The Secret Origin of Spin-man

by

So you don’t know Spin-man? Five-nine, lantern-jawed, starry-eyed Spin-man? Spin-man the Caped Cosmische, Spin-man the Super-Cop, Spin-man the Meta? Muslebound, brown-skinned, wrapped from beefy neck to toe in blue-and-gold spandex? Don’t worry about it. It’s okay. I don’t blame you. Spin-man was one of those forgotten heroes of the Dark Age of Comics, just before the Image Era of big guns and chains and Spawn and bloodstained alleys. The champion of the Multiversal Continuum, balls-out science fantasy, following in the footsteps of Jim Starlin and Silver Surfer and Jack “The King” Kirby—Spin-man was the last good Space Hero of the 90’s and my number one favorite super-person. I’ll explain.
 
Okay, this may seem unrelated, but hear me out first, because it’s important. When I was nine, my little brother and I would go to the bargain bins of C.A.T.S. as often as we could. After being picked up from school by our assiduous driver, Manong Eddie, who had been instructed to take no detours but had a soft spot for us boys; after an intermittent car ride, owing to the long stretch of traffic circling the vast perimeter of our private school; after a half-eaten merienda of adobo sandwiches and Zesto Orange sent by our grandmother, God rest her soul; James and I would take it in turns (sometimes called out in unison) to remind our driver: “The main entrance of Virra Mall! We’ll only be thirty minutes! Mang Eddie, pleeeese!” Then the drive past Uni-Mart, around the corner facing McDonalds, as we busied ourselves counting the money in our pockets, at times almost two hundred pesos when pooled together, until finally my grandfather’s Altis slowed outside the mall’s main entrance, and we’d slam the car doors open and hop out, promising Manong Edie that we’d be waiting there at exactly 4:45, no later, cross our excited little hearts.
 
Running in, ignoring the cinema schedule by the entrance, where five or six people always stood deliberating what to watch, we would brush past strangers and other boys in school uniform, our trajectories plotted through the long air-conditioned corridors of the mall and avoiding the various temptations that lined its capitalist halls (including the arcade,) until we arrived at the shop of our hearts’ desires, its windows covered with painted posters of masked men and women, sheltered under a primary-colored electric display which announced its most hallowed name: C.A.T.S. (Comics And Then Some.)
 
For a moment, we would ogle the comics on the New Arrivals rack, committing their covers to memory and silently promising to acquire them when we had more money, after which we went directly to the bargain bins; James starting on the leftmost end while I worked on the opposite, thumbing our way through rows and rows of titles as if in a marathon, flip flip flip, until we met at the middle, ready to sort through two piles of bargain comics. We would debate on 30-peso copies of X-men, Avengers, Batman and numerous other titles, eliminating possible purchases by creating an agreed-upon heirarchy based first upon the title’s character, then artist, then writer. On rare occasions when we came to a disagreement, we would split our money down the middle and dictate our own purchases, though most of the time, our tastes were in complete accord.
 
By the end of our ritual, a stack of five or six carefully-considered comics were rung up at the cash register and wrapped in the customary C.A.T.S. plastic bag, complete with a crude drawing of Wolverine printed under its wonderful, acronymic logo. Manong Eddie would be waiting for us outside, patient as ever despite the extra quarter-hour of waiting, resulting in a drive home that transpired in complete silence, as James and I lost ourselves to the outrageous adventures of these fictional men and women.
 
James and I agreed: the world’s greatest comic book artist was Jim Lee. I also liked Erik Larsen on Spider-man; but his replacement, Mark Bagley, couldn’t draw Carnage with the appropriate menace, in my view. At an early age, I had become acutely aware of the people who worked on these comics, and in my wildest dreams I imagined myself drawing the X-men under the pen of my favorite writer, Chris Claremont. I spent hours scrutinizing these comics, copying my favorite poses, memorizing the costumes and learning the vagaries of super-hero anatomy; the intricacies of foreshortening and the convolutions of idealized musculature wrapped in spandex. James struggled to keep up with me, but in the end resigned himself to coloring my illustrations, in deference to my burgeoning drawing ability. I suppose our tastes were still far from refined, and if you had told us back then that Neil Gaiman was far superior to Scott Lobdell, we would have argued you out of the room. As a nine-year-old who could draw Superman with a modicum of accuracy, I had pronounced myself an expert on these multicolored worlds, and James was more than willing to share in my obsession.
 
