Thursday, February 14, 2013

Confession of a Superhero Lover

The "M" stands for Moron.
Hi. My name is Sean, and I’m a superhero fan.

I can’t help it. I guess it started with a few comic books I picked up in the grocery store as a kid: a couple of horror comics, some Archie stuff, some Avengers (with Iron Man in his famous “walking-trash-can armor”), and this fantastic issue of the Legion of Super-Heroes with Shrinking Violet on the cover with a baby Superman.

I never realized it was a “problem” until later.

As a teenager, when I’d try to share my interests with friends, I’d discover that they had already “moved on” to organized sports and heavy metal music. (Luckily, KISS was a good transition for me at the time—part band, part superheroes, and they even had a comic book!)

Even after I’d thought I’d given comic books up for good, I found out that I still liked superheroes whether they spoke in word balloons or not. I’d sit religiously in front of the TV waiting for Wonder Woman, The Incredible Hulk, The Greatest American Hero (even Lois and Clark!). Bear in mind, this was before the current fad of "geek is cool" that has given us such such modern takes as Alphas and Heroes. And, of course, movies such as Superman, Batman, Mystery Men, Spider-Man, Avengers, X-Men -- and the underappreciated Unbreakable and Limitless -- still beg me to spend my limited cash and enjoy a two-hour break from the real world.

When I became an adult, I noticed that I was more guarded about my interest. It became a guilty pleasure, one of those things adults aren’t supposed to enjoy, like Saturday morning cartoons or playing with the toys in a toy store or riding the merry-go-round at a public park. And the few adults I found who shared it also had the good sense to keep it hidden and mention it only in the dark, shadowy corners of dimly lit, hard-to-find comic shops—our catacombs, much like the early Christians had for hiding from Roman soldiers.

Luckily, as an English major, I had “safe” ways to discuss superheroes. I could maneuver my way through conversations with non-fans by comparing superheroes to the classic Greek and Norse myths, and turn the discussion into a monologue about the various heroic archetypes used in modern fiction from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to Philip Dick, from Miguel Cervantes to Toni Morrison.

But I could never speak as a fan, merely as a critiquer, a displaced observer.

Then, through the miracle of email discussion and announcement lists, I chanced upon a notice that a new issue of Cyber Age Adventures was posted. I didn’t know what Cyber Age Adventures was, but my spam level hadn’t yet risen to the point that it took up all my surfing time, so I followed the link.

At the risk of hyperbole, my life changed. No fireworks, no thunder rumbling in the distance, no religious moment, not even a slight tremble in my stomach. Still, I found in Cyber Age Adventures something that could help me bring my guilty pleasure public.

Superheroes for grownups.

Superhero stories that don’t ask readers to be kids again, just feel like they are.

Superhero stories that didn’t fixate on women’s anatomy with the disguised glutton-lust of a misogynist.

Just great stories, well-rounded characters, and plots that could almost make you glance around the corner next time you think you see the whisper of a dark cape.

I didn’t have to be embarrassed by superheroes anymore.

Frank Fradella (owner/editor of Cyber Age Adventures) has often joked with me that it was easier to sell a story to Esquire or Playboy than to Cyber Age. And he’s right in a way. We received many submissions each month from authors who tried to tell comic book stories without pictures, as if that were all that was needed for a story to be a Cyber Age story. At Cyber Age we looked for stories that went beyond Captain Whoever versus the Big-Bad Villain. We went even deeper than those stories that depended on twisting a superhero standard to tell a “different take” story. We want to find out about the human in super human.

Only a few submitting authors “got” it.

In case you’re wondering, I did rediscover comics thanks to a friend who worked in a comics store. And since then, I’ve found a number of great titles, from small press to the “big three,” that strive to blend nostalgia and an “adult” sensibility into the lives of men and women who wear tights and capes. But none have done it as consistently and deliberately as Cyber Age Adventures. Period.


  1. I want to share this with you:

    “Critics who treat 'adult' as a term of approval, instead of as a merely descriptive term, cannot be adult themselves. To be concerned about being grown up, to admire the grown up because it is grown up, to blush at the suspicion of being childish; these things are the marks of childhood and adolescence. And in childhood and adolescence they are, in moderation, healthy symptoms. Young things ought to want to grow. But to carry on into middle life or even into early manhood this concern about being adult is a mark of really arrested development. When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.” --C.S. Lewis

    I love superheroes and always will, and yes the human in superhuman, the hero in superhero are the important parts for me.

    Thank you for writing this blog post.

  2. Well written. That's how it happened.