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Why I Made the Calculated Decision to Become a Comic Book Fanboy (and Why I Don’t Regret It)

16 Feb

I first got into comic books when I was eight years old, which means I’ve been a comic book fan for 3/4 of my entire life. When you’re a fan of something for so long it become such an engrained part of who you are as a person. And while all the people in my life know me as a comic book fan and creator, I don’t think that any of them understand the real reason why I got into comics in the first place.

Unlike most comic book fans that pick up the hobby in an organic kind of way, my first foray into comics seems almost like a coldly calculated decision in retrospect. And while most comic book fans can admit to feeling like outcasts growing up because of their hobby of choice, I actually took to comics as a way to fit in—or rather, to fit in with straight guys.

Why being gay made me a comic fanboy

Like a lot of other gay guys, most of my friends growing up were girls. In my case a lot of that was simply due to geography. In my neighborhood there were no other kids the exact same age as me. There were a bunch of girls who were a grade younger than me and a bunch of boys who were a few grades older than me and I was just this weird queer kid stuck in the middle. So obviously I chose the path of least resistance and made friends with the girls, instead of working my way up from the bottom of the pecking order with the boys.

But the thing about being a boy who is mostly friends with girls is that you always fall into situations where you’re divided up by gender and separated from all of your friends. I think every gay kid growing up dreaded those times when the boys and the girls would be split apart and you’d start to feel like a lamb amongst a pack of wolves. So when those situations would arise, you’d need to have a coping mechanism, something that would help you navigate the world of masculinity which seems foreign and terrifying.

So for me, comics became that coping mechanism.

teenage-mutant-ninja-turtles

Image Source: i09.com

I mean, I had dabbled in comics here and there before—things like the Sunday paper, the comics they printed in Disney Adventure magazine, stuff like that. And I was already acquainted enough with superheroes from cartoons like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Darkwing Duck, so making the transition to comic books seemed just like a natural step to take.  But even still, there was nothing natural about my decision to take that step.

I remember the exact moment when I crossed over that threshold and decided to become a comic book fan. I was on the bus on the way to school and somehow I had gotten shuffled into the back where the older boys in my neighborhood were sitting. They were all in the middle of a discussion that had started at the bus stop about comic books.

But as I was listening to their conversation, something just sort of clicked with me. The characters they were talking about—Batman, Superman, Spider-Man and so on—these were characters I sort of knew. These were giant pop culture icons that worked their way into everything.  I hadn’t actively participated in comic fandom up until that point, but somehow I could already speak some of the language.

As a gay kid trying to fit in with other males, having the right vocabulary is crucial for opening up lines of communication. Like when guys start talking about sports or cars and shit, I just have no idea what any of it means. They might as well be speaking a foreign language.  But the names these boys were throwing around on the bus that morning, they were characters I recognized. I felt confident that this was a world I could be a part of, something that would connect me with other males without me having to compromise my authenticity.

In testing my theory, I decided to try and speak to these strange creatures using their native tongue. Since this was the 90’s, the conversation they were having had been about the different comics they owned that were worth money. They bragged about having the first appearance of this character or the death of that character. And it was clear that everybody was just bullshitting in the way that kids do, but I felt confident that I could throw down my own bullshit and be a part of the group for a chance.

Incredible_Hulk_Vol_1_2

Image Credit: marvel.wikia.com

Now this is the part where I know that I was always meant to be a comic book fanboy, because I somehow managed to come up with some pretty impressive bullshit (for the time.) I told those boys that my dad owned the second issue of The Incredible Hulk. Somehow I knew that going back too far, to say the Golden Age of comics, would be too unbelievable. Some Jedi part of me just happened to pick a Marvel character from the Silver Age, during a time period where my dad might have actually been able to buy the comic.  And I also knew it was too unbelievable to pick the first issue, but the second issue was more realistic while still just as impressive.

For whatever reason my bullshit actually worked too— they bought the lie and even seemed somewhat impressed by it. I felt like I had something new in my hands, a new set of tools to help me navigate the scary world of masculinity. But I also knew I couldn’t fake it for long, at some point I’d have to actually start reading comics.

