My mom abhorred violence. I didn’t grow up with toy guns; I didn’t see Star Wars until it was re-released and in the last-chance dollar theater because “I am not taking you to a war movie.” Finally she relented after being literally the only mother in 1978 to have not seen SW, and not only did I love it, but she was surprised that she loved it (R2-D2 was her favorite). But this did not change her stance on comic books, which were still brain-rotters and instruction manuals for violent behavior. Batman’s TV show was silly and featured guest appearances by actors my mom liked, so that was okay. I got to read the occasional Uncle Scrooge comic from my dad’s stash growing up in the 40s, but they were…disappointing. I also read a little Rocky & Bullwinkle on Marvel’s short-lived Star family imprint, and I have dim memories of sneaking glimpses of Ghost Rider and (I think) Tomb of Dracula at the barber shop.
When I graduated high school, Ethan Hurd bought me the Watchmen TPB and that, of all things, was my first real exposure to comics — a full deconstruction of things I never really got to experience, but a challenge that I happily accepted and totally cemented my understanding that comics were (or at least could be) legitimate literature. What an introduction to the medium. To this day I’m still a crazy Watchmen fanboy.
A few months later in my first year of college, I met Jamie Jamitkowski and he said “If you like Watchmen, here — read Neil Gaiman’s Sandman and Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns.” So other comics fans merely adopted the dark; I was born in it, molded by it. I was raised on grim ‘n gritty Vertigo stuff, so Marvel was not part of my experience. Even though I got my hands on some Claremont X-Mens when Rocky & Bullwinkle ceased and they had to fill my subscription with something (I remember reading Jubilee’s first appearance, and Wolverine being on walkabout — my hyper-Catholic mom did not appreciate the crucifixion cover to Uncanny X-Men 251).
Now I’m in NYC working at Harris Publishing, getting my first job at Guitar World and, surprise, they also own Vampirella and it’s the era of comic bad girls. I get a crash course from my coworkers Jeff Kitts and Yoshi Moshi and the comic store guys over on 6th just as Image Comics gets going. I learned as much as I could through features in Wizard magazines and did some writing about it for Flux, but usually just merchandise or toy stuff. I clung to DC as much as I could.
It wasn’t until the MCU that I really “got” Marvel. Like a lot of people, I saw Iron Man and went “wow that was awesome” and that immediately led me back to the comics. Every time Marvel brought a new character or team into the fray, I went back to the comics, getting digital TPBs of classic arcs — Spidey stories, Iron Man, Infinity Gauntlet, Captain Marvel, even some What If collections (they’re a cheat sheet to the key moments in continuity are). I see how the characters and the mechanics of storytelling have evolved over the years. It was the MCU that actually made me appreciate the power of these characters, the thrill of an interconnected universe that’s mostly in a town where I used to live. I still like DC but now there’s more out there to appreciate.
So wrapping up this massive series of interconnected films is no small thing to me. These movies showed me something I had trouble seeing, and it’s hard not to reflect a bit on this long journey, following these incarnations and these interpersonal connections over a decade. Like, I remember the last episode of M*A*S*H being a big deal because it was just so present for so long, and it came to mean a lot to a lot of people. Seeing it definitively end was a major thing for a lot of people. Watching the MCU evolve as an adult has had a profound effect on me; it’s a master class in storytelling and it’s already having a big effect on my personal projects.
I’ve seen some dismissive posts on social media suggesting any adult male who is emotionally invested in a fictional world like Star Wars or the MCU — someone who might cry at a trailer or consider this trip to the theater to be a major event — is a “man-baby” and “undateable.” This of course assumes that men want partners who are incapable of both imagination and emotional connections, so I don’t see a happy ending for those critics. I suspect we’d disagree on a lot of other things as well.
But for me, I’m going to celebrate what this has become. I’m grateful for it. This has been one of the most enjoyable revelations I’ve ever experienced.