Brady Scott leaped out of bed at the first beep of his alarm. He nearly stumbled over his superhero action figures on the way out the door. He was so excited that he could hardly contain himself. Today was the big day.

He quickly brushed his teeth, dressed, and bounded down the stairs, following the scent of bacon and scrambled eggs to the kitchen where his family sat around the table. Mom and his nine-year-old sister Brie were already halfway through their breakfast. Dad hadn’t started eating. Instead, he was absorbed in the Bible app on his tablet, hastily jotting notes—probably for his sermon next week. Brady strode into the kitchen and slid gracelessly into a chair next to his mom.

“Good morning, guys!” he said cheerily. “Breakfast smells good.”

“You’re up early, young man,” Mom teased. She planted a kiss on his forehead. “Is school out today?”

Brady laughed. “Mom, don’t you remember? My history class is going on a field trip to the National Superhero Museum today. I’ve only been talking about it all week.”

“Oh yes, I remember now.” Mom scooped hot bacon and eggs onto a plate and poured Brady a glass of orange juice. “Better eat quickly, then. The bus will be here in fifteen minutes.”

“You’re going to the superhero museum? That’s so cool!” Brie looked as excited as Brady felt. “Can I go with you, Brady?”

Brady took a crunchy bite of bacon. “Sorry, sis. Only the sixth-grade history class is going.”

Brie made a pouty face. “Aw, not fair! Why do you get to have all the fun?”

Brady smiled sympathetically. “Maybe I’ll bring you something nice from the gift shop. Would that make you feel better?”

Brie sighed and nodded. “Yeah, I guess so.”

Mr. Soto had been promising this field trip all semester long, and there was no way Brady was going to miss out. The National Superhero Museum was more than just a museum dedicated to America’s superheroes. The building had once been the headquarters of the Alpha Corps, the greatest superhero team of all time and Brady’s favorite. Who would pass up the opportunity to walk where America’s greatest heroes once did?

Brady wolfed down the bacon and eggs, for the first time desperate not to miss the bus. Dad looked up from his notes and smiled. “Don’t inhale that food, son. Do you think your stomach’s going to chew it for you?”

Brady swallowed the last of his orange juice, grinning. “No, but that would be a cool superpower.”

Brie made a gagging face. “Gross! That’s just the grossest superpower ever.”

Mom chuckled. “What would you do with it? And what would you call yourself, ‘The Inhaling Man’?” Everyone laughed at that.

“Say, Daddy,” said Brie, “why can’t we all go to the superhero museum?”

Dad turned his attention back to his tablet. “Maybe someday, sweetheart,” he said. “Your mommy and I are pretty busy with work.”

Brie looked unconvinced. “That’s what you said last time. And the time before that.”

“Yes, and it’s just as true now as it was then.” Dad smiled weakly and looked helplessly at Mom. He clearly wanted the conversation to be over. Mom got the hint and distracted Brie, telling her they’d plan a trip to the museum for spring break.


Brady was still thinking about his dad hours later, long after the bus set out on the trip to Arlington, Virginia. What Brie had said was true, he realized. How many times had he pleaded with his parents to take him to the museum? How many times had Dad given him the exact same answer?

“Maybe someday, son. Now’s not the best time.”

“Some other time, Brady. Things are busy right now.”

“Maybe some other time, Brady . . .”

Brady had taken him at his word then, but he was beginning to have doubts. In fact, he couldn’t remember the last time his dad had taken them anywhere fun. Travel just wasn’t his thing, and apparently superheroes were even less so. Dad’s idea of fun seemed to be lounging around in his pastor’s study at church all day, reading a book, or writing a sermon.

Brady couldn’t think of anything more boring but never had the heart to tell his dad. If only Dad was a superhero instead, with some cool power like heat vision or super speed! “How cool would that be?” he thought.

“Or even better . . . how cool would it be if I were a superhero? Then I could join the Alpha Corps . . . if only the Alpha Corps were still around.”

He was still absorbed in his thoughts when the bus finally pulled up to the National Superhero Museum. The imposing four-story mansion reminded Brady of a castle or a manor house—a stone-and-mortar structure with battlements, towers, and pointed spires. He could almost imagine brave knights defending the battlements from fire-breathing dragons.

