That’s right nerds and nerdlettes, it is time for another scintillating edition of “Get to Know the Mighty Jerd!”
Over the past few months I have been slowly revealing bits and pieces of my origin story; the formative moments that established my copious amount of nerd cred. I have been doling out these bowls of awesome-sauce in small portions so as not to blind you with the epicality (it’s a word dammit!) of my tale; so this week I am going to pull back the tent flap a little more to round out the rest of my middle school years for you loyal readers. If you haven’t followed along with the story so far, give The Mighty Jerd 101 and 102 a thorough reading before you dive into today’s installment!
The Fellowship of the… oh crap, look out it’s a shark!
Reading J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit” was a very important moment for me as a child. I can’t remember for the life of me who may have suggested it, or where I might have heard about it, but I still remember checking it out of the library for the first time when I was 11 years old. While I had been an avid reader since as early as I can remember, most of what I read was targeted towards children or young adults. Even my limited exposure to fantasy, which at that point consisted of the spectacular “Chronicles of Prydain” series by Lloyd Alexander, was all definitely written with children in mind. So to have a book, written for adults, that focused on the fantastical was, for me, an incredible experience in and of itself. While I don’t remember who brought me to this book though, I definitely remember the what.
About six months prior to me discovering the works of Tolkien, I was at the library with my mother picking out a book to take with us on our yearly sojourn to the beach. You see, every year my family (my parents, grandparents, aunt and brother) all rented a condo together for a week. During the time we were there the days were full of frolicking at the beach and the evenings spent playing games, fishing in the surf and generally having a great time. That is until my 10th summer hit and my mother in a fit of what could only have been either absent-mindedness or sheer sadism handed me a book and said she had really enjoyed it and that I should take it with us to read.
That book? Mother f@#%ing Jaws.
I will let that sink in for a moment. My mother recommended that I, her 10 year old son, read Jaws. On the way to the beach.
In what cruel and twisted world was that a good idea?!?! Normally I look back and am pretty happy that I was reading at a high school level at that age, but not this time! No sir! When I look back to that summer I wish I had the reading comprehension of a paint huffing hobo, because it would have saved me from the most frightening week of my life! Stuffed into the back seat of my parent’s car I began reading the book on our way to Ocean City, MD. When we got there 3 hours later I was a solid halfway into the book and freaking terrified! I wanted nothing to do with the beach or the ocean that whole trip and of course my grandparents continually drug my petrified form out from under the safety of our beach umbrella and into the murky water, where I was convinced an army of giant, finned beasts whose gaping maws were over-flowing with rows upon rows of murder teeth swam right under the surface. It was not a pleasant vacation to say the least.
So to cleanse my mental palette when we got home, I opted for the perennial Tolkien classic. Luckily I had made the right call this time around. I remember reclining back on my bed that afternoon, a few pillows propped under my head, and immersing myself in the world of Hobbits, Dwarves and Dragons. Two and a half hours later I was done and my imagination forever captured by this detailed piece of literature. While I had played Dungeons & Dragons as a younger kid, it was this book that cemented my love for all things sword and sorcery. From that point on any book, TV show or movie could rope me in with the promise of a broadsword wielding warrior or spell-casting wizard. The list of all the things I have seen, read and loved is long and storied but it all can be traced back to “The Hobbit” as the catalyst.
My First Comic Book
In addition to reading “real books”, I had started to delve into the world of comic books at around age 10 or 11 as well. My life long adoration of the illustrated word started with a convenience store, a spinner rack and a reprint of the now classic Giant-Size X-Men #1.
I don’t remember why I was in the store that day, but I remember seeing that cover and being drawn to it like a moth to a flame. The colors, the composition, the bold lettering; it sucked me right in! I had seen comics in stores before, but there was something special about this one and I just had to have it. When I got home, and opened it to the first page, my mind was blown and I was hooked for life! See, I grew up before local comic book stores. There was no direct market, there were no “pull lists” and there certainly was no digital platform. Nope, if you wanted comics you had to find a store with a spinner rack and hope that someone ordered the title you wanted. So unless you were cognizant of them the only things you probably really knew about were Archie comics.
To me superheroes were a product of the big and little screens. On the television I was watching Batman dance the ‘Batusi’, Wonder Woman flying around in her Invisible Jet, Spiderman somehow seeing through those metal plates in his mask and Lou Ferrigno was scaring the crap out of me after Bill Bixby would get angry and turn into the Incredible Hulk! While all that was going on I watched Christopher Reeves save the world as Superman up on the silver screen. So don’t get me wrong, I was totally on board the superhero train at his point I just had no idea these characters were from comic books! It’s weird saying it now, but when I grew up I was smack dab in the middle of the first real superhero revolution. It’s only been in the last 10 years that the number of popular TV and movie properties out-numbered those of the late 70s/early 80s.
So anyway, let’s get back on track with my love for spandex and capes! When I was done with that issue a whole new world had been opened up before me my very eyes. Superheros came from books. With awesome pictures. And they came out every month! Holy addiction Batman!
Enter the Batman
Speaking of Batman; while that first issue of the X-Men might have captured my interest in the medium, it was the Caped Crusader who was the first hero I just had to follow. That’s right, I became a bonafide Batfan pretty early on.
Now this was long before it was cool to love the Dark Knight punching fools in the neck (Hell, it was before that term had even been coined)! This was years before Michael Keaton/Tim Burton spearheaded the craze that swept the nation in 1989. No, this was back when only hard core comic fans knew this was the world’s greatest detective while the rest of the populace only remembered him from the campy TV show (which I adore, but at the time it was doing fans of the comic no favors.)
No I can’t remember which issue it was in particular that made me a life-long fan, but it definitely was a Dennis O’Neil and Neal Adams issue. Despite the grimness and brutality of today’s incarnation of the character, the Batman that lives in my nerd heart will always be a playboy by day and a master sleuth, solving crimes like a caped Sherlock Holmes, at night. To me, he was James Bond… only better (read my analysis of why Batman is so popular for more thoughts on this)! Over the 30 years I have been reading comics he truly has been the only character that has remained a constant; no matter whether my tastes are leaning Marvel, DC or independent there will always be a Bat-title in my hands every month.
Alright, that’s enough Jerd trivia for now kids!
Check in later and witness the tale of what happened when I got to high school! Here’s a hint, it involved a board game known as Talisman, Nintendo, Renaissance Festivals, Hero Games, Comic Book shops, martial arts and a distinct lack of female companionship. In the meantime, drop a comment and let me know what was instrumental in your formative you nerd years! Also, be sure to follow me on Facebook or Twitter and make sure to Sign up for our free newsletter!