Updated: Feb 3, 2020
"THE LONG AND WINDING ROAD"
Near the end of 2001, Frank Miller made his return to the Dark Knight for the sequel to his 1980's mini series The Dark Knight Returns. The original was a 4 part dark futuristic story of Bruce as an old man and was a sign of the current times in the mid 80's. With this return to his dark future story, Dark Knight Strikes Again was another sign of the times and was a little ahead of the curve on what he saw in our own futures. This series did sell very well everywhere, but did leave fans a little disappointed. After the 15 years of popularity the Dark Knight Returns had received (many magazines placed it in the top 2 best comic stories of all time), fans expected more from this. Miller's art style had drastically changed over the 15 years and many fans didn't like his newer style. His story didn't feel as epic as the first series to most fans, but I personally feel it tackled different content that most readers didn't see as being relatable to the times. Dark Knight Returns covered many things related to Ronald Reagan's presidency and the current state of mind people had at the time. It was a time where we were beginning to be afraid of trusting others. TV shows and movies were about wars and worries of nuclear or even Russian attacks. We eventually grew out of the concerns of that time, but Dark Knight Returns took many of these things and spun them into a superhero story that could stand the test of time. Superman was the enemy we knew, the next generation was completely different than the one before them, a nuke was sent that Superman had to deal with and many more things that were at the core of the 1980's concerns people were having.
Dark Knight Strikes Again itself was a sign of it's own times but with things that didn't work much with a superhero story as it could have worked on it's own without being put into Batman. It showed how people were starting down a road of technology being everywhere and kind of taking over our lives. News shows with people dressing up as superheroes to get people to watch (a parody in part to the early 2000's Naked News show) and texting with cell phones becoming normal as opposed to calling people. These are just to name a few things. At the time, it was harder to notice that Miller was sharing his own thoughts and opinions about our current state and where we were heading in the future. He just did it through Batman's eyes. This is all my own opinion on what the Dark Knight Strikes Again was about and not taken from any other resource. I feel the book is better than initially received when you can see what he was trying to tell. With America's post 9/11 state, I suspect people expected something VERY different from Miller (something more in the vein of DKR with war propaganda or something) and had he made DK2 a sign of the current state, he would have had to scrap the whole story and start over. This series was already being produced when the 9/11 attack happened so I applaud Miller in not starting over to work 9/11 into it. Give this book a shot and with the current context of what things are like now, it might change your mind. I believe it was ahead of the curve on seeing where we were headed as a society, but done in a superhero way. :)
In November of 2001, Marvel comics published a comic book that we didn't think we would ever see. They were gonna finally tell the official origin of Wolverine (prior to the Weapon X Program). They were gonna give us his real name for the first time. This book came out and was a hit right out of the gate! I sold out in the first day (also didn't help that some of them came damaged during shipping and couldn't get replaced due to the popularity of it). I had to ask my girlfriend (Kim) at the time to check the stores in Indianapolis just to try to get enough copies to fill preorders for my customers. Fortunately between the 2 of us we fulfilled all the preorders. Also at this time, the Original Xbox system was released. People would soon be introduced to the Halo franchise. This seemed to be the final nail in the coffin that was Sega's last home console: the Dreamcast.
So at this point in my personal life, things had been going fast since getting out of high school. I didn't have the opportunity to go to college as life grabbed me and didn't let go. At the age of 19 I owned my own business that I ALMOST failed at, but came back like a Phoenix. I had switched jobs from a manager position at McDonalds to an office job at the Papers and was working at both jobs, moved out of my parents house and rented my own with a friend (Greg) and on February 2, 2002 I got married to my lovely wife Kim. During the following week while we were on our Honeymoon, Pernell and Riggle manned the store for us so we could take an actual vacation.
In April of 2002, Dreamwave Productions started publishing Transformers comic books set in Generation 1. The art looked amazing for a Transformers book and the story was fun. This was another one of those instances where we felt like we were being listened to for ideas (LOL). This series was hugely popular. At this time, ANY comic series using nostalgia was a hit. It was unfortunate when years later it was revealed that the artist/owner of Dreamwave was using a studio of artists to draw for him and taking all of the credit. Now this was common back in the 30's and 40's but in 2002, this was NOT what people wanted. We wanted the pencil art to be from 1 person and not others whose art was claimed to be someone elses. When this news broke, Dreamwave folded and the Transformers comic was moved to IDW publishing years later.
