Chapter 1: A Prelude
Wonderella let her communicator ring about eight times before she reluctantly extended an arm and grabbed it off the coffee table.
"Heeeey," she said, not taking her eyes off the television screen in front of her, "What's up?"
"Are you kidding me?" Queen Beetle's voice was clear and incredulous. "Wonderella, are you even in the city? How could you not notice the monster stomping through downtown? This thing is incredibly strong, I need you down here right now!" There was a crackling of small explosions in the background.
Wonderella's back stiffened and she sat up straight in the recliner. "Oh my god. Where are you?"
"On 34th street!"
"Oh. Soooooo, pretty far away from all the actual fun places in the city." Wonderella's eyes slid back to the episode of Glee playing on her TV. They were going to sing soon. "It's pretty strong, huh? But you have your beetle powers! The proportional strength of a beetle! Wow! What do you need me for? I'll only get in your way," Wonderella said as she turned up the volume.
"Ugh, why did I even bother to call you? It's like, I know what I'm going to get, but I just keep going back to the well. Never mind, I guess I'll just --" An alien roar drowned out the rest of Queen Beetle's words and there was just the beginning of a short, high-pitched gasp before the phone emitted a blast of static. The line went dead.
Wonderella resentfully rose from her comfortable position on the chair and walked over to the window. Sure enough, she could see dark smoke lazily rising a couple miles over to the east and the Wonderella signal was high in the sky. She put her hand on the window, then quickly drew it back. Jesus, it was cold out there today.
She looked back at the TV. She thought of that pained sound Queen Beetle had made before the phone cut out.
"Fuck. Okay, where's my cape?"
Queen Beetle stood hunched over with her hands braced on her knees, panting heavily. Was she getting older or were these monsters getting stronger? Probably both, she thought as she stretched her back out with a wince. That Coleoptera Roll that she just executed may have saved her from getting a face full of monster fist, but her back (and her shattered communicator) were definitely casualties.
The monster itself towered above her, it's hard, mottled legs creaked every time it took a step. The thing resembled a monstrous, tree more than anything else, albeit one without any leaves.
The creature drew back its gnarled arm once again and got ready to take another swipe at her. The glancing blow that she had just taken hurt enough, Queen Beetle didn't need to stick around and find out what kind of damage a direct hit would do.
She rolled into a ready stance. She ran through a list in her head automatically: keep the thing away from civilians, don't destroy buildings, avoid the next attack, and all the while try come up with some strategy to take this villain out of the fight.
Well, she faced worse than this before, but it was still going to be a long afternoon.
"This is for going on a rampage during prime-time, scumbag!"
Or maybe it won't be quite so long as she thought. Queen Beetle looked up just in time to see Wonderella completing one of her hella high jumps ending in a kick straight to the tree-monster's craggy face. Guess today was one of her competent days.
Queen Beetle smiled.
Wonderella seemed especially clingy today, Queen Beetle thought as they milled around the scene after the battle watching city maintenance crews chop up and haul literally tons of newly made firewood.
"We need to get you a sidekick -- something flashy to draw the villain's eyes. The beauty of having a sidekick is: they prance around and collect the gunfire, you sneak in, punch the guy out, and collect the credit!"
Wonderita smiled vacantly into the distance while Wonderella talked, seemingly unconcerned about the role being assigned to sidekicks.
"Umm..." Queen Beetle said unhelpfully.
Wonderella turned towards Wonderita. "You still go to college or whatever, right? You must know some kids with enough student loans to get pelted by fireballs as long as they can call it an "internship" on their resume.
"Wait a second. Are you serious here? What do I need a sidekick for? It's not like I'm going to retire any time soon."
"You almost got eviscerated by a fucking tree today, Queen Beetle. You could use a meat shield to help you out. Come on, I want to keep my nerd-ass friend in one piece."
Despite the ridiculousness of the situation, Queen Beetle was strangely touched and found herself hesitating. Maybe she could use someone to watch her back when things got hot like they did today. Someone to mentor in the ways of superheroics.
This hesitation was all Wonderella needed to latch onto the idea with the enthusiasm of a person who hasn't thought things all the way through.
Queen Beetle thought the chance of her approving of whatever sort of sidekick Wonderella might be able to rustle up for her was pretty slim.
"What did you have in mind?" she said.
"This is it!" Wonderella said cheerfully as the Invisiblimp set down on a cracked road in the sparsely populated, old industrial area of the city. As Queen Beetle stepped out of the blimp and looked around, however, it might have a few more occupants than she thought.