My first comics

I wasted no time after that day on the bus jumping headfirst into the world of comic books. Fortunately for me, this was back when you could buy comics on a spinner rack pretty much anywhere. The next time we went grocery shopping I had my mom bring me to the little book store that was located in the same strip mall as our grocery store. This was already a pretty established routine for us, since I was a voracious reader as a kid and I think that helped make it easier for me to make the leap into comics. I was trying something new in the same place where I bought Judy Blume books—it felt like this was already part of a world I was familiar with.

I remember the book store had two big spinner racks of comic books, which as a little kid who had never ventured into comics, felt somewhat overwhelming.  There were so many choices and I wanted something that had a lot of characters. This was almost more of a research trip than anything else. I needed a crash course in comic books, I needed a wider vocabulary to work with, so I picked out a comic that I thought would give me the biggest bang for my buck.

That comic, strangely enough, was Marvel’s What If? #42 which was “What if Spider-Man Had Kept His Six Arms.”

What_If_Vol_2_42

Image Credit: marvel.wikia.com

This book had everything! Spider-Man, Fantastic Four, X-Men, Doc Ock, the Lizard, Morbius, a whole rundown of Spidey’s rogues gallery—and a story that I didn’t fully understand. This was my first comic, I had no idea what “What If” meant and I had nothing of comparison to help me realize that this wasn’t the normal continuity.

I pretty much went the first year of my life as a comic book fan convinced that Spider-Man still had six arms and that he just kept them invisible thanks to an invention by Mr. Fantastic. I even had all these fan theories about how he was the strongest because you never saw his extra arms so he could just pummel the shit out of bad guys and they’d be like “how is he even doing this?”

This comic became my bible. I would carry it around with me everywhere, still in the original paper bag from the book store (I didn’t understand poly bagging yet) and would study it whenever I had the chance. I also had this weird need to be seen reading it, to attract to me the people who would help me navigate this new world or to impress onto people that I had a masculine side too.

My next comic book was a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comic from the Archie Comics run. This one was bought out of sheer Turtle fandom because it was some special team-up issue that had all the Turtles and their various allies fighting together.  It was a fun book, but it didn’t help me on my quest to understand the world of comics, especially because the Turtles were starting to wane in popularity by then.

But my third comic book—that changed everything. That changed me as a person, as a comic book fan, as a writer—it was groundbreaking.  That comic was X-Men Adventures #1.

How the X-Men changed everything

For those of you who don’t know, X-Men Adventures was basically just a comic book adaptation of the X-Men animated series that aired on Fox in the 90s. When I picked up the first issue of X-Men Adventures, I didn’t know what it was, I just knew that it was a first issue and that meant it had special value, since again this is the 90s we’re talking about.

But I also already had this notion that the X-Men were pretty cool. I had played the X-Men arcade game a few times and thought the characters were all so interesting and weird and like nothing I had seen before. This just seemed like the best way for me to learn more about them and to jump into a series right when it was starting.

X-Men_Adventures_Vol_1_1

Image Credit: marvel.wikia.com

 

Of course, I’d shortly discover that the comic was just an adaptation of the cartoon because the cartoon became my goddamn life for a while. I taped every episode, watched it repeatedly, I became obsessed with this show, these characters and the comics that they spun out of.

I started playing X-Men with kids on the playground and it turned into this entire X-Men club where we all had our own reserved character to play as, almost like we had these secret alter egos. When I first started playing, I always wanted to be Storm. To me, she was just the coolest and the most powerful. She was even the first X-Men action figure I owned. But hiding behind how powerful Storm was only worked for so long. At some point I had to man up and pick a male character.

So I started playing as Wolverine instead. I figured that if I was going to have to play a male character, then I’d be the best fucking one. Wolverine’s sense of machismo never really bothered me because he had this wild, uncontrolled animal side that I could easily tap into.  He had all this pain in his past and he didn’t shy away from feeling it—he’d use it to feed into his power. So I never worried about being masculine enough to play Wolverine because flying into a berserker rage all the time was a cathartic release that I looked forward to every afternoon at recess.

