Reunited With Comics Past

It’s been more than 7 years since I first wrote my story about Amazing Spider-Man #300 — a comic that most who have followed my exploits in comic book writing and podcasting over the years will quickly note is an incredibly important piece of my childhood. The original story for ASM #300 was that I was a dumb kid, who bought this historic issue for face value on the spinner rack in 1988, only to read it to a pulp and destroy it, forcing me to go back out and pay an inflated price to reacquire it years later.

In the years since that post was first published on Chasing Amazing, my life has changed profoundly in both amazing and unfortunate ways: my son was born in 2011; I started the Amazing Spider-Talk podcast with Dan Gvozden; I completed my collection of every issue of Amazing Spider-Man (Annuals too!); I’ve written a book about Spider-Man; the basement (and boiler room) where I had long assumed my childhood copy of ASM #300 was hidden was flooded, thereby destroying everything in its path (including family mementos far more valuable than a comic book); my mom, long cast as a villain of sorts in my original ASM #300 tale since I assumed she was the one that saw the tattered comic on the floor of my room and threw it out, died after a brutal bout of cancer that has frankly changed my perspective on a lot of things in life …

But there was one constant in all of that — the one thing that remained true despite all the chaos and creation in my world: that one comic that I purchased for a $1.50 in 1988 and Jacks’ Candy Store on the corner of Centre and Atlantic avenues in East Rockaway, NY, was gone forever. All that was left was a cautionary tale of always taking care of the things you love, even the silly cartoon picture books, because you never know someday when you might need or want that thing again. I had obviously moved on, but every once in a while I would think about ASM #300 and wonder to myself “how could I have been so stupid and careless?”

And in a flash, this past week, that all changed. Suddenly the axis where that part of my mental universe rested has been tilted in such a way that … I’m not even sure what it all means.

It all started with a random Facebook message I got from my cousin while I was in Chicago to run the marathon a few weeks ago (PS, that’s another big change in my life since 2011 — I started running again in the summer of 2015 and have since lost more than 75 pounds, and I have finished three marathons). The message asked me for my phone number so he could text me something. After I gave him that, he said what he actually wanted to tell me was something better left to do in person, face-to-face. He was incredibly vague, but did let on “I have something to give you that you will be happy to see.” I was fine meeting him and meeting his requirements, though at the time (I was a little distracted by the imminent task of running 26.2 miles) it also seemed like an a fair number of hoops to jump through. So I told him I’d be happy to meet up when I got back to New York but I didn’t have the mental bandwidth to think more about this until after the marathon was done that Sunday.

The date and venue were picked (and for those who care/want to know, I ran a 3:17:57 in the marathon which was more than 31 minutes faster than my first marathon time in New York City less than a year earlier), a nice casual meetup at a bar/restaurant near both of our apartments. My wife immediately wondered aloud “I wonder what he wants to give you?” I had no clue. He’s a big craft beer guy, as I am, so maybe he had some special beer he picked up and wanted to share? But then why all the subterfuge? I honestly had no inkling of what was about to happen when we met up that night.

Naturally, the NYC bus was running behind so I had to walk from my apartment to the bar which made me a few minutes later than I initially projected. “Text me when you’re close” he told me, though “close” by foot and “close” by bus are two different things. I got to the door of the bar and decided to text because I knew he was a short walk away. I opened up a tab, thinking there was a chance of some fun reminiscing about to happen, grabbed my first beer and sat down. When my cousin arrived, I could instantly see the look on his face: it wasn’t that he didn’t want to be there, but he was incredibly nervous and panicked.

He grabbed himself a beer and sat down. I opened up with some chit chat and small talk not wanting to seem too eager about whatever it is he wanted to give me, or wanting to make him even more anxious than he already was. Then, somewhat awkwardly, he went right into it. He pulled out a plastic shopping bag that had some things in it. He gave me the synopsis: over the summer he had moved into a new apartment and for a number of years now one of the things that had changed apartments with him was a bag full of old comics that he hadn’t looked at closely since he was a kid. His wife kept asking him “what are you going to do about those comics.” Over the summer, he decided he would finally go through them and make a decision about getting rid of them. As he started doing that, he noticed a number of Spider-Man comics and he instantly thought of me (he’s read the blog, and I’m obviously the only person in our family to have written a book about Spider-Man).

It was at that point I recognized the shape of the items in his plastic bag were comics. At that I point I kinda rolled my eyes to myself thinking “he’s going to ask me if anything from his childhood collection was worth any money (and the with a few exceptions, the answer to that question would be “no”). Or if not that, maybe he wanted to show me what he had and offer to help complete (my already completed) collection with the lost gems of his childhood. I kept sipping my beer until there was a very sharp twist in his story.

