Man of Steel Mondays

Me and Superman, Superman and Me Part 1

“How It Should Have Started”

Welcome to Part 1 of Me and Superman, Superman and Me, a series within a series so to speak as this falls under the umbrella of Man of Steel Mondays.  For the foreseeable future, on Mondays at least, I will be going through my history as a Superman fan.  Whether or not this will be entertaining remains to be seen, but I thought it might be worth a lark to chart the course of my life as a fan of Superman.

Actually that’s not quite right.  This will be a history of my life as a collector of the Superman comics.  I am not going all the way back to my life as a wee lad and my love of the Super Friends and the Christopher Reeve movies or of when I read Superman: From The Thirties to the Seventies in elementary school because frankly that’s all there is too it.  The interesting stuff or at least the stuff I think is interesting comes when I actually began collecting the comics, so that’s where we are going to start.  In essence I am going to write about how this…

…turned into this.

Superman Collection

That is my Superman collection.  It currently resides about eighteen inches to the right.  I need to get new boxes for them because the ones I currently have are getting beaten up and I have a touch of OCD so the fact that vessels in which I choose to store my comics are not perfect bugs the freaking heck out of me!1

Calm down, Mike.  Deep breaths.  In with the good air…out with the bad.

There, that’s better.

Where was I?

Oh yeah.  Part 1 of Me and Superman, Superman and Me.  Right.

This is how the story begins.

Actually this is how the story should begin.

Summer 1986

A young boy stands inside a farmer’s market in Mountain Top, Pennsylvania. He’s short for his age with brown hair and an overbite that can be politely described as unfortunate. The boy is with his father running errands and as he is wont to do on such trips the boy finds the comic rack or in this case the comic book shelf. He wasn’t a collector by any stretch of the imagination; he just liked comics. Sitting in his room was a stack of about fifty or so. The comics were unbagged, unboarded and would make the more obsessive/compulsive collector drop to the floor in a seizure.

The boy scans the rack and his eyes stop on a cover with Superman on it. He picks the comic up and leafs through caring neither for how he is holding it nor about the fact that someone searching for a pristine copy would be out of luck if they happen to come to that particular farmer’s market. The boy notices that there is something different about the Superman comic in his hands. It is an obvious retelling of the Man of Steel’s origin but everything  is different. Krypton doesn’t look like it should. It doesn’t even look like the movie that he’s seen so many times. The surprises continue as later in the book Ma and Pa Kent are very much alive. There is no Superboy. When Clark Kent goes into action for the first time, as an adult no less, he isn’t even wearing the costume. The familiar red, yellow and blue costume eventually makes an appearance, but only after Ma Kent herself sews it together out of common, Earthly material.

Everything the boy knew about Superman is gone. This is an all new, all different take. Even the art is fresh and dynamic. The boy takes the comic with him, has his father buys it and on that day a young Michael Bailey became a collector of the Superman comics all because he found the first issue of John Byrne’s Man of Steel on the racks the month it came out.

That is a great story. It has that timeless feeling and while the particulars will be different it is a story a comic fan, long time or short, can relate to.

It is how the story should go.

The thing is it doesn’t.

Actually that’s about as far away from what happened as humanly possible.

Here’s what really went down.

I was ten years old in the summer of 1986. My family was in the process of moving from Mountain Top, PA to Wescosville, PA, which is just outside Allentown. For a ten year old it was a tumultuous time. I was getting ready to leave the comfort zone of the life, such as it was, that I had carved out for myself and faced with having to start all over again. I’m not sure I thought in those specific terms back then because I remember being fairly excited about moving while at the same time sad that I had to leave the few friends I had.

One night I was with my Dad while he was running errands and one of the stops was at this farmer’s market at the edge of town. The market was one of the two places I knew of in town that sold comics. There was the farmer’s market, which had there comics on a magazine stand style set-up and the Triangle Pharmacy in the middle of town that had a spinner rack that the owner would move from time to time. I wasn’t a serious collector. The part about having about fifty or so books sitting in my room was accurate. I had comics but I didn’t collect them on a regular basis. The only reason I had as many comic books as I did at the time was that I was given a large box of them for Christmas the previous year. The box consisted of about two month worth of the books Marvel published earlier in 1985 and I thought I was the man for having so many books.

In any case while I did not regularly buy or rather did not regularly have any comics bought for me since the money was definitely not mine I did get them occasionally and as such I always like to check out the comics rack or stand. Mostly it was to fight boredom. I realize that now. Running errands for a kid is both boring and exciting because while you get to leave the house and see new sights you are at the whims of where your parents want to take you. You like to go where you want to go and complain endlessly at the places you don’t. This is reinforced for me on a daily basis at work as I see small children begging to leave the big box office supply store where I serve as a department manager.

So there I was in front of the little newsstand style comic rack with a good number of choices before me. One of those books had Superman on the cover. I picked it up, leafed through it, thought, “This is just another re-telling of the origin. I’ve seen this before,” and put it back on the stand. A copy of Transformers #21 caught my eye and that was the comic I got that day. Why? Because it had the Aerialbots in it and I knew who they were.

Sigh. Ah to be young and bereft of the ability to see the future.

Seriously.  There is a part of me that wants to hop in the Way Back Machine, travel back to the summer of 1986, go to that farmer’s market every night because I don’t remember the exact date, wait for the younger me comes in with Dad, wait for me to go over to the comic shelf and when I put Man of Steel #1 back on the shelf I will walk over, make polite conversation as to not look like a pedophile and suggest that the younger me pick up the book.  “They restarted Superman,” I would say.  “I think you’ll dig it.”  And then the younger me would get that book, have Dad buy it and thus history would be changed for the better.

Or maybe Dad would come over and see some stranger talking to his kid and quickly snatch the younger me away.

Or maybe the younger me would present the older me with the Transformers book and say, “But I like the Aerielbots,” and walk away leaving the older me wondering if I should take a more proactive approach while, you know, not looking a pedophile.

And besides, that is sort of the plot to Flash #0.  Mark Waid would probably want a cut.

So yeah, it would have been really neat to have that day in the summer of 1986 serve as the moment I got into the Superman books. Sadly this isn’t the case. It would take another year for my addiction to the Man of Steel to begin.

And that all started with a trip to the orthodontist’s office.

More to follow…

Fortress Footnote

  1. Actually I need to get new boxes for my entire collection.  Due to various factors including but not limited to the house getting fixed up and a lack of funds I just haven’t gotten around to it.  Space is limited and has been limited so I am forced to stack the boxes beyond their recommended stress limits.  Comics are heavy things and the average short box can weigh as much a thirty pounds, so when you stack that sort of thing four to six high the load placed on the bottom boxes is quite high and eventually the boxes start to sag.  Sad, very sad.  In all honesty I don’t even board my books anymore and haven’t for nearly a decade because they take up even more of the previously mentioned precious space and I can’t currently afford bags and boards.  One day that may change but I am a big believer in dealing with the reality of the now while preparing for the future.
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  1. Janine says:

    Mike, you are so creative! Try not to beat yourself up over that book. I SOOOOO understand that feeling, though, as a collector of many different things. I rarely regret buying something cool for a collection, but often regret NOT buying something cool for a collection.

  2. Poddington says:

    Great Post Mike.

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