Gordon heard the Personal Trainer bang up the stairwell before he saw him. He knew it was the trainer because Gordon worked from home and had long ago memorized the intimate sounds of his neighbors clambering up and down the steps—Mrs. Doogan so tentative; Simon like a piston—and this confident gait, this powerful stride, this Gordon did not recognize. There came a knock at the door. Three quick bursts. Gordon opened it and the Personal Trainer stood revealed. More muscle than man, he reminded Gordon of his characters, all those adolescent power fantasies finally brought to life.
"My name is Gordon Gordon," Gordon said.
The Personal Trainer pumped his hand. "Hello, my new friend. Today you begin a journey of the type the citizens of my country call an Odyssey."
"Where are you from?"
"It is of no earthly concern. From now on, your lone concern is fitness."
And with that, the Personal Trainer pushed Gordon aside and entered the studio apartment. Gordon watched him preen around the room and felt a quick pang of mortification. He hated studios, but not as much as he despised the idea of living in Manhattan or one of the other boroughs. He'd lived there for years during college and the lean decade afterwards, and only now, after achieving a moderate level of success, could he dare to call Hoboken and its relative anonymity home. The fact that he could only afford a studio disheartened him, but Gordon so rarely entertained visitors anyway. He owned many bookshelves filled with collections from Marvel and DC, the big comic book publishers he freelanced for. Atop the shelves he posed his figurines, busty women with pigtails and swords, powerful industrialists protected by robotic suits. He wrote three of the top superhero books in the biz and these plastic trinkets were key to unbridled inspiration.
The Personal Trainer approached one of the shelves and removed a Captain America figure. "You want to look like him, no? You want to be muscle bound and strong? You want to win the heart of a woman? Perhaps a man?"
"Yes. To all those things." He paused to reflect. "A woman, not a man."
Gordon had always been fat, but soon he would be forty. He'd contacted the Personal Trainer after suffering a final indignity: having to use a hole puncher to create a new notch in his belt. The Personal Trainer was in many ways his opposite. Perfect health! Big, bulging muscles! He wore zubaz pants and a black tank top, but what was most striking about him-in Gordon Gordon's humble opinion-was his mustache. So thick! He imagined children swinging from those powerful locks.
"I have helped many of your kind." The Personal Trainer sat down in Gordon's writing chair and opened a collected volume of Robin. He scanned the pages, then returned it to its rightful home on the shelf. "Surely I have been recommended to you by other comic luminaries? Your allegiances?"
"Yes. Jonathan Trapezoid. Via Twitter."
"Ah, yes. Jonathan. One of my most honorable pupils. In his narrow frame beats the heart of a deadly marsupial. Are you impressed with what I did to Jonathan? Do you yearn for similar results, Mr. Gordon Gordon?"
Who didn't want to be like Jonathan Trapezoid, Gordon wanted to know. Trapezoid not only served as Marvel's Editor-in-Chief but also executive produced the Iron Man films. And his body? What had once been slight and underdeveloped had swollen to epic proportions of rocking power. When Gordon Gordon looked at Jonathan Trapezoid he saw the specter of his own shuddering potential.
"Yes," Gordon said. "I want to be like Jonathan Trapezoid," but what he really wanted to scream was: I want to live! I want to love! I want to be happy and free and new and beautiful and perfect! I want to be a hero!
The Personal Trainer bent to one knee and spat on the edge of his left boot. With his mighty sleeve, he wiped it clean. "Then prepare yourself, comic book writer Gordon Gordon. Your life is about to change."
Three weeks later, Gordon Gordon did something he usually avoided: he rode the jerking subway all the way into Brooklyn for coffee. He had come to meet That Girl With Glasses, a twenty-something who covered the comics industry on her newly popular website http://www.ThatGirlWithGlasses.com. She'd made a name for herself as a cosplayer, someone who attended comic conventions dressed up as beloved characters. She went as Rogue, Phoenix, Harley Quinn, and what made her stand out was her attention to detail. Her costumes didn't look haphazardly put together; they looked shockingly real, and she herself was so pretty, so narrow, that she seemed to become all those comic book fantasies made flesh. And when Gordon entered the coffee shop—some terribly trendy place where young men in fedoras sat sipping espresso from miniature cups—he couldn't help but feel that his luck was about to change. His training was difficult, but rewarding. No more greasy takeout, no more bags of frozen chicken; now he ate baby carrots and Italian lettuce with chick peas. And here he was about to be interviewed by a beautiful woman! Everything was coming up Gordy!