Mr. Soto’s voice interrupted his daydreams. “Remember, class, stay close to me during the tour. I don’t want anyone to get lost.”

The double-paneled doors of the bus swung open. Brady shuffled down the stairs with the rest of the class and followed Mr. Soto through the crowd of tourists to the museum lobby where the tour guide—a lean, gangly young man with a mullet—waited to greet them.

“Welcome to the National Superhero Museum!” he said with a wave. “My name is Dax, and today I’ll be your guide into the wonderful world of superheroes!”

The class cheered wildly with delight. Dax smiled. “I love the enthusiasm! And believe me, we’re going to have a real blast today. Now stay close to me, and if you have any questions, feel free to ask away.”

The class followed Dax through the halls of the mansion, oohing and aahing at all the displays. Brady’s mind was blown away by seeing all the superhero paraphernalia in one place. He gawked at the original super-suit of Solar Bomb, the first superhero to appear in 1974. He marveled at the replica of the Squad Superb’s danger room, complete with the famous self-destruct button. He even took a turn holding the staff of Rancorous, the self-proclaimed “greatest supervillain of all time.” It was all a dream come true.

Then they came to the place Brady wanted to see the most—the Alpha Corps Wing.

“This museum was once the Aitken Mansion,” Dax explained as they entered the wing. “It was built by a Scottish lord in the late 1800s. The Alpha Corps bought it and made it their headquarters in 1997. They used it until they disbanded in 2012, and the Smithsonian Institution was given permission two years later to convert it into this museum.”

The class fell silent as Dax led them through an arched doorway into a spacious conference room. A circular table made of granite rested squarely in the center of the room, cordoned off by stanchions and a velvet rope. Brady gasped in awe as he realized what he was seeing. Lifelike figures of the heroes, clothed in their iconic costumes, were seated around the table as if in conversation.

“This was the meeting room of the original Alpha Corps, and this table is the most valuable piece of our collection,” said Dax. “The Alpha Corps themselves—Dark Condor, Towerman, the Blue Sprite, Nike, Electrix, Polar Frost, and Multi-Girl—used to meet here twice a month.”

Brady took the sight in. He was afraid he might blink, wake up from this dream, and find himself back home in bed again.

“Together,” Dax said, “they prevented several terrorist attacks and assassination attempts on America’s leaders. They were highly decorated for their service to our country, receiving honors such as the Congressional Medal of Honor and the Purple Heart.” He paused and sighed. “What’s more, class, they died as heroes—saving our country from the Brotherhood of Superhumans during the Battle of Washington.”

Brady and the kids nodded soberly. They had all heard the story of how the Brotherhood—a superhuman terrorist group—had attacked the capitol during the 2012 elections, intending to install a dictatorship run by people with superpowers. The entire Alpha Corps had given their lives to stop them, which was why the government had never reinstated the team.

For a moment, Dax had a distant look in his eye. “The Alpha Corps were more than superheroes, class. They were the guardians of all the good that America stands for. In my book, there has never been a superhero team as great as the Alpha Corps.”

Dax kept talking, but Brady tuned him out. His gaze lingered on the figures at the table, wishing they were alive and that he could talk to them. He was so engrossed that he didn’t notice that the tour was moving on, that he was left alone. He was still admiring Dark Condor’s birdlike cowl when a gravelly voice interrupted his reverie.

“You lost, bub?”

Startled, Brady spun around. It was an elderly janitor, pushing a cart. His face was rough and leathery, and he wore his shoulder-length gray hair in a ponytail.

“Uh . . . yeah, I guess . . . I guess my tour moved on,” Brady said at last, still trying to regain his bearings.

The janitor nodded. “Don’t blame ya, bub. There’s a lot to see here . . . easy to lose focus.” He pushed his cart off to the side. “Your group’s bound to miss ya sooner rather than later. I’ll take ya back to the front desk to wait for ’em.”

Brady nodded. “Uh . . . thank you, sir.” He followed the janitor as they walked back down the halls he had just come from. Brady’s eyes lingered on the exhibits one more time as he walked.