James, in turn, proclaimed himself to be the real-world counterpart of Daredevil. He would sit in the corner of our room facing a crumbling dartboard, one hand over his eyes, a trained dart in the other, declaring: “I will hit a bullseye using only my ears!” He rarely made the center of the board, but when he did, it was a cause for celebration, and we’d jump around the room in a mock-battle between Daredevil and the vampire, Morbius. For a while, I myself was intent on developing a keen psychic talent a la Professor X, but that ambition fell by the wayside when I failed to read my classmate’s mind during a critical Science exam. Fortunately, I had gained some popularity at school for my art skills, and in the end it was this ability that I cherished as my one and only superpower.
 
It was 1991, the year of the Pinatubo eruption, when James and I were invited to stay over at our Lolo Doming’s house in Los Baňos to finally meet with our long-lost uncle: Tito Fermin. According to my mother, he had lived in the States all our lives, hiding as an illegal immigrant, and it was only that year, when he had married into an American citizenship, that he was enabled to visit the Philippines without fear of recrimination. Both James and I were eager to meet our uncle, having heard that he was a comic book artist; one who actually made a living conjuring up the four-color worlds we were so fond of.
 
It was with some disappointment that we learned the specifics of his occupation: Tito Fermin was a cartoonist for neither Marvel nor DC, but for a small independent company known as Echo Comics. They produced a grand total of four titles a month, one of which was a black-and-white superhero comic that, Tito Fermin said proudly, he both penciled and inked. We were slightly more impressed when he showed us samples of his work, but though his art had the romantic quality of classic Tagalog Komiks, it lacked the inflated modern dynamism that we had grown accustomed to.
 
Regardless of his artistic prowess, Tito Fermin was a striking character. Long, shaggy black hair spilled down from his head and his face was rounded out by a full beard which, in retrospect, made him look like a Filipino Alan Moore. His eyes had the hint of a Chinese slant; he spoke in a low, sonorous voice that commanded attention and, as with our grandfather (who we’d nick-named Santa Claus,) you could rarely tell if he was smiling under that beard.
 
Tito Fermin spent most of our first dinner talking with Lolo Doming, the details of which I can no longer clearly recall; only the slurred American accent that possessed my uncle in the midst of his soliloquies on life abroad and the inscrutable grunts that my grandfather contributed to the discussion. Rain hammered through the trees outside, splashing against the windows and conversation, the warm yellow light of the chandelier washing over the lazy susan that pivoted food around the dinner table. James and I contented ourselves with fielding questions from Lola Lita, who we had insisted on calling Lolita in spite of her good-natured refusals. We asked her what superheroes were popular in her time and she shook her head as she replied, “My heroes were movie stars, ballet dancers and singers—Judy Garland, Irina Baronova and Frank Sinatra. Those three are my favorites.” And then she crooned a few lines from the song she always sang when she put us to bed, the song I will always remember her for:
 
No, there’s nothing to be ashamed of if you stub your toe on the moon
Though it may be a blow to your pride, you’re a hero because, well, you tried
So don’t give up too soon, if you stub your toe on the moon

 
Perhaps consequently, as we were falling asleep that night, James confessed that he had grown tired of Daredevil. “I want to be Silver Surfer now,” he said. We contemplated the means by which James could acquire cosmic power and a silver board capable of space flight. I suggested that he find a way to contact Galactus while he mused on the existence of cosmic rays beyond our atmosphere, and after a while we simply lay in our beds for the thousandth night next to each other, our thoughts racing to find the path to James’ goal until, finally, sleep overtook us.
 
Due to its distance from the city, Los Baňos was a place that we rarely visited, and when we did it gave off the impression of being otherworldly, like a dream that never happened: bosky mountains stretching to the horizon, tiny three-floor shopping malls, the subtle incline on all the roads; sari-sari stores, the musky-sweet smell of Lolo Doming’s cigars, trips to the video rental store; a rough painted cement ceiling, flower pattern bed sheets, non-cable television, wood-panel walls, kare-kare stew, marble floors and, best of all, discount bookstores with five-to-ten-peso comics.
 
