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Literature / Relativity

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Above: The heroes of Gale City. Below: The real heroes of Gale City. note 

"Family matters are the most important, so they are the most emotional."
General Lira

Relativity is about a team of crimefighters who operate in the fictional Gale City, Indiana. The series focuses on the people behind the masks, and how they juggle work, life, and relationships while donning a costume to fight crime at night. The characters have no superpowers and rely mainly on detectivework to solve crimes. Although it is written in prose form, the series is heavily influenced by comic books and television. The creators describe it as a "prose comicbook", and there is a lot of artwork on the site. It can be found here.

The original Black Torrent was Matthew Bruce, but after an attempt on his life, he was forced to go into hiding and change his name. Because of this, his son Michael believed himself to be an orphan, and formed close ties with his two best friends at school, Tony and Andy. As an adult, Michael is reunited with his father and takes over the Black Torrent role.

His best friend is Ravenswood Cadavre, a former private eye. Within the first few stories, Ravenswood and his fiancee, Melody, get married and begin running a coffee shop together. Their superhero personas are Overcast and Zephyra.

There's also Dark Flame, who joins the group early on. Unlike the others, her main focus is on rescuing children.

The name of the series, Relativity, has dual meaning. It's a play on the word "relative" since the main focus of the series is the family relationships between the characters. However, it also explores the complexities of family and how subjective the term "relative" can be, meaning that you can have genetic relatives who are disconnected and don't care about you, while you can have friends who are more like family than your flesh and blood.

Created by the writing team of Michelle and James Lehmann, the first story appeared on their website in late 2011, and it has been updating on a semi-regular basis ever since. All of the stories in the series can be read on-line or downloaded in eBook format for free.

Has nothing to do with the Theory of Relativity.

The series as a whole provides examples of:

  • Aesop Amnesia: Many of the conflicts between the major characters occur because of keeping secrets from each other. No matter how many times it leads to a fight or other problems, they keep doing it.
  • All There in the Manual: In addition to the main stories, there are also "Side Stories" which provide additional background details of the characters. For example, at the beginning of the series, Sara is dating a billionaire named Martin Bling. The side story "Those Who Have the Gold" explains how she met him and how their relationship started.
  • Anachronic Order: While the main series is told in chronological order, the side-stories are in more or less random sequence. In addition, any story which contains more than one flashback will probably not present them in chronological order.
  • Appropriated Appellation: Averted for the most part. Most characters named themselves, and whenever newspapers report on supervillains, they tend to get their names wrong. (For example, August Moon is referred to as "The Moon Killer".) Cricket is a subversion, because he only calls himself by his real name (Matthew), even though all the heroes (and even the narrative voice of the stories) refer to him as "Cricket."
  • Artificial Intelligence: Atlas, the main computer in the Control Center.
  • Big Brother Instinct: Michael to Sara. Even though she's an adult, he insists on protecting her from her boyfriends if he doesn't approve of them. She is not happy about this.
  • Big Eater: Ravenswood. If a scene contains both food and Ravenswood, he'll be munching on it.
  • Blonde, Brunette, Redhead: The three core childhood friends; Michael, Tony, and Andy.
  • Chest Insignia: Black Torrent has a raincloud and lightning bolt. Dark Flame has flames.
  • Coat, Hat, Mask: Pretty much describes Overcast's outfit.
  • The Commissioner Gordon: Aaron Brooks
  • Deadpan Snarker: Ravenswood/Overcast.
  • Differently Powered Individual: In this universe, "Capes" is a derogatory term for superheroes.