“This place is so cool,” he said to himself.

The janitor snorted. “If ya dig capes, then yeah. Frankly, I don’t see the point of all this.”

Capes? It was a term of derision, and Brady was all too aware of its sting. A wave of indignation washed over him. “What do you mean, sir?”

“Those capes aren’t real heroes, bub, and I don’t get why folks can’t see that. If you ask me, Uncle Sam should be honoring the real heroes—first responders, soldiers, and the like. Instead, we honor a bunch of little gods in capes who think they’re better than us ’cause they can do what we can’t.”

Brady felt his anger rising. “But they’re fighting for us, just like any other hero,” he argued. “Just like the Alpha Corps did.”

The janitor erupted in a boisterous laugh that echoed in the empty hallways. It was a bitter laugh, devoid of happiness.

“Bub,” he said at last, “nobody knows the Alpha Corps better than I did. I was a janitor here long before it was a museum. I knew the Alpha Corps personally. And I’m telling ya from experience—they were not heroes. At least not at the end.”

Brady was astonished, and his jaw dropped in disbelief. “You knew the Alpha Corps?”

The old man nodded. “Yeah, I knew ’em. They were just like all the other capes. Reckless, selfish, and stupid. Verystupid.”

Brady’s resentment flared again. “You can’t say that!” he snapped.

The janitor smirked. “How do ya reckon they were killed in the first place?”

Brady paused, but only for a moment. “Everyone knows that story, sir,” he said heatedly. “The Alpha Corps died fighting the Brotherhood of Superhumans.”

“That’s what the government said once it was all over. But the truth is that those capes weren’t supposed to be in Washington in the first place.”

A cold shiver of shock ran down Brady’s spine. “W-what do you mean?”

The janitor paused, lost in thought. For a moment, Brady thought he saw sadness in his eyes.

“I was cleaning the halls that day,” he said at last. “The Alpha Corps were meeting when we heard about the Brotherhood’s attack, and the military told ’em not to interfere. They had the Brotherhood under control, they said. And from what I hear, they did. But the capes wouldn’t listen.”

He stared at his shoes, his frame sagging. “The Brotherhood were the Corps’ sworn enemies. There was no way they were going to let the military get the credit for bringing ’em in—they wanted that honor for themselves.”

“That’s . . . that’s not true,” said Brady, his conviction less steady now.

The janitor nodded. “It’s all true. I heard Dark Condor say as much himself. The Brotherhood had taken so much from ’em, he said, that it would be a crime not to bring ’em in.” He snorted again. “That sanctimonious rubbish was enough to convince the other capes to join him. He paused for a moment.

“What happened?” Brady finally asked.

“They went straight to DC to fight the Brotherhood, only to find that most of ’em had been captured already. There was only one left—the Human Nuke, a living radioactive bomb. The army cornered him, and they were ready to take him out. Only the Alpha Corps got in the way. The army couldn’t get a clear shot with the capes in the way, but that didn’t stop the Human Nuke. He let out a radioactive blast that melted everything—and everyone—in the area. The capes and two hundred of America’s finest marines were vaporized in seconds, while the Human Nuke got away.”

“What?” Brady thought. “But how could that be?” Brady was floored, his mind trying to comprehend what he was hearing. He barely realized that they were at the front desk. “This kid’s class left him behind,” he heard the janitor tell the lady at the counter. “They’ll be lookin’ for him soon.”

The old man turned and patted Brady on the shoulder. “Look here, bub. True heroes ain’t capes, and you’ll be better accepting that.” Then he walked away.

Brady sat there, reeling from the bombshell that had been dropped on him. Of all the things he had expected to learn at the superhero museum, this revelation had not been one of them. He was so rattled that he hardly noticed when Mr. Soto finally came for him.


It rained all the way back to school, matching Brady’s mood. He was quiet during the ride home, he barely mumbled “hello” to his family when he walked through the front door, and he gave brief answers when they asked questions. He didn’t even realize he had forgotten Brie’s present until she asked him where it was.