It was there, in the Booksale beside Carmela Barbershop, that Tito Fermin began to participate in our love for comics. He was leaving for the States the next morning, and had been meaning to pick up a few Filipino Komiks to take with him. James and I were simply excited to find more back issues of Ghost Rider and Wild Dog. The bargain bins were smaller, only three rows, but we commenced with our ritual anyway, thumbing through back issues, flip flip flip, until we each had our stack of comics to choose from. Tito Fermin surprised us by taking both piles and paying for them, more than 30 comics each, and as we walked out of the store, suffused with happiness and gratitude, I silently calculated that he’d spent over 500 pesos on comics, which was a huge amount at the time, at least to me.
 
And then lunch at Nilda’s Restaurant, where we ate mushroom burgers while Tito Fermin quizzed us on our love for superheroes. A lengthy discourse ensued on the extended line-up of the X-men, the convolutions of Peter Parker’s life, the rogues gallery of Batman; about how Hulk was too boring, how the Legion of Superheroes had too many members, how the Fantastic Four had too few, how Superman and Captain America were outdated; and more besides. He shared stories of his meetings with various comics creators during conventions; of the long argument on the art of cartooning that he’d had with Gary Groth; the drink he had shared with long time Spider-man editor Tom Brevoort; and the time he had managed to procure a sketch of the Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman from Jim Lee.
 
The last one fired me up. There we were sitting in a restaurant in the Philippines eating mushroom burgers—and we were right next to a man who had actually shaken hands with Jim Lee. Jim Lee! The phenomenal artist’s artist, the person who’d redesigned all of the X-men’s costumes, the comic creator that I dreamed of one day becoming. Tito Fermin laughed at my ebullition and promised that the next time he met Jim Lee, he would ask for a signed sketch and mail it to me.
 
As we made our way back to Lolo Doming’s house, our uncle began to relate the difficulties he’d been having with his latest project. Echo Comics was intent on adding another superhero title to their monthly line-up, and they were looking to Tito Fermin to deliver it. This was his concept: a superhero that policed the multiversal continuum, spinning from dimension to dimension in an eternal struggle with the Forces of Chaos.
 
“Spin-man!” James interrupted.
 
Tito Fermin stopped and gave my brother a profound look. “Spin-man?”
 
“Spin-man. I don’t know. I just thought of it. Do you have a name already?”
 
“Spin-man,” my uncle said, enunciating the syllables slowly, as if he were tasting them. “Spin-man is a good name. I was thinking of calling him Omni-man, but Spin-man sounds much better. Would you mind if I called him that?”
 
“Yes!” James exclaimed, almost lost in delight. “I mean, no! I don’t mind!”
 
It was unprecedented—my brother’s idea was going straight into an actual comic book, to be published in the States. His idea was going to be the name of the superhero, if not the title of the series. I was a little jealous of his moment of brilliance, but conceded that it was fair since he’d thought of it first. That was, of course, before things got out of hand.
 
“Can I be Spin-man?” James asked, pulling on Tito Fermin’s shirt sleeve. We had just arrived at my grandfather’s house, and our uncle seemed lost in a daze.
 
“You mean his alter-ego? That would be a little like Shazam, wouldn’t it?”
 
“Yes! Please? I can be a good character. I’ll fight the Forces of Chaos.”
 
James made a spinning move, grinding his sneakers against the pavement, and ended it with a punch to the air and a shout: “Spin-man!”
 
Tito Fermin laughed. “Alright, alright. You can be Spin-man. What about your brother?”
 
By that time, I was foul-tempered and indignant. James had thrown a load of ideas at Tito Fermin, including Spin-man’s name, his costume, thoughts on potential enemies and even a love interest. My jealousy was frothing at the mouth. I was an artist; a creative; I should have had more ideas than my colorist brother, but my mind was blank. I couldn’t visualize Spin-man. He was merely a figment; a cipher; I had no story to hang him on. I struggled to keep my resentment in check, but when you’re nine years old it’s a difficult thing to hide. “No thank you, Tito Fermin. I think I’d rather draw Spin-man. At least I’ll make money doing it.”
 
