Heroes Never Rust #99 by Sean Ironman
I grew up reading comics, specifically X-Men comics. At first, my father would come home with a bag full of random comics for me, my brother, and my sister. My siblings lost interest over the years, but my interest grew. As a teenager, I would go weekly to the comic book shop. My mom never really understood my interest in comic books, but in her defense, reading comics in a time before superhero movies took over Hollywood and made hundreds of millions of dollars was very different. She would look at the covers of my weekly purchases and point at a muscular male character and joke that I was reading comics because I could imagine myself as that character. If a female character, drawn voluptuously as many female comic book characters are, my mom would joke that the reason I didn’t have a girlfriend was because I was looking for a woman who looked like that. I never understood why she thought I read comics because I wanted to be one of the superheroes. I’ve never understood that argument for any story in any medium. I have never wanted to be Superman, Spider-man, Cyclops, Wolverine, Batman, or any other superhero you can name. I have never imagined myself in their costumes or living out their adventures. But, on trips to visit family in New York during the summer, I would imagine Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters (later renamed Xavier’s Institute for Higher Learning). I didn’t want to be a specific character, I only wanted to be me, but I wanted to live in a world where the X-Men existed. Being a superhero, with all the powers that would come with it, wasn’t nearly as interesting as living in a world of superheroes. The world of Marvel Comics with all those locales and interconnected stories and continuity sparked my imagination (the importance of world building may also be why Marvel films are reliable hits these days). I must not have been the only one to want to live in the world of Marvel Comics.
A few years ago, Marvel 1985 was released. Written by Mark Millar and with art by Tommy Lee Edwards, the six-issue miniseries sees the villains and heroes of the Marvel Universe enter our world. Toby Goodman, a Marvel Comics fan, sees the Red Skull one day in his neighborhood while walking with father. Toby lives in our world, in 1985. From May 1984 to April 1985, Marvel Comics released Secret Wars, a crossover between Spider-Man, the Avengers, the X-Men, and the Fantastic Four in which a cosmic entity known as the Beyonder creates a planet for the villains and heroes to do battle. In Marvel 1985, the villains have snuck into our world. There are no big entrances in the middle of New York City with portals opening in the sky and villains pouring out. The Red Skull, Dr. Doom, the Vulture, and the Mole Man live in an old house in the woods., the kind of house kids probably thought was haunted. I grew up in a South Florida suburb, and we had no house that was haunted, but we still had the houses we treaded carefully by as we passed by on our bikes. We still wondered what happened on the inside of those houses, mostly owned by childless couples or single men, who were rarely seen in their yards. The cars were parked in the garage, and we would only see the garage door open, a car pull away, and then the door close. After someone moved out of a house, we could sneak in, but without furniture and personal belongings, the houses were no longer interesting.
Most of my youth was spent reading and watching popular fiction: comic books, sword and sorcery fantasy, science fiction. Even in comic books, I wanted the fantasy. Characters without superpowers were not interesting to me. Real life to me was going to school a few blocks away. It was watching my parents work jobs they hated and living paycheck to paycheck. I wanted those houses on our block to contain something new and exciting. I liked the X-Men most of all because a mutant could be anyone. They didn’t need to be super smart, or super athletic, or super rich. They didn’t need to be in the right place at the right time and just happen to get struck by cosmic rays or radiation. The X-Men were just people, kids who reached puberty and gained mutant powers. In some ways, the X-Men were the most believable out of all the comic book characters. How many of us feel like we have more to offer, that there’s something inside that people haven’t seen? Comic book universes allowed us to imagine. Not imagine us with superpowers, or at least not just superpowers, but us coming across some bizarre and otherworldly creature walking through those strange houses.
My mom wouldn’t allowed me to play Dungeons & Dragons because she thought people who played were much too into it and weren’t able to separate fantasy from reality. But, we knew going through those houses that there weren’t really strange creatures, horrific monsters, or alien technology. But, that’s not the point to imagination. How many things do we have today that were once a part of a person’s imagination? Imagination lets us see a different world, and we might come back from our imaginations with something we could use in the real world. I’ll admit, though, we don’t need imagination. Many people live their lives without exercising their imaginations. But, those lives seem so empty to me. Imagination lets us be kids again, riding through our neighborhood staring at houses and creating stories.
Sean Ironman (Episode 102) earned his MFA at the University of Central Florida. Currently, he teaches creative nonfiction and digital media at the University of Central Arkansas as a visiting professor. His work can be read in The Writer’s Chronicle, Redivider, and Breakers: A Comics Anthology, among others.