Sometimes instead of G. I. Joes, it was superhero action figures. Sometimes it was just the two of us inventing elaborate stories of our meteoric rise to NBA superstardom on my driveway basketball hoop. Sometimes we lived in the virtual space of video games. But as often happens with childhood friends, it wasn’t meant to last. Chris’ family moved to Arkansas and I did less and less imagining.
Before Chris, there was my sister, Jennifer. On land we were Jonathan and Jennifer, brother and sister dynamic duo, but when we put on bathing suits and jumped into our grandparents’ community pool, we transformed into the aquatic superheroes Supersuit and Buddy—oddly fitting alter egos in a universe populated by prosaically named superheroes like Super-man, Bat-man, Spider-man, Iron-man, Ant-man … need I go on?
My superpowers consisted mostly of doing chin-ups on the railing of the wheelchair ramp, aided by the buoyancy of pool water; or swimming underwater between my dad’s legs; or doing handstands. Her superpowers consisted of copying me. If we were feeling particularly brave, we would challenge the imaginary pool sharks hidden in the murky fathoms of the deep end of the pool. We were a poor man’s Batman and Robin, if the poor man were a merman. As we got older Supersuit and Buddy hung up our oversize trunks and frilly tie-dyed onepiece and became regular citizens. Without their fearless heroes, the retirement community of Tucson, Arizona is probably being terrorized by pool sharks to this day.
When I was in middle school, my parents took me to a garage sale, where I discovered stacks of Spider-man and Captain America comics from the 70’s, the “bronze age” of comics. I think the woman at the table was eager to get rid of them, or maybe she just saw the glimmer of longing in my eyes, cause I got a huge stack of them for $10. I read and re-read those comics, imbibing the delicious mythology.
I related most to Spider-man. He was like me: a shy, insecure nerd. But when he put on that red and blue bodysuit with the plump red spider design on the back, he had all the answers. I imagine on weekends he turned that bodysuit inside out and became the faceless neon green man who shows up at every tailgate event. But those weekend escapades never made it into the comic books, just the serious crime-fighting of a man in a leotard: the superhero’s business casual.
He was so free, swinging through the city on his homespun strands of web. His acrobatic battles with the likes of Dr. Octopus, The Vulture, and The Green Goblin were epic. More often than not, it was his mind and not his muscles that saved the day. I got him. And I lived out my wildest superhero dreams through him.
I don’t mean to brag, but when I was a kid I could imagine with the best of them. When you’re an introvert a top-of-the-line imagination is a must. I’ve since traded my imagination in for bad puns and big words—and we think kids make bad trades. Bamboozled by linguistic legerdemain again! Holy Adam West!
But every once in awhile, something happens that makes this boy tear off his man suit with all its overseriousness and stuffy alliteration, and don the colorful duds of boyhood again. The Greater Chicago Snowpacolypse© did it to me last year. The movie Cool Runnings does it to me. Hanging out with little kids does it to me. Riding roller coasters does it to me. Being around women does it to me … hmm … no wonder I’m single …
It happened again a couple weeks ago when I saw The Avengers on opening night. As I was picking up the tickets I reserved for my buddies and myself, the Avengers themselves walked through the doors of the theater; or rather, adults dressed up like the Avengers walked through the doors. These weren’t cheap cardboard cutout costumes they were wearing, but serious Marvel brand business casual. They had either bought them from some Hollywood overstock prop warehouse or fashioned them in their basements with meticulous care. These people were Comic-Connies, and they perfectly set the mood of childlike whimsy.
The movie itself was sheer bliss; a convergence of sorts: childhood superheroes, meet masterful storyteller. I drank deeply from a vintage draught of fun distilled from the summers of my youth. The characters were compelling and winsome. The good guys were good guys, the bad guys were bad guys. The infighting of the superheroes was hilarious: comically futile battles between indestructible characters. And the electric synnergy of teaming up so many superheroes in one movie will make me feel the lack in future one-hero movies.
The expansive aerial battle scenes captured the thrilling velocity of a roller coaster, yet avoided the incomprehensible messiness of a Transformers battle scene. And throughout, there was an undercurrent of knowing glances and nods to a community that shares the common language of childhood. Several times, I felt myself involuntarily grinning, the boy inside coming to the surface. The Avengers took me back to the world of my childhood; back to a world where heroes always prevail.
Image credit: Unsplash/Phoebe Dill