“You can draw it when you’re older. I’ll even ink you, if you’ll have me.” It was a promise that I knew would never be fulfilled. With that, Tito Fermin ruffled my hair and walked off to his room. As he moved away, I caught my little brother staring at me, and this is the face that I will never forget: James biting his lips, his eyes wide open, his expression a mix of guilt and apology, as if he had done something wrong.
 
That night, before we went to bed, he broached the topic one last time. I had ignored him throughout dinner and he had respected my silence, but after Lolita had tucked us in, he turned to me and asked, “Are you okay?”
 
“I’m fine,” I said, obviously not.
 
“You can be Spin-man if you want. I can just tell Tito Fermin—“
 
“No thank you,” I said, cutting him off.
 
And that was that.
 
I woke up late the next day. The sun was shining, the midday heat had begun to settle in, and my first thought was that I’d somehow overslept and missed Tito Fermin’s leave-taking. My second thought was of James. There was no one in the next bed, and I assumed that he must have been too bothered about my reaction the previous night to wake me up. I put on my slippers and went downstairs. Santa Claus was asleep on his favorite couch, and Lolita was in the next room, sweeping.
             
“Good morning,” she said. “Your Tito Fermin left early. He didn’t want to wake you because it’s your vacation, but he said that he loves you and that he’ll keep in touch.”
             
“I’m sorry about that, Lola. Have you seen James?”
 
“James?” she asked. She seemed puzzled. I rubbed my eyes and thought: she must be going senile in her old age.
 
“James,” I repeated. “My brother.”
 
She stopped sweeping and eyed me with suspicion. For a moment, she seemed to be considering what I meant, though it should have been obvious. And then she smiled. “Perhaps when you sleep tonight, you will see him again. Lunch will be ready soon.”
 
I frowned at her. My grandmother was patronizing me. Clearly, some sort of joke was happening that I was unaware of. I left the room and began to look for James. I had searched the living room, the terrace, the dining room and the balcony before I began to wonder if James was playing an impromptu game of hide-and-seek with me. I pursued him through the house. I looked in bathrooms, closets, cabinets and convenient hiding places behind doors, between bookshelves and under beds. It was only when I noticed that his bag was missing; the bag that my mother had packed for him the day before we left for Los Baňos; it was only then that I began to worry.
 
“James!” I called for him as I ran through the house. “Where’s James?” I yelled at Lolita as she was putting out dishes for lunch. Lolo Doming walked in on us, scratching his head. “What is he talking about?” he asked. “Who’s James?” I grew frantic; panicked. “James! My brother! This isn’t funny!” I ran back to our room, looking for the pile of comics he had chosen the day before. There was only one pile. Mine.
 
“What’s the matter with him?” “I don’t know.” I shouted. “I want my brother!” Lola Lita ran after me. “What happened? What’s wrong?” “Where did he go?” I ran out of the bedroom and tossed my stack of comics down the stairs. “I want my brother!” I yelled. Lola Lita bent over the comics. “You have no brother.” “James!” My grandfather held me down. “Stop it right now!” he said. I struggled. “James!”
 
I screamed. I cried. I went into hysterics. I must have blacked out, because the next thing I knew, it was nighttime. My mother was there, in the bedroom, ready to take me home. “Where’s James?” I asked her. I told her that his bag was gone, and that my grandparents wouldn’t tell me where he was, and how could they not remember my little brother when she had tucked us in the night before? She carried me and patted my back. “I know, honey, I know. Everything will be fine.”
 
“I’m not fine,” I sobbed.
 
“I know.”
 
One interminable car ride later, I was home. I had secretly hoped that James had somehow gotten there ahead of us; that by some miracle of time and space, he was sitting on his bed or on his chair, waiting for me to arrive so that he could laugh at me and confess that it was all a joke. But when I entered our room, he wasn’t there. Furthermore, the furniture had been rearranged; there was only one bed set, one chair, one writing desk and a shelf where James’ stuff should have been. Our superhero posters still covered the walls, but apart from that, I could find no trace of my brother.
 
I thought that I had already cried myself out that day, but as I stood there in our empty room, the tears began to trickle down my cheeks once more. Not tears of confusion or anger, but of grief.  As I lay in my bed, my mother sat beside me, stroking my hair. “I don’t know what you’re going through,” she said, “but I want you to know that I’m here for you. Okay?”
 
