The books I loved most as a kid were comic books. Even before I could read, I would spend hours flipping through them (so I am told). Comic books are probably the reason I learned to read in the first place and they are definitely where I learned to love stories. Every week, I would accompany my mom on her shopping trip to Tony’s Market and, while she picked out the groceries, I would flip through the comics to decide which one I wanted her to buy me. The checkers and stockers at Tony’s all knew me: I was that kid who loved comic books.
As you might expect, the selection at a small supermarket was not impressive, but I wasn’t too picky. DC vs. Marvel didn’t matter to me; I loved them both. Nor was continuity important. I was more interested in individual issues than in continuing narratives and often missed months of my favorite titles without noticing. I didn’t take good care of the issues I bought; I ripped pages accidentally and occasionally removed the covers (of course, it would never have occurred to me that comics could be worth money in the future, nor would I have much cared).
I loved comics because I was an imaginative kid, stifled in a dying Midwestern town (a town that was angry and sad and mean). It’s possible that reality in my hometown could have been stimulating enough for a child who liked the outdoors or games or sports, but I didn’t like any of those things. And so I spent as much time as possible in imagined worlds: Star Wars, action figures, and later, Dungeons and Dragons. But it all started with comic books.
I was an imaginative kid, but I was also a queer kid. I mean queer in all of its senses here, or, more accurately, in the sense that encompasses all of the others. I was different, weird, not normal–in many, many ways. Even in my taste in comics, I wasn’t quite like the other kids. My favorite comic character was not Superman, Batman, or Spiderman. It was Robin. You know, the Boy Wonder. I loved Robin. I loved him in that polymorphous way that you can love someone when you’re not worried about whether or not your desire is normal. I wanted him to be my best friend. I wanted him to be my boyfriend. And I wanted to be him. All at the same time. I loved that he got to wear those bright colors and those skimpy briefs and those elven booties. I loved that he was a younger sidekick to a strong, powerful man. I loved my Robin doll and I loved to kiss him (despite the unwieldy vinyl “mittens” he had). Yeah, it was queer.
There is more to being a queer kid than having strange crushes. There is also a way of identifying with the marginal, of having “odd” taste, and with liking different things than your friends and peers. And while I didn’t find any objects of desire comparable to Robin in the Marvel Universe, the characters that I liked best were not the obvious ones (except, of course, the X-Men–a story I suspect every queer comics-loving kid identified with). After the X-Men, my favorite team was the Avengers. But I couldn’t have cared less about Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, or any of the major heroes. The character I loved the most was Vision.
I don’t blame you if you have no idea who Vision is. There is no reason why you should. He’s not a particularly compelling character (or at least he wasn’t when I was reading comics in the late 70s and early 80s). He was an android. He was red and wore a green and yellow costume. I don’t remember all of his powers, but I do know he could fly, become incorporeal, and could shoot laser-type beams from his eyes and the jewel on his head. He was married to the Scarlet Witch, despite the fact that he was an android and therefore cooly rational (it really couldn’t have been a satisfying relationship for either of them).
Why did I think he was great? Part of it had to be his colors: red, green, yellow–just like Robin (hmm, I guess I was a karma chameleon). Part of it must have been his marriage to the Scarlet Witch, who I also wanted to marry (like I said: queer) and definitely wanted to dress like. And part of it must have been that, even though he was a member of the Avengers team and all, I don’t recall that any of the other characters much liked him. He gave people the creeps and I guess that felt a little bit familiar (imagine being an adult and trying to talk to me about Vision…). I’m not saying that I felt like an android as a child, because I didn’t. But I also didn’t feel like I was one of the principal Avengers. (As long as I’m outing myself as a childhood fan of Vision, I’ll also admit that I have a Vision action figure on the bookshelf behind me as I write this. My boyfriend bought it for me.)
In a way, it’s not too difficult to explain my queer attachment to Vision. But this next one doesn’t make a lot of sense. My second favorite Avenger? Ant-Man. That’s right: Ant-Man. Fucking Ant-Man. The guy whose “powers” consisted of 1. shrinking really small, and 2. riding ants. The guy who sorta started off as a villain and then sorta (but not really) became part of the Avengers. Definitely not a top-tier superhero, probably not even second-tier. It’s become cool in the last few years for people to make fun of Aquaman, but Ant-Man makes Aquaman look like Wolverine. Whenever Aquaman is feeling pathetic, he cheers himself up by thinking “At least I’m not Ant-Man…” (or he would if he and Ant-Man inhabited the same universe). And yet, I was into Ant-Man. In fact, I was so into Ant-Man that, whenever my friends and I would play superheroes on the playground in second grade, I would usually choose to be Ant-Man. Imagine it: a team of Superman, Iron Man, and… Ant-Man. I don’t even like ants. But still, Ant-Man. I suppose that today I could go back and read the relevant Avengers issues and try to get a sense of why Ant-Man appealed to eight-year-old me. But maybe it wouldn’t help. Queer kids are, after all, queer. If it were easy to explain my attachment to Ant-Man, it might become a little less queer. There is something to be said for the inexplicability of queerness.
I’ve been thinking about all of this, of course, because The Avengers opens on Friday. And while I will be vigilantly attentive to the possibility, I don’t expect Vision or Ant-Man to show up–even in the background or in a Joss Whedon throwaway line. Even so, I will enjoy the movie (despite the presence of a mannequin named Jeremy Renner). But I will also be feeling a bit lonely in a theater surrounded by cheering fans, because the queer kid inside me isn’t here for this movie. He’s wishing–so earnestly and so foolishly–for a very different movie: a movie about Robin and Ant-Man and Vision and the Scarlet Witch and Jocasta and Ms Marvel and Red Tornado and Moon Knight and Sunspot and Dr. Fate. And what a queer film that would be!