Most of the time walk-ins think I was passed down books from my dad or an awesome uncle. Nope. I owe it all to Matt Rubio. In the second grade Matt brought a small stack of Marvel trading cards, we sat on the bleachers at recess and he showed me all his favorites. Then a sunbeam screaming my name fell from the heavens and landed on an Iceman card (that may or may not be an exaggeration, who knows I was 7). My boy crazy heart soared. Who was this spiky-haired young man? What was he shooting from his hands? Was he bad? Was he good? All I knew was that he was cute and I wanted to carry this card around in my wallet so I can stare at it during Social Studies.
Later Matt Rubio would pass along some cards he had duplicates of but never that Iceman. I had to make do with less muscle-y, less spiky Iceman for a couple of years. When I was 10 I discovered my first local comic shop. For the life of me I can’t remember the name, I know some people know it but I was too young and too overwhelmed to recall. It was located on a mini strip of stores tucked inside the South Coast Plaza parking lot. Two or three doors from Friar Tux I walked into the most magical place. Completely overwhelmed by the sheer number of books to look at I remember someone asking me who my favorite superhero was and, of course, I immediately said Iceman. I can’t even remember if it was a man or woman who asked me much less their reaction but I like to imagine they were befuddled as to why this tiny Asian girl so quickly answered with such a throwaway character. They pointed out some issues of Uncanny X-Men and 3 of the 4 issues of the 1985 mini-series. I walked out of there with all of it.
I must have paged through those books hundreds of times but soon I would be pressured by friends and peers to give up such tomboyish whims and focus on what was really important. Like Clueless and Leo DiCaprio. And while Clueless remains integral to my daily life (I still wish I had a computer with all my dresses and motorized closet) I regret giving in and listening to them. Instead of continuing my search for shiny, spiky, ripped Iceman I would be left with only the half dozen back issues I kept on the bookshelf next to my bed and episodes of X-Men: The Animated Series I watched by myself on Saturday mornings.
Flash forward to summer of 2000. It was a year of triumphant farewells (N*SYNC’S “Bye Bye Bye”), pleas of identity crisis (Eminem’s “The Real Slim Shady”), and the mystery of a century (Baja Men’s “Who Let the Dogs Out”.) Non-stop news coverage of a young Cuban boy’s escape to America (have you seen Elian Gonzalez lately, he looks like brown Dylan O’Brien – YUM) and of Russell Crowe in strappy sandals kicking ass and making ladies swoon. But for me it was the summer of X-Men. After begging, lots and lots of begging I was able to convince my grandmother to take me to see X-Men. It was summer, the kids at school didn’t have to know I wasn’t tanning by the pool or roller blading at the beach (IT WAS 2000, OKAY?!) For 104 minutes I was transfixed. I remember as the end credits rolled I thought to myself, I don’t care what people think. This is too cool not to love. I need more.
That is why I’m never upset when people find comics after watching the movies. It doesn’t matter how you got there, what matters is you have the books in your hands and you can’t stop reading. Which is what happened to me. At the end of summer I bought the DK Ultimate Guide to X-Men and basically brought it to school with me every day.* Even though we were practically carrying our own weight on our pubescent shoulders I still lugged around that oversized hardcover. Teachers would roll their eyes and tell me to put it away when I had it underneath my worksheets and notebooks. And luckily the other kids didn’t make fun of me. In fact, one day in religion class my childhood crush wanted to stir up some trouble and started humming the theme song to X-Men: TAS. (This was my first ~sploosh~ moment before I fully understood what ~sploosh~ meant.) I wasn’t alone in my love for mutants!
Of course after this it was massively downhill. I was already spending hours on end in Barnes & Noble, now I had a brand new section to pour through. I vaguely remember trying to go back to the comic shop I found years before but it felt different. Or maybe now that I was older and resembled something closer to a teenager the salesperson’s patience for me had run dry. Either way I wouldn’t go back to a comic shop regularly for years. I started asking for comics for the big present-receiving holidays. I remember piecing together the entire run of Generation X and feeling like Indiana Jones at the end of The Last Crusade. Eventually after living in the townhouses behind J&J Comics I found my way back to the welcoming arms of an LCS.
In 2007, after the recommendation of my younger brother who became a staple at J&J’s he suggested I try Comics Unlimited, especially since I was always at Bella Terra. We used to come in every week, we were Friday regulars. With our loud, vulgar conversations of sodomy and fart jokes Mark, Nancy, and Lainey all started to expect our weekly binges. When people see my Expedit Ikea bookcase full of graphic novels they assume it’s all been accumulated since I started working at the shop, but really it was our weekly routine of picking up my paycheck from Barnes & Noble (buying a few books there), going to Comics Unlimited (buying a few more books there), and then trekking over to the Borders in Crystal Court (and buying EVEN MORE books there).
My friend Victor got hand-me-down comics from his older brother and sometimes I really wish I had that too. It seems so much more organic. But then I realize that even though Matt Rubio was the one who first introduced me to the world of mutant abilities, I was the sought the books out. I wanted to see the movie and after watching Hugh Jackman flip James Marsden the bird via adamantium claws I strove to learn as much as I could about this crazy convoluted world.
Maybe one day I’ll write an article about why I love the X-Men. Or which are my favorite storylines. Or why I stick around even though there are forty different titles and somehow they all feature Wolverine. Or maybe I’ll make a whole series about it. But right now I’ll end this happily admitting that even after all these years, all the books I’ve read and movies I’ve watched and god-awful crossovers I bought I still think Bobby Drake is a grade-A fox and he could totally get it.
*The absurdity of carrying around that damn X-cyclopedia (har dee har har) was because we didn’t have lockers in junior high, we carried all our books with us every single day. I remember an overly cautious mom weighed her son’s backpack and found it weighed almost as much as her child. He didn’t have a lot of friends, she was usually to blame. I like to think he was the inspiration for Buster Bluth.