Discourse

A story of the Adventures Comics Comics Emporium

Read at the Tamale Hut Cafe Reading Series, November 24, 2019.

My friends call me 'Unca' Lar, and I am the sole proprietor of the Adventure Comics Comics Emporium. Today is Saturday, which is the busiest day of the week in my store. New comics come in on Friday, but not everyone can make it here after work or school or whatever. Many subscribers stop in on Saturday to pick up new books from their pull box, and to just hang out with other like-minded individuals and talk comics. We also get a number of neighborhood kids stop in, and I do what I can to turn them into life-long readers. I'm trying to foster a little community here centered around reading. That's part of the reason why I've given some of my regular customers their outrageous nicknames: to help make them feel at home in this four-color newsprint world.

This particular Saturday afternoon, we had some of the usual suspects in the store. 'Rampaging' Rich was working the counter, 'Bargain Box' Bob and 'Mythical' Mike were bickering, as usual, with 'Titanic' Tony watching from a distance, waiting to jump in at a moment's notice. I was on my favorite spot on the floral print couch behind the counter. Today's dispute started with one of those nonsensical questions we frequently hear at the shop: if two hero characters were to fight, who would win? I say nonsensical not because it's a trivial question, as it's clearly important to the fans who are backing one character or another, but because there's no one right answer. We're dealing with fictional characters, and so we are subject to the whim of whatever creator was assigned to that book that month.

"So you're saying that Thor could beat Hulk in a fair fight?" 'Mythical' Mike asked incredulously. "I don't see it."

"It's all in your definition of 'fair'," 'Bargain Box' Bob said calmly. "If you're talking strictly fisticuffs, Hulk might have the edge. But Thor's got his hammer, Mjolnir. With that, I don't see how the Hulk can win."

"Well, that's not fair then, is it? Thor's got a weapon and Hulk doesn't."

One of the kids standing by the racks chimed in. "But that's part of his superhero thing, the hammer, so it should count. Hulk usually doesn't use weapons."

"Unless he's throwin' a tank at someone," Bob chuckled. "But the kid's right. The hammer's part of the shtick."

"Mjolnir's not shtick," Mike snapped. "It was forged by Dwarven blacksmiths, and is made of Asgardian metal."

"It's a hammer," the kid said. "My dad's got one in the basement."

"You know, guys," 'Titanic' Tony interrupted, "it's a moot point because neither of those two could beat Superman."

"You're nuts," Mike replied. "Mjolnir is a magical hammer. Isn't Superman vulnerable to magic? Thor'd beat the snot out of him."

Another of the other kids, a boy in a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles t-shirt, added, "And magic? What a goofy weakness to have. 'Ooh, I'm sorry, Lois. I tried to stop the bank robbers but they put a spell on me!'" Several in the crowd guffawed at that.

Rich turned to me. "'Unca' Lar, you want in on this before it gets ugly?"

"Nah," I replied, "Let 'em have their fun. Lively discourse is what our country was founded upon."

Rich shrugged his shoulders and resumed watching the debate.

"Alright, then," Tony said. "What about Wonder Woman? She's just as powerful as Superman."

Bob said, "But she's a girl."

One of the other customers, a thin girl looking to be in her mid-teens, asked, "And what's wrong with girls?"

Bob paused with a blank expression for a second, then sputtered, "Nothing. But we're talking about Thor and Hulk here."

"You Marvel Zombies are all the same," Tony sneered. "You think Marvel is the only company putting out comics."

Mike shot back, "And you DC fanboys aren't interested in any character created after 1960."

Since the name calling had begun, I thought it might be time to rein the guys in before it came to blows. I started to get off the couch when the music started, and I heard Tony sing:

(sung to the tune of Jet Song from West Side Story)

When I buy books,
It's just DC for me
From my first Superman
To the new Justice League

Comics are strong
with the Golden Age team
Be it Batman or Flash
Lantern, Arrow, both Green

The bad guys are fierce
Like Joker and Lex Luthor
Gorilla Grodd
Bizarro and Black Adam
and big, bad Darkseid

Created by greats
guys like Shuster and Seigel
Julie Schwartz, Gardner Fox
Carmine Infantino,
DC's the place
To get
the best!


I peered over the counter. The row of back issue boxes had been cleared from the middle of the store. Tony and Mike faced each other in the center, surrounded by the other customers, who seemed to be moving in time to the music. Some were making jazz hands to the floor as if in anticipation.

Then it was Mike's turn:

Marvel's the group
from the brain of Stan Lee
It's the House of Ideas
And that just right for me

Heroes like Spidey
Thor and the Hulk
They could all wipe the floor
with that Golden Age junk.

The bad guys are cool,
like Galactus and Magneto
Doc Ock and Red Skull
Modok, the Green Goblin,
and we got Kingpin


"What the blue blazes is going on?" I asked Rich.

"Discourse," he replied. We watched as the crowd around started to sway back and forth, like wild animals stalking prey, or a group of high schoolers waiting for someone to open the pizza boxes at dinner. Tony sang:

House of ideas
Ha! Just don't make me laugh
Marvel took their ideas
from the DC back shelf.


To which Mike replied:

At least there's ideas
Not just more of the same
DC rehashes tropes.
That is really just lame!


"This is gettin' outta hand," I said.

"I got this," Rich said, and he vaulted over the counter like a gymnast over a pommel horse. He separated two kids who started shoving each other as Tony and Mike continued on to the big finish, with lots of hand waving and finger pointing:

DC's got raw strength
With Superman and Spectre
They'll take you all down
with Wonder Woman and the
Martian Manhunter

If you want to talk strength
then Marvel's to beat
From the Hulk on to Thor
Iron Man, Wolverine
And the Ever
Lovin'
Blue-eyed
Thing!


Then the music stopped and everyone froze. It was like the end of a low-budget Broadway musical.

"Lar! Hey, 'Unca' Lar!" Someone was shouting my name. I realized that I was laying on the couch, with my head on the arm. I looked up and Rich was ringing up a customer's purchase, and I saw 'Bargain Box' Bob peering over the counter at me. "You okay?" he asked. "You were mumbling something about discourse."

"Yeah, I'm good," I said. I stood up and stretched. The sun was shining in the front windows of the store. Mike and Tony were deep in some conversation, and a number of kids were browsing the racks and digging in the back issue boxes.

Rich leaned over and said, "You know, you should stop having those jalapeno cheese on toast sandwiches. You said it gives you strange dreams."

I clapped him on the back. "You're probably right, 'Rampaging' Rich. You're probably right."

© Matthew Bieniek, 2019.