Nuklear Age is a self-published novel by Brian Clevinger; it is largely an extended parody of comic books. The book recounts the adventures of Nuklear Man and his sidekick, Atomik Lad, as they fight against rogue military weapons, highly evolved civilizations, the trials of everyday life, an angst-filled over-villain of undeniable power, the ever exotic Dr. Menace, and their own impulses.
As the Golden Guardian, Nuklear Man stands for Truth, Justice, and the social order... that is when he isn't watching cartoons or otherwise distracted by bright shiny objects.
Originally found in the rubble of a nuclear attack on Metroville's power plant, this champion's appearance somehow averted disaster and absorbed the very explosion that caused his amnesia. He has no idea who he is, where he is from, or why he should care about anyone that isn't himself, but he has a heart of gold. Endowed with all the power of a sun, his powers manifest themselves in his super strength, near invulnerability, flight, and his Plazma Beams. He is constantly bragging about these attributes, and hitting on Dr. Genius.
Virtually the only person who can keep Nuklear Man under a semblance of control, Atomik Lad is his sidekick with the unusual ability to manifest a raging "Atomik Field" that separates John Koen (Atomik Lad's real name) from the rest of the world, granting him near invincibility, the ability to fly, and other similarly "heroish" traits. Adopted by the Golden Guardian after his parents were killed in an accident and whilst his powers raged out of control, Atomik Lad has been raised by Nuklear Man, despite the fact that he is mentally the more mature of the two.
Also known as the Iron Scotsman or the Surly Scot, Angus founded the Dwarven Warriors Guild, a world wide organization for heroes of great bravery but limited stature, after having been a success and failure in the Cereal Business, starting with a breakfast food (Seizure Pops) containing 112% sugar and ending with his proposal of Scottish Squishies, a cereal with haggis as a main ingredient. Spending the remainder of his fortune, Angus constructed an Iron: Battle Suit with which he wages a war against criminals, cars, tall people, bar seats, and anything that annoys him(and there isn't much that doesn't annoy him). He may often be found ranting, drunk, and flying around on his Iron: Bagpipe Thrusters. He's very sensitive about his height and tends to explode into a violent rage whenever the subject is brought up or whenever words like small, tiny and short are said in his presence. This usually results in him beating the offender, be it/they living or inanimate, senseless with his Surprisingly Wieldy and Concealable Enemy-B-Crushed Named Bertha.
The Tetsu Samurai, the Dwarven Warrior originally assigned to Japan but reassigned to Metroville after Angus was temporarily put out of action by a giant crab. Like Angus, Shiro is a lovable dwarven warrior and an over-the-top social stereotype. Like Angus, Shiro possesses a special "super" attack, in which he detonates a supercharged Chinese rocket strapped to his back with the force of a low-yield atomic bomb. Unlike Angus, however, he isn't nearly as touchy about his height.
Doctor Veronica Menace
An Eastern European mad scientist
, Veronica Menace, the "Venomous Villainess," is the evil counterpart of Ima Genius. Mainly, she focuses on destroying Nuklear Man, the only obstacle stopping her from global conquest. Unfortunately for Dr. Menace, Nuklear Man always overcomes her evil plans, often in spite of himself.
Atomik Lad's love interest, she attends the college he does, majors in Art, and works as a waitress. She has an unhealthy obsession with video games, an inherent aversion to assumed social norms, and has no problem going toe-to-toe with some of the superpowered opposition that crosses her path.
Originally a replacement for Nuklear Man after The Trial, Superion was instantly accepted by the people of Metroville as their new protector despite Atomik Lad's ignored misgivings. Dr. Menace had orchestrated Nuklear Man's removal as well as Superion's appointment in a scheme to take over the world. Superion's "Superior Charm" kept the population devoted to him and Superion was enslaved to Dr. Menace because only she could operate the machinery that granted him his powers -- until Superion managed to super-charge himself, thus breaking free of Dr. Menace's control. With newfound autonomy, and the entire population of Metroville under his control, Superion went forward with his own global conquest. This betrayal lead to the otherwise unlikely team up of Dr. Menace and Atomik Lad who work to free Nuklear Man, the only person who can stand against Superion.
