In Brooklyn, David Whitley finds himself choosing whether to buy omnipotence, invisibility or cybernetic henchfish.
There’s a sign by the door. “Rivalries and archrivalries must be left outside.” Ah, these wacky comic book types and their geek humour.
But there’s more. “The Cape Tester is – Operational; Free of Charge; Wonderful.” A Cape Tester? Hang on – this isn’t quite the average comic book store. As the sign suggests, near the entrance is a Cape Tester. It’s a platform with a big fan underneath. And if you’ve not brought your own cape with you, there are some handily racked up around the Tester for you to try. Oh, be still my inner child’s beating heart…
Sometimes you stumble across a concept so delightful that you just want to give it a big cuddle. Brooklyn Superhero Supply is one such concept. Upon stepping across the threshold it becomes obvious that it’s not a comic book shop. But working out quite what it is? – that’s a different matter.
In one display case is a skeleton. Advertised for sale around it are a lightweight ribcage and telescopic armature. On the shelves behind it in a jar of water are “cybernetic henchfish”, a particle collider, a human face and a vacuum chamber.
Then there are the screens, showing the threat levels from supervillainy. One area is ‘sorted’, others don’t fare as well - ‘threats’ and ‘disorderly’ are two of the more worrying updates.
Wandering through, different superpowers are for sale in what look like cans of weedkiller. Cloning fluid is a snip at $9. Invisibility ($10.99) and telekinesis ($14) are a bit steeper. Still, probably worth the investment in the long run.
In the middle of the shop is a red cage. Or, if we’re being accurate, a Devillainizer. Once inside it, a computer screen asks you a series of tricky questions to check just how maniacal you are. “Do puppies make you smile?”, “Do you live in a volcano?” and “Do you have a secret lair?” are amongst the teasers. I’m not utterly villainous, it turns out.
As I’m staggering around, utterly bewildered, a stream of children walks through. They head towards the metal shelves at the back, and suddenly the shelves swing open. Of course – it’s a secret back room.
But what the hell is going on in there? I turn to the man in a high chair looking down on the shop and ask. “It’s a volunteer project,” he says. “The kids are here for after-school tuition in whatever they need it in; history, maths, science, whatever.”
And all the superhero supply stuff? That’s a mighty elaborate front. The level of detail in everything is astonishing – even the most hardened adult could be lost for hours checking out every ingenious little sign and label. There are secret identity kits, fire extinguisher-sized containers dubbed ‘Instant Tsunami’ and so much more. So much effort has gone into what’s essentially an entrance hall to an after-school club.
“I hate to use to word ‘lure’, but it gets the kids excited about coming here,” says the volunteer shop assistant. “And we’ve always wanted creativity to be a focus, so it fits.”
And what’s in the jars labelled as ‘Gravity’ or ‘Omnipotence’? “Usually coloured sand,” he replies. “People usually take it out and fill it with candy then pass it on to someone as a gift. I fill them with stationary.
“But the money from the sales helps to run the program.”
Wow. I’m stunned, and cheered at the same time. What a fabulous way to get what are essentially donations for a worthy project. Charities who send chuggers to harass people on high streets across the world, take note.
Details: Brooklyn Superhero Supply can be found at 327 Fifth Avenue, Brooklyn. It’s run by 826NYC.
All content copyright David Whitley.