09 December 2013

Marvel-ous (Or, why the Marvel Cinematic Universe is the greatest thing to happen to comics ever)

As a little girl, I loved comic books. This was partly due to my brother, who is 4 years older than me. He was very into comic books, and I worshiped the ground he walked on. He was my hero. So I also loved comic books.

One of my earliest recollections is from when I was two or three years old. I used to creep down to my brother's bedroom, and climb onto him while he was in bed. I would sit in his lap and read his comic books. It must have been so irritating to a 7-year-old boy to have his kid sister, who couldn't even read, thumbing through his precious comics. But I don't remember him every being irritated. I remember him reading Spiderman and Avengers to me. I remember liking his Donald Duck comic best because he actually let me hold it. But I liked the stories from Spiderman better than Donald Duck. My brother didn't have a lot of comic books, but I would return to them time and time again.

My parents separated for a while during our childhood, and I had no comic books while my mum and I lived away from my brother and dad. When they got back together, one of the first things my brother and I did was read comic books together again.

But I grew up in the 80s. And while everyone remembers the 80s through the tint of rose coloured glasses, carrying on about how awesome the music was, and how terrifyingly funny the fashion was, in the 80s society was not so accepting of kids who deviated from the norm. I started school in 1980, and was quickly informed that girls did not, under any circumstance, read comic books.

As a chubby kid who was incredibly sensitive, I took heed of my peers. I was desperate to fit in. By grade 2, I denied ever having liked comic books. By grade 3, I was denying my love for Star Wars. By grade 5, I wouldn't dare admit that I liked anything that might have been, for one minute, thought to be geeky. So no Star Trek, no Star Wars, no comic books, no excitement about anything that truly made my heart sing. In order to conform, I denied that I'd ever liked those things, and even joined in when other girls heaped scorn on those who did. And then I started high school. And high school in the 80s was not like a John Hughes movie, except in one way. The cliques were vicious. I had stayed chubby, and so I was bullied. A lot. Bullied enough that at one point, I changed schools to get away from it.

High school in 1988 was not somewhere you wanted to be even remotely different. So I drank the kool-aid that said I must conform, and I conformed the hell out of myself. I did things that I am horrified by, just so I could fit in. And even then, I didn't fit in. I was passionate about music, and was in a world class children's choir. That was SO uncool. But I didn't quit because I loved it. So because of the one area where I would make a stand, I was never quite cool enough. I loved acting too, but our drama crowd was fairly tolerated.

Deep down inside, I was lonely because I was denying who I was and what gave me joy. I had choir but even choir geeks have a hierarchy, and I didn't fit in with the cool choir kids either. I read fantasy novels in private, hiding them from my friends. I watched movies like Star Wars and Dune and Star Trek with my family on the weekends. I transitioned from thinking Luke Skywalker was the dreamiest boy ever to thinking Han Solo was the man for me. But when I was with my friends, I kept up with the pop culture expectations of my generation.

After changing schools, I came into myself, and started accepting me for me. I started to assert my individuality, and not worry about what people thought. At the same time, I still desperately wanted to fit in. So I became quirky. Every so often, I pop off a one-liner about a superhero, or Star Wars. The guys in the room would nod and think I was cool in that weird way that geeky kids could be, and the girls would think I was just kind of odd. I was okay with that. But I never quite managed to get my shit together to accept everything I'd loved before I'd been broken by school.

It was while I was in high school that I fell desperately in love with history. My family fully supported this nerdiness, and I was even given history textbooks as gifts. I gained the confidence I needed to re-embrace those geeky things I'd loved as a child.

So here's where my story gets sad before it becomes a story of triumph. As a little girl, I'd loved Spiderman, and Thor and Batman. I loved Spiderman because really? What kid doesn't love Spiderman? He was the superhero every kid adored in the 80s. I loved Batman because he was cool and gadgety. And I loved Thor because no one else did, and because even as a little kid, I had a passion for history and legend and mythology.

A comic book store opened in my hometown in the early 90s (which was small, and so we didn't have anything like that before). I was kind of excited. I wanted to read comic books again. I liked comic books, I always had, but I was finally confident enough to not care what anyone said, and rediscover everyone I'd thought was so wonderful and amazing when I was wee.

