MIAMI — One of the world's most famous superheroes, Batman, was born in May 1939, in Detective Comics' book No. 27. At that time, it cost just 10 cents a copy.
Last year, a copy of that comic book sold for more than $1 million. Only 100 to 200 of them still exist. And one of them belongs to Ben Novack Jr., the multimillionaire hotel heir who was tortured and murdered in 2009.
That comic book and others in his cache of Caped Crusader merchandise are on the verge of being put up for auction.
And in a perverse plot twist worthy of the Joker, the proceeds could go toward defending his 53-year-old widow, Narcy, against charges that she had Novack and his mother murdered, plundered his bank accounts, then tried to pin the crimes on her own daughter.
Only one thing now stands in the way of the auction: Narcy's daughter, May Abad. On June 22, she persuaded a Broward County judge to hold off on the auction and give her at least 14 days to find suitable storage and insurance for the massive collection, stuffed floor to ceiling in rooms of his Fort Lauderdale house.
Novack's Batman fixation has sentimental meaning for Abad. Her mother, a former stripper, married Ben Novack in 1991 and Abad grew up going to comic book conventions with her stepfather, a successful businessman whose own father once owned the Fontainebleau hotel. "It's something we kind of had together,'' Abad said. "Yes, it's Ben's, but he made us go to all those conventions. There are some things you just can't put a dollar on."
Abad has fond memories of her stepfather's passion for acquiring rare and unusual pieces. He also collected Coca-Cola memorabilia because his mother, Bernice, was once one of the company's models.
Under her stepfather's will, Abad's mother was the sole heir to the estate and would inherit the collection, which Abad said her mother hated. But Narcy Novack, jailed in Westchester, N.Y., has no access at this time to the couple's joint possessions or to Ben's effects. By law, if ultimately she is convicted of killing him, she cannot inherit anything from his will. Next in line: Abad's two sons, 18 and 19. He considered them his grandchildren.
Narcy Novack was arrested last July, accused with her brother, Cristobal Veliz, of masterminding a plot to murder Novack and his mother, heirs to the estate of Ben Novack Sr.
His mother was killed in April 2009 at her Fort Lauderdale home; her son was slain three months later at a hotel in Rye Brook, N.Y., where he had been overseeing a corporate gathering organized by his convention-planning business.
As a child, young "Benji" Novack became obsessed with Batman. He darkened the windows to his bedroom inside the family's penthouse to make it feel like his own private Bat Cave. Like his hero, he fancied himself a true crime fighter, joining the Miami Beach Police Department as a reserve officer in his 20s. He patrolled the streets in a big Lincoln, using a bullhorn to warn motorists of traffic missteps.
Doug Hoffman, the Fort Lauderdale court-appointed personal representative, said it is in the best interest of the estate to sell the Batman collection rather than force the estate to absorb the cost of storing it. Because Bernice Novack — 87 when she was fatally bludgeoned in her home, allegedly by hired hit men — left the bulk of her estate to her son, the two estates were rolled into one.
The few items left of Bernice Novack's estate will be part of the auction of her son's possessions. There is no mention in either will of the Batman collection or any other personal effects.
Abad, a single mother, is working on a deal with a storage facility. To pay for the storage and insurance, "I will probably have to get a second job," she says.