Heroine Epidemic: Overdosing On The Ass-Kicking Lady Heroes of Heroineburgh

Heroine Vendetta attacks the bad guy with her escrima staves

Heroine Vendetta (Cat Orlando) attacks the bad guy with her escrima staves [From Episode 4: “Trans-Adriatic Express”]

Public health warning: a highly-addictive opiate cocktail of science, camp, Lycra, estrogen, and ass-kicking is about to drop on metro Pittsburgh bigly. The special effects of this drug are not entirely understood–heck, they may not even be fully rendered in the final cut yet! In a strange turnabout, the pushers are law enforcement, their justice meted out in killer vines, laser beams, and escrima staves.

Heroineburgh [note the important extra “e“] is a new, live-action, original character superhero series set in (real) Pittsburgh. The Orbit sat down with series writer/producer/director Manny Theiner to discuss the world he and his team have created, roots of his fandom, and where the stories are headed. Heroineburgh is set to make its debut with pair of big-screen showings on April 30 (details below).

Heroineburgh comic book graphic art by Jason Wright, the current colorist on DC's Green Lantern

Heroineburgh comic book graphic art by Jason Wright, the current colorist on DC’s Green Lantern

Theiner, a lifelong fan of superheroes and graphic storytelling, describes himself as a “second-wave or classic liberal feminist”. He was inspired to initiate the series after experiencing Pittsburgh Batman–another locally-produced superhero play/video. While he enjoyed the production, it featured almost no female characters and some of the jerks deserved a kick in the keister.

Each episode of the anthology-style series features unique superheroines, evil-doers, and dressed-to-kill costumed villains. We’re told the first [planned twelve-episode] series will end with the characters uniting in a Pittsburgh Heroine League.

Becky Bloom becomes heroine Gardenia in her house

Becky Bloom becomes heroine Gardenia (Laurie Kudis) in her house [From Episode 3: “Everything’s Gone Green”]

Ultimately, Heroineburgh‘s greatest strength is Theiner’s inventive characters and concise, bite-sized storytelling. The standard-issue costumed hero/quasi-science tropes are deployed like exclamation points in Batman‘s fight scenes, but there are also references to the screenwriter’s arsenal of deep-read science, philosophy, and re-envisioned mythology that give the stories an exciting and welcome depth.

Cinematographer/sets designer J. Wayne, editor Frank Farnsaglio, and color correction/effects artists Latent Imagery make up the rest of the technical team. These guys know what they’re doing: the final product looks good, manages to slyly gloss over the improvised studio’s many challenges, and packs more than a few punches.

Heroine Devana fights two thugs from the Serbian mob

Heroine Devana (Mary Bielich) fights two thugs from the Serbian mob [From Episode 4: “Trans-Adriatic Express”]

But let’s cut the crap: you’re not going to shell out five clams for Color-Correctionsburgh. Who are these ladies with the funny names, freaky powers, high style and kicks to match? Who will we turn to when the Serbian mob pops out of the Fort Pitt Tunnel? What hero will deal justice to the villainess Devorra, who “gains the power to emit pollen from her hand, turning anyone who breathes it into her slave drone” or the evil Dr. Shvitz and his global warming earth sauna?

man in lab coat with evil scowl on his face

Evil Dr. Shvitz (Mike Shanley)

Meet Gardenia–the earth mother–who draws energy from the soil and uses the plant kingdom as both arsenal and army. Put under extreme stress, Gardenia’s appendages morph en bois with the invocation of Ironwood fist.

There’s Cybrina, a blue-haired “genius computer programmer” who takes big data to a new dimension. She “gains the powers of electricity and cybernavigation–the ability to transform herself into data and enter any computer system”. In Cybrina’s story (Episode 1: “Anger is an Energy”), she’ll team with fellow technologist Red Gina to battle prejudice and harassment in new Pittsburgh’s tech sector.

Helena Brent transforms into heroine Hellfyra in the Brillobox bathroom

Helena Brent transforms into heroine Hellfyra (Courtney Elizabeth) in the Brillobox bathroom [From Episode 2: “I Bring You Fire”]

Hellfyra [just try to get the Oak Ridge Boys tune out of your head now!] may be a “Satanist superheroine with demonic powers”, but even Lucifer’s goat draws the line at theft…if it involves a heavy metal band’s touring gear. When Hellfyra locks devil horns with Mesmera, mistress of hypnotism, look out.

As the “Italian spirit of vengeance”, Vendetta has a family story complex enough to make Mario Puzo grab a note pad with his cannoli. Suffice to say it involves a mafia princess, a capo and his consigliere; tragedy, intrigue, deception, and revenge; Sicily and Bloomfield. Essere Vendetta sicuro, Pittsburgh ha bisogno di te!