  • Domino Mask: All the female heroes, and some of the villains.
  • Five-Episode Pilot: The first story, Lost & Found, is novel-length, compared to future installments, which are mostly short-story length.
  • Flashback Effects / Painting the Medium: Flashbacks are in blue text.
  • Grappling-Hook Pistol: Part of the standard equipment for each of the heroes. Torrent gives one to Dark Flame before she joins the team, since she can't afford one.
  • Heart Is an Awesome Power: Being able to speak to insects and spiders doesn't sound like a very useful superpower, but Cricket uses it to talk some large spiders into stealing some (small) valuable objects from a museum.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: Michael and Ravenswood. As a teenager, it was Michael, Tony, and Andy.
  • Idiosyncratic Episode Naming: All of the collected anthologies have titles that follow the pattern "Something & Something".
  • Meaningful Name: Martin Bling, an ostentatious billionaire.
  • Medium Blending: The stories are referred to as "episodes", as if it were a TV show.
  • Military Superhero: The original Black Torrent was set-up by the U. S. government to give themselves an operative who appeared to be operating independently. This way they could have him do what they wanted but claim that they had nothing to do with it.
  • New-Age Retro Hippie: Rufus Thorn was born too late to experience the 60s, but that doesn't stop him from embracing the Hippie lifestyle... except for the peace and love part. He'd rather make bombs and kill people.
  • Non-Powered Costumed Hero: None of the superheroes have any kind of powers, but a few of the villains do.
  • Omniglot: Michael can speak several languages, including Spanish, Portuguese, Arabic, and Latin. The total list has yet to be revealed.
  • One-Steve Limit: Broken almost immediately. The 4th story in the series introduces a character named Matthew Morton, even though there's already a character named Matthew Bruce. In addition, the surname Morton is used for a number of unrelated people and places after this, averting the "Same Surname Means Related" trope.
  • Recovered Addict: Ravenswood Cadavre. He was a heavy drinker and an alcoholic until about five years before the start of the series. A flashback from that time period shows him getting drunk and waking up with three days he has no memory of.
  • Recursive Canon: In-universe, there's a series of comic books based on the original Black Torrent. Since he did a lot of his work in secret, the writers of the comic had little clue about what his actual adventures were and had to make up a lot of it.
    • This also provides an example of in-universe Defictionalization, as Yule gets the idea to name his computer set-up "Atlas" after the fictional computer named Atlas in the comic.
  • Save the Villain: The heroes need to do this on several occasions. In fact, the series begins in the middle of Black Torrent rescuing a villain whose plans had gone awry.
  • Secret Secret-Keeper: Aaron Brooks knows Dark Flame's true identity, but no one else is aware of this.
  • Sequel Number Snarl: After Book 6, the narrative branches off in two directions. The books covering it are called "Book 7" and "Book 7½".
  • Simultaneous Arcs: Books 7 and 7½, as mentioned above.
  • Speaks Fluent Animal: The supervillain known as Cricket can speak to insects and spiders.
  • Superhero Packing Heat: When he was a private eye, Ravenswood of course carried a gun. When he made the transition to being a superhero, he kept the gun.
  • Theme Naming: Most of the members of Team Torrent have weather-themed names (as well as the town they live in) - the ones who don't are members who had established names before joining the team.
  • Triple Shifter: All of the major crimefighting characters have this problem, but it affects each of them to different degrees.
  • Vampire Variety Pack: There are two kinds of vampires: The "classic" vampires that Dracula would be an example of, and mindless, zombie-like creatures who live in the sewers and eat rats. It is implied that several centuries ago, a scientist attempted to "cure" vampires and accidentally created the zombie breed.
  • Villain with Good Publicity: Martin Bling.
  • Villainesses Want Heroes: Vera Barracuda would love to get together with Overcast, but he has no interest in her.
  • Web Serial Novel

