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!
There’s a feeling of elation that shivers all through Billy’s body every time he approaches the Jacob K. Javits Center. Maybe it’s the way building basks in the warm autumn glow, and the aromatic melange of roasted street peanuts and sewage blasting up from underneath the street. Maybe it’s the thrill of the Hand-possessed Daredevil eviscerating Bullseye atop the building in Shadowland #1. Or maybe it’s just the simple satisfaction that Billy is home, where he belongs.
He adjusts the small Nike duffle bag he carries on his shoulder — carefully, so as not to disturb the sleeping Godhead within — and struts past the endless line of posers and frauds, with Calvin in tow. He counts the Ricks from Walking Dead, and a cluster of Scott Pilgrims, dozens of Heath Ledger Jokers, and at least a million Doctor Whos (but only Nine through Eleven obviously, because none of them actually watched the show when it was originally on and only jumped the bandwagon when it finally got cool forty years later), stretching back two whole city blocks, queueing like lemmings just to get a glimpse of the convention before anyone else.
Not even Billy’s domino mask can hide his disdain as he cuts between the hipster nerd trend jumpers dressed up like whatever big property is hot right now and pretending like they’re real, true, fans. Thank Jack Kirby that Billy’s dad got those Press Passes for him and Calvin so at least they’re not stuck behind the peons.
“It didn’t used to be this way,” Billy says to Calvin, who walks behind him in his dumb blue superhero condom, staring dumbly at all the dumb decorations in the front lobby, all advertising some dumb movie knockoff that’s not coming out for another year and is also dumb. That shit-eating grin is part of what Billy loves about him, even if it’s also the thing that most drives him nuts.
Calvin’s been his best friend for as long as he remembers, but that doesn’t mean that Billy’s not embarrassed by him sometimes — his slack-jawed excitement, and his stupid made-up superhero costume. It’s desperate; it’s corny. It’s just so fucking Calvin.
“I don’t know, man. The last few years have all been pretty packed,” Calvin responds.
Billy cocks his head sideways and stares at him. But their respective domino masks must be blocking whatever telepathic-friend communication they’d had. He doesn’t want to yell at Calvin; it’s not his fault that he’s so often blinded by his simple-minded optimism. So Billy tries to articulate his fury, even though he knows it’ll fall on deaf ears. “Ever since The Walking Dead and Iron Man both hit it big, all of the sudden everyone thinks Comic-Con is sooooo fucking cool. Do you see these people, Calvin? They are the exact same fuckheads that made us miserable growing up. Who used to make fun of us, even though we played the same damn video games — “
“Well, yeah. We played the same video games. That’s exactly it. The fandom’s always been the same, just…you and I weren’t embarrassed about it. And now it’s okay to be out in the open with it. The culture changed.”
Calvin’s stupid mask must have some rose-tinted lenses, because it’s never been that simple. Not for people like Billy. He’s never been normal, and never been able to hide his…gifts. That’s why he was drawn to the X-Men after all. To Superman, and Martian Manhunter, and Captain America, and all of them. They were outsiders, just like him, and they existed in a world that was only made for him. And for Calvin, sure, and the other fans. But only those people who really got it, at the right point in life. Yes, everyone’s felt alone, out of place. And everyone’s scared of mutants and monsters and alien spaceships attacking the Earth. It’s just…they have their other things. Their clothes and sports and bands and brands and whatever other crap they care about. They have theirs; so why the fuck do they need his?
But before Billy can say anything, a Hawaiian Steampunk Deadpool shoves past him, knobby knees bumping against his duffel bag as he rushes through the doors. Billy yanks the bag away, hoping to protect its precious contents from the harsh reality of this wicked world. As he pulls it closer to his body, he can’t help but hear the words it carries on the winds:
“With great power must also come great responsibility.”
That’s when Billy sees him, waving as he walks past the security guard like two old friends. At first, Billy is drawn to the strange, old-fashioned symbol on his shirt — obscured by his own lanyard, which sports the title “Professional” across a black background, separating him from the green-backed “Attendee,” the blue “Vendors,” and the red “Press” badges. So of course Billy looks up at his face, and of course it is one that is frighteningly familiar:
Chad Mailer. Creator of Night Shift, and the man who not-so-infamously turned Wolverine gay. The devilish dark side to Billy’s robotic righteousness.
Billy grabs Calvin’s shoulder and stops him before he files into the convention center. “Don’t move. It’s him,” he says.
Billy lifts the duffel bag to his ear and listens for the whirring whispers of galactic wisdom from within. His thin lips stretch back tightly, the corners of his mouth turning upwards in a wicked smirk. Calvin prods him, of course, asks what he’s up to; they’ve been friends for long enough that Calvin at least usually recognizes when Billy’s having a stroke of diabolical geniusness. But like the visage of Von Doom that he wears upon his face, Billy knows better than to reveal the details of his plotting to anyone who might be tempted to share those secrets with those who would try to stop him. Calvin in particular is such a gentle soul — so trusting and easily swayed by the false contrived kindnesses of the interlopers, ants, and mundies whose collective meaninglessness crowds this wretched hive that he calls life.
Then the fascist security guard shatters the moment with emotionless affectation: “Keep walking. Registration’s to the right. Keep walking.”
Billy complies, however reluctantly. He’ll play the game, submit to the Nazi-esque registration process of the idiotic organizers. Because Billy is now a man on a mission, and he will allow nothing to stand in the path of His glory.
Also it’s probably just easier to go along with the rules, ’cause it’s really the only way of getting into the Con.