End of the Game

No, this is not a movie review. No spoilers, so relax. This is a eulogy. Because, with Marvel’s Infinity War: Endgame, a long and wonderful relationship comes to an end, and I give it a fond, sad, farewell.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe kicked off in 2008 with Iron Man, but my Marvel universe started way before that, in 1961. I was a pointy headed kid living in Lawton, Oklahoma when I bought my very first Marvel title, The Fantastic Four #1. It wasn’t my first comic book purchase: I already owned several issues of Our Army At War featuring Sergeant Rock, GI Combat with The Haunted Tank, some assorted DCs like Batman and Green Lantern, but all those were random purchases prompted by the cover or the opportunity, except for the Haunted Tank, which was sort of an ongoing series so I picked it up whenever it appeared on the spinning rack o’ comics in Carl’s Drug Store (which appears to now be Carl’s Military Supply). Buying comics and bubble gum baseball cards was standard early-60s kid behavior. But Marvel changed things.

See, Marvel was different. DC ruled the comic book world with Superman and Justice League and Wonder Woman, but there was something a bit off about them. Take Superman: despite DC’s strenuous efforts to put some drama in his stories, he was Superman. No one’s going to beat him. And Batman was always going to win and Robin was interesting but looked more like he got in the way than anything. Actually, I preferred lesser DC titles like Blackhawk and Tales of the Unexpected and the aforementioned war comics. But the Fantastic Four…they didn’t WANT to be super heroes! And they bickered with each other and screwed things up and, what the heck? They were, like, real people.

So I bought Marvel from that point on almost exclusively, with exceptions here and there like those quirky Charleton Comics. Besides Fantastic Four, I collected Two Gun Kid, the Rawhide Kid, Ghost Rider (the cowboy, not the motorcycle flame head), and Sergeant Fury and His  Howling Commandos. Cowboys and war, yep, that was my thing. And then Captain America showed up.

I knew who he was. Every Marvel kid in the 60s knew him because he was referenced here and there, but we didn’t actually see him until Avengers #4, where he unthaws and joins the team. [NOTE: I may have seen him earlier in the November 1963 Strange Tales, but I can’t remember]. And then he showed up in various Howling Commandos titles and I was gobsmacked. This guy, this Steve Rogers was pure of heart and filled with angst and a man out of his time and a hero. He became my favorite character and the Avengers became my favorite team. Yes, I loved X-Men and Daredevil and Thor and everything else Marvel, too, but Cap and the Avengers were the gold standard.

Throughout my rather traumatic 60’s childhood, Cap and the Avengers and Marvel were my refuge. When things got bad, I had my trusty pile of comics buried deep in the closet and I could get lost. Heroes had problems, too, heroes suffered; Spiderman lost Gwen Stacy and Cap lost his entire team and had to put up with smart alec Hawkeye and former enemies Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch. If he can put up with stuff like that, then I’d be alright. But at the end of 1969, my family blew up and, over one very bad day and night, I lost all my comics. Among a lot of other things. I was right in the middle of an Avengers arc involving Namor kidnapping the Wasp and Powerman invading Avengers HQ.  I never finished that story. To this day.

Then it was the 70s and I was in a completely new place and lost interest in galactic level heroes like the Avengers and turned to street level fighters like Shang Chi and Iron Fist and that wondrous Tomb of Dracula, until it was time to put away childish things and I no longer read comics. With exceptions. I did Cloak and Dagger and the entire Adam Warlock Infinity Gauntlet series, but the 80’s was different and that Marvel wasn’t mine anymore. Move on.

And then it’s 2008 and Iron Man and the rest of the movies start, and I was six years old again.

Sure, the movies were vastly different from the 1960s storylines and characters, but that was okay. The directors and the writers gave props to tradition, like Tony’s first bulky iron suit, Thor slipping on the Donald Blake coat, SpiderMan’s wrestling career, and I was thrilled. Look at this, my entire childhood revived in spectacular CGI color and glory. I loved it, even the Ben Affleck Daredevil. I could forgive much for the pleasure of reliving past joys.

But it was all heading somewhere, and when Doctor Strange said, “We’re in the endgame now,” he meant a lot more than you know. The 1960s was turning into the 70s and 80s again, culminating in this last movie, this last Marvel gasp. Captain America is gone. So is Tony. My original beloved Marvel characters have become dust. Move on.

Oh, sure, there’s still Spiderman. The next movie has Mysterio, and there’s hints of the Sinister Six at some future point. Guardians of the Galaxy still has Adam Warlock bundled away somewhere, and the next Doctor Strange and animation Shang Chi looks good. But those are all novelties, like visiting your hometown forty years after leaving. Things just ain’t the same.

So rest in peace, boys and girls. Excelsior.

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