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Literature / Nuklear Age

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The Man Behind the Mask

A novel by Brian Clevinger, author of 8-Bit Theater. The book is a parody of comic books in general, following a Heroic Comedic Sociopath manchild known as Nuklear Man and his sidekick Atomik Lad, as they fight against the evil Dr. Menace and a host of baddies that crowd the streets. They are joined by the Mighty Metallic Magno Man (Norman), a tungsten superhero that attacks with his "Magnosmash", Angus the Iron Scotsman, a berserk (short) Scottish warrior that attacks with his bagpipe-rocket-powered Dwarf-a-Pult, and Rachel, Atomik Lad's non-powered girlfriend.

Notably, they battle Crushtacean, a prehistoric crab formerly frozen in ice that is... attracted to the sounds of Angus's bagpipes, Superion™, a super-powered individual created by Dr. Menace after Nuklear Man is temporarily jailed, and Nihil, whose motivations would have to be spoilered. The writing style undergoes a rather dramatic shift between Superion™ and Nihil, becoming much more serious.

It's known for having a thoroughly depressing ending, which Clevinger considered the novel's big "joke" (in the sense that a joke subverts your expectations). Knowing just how this would go over, this is one of the few books which contains an apology by the author rather than an epilogue or an afterword.

A sequel called Atomik Age was once announced, which would have followed the adventures of Atomik Lad (now called Atomik) striking out on his own, but Clevinger has since admitted that the project all but died and it will probably never get finished.

Nuklear Age contains examples of:

