People who have read or heard me talk to them about comic books and specifically my Amazing Spider-Man collection have described me with a number of adjectives – most of them positive: “passionate,” “dedicated” and “soulful” are just a few. And while I admit that I strive to be these things, especially throughout the pages of this blog, there’s a darker side to my collection that shames me.
No, it’s not the “what’s a grown man reading comic books for” dilemma. I’ve dealt with that in some shape and form and there are still people in my life who I don’t openly share that information with, not because of shame, but merely as an avoidance of inevitable judgment. It’s not like a simple Google of my name wouldn’t make that information readily available to anyone who was really desperate to know what I do in my free time.
Rather, when I refer to shame, it’s more about how my preoccupation with this chase has affected my behavior towards others. I wish I could sit here and be proud of the ways I acquired every single comic book in my collection, but like anything that involves persistence and money, bad behavior is inevitable. I just hate the instances where this bad behavior didn’t hurt those who are the closest to me.
Amazing Spider-Man #14 should be the crown jewel of any Spider-Man collector who is currently missing issues #1 and #3 (the first Doctor Octopus). It marks the first appearance of the Green Goblin, arguably Spider-Man’s greatest nemesis (perhaps things tilt back towards Doc Ock after ASM #700 is released). The first appearance of the Goblin also marked one of the longest-running ASM mysteries that I can think of when Stan Lee/Steve Ditko first teased the villain’s secret identity and then kept their lips sealed for more than two years when they finally revealed Norman Osborn as the man under the mask in ASM #39. Whether or not Lee and Ditko ever intended for the Goblin to have such a profoundly negative impact on Spider-Man/Peter Parker’s life is a question best asked rhetorically. The fact remains that he was still built up as a major antagonist and threat to Spider-Man from his very first appearance.
My acquisition of ASM #14 a I’d talk about from time to time, to a truly serious pursuit. And yet I can’t shake this awful feeling every time I think about this comic book.
For our first wedding anniversary, my wife bought me a copy of ASM #50, which, for numerous reasons, goes down as probably my single-favorite issue of Amazing Spider-Man. A year later, she came through again, and picked up ASM #28. A tradition of sorts was happening. But in retrospect, I realized it was happening organically. My wife was taking the initiative to subtlety talk with me about which of the remaining issues in my chase I was prioritizing. And she was getting quite good at learning the very objective comic book grading scale to determine how to get the best bang for her buck (i.e. targeting lower grade copies of comics that had flaws and damage that would reduce the price but not the overall aesthetic of the book’s most important areas visually).
As each anniversary came and went, I should have let this played out at her pace, without pressure. If she decided one year that a comic book wasn’t in the cards – either for financial or many other reasons – so be it. This was a gesture from her that honored the vow we ceremoniously made with each other in November 2007. It should have never become something that I essentially manipulated.
About a month before our third wedding anniversary I was browsing some online comic book stores and hit upon a once-in-a-lifetime deal for ASM #14. The issue was being sold by a reputable dealer that I had confidence in, was low-grade but still very attractive, and was priced incredibly low. In that moment, I knew that if I was ever going to own a copy of this comic, which I coveted so much, this was going to be the copy I had to own. I e-mailed the link to my wife explaining that it was an incredible bargain and I was thinking about ordering it there on the spot, figuring out which “rainy day” fund to raid at a later date. She immediately made sense of my semi-crazed lust, and decided that perhaps the better course of action would be for her to buy it for me for our anniversary. I obviously didn’t fight her on it, even if it spoiled the surprise a little bit.
Except, like most deals that seem too-good-to-be-true, by the time she got around to trying to buy the comic – minutes later, mind you – that copy of ASM #14 had already been sold, to someone I imagine now, is very very happy with his purchase. My wife e-mailed me the sad news with a “maybe next time,” kind of condolence. And that should have been that. Except that it wasn’t.
While I’m not a fan of hyperbole, I can best compare my emotional state after reading that e-mail to that of a shark’s after blood has been spilled into the water. I was crazed. Frenzied. Unreasonable. I was so damn close to owning a copy of ASM #14 that was the perfect combination of beautiful and (relatively) affordable. I have been such a dedicated comic book collector for years. I have slowly and patiently knocked off one issue after the next in pursuit of my ultimate goal to own every ASM comic book. I’ve been ripped off, or overpaid for countless comics. Wasn’t I owed something? Shouldn’t the universe have cut me a break and let me have this copy of ASM #14?
Rather than let the situation play out quietly and on my wife’s terms, I immediately scoured eBay, trying to desperately track down a similar deal for the comic. Of course there weren’t any, but I wanted this comic book. I needed this comic book. I wouldn’t accept anything else for my time or money but this comic book.
Like someone in a 12-step program, I went through all the stages. I ultimately determined that if my wife was willing to spend X amount for that other copy of ASM #14, how bad would it be for me to ask for something worth Y dollars more? After all, she was the one who got me hopped up on this pursuit for the higher-priced issues when she picked up copies of ASM #50 and #28 in the past.
So I sent her a number of links to other copies of ASM #14 that I had found on eBay. I told her any of them would be acceptable. Of course what I failed to consider was whether or not they were acceptable in her eyes. She was initially quiet after my request. And after some time, I got an e-mail back from her that said, “done.”
I don’t know if this is a personality trait all significant others share, but I can say with full confidence that the fewer words my wife speaks to me, the more I’ve ultimately offended or upset her. And despite being blinded by the ambition to own this comic, I knew immediately that I was a total schmuck for putting her on the spot like that.
Weeks later we eventually had the argument we needed to have about the whole situation. And I like to think I learned a valuable lesson about spitting in the face of someone else’s generosity. But it doesn’t change the story of how I came about to own my copy of ASM #14 – a story I’m truly embarrassed by.
All images from Amazing Spider-Man #14: Stan Lee & Steve Ditko