Growing up in a small town with no neighborhood kids around to play with, I spent a lot of my formative years reading. I read everything I could get my hands on. TV Guide, the funnies in the newspaper, an old Illustrated Bible, you name it. If there were words– and if I was lucky– pictures, I devoured it. Being a child and having the trouble of the limited funds required to buy new books, my options were scarce. Even if I had enough money in my bank account, getting to a place that had books for sale or even for rent was another challenge; there’s only so far a big wheel or a little red wagon can carry you.
After completing all of the mazes and puzzles several times over in my stack of Highlights Magazines and after lengthy discussions with my grandfather on the battle of David vs. Goliath as depicted in said Illustrated Bible (it was the third time through that I stopped being shocked that a lil’ guy could defeat a big guy), my dad decided I was ready to graduate to something more age appropriate. I’m sure the countless questions about how a man could rise from the dead factored in.
(SIDE NOTE: The Illustrated Bible handled this in the most chill way possible. On Good Friday he walked into a cave and waved goodbye to his friends; on Easter Sunday, he walked out of the cave and waved hello to his friends.)
But what to give an inquisitive boy who loved words and pictures to read? Green Eggs and Ham? Kid stuff. Make Way for Ducklings? C’mon. Dad and I decided we could skip right past the collective works of Beatrix Potter and focus more on the real classics– Lee, Ditko, Kirby, and Clermont.
At about five years old I started reading comic books. Somehow, several moving boxes full of my dad’s old comic books had survived a house of him and his seven siblings and migrated to my bedroom one summer day. What kind of wizardry was this? Super powers? Do-gooders fighting evil-doers?! Words… AND PICTURES?! In magazine form?! This was like Highlights only a million times better! I started reading and I couldn’t stop. I still haven’t. I became obsessed with the how these stories were told. Chapter by chapter, issue by issue, watching a story unfold in panel form was the only way I wanted to pass the time.
Between the ages of five and eight, my favorite was Spider-Man. He was smaller than everyone else, he told the most jokes, and he seemed to be the most relatable character, or at least as relatable as a super genius who was bitten by a radioactive bug could be. Peter Parker appealed to me as a child because at the time he and I had the same responsibilities. No matter what kind of mischief he got into, he had to be home for dinner with his family. A person with a single digit age can wrap their head around that pretty easily.
I started to see the complexities in these stories and my tastes morphed as I started to understand the words on the pages more than the pictures. Daredevil had to wrestle with his Catholic guilt, The Hulk had to keep his temper in check, and Spidey had to balance a job with school, and X-Men had to keep from being outed as different and beaten down in the streets of Greenwich Village. I could understand all of these alter ego plights, but I couldn’t really associate with any of them. All of these challenges were things happening to these characters.
I could understand all of these alter ego hero journeys, but I couldn’t associate with any of them. All of these challenges were things happening to these characters. As I got older, the character I connected with the most was Captain America. The same types of challenges happened to Cap– The Red Skull and HYDRA up to their old tricks, Baron Zemo was constantly plotting, Iron Man was forever busting his balls– but he always was willing to face these obstacles head on.
He always had to do the right thing because that’s what you’re supposed to do regardless of what is happening to you as an individual. You have to stand up and do what is right for everyone, or you have to die trying. What I took away from reading issues after issue of Captain America was that you can’t control the things that happen to and around you, you can only control how you face them.
This weekend, Captain America: Civil War debuts in theaters and is already on track to be one of the biggest Marvel movies to date and it has nothing to do with Cap’s moral compass. It has to do with the fact that the world loves comic book movies. To both hardcore and casual audiences, the only thing more intriguing than Iron Man, Captain America, The Falcon, Thor, The Black Widow, The Scarlet Witch, Ant-Man, Hawkeye, War Machine, The Winter Soldier, The Vision, Spider-Man, and The Black Panther teaming up, is the same list of heroes fighting each other for our enjoyment, which is what we are in store for on Friday.
For every barb, meme, and quip lobbed at DC Comics a few months ago for their billion dollar pissing contest Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice, the same barbs are going to be thrown at Civil War. It’s the nature of mega mainstream entertainment. The difference, however, is that people are actively rooting for this movie to be good and have no reason to believe otherwise.
We might as well all be 10-year-olds in Shrewsbury, MA., sitting on the floor of our bedroom reading old comics. The threat of danger is real, but it’s fine… Cap is going to save the day.
In the movie itself, I have every confidence that Steve Rogers will make frustratingly good and moral decisions, and in the box office, Captain America will demolish any doubt that comic book movies, even when dealing with team infighting, can be fun to watch.
Go into this movie expecting to be massively entertained, expect to have a good time, expect to laugh almost as much as you gasp at the action on screen, and expect your inner grade-schooler to get misty-eyed at the concept that there are still movie heroes that you want to cheer for.
Maybe that last part is just me.