He found her in the back reading a volume of Stan and Steve's Amazing, an iced coffee sweating on her table. They'd met at San Diego Comic-Con a few months earlier, and she'd been in costume then—wearing what Gordon considered a breathtaking reimagining of the second Spider-Woman's uniform. She wore her civvies today, but Gordon still found himself sobered by her beauty. Swooping auburn bangs. Thick plastic glasses. A pale, delicate face. How was it that women like this appreciated comics, he wanted to know. In his twenties—when it might have actually done him some good—the majority of the readership was made up of adolescent boys. He cursed fate for being born too early, for missing out on an age when somehow against all hopes reading comics had become marginally cool!
She stood and primly slipped her hand into his. "Gordon."
"That Girl With Glasses."
They sat. She dug around her bedazzled purse for a recorder and set it face up on the table. Gordon watched the mini-cassette spin alive. Often, Gordon was astounded by the strange world of comic book journalism. Marvel, DC, the indie publishers, they all relied on the internet for press, on fan sites with names like Newsarama and iFanboy. Jonathan Trapezoid told him that editors still kept a black ball list for various press outlets they deemed untrustworthy. These people weren't journalists by trade and were almost always super-fans. It leant the whole endeavor a strange air of immaturity, of preaching to the choir, a total absence of critical inquiry.
"Thanks so much for agreeing to do this interview," That Girl With Glasses said between sips. "Your run on Rocket Raccoon is what got me into comics. So I'll start you off with an easy one. Comics are a medium, not a genre. So why superheroes? What draws you to them? What's special about caped crusaders in the 21st century?"
Gordon grinned. This was something he had spent many a sleepless night pondering, the darkened silhouettes of his dozens of action figures peering at him from his shelves. "I've loved superheroes ever since I was a kid. One of the reasons is they represent an ideal to strive towards. Everyone is drawn to characters that always do what's right, who never fail you, because people in real life fail you all the time. Do I always make the tough choice? Do I always sacrifice for others? Heck no. But you know who does? Superman. Peter Parker." He paused to tap his chin three times with his index finger. "I'd like to think that if I were tested, I'd be up to the task. But who really ever finds that out in the real world?"
She reached forward and paused the tape. "Did you rehearse that?" Then she laughed. And oh what a delight it was to know that something Gordon had done inspired this toothy reaction. She touched his hand, and in that moment Gordon Gordon allowed himself to imagine what it would feel like to be in love with That Girl With Glasses. Not sexual fantasies, but very simple human longings: making dinner together, falling asleep in one another's arms, slipping into the comfortable rhythm of their individual routines. He had always wanted to be in love but had long ago given up hope-his weight, his profession! He believed himself a good person, so decent, so kind, so much love to give. Maybe the Personal Trainer could sculpt him into someone worthy of her, this brainy goddess delivered unto him from the chaotic ether of the internet!
"Oh, I meant to ask you before we go any further," she said suddenly. "New York Comic-Con. Three months from now. I'm going to be on a panel about depicting love and emotion through sequential art. I was wondering if you'd be on it with me?"
"For you? Of course."
"Wonderful. I'm working on a Red Sonja costume. You know, Conan's girlfriend?"
"Sure. I'll probably be pretty buff by then. I just got a personal trainer."
She waggled her eyebrows suggestively. "Jonathan Trapezoid's?"
"The one and only."
"Well, your man must be good. He sure did a number on ol' Trap." She looked to the presumably starry heavens. "Maybe I should call this trainer of yours? Long days in front of the computer aren't doing much for my figure."
"I don't believe that for a second." Each new thing he said seemed tinged with appropriate candor and wit. Was it possible that after only a few weeks under the tutelage of the great Personal Trainer that he had already begun to feel the unexpected benefits of increased self-esteem and dexterity around women? Gordon Gordon couldn't be sure, but he reached across the table and took That Girl With Glasses' hands into his own. "Off the record, I'm working on a creator owned project. Something indie. No capes. A very personal story about love."
