The Terminator Pinball Machine and the Comic Store that Ripped Off 13 Year Olds

Terminator Week

When we think about the legacy of T2, we think about the impact that the T-1000 had on the look and feel of our summer blockbusters. How, combined with Jurassic Park, we started down a path that saw more and more reliance on CGI, getting to the point where most modern acting seems to be done in front of green screens, with people interacting with environments and objects that get put in after the scenes are shot.

terminator pinball machine

And that’s great and all, and people have written hundreds if not thousands of think pieces on that topic. But T2, didn’t just revolutionize movies – it also revolutionized another element of pop culture, one that’s near-and-dear to my heart, by giving us the T2 pinball machine.

Seriously, stepping up to the T2 pinball machine, for a life-long pinball fan, was kind of like watching Robert Patrick’s face turn into liquid metal for the first time. The game itself was amazing – it was one of the first pinball machines to have a digital display that allowed for mini-games and animations. It had this awesome shotgun-style ball launcher that you can actually aim at different targets for a skillshot bonus. It had Arnold’s voice guiding you through the game. It was bright and bold and noisy and had Skynet-style helicopters and a giant T-800 head with glowing red eyes watching your every move. But, for me, the T2 pinball machine brings me back to one of my favorite childhood memories hanging out at my local comic shop at the age of 13 and playing this game for hours on end.

My comic shop, back in 1991, was the perfect embodiment of comics and nerd culture at the time. This was at the beginning of the speculation boom: Superman was about to die and newspapers were running articles about the investment potential of comics. Articles were being published that essentially said, “If you invested 10-cents in Amazing Fantasy #15 (the first appearance of Spider-Man) back in 1962, you’d have a greater Return on Investment than if you invested 10-cents in ANYTHING ELSE.” This thought process helped to fuel the speculation boom of the early-to-mid-1990s and more and more comic shops were opening up, usually by people who never got involved in comics before.

terminator 2 pinball

My comic shop 100% fell into that category. I grew up on the Red Hook/Carroll Gardens border in Brooklyn, NY. My comic shop options back when I first started getting into comics were: 1) this place about a half-mile from my parent’s apartment that was stacked with back issues and owned and operated by this guy called Mark who, if I remember correctly, was really into karate and comics and 2) this place called the Dugout which was really more of a baseball card shop that also happened to sell comics. I went to the former and hated the latter, but eventually Mark’s place closed down and I was looking for a new comic shop to spend my cash and time at.

And along came Mannex’s. The shop wasn’t called Mannex, it actually didn’t have a name. It didn’t have a sign. It had a single tinted window and a door. It was right off Court Street in Carroll Gardens, across the street from a funeral parlor. The guy who owned the place was right out of Goodfellas; Slicked-back hair, a mustache, track-suits. He spent all of his time in the back room, doing whatever. The guy who ran the shop was named Mannex. I’m not sure if I’m spelling his name right, don’t even think it matters. Mannex was the Alpha Nerd – he didn’t own a shirt that didn’t have some type of superhero on it, he could go through the history of every B- and C-level comic character. And he OWNED that T2 pinball machine. No one could beat him at it.

terminator 2 pinball field

There would be a line of kids putting their quarters up, itching for a shot at the Great And Powerful Mannex and one-by-one he’d put us down, occasionally taking a break to help a customer. And there were plenty of customers at Mannex’s, despite the lack of sign and window. And most of these customers were rocking suits and ties and piling up on boxes of X-Force #1s and Youngblood #1s.

I got to watch Mannex work these people over. I actually heard him talk about which book was a better investment, which book would pay for their kid’s college tuitions in 18 years. He was a pro, and he’d have folks who haven’t bought a comic in decades walking out of his shop with hundreds of dollars in soon-to-be useless books.

When Superman died, the line to get into his shop was around the corner. Everyone got multiple copies, polybagged with a memorial arm band. I even got two copies, one for saving and one for reading. That’s what Mannex would always tell me, “You have to have an investment copy and a reading copy. The book is worthless once you open the bag.”

