When Fabian Fernandez read his first copy of Batman, he was hooked “forever”. From then on, at the age of 14, he began collecting that comics series.
“I was totally engrossed with Frank Miller’s Batman: The Dark Knight Returns,” said Fernandez, 46, a marine engineer who works in Melaka but lives in Klang, Selangor.
“Until today, I would rank that comic issue as one of the best comic books I have ever read. One of my friends loaned it to me to read.”
He is overwhelmed by the comic book’s intense characterisation, coupled with powerful storytelling.
“The storyline of an aged Bruce Wayne who comes out of retirement to fight crime and, at the same time, faces opposition from Gotham was very dark and gritty,” he said. “Additionally, the illustrations of that issue were classic.”
He confessed that he has never looked at other comics or characters, preferring to keep to earthly, superheroes without super powers – like Batman. Nevertheless, he also has some special issues of The Punisher.
The friend who loaned him that comic book that set his heart a-flutter had, however, stopped collecting Batman comics after some time. But Fernandez’s love for Batman comics is still going strong.
A huge fan and enthusiastic collector of Batman comics, he now has over 1,200 issues.
In fact, he thinks that locally, he may be “the one” with the most extensive collection of Batman comics.
“In Malaysia, I doubt there is anyone else with such an extensive collection, in running order, from 1985 to the current Batman titles,” he said.
Fernandez favours Batman above all other superheroes because “he is the only superhero who does not have superpowers yet does extraordinary things. His achievements are well within the abilities of normal humans and very rarely go beyond the realm of reality. Also, Batman relies on his intelligence, investigative skills, martial arts abilities, science and technology, and his wealth, to achieve his goals.”
The Batman character, Fernandez said, portrays someone with extremely strong willpower and drive. The story of Bruce Wayne/Batman is inspirational. Wayne (the secret identity of Batman) is a wealthy American playboy, philanthropist and owner of Wayne Enterprises. After witnessing the murder of his parents Dr Thomas and Martha Wayne as a young child, he swore vengeance against criminals.
Other than comics, Fernandez also collects Batman-related merchandise such as DVDs and pewter designs.
He said: “I have all of Chris Nolan’s Batman series (Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises and Batman vs Superman: Dawn Of Justice) in Blu-ray.”
Fernandez regards Ben Affleck as the actor who best portrays Batman. Other actors who have played the role include Michael Keaton, Christian Bale and Val Kilmer.
“The Batman character broods a lot. Of all the actors who played Bruce Wayne, Affleck is closest and remains truest to the comics version,” he opined.
He also said that “one very distinct thing in the comics is that Batman does not kill people, or reveal his identity. But in the movies, this isn’t always the case. There is often too much dramatisation in the movies!”
Some people, he said, would “blink and stare” when he mentions that he collects comics. Fernandez’s friends, too, are surprised that he still collects them, thinking that one’s childhood interest in comics would fizzle out after some years, and probably also that comics are only for children.
But to Fernandez, comics is an artform – storytelling with pictures – that has universal appeal to all, regardless of age.
Boom time for comics
Fernandez began collecting comics “in an era when comics were starting to become popular again!”
He said: “During the boom for comics in the 1980s and 90s, comics shops mushroomed all over Malaysia. Later, the interest for comics fizzled out, possibly because of the advent of video games and the Internet.”
When comics shops closed down, he had to order his comics (which he still does) from Midtown Comics, the largest comic book store in the United States.
He has some rare issues, like the first print of Batman: The Killing Joke, Batman: The Cult, and some newer titles like Batman: Shadow Of The Bat and Batman: Legends Of The Dark Knight.
But these days, he just maintains two series, Batman and Detective comics, as well as any special Batman issues.
In the early years, he bought most of his comics with his savings, paying RM3 for an issue of Batman comics. Nowadays, each comic book costs about RM15.
Fernandez keeps his comics in specially treated boxes to preserve them in mint condition.
However, these comics are not left untouched nor forgotten. He allows himself to lay eyes on his prized comics, once in a while.
When nostalgia hits, he opens up his boxes. “It’s nice to see the older comics,” he quipped.
Fernandez appears to be a sentimentalist. He has no intention of selling his comics collection.
“I would rather pass them on to my daughter Celine, who is 17,” he mused.
Fernandez has another leisurely pursuit, apart from comics. Owner of a sailboat, he has sailed the seas around the region, including to Phuket. He has also participated in two regattas.
“I did circumnavigate (the region) as a marine engineer. One day, I would like to circumnavigate the world in my own sailboat,” said Fernandez.
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