Chapters One and Two

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Chapter 1

It was a dark and stormy night, in the best of Snoopy’s traditions, Troy Haynes mused, looking one more time out the giant window.

The city’s skyline, clearly outlined against the heavy clouds, sparkled under the nightlights that lavishly decorated it. In the distance, a few bolts of lightning penetrated through the overhead darkness, shining their own magic over the tall skyscrapers, soon followed by faraway rumbling thunder, which promised nothing good.

Luckily, he planned to spend the evening indoor, so rain would make little difference...hopefully. They’re late, Troy thought, glancing at the clock on Window’s desktop. If his friends did not hurry up, they might get caught in the heavy downpour, a wet fate he wished to avoid. Like a cat, Troy liked to stay away from dangerous watery threats that—a sudden buzz startled him. Next to his monitor, a shiny intermitting light required his attention. Annoyed, he stared at it for a moment before answering.

“Are you busy, Troy?” a croaky voice asked.

“No, Derek. I’m just waiting for—“

“Then, please come here.”

With a sigh, Troy left his desk, looking one last time at the glossy picture outside before entering Derek’s office.

An older man, in his late sixties, sat at a cluttered desk full of papers and documents strewn around. Troy had tried more than once to straighten up the mess, but when he realized Derek was quite comfortable with it, he abandoned the effort. The man raised his eyes, a black stare hardened by time and difficult business deals. Derek Blake was the head of a multi-billion dollar publishing giant, which controlled newspapers, magazines, general publications and books compassing fiction to non-fiction. The empire had grown to a point that Derek was even considering investing in a radio station, just for the fun of it, as he liked to repeat.

The only missing items on the publisher’s long list were comic books. Not that Derek was a fan…quite the contrary. He hated reading, but his knack for knowing what others might like, influenced a large part of American tastes. Still, Mr. Blake needed a comic book to broaden his target and include younger generation as his costumers.

“Hello, Troy,” Derek smiled. The sight of the young man always cheered him. That was the first reason he had insisted on taking him as a personal consultant, though he was hardly qualified for the job. “I’m sorry I’ve had a busy day and haven’t had time to look over the campaign’s sketches.”

“That’s quite all right. I worked on Shield some more and hopefully we will be ready for publication by the end of the month.”

“That’s excellent news.”

In his quest for a new type of comic book, Derek had stumbled on a still unknown company that focused on interesting projects. Having just started in the business, The Phoenix attracted Derek’s attention for a story about a normal fellow that a vortex sucked inside another dimension. At first, the hero thought he was in hell, but as the story unfolded, readers realized his adventures contained all too familiar scenarios. A careful eye soon spotted the setting in plain old Earth where each impossible task was actually an ordinary…very ordinary administrative problem. Thus, arguing with the heating company became a superhero’s worthy match that mere mortals feared to face, just as it happened to millions of people in real life.

Apart from the original idea, Derek appreciated the intense cover art. The drawings were essential, yet conveyed perfectly the hero’s anguish when threatened to lose his electricity because the company had not received its overdue payment regularly settled months before. The characters looked like regular people, warm and vibrant in their disillusions about reality, completely different from traditionally cold superheroes or latest Japanese style manga.

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