TRUE BELIEVERS: Chapter 1 — A Very Special Team-Up

True Believers is a full-length novel by Thom Dunn, based on his play of the same name. It’s a satirical tale of star-crossed lovers, aspiring comic book creators, crazed fanboys, cybernetically enhanced humans, women in refrigerators, real-life superheroes, and girls who dress like Slave Leia as their lives intertwine over a whirlwind weekend at a comic book convention in the early 2010s.

The book will be serialized on Medium throughout the month of April 2020. Here is the first chapter. Check back every day for more chapters!

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Darkness fills the edges of his vision as Calvin Elder brings the domino mask down. His eyes close as he gently rubs the corners, smoothing out the spirit gum that holds it to his face. Sure, it might sting if he’s forced to tear it from his skin in the heat of battle, exposing his identity to those who would do him harm. But he expects no such conflict today — nor this weekend at all, if everything goes well.

In truth, Calvin could sleep soundly with the small black infinity shape still adhering to his flesh. For his mask is more than just of means of protecting, nay, creating his identity. On the contrary: it’s the silicon beacon that keeps the darkness out.

Calvin pulls aside the heavy blackout curtains and stares out at the bustling city below: the gridlocked traffic and absent-minded tourists crossing clumsily through the square, weaving through the taxi cabs and simulacrums of Spider-Man and Mickey Mouse that litter 47th Street. They stand there staring up blindly at the flashing marquee signs and Coca-Cola advertisements and sparkling pyres of high-end hotels that stretch up into the sky towards some invisible vanishing point in the sun. He makes a mental note to double-check his portfolio pages for examples of perspective work. There was a whole chapter in How to Make Comics The Marvel Way! dedicated to mastering the angles of the New York City skyline as the heroes swing through it, and Calvin had studied it intently over the years. Although technically speaking, the author, Peter David, was a writer, not an artist, and his most notable Marvel work was on X-Factor and Incredible Hulk, neither of which featured many stunning urban vistas — although he did write the “Death of Jean DeWolff” storyline in Amazing Spider-Man, which is generally considered one of the classics, and —

No. Calvin forces these pedestrian thoughts from his mind. He knows he must be clear, level-headed, not like the common folk who walk the streets below, so easily distracted by the shiny bells and whistles of Times Square New York.

Calvin has a tendency to get bogged down in the facts like that — obscure details of inkers and artists and comic book continuity, the kind of things that most people wouldn’t be bothered with.

He returns his attention to the outside world — to the city, to his city (Well, technically he lives in Pleasantville, but it’s just a short train ride from the city, so it basically counts). The warm October sun shifts ever so slightly, and Calvin catches a reflection in the patterned glass window. There’s a superhero staring back at him, majestically costumed in a royal blue leotard with an upturned golden carat emblazoned upon his chest — a stylized “A,” the mark of Avenger, Calvin’s superhero alter-ego.

The glass distorts the image just enough that Calvin hardly recognizes himself. He brings the suit’s blue hood up around his head and sees how the domino mask completes his disguise, obscuring his identity even more, allowing him to transform into someone new — someone stronger, someone faster, someone braver than prissy little Calvin Elder the aspiring comic book artist with only one friend in the god damn world. He sucks in his small potbelly, puffs out his chest with the extra air and makes his shoulders big and wide, like a real-life superhero standing before the streets of New York City. He wonders if this is how Batman feels when he’s out on patrol, perched upon a gargoyle and scanning the streets for danger, when —

“You look like a dick,” Billy says, somewhere behind him. “Like a giant blue condom. Like, dude, like you literally look like Dr. Manhattan’s giant CGI cock from the Watchmen movie. That’s what kind of dick you are.”

Calvin’s shoulders drop as he exhales, his stomach distending just slightly over his belt line. Sure, Billy can be a jerk sometimes. But Calvin knows he means well. He just…feels passionately about things, like Calvin does. Billy could start and win a fight over the slightest continuity slip in casual conversation. Like that time he got the two of them banned from every single Midtown Comics location after arguing with the owner at a Geoff Johns signing, just because the owner neglected to clarify that Johns’ renowned work on Green Lantern: Rebirth didn’t technically “count” in DC’s New52 continuity. Billy seemed genuinely offended that the owner would so willingly deceive his customers by selling them a book that was no longer in the now-accepted canon of the DC Comics Universe.

That’s why Calvin and Billy get along so well. That’s also why they don’t have any other friends.

But Calvin has no clever retort for Billy’s stupid dick joke. The best he can do is turns around to face his friend and say: “Make sure you thank your Dad for me. I think this might be the nicest hotel room I’ve ever stayed in.”

Okay, so it wasn’t quite the snappy comeback that he’d hoped for. But Calvin’s always aired on the side of conflict resolution — after all, Billy does enough antagonizing for the both of them.

“Are you kidding? The Wi-Fi is atrocious,” Billy says with a snort. He picks up the black duffle bag with his props inside and slings it over his shoulder. “You know how hard it is to load this fucking oracle on that kind of download speed?”

Billy’s cosplaying Doctor Doom today, with a hooded green cape and homemade silver body armor. Calvin notices that he doesn’t have the full metal mask though, just a shiny piece of flimsy plastic covering his eyes and forehead, like a pretentious imitation of Calvin’s domino mask — which of course, Billy had already teased him about on the train ride into the city. Billy had told Calvin that it made him look like a sidekick, like Robin or Ace the Bathound, and that domino masks were stupid because they couldn’t actually hide your identity. Then he went on about how dumb it was for a dog to wear a mask, since dogs identify each other by the way their ass holes smell — which of course, led to more ribbing about Calvin sniffing ass holes.

Calvin doesn’t need to be reminded that he’s always been the sidekick. But lately, the stink of Billy’s asshole has been grating on him.

Writer of fiction, article, songs, and more. Enjoys quantum physics, Oxford Commas, & romantic clichés, esp. when they involve whiskey. HATES Journey.

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