widened, staring at the unexpected appearance of her father on the TV. Was it a commercial, she wondered, or a glitch at the studio, switching to a news clip? No, there in the right corner of the screen the logo of the World Grappling Underground still hovered. Her spoon dropped with a splash into the bowl of Kooba Puffs as she reached for the remote, turning the volume up.
The close-up image of Bulwark’s face went on moving, but the audio muted, replaced by the disembodied voice of a commentator:
“Those were the words that set off a firestorm of controversy in the UGW locker room. These were the comments of Pete Halstein, that slab-jawed New York superhero called Bulwark, that many have interpreted as a shot across the bow of professional wrestling. But was it a challenge? Was it the insult that many are taking it as? One thing is for sure: Bulwark’s comments have really lit a fire under the trunks of one world renowned grappler. We go now to the locker room, where Dandy Jim Frisko will ask those questions of the most outspoken man in the sport, Santo Caballero.”
The screen cut to an image of a lean, mustachioed man dressed like a Texas millionaire holding up a microphone to an even taller, and much burlier man who wore a white full-face mask covered in rhinestones and little else. “I know you have a lot to say about Bulwark’s recent comments, Santo Caballero,” said Dandy Jim with a flourish to his faux-Spanish pronunciation, “so let me just hand you this microphone and get out of your way!”
Molly stared at the screen in a ludicrous expression of surprise, a slurry of chocolate milk and ground corn dribbled out of the corner of her lips. “Daaaaaad!” she cried, as best she could around the mouthful of cereal. “Dad! Come in here quick!”
But her father’s strange, cavernous voice echoed back its rebuke from the kitchen. “If you want to talk to me, you can come in here and speak to me like a civilized human being.”
But then Mexico’s Holy Knight held forth, his voice almost blasting out the speakers of the television, and the young girl knew civilization was at best a hollow facade.
Santo Caballero vented the contents of his lungs on that word, and then loudly filled them back up again, his shaved, glistening chest expanding to the circumference of a 55 gallon drum. He angled his head toward the camera, revealing the darting, dilated pupils behind the eyelets of his mask. A wild passion gripped him, restrained only by a few frayed threads of sanity. Molly could not see his cheeks behind the mask, of course, but she knew they must be black with rage.
“A righteous anger is what I feel, Dandy Jim, whenever that tape is replayed. And I have replayed it, again and again, seeking out a more… generous interpretation of this most honorable man’s words. I consulted with the other lunchadores, but they were as wroth as me. So I visited my priest, but he could not defend those words. No, he could only say, ‘turn the other cheek.’ And so finally I prayed to my dear mother in heaven. ‘Madre,’ I appealed, ‘help me understand those baleful words in some other way.’ But Dandy Jim, even her kind and gentle heart could find no good in those words, and she could only say, ‘Son, forgive him.’
And then Santo Caballero raised a trembling hand and slowly bent his fingers into a shaking fist, and the last measure of his strained self-control fled him on a hissing breath.
“But mama, an insult on my honor and the honor of lucha cannot so easily be forgiven!”
Molly set her bowl down and leaped across the arm of the couch, screaming into the kitchen. “Dad! You need to get in here and see this! RIGHT! NOW!”
China and silverware clattered onto the floor and the walls shook as her father bellowed. “Gosh darn it, Molly! Now I’ve had it!”
He stormed into the room, starting down his rebellious offspring. His angled, stony face was chiseled in a glower of parental opprobrium as he snarled: “What did I tell you about watching TV while we’re eating? Turn that off right now! It’s not enough I don’t get to see you guys so often, but now I have to put up with you disobeying your mom and me, too? This is family time, and family time means—!”
Father and daughter jolted at the shout from the television, and both turned their eyes, the latter in fear and the former in bemusement, to the pacing, hyper-ventilating luchador on the screen.
“I respect you, Bulwark and I respect your compañeros in the Challenger Foundation. The mighty Atomic Ranger, that legendary beauty Meteora, and el jefe, Don Mancini, wise and gracious, Vencedor de Marte! I do not know you, Bulwark, but I know you must be courageous to be numbered among this pantheon of great warriors.”
“Hey, what are you watchin’ here?” Bulwark muttered.
“And so I wonder, Bulwark, what harm have I done to you that you do not respect me? What crime have I committed that you so dishonor me, and my brothers and my forefathers? I must know why you dishonor Lucha?!