The orphanage looked like something out of a Dickens novel. Thin, dirty children stood about in scruffy clothes and looked at Wonderella and Queen Beetle with wide, sad eyes. A boy in the back was carrying a chimney sweep.
This was ridiculous.
Queen Beetle hadn't even known that orphanages like this existed in America anymore. Though, she thought, if anybody did know about them it would be Wonderella.
Wonderella strode confidently towards the old woman standing by the rusted gate to the orphanage. Queen Beetle followed and saw Wonderella slip the woman a twenty in a poorly disguised tradeoff-handshake. The old woman (who must the proprietor of this god awful place) unlocked the gate and let them in, no questions asked.
The children stood about the weedy yard watching them curiously. Queen Beetle winced when she saw the hopeful look on their small faces. "Wonderella, please tell me we aren't here for the reason that we are definitely here for because you are actually that callous," Queen Beetle whispered fiercely to Wonderella.
"If you think the reason we are here is to get you a scurrying little attention diverter then, yeah, that's why we're here."
"Wonderella, I'm not going to just buy an orphan to be my sidekick!"
"Why Queen Beetle, do you HATE ORPHANS?!" Wonderella practically screamed the last couple of words and many of the children gathered around them burst into tears.
Queen Beetle put her hand over her face. "Oh my god, it’s unbearable when you're like this."
But Wonderella ignored her and went off in search of "the perfect sidekick". Queen Beetle stood there stiffly as the children sniffled around her. She dug around in one of her costumes hidden pockets for a moment then handed the kid closest to her a Jolly Rancher.
"How about this one?"
Queen Beetle turned towards Wonderella to see her holding up a squirming little redheaded girl of about ten.
"No!" Queen Beetle said.
"Oh," Wonderella said with a look of concerned understanding, "You need a B-L-A-C-K sidekick, right?"
Queen Beetle rolled her eyes. "No. And also: all these kids can understand you."
Wonderella was unfazed. "Look, this place has top-notch sidekick material: young, eager to please, and with no family ties. You're not going to get much better than this."
"How about an actual adult who's old enough to have graduated high school? Or better yet, college? Why the hell do we have to start them off so young? I was twenty-three when I first put on the Scarab Crown."
"And I was in preschool when my mom first put me in costume, and look! I turned out fine!"
Queen Beetle was stunned for a moment, then wisely decided to change the subject. "Come on, Wonderella, there must be other ways that heroes get sidekicks?" she said with a much calmer voice.
Wonderella smiled. "I know just the guy. Mutant. Whatever."
It was back in the Invisiblimp and off to Dr. Shark's lab next. Of course, by now Queen Beetle knew that there was no chance that she was going to be convinced to take on a sidekick during this parade of crazy, but she found herself going along anyways. She really couldn't say why, exactly; maybe it was because the world of superheroes was extremely clique-y and she might as well indulge Wonderella, maybe it was because she had never seen the inside of Dr. Shark's lab before. But, to be honest, the biggest reason was probably just Wonderella herself. As lazy and negligent and ignorant as Dana could be, when she really got a fire going inside of her she could be fantastic. In the rare case that Wonderella cared (and make no mistake, it was extremely rare) she could charismatic enough to make a person almost forget about all the absolutely idiotic stuff she had pulled before.
And for some reason, Wonderella really cared about finding Queen Beetle a protégé.
So to hell with it, Queen Beetle thought. Let's see what happens.
High vaulted ceilings and the faint, zapping sounds of electricity greeted Queen Beetle and Wonderella as they stepped into the lab. Stainless steel covered just about every surface.
And there was Dr. Shark, standing impossibly on his tail fin, like the freak of science he was.
"Ah, Wonderella and Queen Beetle! What bring you two ladies to my lab today?" he said brightly through his monstrously mutated shark mouth.
"We need your expertise, Dr. Shark. How do you feel about playing in the realm of God today?" Wonderella asked.
"The same way I feel every day: great!"
"Good, 'cause we need a sentient animal sidekick whipped up pretty fast."
"Not a problem. Have you got a sample?"
Wonderella held out a small glass jar with something scurrying around the bottom.
"What is that?" Queen Beetle asked suspiciously as she peered at it.
"A bug I found when I had to go to the can on the Invisiblimp. It'll be great, I promise. Sure, Pajarro Pete was a piece of shit, but this thing totally matches your whole bug shtick. It's bound to work!"
Queen Beetle looked closer at the insect. "My theme is beetles. This is a cockroach. They're not even in the same family."