The "true" villain of the story, he is one of the few beings in existence who knows that Nuklear Man's true name is Arel, Harbinger of the Flame. Nihel's power is his ability to alter reality in any way he sees fit, and it is said he has used this ability to kill every living being on the planets he's visited, with each death being unique to that being. Despite his vast power, he agonizes over being bound by Fate and thus seeks to destroy it by fulfilling what Arel was created to do: prevent Ragnarok from ever happening and thus undoing Fate.
Mighty Metallic Magno Man
- One of Nuklear Man's best friends and oft-time cohort, Mighty Metallic Magno Man (otherwise known as MMMM, The Tungsten Titan, or Norman) can control magnetic fields and has the ability to turn his entire body into solid tungsten. MMMM was the one who originally suggested that he, Nuklear Man, and Atomik Lad band together to protect Metroville.
Doctor Ima Genius
- A noted scientist, and fittingly, an amoral genius, Ima Genius often supports the hero community of Metroville in their battles against evil. In her spare time, she conducts unremitting experiments to understand the nature of superpowers.
The Socially Maladjusted Over Villains who Can't Agree on a Name
- While not a single character, the Socially Maladjusted Over Villains Who Can't Agree on a Name play a minor but reoccurring role in the text; that of the bungling villains.
- "Don't tell me. Kat because he's a cat, and Kat because he's also a cat,"
- A regular house cat that befriends Nuklear Man in the middle of a mission to save the city (and especially Angus) from the Crushtacean. Nukie takes him in and decides to train the cat to be his sidekick as an improvement over Atomik Lad. Katkat shows signs of abnormal intelligence and ingenuity for a cat. Additionally, Dr. Genius says that there's an animal testing facility at Uberdyne, but it's only to scan them in order to make sure that our pets are really our pets, and not our slavers - but they can't seem to prove that cats are actually in the box.
Shamus O' Riley
- An old friend of Angus when both of them were in the cereal business. Angus had an idea to make his cereal out of haggis. This idea was rejected by many. Shamus then created his own cereal which Angus believes to be made out of the same ingredients of his cereal. Disgusted by the apparent treachery of his long time friend, Angus leaves for America and the two do not speak again for many years. However, they eventually made up over the discovery of the actual main ingredient and went roaring drunk.
- Also called Psiko. This girl from Japan is tested on by Doc Ima. It turns out she can see into Metroville's populace's minds, and after a testing accident, Yuriko's pure psychic form escaped her body.
- Psiko, Ima, Ima's lackey, accurately named Nameless Technician, and Menace are the only ones who knew about Nihel and the Nu:Alpha (although NT isn't yet aware of the former).
deviates from other fictional works in that its structure is similar to that of a comic book series, with chapters being termed issues instead. As a result the text may be divided into several sub-plots that contribute to the overall story line in a similar manner as story-arcs in comic books.
The Battle at the Abandoned Warehouse
The first several issues of the book deal, either directly or indirectly, with Nuklear Man, Atomik Lad, and Angus' search for food. Though much less epic in scope that latter arcs, this section introduces most important characters and serves to establish their basic personalities. Opening with Nuklear Man's defeat of Mechanikill, a rogue military weapons platform, it is revealed that Nuklear Man has little to no knowledge of his past. He is left with little time to ponder this, however, as Atomik Lad appears and distracts him with the promise of food via coupon. These become forever lost in a series of events that introduce Angus and Dr. Menace. Noting a birthday card Nukie received from his unknown father, Atomik Lad suggests that it may be used to obtain a free cake at a local restaurant, to which the three super heroes depart for.
Once there, the three order the Daily Special (All-You-Can-Eat) seventeen times only for John to discover that the original listed price was a left over from the day before and that the veritable smorgasbord of lobster that they had consumed was priced much higher (around $255 total) and by the plate, resulting in bill that they could hardly afford to pay with ready cash or credit. The three are then forced to work off their meal, at which point Angus comes into conflict with his old work associate, the Steel Irishman, resulting in a battle of vertically-limited proportions. All the while Nukie, having been sent to clean the back of the restaurant, discovers that an old barrel of cheese has evolved into a highly complex society bent on world domination, which he soundly defeats.
