“Yeah, thanks for being our guide and everything,” Shannon said adjusting his phone camera to fit a rather large Thor into the frame. “I don’t know half of these costumes. Who’s the guy in the red mask over there? Cobra Commander?”
“No, that’s Red Hood,” I explain eagerly. “He’s a more recent Batman villain and former Robin.”
Last Sunday, the boys and I decided to visit the local Comic Convention for some much needed hero-action. Lately I’ve been feeling rather isolated in the role as family driver. With the daily migration between home, Kevin’s school, Brigid’s school, Kevin’s school again, Chik-fil-a, grocery store, piano practice, and home again in addition to the arguments over the front seat and the radio stations, which frequently culminated in banshee-esque screaming, I felt the need to dip reality in liquid kryptonite for a day or so.
Most of the boys decided to tag along after I assured them that little to no anime or Japanese influences would be in attendance and that these particular conventions catered to superhero comic books. They understood heroes, super or otherwise; manga and anime . . . well, I’m rather certain even the average Japanese citizen hasn’t a clue what’s going on. In addition to siblings, I managed to rope my friend, Rodney, into visiting the convention as well with the promise that he will see things that “make a carnival side show or a Walmart queue look tame.”
“Thor needs to put down the chicken wings and pick up some weights,” Rodney whispers to me shaking his head. “Hell, I’m more buff than a supposed demigod.”
“God of Thunder.”
“More like god of Thunder-Thighs.”
“And serious BO,” Kevin says through a pinched nose. The group of fanboys in tattered capes ahead of us seem to quicken their pace. “Like all these guys here need to learn to shower more.”
“Says the unwashed football player.”
“Hey, I put on deodorant!” Kevin shouts, earning him a few stares and knowing smiles.
“No, he’s right dude,” Ryan said waving his hand before his face. “Everyone in here smells like ass. It’s like they took a dump in their shorts and just shrugged it off. Like ‘Meh, it happens.’”
“So . . .” I smile in my best effort to steer my troupe toward the less populated sections of the Con before all of their stereotypes are proven unarguably true. “Anyone want to look at comics?”
“You know Murph, I don’t . . .” Ryan begins, suddenly halting mid-criticism by a pair of fish-netted legs, which ended in a tight-fitting Wonder Woman costume. Moreover, the young cosplayer by all appearances seemed 100% female – sadly at the Cons, spandex and cleavage do not a woman make. “Wow. Okay, this day is officially a success. Regardless of the man-stink.”
“Well, take it in, man,” Shannon said, suddenly taking a greater interest in the rest of the crowds. “There doesn’t seem to be many others around here.”
“Diamond in the rough, boys,” Rodney agreed. Still the mood brightened some and Kevin stopped looking at his watch.
We passed through the sea of conventioneers (Kevin still holding his nose) as Shannon went off to find some Wolverine T-shirts. My brother had spied several last month while in Florida visiting Universal Studios, but reconsidered when he saw the price tag, no doubt the result of Marvel’s new relationship with Disney. To his logic, online had to be cheaper.
“Um, yeah . . . the shirts online, they’re just as expensive,” he told me a month later, button-mashing through a Tekken 6 match. “At least for the ones I want. One site offered X-men shirts for ten dollars, but I think the guy just paints the letter ‘X’ on yellow t-shirts with permanent marker.”
Walking through the maze of stalls it seemed as if Shannon wasn’t the only one who had sought inexpensive routes to celebrating their favorite heroes. Some shirts appeared torn and well-worn as if its wearer had actually stormed Normandy with Captain America. Several actually went with an old T-shirt and magic marker, scribing “Why so serious?” or “GI-Joe” across the chest. Others went with the Hulk look: no shirt, plenty of green body paint.
“Hey, Murph! Did you see that guy back there?” Shannon asked smiling. “I think he drew the Triforce on his hand. That . . . was awesome!”
“No way!” Ryan shouted. “It wasn’t paint or highlighter. That was a real tattoo. The guy had the Sword of Time down his right arm!”
“Did guys see the girl over there in the leaf bikini?” Rodney muttered. The whole group craned our heads like prairie dogs, scanning through the crowds for half-naked females. “There! Next to the guy with cape and the diaper.”
“Captain Underpants, maybe?” I offered.
“No, the girl.”
“Poison Ivy, right?” Ryan asked.
“Must be. Or Eve. Either way . . .”
“Who cares? Let’s just stop here and enjoy the view.”
