For nearly two years I’ve done my small part to support the Grand Geek Gathering by writing various columns. I’ve written a bunch of Retro Reviews (click here for my favorite) and currently my Geek Dad stuff (click here for my most useful). As of last Tuesday, I am a father twice over. I’m doubling down on being a Geek Dad. Before the delivery, I wanted to share something about my daughter’s birth. I didn’t know how, but when you’re a Geek Dad you live a geek life and a way presents itself. I write these because I really like what the Grand Geek Gathering is about. It’s a culture, a community, a way of life, dare I say, a family?
When people talk about the labor and delivery part of having kids they rarely mention how emotionally traumatic it can be (maybe it’s just me). Well, I had two kids and damn if it wasn’t ridiculously traumatic.
A brief synopsis of the first kid’s delivery: Judy went into labor, then we waited a long time. Judy felt painful contractions, then we waited a long time. Then suddenly they rushed Judy out of the room and performed an emergency c-section. Moments later I was ushered into a recovery room. Sometime after that, I have no idea how long, the doctor came in. She said something, Penelope wasn’t breathing. It was the single worst moment of my life. I had no idea how Judy was. Moments later they took me to Penny who was breathing and crying. Later, I found that Judy was also okay. A few days in the NICU for Penny and months of painful recovery for Judy, all were well.
An equally brief synopsis of the second kid’s delivery: Judy went into labor, then we waited a long time. Judy felt painful contractions, then we waited a long time. Then we waited for a long time. Late that evening Judy battled as I have never seen anyone battle. She battled in a way I am not capable of battling. She battled to bring a kid into the world. She very nearly lost that battle. By the doctor’s hands, a bit of vacuum suction, Judy’s determination and the grace of God, Primrose came into the world. Prim also spent a few days in the NICU, but a far less scary few days. Judy is facing another very different, but equally tough recovery. That brings us up to date, and the geek stuff is coming. I promise. But first an old man yelling at a cloud.
Martin Scorsese is among the greatest artist of the 20th century. He’s a brilliant man, and while he remains in touch with his art, he’s clearly out of touch with other things. Speaking of Marvel movies (or maybe superhero movies in general, but for our purposes, we’ll focus on Marvel movies) Marty said, “I don’t see them. I tried, you know? But that’s not cinema. Honestly, the closest I can think of them, as well made as they are, with actors doing the best they can under the circumstances, is theme parks. It isn’t the cinema of human beings trying to convey emotional, psychological experiences to another human being.” Side note: Breaking down the more recent comments by Francis Ford Coppola need only be addressed by the following image.
Breaking down what was wrong about his statement, I’d be preaching to the choir. I will focus on Stan Lee in the early 1960s. He wanted out of comics. He was sick of telling stories without any real substance. He wanted to convey emotional and psychological experiences (check out my early Retro Reviews where I dig into those very comics). He and Jack Kirby created the Fantastic Four and changed history. You could say, comic book history, or pop culture history, but those men changed human history. Stan, Jack and the other founders of the Marvel Universe were artists sure, but they were working men (and some women), fathers, telling deeply emotional, psychological experiences, from one human being to another. Those human beings just happen to be Spider-Man and Iron Man.
I came home the day after Prim was born. My father-in-law had trouble getting Penny to sleep, so I came home to put her down for her nap and bring her to the hospital to visit her mom and sister later. After Penny fell asleep and I cleaned up a hurricane of discarded toys, I had time to kill. Over the previous weekend I set out with an impossible goal, watch all of Avengers: Infinity War (more commonly referred to as Infinity War and Endgame, but it’s really all Infinity War). For a younger and and most definitely childless version of me, this would have been easy and repeatable (I used to power through trilogies on VHS and later DVD), but I’m not as young nor as childless. Over a few days, in approximately one hour chunks, I’d watched all but the final hour of Endgame. So, on a Wednesday afternoon, with Penny napping, and the rest of my girls in the hospital I pressed play (VHS begat DVD, which begat Blu-Ray, which begat Digital).
While the scene is the most epic superhero battle ever, it is also the emotional climax of 20 films and 10 years of filmmaking, but really it’s so much more. I was raised with and by these characters in their four-color forms. Those created by Stan, Jack and many creators who carried on their legacy, who told stories who changed and shaped my life. In my life, I’ve read hundreds if not thousands of comic books. I played with the toys telling my own epic takes in real-time (which I talked about here). The conclusion of Endgame was a grand personal culmination and catharsis, which I believe to be true for many more than just little old me.
The film resumed just after the evil past Nebula brought Thanos and company through the Quantum time tunnel into the future. Spoilers by the way, but I think we’re well past that. Also, rereading that first sentence, I can see how old Marty Scocesse may have trouble keeping up. The emotions swelled when Hawkeye answered a call from his wife. An example where, cinema, unlike life, gives you second chances.
Going back to Endgame’s opening weekend, in a theater with my wife and my good buddy Paul on a Sunday morning. Sure it’s a big superhero slugfest, but it’s mainly a story of fathers and daughters. I wept. Beside me, Judy wept. We knew it would be emotional, but not in this way.
A quick (but related) aside: After Penny was born, the first two movies Judy and I saw in the theater were Logan and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. Both very much about family, in brilliant ways that only comic book movies can be. I have a baby Groot toy on my shelf that reminds me of my daughter. When Groot was crying as he was about to be crushed and the moment where X-23 turned the cross on its side, get me weepy just thinking about them.
Returning to last Wednesday, on my couch (the very spot where I write this) it hit me all over again, and that much harder. When Dad-body Thor transformed and said, “Let’s kill him properly this time,” I whimpered (I can also relate to the feeling of failure and Thor’s mental health issues, they covered a lot of ground with this movie). After Thanos decimated the core Avengers, the “original” Avengers, I began to weep. Alone, Cap tightened the strap of his broken shield and stood up, but he wasn’t alone.
Emotional I returned to the night before. Judy bled excessively. It was everywhere, except in Judy. I truly thought she was going to die. Judy the most irreplaceable person in my world was about to not be in it. I felt so alone.
“Cap on your left,” spoke Falcon. Then the first portal opened. The Black Panther nodded. Cap wasn’t alone. Portal after portal opened. Utterly overcome with emotion, I cried so much I found myself hyperventilating. My dog came over to check on me. In cinema there are second chances.
The doctors were finally able to stop the bleeding. Judy required two liters of blood. The lack of blood shriveled her veins so much they struggled to find a usable vein. Her arm remains bruised from where they poked her over and over. I wasn’t alone. By my side was an unrelenting Cap, Thor not believing in himself, but believing in his friends allowing him to go on, Spider-Man energetic and hopeful in a seemingly bleak situation, Captain Marvel a pillar of quiet strength, an even quieter and resolute Black Panther, and Iron Man, a dad. A dad to a little girl, doing what he’s doing so everyone else gets the second chance he and Pepper got.
Doctor Strange, holding back a torrent of water, held up his finger. Their one chance. He and Iron Man shared a look. Moments later, with a snap, Iron Man summed it all up, “I am Iron Man.”
Penny woke up, crying out, “Dad.” We had to go to the hospital to see the other girls. The real superheroes. I still haven’t watched the funeral scene.
Josiah is a writer, but much more importantly he’s a dad. Obviously. Click here for him.