Matt Driscoll

A popular Tacoma comics shop is on the ropes. Can a professional wrestler save it?

On the first day of October, Micheal Fitzgerald, the owner of Destiny City Comics in Tacoma, celebrated his business’ fifth anniversary.

The occasion was bittersweet, however.

Just a week earlier, Fitzgerald, 36, announced plans to close up shop by the end of October. Speaking to The News Tribune on Thursday, Fitzgerald said Destiny City Comics is profitable, but issues with its distributor coupled with the exhaustion of running a small business contributed to his decision.

In its five years in operation, Destiny City Comics — which is located next to King’s Books on St. Helens Ave — has built a devoted following by stocking hard-to-find local gems and zines and by catering to comic books fans of all types. Deliberately, that includes newcomers and those who don’t fit neatly into the dominant straight, white male culture.

So, needless to say, the news hit Tacoma’s comics community hard.

That is until Matt Nebeker, a 31-year-old Tacoma native, came flying off the top turnbuckle in a desperate attempt to save it, providing a glimmer of hope in the process.

Nebeker, as you may have guessed, is more than just a comic book fan. He’s also a professional wrestler — of the steel chair and cage match variety — who performs under the name Ethan HD.

In the ring Nebeker, who has wrestled professionally since 2015, is known for the “double foot stomps” he delivers to unsuspecting, spandex-clad adversaries.

Now, he wants to be known as the guy who helped to save a beloved comic book shop before it’s too late.

For many in Tacoma, Nebeker’s interest in saving Destiny City Comics comes as welcome news.

“Tacoma can’t afford the loss of this shop in this location — not now, in these dark, foreboding times,” said local political cartoonist RR Anderson, in his customarily sardonic way.

“Not all comic book shops are the same,” added Mark Monlux, a well-known local illustrator and comic. Monlux described Destiny City as unique “because it strives to make connections with local artists who are not often, if at all, represented in comic book stores.”

All of these are reasons why news of Destiny City’s potential closing created waves of angst and sadness in the City of Destiny, and also why Nebeker hopes to save it.

Nebeker, who recently launched a fundraising effort through crowdfunding site Indiegogo, is in talks with Fitzgerald to purchase the business, take over the rent and keep the doors open. He’s confident a combination of small business loans and money raised through crowdfunding will be enough to make it happen.

Nebeker and Fitzgerald both tell The News Tribune they’re hopeful a deal can be reached.

In a perfect world, both said, the transition, come Nov. 1, would be smooth.

For Nebeker, the purchase would be the realization of an entrepreneurial dream that’s easy to relate to.

“Anything to keep from doing a 9-to-5,” he explained.

It’s an admittedly humorous line delivered by a guy who’s dead serious about his latest endeavor.

Nebeker describes Destiny City as “the first comic book shop I felt an attachment to.”

He also sees parallels between his work in the ring and the world of comics.

“To me, comic books and wrestling always went hand in hand, because a lot of wrestlers are kind of these larger than life superheroes,” Nebeker said. “Getting into wrestling, these are like real life superheroes. … As someone who’s a storyteller in a different medium, a lot (about comics) resonates with me.”

Somewhat surprisingly, the appeal of Destiny City Comics goes beyond those with an affinity for capes and superpowers. Even for the uninitiated — like this columnist — there’s something about stepping foot inside Destiny City Comics that makes you feel at home.

Fitzgerald said that’s intentional and evidenced by the shop itself and the many diverse community events it supports — including its own Destiny City Comics and Arts Festival as well as the annual Tacoma Pride Festival.

“Not every comic shop that I’ve been to has been super welcoming,” said Fitzgerald, who has made it his mission to buck this trend.

“Everybody who walks through that door is different,” he added. “My mission is to create a place where people can just come and enjoy the fun art of comics. ... I’m always happy to get someone into something new or new to them. It’s also a reflection of the community.”

For Nebeker, the welcoming atmosphere at Destiny City Comics — and how “invested” in Tacoma the shop has been — is part of the appeal, and something he wants to build on.

It’s also why he has found himself with so many new supporters in his corner.

If a real-life superhero is what it will take to save Destiny City Comics, they welcome it.

“That spoke a lot about the mission of the store,” Nebeker said. “They’re not just there to sell comic books. They’re making a statement about what’s important to them.”

“I’ve always had good vibes, whether thinking about that place or visiting it,” he added. “To me, I just want to keep those good vibes going.”

Matt Driscoll is a reporter and The News Tribune’s metro news columnist. A McClatchy President’s Award winner, Driscoll lives in Central Tacoma with his wife and three children. He’s passionate about the City of Destiny and strives to tell stories that might otherwise go untold.