Yeah, he worked me over, too. The most ridiculous thing I ever bought from his shop was a copy of Deathmate #1 with the gold variant cover. This was the Image/Valiant crossover that was supposed to be one of the most revolutionary comics ever made. Mannex told me that the gold variant will get me a new car one day, and I think I dropped $50 on it. I was 13 and dumb and, in retrospect, Mannex was a vulture.

deathmate #1

It didn’t help that my Titi Lissa was dating this guy Pancho who was really into comics, tarantulas, and paintball, basically making him the coolest guy a 13-year-old could know. He would buy five copies of every #1, sometimes more, and file them away in his room on Court Street. I’d sometimes flip through them and wish that I could open some of them to read about the new adventures of the X-Men but they were investments, not entertainment.

You may be asking how a 13-year-old had access to $50 to buy a Gold Variant of Deathmate #1. I had a job at a video store, Pegasus Video on Union Street. I worked there since I was eleven, originally as part of something called the Shadow Program which was a way for Junior High School kids to get legal part-time jobs. I had to keep a journal of my days at the video store and I wrote about what I learned in terms of customer service but never what I learned in terms of hardcore pornography.

Working at a video store at the age of 11 really messed me up for life. 11-year-olds should not have unlimited access to pornography. I remember the first adult film I snuck out of the store – a bunch of my friends from the neighborhood were going to get together at David’s house to watch whatever I managed to get my hands on. David was my good friend growing up – he was good at beatboxing, hocking-up giant loogies, and making insane cereal concoctions. I wanted a movie with a story to it, so I brought Caligula home. We sat around and watched that movie terrified, wondering if all porno had beheadings and murder as central plot points. The second movie I brought home was much more traditional porno, but we couldn’t stop laughing at this one guy who fell down in the shower. We just kept rewinding that scene over and over and over again.

shower fall

Anyway, I made some money at the job and all of that money went to comic books and skateboards.

Ugh, skateboarding. I was a terrible skater but I had the freshest gear. A nice deck, top-of-the-line wheels and bearings and trucks. Even the grip tape was the best you could get. All of that just so I can ollie two inches.

Skateboards, comics…and fireworks. We would get our fireworks from this old mom & pop shop across the street from JHS 142. The guy would take us into a back room and let us buy whatever we wanted. M80s, Blockbusters…even pineapple and watermelon bombs. Selling quarter- and half-sticks of dynamite to 12-year-olds. We used them to blow up everything and anything we could find, from piles of dog poop to telephone booths.

brooklyn comic store

But I digress, I was talking about Mannex’s comic shop. Come to think of it, that place was probably the worst comic shop ever. An owner who was just cashing in (there was a rumor back in the day that it was actually a mafia front, but kids think everything is a mafia front), a manager who was pushing $50 variants on 13-year-old kids and beating up on them in pinball, and a clientele that was more interested in talking about investing than whether or not the Hulk can beat Superman in a fight.

But that’s what the early 90s were. Our movies were changing, our comics were changing – previously unreachable gobs of cash were being shelled out for the next most awesome bit of computer graphic, the next loudest pinball machine, the next Big Comic Character that will be worth millions one day.

I still like T2 and its pinball machine – I still like some of my early-90s comics, even – but just the process of writing these memories out makes me realize how much I don’t like most of what’s come since or the people who put their hands into the wallets of 13-year-olds who didn’t know any better.

Man, seriously, f— Mannex.

Today’s guest post was by Jason Rodriguez, a comics writer and editor on books including Colonial Comics and Try Looking Ahead. You can read more of his thoughts on his Tumblr, The Bomb Bag.

  • Chris Piers

    I love this story!

  • Big Jim

    I remember this was the time when my love of comics began to erode thanks to all the speculation. “Death in the Family” part 3 disappeared from shelves in a day, everyone sold out. Miraculously, however, every shop had “just one left”, hanging on the wall, for $35 (and no doubt about 150 in the back room ready to replace that “one”). Because of speculators buying in bulk, but also because of shop owners holding back on their supply in order to raise the demand (and the price), it was a very frustrating time for us regular and loyal comic buyers.