#108: Strange Visitors

January 4th, 2013

The middle-aged woman with the short, red-dyed hair burst into the shop and asked in a thick, Hispanic accent if they had Hit-Girl #5 yet.

The heavy man, bald as Lex Luthor but with a beard worthy of Niles Caulder, looked up from the book he was reading on the couch, blinked and said yes they did. He then directed her to It Girl #5.

In all fairness, it was a very thick accent.

Also in all fairness, he clued to his gaffe within seconds. He called out to her to clarify and directed her to the right place. After all, no comic book shop employee would think even for a moment Hit-Girl #5 was out when Millar and Romita were clearly were only up to 4.

It was a small shop on Kedzie, just north of the actual Logan Square square. The plump, pleasant Luthor-Caulder hopped around, answering customer questions with pep and encyclopedic detail.

Despite what The Simpsons says, most comic book guys are lovely fellas if you can either speak with some degree of knowledge about Spider-Man or are honest about not knowing and let them tell you.

I fell in the later category as the man and a young woman made me prod them for spoilers about Peter Parker’s latest misadventure. (He’s dead, damn it. He’s dead dead dead like Superman was and how they killed Batman and Captain America and Robin II and Bucky I and Flash II and Flash IV and Hal Jordan and now Spider-Man so he must must must be eternally dead, never to resume life in about four to six months in a big crossover event.)

The woman was a slim, pale thing there to buy something that would be the bridge between her boyfriend’s anime and her American mainstream superheroes. Since she liked Batman books and he liked Hellsing and Gon, I leave it to you to find something halfway between leotard orphans with vigilante issues and a puckish yet violent dinosaur who interacts in complete silence with lushly rendered Japanese scenery.

That’s Gon. Hellsing has vampires. The clerk tried to find her something with vampires.

A few others came in and out. The clerk, the woman and I had a nice conversation about the misery porn the Spider-Man titles have become. I picked up the newest Witch Doctor, but couldn’t find the The Shadow issue I’m missing from the “The Fire of Creation” storyline. It’s #4 in case anyone has a line on that.

I guess I should write something ponderous about comic books as our American mythology. Every geek worth his NaCL loves to compare Superman and Batman to the heroes of old.

Or maybe I should talk about geek culture becoming popular, a fact every trend magazine seems to stumble upon in amazement every four to six months. About the same amount of time it takes for a superhero to come back from the dead, now that I think about it.

But what really interests me about comic book shops is that they’re what stores used to be. They’re almost all locally owned and run by people who know their product and their customers incredibly well. Once you’ve found “your” store, you’ll walk in and be greeted with a hello, the most recent issue from your pull list and an offer of the latest news on an upcoming project by a writer you mentioned liking once about six months earlier.

Replace “recent issue from your pull list” with “that new saw blade you ordered” and you’ve got a 1950s hardware store. Replace “the latest news on an upcoming project by a writer you mentioned liking once about six months earlier” with “some lamb” and you’ve got one of the corner butcher shops the old-timers tell tales of.

People talk about the death of the local store. They talk about local retail as an industry killed by malls that were killed by Big Box stores that are in the process of getting slowly strangled by online purchasing. They think giving your money to someone who dares know your name and your preferences is creepy and somehow weird, but beeline for the self-checkout at the supermarket with no hesitation.

All that stuff still lives on at the comic book shop (and at the local sex shop, if you really want to get into it, but that’s another afternoon entirely). Local ownership. Knowledge. Care. Pride in their work. It all still lives if you know where to find it.

Granted, it helps if you like The Shadow.

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Read about nerd culture with more nudity

Niles Caulder does have one hell of a beard

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