Nerd versus Evil

March 23, 2014

“If you could have one super power, what would it be?” My twelve-year-old daughter narrowed her eyes at my eight-year-old son.




“For me, it would have to be either flight, or super strength,” she said.


“Flight! Definitely flight!”


“Flying would be cool, but it’s not like you could really do anything with it, other than fly around. But with super strength, you could actually use it.”


“Oh, I would definitely pick flight. I’d never get tired of flying around. I’d be flying around up there right now!”


I had been working in the other room, but I decided to join their conversation. “I think we’d hear your high-pitched laughter, filtering down from the clouds,” I said, “and occasionally, we might feel droplets of urine.”


My son’s eyes lit up, and a huge grin split his face.


“We’re picking super powers,” my daughter explained. “You can only pick one. I picked super strength, and he picked flight. What would your super power be?”


This game sure took me back. I recalled dozens of instances, throughout my childhood, when the same question had been posed, prompting some of the most fantastic discussions. My kids were still pretty new at this. My son is really only into super heroes to placate me. Somehow, he was never all that interested. He loves science fiction, fantasy, and classic mythology, which are smarter choices, anyway. My daughter, on the other hand, had no interest whatsoever up until very recently, when she came home with a couple of Avengers shirts that she’d purchased with her birthday money. I had to presume that her new attraction was in some way related to a boy, but I guess I’ll take whatever I can get.


“Super-charisma might be a good choice,” I replied.


“What’s that?” Both kids furrowed their brows.


“Well, it’s like, wherever you go, everyone just thinks you’re the absolute best. People would cut you deals all the time, help you out, give you stuff … you’d get out of speeding tickets. All kinds of stuff. Basically, you’d just walk around feeling lucky, all the time. Luck! That would be another good one.”


“Those aren’t really super powers, though,” my daughter said. “I mean like, super strength, or flying, or lasers coming out of your eyes, those kinds of powers.”


“Yeah, but seriously, how often are you really going to need to fight bad guys, in the real world?”


Listen to me. I was starting to sound like a grown-up! As hard as I try to stay young at heart, constantly fueling my inner nerd, I was still subject to the boring rationalizations that come with adulthood. Yeah, luck and charisma are pretty lame super powers, but any adult could see that their benefits would certainly outweigh those of a power designed to blast criminals into the next state, at least, on a day to day basis.


“Okay, I guess I'll have to go with teleportation,” I said. “That way, I could pop-off to Hawaii for an hour or so, then pop right back.” As a kid, I’d thought this through. You could teleport all of your friends along with you, so long as they were touching you. It was always a good stand-by for the super powers discussion.


I remember one middle school summer, hanging out in the arcade room of the neighborhood 7-11, with a row of quarters lined-up on the Sky Shark machine. My best buddy and I would trade off the controls, after each death, until together, we finally beat that game. Afterward, we got our slushies and stepped outside, where a couple of banged-up Huffy bikes shared a chain. We were talking about the X-men. We discussed how awesome that would be if they made an X-men movie, or better yet, an X-men video game, where you could actually choose any one of those characters and play them, either alone, or fighting side by side with your best buddy.


Thirty years later, the world has become a nerd’s paradise. All of those middle school dreams have since become realities. The super hero movies and video games are simply incredible. And some of the comics being produced are the best that they’ve ever been.


When my daughter brought home her Avengers shirts, she proclaimed that Marvel was far and away the best, and that DC just sucks. Now wait just a minute. The kid buys a tee-shirt, and suddenly, she’s been transformed into something of a comic aficionado?  I don't think so. Clearly, she needed some straightening out.


When Bob Kane created Batman, back in 1939, he inadvertently birthed an icon. But, less obviously, he also initiated the classic dynamic between the hero and the juxtaposed super villain that would be imitated, but never quite duplicated, for the next seventy years. Bob Kane matched his dark and brooding detective with an aversion to killing against a maniacally flamboyant, killer clown. It just doesn’t get any better than this. At first attempt, it was absolute perfection in the hero-villain archetype. Pure genius. And this polarized dynamic between the hero and his antithesis has since been done and redone, but it always falls short of the perfect marriage between Batman and the Joker.