“If I have done something, then you must come and tell me, man to man, and I will make right. But if I have not, then you must answer for your insults!”
And here Santo Caballero paused, seething, breathing into the camera with clenched teeth.
“Hey, this is some put-on, ain’t it?” Bulwark laid his hand on his face, looking from his television to his daughter in bafflement. “It sounds like he’s talking to me.”
“He is!” shouted Molly, jumping onto the couch cushions on the tips of her toes. “Dad, Saint Knight is calling you out!”
“Because you said wrestling was fake!”
“What? Wrestling is fake! Besides, I never said—”
One of the luchador’s gigantic fists crashed into the other with a loud pop. “Bulwark, Man of Unyielding Stone, you are strong and tough, but you are not strong and tough enough to sneer at Lucha!
“Until you have tested your mettle against the foes I have faced, both inside the ring and outside of it, on the streets of Mexico City or in the stifling, haunted jungles of the Yucatan, you must not speak thus to Santo Caballero!
“Have you fought for your life against El Hijo de Marte, or with your last strength wrested the championship belt from the bloody hands of Murcielago Azul? Have you overthrown the Cruzob blood drinkers of Chan Santa Cruz? Have you, with your own hands, pulled the steaming heart from the breast of the mummy sorceress of the Temple of Camazotz? Have you ever looked into the eyes of murderous communists before flinging them off the ramparts of Chapultapec? No, mighty Bulwark, you have not done these things, and yet you impugn the honor of Lucha! And so, Santo Caballero must call you to account!”
“In two weeks, I will return to the Big Apple and there, Bulwark, if you are a man of honor as I think, you will meet me in Madison Square Garden! There, in the great Temple of Lucha, you will either apologize or you will battle me, Santo Caballero! And our battle will not cease until there is a final victor.”
The gigantic wrestler shrugged and sneered. “Or, you will flee from my challenge, and display your disgrace to the wide world.”
“But I do not think you will do this, Bulwark. I think, in your heart of stone, you yearn to face me. You must prove to yourself that you are worthy of that belt that proclaims you ‘HERO.’
“You have fought the Copper Knight, it is true. But you have not faced the Holy Knight. Do you dare accept my challenge?”
Bulwark stared gobsmacked at the TV for a moment as the screen shifted to a commercial. At long last, he spoke. “I don’t get it.”
“Your interview after the fight with the Neighborhood Wardens and that gargoyle, dad! You said…” And here, Molly burst into her best imitation of her father’s alchemically altered New York accent, “Hey, this is real life. It ain’t like professional wrestling.”
“That’s ridiculous! Talk about taking something out of context! That crumb bum reporter was insinuatin’ that that fight was all a hoax, that we were—” He shook his head violently and waved his hands, stomping back off into the kitchen. “Forget it! Why are we wasting time talking about this? Get in here and eat breakfast with your dad.”
“But dad!” Molly grabbed onto her father’s arm and was dragged off the couch by his momentum. “What about the challenge? You’re not going to accept it, are you?”
Bulwark snorted. “Of course not. I’ve got real work to do.”
Molly breathed a sigh of relief. “Phew, that’s good.”
Bulwark froze mid-step. He glared down sideways at his daughter. “What do you mean by that?”
“I was afraid you’d accept and get hurt. Santo Caballero would tear you apart!”
“WHAT?!” he roared. “Are you kidding me?” Bulwark flexed his stone biceps. “I smashed up the Copper Knight, not to mention all those bozo NPs! That overgrown trick-or-treater couldn’t even scratch my skin!”
“Dad! Are you out of your mind?! Santo Caballero is a real superhero! He really did do all that stuff, mummy’s heart and all!”
“And what am I, chopped liver? I run with the Promethean!”
Molly shrugged. “If you say so, but when’s the last time you threw a bunch of commies off of a castle?”
“You’re really gettin’ on my nerves, little girl.”
“All I’m saying is that you’d better not call him an overgrown trick-or-treater or he’ll really get mad. Those Mexican super-wrestlers take that stuff very seriously.”
Will Bulwark accept Santo Caballero’s challenge or will he be forced to live the rest of his life in shame and ignominy? And if he does accept the challenge, will he be torn limb from limb by the furious enmascarado, or will the stone giant continue to make a mockery out of professional wrestling? You’ll have to read the answer for yourself in our next Challenger Foundation title! And if you haven’t read Bulwark’s origin in Copper Knights and Granite Men, get to it right now!