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Saturday, February 19, 2005

Nerd Bling- The Love of Super-Heroes

When you think of comic books and the "fan boys" who love them (because we don't associate girls with comics in North America), a very distinct image and reaction comes to mind- the "Comic Book Guy" from The Simpsons in the case of the former and likely some sarcastic, condescending comment in the case of the latter. Comic book fans are losers, right? People so unable to connect with the rest of society that they spend days watching Lord Of The Rings movie marathons and debating the merits of various females in various superheroine costumes. If you go to the Comic-Con International in San Diego every year, you're likely to find a lot of people who fit that mold- that fact cannot be contested. The smell of the convention hall is something to marvel at, though it is much like tear gas at first- survive the initial gagging and vomit reflex before moving forward.

But if you look closely, really closely, you'll see that there's a whole segment of comic book fans not driven crazy by minutae and living their life for fictional characters. Actually, it's no more worse (relatively speaking) than NFL fans in the American heartland or those in Oakland who feel the need to urinate on those cheering for the opposing team. Is one better than the other? You could go back and forth on the merits, but the easy comparison to sports fanatics- who are admittedly far more violent than comic fans (did you see towns set on fire when Superman "died?")- begs a more serious question: why are comic book fans so reviled and loathed by the masses?

To examine this issue, one needs to examine the roots of most comic book fans and when they first encounter comic books: Childhood (and yes, for simplicty's sake, I'll be focusing on super-heroes). There's an innocence in how a child views life and fiction in general, so superheroes seem to fit that mold just fine- they're often characters built upon black & white concepts of morality, so a child can use them to develop their own sense of right and wrong, as well as see these big, bold fantastic images they won't find anywhere else, except perhaps done in a low budget version on Power Rangers. I remember getting hooked on almost every comic I read a child simply because it all looked so "cool" (mostly comics from the 70's-80's) and it was a way to see the hero win using their brains and their brawn. It gave me something to aspire to and think about till Transformers came on at 16:00, at which point I desperately wished to be a boom box that transformed into a robot (aka the Autobot known as Blaster). Anyway... the point is that super-heroes were and always have been the way to see the really cool, the really fun and really exciting good vs evil battles enacted on the printed page. While other mediums are of course wonderful, there's something wonderfully unique about picking up a super-hero comic because of the language used to tell the stories and the sheer amount of genres & topics that one can address subversively with these comics. Plus, it's reading and if you're reading something you like, your mom can't make you read one of those books without pictures, as that seems to be torture for any kid, unless the books are Hardy Boys books. Ah, Chet and the Jalopy. Those were the days.

During the teen years, people start to find themselves and you can probably remember how your love of comic books went from being something you could talk with everyone about to something shared less and less by your friends. The simplicity of most comic books- at least at the core, from the morality to things like Clark Kent's "disguise"- causes the passion to fall by the wayside as fanboys discover girls, drugs, alcohol and sports, and sometimes in that order too. At this point comic book fans, because of the immaturity at that age, often feel like they have to hold on tighter to their passion for the medium (or perhaps just Wolverine) and we see the disconnect that causes the "cool" kids and the nerds to have much wider gaps between them. For better or worse, this is the time when people either swear allegiance to comic books or leave them. I could go into a whole rant about why the industry doesn't welcome new readers, but that is for a later time.

So at the end of this, many fans feel rejected by society and become the kind of people you see on message boards, endlessly debating the most insignificant things ("Batman would never drink coffee! He's a self made creature of the night with no need for caffeine!") or feeling closer to Spider-Man, for example, than they do to others... or themselves.

But like I said, there's a large part of the comic reading population that's more level headed about men in spandex and/or just loves the medium for the storytelling languages found within the pages of a variety of work, from Slow News Day to Blankets to Astonishing X-Men. For these fans, they grew up loving comic books as children but instead of clutching on to their childhood perceptions and reasons for loving these characters, they integrated those into their now mature worldviews to create a true passion for the medium. So what's so bad about them? And what's so bad about super-heroes?

More To Come Later Today...