  • Abandoned Warehouse: Dr. Menace's perpetual hideout. Outfitted with all kinds of scientific gadgetry.
  • Added Alliterative Appeal: Several of the characters names end up phrased this way, with the Mighty Metallic Magno Man being the most obvious; however, others end up being called things such as the Golden Guardian, the Crimson Crusader, and the Surly Scotsman.
  • A God Am I: Nuklear Man's babbling often heads in this direction, although Atomik Lad manages to stop him from realizing his fantasies of world domination.
  • Aliens Steal Cable: It's the reason Nuklear Man came to Earth in the first place: his Super-Senses allowed him to pick up televisions signals, and he decided to destroy Earth just so he could get some peace and quiet. Fortunately, he lost his memory before he could get started.
  • And I Must Scream: Norman's fate. Genius is working on a way to free him, however.
  • And Your Little Dog, Too!: Superion™ showing Atomik Lad a brainwashed Rachel (cue explosion), Superion™ trying the same thing on Nuklear Man with a few of his other allies (cue explosion as Nuklear Man casually blows them out of the way), and finally Nihil cold-bloodedly killing Rachel, (cue massive explosion followed Heroic BSoD)
  • Anti Anti Christ: Nuklear Man.
  • Appropriated Appellation: Inverted. "Atomik Lad" used to be called simply "Sparky" by Nuklear Man. At one point, Nuke was accidentally sent forward in time by a supervillain, and found he had been Gone to the Future. The older "Sparky" was now known as "Atomik Knight," and pulled a Heroic Sacrifice to get Nuke back home. On his return, Nuklear Man redubbed Sparky as Atomik Lad in honor of himself.
  • Apocalypse How: Nihil pulls off a Class 1 (Human Die-Back) apocalypse when he single-handedly causes every other human on Earth to drop dead, then knocks pretty much all of the satellites orbiting Earth into all of the major cities.
  • Attack of the 50-Foot Whatever: Crushtacean, a ridiculously huge prehistoric crab.
  • Attention Deficit... Ooh, Shiny!: Nuklear Man, being what he is/was, gets this quite a bit; he once ignored a huge crab attacking Angus (in a way) because he was petting a cat.
  • Awesome, but Impractical:
    • Blazer, a minor villain, can shoot purple lasers out of his eyes, but cannot see while using them, which makes it useless to try to hit anything capable of moving out of the way.
    • Norman's ultimate attack, the Magno-Smash, has him strike his opponent after flying around the world to build up momentum. But it also makes him Too Fast to Stop, so if his opponent moves out of the way, Norman gets knocked out.
  • Beam-O-War: Superion™ has the power to reflect attacks such as Nuklear Man's Plazma Beams, and fire his own Superior Beam™s. This results in a firestorm of energy shooting back, including a point where two of the blasts end up pushing back and forth.
  • Berserk Button: Touching Nuklear Man's Cape. Or Atomik's Lad's girlfriend Rachel. Or saying anything to or near Angus that involves any words touching upon less-than-average height.
  • Brainwashed: Thanks to Superion's Superior Mind Tricks™ and his Superior Charm™, everyone in the city becomes a raving Superion fanboy/fangirl and proceed to elect him to every public office possible at once.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The sheer depression you'll get from reading the ending is so bad you may forget the good guys won.
  • Big Damn Heroes: Nuklear Man pulls off a few supersonic versions.
  • Call-Back: As with 8-Bit Theater, Brian Clevinger sticks in a massive one at the end regarding a technological device that happened to fall into a wormhole towards the middle.
  • Calling Your Attacks: Pretty much everyone does this. For example, Nuklear Man's cry of "Plasma Beam", Superion™'s "Superior Beam™", and Angus's "Dwarf-a-Pult". The MMMM even discusses how hard it is to time your call to your attack when you're moving faster the the speed of sound.
  • The Cape: Taken so, so, so many ways, but ultimately reconstructed.
  • Cape Punk: Doesn't appear to be this. Until the very end.
  • Cats Are Superior: Katkat gets up to some rather... unusual... antics.
  • Cerebus Syndrome: An extreme case. The book starts off as a nice, silly superhero romp. The ending is amazingly depressing. This is because the book is modeled after the comic book industry itself: It starts off over the top and goofy, then moves to over the top and kinda awesome, and ends up over the top and horrifying.
  • Cerebus Retcon: Again, played with as per comic book tropes. Nuklear Man's use of Norse Mythology for exclamations (see below) turns out to be because he may or may not actually be a Norse god, or at least was created by one.
  • Combat Commentator: Variel to Safriel, in the battle against Nihil's homemade minions.
  • Composite Character/Expy: Nuklear Man battle capabilities are strongly reminiscent of Black Mage's over-the-top explosions, although his intelligence seems taken straight from Fighter.
  • Courtroom Antics: In an attempt to disrupt the trial, Nuklear Man gets Norman to unleash five dozen monkeys into the courtroom.
  • Chrome Champion: The Mighty Metallic Magno Man, naturally, as he can turn his body to solid tungsten and manipulate metals and magnets.
  • Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass: Nuklear Man usually acts like an idiot, but he's by far the most powerful being on Earth and can generally be counted on to save the day after he's tried everything else.
  • Didn't See That Coming: Throughout the first half or so of the book, Dr. Menace's plans fail in the least likely ways possible. An angry Scotsman accidentally destroys the warehouse where she's holding the heroes hostage; Nuklear Man shows off by shooting a Plazma Beam into the air and unintentionally destroys her death ray-shooting sattelite; her plan to hack into Nuklear Man's computer with a robotic drone failed when Katkat jumped up onto the keyboard one keystroke away from her plan's completion...
  • Differently Powered Individual: Referred to as "Overheroes" with "Overpowers" here.
  • Door Stopper: It's a *big* book.
  • Downer Ending \ Cruel Twist Ending: Given Clevinger likes an Anti-Climax, it drops in a powerful way. Being followed by an apology, no less.
