Comic Books

Costume Thief Crossover Connects Marvel and DC Universes

Two parallel universes exist side-by-side. In each, a battle continually rages, pitting the forces of good against those who wish to destroy everything. Both realms are protected by warriors whose deeds, powers, and personalities go beyond heroic — they are truly superheroes. The two universes are known by the names Marvel and DC. These dimensions exist independent of one another, the inhabitants of each blissfully unaware of the drama taking place in the other reality.

Except for some rare and notable crossovers, what happens in one realm of reality has no impact on the other. All of that changed in 2002 when a sinister act of evil rendered the barrier between the universes. A nefarious evil-doer reached across the cosmic void and singled out mighty heroes from each of the once-separate dimensions. The act was so savage that it threatened reality itself. The injustice could not be rectified by the Avengers or the Justice League. The answer to this savage assault against good would be found in a heretofore unimagined third universe by mighty warriors known as the police department of Culver City, California.

The 2002 movie Spider-Man with Toby Maguire was a massive undertaking. Included in the film’s $139 million budget were several handmade Spider-Man costumes, each valued at $50,000. During production, four of the costumes disappeared. It had to be theft.

Although Spider-Man’s secret identity as Peter Parker would be revealed to the world 17 years later in Spider-Man: Far From Home, it was still a closely-guarded secret in 2002. Without his iconic red and blue crime-fighting outfit, Parker would be left with a choice between exposing his true identity to the world or leaving the streets of New York to the mercy of the likes of the Green Goblin, Doctor Octopus, and other bad nasties.

Just as authorities started to give up hope of finding the stolen costumes, they got a break in the case. A woman called the authorities, tipping them off that they might find something at the home of her ex-husband that would make their spider-sense tingle like crazy.

Glenn Gustafson had until quite recently, worked as a security guard for Sony Pictures. Before that, he was employed by Warner Bros. in the same capacity. As the authorities looked him over, they started to suspect he had, indeed, done far more than tick off the woman to whom he was once married.

Police obtained a warrant to search Gustafson’s home. Sure enough, Gustafson was as guilty as a kid with his hand in Aunt May’s cookie jar. Gustafson had not only stolen the four Spidey suits but he had been selling them on the black market. Three of the costumes were located in Los Angeles and New York. The fourth was traced to a collector in Japan.

Just when it looked as if the case was wrapped up as tightly as Kaecilius in the Crimson Bands of Cyttorak, the police found evidence that made them say, “Holy Crossover Crime, Batman!”

It wasn’t bad enough that Gustafson attempted to rob Spider-Man of his crime-fighting uniform or that he compounded his offense by crossing state and international boundaries to peddle his ill-gotten goods. He had done the unthinkable and crossed the supposedly-impervious barriers between the Marvel and DC universes.

As the police searched Gustafson’s home, they were shocked to find the crime-fighting uniform of another superhero: the Dark Knight known by citizens of Gotham City as Batman. The costume, custom-made for actor Val Kilmer for his role in the 1995 movie Batman Forever, was valued at $150,000. The costume and an accompanying mannequin had disappeared from the Warner Bros. lot in Burbank in March 1996. The theft was pulled off with such duplicity, without so much as a “Riddle me this….” clue to its whereabouts. All this time, it had been in Gustafson’s possession as he laughed like some egomaniacal Joker.

Laughing no more, Gustafson was charged with two felony counts of receiving stolen property. Despite the overwhelming evidence, Gustafson benefitted from legal talent on par with that of Matt Murdoch. He convinced the authorities that they could not tie the Batman theft to him. In May 2003, Gustafson pleaded no contest to a single felony count and was sentenced to 9 months imprisonment, five years probation, and $93,000 in restitution.

Little has been heard from Gustafson since then. If history is any indication, it will remain that way, unless he happens to fall into a vat of acid or pool of electric eels, has a run-in with a particle collider, or encounters a shape-changing alien parasite. Should any of these events take place, rest assured the world will soon see this costume-nabbing evildoer again.

Although the Curious Case of the Costume Copper has been solved, there are remaining unsolved mysteries from Hollywood movie studios. When the 1939 movie The Wizard of Oz was produced, six or seven pairs of ruby red slippers were made for Dorothy’s use. One of those pairs was housed at the Judy Garland Museum in Grand Rapids, Minnesota. That changed one night in August 2005 when the slippers were stolen. The case went cold until 2018 when FBI agents made the surprise announcement that they had recovered the magic footwear.

Although the slippers were recovered and returned to the museum, the identity of the culprit(s) has yet to be revealed. It remains one of the more peculiar mysteries in the sketchy world of black market movie memorabilia. The FBI continues to seek information from anyone who might provide clues to this crime.

Given the power of the ruby slippers, we suspect the villain is already somewhere over the rainbow, escaping as easily as a flying monkey. To bring this particular mystery to an end, it will take someone who has a brain, a heart, and the courage of a lion. Until then, the case appears to be as flat as a witch who had a house land on her.

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