PART I: ORIGIN STORY
Our story begins in New York City, sometime in 1991. Young Allan Heinberg, a working playwright and actor in need of some extra cash, has recently taken a permanent "temp" job as a word processor and presentation designer at Banker's Trust in Manhattan. Before long he notices something odd about the backpack of co-worker John A.C. Kennedy, an aspiring screenwriter. Our hero is intrigued.
"What's going on on your backpack there?" he asks.
"It's the Bat symbol," says Kennedy, nonchalantly.
Heinberg is confused. "But you're technically an adult."
"Well, comic books aren't just for kids anymore," Kennedy responds.
Then Kennedy tells him about certain events in the Batman story line that have taken place in the 10 years since Heinberg stopped reading comic books--that Dick Grayson isn't Robin anymore and that Batgirl was paralyzed from the waist down when the Joker shot her in the spine. Heinberg is "really upset." Desperate to find out about his other childhood idols, he goes to a comic book store the next day.
A little more than a decade later, at the age of 38, this budding fanboy will become a rising star in the comic book world as co-creator and writer of a series for Marvel called "Young Avengers." His writing will be discussed and celebrated in blogs and chat groups. He will speak at conferences and teach a class on comic book writing. Self-assured, physically fit and socially competent, he will help put an end to the stereotype of comic book fans as sarcastic, overweight losers who still live with their parents. But of course, every hero needs a great origin story, and Allan Heinberg's circuitous route to comic book stardom is in some ways just as thrilling and triumphant as any of those recounted in the pages of his favorite medium.
The first months of Heinberg's return to comic books were a frenzy of buying and reading. He scoured stores in Brooklyn and Manhattan for old issues of "Superman," "Batman" and "Wonder Woman" to catch up on the years of character development and plot lines he had missed. He also discovered new books--Alan Moore's "Swamp Thing" and Neil Gaiman's "The Sandman"--and read them voraciously on the subway. "The writing was as artful and as sophisticated as anything in contemporary American fiction," he says. "The best ones were 'The Dark Knight Returns,' 'Watchmen,' 'Animal Man.' . . . These were books that redefined the superhero genre and basically raised the bar in terms of what is possible in narrative storytelling in comic books. It was riveting. And there was nothing like it going on in any other art form."
He also began obsessively collecting--not just the books (alphabetized and numbered, filed in reverse chronological order, bagged and boarded), but also toys and art and lunch boxes and models--to the dismay of the young poet whom Heinberg called his husband. In addition to that $40- to $50-a-week habit, he began making regular visits to Four Color Images, a comic art gallery in SoHo, to purchase original art from the '70s and '80s and Alex Ross' photo-realist lithographs of the Legion of Super-Heroes and the Justice League of America. By 1997, when Heinberg moved to Los Angeles, he was a bona fide fanboy, attending conferences such as Wizard World and Comicon and commissioning custom action figures of Batgirl and Cosmic Boy.
Heinberg had given up the theater and transitioned into television writing, where he found immediate success. He got his start on the Tea Leoni vehicle "The Naked Truth" and then moved on to writing and producing for "Party of Five," "Sex and the City" and "Gilmore Girls." His television world and his comic book world largely remained separate, although his passion for comics occasionally leaked into his script writing--in one of Heinberg's episodes of "Sex and the City," Carrie Bradshaw dated a comic store clerk, and he gave a "Party of Five" character an action figure collection. But essentially Heinberg was writer by day, fanboy by night.
In comics, most characters bound for greatness must first suffer a great catastrophe. Bruce Wayne used his immense wealth to become Batman after his parents were murdered; Peter Parker decided to use his spider powers for good after his uncle was killed; the same freak accident that gave Daredevil the gift of supersonic hearing also caused him to lose his eyesight. For Heinberg, it wasn't until the traumatic end of his 10-year relationship with the poet that he was able to make the dramatic leap from comic book lover to comic book writer.