Previously in Comic Superhero…
Andrew spent the week in self-imposed exile, still at a loss to understand why Jackson had stormed off so angrily. Hiding out in the Library, Andrew was set upon by Emily who took great pleasure in the fractured relationship of the Dynamic Duo. Now the time has come for the comic to be handed over…
Saturday arrived and Andrew sent out one more text to Jackson as a peace offering: It’d be cool if you were there at the comic handover. All week his texts and phone calls went out into space with no response.
Rifling through the pile of clothes on his bedroom floor, Andrew found his favourite Phantom t-shirt to wear as his talisman. His moment of triumph felt like biting into a floury-tasting apple. The win would be sweet, knowing he had defeated Emily and there was not a thing she could do about it. But the bitterness of not being able to share it with Jackson soured his mood. To ease the pain he fished his iPod out of his school bag and buried himself in some music on the way to Phat Albert’s.
Word had spread of the showdown between Andrew and Emily. Nathan and Stuart arrived with Andrew to lend some moral support. Andrew hadn’t confided to the other boys about what had happened between himself and Jackson.
As the trio walked into the comic book store Phat Albert occupied his usual spot behind the counter, a cloth in one hand and a spray bottle of Windex in the other. With the hiss of the spray and a squeak of the cloth, Phat Albert wiped smudged fingerprints, greasy food stains and soft drink circles with meticulous care from the glass display cabinets. All manner of treasures, artefacts and collectables stored away beneath the glass; the Texas Book Depository as Phat Albert called it.
In the background, Iron Maiden pumped out of the shop’s tinny speakers. Andrew felt his palms become clammy while a bead of sweat formed at the base of his neck.
On the clock behind the counter, the minute hand edged closer and closer to midday. The second hand swung upwards in its arc toward zero hour. Andrew felt each second beating in his chest. It reached the perpendicular and continued its circular journey.
A shadow fell across the floor.
Emily entered, flanked by her posse of Bianca, Catherine and Joshua. A comic flapped to the ground, dropped by a startled customer.
“This is not the Tatooine cantina,” Phat Albert said. “I don’t care who shoots first, just don’t make a mess.”
Andrew and Emily stood alongside the counter, staring each other down.
“You owe me a comic, Emily,” said Andrew. He hoped it sounded authoritative because it felt like puberty was threatening to have a second run around the block.
With a slight hand gesture from Emily, Joshua opened his Batman satchel and took out the Mylar pocket containing the autographed comic. Emily took it from him and placed it on the counter top. Pushing with her fingers she slid it towards Andrew who reached for it eagerly. She pulled the comic back, out of Andrew’s reach.
“If I’m the villain in this superhero fantasy world of yours, surely I get a monologue? I’ve seen enough films to know that the villain waxes lyrical. This is my time. It may not be my moment of triumph but I have something to say.” Emily took one step forward closer to Andrew.
“If you know your enemy and you know yourself, there is no need to fear many battles. So said Sun Tzu. I know myself and I know you. The Quiet Achiever, Mr. Andrew Hansen, has a weakness. I’ve been learning from Joshua that every superhero has one. Superman has his kryptonite. So what is yours I wonder?”
Andrew shuffled his feet, feeling his stomach dance a dervish. He wasn’t sure where Emily was going with this, but he knew he didn’t like it.
Emily continued, “Your strength lies in what you do best. You’re good at schoolwork. There is hardly anyone else who can beat you. But I know what your weakness is: you doubted the one thing you knew you were good at. You became weak when you doubted yourself. There was risk of losing your status as The Quiet Achiever when your sense of power was questioned. When pushed to the edge, you did the one thing that never would have crossed your mind before. You fell when you reached beyond your grasp.”
“But you forced me to when you threatened to destroy the comic!” said Andrew.
Emily held up her hand, “Now, now. This is my time to speak. You were blinded by your own desires about what you didn’t have, what you wanted to have.” Emily stepped closer to Andrew, forcing him backwards.
“We have this rivalry, you and me. It’s been going on for years. I was forced to act when you let your pride take over and you embarrassed me in front of the class. This time, you were only competing against yourself. And you failed.” She motioned for Andrew to lean in.
Emily whispered, “I know you almost cheated. You didn’t go through with it but you thought about it. You haven’t earned this comic, yet. But when you do, you will always know that this comic, this precious thing that you wanted, will be tainted.”
Andrew felt naked and exposed, but no one else had heard Emily’s revelation. “How did you know?”
He looked into eyes like emerald stones and saw her lips turn into an exultant smile. Emily turned her head slightly and looked over her left shoulder. Andrew followed the line of sight as Jackson stepped out from behind a cardboard cut out of The Punisher.