The X-Men gave me a sense of community, but it wasn’t relegated to just the playground either. The themes of tolerance and acceptance helped me feel more comfortable with myself. Sure the X-Men had their struggles, but they also had support, they were a family. The ideas that X-Men presented became a sort of litmus test for me—if someone could get behind the X-Men, it meant they were more likely to be accepting of people who were different from them.

But most importantly, the X-Men helped me to accept myself. They showed me that there was a sort of power in being different and a responsibility to be true to your authentic self. It may be hard to be an outcast but it’s even harder trying to live as something you’re not.

I went into comics hoping to have a fun new hobby that would help me develop a masculine side but what I got out of it were the tools I’d need to realize that it’s okay if you don’t have a masculine side in the first place.

Why I write comics for my 8-year-old self

One piece of writing advice that I always hear from people is to write the kind of stories that you’d want to read, but have yet to exist. I feel like all writers do that anyway, but I usually take it a step further and reach back to the past. I try to think of the stories I’d want to read as a young queer trying to navigate comics for the first time.

I decided at an early age that I wanted to become a comic book writer. There wasn’t anything calculated about that decision, I just wanted to tell stories and entertain people. But as an adult trying to make my younger self’s dream a reality, I’ve felt this strong sense of responsibility to tell the right kind of stories, especially when I’m writing for a younger audience. I want to write the kind of comics that give the queer kids out there the strength they need to be their authentic selves.

That’s the energy that I put into all of my comics, no matter what the audience may be.  And if I make a difference in just one person’s life, then I’ll feel like it’s all been worth it.

But obviously I’d totally love it if I could make a difference in like a bunch of people’s lives all at once.

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Top 10 Actresses Who Should Play Rita Repulsa in the New Power Rangers Movie

14 Jan

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again—I love me some Rita Repulsa.

So when I heard that Saban and Lionsgate were teaming up to bring a live-action Power Rangers movie to the big screen, my first thought was for my beloved empress of evil.  Like everybody else waiting for this movie, I started to think of what my dream cast would be – but then I kind of got stuck on Rita.

We already know which actors are going to be playing the Rangers themselves, so I wanted to share with you my top picks for Rita Repulsa—including the number one actress who I think should take on the role.

I wanted to note that I personally believe the role of Rita should be played by an Asian actress, however when compiling this speculative list I opened up the possibilities to all actresses. Rita is kind of a strange case because she was originally a character directly taken from the original Japanese footage and dubbed over. They eventually cast a new actress when they ran out of footage, but kept the dubbed over voice.

All of the actresses who have played Rita have been Asian and I feel that the producers of this movie should respect that in their casting decisions. However, I’m able to accept another actress as Rita, since the character herself is not technically Asian in origin—she’s a space alien whose brother is a skeleton and father is some kind of demon creature. As such, I cast a wider net when searching for the perfect Rita.

The many faces of Rita Repulsa

The many faces of Rita Repulsa

What to look for in a good Rita Repulsa

I don’t think I’m being melodramatic when I say that the right treatment of Rita could literally make or break this movie. As the movie’s villain she has to be threatening enough to create tension but also close enough to the source material to be familiar.

In the original TV show, Rita was sinister, irritable, flamboyant and funny. She openly reveled in being bad and causing pain with devilish glee. There are plenty of great character qualities for the producers of this movie to work with here.

So when casting my Rita, I kept things in perspective. I wanted an actress who could do the character justice, but update her for movie audiences. In fan casting Rita, I wanted someone audiences could believe as a threat worth imprisoning for ten thousand years, yet could still have a bit of fun with the role.

These ten actresses have the right combination of fierce, funny and frightening to pull off the character of Rita Repulsa.

