Confessions of a Fake Marvel Girl

I blame Matt Murdock.

See, I’ve been reading comics for a baker’s dozen of years now, but the vast majority of those comics have been DC. I’m not trying to make a judgment call in the eternal battle between the Big Two here, much less capes vs. indies; I just got into comics via the Batverse, fell hard for the DCU, and never left. Sure, over the years I’ve dabbled in Marvel – a little Cable and Deadpool here, a little Spider-Girl there – but knowing full well how massive and complicated DC continuity is, I’ve avoided getting sucked into another equally sprawling universe. Heck, I’ve probably read more comics about cartoon ducks than mutants and spider-folk.

Then along came Netflix’s Daredevil, and there went all my good intentions. Though initially skeptical of a show that seemed very much Not My Jam, I quickly became hooked – on the show, and on the character. (Well, okay. On Foggy Nelson. Don’t tell Matt.) And gosh, my Marvel Unlimited library was just sitting there empty…

Three months later, I’ve read well over 500 issues of ol’ Hornhead’s adventures, and I have opinions. I want to delight in the ludicrousness that was the entire Mike Murdock debacle. I want to wax rhapsodic about what David Mazzucchelli does with layouts in “Born Again.” I want to go on feminist rants about Typhoid Mary and Milla Donovan (and Karen Page, and Heather Glenn, and Glorianna O’Breen, and Debbie Harris…the Daredevil canon is not kind to women). And I want to wallow in every issue of the Waid/Samnee run like Scrooge McDuck swimming in his money bin.

But I don’t. At least not publicly. Not too much. Not to certain people.

Because I’m a Fake Marvel Girl.

I swear I only call him "Red Batman" when I'm making fun of him. From Daredevil v3 #24 by Mark Waid and Chris Samnee.

I swear I only call him “Red Batman” when I’m making fun of him. From Daredevil v3 #24 by Mark Waid and Chris Samnee.

Now, if you want to see the top of my head burst into rage-fueled flames, there’s no easier way to do it than to talk about the Fake Geek Girl like she’s a person who really exists. The Fake Geek Girl, if you’re unfamiliar with the concept, is a girl who pretends to like something nerdy when she doesn’t actually know anything about it, just to lure in nerd boys like a hungry venus flytrap in a “Han Shot First” shirt. It’s a ridiculous thing to accuse someone of, because a) no one actually does that, and b) there’s nothing wrong with being a new or casual fan.

I really, truly believe that last part, and I think I practice what I preach. Interested in the Flash because of the TV show? Let me answer your questions about continuity! Let me recommend you my favorite runs! (#flashpun) Let me take you to the comic book store and not let you leave until you’ve got an armful of back issues, three t-shirts, and a bobblehead!

And yet I’m much harder on myself than I would ever, ever be on someone who came to me and said they were looking to get into comics. “I can’t call myself a Daredevil fan!” I tell myself as I read my 531st issue of Daredevil. “I’ve only been into him for a few months! I have no feel for the scope of the Marvel Universe! I have no idea what Matt was up to during Secret Wars or Civil War or House of M!”

It’s okay, you can say it: I’m being ridiculous.

Part of it is just how I’m wired. I’m a collector and a completionist by nature. If I start a book series, I need to read every book; if I want to watch a TV show, I need to go back to the very beginning, and I refuse to skip an episode. And if I get into a comic book character, I have this compulsive need to track down and devour every one of their appearances, which can be a daunting feat when they’ve been around since 1964. (Or 1938, Clark.)

But part of it, the part that has an attendant sense of weird shame clinging to it, comes from a comics culture that prizes the memorization of trivia and obsesses over the past, that turns loving a medium into a competition over who loves it more. It doesn’t help that women are forced to deal with gatekeepers more than men. I’ve been lucky in that regard, as opposed to friends who’ve been commanded to name all the Robins (“Stephanie Brown,” they say, and watch the gatekeeper’s face turn red) or been told pityingly by comics shop cashiers that Bombshells isn’t coming out in print on the day it comes out in print. But I can’t deny a kneejerk feeling that I’ve earned my place at the comics table, and now I’m losing it because I don’t have enough Marvel weapons for that fight. I can tell you the life story of every single Supergirl (four to nine of them, depending on how you count it), but I don’t know if, say, Daredevil #287 was part of a crossover event or basically anything about Iron Fist that doesn’t come from this.

So I need to remind myself that it doesn’t matter.

First of all, I’ve seen…*counts*…twenty-two movies featuring Marvel characters, and even if I’ve only read several dozen non-Daredevil Marvel comics (several dozen, jeez, Jess, maybe don’t be so hard on yourself?), I’ve picked up a heck of a lot of history and context from osmosis. I know more than I think I do.

More importantly, who cares? You don’t need a degree to read comics, you just need enthusiasm (and enough patience to deal with a thousand reboots, renumberings, and crossover events that will! change! EVERYTHING!). It’s fine to pick up only what you’re interested in and fill in the gaps with Wikipedia. Only seen the Captain America movies and never picked up a comic? You rock the hell out of that Cap shirt, lady! Trade-waiting Ms. Marvel and ignoring Secret Wars? Probably the wisest path, to be honest.

And for completionists like me? It’s not a bad thing that there are large swathes of the comicsverse I’ve barely touched – it just means I’ve got so many more great comics to read. I’m not a Fake Marvel Girl – I’m a New Marvel Girl, at least for now. It doesn’t mean I have to stop obsessively boning up on my Daredevil history, as long as I’m doing it because I want to, and not to prove anything to anyone, least of all myself.

But I’m learning to stop apologizing for it. Because if I let myself believe that there’s a secret test I need to pass, that means there’s one other women need to pass, and I refuse to accept that. If I can be fair and welcoming to other new readers, don’t I deserve to treat myself that way too?

So here’s to stepping out of my comfort zone! Here’s to remembering that comics are supposed to be fun, and not a test. Here’s to being a Reader Without Fear.

That’s my new adventure, true believers, and I’m not going to feel weird about it anymore. What’s yours?