She pulled out an envelope from her bag. “Your Tito Fermin left this for you before he went to the airport. I hope you at least had a good time meeting him.”
 
She left the envelope on my bedside table, kissed me on the forehead, and walked out of the room. “I love you, son. Rest well. I’ll be here when you wake up.”
 
I didn’t want to sleep that night. I was exhausted, but I couldn’t stand the idea of someone else disappearing while I slept. It occurred to me that I might have entered the Twilight Zone; that this was some horrible subconscious dream; that I would wake up in Los Baňos and James would be there and everything would be as it should have been. My throat felt raw. My eyelids were heavy. But fear got the better of me, and after some time, I sat up in my bed and opened the envelope from Tito Fermin.
 
My hands shook as I pulled it out. There it was, in crisp, near-mint condition: a signed copy of Spin-man #1, written and illustrated by Fermin de la Cruz.
 
The story opened with a scene featuring a young boy, James Jeronimo, reading a comic book. James was a normal boy, like you or me, who dreamed of becoming a superhero. The caption read: At that precise moment, as James came to terms with his inflexible humanity, he felt an unearthly presence in the room. The planets aligned. In an alternate dimension, a black mass crept over red skies, intent on devouring all life. James’ eyes lit up as a display of coruscating energy erupted from his comic book, pulling him into a cosmic vortex. A wormhole opened up in the center of the universe, and from its luminous recesses, a blue-and-gold figure emerged—Spin-man, champion of the multiversal continuum!
 
Cloudy thought balloons rose from Spin-man’s head: Who am I? What is this place? I thought I was a boy reading a comic book, and now I have been summoned—to do what? Then a vision appeared before him—black tendrils blotting out the sun on a world teeming with innocent life. Spin-man’s eyes narrowed. The Forces of Chaos are threatening the continuum! He activated his cosmic powers, spinning himself from the center of the universe into an alternate dimension where, with the help of his cosmic abilities, he banished the Forces of Chaos into a black hole.
 
Spin-man hovered over a crowd of green-skinned alien beings; inhabitants of the dimension he had just saved. It seems that I have found my true purpose, he thought. Whenever Chaos threatens to engulf meaning in the universe, it will have to reckon with the might of Spin-man! Then a smile, a wink at the reader and, under the last panel in the last page, the words “to be continued” laid out in bold letters.
 
Now, this is the difficulty of my story. By all other accounts, I never had a brother named James. No one else seems to remember him. There is no birth certificate, no extra toothbrush, no extra bed in my room—not even a picture. But I remember him. I can see him in my mind. I remember his preferences, his lactose-intolerance, his Cyclops T-shirt and his difficulties with Math. I remember his birthday (June 15, 1983,) his favorite color (green,) his lucky number (4,) and his best friend at school (Nicolo Suarez.)
 
He was my little brother. He talked in his sleep. He loved Honey Stars and hated fruit-flavored toothpaste. He was always our mother’s favorite, and it frustrated me that she always took his side. We watched Ghostbusters every Friday night and on Saturday mornings we would get the garden hose and water-blast each other. We stole a book once, from the library—The Illustrated Monkey King—and it was James who eventually convinced me to give it back.
 
I remember him. But if I position this as true, then you’ll think it absurd. I’m no scientist. I have no degree in quantum physics, no academic theory in my pocket, no explicable hypotheses by which I can even begin to make you believe that he ever existed. I have no evidence; no proof. I only have what happened.
 
And now, even that is just a memory: limited, intangible, decaying, and wide open to contention. If I die tomorrow, there will be nothing in this world to prove that James was ever real.
 
I kept Spin-man #1 in a mylar plastic bag, in its own drawer beside my bed. It had become the most precious comic book in my collection. Months passed before I came to terms with the reality of my brother’s disappearance. My mother was very supportive. She took me to a psychiatrist and worked with me to uncover the root of my insistence on an imaginary brother. After the first few sessions, I learned to stop openly asserting James’ existence. With nothing to back up my claims, it was a losing battle. No progress was to be made on that front.
 
