An addiction to a beloved story can be just as exhilarating—and ultimately debilitating—as any chemical dependency. And sometimes the only way to get off of it is to quit cold turkey.
Six weeks after the disastrous arrival of The Marvellous Mulberry, Nathe’s epic disappointment, shading into anger just this side of homicidal, had readied him to take a previously unthinkable step: selling his prized collection of Mulberry figures and memorabilia. Sadly, nearly half of it was junk he had bought in the optimistic run-up to the prequel’s release. In a market now glutted with them, the new figures were a dead loss. But the originals? They might still have enough value to help him raise some extra cash, stay ahead of the house expenses, and pay the extortionate quarterly property tax payment of $2,375. He was already one behind.
So, with a heart heavier than his case of vintage plastic, he packed up and set out, trundling off to Yesterday’s Heroes to offer up the very flower of his collection—twenty-one original action figures, which he’d kept in near mint condition since the early ’80s. These were truly rare commodities, all the more precious now as talismans of what was, what should have been, and what would never be again.
The clerk behind the counter, his face buried in a well-thumbed hardbound edition of Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight, was less than a decade older than Nathe, overweight and bearded, yet looking entirely at ease on his micro-empire’s leatherette throne, a king of coloured paper and painted plastic. Comic book sales were not paying the rent by themselves any more, so the rear third of the store had been given over to a make-shift Internet café, where eerily silent players were strapped into their first-person rpgs for hours on end.
Nathe meekly anted up. “I’d like to sell some figures.”
“What have you got?” the clerk said without peeling his eyes off the gripping graphic novel.
Nathe pried open the sturdy postal crate that cradled his precious cargo. “The entire first collection from Ghost in the Machine, and twelve more from Mano a Mano. Not boxed, but pretty near mint. I’ll take your best offer.”
The clerk’s gaze came up from the panels of blue and grey psychodrama. There was an unspoken understanding—this was a raid on the piggy bank, a pawning of an entire childhood’s worth of memories. Nathe needed his mercy.
The clerk let out a pained sigh as he began fingering the iconic treasures in their snack-sized, transparent baggies. The few scuffs and bits of chipped paint only added to their charm. These had been loved. He let out a more profound sigh.
“You’ve got some nice stuff…”
Nathe’s spirits improved at this assessment. He didn’t hear the implicit ‘but’ coming.
“If you had brought these to me two months ago, I could have given you $400 for them and turned around and sold them for $800.”
Nathe provided the fearful “But…?”
“Now, I can’t give you anything for ’em.”
“But surely there are collectors who—”
“You know, you’re about the fifteenth person who’s come to me with a box like this in the last six weeks. I’ve got two cases just like it here under the counter. I can’t sell ’em. It breaks my heart, but…” He glanced up and, with a hand outstretched like God to Adam in that immortal fresco, he directed Nathe to a faded poster. “You see that?”
Dangling from the shop’s ceiling on two strands of wire was a large blow-up of perhaps the single most recognizable production still from the great Mano a Mano—the iconic final confrontation between Gareth Draclo and Mark Mulberry, grappling with one another on a ledge of alpine ice, just before they plunge to their mutual destruction.
“You see that beautiful image? That thing that we all remember and love? That was destroyed on July 26th…”
Nathe stood there feeling destroyed, but there was no arguing with the man. He knew exactly what he was talking about.
“I’m really sorry, dude. I don’t know what to say. I hate to be the one to deliver the bad news. Take it up with Frank Castle,” he shrugged, returning to his book.
“Thanks…” Nathe muttered.
The shop took on the light of a community drop-in center, where young people like him could gather to recover from their collective cultural trauma. Yet the people here were still taking pleasure in their video games, and the clerk was once again deeply absorbed in his Batman. They seemed to have moved on, or just moved over, transferring their loyalties to other franchises, other media that didn’t hold much attraction for Nathe. For him, it had always been Mulberry or nothing. And that left him feeling uniquely ripped off, bereft of the comforts of a familiar narrative.
He stepped out into the windy mid-September street and felt like he had entered Mulberry’s noir world of trench coats, neon, and curling plumes of cigarette smoke. The street was made cooler and lonelier by this final shock, a last insult to top off the whole experience. Plastic transmuted into gold had once again turned to dross in millions of tiny and not so tiny hands. Now, he just wanted to get rid of it all in one grand gesture, ejecting Mark Mulberry and Frank Castle from his life for good.
He contemplated setting himself up on the street with a cardboard sign:
One Childhood for Sale
– $100 or Best Offer –
Shattered Dreams (Inextricably) Included
But, no, that would just be too pathetic.
The only way it wouldn’t seem like a complete waste was to donate everything to charity. So he popped into a nearby phone booth, feeling less like Superman than a Super-schmuck, made a couple of calls, got a recommendation he could live with, and then took a two-hour round trip by subway and bus to the unassuming suburban offices of an ngo working to stop child labour in wide swaths of Asia, where most of that same Mulberry merchandise was manufactured, incidentally. He even got a tax receipt. It felt like a liberation, not unlike a good big bowel movement after two or three days of constipation.
But when your favourite story has made you a storyteller, it is not enough simply to put away childish things. To finally escape his influence, the Master must be outdone, bested, defeated somehow. And Nathe was far from finished with Frank Castle.