My love for the Marvel Cinematic Universe has reached a fever pitch this week. My tickets to the Thursday night screening of the Age Of Ultron have been purchased. My Captain America shirt is set aside to proudly show my support for Steve Rodgers. I'm working hard to choose which spoilers I want to know going in and what I want to save for a surprise.
Did I mention I've read only one comic book since I was eight years old?
It was a different story 30 years ago. I used to go with my dad to Comics Plus, a comic shop about 10 miles away from our house. Twice a week we would head over and my father would let me pick up one or two issues, usually something Disney-related or Power Pack, a Marvel comic about teenagers with superpowers. I would devour G.I. Joe and Transformers with gusto and read rapturously when they were pitted against each other in the mid-80s. The scantly-clad women who would willingly follow the seemingly undefeatable villains would fill my preadolescent eyes with lust and wonder. What would an impressionable young man not like?
My dad, on the other hand, was a collector. Accompanying his brown bag of purchases would be plastic comic protectors and the white boxes he would store and organize his purchases in. The bland-colored storage units would multiply like rabbits each month until they took up a large amount of space in our basement. They were meticulously organized and he showed me how to curate my own meager collection.
I'm not sure if my dad even read what he bought, which is a shame because the 80's were an exciting time for comics. There was DC's Crisis Of The Infinite Earths, Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns, and Watchmen, the aforementioned lone comic I've read in the last three decades. These pieces of art showed that ink, dialogue balloons, and panels containing grown men in costumes had something imaginative and significant to say.
I don't remember the reasons why exactly, but my mom didn't see my dad's frequent purchases of comics as a good investment. I remember heated discussions between them about the rising cost of comics and the space they were taking up in our house. Our trips to Comics Plus ended and my collection has disappeared in the years since. The whole incident made an impression on me. Because of this experience, I distanced myself from the world of comics. My father has too. He sold most of his Judge Dredd collection on eBay for a good price and I believe the remaining white boxes of comics were thrown in a dumpster along with many other reminders of the time spent together with my mom before she passed away.
I don't think he, or anyone else, could have anticipated the culture shift that has happened in the last 20 years. Stan Lee makes a cameo in a juvenile Kevin Smith film and movies about mutants, web-slinging spiders, and orphaned millionaires with violence issues have made millions of dollars at the box office. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, an epic historical novel about how two Jewish cousins ushered in the golden age of comics, deservedly wins a Pulitzer Prize and comics have realized their highbrow potential.
While Thor has some Shakespearean elements, the true stroke of genius of the comic book movie phenomenon comes after the credits for Iron Man roll. Samuel L. Jackson appears in the house of character Tony Stark to tell the billionaire he's Nick Fury, head of a government organization named S.H.I.E.L.D., and a new universe is born. The reason why the Marvel Cinematic Universe works so well is that it all seemed to happen so organically, with each new film building on the other. Events that happen in Thor inform the plot of Captain America. All the films can stand alone, but as everything leads to the first Avengers, you have to revisit each one to look for the Easter Eggs that brought this ragtag mix of superheroes together in the first place.
I was initially drawn into these movies because of the good casting and the heady plots. On the surface, there's nothing really deep about a snide billionaire who dresses up in a metal suit to rid the world of injustice. You cast a reformed addict who has years of bad boy behavior to draw from and begin his long road to redemption in an Afghan weapons village, and you're entertaining the family and making a political statement at the same time. Quite the balancing act for something often seen as a shallow diversion.
These movies have allowed the years I've spent repressing my nerdy side to come out in full force without buying a single comic book. I don't have to store the movies in a cool, dry place. I don't have to wrap them in plastic. With Netflix around, I don't even have to collect them. As long as there are imaginative stories being told by creative people in front of and behind the camera, I will continue to shell out my hard-earned money to allow myself to escape for a few hours.