Costumed crime-fighter conducts courtroom crusade
When Scott Bastian, 43, stole what is described as thousands of dollars worth of comic books featuring Spider-Man, Green Lantern and the like, he didn’t know he was dealing with a lesser known but just as dedicated costumed crime-fighter, Wonder Boy.
Bastian’s first clue came when he entered a courtroom last Wednesday to answer to the charge of grand theft superhero, and saw the long flowing locks, buggy green glasses and tight red uniform of Wonder Boy, whose alter ego is Mike Wellman, manager of the Comic Bug store in Manhattan Beach.
And then perhaps Bastian knew: it had been Wellman who noted that certain boxes of comics brought into his store looked suspicious, and it had been Wellman who found a clue in a smudge of Italian salad dressing, and followed it to the scene of the comic book crime.
And in the end it was Wellman, 37, who showed up at the Torrance courthouse like a scarlet bolt of geeky justice, to watch his man cop a plea.
“I’ve got to tell you it feels kind of cool,” said Wellman, insisting like a true superhero that credit for the pinch must be shared with Geoffrey Patterson of the Geoffrey’s Comics store in Gardena, who helped triangulate the suspect.
The court appearance did not mark Wellman’s first public outing in costume. He regularly dresses up as Wonder Boy for the public access TV show “Comic Book Geeks,” which he co-hosts with Patterson, who dresses as Captain Greedy with a dollar sign on his chest.
But this time, the two local comic store titans actually got to fight crime.
A greasy clue
Flashback: it is a late July afternoon, and Wellman is behind the counter at the Bug. In strolls a man with stacks of comics. No big deal, Wellman prices and buys books off the street all the time.
But this time it’s different. The books don’t look right. Oh they’re good enough, superhero stuff from the 1960s “silver age” of comics, and the “golden age” that dates back to the 1930s. But Wellman sees stickers on the books that could mark them as property of Geoffrey’s.
“The first batch of books he brought in looked kind of suspicious,” Wellman recounted.
This was a job for Wonder Boy.
He took down the man’s driver’s license information, not an unusual move in the world of comic book resale. He called Patterson, 69, but nothing connected.
“He told me he hadn’t had any books stolen lately,” Wellman said.
The man came back a second time, and then a third. Every criminal makes a slip, and that third visit to the Bug proved that there is no perfect crime. The caper began to unravel because of a greasy smudge on a Mylar bag protecting one of the comics.
“There was some nasty goop on one of the bags,” Wellman said.
“I wiped it off with a napkin and before I threw it away I gave it a sniff, and it smelled like Italian salad dressing,” he said. “Knowing what a sloppy eater Geoffrey can be, I called him again, and asked him when the last time was he ate Italian dressing. He said it was a couple days ago.”
Holy Hidden Valley!
Wellman told Patterson the name of the man who sold him the smeared goods, and Patterson realized it was the handyman he had been employing for about a year.
Holy hammer and nails!
Apparently the handyman had gotten a little too handy.
Anyway, the case was cracked. The comics had been nabbed from Patterson’s house in Torrance, just across the city line from Redondo Beach, where he prices box after box of vintage comics before they are hauled off to his store for sale.
“He did a lot of work for us,” lamented Patterson. “He was a good handyman.”
Patterson’s house stands as a shrine to comics, with a man-size statue of the Silver Surfer and cutouts of Batman and Robin looking down from the roof, at a front wall decorated with a massive Spider-Man and Captain America.
These days an inflatable Stay Puft marshmallow man from the “Ghostbusters” movie dominates the front yard, near a driveway where one car is painted with the Batman spotlight logo and another has a bust of Spider-Man affixed to its roof.
The inside of the Patterson home is filled with comics, toys and life-size statues, and painted features such as a Green Lantern theme for the kitchen counter. Every Halloween Patterson and his family deck out the home, on Macafee Road near Prospect Avenue, especially for the holiday, drawing hundreds of people to check it out.
The web tightens
But back to the caper. With the trail of salad dressing leading to Patterson’s home, it was time for Captain Greedy and Wonder Boy to go to the authorities, just as Batman and the Boy Wonder work with Commissioner Gordon. They contacted police in Torrance, where Bastian lives.
The comic store owners “kind of put two and two together, and the detectives went from there,” said Torrance Police Sgt. Jennifer Uyeda.
“It was two competitors working hand-in-hand to deliver justice to the South Bay,” Wellman said.
On the morning of Aug. 25, police raided Bastian’s home and seized comics and jewelry believed to be stolen from Patterson’s Fortress of Non-Solitude. Between the 400 comics found at Bastian’s home, and those sold to the Bug, Patterson placed the loss in the thousands of dollars.
Last Wednesday the big court date rolled around, and Wellman wore his personal freak flag through the metal detectors of the monolithic, glass-fronted courtroom, against the wishes of friends and loved ones.
“A lot of people told me it was a bad idea,” Wellman said. “My wife said I wouldn’t have any credibility, I would get held in contempt of court. She got me to bring my civilian clothes with me just in case.”
But nobody objected, and Wellman sat in full regalia as Bastian pleaded guilty to grand theft, and was sentenced to two and-a-half years in jail and ordered to pay restitution yet to be determined.
“Some of the officers sort of smiled and nodded, and the officer in charge of the SWAT team or whatever said it was an awesome costume, so that was cool,” he said.
Bastian’s plea, followed by the judge’s pronouncement of his sentence, took a little drama out of the narrative, however.
“I didn’t even get to take the stand,” Wellman said.
Still, his costume never felt so good.
“It was empowering to be there in a tiny, tight red outfit. One of the last things he saw before he went to prison is an avenging crimson angel of justice,” Wellman said.
Patterson was present in court that day, but in his civilian clothes. He had assumed that a pretrial strategy session with Wellman was not serious.
“He said he wanted to go to court in costumes,” Patterson said. “I thought he was kidding.” ER