Following the huge success of the new comic book, Botcon came to Fort Wayne, IN on July 26, 2002. Greg, Riggle and I decided to go to this con to check it out. Greg had made a computer generated image of Soundwave for the computer portion of art contest. I made the picture (seen here) for the black and white portion of the art contest. I later colored it quickly in Photoshop. On day 2 we returned to see how we did. Greg won 1st place in his category and I won 3rd place in mine. For me this felt great. I was up against a professional who drew for the box art of the toys (who came in lower on the list), another picture of the dinobots (2nd place) done with charcoal that was about 3 times the size of mine and a 4 foot by 6 foot rendition of George Perez and Alex Ross's cover to Crisis on Infinite Earths with Transformers instead (1st place). I felt pretty accomplished with this. If you have the old Rhino DVD box set from Season 1, there are extras from this Botcon. It shows both mine and Greg's art on the video and even shows the both of us at one point watching a CGI cartoon someone made for the contest. It's pretty cool to be on the extras for that box set.
It was now leading into December of 2002 and Batman was about to get the biggest story arc to happen in years. After DC Comics bought Wildstorm from Jim Lee, they signed him to an exclusive contract. They hired Jeph Loeb (writer) and Jim Lee (penciller) to start the Batman "Hush" story arc in issue #608. This was another mystery series from Loeb in the Long Halloween style (which he is very good at). The mystery was: Who was Hush? With each passing issue sales kept increasing. My Batman sales were at only 4 copies a month before 608 and by the end of Hush I was up to 30 subscribers on the series. The hype of this series was growing with each and every issue. Some customers were coming in the day after each issue to get my opinions on what was going on in the story (I won't post spoilers of that here). I will say that I predicted a good portion of the story before it happened (except for the twist at the end). One of my regulars (Karl Schultz) was there every Wednesday to purchase Hush and then every Thursday to discuss theories. It was a fun time to be reading this story each month and have time in between each issue to speculate (before the internet was running spoilers everywhere). It was a very different experience back then. This was the first time in a long time where we saw customers just flooding in to get caught up on a story after hearing about it from friends. Fortunately for me I was ordering heavier than I really needed to at the beginning because knowing Loeb's work and Lee's amazing pencils, I had a feeling this was gonna be huge and took the gamble of over ordering. I was lucky enough to have made this decision as this allowed me to accommodate almost every person who came in after it started. This is one of my all time favorite Batman stories and I highly recommend reading it, but make sure to mention to me that you are doing it from this article. I will start you somewhere else and work you to Hush. I've learned over the years that if you start Batman with Hush, it's nearly impossible to get anything else to compare to it. But if I start you somewhere else, it gives a very good range on what Batman comics can be like.
Just a little side anecdote: With my 3rd place winning at Botcon, I decided to enter into an art contest on Mirage Studios official TMNT page in March 2003. My art was picked during one of their regular drawings and I won a TMNT comic signed by Peter Laird. I was pretty happy with this and the way things seemed to be building in the store more and more over these first few years.
Magic had been a little sluggish but was about to get another injection. In September 2003, Mirrodin was released. This block consisted of Mirrodin, Darksteel and Fifth Dawn. These sets were very heavy artifacts. At the time people purchased this set heavily. The borders of the cards changed and would later be known to the community as the "modern border". The Modern format of Magic now starts with Mirrodin and 8th edition to current. This is easily told by the modern border on cards. Now not all modern border cards are modern legal, but you can always check for an exact list online. Many of these older Mirrodin block cards that were very abundant in our area back then are now very sought after and can command a hefty premium.
October 8, 2003 marked the release of the Walking Dead #1 issue. Now originally we didn't order ANY of these into the store. We did have a customer who preordered issue #2 from Previews and asked us to do a reorder within the week of issue 1 coming out. To both of our surprise, it actually came. This issue has a print run of 3,000 copies and is very hard to find. The last book from the Modern era of comics to have a print run this small with an impact this big was the first print of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #1 from Mirage Studios. Now both of these comic series have had a HUGE impact on television. TMNT had and still has cartoons running on TV and numerous movies. It's issue one is one of the most sought after and expensive issues of the Modern era. The Walking Dead #1 inspired a hit TV Show on AMC that made this book shoot from being about $50 to over $1,000 a copy on average. The show has taken many liberties compared to the comic book, but if you like the show and haven't read the comic, definitely check it out. Like most adaptations, the book is better. I don't think any one could've predicted what would happen with this book. This issue came out at a time where EVERY company was getting on board the zombie train and publishing zombie related books every month. So the fact that this book came out in the middle of this and turned out to be what it is today is amazing.
Sunday afternoon, February 29, 2004: I was sitting at home relaxing on my day off when I got a phone call that would affect everything. The police were calling me to tell me they found my store broken into and my alarm didn't go off (side note; this has been fixed since). I went into immediate panic and hit the road. I drove to my store to find my front door busted out and parts of the store wrecked. The cash drawer was found in the grass beside the building, almost EVERY video game and system was gone, the first 3 long boxes closest to the door were gone (mostly Action Comics and Adventures of Superman), almost all of my sealed Magic product gone, my computer and most of my music CDs gone as well. There was over $13,000 worth of product just gone. This could have easily marked my business not recovering. Losing almost my ENTIRE line of video games and most of my sealed Magic product was gonna cost a fortune (that I didn't have) to replace. The comics were gonna be rough to not have, but I still had another 40 long boxes that didn't get taken and the highlight comics on the wall were fortunately not touched.