10. Ming-Na Wen

Ming Na Wen

Photo Source: movieweb.com

Ming-Na Wen has plenty of experience playing heroes like Chun-Li and Mulan, but it’s her role as Agent Melinda May in Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD that puts her in the running for Rita.  Agent May might be a hero, but Ming-Na plays her with such an icy coolness that you never know whose side she’s on. She’s perfected the art of freezing an entire room of people dead in their tracks with just a look—she could definitely play a would-be world conqueror like Rita Repulsa.

The only thing keeping Ming-Na Wen from being higher up on the list is that she works better with a dry sense of humor; we haven’t really seen her go completely nuts yet. She’d be a great choice for a serious Rita, but that’s not what we’re going for.

9. Taraji P. Henson

Taraji P Henson

Photo Source: eonline.com

You might be thinking that I only added Taraji P. Henson to this list based on her role as Cookie Lyons on the TV show Empire—and you’d basically be right. It’s not that I’m hopping on the Taraji P. bandwagon (okay, I am a little) but it’s because everything about the character of Cookie just screams Rita Repulsa to me. I mean, the scene in the first episode where she hits her son with a broom is exactly that kind of energy that would work for Rita. As Cookie, Henson is able to perfectly walk the line between fiery and vulnerable—her anger comes from years of imprisonment, which is something that would definitely translate to Rita.

But Taraji P. Henson’s connection with the character Cookie would also work against her as it’d be hard for audiences to forget about that role when she’s playing a character with a lot of similar personality traits. I also get the feeling that the actress is going to want to go after meatier roles now that she’s got the star power from Empire. She’s already been nominated for an Oscar before; I’m thinking she’s going to want to try for one again. And there’s no way Rita Repulsa is going to be the character to do that for her.

8. Margaret Cho

Margaret Cho

Photo Source: Sprint2thetable.com

 

I feel like Margaret Cho would have an absolute riot with this role. She’s a hilarious stand-up comedian with a lot of energy and a big ol’ mouth. I can easily imagine her screaming about her reoccurring headaches and beating her subjects with her magic wand. Margaret Cho would provide a great opportunity for this movie to have elements of camp and comedy, which just might be what it needs to be successful.

But the problem with Cho is that she doesn’t really work well as a global threat to humanity. I could easily see her playing a villain, don’t get me wrong, but I think if audience see a stand-up comedian coming out of a space dumpster they’re going to have a hard time taking anything that comes next seriously.

7. Helena Bonham Carter

Helena Bonham Carter

Photo Source: misscablackburn.blogspot.com/

 

Helena Bonham Carter is a total weirdo—and I mean that in the most loving way imaginable.  She’s got a thing for taking on twisted, dark, crazy characters like the infamous Bellatrix Lestrange in the Harry Potter movies.  She can be terrifying, unhinged and comical all at the same time, she’s the perfect triple threat to take on Rita Repulsa.

The only problem with Helena Bonham Carter, other than the fact that she’s not Asian, is that audiences seem to be getting a little fatigued by her whole dark and moody schtickt. It doesn’t help that she shows up in every movie her husband Tim Burton makes with Johnny Depp, and there haven’t been a lot of winners in that list lately.

6. Michelle Yeoh

Michelle Yeoh

Photo Source: renaud corlouer

Michelle Yeoh has international acclaim and an acting pedigree that includes hit movies like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Memoirs of a Geisha and Sunshine. She even holds the distinction of being a Bond Girl. She’s the type of actress you’d call if you want Rita to have some depth to her. She could make Rita seem powerful, intimidating and sympathetic all in one go.

So the biggest question is—where has she been lately? We haven’t seen much of her lately, although she is starring in the upcoming Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: The Sword of Destiny for Netflix which will bring her back into the spotlight. And even if you ignore the fact that she may not have box office draw, she’s not really known for her loud, brash, funny characters. She’d be a no-nonsense Rita and I feel like Rita has to have at least some nonsense.

5. Sofia Vergara

Sofia Vergara

Photo Source: machetekillsmovie.tumblr.com/

Meanwhile, Sofia Vergara is pretty much all nonsense.  Mostly known for her role on the sitcom Modern Family, Vergara is a loud, expressive, animated comic actress—but she’s no stranger to kicking butt either. Her role in Machete Kills as the leader of a group of assassin prostitutes shows she has what it takes to play Rita—weird metallic bra and all.

