As my wife and I sat at the restaurant eating dinner tonight, she giggled even though I had not said anything. I asked what was so funny and she smiled and said “I’m doing a you” as she tilted her head at the table next to us. We both smiled and went back to our meals as both of us tuned into the conversation going on at the other table. Now, I do not intentionally listen to other’s conversations as a matter of course, but when people talk loud, it is hard to ignore them, so I get a chuckle every now and again and sometimes I get more than an earful of other people’s lives. Sometimes, it takes every bit of self control to avoid saying something in response. A little while later, I heard a guy at another table announce that he was just not as familiar with DC as he was with Marvel, at which point both my wife and I laughed again. I almost chimed in on this topic, because, as a guy and a geek, I am fully versed in comic lore.
I am so well versed in fact, that when we were kids, one of my brother’s favorite pastimes was to ask me who I thought would win in a fight between this superhero and that one. Then we would debate the logic of my position, given the relative strengths and weaknesses of the heroes in question. Did you know that Superman would not easily defeat the incredible Hulk given that Thor only fought him to standstill? Hulk gets stronger as he gets madder, and it only makes sense that Superman pummeling him through a mountain might just tick him off a little bit.
I used to frequent comic shops (and folks, don’t even think of calling them “funny books.” You’re likely to rile up some nerd collective that will paper your yard with Archie and Jughead magazines) where I would catch up on the latest issues of my favorite heroes. Of course, I had to take my little brother with me on most of these trips. He continued to collect them after I had moved onto more adult pastimes. I still have many of the comics I bought in my youth stored in little plastic bags in several boxes in a closet (you can’t store them in a garage or attic, as the humidity and heat would degrade the paper…just a tip from me to you.) These magazines would fetch a pretty penny in the market if I chose to sell them, which I won’t. I don’t believe in spending good money on something with the expressed purpose of getting rid of it later. Then again, who knows—when I am old and retired and my savings has long run out and I am subsisting on ramen noodles and mac and cheese and selling plasma, I might be persuaded to sell one or two.
One of my favorite TV shows on right now is “The Big Bang Theory” which is a sitcom about four nerds who work as astrophysics researchers for a university and live as the ultimate geeks complete with a video game addiction, social awkwardness, and—to my point—an understanding on comic lore that blurs the lines of reality. What I like about the show is that I have met people just like this; people who can recite Superman’s lineage back three generations or explain the timeline in detail between the murder of Bruce Wayne’s parents and the first time he put on the Batman cowl. These people also cried about the recent Star Trek movie because it changed the timeline from the original series and everyone knows that the Enterprise was built at the Utopia Planitia shipyards on Mars, not on Earth as the new movie portrayed. They will also take you to task for referring to Gandalf the Grey when talking about The Return of The King (in which, of course everyone knows, he was Gandalf the White).
My fanaticism did not end at in-depth discussions. After the Batman movie that came out in 1989, I was disappointed that the film did not delve into the origins of the hero, so I wrote a story outline. I was online in a SF writers group and shared my outline there. This outline told the story of Batman’s origin against the backdrop of one of his mentors killing crime lords in Gotham. Sound familiar? I was sitting in the theater watching Batman Begins with the oddest feeling of Déjà Vu when it hit me why the story seemed so familiar. Never share intellectual property online.
Anyway, as my kids grew, they would play the same game with me that their uncle had played. Even now, with my sons as adults, at some point during a visit, the discussion will turn to superheroes either on TV or coming to the movies. My sons have most of their knowledge of comic heroes from cartoon series, which as any comic follower knows, is just not the same. Cartoons change the back story to fit whatever plot they want to film at the time. They think they are “updating” the heroes to appeal to a modern audience, but we all know it’s just to make more money revising old stories which is cheaper than developing brand new ones. Many times I have to start a conversation with my sons with “in the original comic…” so they understand why something they saw was significant.
Sometimes, though, a revision is needed and even tolerable. Yes, I regularly watch Smallville and Heroes and I just watched Iron Man 2 and I have seen just about every superhero movie that Hollywood puts out, but I have not bought a comic book in at least 15 years. I have been to a comic store, but only to browse and converse with the diehard comic geeks. It was during one such visit that I found out that the Flash (aka Barry Allen) had come back to life after 20 years of being dead. It seems “he got better.” This is the only way I can keep myself versed in the goings on in the DC and Marvel universes. How else can I understand the conversations of those upon whom I eavesdrop?