He said it unexpectedly, but the germ of this story-even in the short amount of time he had spent with That Girl With Glasses-had already taken root inside of him and only needed the water, light and love of nonstop writing and revision. The indie books were filled with quirky protagonists and tender-hearted relationship dramas. Surely he, one of the best superhero scribes in the biz, could write in this style. He would model the protagonist off of himself, the female after That Girl With Glasses. He would make her immortal through comics. He would make her love him!
"I can't wait to hear more about it. But for now," she said as she turned the recorder back on, "tell me about the upcoming crossover with the X-Men books. The ads tease that one hero will die. Who's going to die, Gordon? Who's going to die?"
Working alongside the Personal Trainer was one of the most grueling physical tasks of Gordon's admittedly unphysical life. The Personal Trainer believed in the old school. He often changed up his routines but always included bodyweight squats, push-ups, pull-ups and step-ups even if Gordon could only accomplish a handful of these exercises at a time. But he also employed methods that seemed strange and mystical to Gordon including T push-ups, stick-ups, planks, and something called the one-legged Romanian deadlift.
"That's it, you little monkey," the Personal Trainer would shout from across the room, running a piece of celery around his mouth like a cigar. "Give up that sweat! Give me your fat, you clown-shoed hooligan!"
And Gordon could not deny the results. After one month, he felt better than he had in years. Even the three flights of stairs that led to his studio apartment no longer left him winded. But the sea change came in week six, when the Personal Trainer burst into his studio balancing an orange vial atop his head filled with candy colored pills.
"Do you see this?" he asked. "Do you want to know why I can balance like this? Because I have total control over my body. Because I am the master of me. Are you the master of you, Gordon? Are you the master of you?"
Before he could reply, the Personal Trainer head butted the air, sending the vial flying into Gordon's trembling hands. He fumbled it and quickly picked it up again.
"Those," the Personal Trainer said, "are Hoodia extract pills imported from the wilds of South Africa. Did you know, Mr. Comic Book Writer Man, that the South African Council for Scientific and Industrial Research discovered that Hoodia is chock full of P57? Do you know what P57 is, Gordy?"
Gordon shook his head. He often found himself unable to speak in the Personal Trainer's powerful presence. The Personal Trainer walked over until his face was only inches away from Gordon's. He opened his mouth and bellowed; his breath smelled like a combination of jerky and doom. "P57 jacks you up, my protege!"
And jack him up it did. After a rigorous bout of online research, Gordon discovered that P57 was credited for shedding three-percent of participants' body fat in only a matter of days, and lo and behold, by the onset of month two, Gordon Gordon had shrunken below two-hundred and twenty pounds for the first time in decades. He printed out a picture of That Girl With Glasses and kept it under his bed. Before sleep each night, he'd take it out and reminisce over that one magic moment in the Brooklyn coffee shop. Gordon remembered the speech he'd given about superheroes, about how they never let you down. He wondered if in some parallel universe where gamma rays really did bestow powers instead of cancer if he would've been a hero, someone truly deserving the love of a good woman and the adoration of all. He often dreamt of flying.
During breaks from writing his indie opus, Gordon tweeted That Girl With Glasses Lothario-style. He sipped a low fat Snapple and sent a 108 character message of love to the girl of him dreams. The thousands of comic fans across the world who followed them both were treated to a front-row seat to their budding romance.
ThatGirlW/Glasses Totes chilling on the outdoor patio @the Metropolitan in Brooklyn. Wish I had some good reading material....
12 minutes ago via Twitter for iPhone
SuperGordon Hey! Been working on that secret script I told you about off the record. You want to take a look? You have access to e-mail?
11 minutes ago via Tweetdeck
ThatGirlW/Glasses Gordy-poo! Abso. Me so happy you remembered! Are you pumped for our #NYCCC panel? How's the exercise treating you?
9 minutes ago via Twitter for iPhone
SuperGordon Sending now. So excited for #NYCCC. Exercise is going wonderful. I'm a whole new man. Wait till you see me, dear.
