As a kid, I loved comic books. Every month, I spent my entire allowance on titles such as The New Teen Titans, X-Men, and The Huntress (who is, of course, Batman’s daughter in a parallel universe – I kid you not).

My parents discouraged this habit and counseled me on financial responsibility. But secretly, I think they were happy about it. After all, I showed no interest in sports or trucks or toy soldiers – my obsession with comics and superheroes was so stereotypically boyish that it must have provided them with some small degree of comfort.

And they’re not the only ones. Years ago, a friend invited me to dinner with her new husband. When I arrived, she was clearly nervous, but hopeful that these two very different men in her lives would find something, anything to talk about for an hour or two. She needn’t have worried. The first X-Men film had just been released, and we were both dying to see it. We spent the entirety of the meal discussing our favorite characters and storylines, and went straight from the restaurant to the theatre, where we revisited the sense of wonder we had known as children. My friend sat between us, relieved yet befuddled at being surrounded by two such incredible geeks. I didn’t much notice; when I wasn’t lost in nostalgic reverie, I was concentrating on Hugh Jackman’s chest hair.Looking back, it’s hard to say why characters like Superman, Spider-Man, and Green Lantern were so exciting to me as a child. It’s too easy to suggest that I loved them simply because I could see every bicep and deltoid bulging beneath their skintight outfits (though I have to admit that I can still remember the day I discovered that Peter Parker slept in the nude on page 17).

Perhaps it was their altruism. No, really – I remember carrying on long debates in my head about what differentiated super-heroes from super-villains, and why anyone blessed with unique gifts such as flight, x-ray vision, or an invisible plane would use them so selflessly. At the end of the day, what attracted me to my masked crusaders for truth and justice might have been their innate sense of decency. Because at their core, these were good, good people … who just happened to have all those biceps and deltoids.

And yet, I know there’s something else that fascinated me about these muscle-bound do-gooders. There were similarities that extended beyond self-sacrifice and a lovely silhouette. Obviously, most were blessed with superpowers that mere mortals do not enjoy (I wasn’t one of those comic fans who liked Batman best because he had no superpowers; in fact, I thought it showed a real lack of imagination on his part). Also, most had not asked for these abilities, usually attained either by freak accident or alien birth. Finally, most of my heroes employed the use of a secret identity, in an attempt to obtain a halfway normal life, as if such a thing were possible. And I wonder: could it be that my sexually repressed 11-year old self was subconsciously seeing parallels between my closeted existence and theirs?

A few years after seeing X-Men with my friend and her husband, my adoptive lesbian mom accompanied me to a rainy afternoon screening of Spider-Man 2. As the lights dimmed, I could feel the nostalgia bursting through my system like Pop Rocks (remember those?). After a particularly rough week, I was thrilled to sit in a dark room for two hours and watch a superhero toil for truth, justice, and the American way (while wearing a fabulous outfit), just as they did throughout my youth.

The film more than fulfilled this need. Spider-Man 2 is an enormously entertaining adventure, even if the dialogue is sort of cheesy and Kirsten Dunst's damsel-in-distress routine is a tad overplayed. However, there’s also a lot of heart to be found in this movie. Yes, I’ve just described a popcorn flick that features a mad scientist with four mechanical arms as having “a lot of heart,” but it’s true.

This is a film that takes place in a world seemingly devoid of gay people. And yet, Spider-Man 2 tells our story, in its own way. Psychotic villains aside, this is primarily a movie about a young man whose life would be a hell of a lot easier if he could only tell his friends and family who he really is. He’s surrounded by people who love him dearly, but can’t understand him. Ring any bells? And, in a twist all too reminiscent of the experience of many gays and lesbians, he decides not to tell, but simply to squelch the part of himself he can’t bear to discuss.

Obviously, the appeal of the film and its genre isn’t exclusive to gay people. There are lots of young boys (and girls) who devoured comic books as I did and grew up to be flagrant heterosexuals. Perhaps all of us wish we could fly through the air with the greatest of ease. Perhaps all of us enjoy seeing good triumph over evil. Finally, perhaps the wisdom contained in the message “just be yourself” is more universal than we know.




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