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!
Billy carefully places the crown of rusted bronze gears upon his head. The hard-edged material only hurts a little, and he wonders if this is how Christ himself felt when he wore the Crown of Thorns. Perhaps the similarities aren’t as disparate as he’d once thought.
With his costume in place, Billy attends to his laptop and tries to find the best angle for the webcam to capture his visage. He also wants to move it away from the bathroom so that the tiny onboard laptop mic doesn’t pick up the hiss of Calvin showering in the background. The backlight from the morning sun casts him in a shadow on the camera, and he briefly considers whether such an ominous appearance would be fitting for his broadcast. Then he realizes that the immaculate details of his Saturday cosplay would be lost to the viewer, all his time and energy wasted on perfection that would never be appreciated.
But then he ponders: does perfection need a witness to be considered perfect? Does Billy’s crusade matter without its audience, without the faithful followers who would be served by his righteous actions — those lowly mortal fanboys whose precious souls would be saved through his sacrifice?
He turns to consult the Cyborg Head of Stan Lee. But the bodiless prophet just sits there, staring at its disciple from its perch upon the vanity. Is its silence an affirmation that Billy has chosen to follow the proper path? Would his pandimensional patriarch ask his robot son to stop with such foolishness — or to endure instead through the ultimate sacrifice?
Billy places the laptop down on the bedstand near Calvin’s side of the room, the farthest corner from the watery sounds rushing from the bathroom. Billy adjusts the angle of the screen to cut down on the glare from the sunlight bouncing off the wrought-iron cross he carries on his back. He could close the blinds or setup somewhere else, but he likes the idea of having at least a part of that New York City backdrop in the frame. It gives the impression of omniscience and omnipotence, that he is literally sitting in a tower above the world — which technically he is, even if it’s just a hotel room that his stupid non-robotic-father paid for.
Despite his general distaste for that fleshy man, Billy does appreciate the authority that the 14th story view bestows upon him.
Billy lifts the rust-colored train conductor goggles hanging from his neck and places them over his eyes. He looks around the room as he adjusts to his restricted peripheral vision. That’s when he realizes that he should have the Cyborg Head of Stan Lee in the shot before he starts recording. He gets up from the bed, fetches it from the vanity, and returns to his seat, resting the Head in his lap like a pet. He grabs his stack of prop papers off the floor and positions them beside them, then leans forward and hits “Record.”
“I hope everyone enjoyed that bit of footage from yesterday’s New Horizons Forum. I think Chad Mailer’s face in particular was priceless. I do apologize for not updating last night; my sidekick wanted to participate some inane human ritual called ‘Drink & Draw.’ Tt. Humans. Anyway, Saturday is always the biggest day at any comic book convention. When all of the quote-unquote celebrities arrive, and the comic publishers unveil their Machiavellian schemes for — “
Billy’s monologue is interrupted by the creak of the bathroom door in the background. He watches the scene behind him on the laptop screen as Calvin steps out like a seraphim from the glow of the backlit fluorescent lights and — why is he only wearing a towel?!
“Do you mind?” Billy says, keeping his back turned both in an attempt to keep his calm and also because it’s kind of gross and weird to see Calvin like that right now, even though they’ve — that doesn’t matter. Billy takes a deep breath, then continues. “I’m trying to film my video blog, and I didn’t get to do one last night because someone made me go out last night.”
Calvin runs over to Billy in dismay, wet feet slopping on the carpet. “Wait, that camera’s on right now? Billy! I’m in a towel! I don’t want the entire internet to see that!”
Billy glares at Calvin, who is now standing right beside him. He can’t decide which makes him angrier: Calvin’s selfishness in making Billy go out last night; Calvin’s selfishness right now in interrupting Billy’s video recording; the fact that Calvin’s wearing nothing but a god damn towel and it’s making Billy really uncomfortable; or the fact that Calvin’s also dripping shower water onto Billy’s bed.
“Oh, come off it, Calvin. You tell everyone your secret identity. You’re worse than Tony Stark. No — NO — you know what? You’re worse than Spider-Man after the Superhuman Civil War before he made that stupid deal with the devil to magick his identity away.” Billy turns back to the laptop and screams right into the built-in camera with an angry, pointed finger. “Fuck you, Joe Quesada. I’m so glad your tyrant reign as Editor in Chief of Marvel Comics has finally ended!”
Calvin sighs. “Was that really necessary?”
“What?” Billy asks. But mostly he just wants Calvin to stop dripping on him and leave him in peace to finish the rest of the video blog.
Calvin answers with a mocking, nasal tone. “‘Fuck you, Joe Quesada.’ See, that’s the kinda thing I’m talking about. It’s totally excessive, and it just makes sound like an asshole. Like it or not, Joe Quesada did a lot of great things for Marvel. I mean, he helped pull them out of bankruptcy after the 90s boom. And a lot of great comics came out then. What about the Marvel Knights line? Or the Ultimate Comics?
“Fuck the Ultimates. Fuck Mark Millar. And super-fuck Jeph Loeb!” Billy says defiantly, even though Ultimates 2 was pretty sweet.
“See that’s just rude, Billy! Jeph Loeb’s son died of cancer.”
Billy screws his face up. “So? You can be a shitty writer and still have a dead son. It doesn’t have to black-and-white like that, Calvin.”
Calvin throws his hands up and finally steps back from the bed. “Whatever! I don’t care. It’s not like anyone watches your stupid blog anyway.”
Billy tucks the Cyborg Head of Stan Lee under his arm, then leaps to his feet and follows Calvin around the bed, with a finger pointed toward him. “That’s not fair! I have over 300 views on YouTube right now.”
Calvin looks Billy up and down, a look of disdain dripping from his already-wet face. “What are you wearing?” he says, sounding like some faggy fashion expert. “I thought you were going as a Dalek today?”
“Desperate times call for desperate costumes. Today, I am become Death, the Destroyer of Worlds.” Billy splays his arms out in the stance of crucifixion, neck tilted back to point his eyes up to the Heavens as he triumphantly declares his new identity: “Steampunk Jesus!”
That brief moment of majestic revelation is swiftly shattered by Calvin’s contrived and melodramatic cackling.
“Steampunk Jesus? That’s — look, I understand that half the stupid appeal of steampunk is that it doesn’t make any sense. But this one, Billy? This is like record-breaking levels of nonsense. Even for you.”
Billy feels the rage that’s burning through his system. In all the years they’ve been friends, and all that Billy’s done for him, why did he have to pick this weekend to start being such a jerk? As if the whole “Drink & Draw” fiasco wasn’t awful enough, now Calvin has to come in and ruin Billy’s video blog and insult the costume he’s been working on for months despite the fact that its uniqueness and its symbolic importance are precisely what make it so powerful and gah!
“Well why don’t I just make fun of your outfit,” Billy sneers. “Oh wait, you wear the same thing every fucking day!”
Calvin places his arms akimbo and says, “At least I shower.” He tosses his head up at Billy, then moves around to the opposite side of his designated double-bed and begins to sort his gear for the day. Billy turns his attention back to his video blog.
“Sorry about that. Where was I? Right! Saturday is always the biggest day at every comic book convention…”