  • Dropped a Bridge on Him: Half the named cast, including Atomik Lad's girlfriend, have this happen to them in the last few chapters.
  • Drives Like Crazy: Nuklear Man. 12-car pileups ensue.
  • 11th-Hour Superpower: Nuklear Man regains his full power for the outerspace battle with Nihil when he recovers his old memories.
  • Enemy Mine: Dr. Menace works with the heroes to stop Superion™ and, later, Nihil.
  • The Federation: It exists, but the audience never gets to see it. And while humanity isn't part of it, it is partly responsible for it's formation due to Time Travel.
  • For Science!: Dr. Ima Genius, while technically being on the side of the heroes, has few qualms about going too far in her experiments. Dr Menace, the main villain, left Uberdyne (Dr. Genius' science company) after believing that Dr. Genius went too far in testing Nuklear Man.
    • Psiko, a Japanese girl who had the power to walk through minds, was placed in Dr. Genius' custody for study. Dr. Genius sent Psiko to a space station for several months in complete isolation, then forced her to use her powers to see the minds of the whole world at once, as opposed to the five or six at the most she had walked through before. Psiko was torn from her body and became a barely-sane free floating entity whose identity was all but gone. After gaining as much information from what was left of her as possible, Dr. Genius became irritated when contacted by her.
  • Foreshadowing: The cover of the book.
  • Fake Ultimate Hero: Superion™, to the point of Trade Snark on everything he owns.
  • Freudian Excuse: Deconstructed. Superion™ was the son of a famous superhero who never really had time for him. When he decides to whine about this, he does so towards a guy who has far worse daddy issues then him, yet is fairly stable.
  • Genre Savvy: Everyone tries, but somehow it never works out. Nuklear Man actually nailed this a few times ("Everything heals up when you walk offscreen!").
    Narrator: "Atomik Lad counted to three, then opened the door. Nuklear Man shot through the picture window just to the right, smashing it. Atomik Lad shut the door with a sigh."
  • Goldfish Poop Gang: The SMOTCAON, or the Socially Maladjusted Overvillains That Can't Agree On a Name.
  • Heroic BSoD: Atomik Lad lapses into this when his Atomik Field is broken and after a certain person dies.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: After Nihil is unaffected by Atomik Lad's attacks, the Mighty Metallic Magno Man takes off for help. Angus and Shiro are left behind, but Angus manages to get Shiro to leave him and charges Nihil head on, a second before Atomik Lad's would-be death. He continues fighting even after his own club is smashed through his stomach. Later, Atomik Lad throws himself in front of Nihil's death beam to save Nuklear Man, although he somehow survives.
  • Heroic Comedic Sociopath: Nuklear Man, though he acts much more heroic when he takes things seriously.
  • Hero Killer: The final villain, Nihil, wields power comparable to Nuklear Man, and the rest of the heroes (and villains) find themselves totally outclassed and can't do much more than put up a Last Stand when he starts killing people.
  • Home Base: The Silo of Solitude is where Nuklear Man and Atomik Lad live.
  • Humans Are Bastards: The Federation has a low opinion of humanity for this reason, in spite of the fact that humanity is in large part responsible for their existence. Also, as part of a class assignment to create a hypothetical society, Atomik Lad creates a utopia, and gets a C basically because he didn't account for this trope.
  • Hurl It into the Sun: Nuklear Man uses this to take out the trash. Later, it turns out that doing this to Nuklear Man (or at least putting him somewhere just as hot) is the only way to kill him, since he is powered by suns.
  • Hypercompetent Sidekick: Atomik Lad, though Nuklear Man can be just as competent when he wants to be.
  • I Never Told You My Name: Atomik Lab only gets more suspicious of Superion™ when he mentions Rachel after he had been careful not to mention her name around him.
  • It's Not You, It's My Enemies: The reason Nuklear Man leaves Earth. Earth is still recovering from Nihil's attack, and Nuklear Man is afraid his presence will cause Nihil's allies to come after him.
  • Kangaroo Court: And HOW!
    • The judge's name is Hangemall Letgodsortitout. The Baliff is the trigger-happy Vigilante Man the Civil Defender. The lawyer Nuklear Man finds is a vampire, attorney for the other side too, and also the boyfriend of the main villain. The jury is made up of the SMOTCAON (The Socially Maladjusted Overvillains That Can't Agree On a Name), the wife and children of the ruler of a mutated cheese society who Nuklear Man accidentally killed when they were trying to take over the world, the manager of several businesses that Nuklear Man and co. managed to trash in the line of duty, and a guy whose car was melted while Nuklear Man fought an evil robot. The plaintiff is an evil villain who has no problem lying under oath (that is, the oath to tell the blah blah blah) and whose testimony was totally not given to her in a romantic candlelit restaurant the night before by her boyfriend/lawyer. Nuklear Man's "insurance" for the trial consists of six dozen monkeys who are promptly turned into vampire slaves by their lawyer, Count Insiduous. When Atomik Lad fires the Count as their lawyer Nuklear Man promptly chooses Katkat, their cat, as their lawyer instead, and the defendants (Nuklear Man and Atomik Lad) hadn't actually done anything wrong. Hilarity Ensues, obviously.
  • Kill the Cutie: Rachel dies.
  • Knight of Cerebus: Two of then. When Superion shows up, things go from silly to serious. When Nihil shows up, things go from serious to horrifying.
  • Laser-Guided Amnesia: Nuklear Man, due to flying into the center of a nuclear explosion.
  • Last Stand: Dr. Menace attempts a last, seemingly hopeless attack on Nihil.
  • Lawyer-Friendly Cameo: Turbo Fighter Street Edition
  • Learned English from Watching Television: The samurai Shiro says he learned English from watching Hollywood movies, but his dialogue is barely comprehensible. He later explains that they were bootleg copies of Hollywood movies that had been translated into several different languages one after the other.