Villainess Red Gina and computer-savvy heroine Cybrina

Villainess Red Gina (Jessica Renae) and computer-savvy heroine Cybrina (Nicole Palmer) [From Episode 1: “Anger Is An Energy”]

Devana is the Slavic goddess of the hunt, whose old-world Eastern European past will chase her down in present-day Pittsburgh. It will be touch-and-go when the heroine crosses paths and trades blows with “superhuman mercenaries” Clockcleaner and Earthmover in a Bloomfield warehouse. Get the large popcorn as you won’t want to miss a second of Episode 4: “Trans-Adriatic Express” to see how this plays out.

Let’s get something straight: The Dark Knight or Guardians of the Galaxy this ain’t. Theiner and crew filmed these first four episodes on a minimal budget, using borrowed sets, with “casting by proximity” kismet.

Full disclosure: this blogger was booked for extra work after running into Manny on the street and spent a cold February evening on-set and in-lab-coat working as a hard hat-wearing knowledge worker at the fictional Cybertech. There, he had the privilege of getting beaten up by the rampaging Red Gina multiple times–one of which involved a plate of Chinese food tossed in the air from an upended break room table.

From that experience, I can tell you that on the Heroineburgh set, preparation is handed-out on a need-to-know basis and third takes are considered bourgeois time-wasters. Regardless, watching preview clips from the not-quite-final versions reveals the filmmakers know how to do a lot with a little, effectively turning the grab-the-camera/let’s-put-on-a-show harried scramble into a quick-paced enjoyable campy romp. Be there at the premier or miss out on a good time.

man in lab coat and hard hat in employee restroom

The author, on set as Cybertech employee in Episode 1 [photo: Pittsburgh Orbit]

 Heroineburgh episodes 1-4 are now available for download from heroineburgh.com.

Production photos and graphic art provided by Heroineburgh, except where noted.

Rose of Sharon

angel statuary with broken wing under tree

Only when the sun had just crested the rooftops was it visible. There, in the backyard, under the Rose of Sharon, seen through the kitchen door. Just put the coffee on, pulled the bathrobe tight, squinted into the early light to make something out. It was staring back at him.

Colder now than it ought to be. Maybe that happened every year at this time. Remembered years past leaving Virginia in shirtsleeves and arriving back to Western Pennsylvania freezing rain. The rest of the seasons always seemed closer in sync, but the quick transition to fall made it feel like a different world.

Still looking out the window. The neighbor hates that tree. Every lovely spring flower produced aggressive new sprouts where it dropped anchor, many of them on her side of the fence. The neighbor has to beat them back when she weed-whacks around her tiny above-ground pool. One more thing to be mad at him about. Felt guilty–but not guilty enough to take out the tree.

The coffee maker gurgled and let out its last great gasp. Felt sorry for those people who couldn’t get up early, or forced to stay up late. Morning light, crisp air, near perfect silence. People rise earlier the older they get, he’d been told. Hoped to one day wake easily at dawn, to have the full sunrise experience every day, without effort.

The windshield of a green Honda held an angry note with neat Catholic school penmanship: I’d like to park in front of my own house. Park where you live! This familiar drama played itself out regularly. Strangers left their vehicles out front when they hit the bars down the hill or stayed over at the apartment building next door.

Retrieving the newspaper on a weekend morning, it was not uncommon to find random jetsam from the previous night’s revelry: a stray beer can, hamburger foil, an unfamiliar automobile. One time he’d found a ceramic coffee mug with the emblem of a rehab clinic in Carlisle. It was never a big deal. The neighbor thought she owned the twenty-four feet of city street in front of her house. She should have put in a parking place instead of that pool.

Note left on car's windshield reading "I would appreciate it if the next time you feel the need to abandon your vehicle you would do it in front of your home. Thank you."

The first day to see his breath. Streets uninhabited, save for a pair of early-risers sitting on benches in the sun, hands crossed on the top of a walking cane. A near-empty city bus rumbled through, headed out of town. Fast food bags, cigarette butts, and early felled leaves eddying with wind gusts in the inset storefront entranceways.

Trees at the lower gate to the cemetery make a natural tunnel that glows golden orange as the morning sun pours through changing leaves. Here, before the sounds of the city come to life, before families visit loved-ones, and before the joggers and cyclists challenge themselves up and down its steep terrain, was his most sacred place.

Clusters of deer bound up and over the hills, through the weathered graves, pausing in unison to look curiously at the human disturbing their quiet time. Each member of the small group posed in concert like a dramatic point in a modern dance, cautiously allowing him to approach as close as twenty feet before some inaudible signal triggers the group to spring off into the wood.

A dumpster filled with most unusual contents. Piles of fake flowers, wreaths, filthy teddy bears, plastic placards, laminated photographs. Lifting the container’s lid, there was a two-foot concrete angel with one of its wings broken off. Hoisted the statuette from the bin, cradled the heavy piece like a load of firewood, walked the half mile back to the house.