Due to the destruction caused by Angus, all four of these superheroes are tossed out of the restaurant. In order to resolve the conflict between Angus and the Steel Irishman, they head to the Silo of Solitude, Nuklear Man and Atomik Lad's base of operations located in a nuclear wasteland.
A Birthday Party and The Crushtacean
After the first battle of the book, Nuke vs Mechankill, an intergalactic, interuniversal
postman named Bibbles delivers a letter to Nuklear Man, from his father:
"Dear 'Nuklear Man'
Ima tried to pin down the origin of the letter, but according to her, the letter can't even exist yet.
Atomik Lad and Mighty Metallic Magno Man (Norman) decide to have a party at the beach for Nuke.
Nuke and Atomik Lad perform a few errands on their way to the beach. The reader learns that a penchant for high-speed flight and invincibility do not make for safe drivers. The beach party leads to Major Battle #1: Crushtacean. Crushtacean is (in a decidedly kaiju vein) a giant, pre-historic crab awakened from its hibernation by the Iron Scotsman's bagpipes, which it mistakes for a mating call. It is incredibly huge and strong, is equipped with laser eye beams, and can regenerate from most attacks. All of the overheroes had to assist in this several chapter battle, and it only ended after the crab "had its way" with Angus, a traumatic event that left him welded backwards in his own suit and took him quite a while to recover from.
Nuke's birthday present was a doll called 'Fubar', which he later names Pookaboo. He also found a cat, which he named Katkat and replaced Atomik Lad as his new sidekick.
The Court Scene and Superion
Nuklear Man and Atomik Lad are summoned to a kangaroo court
by Dr. Menace, who is suing them for damages caused to her lab. Nuklear man goes out to hire a lawyer and winds up hiring a vampire
. When they show up at the courtroom, it is revealed that the vampire is dating Doctor Menace. Atomik Lad is understandably pissed off at Nuklear Man.
The jury enters the court, and--to Sparky's dismay--is made of all of the people Nuke and he have managed to upset over the course of the novel: The Malajusted Over Villains, the owner of the restaurant at the beginning of the book, a citizen whose car Nuke demolished and a barrel of ancient and now sentient cheese. The trial is constantly interrupted by cries of "GUILTY" by the jury and the judge himself.
The vampire lawyer is also working for Dr. Menace, and he manages to introduce new charge after new charge against our heroes, eventually getting the judge to force them to pay over eight billion dollars in damages. The judge decides that they can't possibly pay that amount, Nuklear Man will be incarcerated for life in a hitherto sealed-off prison cell and is forced to wear an iron mask over his face.
Nihel and The Final "Joke"
Clevinger refers to the ending as a "joke" because it is a "disruption of expectations", thus mirroring -- on a mechanical level -- the punchline of a joke. The "joke" is not meant to be funny, per se, but Clevinger claims that, too, as part of the joke.
The apology, which explains the "joke" was removed in the second edition.
Many objects are labeled throughout the book. It begins with a reference to a random room in the Silo of Solitude, the "Danger: Room", a tongue-in-cheek jab at the Danger Room
fame. The "Danger: Label" escalates from there to include such things as the "Danger: Religious Differences" and "Danger: Sidekick" among many others. We later learn that Nuklear Man is the source for these labels and that he considers them part of his training. The idea is that he and Atomik Lad will become more alert if they are always surrounded by danger. Ultimately, however, Atomik Lad is to blame for these labels since he bought Nuklear Man a label maker as a Christmas gift some years previous.
As the text continues, the gag extends to other characters -- Angus's "Iron: Bagpipe Thrusters", Shiro's "Tetsu: Rocket", Dr. Genius's by "Scientific: Equipment", and Dr. Menace's "Evil: Computer" to name a few. It is not clear if Nuklear Man is somehow also the source for these labels as well or if other characters simply adopted the label motif from his example. The frequency of Danger: Label appearances (and their cousins) is most likely a reference to Golden and Silver Age comics where many superheroes were equipped with items, ordinary or incredible, that somehow reflected their own namesake -- Batmobile, Arrowcar, X-Jet, etc. Some readers mistook this running gag for a recurring punctuational error and missed the joke entirely.
The convention-exclusive bookmark bears the legend Danger: Bookmark.