The Day Superman Died

A story of the Adventures Comics Comics Emporium

Read at the Tamale Hut Cafe Reading Series, November 19, 2016.

It's 8:45 A.M Friday morning, the day of the week the new comics come in. I walk in the back door of the Adventure Comics Comics Emporium to start my shift. The other guys are already there, having returned the distributor with that weeks releases. My partner at the counter is "Rampaging" Rich Hambridge. Our boss is Unca Lar. My name's Dave Tippett. I sell comics.

We're expecting a busy new comics day. Earlier this week, major newspapers reported that the issue of Superman that comes out today is going to contain a big event. Superman will die. The regulars at the store, and anyone who follows comics, has known about this for months, but with the press coverage, now everyone knows. We're bracing for an onslaught.

Unca Lar has anticipated that the issue will attract many new customers to the store. He's had a countdown sign in the window all week, and today had Rich tape the outline of a body on the carpet in front of the counter to play up the death angle. He also has displays on the counter of some other popular books to entice the curious drawn into the store read about Superman dying. It's 8:55 A.M.

"Are we ready for this?" I ask. "There's already a few people standing outside the front door."

"Piece of cake," Unca Lar says from his usual spot on the ugly floral print couch behind the counter. He points to the shelf next to where he sits. "I have two thermoses of coffee and the biggest bag of Doritos that the convenience store carries."

"I mean the comics."

"That, too," he says. "All the subscribers have their copies in their pull box and I have a case of the platinum edition and three cases of the newsstand edition for the stragglers."

I look to the front door. "That going to be enough? The crowd's getting bigger."

"It's all I could get, but it should be plenty. Remember: one platinum or three newsstand per person."

"Got it," I say and take my spot at the counter.

Rich goes to unlock the door and the crowd rushes in. The first guy reaches the counter. It's 9:01 A.M.

"Is this the new Superman?" he asks, pointing to the stand on the counter. "The one where he dies."

"It is," I reply, and he takes a copy and starts to flip through it. "Have you been reading the story up 'til now. It's been pretty good."

"No, I haven't seen a comic in years. I just heard about this on the news."

"Then you might be interested in the previous issues. This one makes more sense if you know the story building up to it."

"That's okay. I only want this one." He pays me and walks away from the counter, flipping through the pages as he goes. The next several customers give the same story. Never been in the store before. Heard about the issue on the news. Aren't interested in buying anything else.

"Dave, how's it going?" is the way "Payday" Phil Conrad greets me. He points to the outline of a body in tape on the floor. "Nice decor. Early true crime?"

"Fatality in the DC Universe," I say as I hand Phil a two-inch stack of comics. "You might have heard about it on the news."

"Ah, I don't read the news. Too much depressing stuff. I like my reading to be in four colors." I nod my head as he steps aside to sort through the pile. The next customer is a guy in a suit.

"I'd like a case of that book where Superman dies," he says, pulling out his wallet. "How much is that?"

"I'm sorry, but there's a limit on copies. Either one polybagged or three newsstand."

"Polybagged?"

"Yeah, the platinum edition comes sealed in a plastic bag. It contains the comic book and a poster and an armband." I hold up a copy as an example. "Costs more with the extras."

"That's the one I want. I'll take all that you have." He starts to pull bills out of his wallet.

"I'm sorry, sir, but these are limited to one per customer."

"That's crap," he says. He then looks over to where Phil is poring over his pile of comics. "What about that guy? He's got more than one comic. And he has two of those baggie things."

Unca Lar pops off the couch. "He's a regular customer here who buys 37 different titles each month. He has two of the platinum editions because he ordered them three months ago. Had you placed an order three months ago, I might have been able to get you a case, but I'm afraid today you're limited to one copy."

"Fine." The man pays me, takes his one copy and storms out of the store. Everyone in the store watches him go.

Phil says, "Not a satisfied customer."

"No matter," Unca Lar says. "We'll never see him again." He sits back down on the couch and takes a sip of coffee from his Batman mug.

The rest of the morning passes. The regular customers stop by in between a steady stream of the curious public. Some people pick up only the death issue. Some seem genuinely interested in the story, so I point to previous issues in the storyline. A few more speculators stop by and leave, unsatisfied with buying only a few copies. It's 12:45 P.M.

"So what do you want to do about lunch?" Rich asks no one in particular.

"I have a taste for a sub sandwich," I reply after handing a customer some change. "How about Mr. Submarine?"

"Yeah, I could go a sub," Unca Lar says, standing up and stretching. "How 'bout you, "Mythical" Mike? You sticking around for a while?"

Mike is a regular. He'd come in the store about a half-hour ago, and had been hanging around the counter, discussing current events, like the sudden demand for Superman comics, although as a confirmed Marvel Zombie, he is probably the only person who's come through the door today and not bought a copy of Superman 75. "Thanks, but I really have to get going." He waves as he gathers up the bag with his purchases and leaves the store.

Rich says, "Yeah, subs are fine. What do you want?"

Unca Lar says, "Gimme a Mr. Sub with everything, and a large Coke. And here, lunch is on me." He hands Rich a twenty.

"Thanks," I say. "I'll have a roast beef and cheese, just the beef and cheese, and a Coke."

"Be right back." Rich grabs his jacket and walks out the back door. I turn to see a woman at the counter. She's with a young boy of maybe 8.

"My son's friends are all talking about this Superman comic and I wanted to get it for him."

