In Forbidden Planet, a shop located on the corner of 13th and Broadway in Manhattan, Ruben Miranda arranges, argues over, and occasionally sells comicbooks. Although Miranda (the youngest of five born to Puerto Rican immigrants who came to New York in the mid-60s) doesn’t have it all, he does have what all Americans want: a job he cares about.
For the past 30 years, Miranda has been an avid reader and collector of comicbooks. His current collection includes 160 boxes crammed with somewhere between 300 or 400 issues per box, depending on thickness. Many of them, especially the older ones, are worn out from repeated readings. While a shrewd investor would never remove the merchandise from its plastic sleeve, frayed books denote an owner who enjoys an intriguing plot.
“It doesn’t have to be a particular genre or a particular writing or drawing style; if the storytelling is good, then I like it. Tell me a story in an entertaining way, and I’m with you forever,” said Miranda.
Recommended Reading: Comics guru Ruben Miranda suggests books based on the individual customer.
Miranda became attracted to comics around the age of ten when he witnessed a friend steal one from Gilbert’s Diner, a restaurant previously located along 138th street in the Bronx. His friend had paid Gilbert for a single issue at the cash register while deceptively holding a second issue behind it. That’s when Miranda first thought, “Whatever these things are, they’re good enough to steal.” Miranda later returned to Gilbert’s and exchanged 30 cents for a Batman comic, where on the last page Batman gets shot in the head with a gun at point-blank range while flying a plane. The story was to be continued. For Miranda, a life of accumulating comics had begun.
I met Miranda at Forbidden Planet, an established temple of fantasy since 1981. The interior has creaky wooden floors, t-shirts and posters of Transformers, Captain America, The Simpsons, ThunderCats, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer from floor to ceiling, and rows upon rows of figurines, DVDs and comicbooks. The only surface that lacks character is the white, slanted ceiling. Clean-shaven men, primarily in their 30s and 40s, dressed in plain jackets, pants, and running shoes skimmed through issues with silent reverence.
Miranda was wearing baggy light-blue jeans, a black t-shirt and glasses with a bit of tape wrapped around the right hinge for support. His hair was black with some grey beginning to appear. He was busy with his favorite part of the job besides meticulously filing books: helping customers.
“I connect people with the books they want. When someone is looking for a gift for a boyfriend, girlfriend, nephew, or whatever, I have to figure out what this person would want. Most of the time it’s not really a big problem; I just ask them the right questions and try to find a match,” he said.
Miranda got his start selling comicbooks by being a voracious buyer. He would frequent conventions so often that he eventually became acquainted with the merchants. One of the vendors, who ran a business with his wife, was drawn to Miranda’s vast knowledge of the comicbook universe. When the vendor’s wife became pregnant and could no longer work, he hired Miranda to take her place. Miranda transitioned to the other side of the table and has been there ever since, working at several conventions across the country and eventually earning a permanent job at Forbidden Planet about two years ago.
“I thank that little girl that was born every time I see her,” said Miranda with a chuckle.
Miranda put on a brown sweater and we walked around the block to Pie By The Pound, a regular haunt for Forbidden Planet staff members that sells thin slices of pizza by weight. With its purple- and orange-colored theme and plastic chairs, the restaurant looked like it should have served Bubble Tea, too. “They have cheap beer here,” said Miranda.
We sat down at a table near the back, where for nearly two hours Miranda told stories. He talked about the Golden Age of comics in comparison to the Silver Age; the problem of writing a drastic event to win over new fans at the cost of damaging the canon’s integrity; the brilliance of comics like Cerebus and the Pulitzer-winning Maus; how feminism changed the Invisible Woman for the better.
Then the conversation turned to the death and rebirth of superheroes. Miranda argued that comicbook editors betray the fans when they kill off the men and women wearing masks and capes for purely marketing purposes, only to quickly bring them back again.
“A lot of people get emotionally invested to the characters they follow for years, and they really care what happens to them,” he said. “When you see a character go through an enormous conflict, which sometimes can only be resolved by them sacrificing their own life, it’s cheapened when that sacrifice turns out to be for nothing because they’re brought back ignominiously.”
He doesn’t like Hollywood’s evisceration of superheroes, either. “When watching the latest X-Men movie, I couldn’t get out of the theatre fast enough,” said Miranda. “I should have made a note of who was responsible for this movie so I can avoid them in the future.”
When he speaks his words are devoid of irony. There isn’t a tinge of cool detachment used to hide behind if ever accused of being a nerd. He admits to once being the “geeky guy who knew that extent of certain powers, or how powers affected certain guys, or how one guy could affect another guy with his powers.” Now he says he’s mostly beyond those childish trifles. “I don’t care if Batman is cooler than Superman. I mean, I don’t even believe that to be true – Superman is so much cooler,” he said before letting out a contagious laugh.
Miranda never graduated from college, not even from high school, but his ability to articulate his thoughts coupled with his enthusiasm for Shakespeare make him someone whom any English university professor would be pleased to have enrolled in her seminar. Miranda eventually got his GED.
If Miranda could be endowed with a super power he’d pick telepathy. That way, he figures, he would never be worried or surprised because he would always know what the other guy was thinking. “Also, I’d realize that chick does like me—I heard her think it,” said Miranda, who lives at his cousin’s house in Queens. “I don’t have to be timid about making a move or anything. Telekinetic would be nice too, but I don’t want to be greedy.”
Miranda never did find out what happened to Batman in the first comic he ever bought. For him, the story remains unresolved. “If I ever come across that next issue, it will be the last comic I ever buy. Everything else would just seem anti-climactic after that.”
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