“Hello, I’m buying this.”
“Ohhhhhhh, Happy Hogan, huh?”
“Yeah, I mean…”
“Oh, I’d better watch out! Ha ha ha.”
“I just want to buy the new Iron Man.”
“Okay, buddy. Ha ha, Happy Hogan! Ohhhh noooo.”
This was the conversation between a Waldenbooks employee and myself in 1986. Written out, it probably doesn’t seem all that bad. But make no mistake: I was being mocked. There were a lot of eyerolls happening. Look, the cover of Iron Man #210 is not the coolest of comic book covers, but it wasn’t supposed to be. Iron Man is in trouble and his friend Happy Hogan is making threats to a supervillain that he probably can’t back up. But when I was 11 years old, I wasn’t really equipped with the necessary skills to handle a situation like that and explain this all to a person who seemed like an adult. (Funny, back then all I knew was the Waldenbooks employee was “an adult,” but in reality he was probably 22.) It also didn’t help that my parents had just moved, in the middle of the school year, which meant I had zero friends at the time.
(A short aside about that: I am an only child and went to four different school systems between kindergarten and 12th grade. But that year was the worst move: Not only was it in the middle of the school year — when the move is during summer break, you can always seek out the other “new kids” on the first day — but the grade I was in was considered junior high where we had just moved from, but it was elementary school where we had just moved to. So, yes, I had to go back to elementary school and was put smack dab in a room of strangers just one random day. I remember everyone was wearing Jams. Remember Jams? Jams were not a thing yet where I had come from. Anyway, it was awful.)
I don’t want to get too sentimental (yuck), but comic books were the one thing, then, that I had that made me happy and didn’t remind me so much of how I wanted to move back to where we had came from more than anything in the world. And now this Waldenbooks employee had taken that away from me, too. I didn’t even buy the issue. I didn’t want it after that. Everything about Springfield, Mo. was just, at that point, awful.
Later, when I met up with my mother at Dillard’s (or J.C. Penney’s, or whatever department store she was shopping at) she asked why I didn’t buy Iron Man. I told her a quick version of the story, which of course prompted her to march me back to Waldenbooks, buy the comic, then demand an apology — which of course always makes things a little worse.
I think about that day a lot any time one of these controversies comes along in which a small, vocal group is upset over the casting in a superhero movie. It happens a lot. And everyone pays attention to it for a number of reasons: the biggest two being a) genuine outrage over something so obviously birthed in some sort of bigotry, and b) because it can provide attention and traffic for the author to point these things out. I don’t think “B” is the reason these things get written, but “B” is the reason these things haven’t been stopped by editors saying, “Hey, we need you to work on something else today.” And I realize I’m doing it myself right now. And it’s because of “A,” but “B” allows me to do it. What a world. (I do honestly think we give too much attention to these morons, but once it’s “a thing,” it’s “a thing.”)