Ryan Baxter crept through the deserted city streets, his black sweatshirt clinging to his sizeable frame and a nylon obscuring his facial features- for the most part. He couldn't be too careful on a night like that one. While criminals generally didn't like getting caught in their deeds, the largest city in America was also the worst one for those who wanted to make an honest living but never hold a job.

Once, years ago, the city had been a Utopia for its thieves, robbers, prowlers, stalkers, rapists, and murderers. The police force had been woefully inadequate, the slums had stretched far enough that everybody had room to set up shop, and arrests had been few and far between- and prosecutions even rarer.

Everything had changed with the appearance of WonderMan- a muscular mutant who wore patriotic red, white, and blue spandex while making life miserable for Ryan and his friends. After WonderMan had come Justice Girl, the Panther, and a myriad of countless other heroes bent on ridding the city of lowlifes.

At least, for every super-powered person who arose to fight crime, three or four equally powerful villains would show up to distract the good guys from lowlifes like Ryan. Nobody would care about one mugging in the bad part of town when Doctor Destruction was probably planning all sorts of evil things that very moment.

Ryan grinned as he approached the teenaged blonde wearing a leather miniskirt and sparkly pink halter-top. Clearly, this young woman had gotten lost on her way to some club or party, and now she was going to provide Ryan with a little fun for the night.

" Hey there pretty lady," Ryan sneered, and the woman jumped. Clearly, she'd thought she was alone until Ryan had spoken. She fearfully gazed into her soon-to-be-attacker's face, and he asked, "Are you lost?"

The woman's face softened for a moment, although the underlying wariness and nervousness didn't disappear. "I'm looking for my friend Lindsay's apartment," she confessed. "We were supposed to go out tonight. I . . . I've been to Lindsay's a thousand times. Why did I get lost this time?"

"Maybe fate just conspired to bring us together," Ryan suggested, abruptly lurching closer to the woman. One arm lashed out and brought her closer. Ryan didn't actually intend to hurt the woman, but if she feared rape or worse, she would be far more compliant when he demanded that she give him all her money. "Give me a kiss, sweetie," he leered.

The woman screamed and tried to wriggle out of Ryan's grasp, but he was stronger, and held her tightly. "That's not very nice," he commented, then laughed.

He tensed, then when behind him he heard the distinctive sound of something very large- someone- hitting the ground. The sound was muffled, and graceful. This wasn't the body of a suicidal maniac jumping from the roof, or a battered wife getting shoved out the window. It was a controlled jump, and only one sort of person could control themselves as they fell to the ground.

Ryan looked up, and sure enough, a costumed figure blocked the only way out of the alley. He wore some sort of black body armor that made his muscles look huge, a dark cape, and a mask that looked like a dragon that had opened its mouth so that the man's face could peer out of its gaping maw.

Ryan didn't recognize the costume; it was certainly fearsome, but heroes and villains alike were known to use fear to their advantage when combating enemies. This was either a hero who had deigned to leave behind his epic battles to bother with little old Ryan, or a villain who was angry with Ryan for intruding on his territory. Either way, the mugger was in trouble.

"Let the girl go," the dragon-man hissed.

Ryan often played the tough-guy around his friends, but when it came to superheroes and villains, he was no fool. He released his grip, and the blonde woman, still screaming, sped away into the night.

"I don't want any trouble, here," Ryan declared, lifting his hands in a defensive gesture.

"Shut up," the dragon-man said. Ryan smirked- this had to be a villain. Heroes were never so rude. As if to confirm his suspicions, the costumed man him growled, "Wipe that smile off your face, scum."

"You seem like my kind of man," Ryan said. "What do you call yourself?"

The man fluidly stepped forward, and seized Ryan by the scruff of the neck. "May name is Black Dragon, and I told you to shut up," he seethed.

"Just trying to make conversation," Ryan amiably responded.

"You don't know when to be quiet, do you?" Black Dragon demanded moments before his fist flew toward Ryan's face.

When the mugger came to, he was surrounded by police and medical workers. "Hey, chief!" called a nearby doctor. "He's awake."

Two uniformed police officers stepped forward, and Ryan saw the blonde close behind. One police officer twisted Ryan's arms behind his back and began to recite, "You have the right to remain silent . . ."

Ryan struggled a bit, but knew it was useless. So, the Black Dragon character had been a hero after all.