That very day, I called every one of my friends who helped me in the store for assistance with cleaning up and remembering what was stolen. Not to mention, just moral support as this crushed me. I didn't now if my business would survive this. I also didn't want to have to start sleeping at the store to watch for someone to break in. That day Riggle showed up and told me his Mom coincidentally worked for a security system business as a salesman. We called her in and she gave me a quote to upgrade my system to be way more efficient. We did it and within a couple of days the new system was up and running so that the security system would never falter again.
Not knowing how I was gonna get my store to survive this hit, I just tried to keep chugging along. When customers showed up and saw the front door was boarded up with wood (as we were on a waiting list to get the glass replaced) they asked what happened. Even after the glass was replaced they noticed our inventory was way lower and wondered why. I started to reorder sealed Magic product slowly (as this was dipping heavily into the nest egg I had been saving after the scare from my initial first 2 years). I told ALL of my customers that if they had ANY video games they didn't want or any Action Comics or Adventures of Superman I would be interested in them. I needed to get my inventory back up to normal ASAP. This was when I got humbled very quickly. Many of my customers brought in items to replace the stolen stuff. Some of the games were even better games than I had originally (even though I did have some gems in the initial inventory). When I asked them how much they wanted out of them (as money was tight), many of them said they wanted to donate them to my store to get me back up and running. With these offers I tried to give them something still and almost every one of them refused to take anything. Some of them just gave me amazing deals too just to get going again. After I got back on my feet, I did give them some stuff as a thank you and a trade-in quality and at that point many of them were happy I still gave something back after I was back up and running.
Wow, I had and still have some of the best customers I could ever ask for. Without the help of these customers I might not have been able to recover as quick as I did. I can NEVER thank those of you who did this enough. It really touched my heart and showed me what my store means to all of you. We are more than a store, we are a community. We are friendships. We are forever grateful to each and all of you. We are #teamchimpscomix.
2 months or so later...
So I'm working at my store on a Tuesday (I think) and a customer walks in to sell us some video games. They begin to take a toploading NES out of their bag and a red flag goes off for me. This customer proceeds to pull out stacks of Super Nintendo and Nintendo cartrides out of a bag. I see Final Fantasy III (which was one of my stolen items) along with other games that seem to be ones I lost. I begin to examine them and noticed that each and every one of them has sticker residue on the backs of them right where I put my Chimp's Video Game Trader stickers. They took the time to peel the stickers off but not get the residue off. After I notice over 40 of these games have the residue perfectly matching the size and place I put my stickers I ask the customer how much he wants out of them. Regardless of the price he told me I was gonna agree. At this point in time we hadn't been taking people's ID's to sell stuff, but I told him I would need it to process the payment. I had planned on writing him a check and then calling my bank and cancelling it. He told me he left his ID at home but would run and get it. I asked a good friend of mine that was there at the time to follow him. My friend came back in shortly to tell me he saw that he lived about 2 houses away from the back of the store. Which this was good to know in case he didn't come back.
Lo and behold he did come back with his ID! I wrote down every single aspect of it and cut him a check. I immediately called my bank and cancelled the check. I then followed that with a call to the local police department. They told me to keep what I had but to not sell it in case it was needed as evidence. The very next day the case was solved. He and a friend were up late and walked past my store. They then decided it was late enough that it might be interesting to them to break in. I personally don't know why. It was about 4 am. They broke the door and went to his house to watch for police. When the police didn't show up, they started making multiple trips until almost daylight then stopped.
The police raided both people's houses and grabbed what they felt matched any of my reported stolen items. I was called in to check the items they found and figure out what was mine and what wasn't. In the end, I did recover my computer, some of my CDs but not all of them and some of my video games but also not all of them. About 1/3 of the comics were found still sellable and some more were found but destroyed. The Magic packs were all opened thus killing their values as they hadn't pulled any valuable cards in them. They also had less cards than what was stolen returned to me. In the end out of the $13,000 of retail value stolen, only about $5,000 of it was found and returned.
This was a rough thing for me to deal with and I do greatly thank each and every one of you who helped me through this. This experience plus so many others (some of which I have already written about) shows me so much. I love my job, I love working with so many of you, I love building a community and friendships, and I love just having fun with all of you. The great conversations we've had over the years. The support so many of you have shown for my business. We can't thank you all enough. I've always said I didn't take this job to get rich. I did it for the passion of the industry and each and every day my interactions with so many of you make this job worth it all.
Thanks again for reading this and make sure to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram. Join our website Level Up! blog.
End Part 5...