So I went to the comic book store. It was in the upstairs of this weird office complex that smelled like pickled fish. I walked in and it was like walking into a brick wall. The two young guys who owned the place looked at me and treated me with such amazing indifference that I felt kind of lost. I went over to a stack of comic books and tried to find Thor. I couldn't. I asked for help. I will never forget the conversation that happened.

Comic Book Store Guy #1 asked me how I knew who Thor was. I told him I'd read Thor comics when I was little and wanted to read them again. He scoffed and said that girls didn't read comics. I assured him that I most certainly had read comic books. So he decided to interrogate me.

He interrogated me. He started with some easy shit, about Superman, and Batman and Spidey. Stuff that anyone would know. Then he moved into harder stuff. I was doing okay, but then he asked me what Thor's secret identity was, and I couldn't remember. And with that, it was over. He told me I was a poser, and that I was faking my interest and that I should just go back to reading Archie comics and the Sunday funnies.

And before Comic Book Store Guy #2 could say a word, CBSG #1 had chased me away. I stomped out of the store, determined to leave comic books to the losers who thought it was okay to bully a girl who was interested. You see, at the time, I didn't realize those two guys were kids, who like me, had been socially marginalized in school to the point that they couldn't interact with a woman without being a total asshat. I was young woman who'd spent the previous 13 years of her life being bullied and had finally decided not to take it anymore. So when CBSG #1 started in on me, I walked away. I didn't get that maybe he was trying to protect the only thing that had got him through school. And I'm not saying that to excuse his behaviour. He was an ass, plain and simple, and he alienated someone who could have been an ally*.

Not long after, I moved away from my hometown, and I immersed myself in the SCA, and I found other women like me. And over the course of *mumbletymumble*-teen years, I have grown to accept myself completely. I love sci-fi movies, but am totally honest about not being wild about sci-fi books. I adore The Lord of the Rings, but am not crazy about other fantasy novels. I think comic books are awesome, and superheroes are one of my favourite things ever, but I still don't spend much time in the comic book shop, and rarely buy comic books. I love Star Wars, Star Trek, Firefly, and Doctor Who. I feel badly for Aquaman, who is such an epically lame superhero that no one likes him. I feel so badly for him that I want to like him. But seriously, he's lame. Go ahead and quiz me now. His alter-ego's name is Donald Blake, and I can't believe I didn't remember because every time he starts spinning Mjolnir to take off after a battle, he announces it.

Anyhow, back to the subject of this post. I think that the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is the best thing ever. It means my little girl, who loves superheroes, and Star Wars and Star Trek, can love those things without being judged. She can be who she needs to be without the other girls around her making fun of her. She can be confident that loving those things won't make her less acceptable as a person because everyone loves The Avengers right now. And for me, as an adult? It's awesome because I loved these characters for so long that I sometimes feel like it's a holiday where long-lost family shows up. And because I've created a family of friends who are every bit as geeky as I am, we can be geeky together and support each others geeks. And that means that by being my best me, with my closest friends being their best thems, my kids are going to grow up in an environment that loves and nurtures every thing that they choose to be passionate about. So that they can grow up being excited about the world around them. Because really? That's was being a geek is about. It's being passionate about something. I want my children to live a life of passion.

And that's why the Marvel Cinematic Universe is the greatest thing to happen to comics ever. And why the Marvel Cinematic Universe is the greatest thing to happen to geeky girls who grew up in the 80s, and to anyone else who allowed their individuality suppressed by the expectations of a bunch of mean girls or boys.

*Funny sidebar: As an older adult, when I moved back to my hometown to finish university, I bumped into Comic Book Store Guy #1 when we were both working as Elections Canada Voting Place employees during a Federal Election. He struck up a conversation with me about something elections based, and during the course of our conversation I made some comment that outed my geekiness. One thing led to another, and we chatted during the down times of the day. He kept coming back and striking up conversations about comic books, or Star Wars, or what online comics I read. At the end of the day, he noticed my engagement ring and commented that it was too bad we hadn't met when we were younger because I would have been the perfect girlfriend for him while he was an awkward comic book geek. I smiled, and said 'Sometimes we don't know a good thing until it passes us by'. Because what else could I say? He'd had a chance. He blew it. But he was also a young, socially awkward guy who was protecting what he loved.

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