'Hey, screw you!' shouted a boy in a Gorillaz T-shirt. 'I’m on my high school swim team!'

'Ooh.' Head laughed. 'Swim team.'

'We went to state last year! What’d you ever do, fat ass?!'

'Hey!' said Head. 'Watch your mouth or I’ll watch it for ya!'

'He wants to watch your mouth,' said another boy.

'Yeah,' said a third attendee, one in his twenties, 'because that is all he does, right? That’s his job. Watching things. Whereas this line is full of geniuses and software engineers.'

'Maybe I’ll hire you to watch my mansion someday, dick-pipe!' someone shouted.

'That’s it! Back of the line!' said Head.

'Maybe I’ll hire you to clean my pool!' said someone else.

'Back of the line! All of you!'

'Can we go in?' Jay asked Craig.

'Knock yourselves out,' said Craig.

In minutes they were in a zigzagging line of low curtains, and they slalomed through it, alone; right, left, right, toward a row of tables manned by seated, serious women. Each woman looked like she was someone’s least-favorite aunt. Each woman had something to bestow on Doug and Jay, and the two boys walked in procession and received each of their tokens in turn.

Marjorie gives the Guide to Programming, your companion to the kingdom that awaits.

Wendy grants to each an Official Badge, which Mustn’t Be Lost.

From Ellen comes the Bag of Holding, filled with buttons, key chains, and all manner of promos.

And from Madge, the Book of Coupons. A thirty-dollar value.

Then, part the thin gray curtains and step, if you’re ready, into the Great Hall and taste of all its—

'Jesus,' said Doug. 'Look.'

Almost immediately a girl sauntered by dressed as Femininja — which is to say, in a black bikini with a sword.

'Huh,' said Jay.

'My spidey sense is tingling,' Doug whispered, and looked over at Jay, who possibly hadn’t heard him. He’d spent an afternoon several weeks ago thinking of funny comic book things to say when girls passed. He had a notebook full of them.

The exhibit space on the ground floor was like three football fields of stands, booths, and tables, behind each of which was something to want, or someone to want, or someone to want to talk to. Directly in front of them now was the original captain’s chair from the set of Gastronauts, a book-brick bunker of manga and imported action figures in packages dashed with Japanese, and Lou Ferrigno.

'Why does everything look cooler with Japanese on it?' asked Doug.

'Huh?' Jay said absently.

They strode forward, slowly, deliberately, taking it all in — this goblin market at the nexus of all realities where a circa 1980s Iron Man and an original 1963 Iron Man and Naruto and Sherlock Holmes could all be waiting for the same bathroom. Would it convey the scale of the thing to know that there was a person who elected to dress as the Kool-Aid Man? Would it convey it better to know there were two?

'Look,' said Doug. 'Those two Kool-Aid Men are fighting.'

'I don’t know what to do,' said Jay. 'I don’t know what to do.'

'About what? The Kool-Aid Men?'

Jay shook his head. Then he motioned at the whole thing, at everything: the comics and the culture and the people pulling the first Kool-Aid Man off the second Kool-Aid Man.

'We’re going to walk around and look at things,' said Doug.

'But what things? Which ones? What if we don’t see all of them? What if we look at the wrong things?'

'Look. Calm down. We’re just going to get the lay of the land. We’re going to skim through the program and circle things. If someone tries to hand us something, we let them. If we pass a trivia quiz, we’re going to shout ‘Crisis on Infinite Earths!’ because that’s usually the answer. Are you going to be okay?'

Jay swallowed and nodded. The convention hall was filling with people. Someone in Spider-Man tights crouched near them and pointed with two web-slinging fingers.

'Hey, true believers!' he said. 'The Marvel Entertainment Group is in booth six thirty!'

Doug gave a hesitant thumbs-up. 'Thanks.'

'Thank you, Spider-Man,' said Jay.

Spider-Man leaped away and delivered his line again to a group of Japanese girls.

The two boys tunneled through the feedlot of warm bodies to visit every table and booth in turn. They got writers and artists to sign comics and a model dressed as Punching Judy to sign Doug’s arm. It would have been a good opportunity to say one of the funny comic-book lines he’d thought up ('You’re making me horny. You wouldn’t like me when I’m horny.'), but he couldn’t quite manage it. Punching Judy was getting dirty looks from the writer/illustrator of SuperBitch, who was talking to a local news crew from her adjoining booth.

'Superhero secret identities are like virginity,' she told the camera. 'All these sweaty boys want to see the day when she gives it up, the day everyone knows her, but then after it’s gone, they’re disappointed. They want her to have a secret identity again.'

Doug supposed that was true. It was always this big euphoric event in a comic when the hero’s girlfriend or whoever learned his secret. Everybody wanted to read that story, but a year later the writers would probably give the girlfriend amnesia. You always wanted to put the cat back in the bag.

He’d blown his cover last night at that party, but Doug was going to be more careful from now on. He sort of wished he hadn’t even told Jay.

They watched the world premiere of a new movie trailer and then attended a ten thirty panel discussion with DC comics editors, where there was a prize: a light-up resin Green Lantern ring, one of only five thousand produced.

'Cool,' said Jay.

'Green Lantern’s gay,' said Doug.

The panel moderator flashed it off and on a couple of times. 'Is that not awesome?' he said. 'And the ring goes…to the audience member who has traveled the farthest to be here!'

'Philadelphia!' shouted Doug. A dozen other attendees shouted their hometowns, too. The ring went to a man from Belgium wearing a Tintin shirt.

'We don’t live in Philadelphia,' whispered Jay.

'We live in a suburb of Philadelphia. You think they know where Ardwynne is?'

'I know you thought that was it,' the moderator continued, 'but it just so happens…yes, I think I may have another ring…for whomever’s traveled the farthest from within the United States?'

'Philadelphia!' Doug shouted again.

'Bangor!' shouted some kid from Bangor.

'Bangor is farthest!' said the moderator.

'No, it isn’t!' Doug protested. He got to his feet. 'No, it isn’t. Not if you take into account the curvature of the Earth, which—'

'Bangor’s farther, kid,' said the moderator.

Doug sunk into his chair. 'Let’s go,' he said to Jay. 'Panels suck.'

'You don’t want to sit awhile? You look tired.'

Doug answered by rising and walking out the side door while a fan asked the panel about an obscure Superman versus Muhammad Ali comic from the seventies.

'Sorry you didn’t win,' said Jay when he’d caught up. 'I think Bangor is farther, though.'

'I don’t care, I just wanted the ring to sell it. I didn’t really expect to win. Nobody ever wins anything.'

Twenty minutes later Jay won a new shirt for shouting, 'Crisis on Infinite Earths!' a fraction of a second faster than seven other boys. It read, MY MOM AND DAD WENT TO THE NEGATIVE ZONE AND ALL I GOT WAS THIS LOUSY T-SHIRT. By twelve o’clock it was covered by thirty-one free buttons. 'I’m having a really good time,'

Добавить отзыв


Вы можете отметить интересные вам фрагменты текста, которые будут доступны по уникальной ссылке в адресной строке браузера.

Отметить Добавить цитату