Home again, the sun higher now with the morning fog burned off, under the Rose of Sharon. Pulled weeds, rerouted a set of raspberry tendrils always reaching for more distant soil to colonize. Placed the statue along the fence where the creature had spotted him earlier. Maybe the angel could still keep evil away, even short a wing.

Let Me Tell You Somethin’

three stacked, crushed cars in a junkyard

Let me tell you somethin: I seen the whole thing.  I was there.  Not like em other jagoffs trying to say they saw this, they saw that.  Them’s all liars.  I know, cause I was the only one on a street.  Here’s what happened.

I’m takin Debbie to work that mornin and she starts yellin at me pull over, I gotta buy a lottery ticket.  I say Debbie, what’s a big deal?  She says it’s a lucky day, it’s Mario Lemieux’s birfday (she gets this from her phone) so she’s gotta play sixes.  I say Debbie, every week you gotta new lucky day you gotta play the lottery, how come they never hit?  She just tells me quick squawkin and pull over.  So I stop up at Little John’s, that quickie mart right by the bend goin up the hill.  I’m waitin in the car and Debbie gets aht to buy her lottery ticket.  I tell her Debbie, get me Yoohoo while yer in there.  I gotta cut back on the coffee, doctor’s orders.

So I’m waitin in the car, I got the radio on, and like I say I’m lookin rond and ere ain’t nobody aht.  I don’t know if yinz remember that mornin, but it was rainin and it was cold, ain’t nobody wanted to be aht in at mess.  Debbie’s takin a while.  I’m thinkin Debbie, whatchu doin in ere?  You makin it with Apu?

Then all the sudden I seen in my rearview mirror this big ass pickup truck come barrelin up the hill.  Now, I’m not talkin no Silverado, no Ram.  This is gotta be a Ford F-650–that one looks like a semi cab.  You remember Plaxico Burress used to drive one of those?  My buddy Ronny calls me one day and says hey, you want to go check aht Plaxico’s truck.  I say Ronny, how we gonna find Plaxico’s truck?  He says he lives down there on Pig Island–Washington’s Landin they call it now, cause George Washington once took a crap there or somethin.  A bunch of Stillers all got condos there, he says.  This truck is so big, Plaxico can’t park it in his garage so you can go see it right on the street.  I say O.K.

So we head dahn there and we can’t find his truck nowheres.  They only got one road and a couple dozen haases so it’s not like we missed it.  I say Ronny, he’s probably aht havin dinner or somethin.  The man’s gotta eat, keep up his energy.  He’s gotta play Baltimore on Sunday.  You know those bastards are a bunch a criminals.  Ronny says, hey, let’s go get a beer and we’ll see if he comes back.  They got this little bar there called The Troll on acconta it’s under the bridge.  We go in ere and have a couple beers, maybe some nachos, and Ronny’s gettin on pretty good with the barmaid.  Now, I can’t do that stuff no more, Debbie’s got my balls locked away pretty good.  Ronny and I come back from Ricky’s bachelor party aht at Climax’s and Debbie just abaht tore me a new one.  She says you better not be bringin no stripper disease in the haas.  I says Debbie, they’re dancers and ere ain’t no diseases goin rond.  I says what disease do you get from dancin?  I says did Michael Jackson die from dance disease?  I don’t think so.  She says I can smell it on you.  You just better watch what yinz are doin.

Anyway, Ronny’s coochie-cooin with the bartender so I’m lookin aht the window and ere it is.  I say Ronny, we gotta go.  He says what’s a big hurry, me and Becky here are havin a nice conversation.  I say Ronny, Plax’s truck is back.  So we take off (remind me to ask Ronny if ever got that girl’s phone number) and let me tell you, this thing is the biggest meanest pickup truck yinz’re ever gonna see.  The whole thing is jet black and it’s got these big chrome exhaust pipes runnin up like a big Mack.  You ever see that movie where Dennis Weaver’s gettin chased dahn the highway by an evil truck?  It looked like at.  So wouldn’t you know, we’re standin there lookin at the truck and who comes aht the door of his haas but the man himself.  He says whatchu guys lookin for?  We tell him Plax, we heard abaht your truck and we wanted to see it for ourselves.  We tell him this thing is awesome!  Turns aht the guy is real nice.  He comes dahn, he shakes are hands, he even opens up the cab and shows us what it’s like up ere in the captain’s seat.

Now, where was I?  Oh yeah, so this monster truck-drivin sonofabitch thinks he’s Rusty Wallace comin up 18th Street right at me.  First thing I think is if this bastard clips me, I’m screwed.  Insurance company sends you that new card in the mail before you even pay, so you start thinkin that you don’t hafta.  At’s how they gitchu.  It’s like them deals where you got a card and if you buy ten buffets you get the next one free.  I don’t know nobody who ever got that free buffet.  You’re gonna lose yer card or the place’ll go aht a business or somethin.  That happened a me with that CiCi’s Pizza and Old Country Buffet’s too.  It’s goofy.  All I need is Debbie yellin at my dead body because I missed the insurance payment.

