November 18th, 1992. That was the day that DC Comics killed Superman. As any good comic book fan knew, Superman would not stay dead. The American public thought differently. The Death of Superman turned into a major media event. The story was covered by local newspapers, news outlets, and Entertainment Tonight. The general public went completely berserk for the comic. Stores that would normally sell fifty to one hundred copies of an average issue of Superman/Action Comics were besieged by an untold number of customers. Superman #75, in both black-bagged memorial edition and regular non-bagged copy, sold in the millions. Stores literally could not keep up with demand. Lines to comic stores went around full city blocks all across America. It was, that day, the norm for a store to sell one to ten thousand copies of this book.
And it was my mission, on November 18th of 2002, to get a copy from Jim Hanley’s Universe in Manhattan for my dad’s assistant, Amy Wachtel. I had been a customer at Jim Hanley’s Universe since I began going to high school in New York City in 1990. At the time, JHU was located on 32nd street between 6th and 7th avenue – directly across from the exit of Madison Square Garden. The Long Island Railroad runs through Madison Square Garden, so my daily commute from Great Neck took me straight past Jim Hanley’s every day. Every Wednesday, I would walk home from Dwight High School on 64th and 1st (or was it 62nd and first – either/or) and schlep myself, book bag and all, 32 city block and nine avenues (1st to 2nd, 2nd to 3rd, 3rd to Lexington, Lexington to Park, Park to Madison, Madison to 5th, 5th to 6th, 6th to Broadway, Broadway to 7th or 5th to Broadway and Broadway to 6th, 6th to 7th, depending where I started going cross town. Broadway runs a diagonal through the Manhattan) to pick up the latest comics.
I continued this habit while interning at Marvel Comics and while interning at Valiant Comics – Jim Hanley’s may not have been the premier comic book shop in New York City at the time (that may have been Forbidden Planet), but it was certainly the most well run. The comics were laid out attractively, the store was brightly lit, and the employees were friendly and helpful.
This was not the case on November 18th, 2002. I had stopped by my dad’s office on the way home from school and was confronted by a frantic Amy.”I just have to get a copy of the Death of Superman issue!” she begged.”You’re into comics right? Can you get me a copy?” I love a challenge, so I told her I’d get it. Off I went, with $5 in hand, to pick up a copy of Superman #75 from Jim Hanley’s.
By the time I arrived at the shop, around four in the afternoon, the issue had completely sold out. I found this out after twenty minutes of waiting, as the relatively small store was so packed with customers that the line was down 32nd street all the way to Madison Square Garden. This was not the shop where I had picked up the first five Cerebus Graphic Novels or the latest issues of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman. This was instead a scene of near-Christmasian proportions. I take that back – it probably was easier to find the”hot” toy of the holiday season on December 24th than it was to try to get a copy of Superman #75 at 5pm that day. Dejected, I picked up a few of the issues that led up to the death issue.
As I trudged back uptown to the BMG office building, I ran into people trying to scalp copies of the issue on street corners for $30 to $50 a piece. A literal black market for Superman #75 had sprung up on Broadway from 32nd street to Times Square. I had less than a dollar change after buying some of the earlier issues for Amy, so even the lowest priced illicit copy was well out of my reach. When I arrived with the copies of the wrong issues, Amy was not happy. I had to reimburse her the money for the issues. I later resold those copies for about $10 each during the height of this Superman craze, so it worked out for me. I hadn’t done my job, and Superman #75 was out of my reach.
In 1994, while I was a student in New Orleans at Tulane, there was a man by the name of Tony Parodi who frequently stopped in at Jim Hanley’s Universe. Tony hated the feel of newsprint, and was not there for comic books. However, he had gotten into this great new collectible card game, and wanted Jim Hanley’s to start carrying the game, so he could pick them up during his lunch break. After weeks of pestering, the store employees finally agreed to order a single box of product. The product had already gone up above retail price on the wholesale level, so they priced the packs at $10 each. The box of Legends was put out at the register that morning at 10am. By noon, the entire box had been sold.
It was then that the employees of Jim Hanley’s Universe realized that there was something to this new game. It was then that these employees kept a note of the game, and began formulating a new sort of plan. You may have heard of these employees at Jim Hanley’s Universe. The three were Jim Pernicone, Glen Friedman and Brian David-Marshall.
I had run into Brian, Jim and Glen for years, without knowing who they were. I would run into them again in March of 1995, at my real Magic tournament.
Ben can be reached at [email protected].