Pipley chewed on a toothpick. “First day on the job, huh?”

Squaker nodded. “Yeah. Is it…that different from ordinary crime scene cleanup?”

“Not really. We still got the same ABRA/IICRC certified procedures we go through, and they’ll keep you with an old hat like me the first coupla jobs.”

“D…d’you have any advice?” Squaker asked.

“What am I, a shrink?” Pipley snapped. Seeing the startled, hurt look in the kid’s eyes, he softened a bit. “Look, it’s gonna seem pretty bad when we get there, but you just gotta keep some things in mind. We don’t do structural damage–that’s another outfit. Same with busted furniture. Only the stuff you gotta wear gloves to handle. We go in first so the other guys can do their job. Got it?”

“Yeah,” Squaker said. “Got it.” He seemed a little reassured, if still more nervous than a jackrabbit in a tumble dryer.

“Right then.” Pipley slid the van door open, revealing a scene of utter devastation. An entire block of apartment buildings and the surrounding residential neighborhood had been torn apart.

“Careful,” said Pipley. “Captain Tempest was fighting Dark Fusiona here. We’re pretty sure he scared her off by throwing ranch houses at her, but there could be traces of radioactive ooze or Tempest’s Enchancoblood around.”

“Nuclear, biological, chemical?” Negathrust said. “People have seen it all, and worse. You’ll be lucky to make the 9 o’clock news locally with that sort of thing. If you want to get taken seriously, you need to drop these old standbys.”

“And what, exactly, do you suggest replacing those ‘old standbys’ with?” said Spectrecide. The lair’s HVAC cycled, bringing his billowing cape to a standstill. “Causing mayhem and murder on a vast scale if one’s demands aren’t met is quite the feat with neither murder nor mayhem.”

“Old-fashioned is what it is. It’s all about marketing these days, Spectrecide, and your marketing is stuck in the Walter Cronkite era. Sure, back in the day, if you could get the old goon to take off his glasses emotionally you’d shock the world. But things are different now.”

The line’s on the old villain’s face deepened. “You’re just tearing me down now,””Not even offering any useful advice.”

“Marketing! Marketing is the name of the game these days, Spectrecide. Market well enough and you’re untouchable. Market well enough and crazy normals will do your dirty work for you!” Negathrust paced back and forth, accentuating key words with pumps of his omnithrust gloves.

“I don’t understand,” Spectrecide sighed, fiddling idly with his disintegrator pistol.

“Count Skullthorn has been quietly funding a multimedia blitz that’s made Nosferati the 90210 of this century’s 15-20 female demographic. The Deathjester had himself portrayed by an Aussie hunk in a major motion picture and now copycats are springing up all over the country!”