But like Margaret Cho, Sofia Vergara might be a little too funny to pull off a serious Rita Repulsa. If the producers of this movie want to crank up the camp factor, then she’s a perfect choice, but it’ll take a lot for audiences to forget her comedic past.

4. Angela Bassett

Angela Bassett

Photo Source: Tumblr

Angela Bassett is a goddess—she could play this role in a heartbeat. You might think I’m basing this decision entirely on her role as voodoo queen Marie Laveau in American Horror Story: Coven—and I won’t lie, that role factors in heavily here. But she has an amazing body of work that proves she’s got the right stuff. I mean, her role as Amanda Waller was the best part of that shitty Green Lantern movie.

There’s almost nothing holding Angela Basset back from being the perfect Rita—she can be commanding, wild, scary and funny all at the same time. The only problem is that her humor tends to be a little more biting that we’re used to with Rita. Don’t get me wrong, Rita’s got attitude in spades, but Angela Basset could cut you with words while Rita would just call you an idiot and smack you with her wand.

3. Tilda Swinton

Tilda Swinton

Photo Source: femaledoctorwho.tumblr.com

Tilda Swinton is the shit you guys. I absolutely love her in everything and she’s great at disappearing into a role. She’d have a riot playing Rita Repulsa, I mean just check out her performance as the White Witch in The Chronicles of Narnia: the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe if you want to get an idea of what she’d do with a role like this.  Not only that, but she’s played a lot of great goofy characters in the past in movies like Snowpiercer and The Grand Budapest Hotel.  I just really want to see what she’d do with a character like this.

But there’s no way in hell she should be Rita—not after the whole recent debacle when she was cast as the Ancient One in Marvel’s Dr. Strange movie. The Ancient One is typically depicted as an Asian man and a lot of people were upset that a role was taken away from a POC actor to be given to a white woman. I don’t think she’d want to go through something like that again and she’s probably too wrapped up in Dr. Strange to even be a serious contender anyway.

2. Constance Wu

Constance Wu

Photo Source: deadline.com

I have to admit, I can’t take all the credit for this pick. I saw someone on Reddit name her as their ideal Rita and I just had to steal it. Sorry person who I’m totally stealing this pick from, but you were so right about how Constance Wu has the right sense of humor to portray Rita. If you haven’t seen her on Fresh off the Boat yet, you need to stop and go watch it right now, it’s on Hulu damn it!  She can be playfully icy in such a way that would make for an excellent Rita.

The only thing keeping Constance Wu out of the number one spot is the fact that she’s just a little too adorable to be menacing. There’s a great scene in the Halloween episode of Fresh off the Boat where her character is confronting some teen hoodlums in the middle of the street. She’s hilariously furious and it’s one of the funniest scenes on the show so far, but it makes me feel like her portrayal of Rita would be just a hair shy of actually intimidating.

1. Lucy Liu

Lucy Liu

Photo Source: xavierpop.com

Look, I’ve spent a lot of time and energy researching the perfect Rita Repulsa and Lucy Liu is the best pick. She has all the criteria and then some.  She can be campy, badass, funny, icy, commanding, threatening and all at the same time.  If you don’t believe me, just take a look at her credentials. Her iconic role as O-Ren Ishii in Kill Bill is a perfect example of her ability to be kind of campy and badass all at once. Charlie’s Angels is another film where she’s been able to flex both her humor muscles and her action muscles at the same time.

I think she’d have a lot of fun in this role and she’d bring a little star power boost to the cast, who so far are all young actors and unknowns. I could see her menacing a bunch of teenagers, I really could, in a way that would be fun but also have some high stakes tension and drama.

So there you have it. I’m interested to see who they’ll actually pick to play Rita in the upcoming Power Rangers movie.  If it’s anybody off of this list I’m going to personally take credit.

Who do you think should play Rita? Leave a comment below with your top picks!

 

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