7 minutes ago via Tweetdeck
UltimateFanboy69XXX Guys!!! @SuperGordon is totally putting the moves on @ThatGirlW/Glasses. Thanks for killing Goliath btw. #comics
4 minutes ago via web
ThatGirlW/Glasses ;) Play nice boys... And @SuperGordon, I cannot WAIT to see you, hon.
a few seconds ago via Twitter for iPhone
Gordon clicked out of Twitter and into his e-mail account. He sent a few pages of the script and took a deep breath. He wanted That Girl With Glasses to fall a little more in love after each new panel description. If there was one thing he always had confidence in, it was his writing.
Panel 1 Long establishing shot. We see the tips of the apartment buildings on the edge of Hoboken right before the swirling waters. Beyond is the New York skyline, the yoke of the moon peeking out over the building tops.
Caption Hoboken, NJ.
Panel 2 Close-up on a crappy apartment building. The windows are all dark except for one. Silhouetted is a man, a large man. He holds a hand to his head and is pacing. He looks distressed.
Panel 3 Inside the studio apartment. There are bookshelves loaded with prominent graphic On top of the shelves are superhero action figures. Our hero, JORDAN DOUGLAS, is pacing in front of the microwave which is aglow. Behind the glowing glass is the darkened specter of a hot dog. Jordan is overweight, balding, middle-aged. He is so afraid he will die alone.
Panel 4 Jordan in his armchair eating a microwaved hot dog minus the bun. He is completely defeated.
I am completely defeated.
Page 2 Ext. Frank Sinatra Park – Day
Panel 1 A lush park filled with children running across a windswept field of grass, the skyline far in the distance. In the background, among the children, is a single beautiful woman, MELANIE MOODY. The reader can barely see her but she is thin and wears bright, vibrant colors. Her hair swoops across her forehead and large plastic frames. In the foreground is Jordan, hiding behind a tree, peering out at Melanie.
Panel 2 Wide-shot with Jordan looking straight at the reader. He looks awkward. He hooks his thumbs through his belt loops.
JORDAN (Thought Balloon)
Perhaps she might love me...
Panel 3 Jordan approaches. He is clearly nervous. Sweat forms at his brow. Melanie doesn't notice him yet. She's too involved with the children. This is a poignant moment because it could go either way. She might turn and her face could flush with happiness, or she might be repulsed by Jordan's sudden appearance. End page here to spur reader onto next page.
Gordon knew the pages were good and that they would impress someone like That Girl With Glasses who spent equal amounts of time blogging about big, beefy superheroes as she did the timid protagonists of indie graphic novels. And within only a few minutes, That Girl With Glasses tweeted and alerted the world that "@SuperGordon is working on a masterpiece." Gordon read those words over and over. It felt like the opening up of endless possibilities. It felt like being young.
And so, the long awaited day of the New York City Comic-Con finally arrived. Gordon Gordon dressed up for the occasion. On a tip from Jonathan Trapezoid, he rode the subway to Brooks Brothers a week before the con and was fitted for a gray suit of such impeccable taste that it would have utterly stunned a younger Gordon in his flip flops and jean shorts. He was still a big man, but no one could call him obese now, no children would stare at him at McDonald's as he downed a triple thick shake and double cheeseburger. He consumed his dosage of Hoodia daily. He spent a lot of time smiling and humming jingles from commercials.
The event was held in the Jacob K. Javits Center down by the Hudson. Gordon felt a powerful warmth swell up in his chest the moment he stepped onto the convention floor. Comic fans were his brethren, and unlike many of the younger creators—genre hipsters and poached crime writers—Gordon loved and respected these people. He wandered through the massive auditorium with its vendor tables stacked with out-of-print comics, action figures and VHS bootlegs of the unreleased 1990s Fantastic Four film. There were two men dressed like the Ghostbusters, photon packs and all. Then three women—the floral beauty of Poison Ivy, the sadomasochistic slave costume Prince Leia, and a woman who had painted her entire body green to more accurately depict the fourth-wall breaking She-Hulk—posing for grinning video game journalists who snapped their pictures. Gordon even stopped to take a photo with a cigar smacking Wolverine who recognized him as the former writer of Comet the Super Horse—"You look great!" Wolverine told him. "You been working out?"
"Indeed, Wolverine. Indeed."
