It’s me, not you?
The Thanksgiving before Captain Marvel (2019), my friends and dinner guests all turned to me and asked, “Who the heck is Captain Marvel?” I spent the next 30 minutes regaling them with the history of Carol Danvers — her high-points and low-points — and answering their many related questions, especially on my movie-focus speculation and which other Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) characters might show up.
No pre-game Wikipedia is necessary when you have me for a friend.
My relationship with superhero comic books was intense. From 2007 to 2020, I wrote comic book reviews. I founded GeekGirlCon, a nonprofit that throws an annual convention celebrating women geeks, including those who love comic books. I’ve spent thousands on comic books, movie tickets, DVDs, action figures, artwork, clothing, coasters, blankets, and bottle openers featuring superheroes. I’ve cosplayed as Alice (Batwoman’s sister), the Winter Soldier, Emma Frost, She-Hulk, and Wonder Woman, among others, and attended as many comic cons as I could. Summer of 2007, I was three feet away from Robert Downey Jr. — who then was just my favorite Ally McBeal boyfriend — on the SDCC show floor as security escorted him to his Marvel signing booth.
Superheros and their superpowers delight me because perhaps, like Jen Walters (She-Hulk), I’m just a tiny and non-physically powerful human who desires to become on the outside what I am on the inside. Maybe I wasn’t thinking of that in 3rd grade, as my mom made me and my brother Batgirl and Batman costumes. Yes, Batman Returns (1992), specifically Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman, was my sexual awakening. (I’m sure I asked my mom for a Catwoman costume, but that would’ve been rightfully too sexy for a child.)
I sat in theaters in 2008, wondering which Iron Man comic they’d take his story from. I was skeptical that Chris Evans would make a good Captain American when cast. I inhaled the first several phases of MCU films and then the TV shows. I’ve always had a critical eye, so they were never above reproach or even me actively disliking certain ones. But, on opening weekend, I’d still be there with my popcorn bucket in hand, homemade cookies stashed in my bag, and several of my also excited friends.
While Marvel/Disney utterly failed to convert MCU fans to comic book readers, seeing my niche nerd hobby go mainstream was fascinating (and far less fascinating to watch gatekeeping backlash). You mean normies know who Agatha Harkness is? Cool. Let’s discuss.
But somewhere along the lines, I got franchise fatigue. I looked at my Funko Pops and realized they all were the same. I wanted to use my vacation time to go somewhere other than the Washington State Convention Center. (Ironically, my partner Jacob and I took 2019 as our year of no comic cons for a break, and then COVID-19 happened.) I didn’t care that there was yet another Spider-Man reboot, and I wasn’t being charmed by Ryan Reynolds, Paul Rudd, or Mark Ruffalo anymore, and maybe I never was. I’m more likely to get into a (verbal) fight with Chris Pratt than ask for his autograph. Even adding Woman Woman (2017) to DC’s film lineup or DC Comics pretending that they cared about WildStorm’s Midnighter (my favorite superhero) didn’t get me to care more. I went to Aquaman (2018) in theaters more to say goodbye to my friends Kevin and Alison before they moved to Japan than to see a fishman.
During the pandemic, I’ve watched less TV and film than perhaps any other time in my life. I’ve written more, and I’ve read more, and I’ve ultimately found that more satisfying. Except for Star Trek (my first beloved franchise), I find myself itching to leave the couch as Loki, the Eternals, or the Suicide Squad grace my screen. My companions (usually just Jacob) find my chatter annoying, and my Twitter followers likely equally obnoxious. I promised Jacob for months that I’d definitely watch the rest of Loki with him; he’s given up and automatically streamed Justice League: The Synder Cut (2021), the moment it dropped, on his phone.
Despite upping my reading, a superhero comic title would end, and I wouldn’t replace it with a new one. The only DC and Marvel comics on my weekly pull list are Wonder Woman (and adjacent titles) and She-Hulk. Occasionally, a limited series or a one-off will catch my eye by a creator I love or with a favorite character. But many of my favorite creators exclusively do original creator-owned properties (good for them) or only write for TV and film now. I no longer have the patience to sort through the newest talent tapped for superhero franchise work. Unfortunately, many independent comic book critics I trust have burned out due to harassment, gotten industry jobs, or invested in other fandoms.
Not even my friend Max telling me about an older version of Catwoman killing the Joker made me pick that book up. And I always support killing the Joker and leaving him dead.
It’s funny to feel like saying goodbye to something you’ve loved. It’s not like I’m sweeping through my stuff and purging every superhero thing. My Wonder Woman coasters are still on my desk. My Black Panther PJ pants are in my drawer. My house is full of action figures and comic books, and an original print of Lois Lane sitting on the Daily Planet ball looks down on me as I write this.
I just didn’t care if I missed a Spider-Man movie or never finished the Netflix MCU shows, and I will never watch The Synder Cut.
Superheros were astonishing tales that connected me to an inner child-like delight. Now they seem like straws we grasp at because no one is coming to save us, and we cannot imagine a solution to our systemic problems, nor can the Justice League or the Avengers.
I could blame this shift on a lot of things. Like my general fatigue around any belief of humans rising up for a greater purpose or seeing a vision beyond themselves. (See my essay — Magneto Was Right: Community, Karl Popper’s the Paradox of Tolerance, Mutant’s Rights, and learning to apply history.) With the added years of being isolated in my home because the powerful would rather watch us die and many of the loud find a mask uncomfortable, my belief in the superheroic withers. Too many times, I’ve read the news and been like, “this is my Joker-origin story,” and I’m not entirely sure I’m joking.
Or maybe it’s Disney/Marvel’s refusal to thoughtfully include LGBTQ+ characters (like me) in the MCU or let characters, even cishet ones, have meaningful sexual and romantic lives. But we definitely needed another 20-minute uninspired fight scene in this three-hour movie. When no one cared about the Captain America comics IP, Steve Rogers fucked; but Disney trainers made Chris Evans look like that with America’s ass, and never once did he do anything but chastely kiss his only girlfriend, Peggy Carter.
Some of my fatigue does stem from Marvel/Disney’s shitty politics that actively harm people like me while thinking Pride mouse ears make up for it. This is not some meaningless “vote with my dollar” capitalist protest. Disney doesn’t care if I buy a single Marvel comic ever again, nor is my individual $5/month for Disney+ affecting their bottom line.
Mainly, is this where I want to spend my time and energy? Are superheroes and I still a match? Or have we drifted apart and become different people?
My reading habits have shifted to the Romance genre, where I’m getting that chasm filled with all those LGBTQ+ characters and romantic and sexual lives that I’ve missed. Maybe I’ll eventually long for grand adventures, world-saving, and laser eyes after reading too many small-town Romances between the book shop owner and her best friend’s estranged stepsister. (Except that in Romance, you can find all those other genres bleeding through; it may not be Wonder Woman™️, but she’s a superhero or an Amazon.)
Unlike the milquetoast platitudes coming from Marvel and DC superheroes, Romance makes me believe in love and some goodness in humanity. Love these days seems pretty superheroic to me.