Martin Casas owns Apotheosis Comics & Lounge in St. Louis, Mo; he's also an avid comic collector. He's collected some 3,000 comics over thirty years. A week ago, every single one of them was stolen.
Casas kept his personal collection of comics at a local storage unit. Thieves clipped the padlock and stole all 10 boxes containing his collection. They left behind a dresser and exercise machine. Casas told the local media he was livid, but as he was with his 10-year-old daughter at the time, he tried to remain calm. The story, however, was just beginning. The rest of it plays out like scene straight from the pages of Batman.
SYFY WIRE reached out to Casas to ask him about his experience. We asked him how someone goes about collecting 3,000 comics in the first place. He says, "The first comic I ever had was Batman #435, THE MANY DEATHS OF THE BATMAN part 3. The issue has this great John Byrne cover and this great story about a guy who figures out that Batman would have trained with the best of each field in the world - so the guy starts killing the people who trained Batman. My grandma bought it for me, and it started a tradition of her buying comics for me every time we went shopping."
Here's Martin [right] with his favorite Caped Crusader [left], ready to administer justice.
See, for Casas, collecting comics was never about amassing a collection he could sell. He collected for sentimental reasons. He has comics from the day his daughter was born, and the day he was married, all of them were gone. Casas reported the burglary to police, who informed him there had been a string of storage unit break-ins recently.
Casas opened Apotheosis Comics & Lounge about a year ago. The new shop is always looking for donations to amp up their supply. When a woman called the Apotheosis to tell them she had some comics she'd like to sell, they were welcomed with open arms. A meeting was arranged and the woman walked in carrying a large white box of Captain America comics. She left her name and number with the staff. Casas didn't even have to see the books to know they were his stolen comics. He could tell by the handwriting on the side of the box which read "CAP."
"We always do valuations of whoever brings in a collection and ask for a name and number to call them back, so I knew we would get some info back in the COMPLETE DUMB LUCK ONE IN A MILLION CHANCE the thieves brought the comics to MY SHOP. When I saw notes on the side of the box of which issues wherein the box in my handwriting I got overly optimistic, but when I pulled out my copy of [Captain America] Truth: Red, White and Black with a line from a red marker that some stupid maniac at another comic shop marked the book with to toss it in the quarter bin — I knew this box was mine."
Casas called the police; then he called the woman who had left her name and number along with a box of the stolen goods. He arranged a meeting at the request of local law enforcement.
At 10 a.m. the next day, Casas and the woman were set to meet. Over the phone, the woman said she and her boyfriend had recently come into quite a few comics, go figure! For the next twenty-four hours, Casas would have to wait to see if he would be reunited with his collection. While waiting, he did some detective work of his own on Facebook. There, he located the profiles of the alleged suspects. It turns out the couple were selling quite a few items on Facebook Marketplace, a Craigslist type service where you can list and sell items. He felt it seemed likely he was looking at the two people who had broken into his storage unit.
The next morning police from the burglary unit arrived at Apotheosis. They set-up inside the store, one hid upstairs, another in the basement. A third officer waited outside. The woman called and told Casas she was running late, she wouldn't be there until the afternoon. Casas became concerned she wouldn't show, but she soon called back saying she was about 45-minutes away.
The moment was here.
When the woman entered his shop, Casas recognized her as the person whose Facebook profile he had looked at. He took a deep breath, and tried to play it cool. She approached the sales desk and asked Casas about what kind of deal he could give her for all these comic books she had. Those were the magic words. The police emerged from their hiding spots. Two officers placed the woman in custody while the third officer was with her boyfriend, who was in a car parked outside the store.
While in custody, the thieves told police where the stolen comics were located. A few hours later, Casas reunited with his entire collection. Casas says he was relieved; "My collection has some valuable books but my collection is mostly rooted in specific life events and memories. I was sad about losing those books. Plus I like to give them out as gifts and I have curated books I know I can give out for birthdays, anniversaries, kids in my kids' class, friends."
Here's a look at the recovered comics:
Casas informed The Riverfront Times that it was without question the most bizarre 24-hours of his life. Since the story was published two days ago, it's gone viral. SYFY WIRE asked Casas which experience has been more bizarre, he admits to being a little uncomfortable with being called a real-life superhero.
"While I appreciate the sentiment, the 3rd District Burglary Division of the St. Louis Police Department are the real heroes. They did all the hard work. All I did was lead her back to the store, and then try to act busy and do anything other than be completed enthralled by this police interrogation happening in my shop in front of me."
The St. Louis Police Department could not comment on the suspects or release any additional information as the investigation is ongoing. The SLPD did say the case has been submitted to the Circuit Attorney's Office. Warrants, however, have not been issued at this time.
When asked where Casas will keep his prized collection now he said, "Well, I'm not taking them back to that friggin' storage center. The remodel on our house is almost done, and they will have to work around the boxes. THEY ARE NEVER LEAVING MY HOUSE AGAIN."
Casas has kept a sense of humor about the entire thing, and had some advice for novice collectors out there, "Collect out of love. Get a comic, read it, roll it up and put in your pocket and give it to someone else so they can enjoy it. Shops are community places where we all get together and talk about comics and why we love them."
We couldn't have said it any better ourselves.