By the time Gordon entered the room for That Girl With Glasses' panel, two dozen fans had already claimed chairs in the front row across from which stood a long table with microphones and jugs of water flanked by tall glasses. Behind the table was a familiar face. Not That Girl With Glasses just yet, but that editorial sensation—not to mention newly buff—Jonathan Trapezoid. Gordon shook his hand. Trap stood tall in a Brooks Brothers suit all his own, his dark hair cropped close, his cheek bones prominent, a dark and wondrous tan. In all Gordon's nervousness over seeing his one true love, he'd forgotten how much he adored cons, how they were like class reunions but with people he actually liked.
"You hired my personal trainer, didn't you?" Trapezoid said. "You look great. In six months, you'll look like me. I bang supermodels, Gordy. And you think they give a shit about why Mockingbird was in hell even though it was later revealed she was a Skrull? Hell no they don't. They just like my muscles." He paused to contemplate this truism. "Feel my muscles, Gordon. Feel my muscles." Gordon squeezed Trap's bulging bicep. "You like that? Yeah you do. I'm thinking of doing a happy hour or seven at Loop's after the con. You down, Gordy?"
Before Gordon could answer, the front door swung open revealing a vision of beauty he could have never imagined. In walked That Girl With Glasses wearing a Red Sonja cosplay outfit. She looked timid, and it was all too easy to see that she'd miscalculated slightly. In the comics, Red Sonja was a buff warrior that could stand toe to toe with Conan. She typically wore a chainmail bikini and bone necklace/garter combination to battle. That Girl With Glasses wore all these items, but her body was too thin to fill them out. She looked like an overgrown child dressed in her mother's clothing. But it was this deficiency that drew Gordon to her. They could save each other. It would not be like Superman rescuing Lois Lane; it would be like Superman saving Batman, a mutual love and respect, a romance for the ages. Buoyed by love, they could become the best possible versions of themselves.
"Gordon, Jonathan," she said, when she reached them. "Are you ready to discuss love?"
And ready they were. By panel's start, the auditorium had filled to capacity—mostly cosplayers, a few children, some gloriously bespectacled women. That Girl With Glasses began with a slide show featuring all the great love stories in comics—Spider-Man and Mary Jane, Scott Pilgrim and Ramona Flowers, Swamp Thing and Abigail Arcane&mdsah;while she narrated their importance and tried to explain why representing emotions like love in mainstream comics was inherently more difficult than film and literature because of "the lack of actors' facial expressions and the truncated ability to launch into characters' thoughts." Gordon thought it was all rather thought-provoking, and only occasionally did he or Trap jump in to mention the love affair between the Thing and Alicia Masters or the very moving premarital sex issue of Ultimate Spider-Man. When That Girl With Glasses finished, she opened up the panel to questions. A man dressed in the green and black uniform of the Green Lantern Corps stood up.
"This one's for Jonathan," he said into the microphone. "Why did you retcon the Thing hating Sentry for no reason?"
Jonathan politely explained why it was a necessary beat for the story and the overall post-Siege Avengers narrative. The next question was for Gordon. They asked him if the Scarlet Spider would ever return "in 616 continuity". Gordon told him he wasn't sure, and when he peeked over at That Girl With Glasses and saw how defeated she looked that none of these fanboys cared about love, he decided that something must be done. The soundtrack in his mind swelled to a crescendo.
"People," he said into the mic, "doesn't anybody have a question directly relating to the panel topic?"
Silence. The attendees stared at Gordon and his fellow panelists. He could hear the fluorescent lights buzzing above. And then, before anyone could awkwardly shuffle away, a hipster doofus asked a question about indie darling Ghost World. That Girl With Glasses answered, a big smile on her face. If only he could continue making her happy, if only he could continue to feel this spectacular.
One successful question followed another until the allotted hour ended and That Girl With Glasses regretfully announced that they all had to vacate before the War of the Hulks panel. Jonathan Trapezoid congratulated her on a job well-done and hurried off to his next scheduled appointment—portfolio reviews in artist alley—leaving Gordon and her alone with the quickly dwindling crowd. She rushed over and hugged him. Gordon smelled the perfume of her hair. It tasted of the future.
"Gordon, you saved the panel. You really did."
"No, no. It was all you."
"No," she said, pulling back and looking directly into his eyes. "It was you."