I kept trying to contact Tito Fermin. At first, they told me that he was too busy to talk to me, but I later discovered that he had moved addresses upon his return to the States and left no numbers by which we could contact him. I searched for further issues of Spin-man, but was unable find copies in C.A.T.S. or in any of the direct market stores. Apparently, they had never carried the title. I learned later, from a 1993 issue of The Comics Journal, that Echo Comics had been a print-on-demand publisher that had struggled through low sales for two whole years before finally declaring bankruptcy.
 
In the summer of 1996, I found out that Tito Fermin had died. He had quit making comics three years before due to lack of money, and had become an automobile dealer in California. One night, he drank too much and drove his car into a copse of trees, which was where they found him three days later, wide-eyed with a long piece of window lodged into his head. We held a memorial mass for him in Los Baňos. His body was buried in the States. He bequeathed a number of items to the family, among them a signed sketch of Spin-man by Jim Lee, which was left in my care.
 
Years went by. I grew up. I had two girlfriends and one bad break-up. Peter Parker separated from Mary Jane, who moved away to become a supermodel. The X-men’s line-up shifted multiple times. Their Jim Lee costumes changed with each turnover until they could only be glimpsed in flashbacks and back issues. The Hulk grew smart, then dumb, then bald. Gotham City survived a plague, a major earthquake and an army of ninjas. Superman died then came back to life. Green Lantern was corrupted, went rogue, died saving the universe, and was replaced by another Green Lantern. Spin-man never made it past issue two.
 
I know this because, on the day after my graduation, I found a battered old copy of Spin-man #2 in a Booksale bargain bin. James was on the cover, hovering in the void of the universe as the telltale blue-and-gold vortex, the one which had transformed him into Spin-man, whirlpooled around him. In the comic, a black hole had turned sentient and was trudging across the cosmos in the shape of an impossible spider. The Forces of Chaos had returned. Spin-man, valiant as ever, rushed to combat the threat, but in a critical moment, the Chaos Spider spat a web of nebulae at our hero, disrupting his celestial abilities and forcing him to spin into another dimension.
 
Spin-man awoke in a void, buffeted on all sides by peculiar purple rain. He bowed his head in shame. I’ve failed, he thought. I’ve fallen into the unknown, somewhere beyond the far reaches of the multiversal continuum. If I don’t find my way back, the Forces of Chaos will engulf the universe and all that I hold dear. Spin-man coughed. For a moment, his visage shifted into that of James, his human alter-ego. His eyes glimmered with hope. Spin-man’s course was clear. I have to find my way back, no matter how long it takes. With that, he launched himself into the void, away from the reader, as the words “never the end” appeared beneath him, like a promise. It was the last issue of Spin-man to achieve publication. I swear, I broke down right there, in the middle of the bookstore, holding onto that stupid little comic book. I realized, right then, that I needed to do something; anything, or else James would be lost forever.
 
These days, C.A.T.S. no longer sells comic books. They’ve since turned into a specialty store for action figures, and though I visit it from time to time, the bargain bins I used to thumb through are no longer there. I still buy comics every Wednesday when I have the money. I keep track of my favorite superheroes’ lives. For me they affirm that, despite hardship, some things may still endure. I’ve taken a course in Fine Arts, and I’ve been applying it to my comics illustrations, working hard to improve to a professional level. As soon as I finish college, I’ll send off applications to the major comic book companies. I’ll get a job in the States, and when I’ve saved up enough money, I’ll look up Echo Comics and buy the rights to Spin-man.
 
Then I’ll publish Spin-man #3, and in that issue, Spin-man will be at the edge of the universe, contemplating his path home. A blue-and-gold wormhole will appear before him. With superhuman courage, Spin-man will activate his cosmic powers, jump through the vortex, and spin his way back into our world.

Andrew Drilon was first published at age 14 in The Philippine Daily Inquirer for an illustrated children’s story about a dead bovine called “Moo Moo the Ghostly Cow”. This depiction of a postmortem ruminant was lauded as heartwarming and earned him praise from his teachers, though his name was misspelled as “Andrew Drillon”. Despite this oversight, he was not discouraged from making stories and continues to do so to this day via comics, illustration and prose. His most recent works have been featured in The Philippine Star, Top Shelf 2.0, The Virtuous Medlar Circle and the Bamboo band’s music video, “Muli”.