The year was 1990. I was eleven years old living with my then single mother and my brother who had just gotten his drivers license. In those days my mother worked two full-time jobs in order to support my brother and I. She had divorced my biological father almost three years prior, a year after that my father passed away leaving my mother to pay a mortgage and raise two young children all on her own.
One of my mothers’ jobs was at a local laundromat and on the weekends I was allowed to go with her. So on Saturday and Sunday mornings I would wake up, grab a few G.I.Joe figures or a box of Legos and go with my mother to sit in the back of a laundromat for eight hours. It wasn’t bad though. I would sit and watch Saturday morning cartoons on an old black and white television, or wander around in the work space behind the industrial washers and dryers. Sometimes I even helped my mother with her daily tasks so I could check the empty machines for leftover change. But mostly I sat hidden under the hanging dry cleaning and played with my toys.
The other employees and patrons at the laundromat would comment about how quite I was. They would often comment on how they never new I was there. It would be as if I just magically appeared when my mother called my name telling me it was time to go home.
And that’s the way my life was back then. To me it wasn’t odd to spend my weekends with my mother in a laundromat, I was happy.
It was also around that time that my mother started dating John, the man who would one day become my stepfather. Now I’m not sure why. Maybe he was trying to gain favor with me or maybe he felt sorry for me because I was spending my Saturday in a laundromat. But on one Saturday in January of 1990 John came into the laundromat and asked if I wanted to go with him to Super-X
Super-X was a drug store chain, similar to CVS or Rite Aid of today. As I walked with John down the isle of toys that a drug store typically sold I couldn’t find anything that interested me. But then I came to a metal circular turnstile that held a variety of comic books.
Up until that moment I had never seen a comic book. I had watched “Spider-man and his Amazing Friends” and I had seen Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno on the weekly “Incredible Hulk” show. But I had never seen an actual comic book. The closet I had to a comic book at that time was a Fisher-Price storybook called, Batman and Robin: The Case of the Laughing Sphinx. The storybook was accompanied by an audio cassette which narrated the story. This had all of the components. It was printed. It had artwork and story about super heroes and villains. But it wasn’t an actual comic book.
The first comic book I ever held in my hand was Incredible Hulk issue #365. I can’t explain why and maybe this is just twenty-three years of nostalgia taking, but when I saw that book I was drawn to it.
I don’t think John knew the obsession he was about to unearth in me, but he looked and me and asked “Do you want that?” I immediately said yes and he said, “You can have a couple more if you want.”
Excitedly I browsed the other comics and found Amazing Spider-man issue #328 and The Might Thor issue #413. The cover price for each was $1.00. We checked out and John took me back to the laundromat where I spend the rest of the day reading and re-reading my three new comic books.
I was immediately hooked. The stories drew me in. There were references to story lines from previous issues. And most importantly at the end of all three comics there was a small caption that began with two very powerful words. “Next Issue.”
Over the next few weeks and months, John took me back to Super-X where I found those glorious next issues. He took me to the flea market and even to an actual comic shop where I found a treasure trove of what I learned were called back issues.
I read stories of Spider-man, Thor, the Avengers and most importantly the Incredible Hulk. I learned that Bruce Banner, the Hulks alter ego, started out as a quiet nerdy kid. He was picked on in school. He grew up with a father who was abusive towards his mother. The parallels of his life and mine were undeniable But most importantly I learned that despite all of the obstacles he grew up to become an incredible scientist.
Since then I have spent countless hours and embarrassing amounts of money to satisfy my addiction. I still have the very first comic I was ever given. And I will always keep it. John, who has been happily married to my mother for many years now often jokes that he awoken a monster in Super-X that day. And in a way he did. But not into a dark and distorted reflection of myself as the gamma bomb did to Dr. Bruce Banner, but into positive and hopeful version of me that I never new existed until I read that very first comic.