But then, jarring them loose from this Rockwellian moment of joy, a man appeared and approached the stage. Only this was no ordinary man. He was the largest Gordon had ever seen. Golden skinned. Muscles that mutated out of other, stronger muscles. His whole body was slick and practically naked, covered only in a loin cloth decorated with the skulls of fallen warriors. He held a glimmering broadsword and wore a headband decorated with animal felts. If it wasn't for the mustache, Gordon wouldn't have recognized him. It was the personal trainer.
"A word of applause to Gordon Gordon," he said as he hopped onto the stage, his pectoral muscles pulsating with need and urgency. "You have not only made me proud by your slimmed-down appearance but by your noble treatment of my queen, my lovely, this enchanting beauty who stands before you."
He grabbed her by the small of the back, then dipped her narrow frame and planted a smacker right on the lips. Gordon stared dumbfounded. He listened to That Girl With Glasses' squeals of embarrassed pleasure and wished he could wipe them clean from his brain, already knowing he'd hear them late at night during those terrible hours when he found himself unable to sleep. The personal trainer and That Girl With Glasses. He should have guessed. Conan the Barbarian and his queen, Red Sonja.
Gordon waited for them to stop kissing. He stood there ten seconds, then twenty, and when the personal trainer backed That Girl With Glasses up against the panel table, he realized that passion had overtaken these creatures, wild and free. He turned on his heels and walked out of the auditorium, then out of the Javitz—literally ran!—out of the auditorium, where he threw open the double doors. Waiting there was a line of cosplayers for the War of the Hulks panel. Green body paint everywhere! He had no choice but to keep running, all the way out of the Javits Center altogether. He crossed the street and walked along the docks and turgid waters of the Hudson below. He felt the truth vibrating in his bones.
He would never be loved.
He would never be loved.
He would never be loved!
Gordon spent the next hour sunk in a depression he would later refer to as The Hindenburg. To come so close to attaining happiness only to have it snatched away at the final moment—by a comic book doppelganger no less!—was too much. He wandered aimlessly around the city before finding his way inside an empty bar. He was not one for drink and sat alone at a table, running his fingers over the glossy menu he found there. Pictures of hamburgers stared out at him, majestic beasts topped with aged cheeses and bacon imported from our neighbors to the north. Gordon knew meat products of this variety and decadence were strictly off limits and that even one could lead him down that slippery slope back to obesity, to the end of love's brilliant potential. The menu shook in his hands. He wanted the personal trainer to pay. He wanted That Girl With Glasses to pay. He wanted the whole world to turn over and give up everything it had hidden from him for so very long.
An old man approached. He wore a white chef's uniform spotted with grease. A coarse ponytail dangled from his head. "What you want?"
"Well." Gordon's voice cracked. "Two triple meat patties with everything and a side of nacho fries with a triple thick milkshake and deep fried cheese balls."
The old man sniffed. "S'ok."
Gordon sat and sweated and watched cosplayers pass by through the window, occasionally holding hands, odd pairings like Firestorm and Lady Bullseye. Didn't they know those characters didn't even exist in the same universe, Gordon wanted to scream. He tried not to think about the food, about what he had ordered, about what it signified. Instead, he sealed those thoughts away in a closet in his mind and came up with various top five lists: Top Five Black Suit Spider-Man Stories, Top Five Post Crisis Superman Arcs, Top Five '90s Batman Artists. And then, faster than he even thought possible, the old man returned with Gordon's order. He set the feast in front of him and told him to dig in.
Just like the personal trainer trained him to, Gordon mentally tallied the combined calories. Probably over a thousand. Maybe two-thousand. Perhaps three? Gordon could not be sure. If That Girl With Glasses wouldn't have him, then what was the point of being thin? If he was destined to die alone, what was the point in prolonging his life with healthy eating habits? Gordon took one bodacious bite after another, then dipped a handful of fries into the milkshake and gobbled those down as well. He attacked the food with ferocity, imagined those massive meat patties as the bloodied faces of the Personal Trainer and yes, even That Girl With Glasses. When he finished and the old waiter returned, Gordon asked for more, a repeat serving. He was out for blood.
The old man spat on the hardwood. "You sure, boy?"
