Dawn of the Geeks, part seven
By Michael David Sims
07 March 2009 — I never had a choice.
I was born 22 February 1978, which means I was conceived in May of 1977. Do you understand now?
No? Allow me to explain: Star Wars has, quite literally, always been a part of my life. While I was in utero my father dragged my mother to see the film. She fell asleep during the picture, and, if you ask her, I must have absorbed the sound through her sleeping ears, thus explaining my fondness for the film series. Scientifically, is that possible? I don't know. But it would explain a lot.
There's no doubt that I'm a geek. After all, I proudly run a "geek culture" website, call myself Yoda at the forums and host three podcasts. I made peace with my place in life a long time ago, well before Earth-2.net was a twinkle in my eye. But, really, outside of the possibly implausible circumstances surrounding my pre-birth moviegoing experience, I know for sure what my gateway drug was.
It was the Ewoks.
Unlike most adult geeks, I harbor no ill will towards the lovable aliens. Quite the contrary, in fact. They're funny and tough and downright savage. And, yeah, sure it doesn't make a lick of sense that they toppled a well-trained army of soldiers who were created to fight alien threats much more powerful and advanced than rock-throwing, stick-wielding teddy bears. But forget that. As a kid, they were the coolest thing next to Luke and his lightsaber. When my dad took me to see Return of the Jedi, my eyes never left the screen. I'm not even sure I blinked, that's how locked in on the action I was. (Maybe my mom's theory is right.) Everything was fast and loud, and the Ewoks fought their little furry hearts out — fighting a fight that was brought to them, one they were never a part of. They were the unfortunate victims caught in the crossfire between an evil empire and terrorists / freedom fighters. They could have stood by as their land was raped, resigning themselves to slavery or death, but they stood up for themselves. They fought off injustice and won. Maybe as a child I didn't fully see Return of the Jedi on that level, but some part of me, I'm convinced, understood it and latched onto the little guys who stood up to the schoolyard bullies.
From that point forward I was a Star Wars fiend. However, liking Star Wars doesn't make one a geek, especially as a child. So then, what makes a small Ewok-loving boy take the next step to Geek Town? Chronologically, I don't know, but I would say my parents' divorce helped things along.
Once my parents separated, as a weekend activity my father would take me to Haunted Trails — a local miniature golf course / arcade. There I learned the joys of pixilated mayhem; eating blue ghosts, blasting alien ships, destroying huge asteroids and hunting down spies fueled my childhood dreams — sleeping and daytime alike. There was nothing like hearing digital beeps and boops that vaguely resembled music after popping a quarter into a machine. Grabbing the joystick, mashing the action buttons, frantically protecting the virtual life that stood in for my own, there was nothing like it to my young eyes.
However, Haunted Trails went beyond providing me with video game action; it also taught me all about monsters and ghosts and bloody pools, but not in the games. As a horror-themed golf course that featured a 20-foot tall Frankenstein monster, a smaller (but no less frightening) cloaked Dracula and several pools of water dyed red, it's a wonder I didn't run from the place screaming. Instead, I wanted to be there every weekend. And I practically was. No matter how often I played the holes or games, it always seemed like the first time; the excitement never faded. They say children like to be frightened, but I was never scared of the place; it felt like a home away from home — albeit a silly, campy home.
Speaking of silly and campy (and I say that with much love), it was after my parents divorced that I was introduced to the world of wrestling. Whenever the WWF was in Chicago, my dad made it a point to take me to the Rosemont Horizon to see guys like The Honky Tonk Man, Rick Rude, The Million Dollar Man, Big Boss Man, Randy Savage and, yes, Hulk Hogan. What you younger readers might fail to realize is that this was back in the days before wrestling was on TV nigh on every night. We didn't have Raw or SmackDown, ECW or Impact. We had WWF Superstars of Wrestling, an hour-long weekly program. Sometimes you'd see two big names going at it, but it mostly featured our favorite wrestlers of the day battling jobbers who never stood a chance of winning. This was also before pay-per-views were held every three weeks. If we were lucky, we'd see them every few months. And even then, I never saw them live. So the only way to see wresting and to have it feel more epic than it already did, was to attend live events where everything was brighter and louder and so much more exciting!
These colorful men were virtuous superheroes and dastardly villains; they weren't fighting to save the world or even the city, but they were fighting to protect right from wrong — to show the wicked men that evil might win the battle, but never the war.
At the same time I was discovering wrestling and learning about fists full of justice, I also discovered the glory that was GI Joe — in both cartoon and comic book form. If the Ewoks were my pot, GI Joe was my cocaine. He-Man, Transformers and MASK were certainly great and hold a fondness in my heart, but nothing topped the daring, highly trained special mission force that was comprised of Flint, Lady Jaye, Duke, Roadblock and countless others. Unlike wrestlers, the Joes did fight to protect the world, and they did it in style! Between their tanks and jets, awesome costumes and laser guns, they were the coolest cavalry that ever rode in over the horizon.
Beyond that, what made them so special was that I could not only see their adventures on TV and play with the action figures in my bedroom, but I could also read about them in comic book form! Having so many ways to consume anything and everything GI Joe fanned the flame that became an obsession for years.
So if the Joes were my cocaine, that makes comic books my heroin. If it weren't for the cartoon that led me to the toys that brought me to the magazine rack in the local grocery store, I wouldn't currently own thousands upon thousands of comic books. From GI Joe I discovered other comics, such as Action and Detective Comics. As a child I knew who Superman and Batman were, but from their movies and TV series, respectively. But I had no idea that they had comic books, too. Whenever my mother took me grocery shopping, I parked myself in front of the magazine rack and devoured every comic on the shelf. Generally, when she was done shopping, Mom would allow me to choose one comic — which I would read over and over at home. As I grew older and earned a weekly allowance of $5.00, I was able to buy my own comics; and I wouldn't leave the store with just one book, but with four to six books — depending in the price. I wasn't picky by any means, but I did have my favorite heroes; though I might be a Marvel Zombie these days, Superman and Batman were the books I always gravitated towards, if only because they were the biggest names, so their books seemed the most important. The coolest, even.
Of course I continued to buy GI Joe, but eventually books like The Punisher and What If? led me to the larger Marvel Universe. It was through the "this is how it happened on your world" recap page of What If? that taught me a great deal about Marvel continuity and characters I had never heard of. Besides the Hulk and Spider-Man, most of these characters were new and exciting to me, and I had to read more, more, more!
When I eventually looked up from the colorful pages and saw that everyone had moved on — that they were now collecting baseball cards and following football — I didn't care. Why should I bother myself with what they were doing when I was having too much fun with what I was doing? And, really, that's what Earth-2.net is all about: accepting who we are and reveling in it. Like me, most of you came to terms with your inner geek long ago, but some of you still haven't. To you, I say this: no matter how you got to this point, no matter your passion or "gateway drug," embrace that inner geek and proudly display it for all to see. Because if we hide who we are, we're saying we're ashamed of it. But if we fly our colors, we'll encourage others to do the same, and the world will be a better, more diverse place for it.