Dawn of the Geeks, part four
By Dan Toland
04 March 2009 — Quite frankly, I blame my parents. If they had never put the magic glowing box in the corner of the living room, chances are I would have grown up to be relatively normal. There were movies and comic books and novels, but something had to get the boulder of uncontrollable geekiness rolling down the hill. And that something was television.
One of my earliest memories is being three or four and watching the old The Superman/Aquaman Hour of Adventure show, sitting completely enraptured as Superman managed to save Metropolis from a villain who wasn't all the scary and never moved any more than the animators could get away with. It didn't matter that the late 1970s were arguably the nadir of television animation, as Disney and Warner Bros. officially forgot how to do what had made them so successful, and companies like Filmation and Hanna Barbera could churn 'em out cheap and quick. I was hooked. I soon found Super Friends, Ralph Bakshi's Spider-Man and The Fantastic Four. It started with cartoons, but it didn't end there. Batman was a natural progression, bringing my beloved superheroics into live action, deadly serious half-hour dramas in which the stakes were nothing less than life or death. (I was young.)
Comics would soon become a lifelong addiction, and television was my gateway drug. I taught myself to read with Peanuts paperbacks, but while I never lost my fervor for — or identification with — Charlie Brown, I very quickly became a Marvel Zombie of the highest order. After several loosely scattered comics given to me by my parents over a few years, most of which featured Spider-Man, I began a collection of my own. Marching into the corner store with 50¢ in hard-earned tooth fairy money, I made my first comics purchase: Marvel Two-in-One #68, cover dated October 1980, featuring the Thing and Angel battling the Terrible Toad King in a story entitled "Discos and Dungeons!" (It's every bit as outstanding as it sounds.) Six years old, and I never looked back. Many years and thousands of dollars later, I still have that Two-in-One.
But I never lost sight of what brought me there in the first place. Star Wars was an international blockbuster, and its influence permeated everything — including television. My mother obstinately refused to take me to the movies every single day, so my newfound appetite for space opera had to be fed through the original Battlestar Galactica, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (fuck Twiki) and reruns of the original Star Trek. This last one was most important, because as I became more and more entranced by the ongoing voyages of the Enterprise — albeit vaguely dissatisfied that there were only so many of them and eventually I had seen them all — my attention was turned to the fact that there were Star Trek books. These books led me directly into a love for written sci-fi; without James Blish's adaptations of so many episodes, I would never have moved on to Isaac Asimov, Harlan Ellison, Arthur C. Clarke and so many more.
This was the turning point. Until then I had been wholeheartedly devoted to science fiction, comic books and cartoons, but so was everyone else I knew. I liked Empire Strikes Back? Well, guess what. It was 1980; everyone liked Empire Strikes Back. When 1988 rolled around and I could still quote from the Book of Lucas, years after Star Wars had effectively faded from pop culture consciousness (and years before it would fade back in), then we could talk geek. But being the only kid in my 5th grade class to have read "Repent, Harlequin!" Said the Ticktockman marked me as being, well, kind of a geek.
But what sealed it forever was a vicious chest cold I had when I was 12.
You know when you're starting to feel a little bit better, and you have just enough energy to piss off everyone around you with your constant whining and demanding? Well, I had reached that point. Under normal circumstances, when I hit that spot, one of my parents would go out and get me a Mad or a couple of comic books to basically keep me busy so they could have an hour of peace. I must have really been obnoxious on this particular occasion, because Ma went right past the magazine rack and went straight to the bookstore.
She came home with two novels, figuring these would keep me busy for a while. One was Robert Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land, which, if she'd been paying any attention at all, she would not have purchased for a young boy. It was wholly age-inappropriate, but it was smart and funny and quietly mind-blowing to an open-minded kid.
The other was Douglas Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. I had never read anything like it. It had all the sci-fi space opera stuff that I was way into, but it made fun of all of it relentlessly — and I couldn't stop laughing. (Any book that describes an alcoholic drink as being "like having your brain smashed out by a slice of lemon wrapped around a large gold brick" is totally worth your time.)
After that, I was gone. Science fiction became a full-time pursuit. I read everything I could get my hands on. I was never without at least one paperback book on my person, my comics collection quadrupled in size over the next few years and, most of all, I must have been following dozens of TV shows: Star Trek: The Next Generation, Doctor Who, Quantum Leap, Babylon 5 and so on.
And so, three decades after fidgeting on a couch watching Superman cartoons, for some reason no one has been able to explain to me, I'm given the opportunity to shoot my mouth off about comics and TV shows. Happy fifth anniversary, Earth-2.net. Here's to many more.
Fuck Twiki. Seriously.