Gordon glared at him and the old man dawdled back to the kitchen. Gordon reached into his coat pocket and produced his vial of Hoodia. He loosened his belt and hid the pills behind the napkin dispenser. He no longer had any use for them. Gordon imagined the path from health to obesity as a great big waterslide churning with bacon grease, this meal a boogie board on the slippery road to destruction.
Gordon emerged from the bar three hours later. Everything in his body hurt, his stomach, his muscles, and he found it difficult to breathe. He'd experienced this kind of pain before, after particularly tough workouts with the personal trainer. Outside, he rubbed his eyes. New York Comic-Con was over. Time had passed him by.
Before he could begin the lonely trek back to Hoboken, his cell phone buzzed in his jacket pocket. He received a text from Jonathan Trapezoid reminding him about happy hour. He was ordering drinks right that moment not far from where Gordon stood. He checked his watch and immediately sensed the futility in the gesture. He didn't have any plans and doubted he'd have many in the future. Sure, he tapped, sure. I'll be there.
He found Trap in Loop's, one of the quintessential con bars where many of the writers and editorial begged off to after fielding one too many fan questions for the day. Jonathan was waiting for him at a table. They shook hands, and Trap offered to buy Gordon a vodka tonic which he reluctantly accepted.
"What a day!" Jonathan Trapezoid sipped his highball. "That love panel was strange as shit, am I right? But That Girl With Glasses? She was pretty cute, huh?"
Gordon lowered his eyes.
"I heard she interviewed you for her website?" Trap asked. "What's it like working with her? She any good? She seemed smart at the panel. We can use more female journalists."
Gordon didn't even have to think about it. He knew how he would reply, and in some ways, he always knew, maybe even from that very first meeting at the Brooklyn coffee shop. All his life, he'd thought of himself as one of the good guys, but he knew better than anyone that all it took were a few subtle pushes to send a hero careening towards villainy. Gordon took a deep breath then did something he never thought himself capable of.
"I wanted to talk to you about that," Gordon said, his voice just barely trembling. "She brought up sexual favors in return for spoilers on the X-Men event. We should probably put her on the black ball list."
Trap nodded and typed a note into his blackberry. "We got to get real journalists one of these days right? Well, don't worry about her anymore. She's out. She'll never get an interview again."
The waitress returned with the vodka tonic but Gordon couldn't even bring himself to look at it. He could feel his stomach churning—with guilt, with four cheeseburgers—and suddenly he had no choice but to stand up and dart for the door or else suffer the humiliation of puking in front of the Editor-in-Chief of Marvel. Trapezoid called out to him, but Gordon refused to let this man see him hurl. He made it across the street to the outskirts of the Dewitt Clinton Park. He retched into a metal garbage can, his back slick with sweat. When he was done, he hobbled over to a nearby bench and rubbed his ailing stomach for luck. The thought of returning to his studio apartment, of seeing all those comic books, all those figurines, knowing he was only a few clicks away from www.ThatGirlWithGlasses.com and the wreckage of her hopes was just too much to bear. He could no longer deny the obvious truth: Gordon Gordon was no hero.
The sun had begun to set over the Hudson and Gordon watched the few remaining children climbing on a jungle gym. A group of parents stood a dozen or so yards away, and Gordon derived no pleasure from observing them. Instead, he took out his Moleskin and did what he always did when depressed. It was the only thing that had ever cured him of any earthly sadness really. Writing. Writing about superheroes who were perfect, about characters who always did the right thing, about people who could potentially save him.
Panel 1 Jordan stands across from Melanie in the park. He's sweating. He rubs the back of his neck. He won't meet her eyes. Melanie looks as friendly as can be.
Hi. My name is Jordan. I thought you looked nice and—
Panel 2 Small panel. Close-up on Melanie wagging a finger in the air for him to stop.
Don't say another word. I know why you're here, Jordan, and I have something very important to show you.
Panel 3 Long-shot. Where Melanie stood is replaced with a mystical explosion of bright, wonderful colors. Jordan looks incredibly impressed and holds a hand to his trembling cheek.
Panel 4 Standing before Jordan is AMAZING GAL, a woman who resembles Melanie only now she wears a cape, spandex, and eye mask. She touches his shoulder.
Jordan. You've spent your whole life creating characters like me, and I'm here to tell you that it's over now. You've won. You're safe. You're a good person and I'll always love you, Jordan. I'll always love you.