You Say It's Your Birthday

Today is my 29th birthday. I don't write that so that I'll get numerous "Happy birthday" emails from all of you (they won't be unwelcome, but that's not the goal of this column) but so that you understand that instead of an industry-centered column, today's might be a bit more personal, along the lines of the gone-but-not-forgotten Thought Balloons that my esteemed past and future reviewing partner Mr. Don MacPherson wrote until recently.

You see,as I grow older, I get to thinking about collecting comics, and all the stereotypes that come with it. Look to The Simpsons and you'll see how most people view comic-book fans by observing the comic-book storeowner. He's a trivia-obsessed, self-important guy who takes pleasure in verbally abusing children and is completely socially maladjusted. Comedy Central's The Daily Show recently picked up a news item about Stan Lee writing for DC Comics and used it as fodder for making a joke about geeks writing to Star Trek's Seven of Nine.

Don't get me wrong, I laughed at both those jokes and definitely know where those stereotypes come from. But as I get older, I start to wonder if maybe society as a whole isn't right, and maybe I should outgrow comics? At the very least, maybe I should outgrow super-hero comics? Short answer: No.

The longer answer is, comic books had a lot to do with the man I am today. When I was young, I was as influenced by comic books as anything else. I learned about the concept of doing what was right, not what was easiest, from an issue of Deathlok by Dwayne McDuffie. I'd grasped the concept before, of course, mostly because my parents taught me, but it had never been put to words like that before, and that phrase still echoes in my mind when I'm wrestling with a tough decision.

Certain comic-book scenes always echo in my mind at certain times, and they have certainly influenced my own ideas of what is right and wrong. I remember a Chris Claremont issue of Uncanny X-Men that saw Kitty Pryde standing up to a group of bigoted adults, and when she was chided for not talking back to her elders, she answered that she didn't to those she respected. That will always come back to me when I'm remembering that just because someone has some sort of authority over me, that doesn't automatically make them right.

Are these simple things to know? Sure, they're pretty easy. But doing the right thing is a lot more complicated in the real world than it is in the comic-book world, and even if the fallout isn't as dire (none of my mistakes ever wiped out a planet teeming with broccoli people or got my uncle killed by a random burglar) it's never easy to find out you didn't do it. Having guideposts from others' experiences, even filtered through the dialogue of a bunch of spandex cases, couldn't hurt.

This is all stuff that filtered into me as a teenager and a kid. So does that mean I've gained everything I was going to from comics, and should just dump them and move on? Again, the short answer is no. And the longer answer is that whether it's a habit developed as a kid that I just can't break or a legitimate development in my mind, I like super-heroes. I still see things to admire in their mostly black-and-white code of ethics, and I still learn things from the writers who are portraying them. When I dream these days about being a super-hero, I don't dream the way I did when I was a kid about being able to fly or have super-strength or read minds... I think about how great it would be to always know I was doing the right thing, like Captain America. Or to have the absolute confidence that comes with being Wolverine or Batman. Or even to have a group of close friends I can trust with my life (and have), like most of the super-hero teams.

It may be a bit juvenile, but it's also very uplifting. Call me childish or immature or stupid or geekish or whatever else you need to justify your own sense of moral or intellectual superiority, but all I know is that I still learn things from comics. And more importantly, reading them still makes me happy, which is one of the most important things for any adult.

That one is something I didn't have to learn from comics.

Randy W. Lander will spend his birthday doing what makes him happy, which is reading comics. He'll be less happy about tearing into the newest issue of Spider-Man, although it does give him a certain sense of satisfaction after being forced to read it.

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