Friday, March 13, 2009

Why I'll Never Be As Rich As Bruce Wayne

Rob Kelly - I'll never be as rich as Bruce Wayne.

That's mostly because my parents aren't loaded, so they don't have a Vast Kelly Fortune to leave me. But even if they did, I think my stunning lack of business acumen would render me broke within a few years.

I have two cringe-inducing examples of this, and they both involve Batman.

Back in the mid-1980s, I was working at a Roy Rogers restaurant (mmm...bacon double-cheeseburgers...) and, because of the store's immense turnaround in employees, I was making a decent amount of money--something like $8/hr. That may not sound like all that much, but when you consider I was only about 16, living with my parents, no car, no bills of any kind, and this was around 1987, that ended up being a nice-sized check every week.

Having no bills to pay, that of course meant all my money went to my "habit", which was of course...heroin. No, no, of course I mean comic books.

And, around that time, I had exhausted my local store of its most interesting back issues, so I needed a new dealer (amazing how many terms involving drugs and comics overlap). I went searching for other stores to plunder, and found one in Center City, Philadelphia--Fat Jack's, located and 20th and Sansom.

Traveling by myself into Philadelphia seemed like a wonderful, adult adventure, which only added to the store's allure. And once I got there, I realized this was the store for me--thousands and thousands of back issues, all kinds of new comics I had never seen (what's this thing called Cherry Poptart?), and the walls were covered with Golden Age treasures, books I had never seen outside of an Overstreet Price Guide.

The books that most enticed me were a string of late-1940s issues of Detective Comics, with those gorgeous Dick Sprang covers. Here are three of the approximately 8-9 'Tecs I picked up:
Now, while these issues were reasonably priced, they were still rather pricey for someone in my financial situation. I remember them each going for around $40-$50 each, which means I could basically afford one a week, after I bought all my regular books.

After about two months of this, I decided to move on to other Golden Age books on the wall. For whatever reason, this was the only issue of Detective I left behind:

...I'm sure at least some of you are slapping their heads in Homer Simpson-like frustration right now, realizing that the above book is nothing less than the first appearance of The Riddler, one of the seminal books in Batman's long history.

You see, at the time, I was not as well versed in comic history as I am now, and I thought that The Riddler was a contemporary of The Joker, The Penguin, The Catwoman, etc., meaning I thought he debuted in the very early 1940s, and that this issue was just another appearance.

I didn't know that The Riddler came along a lot later, and was a relatively minor villain, until the Batman TV show came along and catapulted him into the ranks of Batman's greatest foes.

This single issue is worth something like five grand now (there's a copy in absolutely decimated shape on eBay selling for $920!). Had I bought it, it would've been the single most valuable comic book I've ever owned.

And to think, I left it on that wall...

Ok, flash-forward to 1988. I'm in my final year of high school, and word of an upcoming Batman movie is making all of us comic book fans salivate with excitement. Imagine, a Batman movie!

Right around this time, DC ran their whole "Let's Kill off Jason Todd" thing, in a four issue series. You remember it, don't you?:
...I had bought all four issues, because I was a regular Batman reader.

I had no idea, as most people didn't, that a wave of collecting frenzy would hit these issues, and thanks to extensive media coverage of the Death of Robin, these issues suddenly became very, very hot.

Among my group of high school friends, it was known I read comics. So one day, one of the girls in the group approached me. She asked me if I had all four of those Batmans where Robin dies.

I said yes, and she told me her boyfriend desperately wanted them, and would I be willing to sell them?

Before I could think of answer, she told me he'd be willing pay $50 each for all four books. Wow, I thought--$200.00? That's a lot of money, but I said no, I don't think so.

A few days later, she approached me again and said he was willing to up the offer--to $100 for each book.

This was getting serious--$400 for those four Batmans? To a seventeen year old with (again) very few expenses, $400 was a friggin' fortune. A Wayne Family-esque fortune.

But...I still said no. Those issues were beloved to me, they were important, and besides they'd only go up in value (cue Homer again), so I passed.

If I ever had access to a time machine, this is one of those moments I'd return to. After the young me walks away, the old me would grab me(?), slap me around and tell me that within a short time you'd realize those issues were, for all the talent behind them, total crap--ridiculous story, weak art (forgive me, Mr. Aparo), and a ghoulish, nasty gimmick that would presage the blood and guts superhero era that was the 90s.

I'd tell myself that, in less than two years, I'd sell 99% of my comics collection to help pay for art school, and that those issues wouldn't even be counted as anything unique, special, or value. They were just so much more paper stuffed in a longbox.

But of course, I don't have access to a time machine (yet), so I have to live with the pain of realizing that I've had two separate encounters with Batman comics where I left a lot of money on the table.

Sadly, my dream of a Rob Kelly Foundation Building (with a cool tree in the middle of the frigging thing!) will never be fulfilled:


Anonymous said...

>all my money went to my "habit"<

The only problem there is the "all" in that sentence, Rob!

(A lesson many are learning now, during "Great Depression II.")

-Craig W.

Anonymous said...

But would you wear a disguise as the old you, so young you wouldn't be thrown off as he aged, slowly becoming the very man who slapped him around?

I think every comic fan has made these kinds of "mistakes" - at least you never let it affect your love for comics. The Rob Kelly Foundation Building will live someday... financed by your blog empire's earnings!


Vincent Paul Bartilucci said...

Great tale, Rob.

I can't think of too many instances where I made the wrong "financial" choice regarding comics. But I've made my share of "artistic" errors.

In late 1983, I was low on cash and looking to trim my prodigious monthly comic book bill. The comic I chose to cut? The Saga of the Swamp-Thing.

My last issue of Swampy was #20 - Alan Moore's first!

Rick L. Phillips said...

Well Rob at least you didn't take advantage of that girl. If she and her boyfriend broke up she would have hated herself for spending $400 on him for comic books.