Things went on like this until dinnertime. Mom was clearly worried, and she asked him several times if he was okay. Dad watched him out of the corner of his eye until Brady felt uncomfortable and asked to be excused.

Night fell, and he layawake in bed, staring at the superhero posters that Mom had helped him put up. He stared intently at his Alpha Corps poster, proudly displayed in the middle. Dark Condor, Multi-Girl, Polar Frost—what should he think of them now?

He had loved them. He had worshipped them. But the janitor’s story had shaken everything he had believed about superheroes, especially his favorite heroes. They certainly didn’t sound like heroes anymore.

Hearing a gentle knock, Brady looked up to see his dad standing in the doorway. His forehead was creased with concern, and even his glasses were crooked.

“Hi, Dad,” Brady said, his cheeriness forced.

Dad raised an eyebrow. “Son, are you sure everything is okay?”

Of course he couldn’t hide anything from Dad. Brady shrugged and let down his guard just a little. “Yeah . . . just a little disappointed, that’s all.”

“Is this about the field trip?”

Brady nodded. Dad came in and sat at the foot of the bed, his face attentive. “Would you like to tell me about it?”

Brady didn’t need any more coaxing. He told his dad everything—about the tour, about the janitor, and about the story he had heard. Dad listened, never saying a word except to ask one or two questions. Brady didn’t know why he was telling him any of this. He knew superheroes weren’t Dad’s thing. Still, it felt good to get everything off his chest.

“I don’t know what to think, Dad,” he said at last. “I thought the Alpha Corps were heroes, but it’s clear that . . . that they weren’t.” He paused as his breath caught in his throat. “Is . . . is the janitor right? Is it true that superheroes aren’t real heroes at all?”

A sad smile formed on Dad’s lips. “I wouldn’t go so far as to say they’re notheroes, son. But you must remember that superheroes are only people, like you and me. They can and will make mistakes.”

Brady nodded reluctantly. “I guess I knew that. But aren’t superheroes supposed to be better than all of us?”

“Perfection is an unfair burden to put on anybody, Brady,” Dad said gently. “Especially our heroes.”

Brady thought about that for a moment. “Is that why you don’t like superheroes?”

Dad’s smile took on a hint of amusement. “I’m not against superheroes, Brady. If I were, I guess I’d have to be against every hero in the Bible as well. Which would be hard since I’m a pastor and all.” He chuckled at that.

“What do you mean?” Brady asked.

“Well, think about some of the heroes of faith we read about in the Bible. Jacob was a cheat and a liar, yet God used him to father the nation of Israel. King David was a man after God’s own heart, but he murdered one of his best soldiers just so he could steal his wife. The apostle Paul murdered Christians just because he despised their beliefs.” Dad’s eyes sparkled with delight. “Do any of these people sound like heroes of faith to you?”

Brady saw where this was going and smiled, shaking his head. “Definitely not.”

Dad nodded. “The Bible is filled with examples of imperfect men and women whom God used to do incredible things despite themselves. He raised them up when they were needed the most, and though they were imperfect—though they were some of the most reckless, careless, sinful people who ever walked the face of the earth—they did great things because He was helping them. We honor them today not because of who they were, but because of what God did through them. He uses superheroes the same way, whether they realize it or not.”

Dad stood up and tousled Brady’s hair with his brawny hand. “We need heroes to look up to, son. But we must never forget who raises them up in the first place.” He turned and walked toward the door, looking back with a smile.

“Good night, son,” he said.

Brady smiled again. “Good night, Dad.”

He would ponder his father’s words for the rest of the evening, until sleep finally closed his eyes. And the more he thought about it, the more he realized his father was right. It was comforting to know that God could use anyone, even imperfect people, to be heroes.

“Even the ‘capes,’” he thought as he drifted off to sleep.


As the rain fell, a man wearing a fedora watched Brady’s house from a black sedan parked across the street. He peered through a slit in his mask, eyes narrowed as he clenched the paper in his hand. He hummed thoughtfully to himself. After several years of searching, he had finally found what he was looking for. A subtle smile formed, invisible beneath the mask. He took out his phone and dialed a number.

“This is Gray,” he growled. “I think I’ve found Dark Condor.”