Every night, safe in his forcefield of linen sheets, Ollie thrills to the four-color adventures inside Whiz!Bam!Pow! Comics #7. Every night he gives voice to its characters, bringing The Sentinel, Margot, and their colorful cast of nefarious rogues to life; they are his friends, his trusted companions. They grew up together. Eleven years old, right down to the month: August, 1938.
— TIN CANS CAN’T STOP ME!
Ollie’s superhero voice is perfect. Close your eyes and you’ll swear you’re hearing The Sentinel on the radio — a deep baritone with an overtone of smart-ass swashbuckler (filtered through the vocal expression of an eleven-year-old boy).
— WHY DON’T WE STEP INTO MY OFFICE SENATOR!
He absorbs the comic, guiding his flashlight over each and every print dot, each and every nuance of the kinetic linework, just as he’s done every night for seven years. He knows the gritty feel of the paper against his fingers, the crackle as he turns to the next page. He commits its panels to memory, forever safeguarding them in the vault of his brain, a vault from which he vows to never let them escape. It’s in the contract.
When Billy volunteered to punch Hitler, he drafted Ollie to protect the comic book. Gave him a crayon (red, his favorite color) and made him sign his name in the margins of one of the Sky Phantom pages (Sky Phantom was Billy’s favorite; he thought The Sentinel was stupid – Ollie tends to disagree).
i, private ollie, do hereby swear to guard this comic book with my life or i give billy permission to kick my ass. Ollie
Billy hasn’t come home to kick his ass. Not that there’s anything to kick. He’s been living up to his end of the contract for seven years, the faded crayon-scrawl of his four-year-old self still in the margins.
— TELL ME WHAT I WANT TO …
Ollie hears footsteps outside his room. He turns off the flashlight and lays flat in bed, the linen forcefield transforming into its secret identity of comfy sheets. He clutches the comic close to his chest. Eyes open and glued to the gap between door and floor, he watches the gap’s light turn to dark, overtaken by his mother’s — The Warden’s — shadow. He rotates his Sentinel Sentry decoder ring around his finger, its rusting aluminum scratchy against his skin (bathtime play will do that). He always wears it when he’s on guard duty. Every night.
Light creeps back under the door as the footsteps move down the hallway. He exhales.
He counts to 10 — a trick Billy taught him (you never know when she’ll come back around) — then covers his head with the sheet, completing its return from mild-mannered bedding to impenetrable forcefield.
Ollie turns on the flashlight and shuffles the pages to his favorite panel.
— THESE PANTS WON’T LAST FOREVER YOU KNOW!!
Ollie transforms his voice from the playful superheroics of The Sentinel to the shrill tone of Senator Barnett’s duplicitous histrionics. He flails his arms about — mimicking the Senator’s melodramatic ascension to the clouds — and sends his linen forcefield into the air. The flashlight crashes to the floor.
The door bursts open. The room floods with light.
The newsprint scrapes his fingers as his mother tears the comic book from his hands. She rolls it into a tube. Its pages crackle.
He closes his eyes.
He feels the air rush past his face and the blinding sting on his cheek. Her shrill voice spews fire and brimstone and disappointment.
She slams the door.
Ollie turns towards the window, nursing his red face. His lip quivers. He spins the ring around his finger.
Tin cans can’t stop me.