Chapter 75

“Oooh, out of print editions,” Alex chirped happily, pulling out a weathered cardboard box and burrowing into its contents. He and Hershel were exploring one of the local gaming/comic shops in the Lander area, one they hadn’t been to in several months. It was a farther drive than some closer options, plus the limited free-time third year had provided them was often spent either training or, in Hershel’s case, working. Thus, upon finally gaining a free afternoon to do some shopping, they’d walked into a slew of new product that hadn’t been present at their last trip.

“Heck yeah,” Hershel said, stooping down next to his friend to look at the aged books. “Geez, an Alphablaster comic. I haven’t seen one of these in ages.”

“His popularity did fade pretty quickly after the eighties,” Alex agreed.

Comic books, once a realm of purely fictional exploits, had shifted after the outing of Supers. Some of the classics still existed, though DC had ultimately been bought out by Marvel, but many graphic novels told stories that were fictionalized accounts of real events, or at least featured actual Heroes. Devotees of a particular Hero or team were known to snap up their comics as ardently as the rest of their merchandise, meaning some books held tremendous value to the right buyer.

“Man, that would be a great costume for Halloween,” Hershel commented, looking the letter-splattered uniform over closely.

“I try to avoid any Hero outfits when I can,” Alex replied. “Best case scenario, one day I’ll probably be sick of the things, so I’m trying to enjoy the allure of them while I can.”

“Then what are you coming to our party as?”

“A surprise,” Alex said, eyes glinting mischievously under his shaggy brown bangs. “How about you? Any ideas yet?”

“Nothing for sure,” Hershel replied. “Roy’s offered to let me have the whole night, since he’s using so much time for bartending, but I feel guilty about it. I got all of last year’s Halloween, and it is his favorite holiday.”

“Why not split it then?”

“That’s what I’m leaning toward,” Hershel said. “But that means I have to find two costumes, not just one.”

“Roy can’t shop for his own costume?” Alex asked.

“If I leave it to Roy, he’ll show up shirtless and smothered in baby oil.”

“That sounds like an exaggeration.”

“It’s what he did freshman year,” Hershel informed him. “He wore a lazy barbarian outfit, oiled up, and called it a day. Roy’s never been very shy about his physique.”

“I can see that,” Alex said, flipping through more comics. “Then again, big a guy as Roy is, in a room of people from our class it won’t be quite as impressive.” As he moved, his “Han Shot First” shirt was pulled tight against his shoulders. While Alex wouldn’t pass for a body-builder, he could easily be mistaken for a devoted athlete. Two years in the HCP had sculpted even the leanest of them into the well-built physical specimens. Hershel was behind, but he was slowly gaining ground.

“Which is why I want to get him something less douchey,” Hershel said. “Holy crap, is that an old Captain Starlight?”

“Yeah, but it’s a reprint,” Alex noted. “And there’s a lot of damage to the cover. It looks like someone spilled coffee on this.”

“I realize it’s not worth much, I just liked Captain Starlight,” Hershel said, plucking the weathered piece from the bin. “He was my favorite for a long time.”

“Captain Starlight was everyone’s favorite at some point,” Alex pointed out. “When you’re the first, you get that kind of love.”

Hershel set the comic book down at his side, and continued perusing the bin’s contents. Most of the other works were about Heroes who had never particularly held Hershel’s interest. Strange as it was, he hadn’t grown up all that into Heroes. They’d reminded him too much of the Titan-shaped hole in his life, and the uncontrollable alternate personality that made day-to-day living so hectic. These books had never been much of an escape for Hershel, which was why he’d turned to sci-fi, fantasy, and LARPing with such vigor. In those worlds, at least the ones he liked, power could be gained by anyone with enough grit and willpower. People weren’t handed a lottery at birth declaring them Super, Powered, or human. They could forge their own greatness; genetics had little to do with it.

Alex, on the other hand, was simply an unapologetic geek. He loved all of it, every bit of magic or wonder an under-paid mind could produce, and absorbed each bit with unwavering enthusiasm. Had he been born a human, Alex certainly would have suffered at the hands of brawnier youths for this inclination. In his case, the genetic variation that gave his ability also provided a childhood in which he went unpunished, at least physically, for daring to step from the bounds of socially acceptable hobbies.

After a few more minutes of searching, they’d turned up nothing else of value or intrigue, and were preparing to move on when a frayed edge at the bottom of the box caught Hershel’s eye.

“Hang on,” he said, lifting up a large section of books to reveal one that had slipped to a horizontal position, becoming hidden under the weight of all the vertical comics. There, blazoned on the cover, was a masked man with a warm smile, lifting up an entire bus while the children inside cheered him on.

“Holy shit,” Alex said, eyes widening. “I thought they recalled these things like a decade ago.”

“They probably did,” Hershel agreed. “I can’t imagine anyone was buying them.” He carefully lifted the comic to confirm what he already knew. The title on the cover blew away all lingering doubts as to what he’d uncovered.

The Adventures of Globe! This issue: Globe vs. Mechnomass

“Think it’s worth anything?” Alex wondered aloud.

“Not monetarily,” Hershel said. “I know enough about disgraced Heroes to know their merchandise plummets in value. I think it might be worth something to Vince, though.”

“You sure it’s a good idea to give him something like that? We know what happened last year when he saw the news report.”

“I’m sure,” Hershel said, adding the Globe book to his current stack of purchases. “Vince has never stopped believing in his father. With everyone tearing him down in the news, I think it will be nice to remind him that, once upon a time, Globe helped a lot of people.”

“You make a fine point,” Alex agreed. “But don’t go the counter yet. I still want to go look at the new role-playing books. I heard Wizards is finally putting out a new version.”

“About time,” Hershel said, he and Alex hustling over to a different section of the store.