"Is he a regular comic reader?" I ask.

"No, but I remember reading them when I was young, and I thought I'd get him started."

Unca Lar stands up. "And you want to start him with the one where Superman dies?"

She stops and turns a little red. "He said his friends were talking, so I thought…"

"Might I make a suggestion?" Unca Lar walks around the counter to where the woman and child are standing. "Comic books are a bit different from when we were young. Many have mature subject matter, and even the ones you think might be kid-friendly, like Superman or Spider-Man, have storylines which, while not unsuitable for young readers, they might find confusing." He walks them over to the corner rack and takes a title off the shelf. "Disney Comics is publishing this series and I think it would be ideal as a first comic."

"Uncle Scrooge," the woman says. "I remember reading him when I was a kid."

"Many people do. The writer and artist of these stories, a man named Don Rosa, is a devotee of Carl Barks, the man who created most of the stories you probably remember from your youth. These new stories are like the classic ones. They're well written, beautifully drawn, accessible to the youngest reader yet with enough actual story to keep adults interested. Rosa's stories are head and shoulders above the type of pablum that is usually sold as children's comics. In fact, I guarantee you will like it. If not, bring it back and I'll refund your money."

The woman smiles. "How can I pass up a deal like that?" She pays me for the comic, thanks Unca Lar, and leaves with child in hand.

"She's a good mom," Unca Lar states confidently. "That kid's gonna be reader." He again flops down on the couch.

The stream of customers is steady, spurred on by news reports of brisk sales and bold predictions of the current issues future value. Soon, the platinum issues are gone and the supply of newsstand editions dwindles down so we're forced to limit customers to one issue of that. It's 4:15 P.M.

"But I need three copies," a customer protests. "I have three kids."

Unca Lar asks, "They can't take turns reading it?"

"Oh, they're not going to read 'em. I was going to put 'em away for them."

Unca Lar frowns. "You'd be better off taking that buck and a quarter and putting it in a sock."

"But the news talks about how much those old comics are worth. I figured that I'd get a couple of these and the kids might be able to sell them later."

"I hate to burst your bubble, but I don't expect these to appreciate much more than any other comic here. That said, do your kids read?"

"No, not much."

"I think you'd do better to pick up a couple comics that they'll read. It's been proven that kids that read anything do better in school. We have a variety of things here." Unca Lar walks the customer over to the section with books for younger readers.

"He's really good at that," the man at the counter says. He's buying a copy of the Superman issue, as well as the current Batman and Fantastic Four. He told us that he hadn't read comics in years, but after seeing the news stories, he thought he'd pick up a few.

"Unca Lar's business is selling comics," I say, "but he wants people to read them, not just hoard them as collectibles to be resold later."

"That's smart thinking."

The day passes and we see through the front window that the sun is going down and the streetlights are coming on. Rich pastes a "Sold Out" banner over the countdown sign in the window when we run out of Superman comics, after which the only customers coming in are regulars. It's 6:20 P.M.

The door opens and "Titanic" Tony and "Bargain Box" Bob walk in. As they approach the counter, Bob notices the taped outline on the carpet. He points to it and says "Who'd Unca Lar kill today?"

"The last guy who asked if we had a copy of that new Superman book," I reply. I hand each their stack of weekly comics, each has a copy of the platinum edition of Superman 75.

Tony picks up the bagged issue and turns it around in his hand. "So what's this worth today?"

"Two-fifty, minus your usual discount."

"Such a deal."

Just then, the door opens and a man walks in. He approaches the counter and says, "Do you have any copies of Superman #75, the platinum edition in the bag?" Tony and Bob look at the outline of the corpse on the floor, then look up at me.

Before I can say anything, Unca Lar walks out of the back room. "Sorry, we're all sold out. Interested in the newsstand edition?"

"No, I want the collector's item or nothing."

Before Unca Lar can answer, the door opens and a young boy walks in. Billy had been a regular for the past six months, and although he only follows a few titles a month, he's an enthusiastic reader.

"Hi, Billy," I say as I reach under the counter to grab what's in his folder. I contains only one comic, a copy of the platinum issue of Superman 75. The speculator's eyes follow the comic as I hand it to Billy.

Billy looks at the package and says, "Great! I've been dyin' to read this." But when he flips it over, he says, "Oh, but I don't have enough money for this. I thought I'd have the cheaper one." He hands me back the polybagged comic.

"That's no problem, Billy," Unca Lar says as he takes the package from me. He puts it on the counter and with a quick pull, rips open the bag, the speculator inhaling sharply as the bag tears. Unca Lar takes the comic out, which is identical to the non-bagged edition, and hands it to Billy. "Here you go. Regular price! And you might as well take the poster and armband, too."

"Thanks," Billy says. He hands me a bill and walks happily through the door. The speculator looks from the empty bag on the counter to Unca Lar, shakes his head, and walks out the door.

As the door closes, Bob asks, "Why did you do that? You could have just sold him the book for half-price."

Unca Lar smiles. "It's no big deal. Billy was going to open it anyway, because he wants to read the story. Plus, did you see the face on that guy when I opened the bag?"

We laughed long and hard, then talked comics with the guys until closing time. Rich locks the door as he usually does, and we get ready to leave. It's 8P.M. Earlier today, Unca Lar got word that the printer had rushed a second printing of Superman #75, and it should be at the distributor in time for an early morning pick-up tomorrow. It's going to be a busy Saturday.



© Matthew Bieniek, 2016.