He mentioned how in the top left hand corner of all of these Spider-Man comics, there was some scribbling in pen. It was all the same handwriting. He said it looked like a couple of numbers, but he didn’t if it was the price of the book, or something else.

My entire demeanor must have dropped in that instant because I very quickly realized where this story was headed. “It’s the date stamp from Jack’s” I said sorta out loud, but also kind of mumbling to myself. “I don’t think it’s a date,” he said. And that’s when I knew, he didn’t just have Spider-Man comics with him. He had MY Spider-Man comics with him — comics that were purchased at the Jack’s candy store when I was kid because they all had the little pen scribble date stamp that I blogged about way back when in this post. So he was anxious to meet up with me because he found old comics of mine in his apartment and he wanted to return them to me. That’s what was going on here. But how did he get them? And what comics did he have?

“I must have stolen them from you,” he said.

Well, yeah, that would have been my first guess, but I didn’t want to immediately leap to the bad conclusion here with my cousin. Then again, I immediately said something that wasn’t meant to entirely excuse the behavior, but is inherently true: “kids do stupid shit to each other.”

So the next thing racing through my head was “which comics did he have?” I instantly went through my almost encyclopedic memory when it comes to this kind of stuff to think of all the books I knew I had owned at some point in my life that I inevitably bought a second time around either as a teenager or adult. And yes, I would lie if I said my brain didn’t quickly seize on ASM #300, but that would have been impossible, right? It was thrown out by my mom. It was lost in the boiler room. It was lost in the flood. That book was lost forever.

As I’m having this conversation with myself, my cousin continued to equivocate as he also started to peel back the plastic bag from the stack of comics to reveal the haul I was about to be reunited with. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to hear or care about his profuse apologies — he clearly felt like shit for something he did (an albeit shitty thing) 30+ years ago — but at this point his words sounded more like the parents from Peanuts. It was just static and white noise.

And then I saw it. I saw Amazing Spider-Man #300. He had MY copy of Amazing Spider-Man #300.

I continued to sit there smiling and playing it off cool, but inside my brain I had ripped out a primal scream to end all primal screams. Was I angry? Relieved? Excited? I had no idea. But internalized screaming felt about right.

At that point, I needed to get up from the table. The bar has a separate window where you can order quick bites like burgers, fries, etc. I said “I need to eat, you want me to get you something?” He seemed surprised that I was offering to buy him something but, again, I was not necessarily mad at him for something that happened so long ago, and the need for me to extract myself from the situation trumped everything else I was feeling in the moment anyway. So I got up and ordered the food and while I waited in line I immediately texted my wife that he had my childhood copy of ASM #300 (and other comics too, for what it’s worth). Her response: “Wow.”

We ate our food and resumed the chit chat I had initially thought was going to be the premise of the evening. Talk about our families, and jobs, and wives, and all of that other stuff that you talk about with people you are friendly with, but don’t necessarily spend an inordinate amount of time with. I was honestly happy to be having the conversation because — just like when we were kids, mind you — my cousin and I have a lot in common in terms of interests and values. When it was time to go our separate ways, I joked that we needed to do this again “under less awkward pretenses” and I meant it. Hopefully he’ll take me up on it. Even if the ultimate revelation of the night was something that legitimately blew my mind in a somewhat unsettling way.

I talked to Dan about what happened because if anyone would understand what was up, it was him. I posted something vague on Twitter and spoke to some other friends. Many were excited for me. Some joked that I should sell my spare copy and get a return on my investment (I guess my second investment, years later), but I can’t possibly imagine parting with this comic given the circumstances of how I ultimately reunited with it. It’s not in great condition, though it doesn’t look any worse than a comic that was well-read by a 7 year-old version of myself.

Again, what’s the point in even debating this. I’m keeping this comic. The only question is do I seal it in mylar and place it next to the rest of my collection at its “secret location,” or do I hold onto it in my home for a bit just to continue to coexist with it on a regular basis until I can finally accept that this happened.

Because that’s the emotion that rules over everything else at this: that of shock and disbelief. Over the last 30 years I have run the simulations in my head over and over: “stolen by a relative” never came up. As hyperbolic as this sounds, this comic has come back from the dead to me. This is like one of those dreams I have where I’m reunited with my childhood Beagle, or when I see my mom again, right? It just doesn’t make sense. But here it is. Good to have you back, ASM #300.

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