Comic book geeks are among the most unusual and idiosyncratic subcultures currently existing in the mass-media, pop-culture candyland of America. Our peculiar crowd is one which prides itself (like many subcultures do) on being different, atypical, and not a part of the "normal" scene. We are "outsiders," if you will, and we like it just fine that way. In fact, we're very pleased with our identity. We embrace the geek label and make it our own -- something to be proud of rather than something to be mocked.
Please note, I'm not suggesting all geeks are Cheetos-and-Mountain-Dew-eating, living-in-their parents'-basement, rolling-dice-instead-of-throwing-a-football palefaces. Many are, I suppose, but geeks come in all flavors and types. The common ground, however, is a stubborn pride in their hobby; even those of you who are businessmen and jocks and act apologetic when admitting to your buddies you subscribe to fifteen different comic titles, you know if someone makes a joke about the X-Men your preternatural reaction is to jump to their defense. You may stay quiet for fear of humiliating yourself, but inside your mind you are loudly protesting the loser who doesn't understand the inherent awesomeness of Professor X's mental prowess or the sheer tragedy of Rogue's inability to touch another human being. They just don't understand.
This fierce loyalty leads to many an interesting debate between comic geeks. Some of us are dedicated only to a particular or group, while others follow a label (Marvel or DC, for instance). Some of us are indie jockeys, adroitly navigating the ever-increasing field of non-labeled comics. A few manage to stay on top of nearly everything which comes off the presses of a comic publisher, transcending into some sort of eerie Zen master of the paneled page. When these fans meet and interact, they will often argue amongst themselves as to the merits and flaws of their varied interests, spiritedly defending their particular love against the equally insistent love of other geeks. But when the dust settles, there is a common respect and understanding among the community -- because even if the other guy mistakenly thinks The Hulk can whop The Thing 9 times out of 10, he still understands. He gets it. He, like you, feels the irresistible magic compelling him to read.
Perhaps as powerful as the unity felt among geeks is the simple disdain (and in some cases, visceral hatred) felt towards the casual fan. You know him, he's the guy who says "Oh yeah, I really LOVE the X-Men. They are so awesome. Iceman is totally my favorite," but when you start chatting with him you realize he doesn't even know Iceman's real name. This guy, you think to yourself, is not a real fan, a True Believer. He doesn't understand. Maybe with some effort and a lot of reading he can grow into a member of the subculture; but if he never feels that magic he'll never earn the respect of the real fans.
This feeling has created a real identity crisis for many comic book fans thanks to the recent avalanche of comic book movies. Essentially, it has caused the entire country to turn into the casual fan described above. We geeks have spent decades defending our hobby against those who dismiss comic books as childish until all of the sudden we find ourselves surrounded by a legion of people who call themselves X-Men fans, Spider-Man fans, or Hellboy fans. And these fans are really excited for the next movie to come along so they can see their beloved hero again, while the geeks among them shake their heads in sadness. These guys don't really understand comic books, right? They think Mary Jane was Spider-Man's first girlfriend. They think Rogue was a young lass who fell for an equally young Iceman. They think Wolverine was among the first X-Men and Beast didn't come along until years later. They don't KNOW, but they've co-opted our heroes and made them their own. They've turned our decades old subculture into a part of the mass-market, pop-culture candyland we are so readily used to despising.
And yet we can't help but enjoy ourselves. The age of the comic book movie has been long awaited by fans of every type; and now that its here we are in our glory. Sure, some movies may disappoint, but hey, the Thing is on the Silver Screen smashing everything in all his glory, Nightcrawler has Bamphed in full Technicolor, Batman looks more like Batman than he ever has and even Frank Miller has seen his glorious Sin City perfectly translated into a cinematic masterpiece. It is a Comics Renaissance, and it has brought with it a powerful economic resurgence in a previously flagging market. When we bump elbows with each other while perusing the shelves of the local gaming shop we excitedly discuss the next project on the way, the next deal which is bringing another of our comics to the big screen. We agonize over whether it will be the next Elektra or the next Hellboy, we debate who should be cast for the leads, and we find ourselves thrilled with excitement and hope.
Sure, there are a few among us who like to think of themselves as "purists" and disdain every film as inaccurate and an abomination unto Jack Kirby, but for the most part we are willing to forgive some changes to canon and enjoy the films for what they are, as long as they encompass the real essence of the books. As long as when the credits roll we feel that same sense of irresistible magic calling us to the Story.
Its an interesting position the geeks are in, caught between our love of the Story and our disdain for the casual fan. It is almost irritating to have read every issue of the Fantastic Four, only to have most people think you mean Jessica Alba and Mike Chiklis when you tell them you are a Fantastic Four fan. You love Sin City starring Bruce Willis, but it hurts your soul when some Hot Topic poseur says "I hope they bring that guy back for the sequel!" You cringe when some friend watches the X-Men trailer and asks "why the heck are they bringing in that Angel guy, he just looks stupid." Ultimately you console yourself with the knowledge that while your beloved heroes have been hijacked by a fan base of pop-culture craze-seekers, it's okay because you really know what its all about, you are a true fan. Those other guys, those johnny-come-lately's, they just don't understand.