Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Who Wants to be a Geek?

Who Want’s to Be a Superhero? Such a polarizing show among comic geeks. It appears either you think the show is a fun silly take on the reality show genre, or you think it is so dumb you wouldn’t watch it if someone paid you. Today on Strange Visitations, I want to talk about geekdom and the deeper meaning that it has for a lot of us, especially yours truly.

I happen to love Who Wants to Be a Superhero? I love the ridiculous challenges. I love the terrible acting. I love the hammy Stan Lee. I really love the weird logic used in eliminations. Most of all I love the contestants. These are truly my people. At least the ones left at the end are. How much of a comic book geek do you have to be to get dressed up in some really BAD costumes, and then humiliate yourself on the Sci-Fi channel doing silly stunts and being lectured by the 20 foot tall talking head of Stan Lee? You have to be a real geek.

This season, I was rooting for Hyperstrike. Besides the fact that he really “got” the joke, I love how he hated his new costume but quickly realized he had to say he loved it. He just seemed to be laughing along with me through the show.

I was happy with Defuser winning the contest, mainly because I did not care so much for American Maid…er…Hygena. She cried way too much. Unless you are Superman in a DC event book, there’s no crying in comic books.

During the next to last episode, the winner was probably decided during Stan Lee’s interviews with the contestants. It was at this point I realized that no matter how much I liked Hyperstrike, his story was just not the compelling tale that the show seems to love. Remember the three finalists from last year? Major Victory wanted to prove to his daughter that her daddy was a hero. Fat Momma wanted to show people that chubby people can succeed, thrive and be heroes. And the winner, Feedback, had the gripping story of feeling unloved by his father and turning to comic books, in particular Marvel books, for a father figure and someone to look up to. I found all three tales very powerful. This year’s three finalists were different. Hyperstrike basically said he really enjoyed being a superhero and it was a reaction to being picked on as a child. Hygena talked about how she had lost a baby and in that process, lost a lot of her self-confidence. Being on the show made her see her own value. Finally, Defuser talked about how he wished the superheroes in the comics he read as a child could come to life and help his sister come back from a dangerous lifestyle. Again powerful.

What I see in these interviews that for many of us geek types, be it comics, video games, paintball, airsoft, Renaissance Fairs, whatever, for many of us, some geek activity filled some kind of void at a young age and now, as adults, it stays with us, even if circumstances have gotten better. In pondering this, I realized I was really pondering my own life.

I freely admit that I am a geek. I love comic books, I collect Superman memorabilia, I collect The Simpson’s junk, and I have way too many DVD’s. You can’t hurt my feelings by calling me a geek. Not when the geek side of me was what helped me get through my early life.

When I was a young lad, growing up in the seventies, I lived in a big Italian family. I had two older sisters, a stay at home mom, and my father was the guy who wore a suit and went off to work every weekday, and took his kids to the zoo or to the city on weekends. Things began to change when Mom and Dad separated. Suddenly, Mom had to raise three kids on her own. Mom was a German immigrant. She learned English when she came here but for most of her adult life, she did not have a job other than raising us kids. So suddenly she had to find work and keep us together. She did that. My Mom was a remarkable woman. Some sacrifices had to be made on all our parts. Mainly we couldn’t have all the great new toys and clothes every year but one thing I did have was my comic books. Mom loved to let me read and she would always find money to buy me a comic book or two each week. This was before the direct market so I got my comic books from a magazine rack. Also the number of titles was somewhat small so it was easy to pick what to read.

Early on, I was a DC guy. I loved Superman and the JLA. Especially when Superman was in that month’s issue of the JLA. As far as Marvel goes, I did read Marvel Team-Up and The Fantastic Four, but I somehow missed the Spiderman phase. Oh well.

A lot of times, when Mom had to work, she would have to take me along since my sisters had school or work and she could not afford a sitter. She mainly worked in places like Diners and Bowling Alleys where if a kid was well behaved, it was ok for them to hang out. So on those days, we’d stop at the drug store and Mom would buy me a comic book. Just one. They generally cost about 40 cents back then. So we would go to her work, I would find someplace to sit, and I was off to Superman’s world.

I devoured my comic books. I could read that one book four or five times on that day. Sometimes I’d break out some paper and trace some of the images from the book. For a chubby ten year old whose family was falling to pieces, comic books were a safe place to visit. My buddy Superman understood me. Superman never lies. He never forgets to call you. He never takes your sister on trips while leaving you behind.

He never left me. If I needed Superman, there he was, in my stack of comic books.

It was not until years later that I understood that this is where my love of the genre springs from. As an adult, I have tracked down most of those books my Mom bought me back in the day and I treasure them still. Talk to me a bout the JLA versus the Construct and I may tear up a little.

Mention of Doctor Destiny and the Key may cause me to get misty.

Try and bag on Superman or the kooky satellite era JLA and you can expect an argument. It has that kind of meaning to me.

So I embrace my inner geek and I encourage anyone reading to do the same. Why fight it? Having Wolverine, the Punisher, Spiderman, Batman or Superman with you on this journey through adulthood is really not a bad thing. In fact, it’s pretty cool.

Peace out.

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