At this very moment Debbie manages to pop aht a Little John’s and she’s jumpin up and dahn, she’s wavin her arms, she’s yellin somethin at me.  I can’t hear a damn thing.  Last week she got back in the car all giddy too.  I says Debbie, why you laughin like a schoolgirl?  She says they got this new lottery game with the gronhog.  I says did you win it?  She says no, I didn’t win, I just like this little guy, ain’t he cute?  I says I wasted ten minutes aht here waitin so you could pay money to see a cute gronhog picture?  I gotta be crazy.  I shoulda had my head looked at.  When I tell Ronny this, he’s gonna start tellin me everything we shoulda done with at dollar.  You coulda give it to a dancer, you coulda played four games on Cherry Master’s, you coulda got a burger on a dollar menu.  Instead, you and me are sittin in a car lookin at a tiny picture of a gronhog.  Turns aht this time Debbie really did hit the instant winner–twenty bucks or somethin.  The way she was carryin on you’d’a think we won the Super Bowl.

Like I was sayin, Debbie yellin and screamin musta spooked are friend in the death machine on acconta right at that second he starts losin control of that big truck, goin into a skid and headed right at us.  I start yellin Debbie, look aht!  Get your ass dahn!  I see that Yoohoo bottle drop ahta Debbie’s hand and splatter on the sidewalk and I tell you for one split second all I could think was God dammit now I gotta go back in at store get more Yoohoo.  But I come to my senses and duck, and let me tell you it was just in time.  That big Ford rolled a couple times, made a sond I’ll never forget as long I live.  The side of that truck is scrapin along the road and it sonds like Eddie van Halen on some kinda psycho acid trip freakin aht durin a thunder storm.  Somehow it skips on somethin and flips up in the air and lucky it did too.  It was headed straight at me and it woulda been goodnight Irene for yers truly.  I’m sure Debbie had what you call mixed emotions, like now who’s gonna fix the commode?  But also hey, I think Sidney Crosby’s still single.  Maybe he likes an older lady who can take care of him?  As it turns aht, joke’s on her–she’s stuck with me for a little longer.

Why is that?  I’m glad you asked.  That flyin truck caught just enough air to hit my Buick up high, takin the whole roof clean off just like my nephew Jimmy who eats the icin right off his cake and leaves the rest.  Whatcu gonna do with a piece a cake and no icin on it?  Don’t nobody want at.  I tell my sister Sheila, we should get Jimmy a little bowla icin so we don’t have to waste a cake.  She says yer gonna put nine candles in a bowla icin?  And he’s gonna blow that aht for his birfday?  What’s at gonna look like?  I say Sheila, excuse my French but I don’t give a flyin fig what it looks like.  It looks to me like we ain’t payin Giant Iggle’s to throw aht no uneaten birfday cake.

So I’m croched dahn across a front seat, I got my eyes closed, and suddenly I start feelin all this cold air and rain comin dahn.  It’s all quiet now and I gotta tell you I don’t know if I’m alive or I’m up in Heaven.  I always figured Heaven like in the movies where ere’s clouds and some hot lady angels playin harps and bringin you beers in gold mugs and stuff so I was a little suspicious.  Then I hear Debbie yellin at me and I know I’m not in Heaven.  I say Debbie, I’m OK I think.  I move a little bit and I got broken window glass all over me.  I sit up and I get jabbed in places I didn’t know I had.  If you’d a told me six months ago yinz’re gonna get your pecker caught on yer windshield I’d a told you jump in a lake, but it turned aht that way, didn’t it.

Well, that’s abaht it.  The ambulance come and get me, but I just got some cuts from the glass and the hospital let me aht that night.  They got a nurse named Clarise workin the sixth floor at Presbie that can take my blood pressure any time she likes, if you know what I mean.  I’m tellin Clarise she should consider dancin at Climax’s when don’t you know Debbie comes walkin in the door.  That didn’t go dahn too good, but I told her I was still on the Percosets, I don’t know what I’m sayin.  I had to pretend I was high on drugs a whole ride home.  I’m sayin the sky is purple and lookit that big spider and crap like at.

I gotta say everything worked aht pretty good.  The truck’s insurance bought Debbie and me a new car and Ronny’s got this thing worked aht for the bar where he says hey aren’t you the guy from that goofy accident?  And then I tell the story and somebody’ll buy us a drink.  Oh, you want to know abaht that jagoff truck driver?  He wasn’t so lucky.  He didn’t make it.  He ain’t no Plaxico Burress, neither.