"No one ever said that science was specific!" Dr. Shark supplied.
"Yeah!" Wonderella agreed, "Come on, Dr. Shark, let's get this thing blown up and spouting family-friendly wisecracks."
Dr. Shark reached out and scooped up the tiny cockroach with his rubbery shark fins and placed it on the platform. Dr. Shark stepped back and placed a pair of thick goggles over his eyes. The machine let out a high-pitched whine as it warmed up; Dr. Shark put his fin on a red lever attached to a console.
"One adorable animal sidekick coming up in a jiffy!" he said.
It should have come as a surprise to no one that instead of being molded into the perfect animal companion, the machine simply enlarged the insect to a towering height, gave it laser-vision, and pissed it off.
"I can't un-mutate things!" Dr. Shark screamed as it stomped on a row of brightly colored vials and zapped a supercomputer.
It was a hard fight, but soon Queen Beetle and Wonderella won their second victory over giant monsters that day.
As they cleaned big, sticky globs of hemocyanin off themselves back in the Invisiblimp, Wonderella's enthusiasm for the sidekick search seemed to deflate back to her normal levels of apathy. Besides a half-assed renewal when they flew over a couple of despondent looking teens loitering in front of a 7-11, Wonderella stayed true to form -- and gave up.
They landed the Invisiblimp on the roof of Wonderella's building next to some ratty looking lawn chairs.
"Want to hang out for a little while?" Wonderella asked as they disembarked.
"I don't know, it's getting kind of late. And I really want to take a shower." Queen Beetle could feel the residue of cockroach guts on her hands.
"You should totally stay, I'll bring up some Wonderella Wafers and you can eat as many as you want. It's a promotional deal; I got a million of the things."
Queen Beetle hesitated. "They are legal here, right? Because the last snack food you endorsed is still stuck in legal limbo with the FDA."
"Yeah, yeah, these are fine. Anyways, you know how manufacturing deals can go."
Queen Beetle, who had never endorsed a product in her life (especially not a shoddy one), did not know. But when Wonderella returned to the roof, Queen Beetle took a cookie anyways. She took a bite and immediately realized that it was basically pure sugar. No wonder Wonderella liked them.
She heard a slight cracking sound, then Wonderella passed her a beer. Queen Beetle wasn't usually much of a beer drinker, but when she took a drink it hit the spot perfectly. She munched on a wafer as they both sat back on the old lawn chairs.
"Did you always want to be a superhero?" Wonderella asked suddenly.
Queen Beetle thought about it.
"Yeah," she said honestly, "I knew ever since I saw Black Beetle rescue a guy from a lavaman on TV when I was a kid. When I heard that he was going to hang up the mantle I begged to be his protégé. Serving this city is the most fulfilling thing I've ever done."
Wonderella didn't seem satisfied with this answer.
"What about you?" Queen Beetle said.
"Oh, I don't know, it was just something that my mom did. Something that she wanted me to do."
Wonderella took another sip of her beer before continuing. "I mean, it's a cash cow don't get me wrong, mama's making some money," at this she held up the food next to her head. Two Wonderellas smiled identical, slightly sleazy smiles in her direction. "But... It's just such a shit job sometimes, y'know? But what the hell else was I going to do? I mean, the costume already fit and everything."
She thought for a second. "I guess one day I'll have to find someone to be the new Wonderella after I retire." She didn't look happy at the prospect.
"What are you talking about? What about Wonderita?" Queen Beetle said.
Wonderella rolled her eyes. "Wonderita is gonna stay Wonderita, let's just say that."
Privately, Queen Beetle could see the wisdom in that.
"Eh. Maybe I'll just pop out a kid one of these days and have her carry on the legacy. It is sort of the family business and all." Wonderella seemed rather resigned as she sipped on her beer and looked out over the city.
Queen Beetle looked too. The sun was hovering right above the city skyline bathing everything in an orange-tinged light. The rays reflected off the glass walls of one particularly architecturally daring high-rise, making it appear as if the whole building was made of shining gold.
Queen Beetle didn't see how anybody couldn't love this city, couldn't be satisfied in being a guardian to all this beauty.
But still, she reached out a hand and rested it very gently on Wondrella's shoulder. "You don't have to do any of that if you don't want to."
"We'll see," Wonderella said, as she bit into a cookie in the image of her own face.
Mouseover text: The next day, Wonderella erased this whole timeline from existence when she used her time machine to travel back to 1995 and visit Action Park. She reestablished it when she went back even further to get a case of Crystal Pepsi.