  • Let's Get Dangerous!: In spite of the way he usually acts, Nuklear Man is devastatingly effective in combat once he decides to be.
  • Logic Bomb: Inverted, as at the beginning of the novel Nuklear Man shuts down Mechanikill by shouting nonsense at it (accidentally).
  • Meaningful Name: Dr. Ima Genius, Dr. Menace, Superion™, Angus Mc-Dougal (he's Scottish), Count Insidious, Katkat.
  • Mood Whiplash: The last few chapters go downhill fast. The book goes from the sidekick, his muggle girlfriend, and his quirky fellow heroes going to the mall and spoofing zombie movies. The very next chapter, while they're at the mall's food court, Nihil shows up, killing the heroes in a gruesome fashion, and asphyxiating the sidekick's girlfriend just because he can, then proceeding to kill half the world's population.
  • Nanomachines: The Silo of Solitude is made up of these.
  • The Napoleon: Angus, the Iron Scotsman, has a tendency to go insane and kill people.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: When your "heroes" are dim-witted sociopaths, this happens quite a bit. A notable example is when Shiro, a minor character, stops Dr. Genius' and Dr. Menace's Nega Bomb.
  • Nothing Can Stop Us Now!: Superion™, after having his invincibility apparently confirmed .
  • Overly Long Name: Mighty Metallic Magno Man. The cast and narrator usually refer to him by his real name, Norman.
  • Power Born of Madness: Inverted, as Nuklear Man doesn't recover his true powers until he regains his memories and sanity.
  • Power Incontinence: Atomik Lad's "Atomik Field" occasionally ignores what he wants, turning on and off at random. The emergence of his powers is what killed his parents. It turns out that the Atomik Field is more or less a living thing, but how that works is presumably being saved for the sequel.
  • Quirky Miniboss Squad: Nihil's minions.
  • Reality Warper: Nihil, which is what makes him so dangerous compared to the other villains, as he could do almost anything he wanted. It took an especially powerful Plazma Beam for him to finally be destroyed. The description of the blast says "It was unreality." In other words, he used so much power in the blast that he broke reality for a moment.
  • Secret-Identity Identity: Inverted: Atomik Lad's superhero identity is the one exposed to the public, while his past is never mentioned out loud. Nuklear Man also gets this when he uncovers his memories of his old self.
  • Serial Escalation: Nuklear Man repeatedly tops himself. In the first fight he uses a Plazma Beam to liquefy a blaster; later, he's enraged enough by his torn cape to unleash a "Nova Beam" upon Crustachean, which quite literally cooks the giant crab and flings it several blocks away; and upon Superion™'s Nega Crush attack failing to kill him, he goes into "NOVA RAGE" and fires a huge beam that releases more energy then the sun gives off in a week at once at his opponent, utterly obliterating nearly an entire city block (which is impressive in itself as the beam could have probably destroyed the planet uncontrolled). Finally, in the superpowered duel to the death with Nihil, Nuklear Man pulls enough energy out of his surroundings to momentarily dim every star in the galaxy and unleashes it all at once, tearing the fabric of reality itself away from Nihil and defeating him.
  • Self-Made Orphan: Atomik Lad.
  • Something Person: Common among the superheroes, and Played for Laughs with Katkat.
    Atomik Lad: Let me guess. He's "cat" because he's a cat, and "cat" because he's also a cat?
  • Strange-Syntax Speaker: Shiro learned English from watching American movies... that had been translated into several languages in sequence and then back to English.
  • Take Up My Sword: From what we've heard of it so far, this is the plot of the sequel, with Atomik Lad doing this for Nuklear Man.
  • Trade Snark: Everything about Superion™ is given a trademark. Including his called attack.
  • 20 Minutes into the Future: The Silo of Solitude runs off this trope: the technology is constantly updating itself to reflect how people perceive the future ten years from the present. Eventually, it reaches a point where technology starts to rebel but the robotic servants realize that since they're ten years early, they can't do much beyond be snarky and go on strike.
  • Vigilante Man: The Civil Defender, a crazed vigilante hell-bent on eliminating all crime, no matter how small. Complete with machine gun and futuristic body armor, the Civil Defender took up being a vigilante when his sandwich was stolen, and gives out tickets written on notebook paper when he's sane enough to have his finger off the trigger of his machine gun. He has repeatedly given out tickets for littering because of the pile of other tickets he personally threw to the ground.
  • Vile Villain, Saccharine Show: Nihil, who single-handedly transforms the story from a goofy, episodic, villain-of-the-chapter superhero parody into a tragic, post-apocalyptic drama. All of which is intended, by the author's own admission, as one huge joke on the reader.
  • Villain with Good Publicity: Thanks to a Kangaroo Court trial and a handy bar graph or two, Dr. Menace manages to convince the public that she is the victim and that the heroes are evil; except, of course, for her own homemade superhero Superion™.
  • Weaksauce Weakness: Radar is basically invincible, unless his opponent is obeying traffic laws.
  • Xtreme Kool Letterz: The main hero-sidekick duo are Nuklear Man and Atomik Lad, not Nuclear Man and Atomic Lad. Additionally, Nuklear Man calls his main beam attack the Plazma Beam specifically because he thinks it looks cooler with the "z".
  • You Can't Fight Fate/Screw Destiny: According to Nihil, while the fate of the gods is set in stone, individual mortals can do whatever they want with their lives, which infuriates him. This explains Nuklear Man's backstory: He was created in a fit of defiance by the god Loki, as even though he has the powers of a god, he can do whatever he wants. This is also why Nihil attacks him; he wants to use Nuklear Man's powers to fight off his own inexorable destiny.