Individual episodes provide examples of:

  • Alcohol-Induced Idiocy: The side story "5:24 AM" takes place before the start of the series, when Ravenswood was an alcoholic. At one point, he is given a vital clue (a photograph) while he's drunk, and in the morning he can't find it. Thanks to his drinking, he can't remember anything that happened after receiving the photo. He assumes his drunk self must have thrown it away for some reason, but he really has no idea.
  • Alternate Timeline: Any time Phanthro shows up, since that's his thing.
  • Amnesiac Lover: "Sinkhole" begins with Sara suffering from amnesia. Among other things, she has no memory of her current husband.
  • Amusement Park of Doom: The climax of "Master Blankard's Pawn" takes place in one of these.
  • Anticlimactic Unmasking: The Buffalo Brothers are very disappointed when they remove Overcast's mask and find out he's just some guy they don't even recognize.
  • Art Shift: Nearly all of the stories are presented in prose form, but two stories are comics.
  • Attack of the Town Festival: Done at least three times, with villains attacking the Christmas Day Parade, the Cinco de Mardi Gras festival, and the orphanage's charity carnival.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: Invoked and lampshaded in the first story. For bonus points, it's lampshaded in Latin.
  • Bond Villain Stupidity: Averted throughout most of the series, but played straight with Valdas Rasmas who, among other things, creates a giant convoluted deathtrap, ties the heroes up in a room containing a giant digital display showing how much time they have left to live, and monologues.
  • Chair Reveal: Double-subverted in "28 Minutes".
  • Chess Motifs: In the stories "Master Blankard's Pawn" and "Checkmate", of course.
  • Christmas Episode: Two of them: "Let It Snow" involves the Bruce family's first Christmas together, and includes a number of flashbacks to previous Christmases. "Bajo El Muérdago" takes place during Christmas and nearly the entire main cast visits Sara's foster father in South America.
  • Department of Redundancy Department: Rune, introducing himself.
    Dark Flame: So, you know my name, yet I don’t know yours.
    Rune: Rune. But you can call me...Rune.
  • Disc-One Final Boss: Part one of "Highway Robbery" ends with the heroes capturing the carjackers, only to be informed that another car was stolen while they were doing it.
  • Emergency Impersonation: When Michael is away investigating a case, his father fills-in as Black Torrent for him.
  • Every Man Has His Price: When Tony was 12 years old he bribed a bully to stop picking on his friends.
  • Exposition Beam: In "Tempest", Phanthro tortures Matt by showing him a memory of an alternate future in which a disease wipes out half the Earth's population.
  • Fictional Holiday: Gale City was going to have a Mardi Gras celebration but couldn't pull it off in time. They decided to move everything to May 5th for Cinco de Mayo, but they didn't want to abandon the original idea, so they combined the two holidays. "Cinco de Mardi Gras" was such a huge hit they decided to have one every year.
  • Frying Pan of Doom: In the Wedding Episode.
    • This is also an example of Exact Words:
      (Sara stands up holding frying pan, facing away from gangster.)
      Gangster: Turn around.
      (She does so. Wham!)
  • Gratuitous Latin: Michael is fond of this until his father points out that it's a bad idea to have a character quirk shared between his civilian self and his superhero self. He promptly drops it.
  • Halloween Episode: "Candy Corn." Unlike most Halloween Episodes, it's actually a comedy (mostly).
  • I Do Not Like Green Eggs and Ham: The B-plot of "Movie Night" involves Michael being forced to watch John Wayne movies, even though he insists he won't like them.
  • I'll Pretend I Didn't Hear That: At the end of "Payback," Aaron turns his back on Dark Flame so she can sneak away without him noticing.
  • Lower-Deck Episode / Villain Episode: Several of them. Most of them are side stories, but Rune's origin story is part of the main canon.
  • Mandatory Unretirement: Yule in "Caffeine Headache" (see Emergency Impersonation above). Done again in "Pressure Cooker," when Black Torrent is captured, Yule dresses as a superhero to rescue him. This time, however, he uses a new persona instead of just going out as Black Torrent.
  • Neck Lift: Vincent does this to Ravenswood in "Cold Case" to show how outmatched he is.
  • Panicky Expectant Father: Matthew Bruce, when Michael was born, leading to this gem:
    Matthew: I was in the military for ten years. I've seen men's heads blown off. I could handle that. I just can't handle childbirth.
  • Poor Communication Kills: In "Highway Robbery," the heroes are trying to catch a pair of car thieves, and send out Melody and Ravenswood as live bait. There's a communicator in each car, so that if something happens, Yule will know about it. After doing this for several hours with no luck, they decide to go home and try again the next day. As she begins driving home, Melody's car is stolen (with her in it), but Yule and Ravenswood have switched off their communicators and are unaware of it. In their defense, it was about 4 a.m. at this point and everyone was getting punchy.
  • P.O.V. Sequel / Self-Serving Memory: "Movie Night" and "The Super Secret Origin of Overcast" cover the same sequence of events from two different points of view. One of them is Overcast's version of events, and the other one is... the truth.
  • Reassigned to Antarctica: General Lira appoints his son Oscar as the ambassador to Spain just to get rid of him.
  • Secret Identity Apathy: Phanthro appears to already know everyone's secret identity, but doesn't care.
  • Short-Distance Phone Call: In "Lost and Found", Michael and Aaron are talking when Aaron is informed that a serious crime has been committed. He apologizes to Michael and explains that he has to leave... and also mentions that the situation was serious enough for them to call the Black Torrent. At that moment, Michael's phone starts ringing.
  • Simultaneous Arcs:
    • "Highway Robbery" and "A Strange Twist" cover the same few days, but follow different sets of characters. Events from one story occasionally affect the other.
    • "Father's Day" follows three sets of characters over a single day, but there isn't any overlap between any of them.
  • The Stateroom Sketch: In "Cricket", four principle characters end up in the same closet for various reasons. Then one of them notices a giant spider and panics.
  • Superpowers for a Day: In "August Moon", an accident gives skier Augustine Fennis telepathic powers, but also links him mentally with Ravenswood. The upshot is that Ravenswood gains the ability to read Fennis's mind, but the power only lasts to the end of the story.
  • Suspect Is Hatless:
    • In "Highway Robbery", a suspect is described as "he had a mustache." This ends up subverting this trope because it actually turns out to be a vital clue.
    • The trope is played straight in "Master Blankard's Pawn", when one witness describes a thief as being "ugly", and a second witness gives the slightly more helpful description, "He was dressed in winter colors but he was definitely an autumn."