When I was my daughter's age, I was a comic addict. But, once I hit my teen years, I guess I became embarrassed, so I reluctantly dropped the habit.  Fast-forward three decades ...


Two years ago, DC launched their “New 52” campaign, where they rebooted all of their titles back to issue #1, erasing all of the past history, missing arms, dead partners, and alternate universes, and starting each story again from scratch. This infuriated a portion of nerd-dom, but I was elated. It was a perfect excuse to resurrect my old addiction.  I was no longer an insecure and embarrassed teen.  I was a grown man, who didn't give a shit.


Choosing the titles to which I was going to subscribe was just as much fun as it was when I was twelve. Maybe even more fun. Because forty-year-olds have a lot of things that twelve-year-olds do not, like credit cards. My idea was to subscribe for one year, to each of the iconic DC super heroes, follow them, and based on my experience, I would continue or discontinue the subscriptions at the end of that year.


There were some definite hits and misses. But, far and away, Batman was not only the best of the dozen or so titles to which I subscribed, but it is hands-down the best series that I have ever read. It’s been two years, and each month, I still can’t wait to see what Snyder and Capullo are going to deliver me. Green Arrow is another bull’s eye. The series was off to a questionable start, and with each switch of creative teams, the book got worse and worse until I couldn’t wait for that subscription to run out. Six months after it did, the new creative team of Lemire and Sorrento took the helm, and flipped that wrecked book into one of the best series I’ve ever read.


“I just think that their super heroes are all dumb,” my daughter said. “But Marvel has the Avengers, and the X-men, and they’re all way cooler.”


As a twelve-year-old kid, my opinion was pretty similar to my daughter’s, actually. I always favored Marvel. DC was the Old School, if you will, filled with your dad’s sorry old super heroes. Marvel seemed young and fresh. They were cool, punk and edgy, filled with complex and tormented misfits that warred, and sometimes killed. It appealed to the angst of a kid my age. But as I grew older, I began to appreciate the iconical majesty of the classic DC heroes.


Once I’d done a year with DC, it seemed a logical next step to give Marvel a try, since they seemed to be imitating the DC reboot in the way that Marvel and DC have imitated and complimented one another, back and forth, since the earliest days of their emergence. In re-exploring Marvel, thirty years later, I revealed some changes in myself that left me favoring DC.


Marvel had its moments. I was totally blown away by the first twelve issues of Thor. It was just as good as a comic series gets. I was crushed when the creative teams were switched at the end of that year. Since then, I’ve enjoyed A.I. (an Avengers spin-off series, featuring Hank Pym and the Vision, leading a team of android Avengers through virtual worlds). It’s not the sort of setup that would typically intrigue me, since I had no previous attachment to Pym or the Vision, and if anything, an aversion to techno-plots and alternate worlds, but the writing is great, and the artwork is just damned interesting. Sadly, none of the X-men titles seemed quite as strong as they once seemed to be.


“Well, you might not appreciate this now, but the classic DC heroes have an unequalled sort of timelessness that you just don’t get from Marvel.”


Why is that? Even their flagship titles, like Spiderman, Captain America and the Hulk, just seem so much younger than Batman and Superman. Maybe it’s because Marvel is so dynamic, forever reinventing their characters, switching their costumes, their alliances, while Batman and Superman will always be Batman and Superman. You can count on DC, while Marvel likes to keep you just a little off-balance. Neither approach is right nor wrong, but they do attract a slightly different fan base.


“Who was the first Marvel super hero?”


“The Human Torch, I think. But he didn’t fly around with the Fantastic Four, back in those days. I think he just sort of globbed around, melting through walls and stuff.”


I, for one, appreciate both companies. They keep each other honest, and they work well together. Look closely, and you’ll see a close match for many of each company’s icons playing for the other team. If you’re a nerd, like me, you’ll enjoy identifying those sets of doppelgängers, and then looking up which of the two came first. Usually, they are created within a year or two of each other.


Submariner or Aquaman?  Who is the immitator?  Green Arrow or Hawkeye?  Nerds stand tall, and don't ever be embarrassed.  Have fun.  That's what this mission in life is all about.

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