Comic book movies bring out the geek, for better or for worse

    In the early 1960s, terms like “geek” were not part of our playground/corner store lexicon. However, you could be dubbed “jerk” or “weirdo.” In truth, I did fit the description. I liked reading and hadn’t grown out of make-believe. My joys were movies such as “The Day The Earth Stood Still,” TV such as “The Twilight Zone” and comic books. Especially, comic books. I read them all, from Archie to Classics Illustrated. But, nothing stirred the imagination like super heroes.

    I think this is a love story.

    Inside the dark Cineplex, Thor, God of Thunder, has just saved the world. No, make that two worlds. Earth and Aasgard. As the audience shuffles out, my wife and I settle into our ritual of watching every last end credit. But this time my mind wanders from the scroll of legions of actors, special effects houses, stuntpersons and accountants.

    “Thank You, Kenneth Branagh,” I think. “And Sam Raimi, Tim Burton, Christopher Nolan, Bryan Singer. And even Tim Story and Mark Steven Johnson.” Each director accepted the challenge of crafting a film from a super-hero comic book. Each enjoyed varying degrees of success. Most of all, each has given me a precious few hours of long-lost childhood wonder.

    In the early 1960s, terms like “geek” were not part of our playground/corner store lexicon. However, you could be dubbed “jerk” or “weirdo.” In truth, I did fit the description. I liked reading and hadn’t grown out of make-believe. My joys were movies such as “The Day The Earth Stood Still,” TV such as “The Twilight Zone” and comic books. Especially, comic books. I read them all, from Archie to Classics Illustrated. But, nothing stirred the imagination like super heroes.

    Like most kids of the era, I was weaned on the establishment DC comics—Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, The Flash. And, like many kids, I later embraced the upstart Marvel. Sure, Marvel heroes had very cool powers and costumes, too, but they were different. DC heroes were such goody two-shoes, nobly conquering evil from street thugs to aliens. They were so pure of heart, they wouldn’t think of running a red light to get to the crime scene. But, Marvel super heroes were like real people. Sure, they could fly or turn invisible, but they had a tough time fitting in with those folks that couldn’t. They scrambled to make a living. They bickered with each other. Their lives were messy—just like mine. I became a Marvel addict, buying 12 titles a month—and at an outrageous 12 cents apiece. It was a great day when, accompanying Cousin Margaret to the laundromat, we would stop by Doc’s Sweet Shop (honest, the real name). The racks were filled with the latest Avengers, Iron Man and the rest. Later, sitting on the plastic laundromat chairs, surrounded by the smell of Tide and the chug of washing machines, I would plow through each mag. I didn’t stop there. I bought T-shirts, a six-foot Spider-Man poster and membership in something called the Merry Marvel Marching Society.

    Jerk. Weirdo. Geek.

    As I entered teendom, I drifted away from comics, my attention—and money—drawn to rock ‘n’ roll and clothes. You could say I was maturing, but let’s be honest and say I was just getting older. Comic books by flashlight were consigned to the pleasant-memory bin along with summers without a summer job or my grandma’s Spam sandwiches. While I salute comic books’ transition to “graphic novels” and the passionate folks at Philadelphia’s Comic Con, it’s unlikely I will ever go back.

    However, in my 20s, along came Richard Donner with the first Superman movie. It didn’t look half bad. It wasn’t campy like the TV Batman or filled with lousy effects like The Incredible Hulk. Mario Puzo helped script it and big names like Marlon Brando added star power. A few years later, Tim Burton nicely re-imagined Batman. Then, digital technology arrived. Wow, I could see Mr. Fantastic stretch like a rubber band and watch Iron Man’s flexible armor defy the laws of physics. It was just like my 11-year-old imagination had pictured it.

    I was hooked again.

    I’ve tried to view as many of these films as I can. Plot? Character development? Who cares? The excitement of seeing onscreen what my little crew-cut head had imagined nearly 50 years ago was enough for me. Look, I once reviewed films for a few major daily newspapers, and I’m relieved I don’t have to judge them through a critic’s eye. I know these movies are not great art and some are not even very good movies. But they stir the long-dormant ashes of my geekdom into flames and it just feels so darn good.

    My silent partner in each of these films—we rarely talk during movies—has been my wife. Why she comes is bit of a mystery. I fully understand she did not grow up obsessed with Dr. Doom or Dr. Strange. Her childhood reading tended more to Black Beauty than the Silver Surfer. She is not revisiting childhood memories, merely—and graciously—indulging mine. There is never an eye roll or “you owe me” grimace. Even after sitting through Daredevil battling Electra at a playground—arguably one of the stupidest scenes in cinema history. Even for a comic book movie. She checks the file start times so we aren’t late, and afterwards patiently endures my critiques of costume and special effects. Not to mention my endless rounds of trivia about how The Beast wasn’t blue back in the day or the pedigree of Sgt. Nick Fury. Sometimes, she even appears interested. Sometimes she will say, “That was pretty cool.”

    I can’t figure it out.

    When we married 35 years ago, I can assure you when considering “For Better or Worse,” she may have imagined socks missing the hamper and male-pattern baldness but she never dreamed of sitting through a Fantastic Four sequel. However, I know when “Green Lantern” and “Captain America: The First Avenger” roll into the theaters, she will be sitting next to me, giving me a nudge and passing the Mild Duds.

    When I whisper “thanks,” it will be for a whole lot more than a piece of candy.

    Yup. This is definitely a love story.

    Bill Wedo is a recovering journalist and Communications Manager at Studio Incamminati, a school for contemporary realist art in Center City.

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