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Confession: I was a comic book nerd as a kid.
I’ll give you a moment to collect yourself.
I’m still a bit of a comic book nerd (though to a much lesser degree), but it’s different as an adult. Now when I read a comic, I appreciate it as an art form, as I would while reading a book or watching a movie. I absorb the writing and mull on it long after I’ve stopped reading. I don’t just look at the artwork, I study it. I still enjoy it, laughing and gasping at all the right parts, I just appreciate it on a different level than I did all those years ago.
When I was a kid, it wasn’t art, it was escapism. I didn’t care about writing and artwork any further than they kept me engrossed in the story. One perk of writing for younger audiences is you can toss trope after trope at them and they lap it up. And lap it up I did, so immersed and engrossed in the stories that I spent half my youth daydreaming of being a New Mutant or an X-Man. Girls had Sweet Valley High, boys had Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters.*
It was tough being a comic book nerd in the Philippines in the mid-80s. You couldn’t subscribe to comics, you had to hunt down each issue (good luck if you miss something). You had to read through page after page of ads for amazing toys that would never make it to the Philippines. And, worst of all, you were tortured with these back-page catalogs promising an endless array of amazing things. X-Ray specs and Sea Monkeys and secret agent periscopes! A Sultan’s trove of novelties and wonders that I would never be able to sample (much to my folks’ relief, I’m sure).
Imagine, then, my thrill at discovering the secret hero lair I’d always dreamed of.
Setting foot in the Brooklyn Superhero Supply Co—New York’s outpost for 826 National, a network of youth writing centers cleverly disguised as themed storefronts—was like stepping into one of the comic books of my youth. All the toys and gadgets and gizmos I had been denied were neatly stacked in boxes on shelves, from sonic blasters to grappling hooks (!) to x-ray specs. And if that weren’t enough, they had a wide assortment of proper superhero gear, handy for those looking to replace a cape or pair of hero boots.
Like the other 826 centers, the Superhero Supply Co’s storefront isn’t very large yet still manages to offer a seemingly endless opportunity for exploration and futzing. Boxes upon boxes of gadgets line the shelves while other displays draw your attention throughout the room. A de-villainizer, to help misguided people change their ways, and even a cape testing station (which is trickier to get a good picture of than one might think). And if you manage to somehow run out of things to poke, prod, pry, and peruse (like that’s even possible), there are dozens of little gags and easter eggs tucked away throughout the store. Their attention to detail is impressive and you can lose hours reading over every little bit of flavor tucked away throughout the store.
I wasn’t able to stick around for long this visit, but I’m sure I’ll be back. I’d frequented their Pirate Store in San Francisco many times over the years I lived there, I’m sure this will be no different. The 37-year-old pragmatist may recognize this as little more than a cute novelty shop with gimmick toys and clever set design, but the 12-year old in me doesn’t give a damn because they’ve got frickin’ grappling hooks.
Besides, I’ve still gotta figure out that cape machine.
* For the most part, at least, in the mid-80s. I actually knew a few girls who read X-Men (and a few boys who read Sweet Valley High).