“You guys can stop and stare,” Rodney said adjusting his collar. “I’m going to see a lady about some grounds-keeping. I’ll catch ya later.”
While Rodney flirted, I stopped to flip through a collection of Donald Duck comics penned by Don Rosa. The traditional cowl-and-cape comics, the superheroes, arrived actually much later to my collection. When I was a kid, Mom never suffered any of the violent T.V. shows or cartoons – with the exception of Bugs Bunny – and thus Batman and TMNT were restricted from my childhood. However, I did grow to adore Carl Bark’s Uncle Scrooge and Donald Duck comics. The stories proved hilarious, well-written, and usually rooted in actual history, archeology and mythology: Ghengis Khan, Cooldrige, the Golden Fleece, and even economics (If you doubt it, take a gander at Bark’s
Barks’ spiritual successor Don Rosa carried on the tradition of quality stories, expanding the universe of Duckburg and Scrooge. Unlike most of the stories in Disney comics, which were mostly Sunday comic fluff, Rosa’s adventures promised exceptional art, treasure hunts, and – often unheard of in a Disney comic – interesting funny characters. Rosa later won an Eisner award for his Life and Time of Scrooge McDuck, a beautiful excellent epic devoted to the world’s richest duck.
Needless to say, I’m a big fan.
While I flipped through the various volumes, trying to engage the vendor, who seemed eager to grab my cash and distance himself from my enthusiasm, the rest of my siblings scanned the nearby tables. This section of the Con featured books and anthologies distributed by more independent publishers (i.e. anyone other than DC or Marvel) and ergo displayed more unusual and creative stories (i.e. non-superhero). Later I spied a few superpowered teen drama/meltdown, ghost detective/horror tales, and the occasional descent into truth/essence of creativity with cuddly monster-cats.
“Wow,” Ryan mused siddling up to me as I offered my credit card to a grateful vendor. “One of the titles there is Jesus versus Zombies. They’ve got everyone fighting zombies nowadays . . . even the Son of God.”
“They are the common enemy to all people the world over. In the coming apocalypse, zombies shall unite us all under one banner, devoted to life and liberty from endless pursuit by those that would feed upon our brains.”
“That was rather odd . . . and poignant.”
“It’s amazing how often those sentiments travel hand-in-hand. Where’d Kev go?”
“He’s over there . . . ” Ryan pointed to a vendor booth adored with smiling animal hats and plastic blades. “. . . looking at some Japanese-inspired Thor comics. Kev said something about seeing what kind of crap you read.”
“I’m glad he’s having fun. Usually, I’d need a substantial bribe to get him away from his tractors or construction equipment,” I say with a smile, glancing at the booth with mild concern. Japanese comics, huh?
In addition to superheroes and Disney ducks, my comic collection also prominently features several Japanese comics or manga series, including mainstream titles like Naruto and One Piece as well as adult dramas like Monster and 20th Century Boys. I’ve also at one time became somewhat . . . obsessed with romantic comedies like Love Hina and Ai Yori Aoshi – the year after graduating college was particularly lonely time – which can be risqué at times, such that after one or two curious glances Kevin and Patrick dubbed my collection ‘Japanese porn.” Despite my laughter, my protests, and my evidence to the contrary, the name stuck, and now reports reach my friends, colleagues, and future ex-girlfriends that my room is stock-piled with semi-clad sorceresses and double-D demon hunters!
. . . not that there’s anything wrong with that.
Even still, I’ve tried to keep the, uh . . . kinkier side of Japan at bay, away from the siblings, lest I am labeled a [bigger] deviant. And considering the nation is widely known to advertise tentacle porn and hock female undergarments in street-side vending machines, I anticipated a long uphill battle.
“What exactly is he looking at?” I wondered, quickening my step.
“I don’t know. Some Japanese fan books . . . something the guy called ‘yowie’. . . wait! Murph!”
I dropped bag and swag and ran off toward the vendor’s booth, hoping to prevent the ensuing tragedy for what is seen can never be unseen. Kevin emerged moments later from the yaoi booth ashen-faced and mumbling: “Thor’s hammer is not shaped like that.”
“Kevin, I am so sorry!” I said shaking my little brother. “Yaoi is male-on-male couplings. The fan-made stuff is always pretty graphic for socially-exiled fan-gurls. Try to forget everything you’ve just seen! Think about your tractor, man! Think of your machines!”
All my brother managed to dribble was a few incoherent phrases about Iron Man and his new shock-resistant Mach 69 armor, and I shut up.