“You’re writing an article about being nerds?” says Luz, tentatively taking a seat in the second office swivel chair. I occupy the first. “I like your hair.”
Under the teaming white lights of my fall harvest decorations, I have been conducting a series of interviews with my fellow student journalists in the photo office of our newsroom.
“So who’s you’re favorite comic book hero?” I ask as she straightens up in her chair, bright-eyed, curly hair bouncing with usual zest.
“Ironman,” she says.
“Any particular reason why?”
“I guess I love how RDJ portrays him in the movie,” she says. “He’s very sarcastic and he’s mean so I guess my evil side relates to him.” She clears her throat with a giggle and clarifies that she doesn’t have that much of an evil side. “It’s very well-tamed.”
I ask why she likes the movies and she giggles again before giving me a business-like answer.
“I like to see how separate heroes interact with each other,” she says. “Because they’re all these very authoritative figures and then they get into conflict with each other and you see different sides to them.”
She pauses a moment before likening the Avengers to our newsroom staff, each of us with our own special powers.
“So then,” I ask, “I would definitely be Captain America of the newsroom, right?”
“I didn’t say that.”
Luz doesn’t give up a lot of ground. She may be small and doe-eyed, but she is fierce.
“I’d probably be like a mix between Black Widow and the girl with the mind-control,” she says, thoughtfully, admitting that, unfortunately, those are the only two females currently on the Avengers’ super-team. “I get into your brain and that’s how I know where to harass you.”
This is true. Luz knows how to harass.
“But I would love to fly,” she says a little wistfully.
We sit and watch each other for a moment before I ask her the final question of our make-shift interview.
If you could leave a legacy…
“Being able to inspire people,” she says, a thousand years of hopes and dreams burning behind her eyes, some of which I have been privileged enough to witness form on her tongue as she incarnates her plans with spoken word. “I think that’s the best form of leadership.”
Marty takes a seat a little reluctantly.
“Is this going to take a lot of time?” he asks. “Because I have a homework project I have to finish up.”
“None at all,” I assure him. “I just need to know who your favorite comic book character is.”
“Oh,” he says, looking visibly relieved. “It’s a tie between Swamp Thing and the Hulk…because they’re both green.”
I know who the Hulk is because I don’t live under a rock, but Swamp Thing is new to me. I clear my throat.
“So, tell me about Swamp Thing,” I say in my best attempt to not sound ignorant.
I didn’t understand half of what followed, but basically, you get chosen to be Swamp Thing. There are like four different colors involved and an ecologist and apparently the comic has really cool artwork (it does – I looked this up afterwards).
“What got you started in comics?” I ask.
“I read comics that family friends would let me read,” Marty says, dipping back into his childhood and giving his bearded chin an absentminded rub. “Not really like cape hero stuff. More like really independant stuff.”
He admits that maybe he was a little too young to read a lot of these comics because they’re “ultra violent.”
“I stopped for a while,” he says folding his hands over his green shirt. “But I got into it again a couple years ago reading Thanos.”
“Oh, I know this!” I say, perhaps a little too excitedly. “He’s from the Thor universe, right? He’s the red guy!”
“No, he’s the purple guy,” says Marty, shaking his head.
“Well, okay then. If you could have a power or an infinity stone, which would you rather?”
He doesn’t even pause.
“An infinity gemstone comes with a lot of power,” he explains to me. “I’d rather have one gem than being born with one power that I didn’t have any control over.”
I thank him for his time, though he seems to have forgotten about homework. But before he leaves he says, “If I did have a superpower I’d want it to be turning into animals or shape-shifting so I could experience things humans can’t.”
Then he leaves.
“Harley Quinn,” says Mariah before she even makes it to the chair. Mariah isn’t feeling well today, but you’d never guess it. This girl is all energy and ‘go.’
“I just like how she’s crazy,” says Mariah. She pulls one leg up under her as she sits like a perky little puppy. “Like, during the day she’s the Joker’s girlfriend. He would never say it, but she is.”
Mariah knows a lot more about comics than I do and spends the next several minutes explaining to me who Quinn is. She was a therapist for the Joker before they both kinda went cray-cray, or that’s how I understood it.
She makes a point of saying that Quinn doesn’t technically have superpowers but that she’s pretty baller anyway. She even beat Batman at one point which made the Joker super jealous.
“How do you think you relate to her?” I ask as Mariah settles her head against a raised knee and smiles. We’re all trying to forgive her for continuing to wear her Raiders beanie to the newsroom.
“The crazy in love part,” she says. Granted, she admits, she wouldn’t kill anyone for love. “I have a conscience.”
She’s starting to look tired. The excitement of our interview project has worn off and her need for some R&R is showing. I wrap up.
What’s your superpower?
“I would have a super boyfriend,” she says with that same sweet, crazy grin. “A super, crazy boyfriend.”
“Do I have to sit while I’m being interviewed?” asks Dan, rolling around on his shoe-skates.
I don’t bother fighting him on this point because who am I to judge the creative process.
“Okay,” he begins as he rolls back and forth in my office like it’s some kind of skating rink, which it isn’t. I have a whiteboard and everything. “In 2014 on Tumblr…”
That’s where I got lost. Oh, I have Tumblr. I just have no idea how it works. But Dan is “pretty active” on it and apparently the Tumblreans were celebrating the 75 anniversary of Dick Grayson (original Robin), who is described by writers as the heart and soul of the DCU (“DC Universe. Keep up with me, Mary.” Dan explains that Grayson was a major personal role model and that for the anniversary, he and other Tumblreans made a book about him.
“It’s a collection of scholarly essays by fans,” he says, “analyzing Grayson’s place in history, his transition to Nightwing, and his effect on other characters.”
He stops rolling.
“Why are you laughing, Mary? You’re the one wearing glasses. You’re more of a nerd than me.”
I regain composure and he continues skating.
“Mine was more on the pathos side of it all,” he says. His skating has slowed to a glide. “It focused on the positive effect of having a character like that. A character that isn’t made just for the white-male dominated culture we live in where power and dominance and sexualized characters are used to bolster the confidence of one specific people group.”
He stops skating now and leans against the door, arms crossed, eyes sincere.
“One of the beautiful things about being a geek or nerd is that you’re able to find a sense of community with a ragtag group of people who might otherwise feel like outcasts,” he says.
Stepping out of his rakish reputation for a moment, Dan says that Grayson was a character who greatly influenced his life and decisions at an age and time when he needed someone to influence his life and decisions.
“He does good for the sake of doing good,” he said. “He’s well assimilated and very emotionally open and honest. And that’s the thing about superheroes. They inspire people to do good and to make people better.”
We pull up pictures of Grayson, both as Robin and then as the superhero he became, Nightwing.
“He fulfilled the role of the sidekick beautifully,” says Dan as we scroll through countless hours of labor and love that has been spilled onto paper through pencils, telling a story, making a hero, changing a life. “But then grew up and realized, maybe that’s not who I am.”
I think I can relate to that.
“When you’re dealing with the bat family, most of the people are orphans,” Dan reminds me (as if I even knew there were more than just Batman and Robin). “Lots of emotional issues. But he doesn’t let that consume him. At the end of the day you only have so many shots to say what’s on your mind or tell someone you care or to do good.”
Dan leans back in the swivel chair, his be-wheeled feet dangling over the edge. I’m reeling with the new information about extra Robins and Batgirls and somebody super cool called “Oracle.” Shots at life and chances to change. Doing good.
He looks at me contentedly.
“I just have a lot of feelings about superheroes,” he says.