I itch at the back of my black leather suit and feel sticky sweat roll down my skin from the July heat. I can barely move in the skin-tight outfit, but I don’t care. My sister, Nicole, and I are in full fan mode standing outside the Connecticut Convention Center in leather costumes she handstitched. Nicole, AKA Scarlet Witch, sports a red corset, black leather pants, and the long red coat that flows behind her when the wind blows. My suit is all black with blue lights stitched into the sides and a utility belt sporting Black Widow’s red hourglass symbol. We strut into the building like our badass characters for our first ConnectiCon. ConnectiCon and New York’s Comic Con are festivals where fans of any movie, comic, or anime gather to meet up with Hulks, Captain Americas, and Spider-Men. It is a celebration of fandoms such as Marvel, DC Comics, Disney, and Star Wars.
Our main fandom is Marvel comics and movies. I began reading comics in middle school and quickly became obsessed with the colorful illustrations and interconnecting storylines. I spent most of my afternoons reading comics instead of doing my homework. I still read them to procrastinate from time to time. Now we don’t have just comics, but an entire cinematic universe consisting of twenty movies and more summer blockbusters to come.
One of the men behind this expansive universe was the co-creator of Marvel Comics, Stan Lee. Lee created some of the most iconic comics: Spider-Man, Fantastic Four, The Avengers and so many more. His stories became the core of Marvel, the superhumans that we see portrayed in the movies today. He played a huge part in making the universe come life through cinema by collaborating with producers to pick the best storylines to adapt to film. He also had cameos in many Marvel movies.
In the convention center, Nicole and I grab our passes from the front table and head up the escalator to the main floor. I take a deep breath as we reach the top and my body shakes, sweat dribbles down my back. I can’t help but smile seeing so many kindred spirits, and everyone in some form of costume. I recognize some anime characters, Spider-Man, Gamora, Deadpool in a sombrero, and Belle in her yellow ball gown and red rose in hand.
I see the red cape, long blond hair, and the unmistakable hammer, Mjölnir. “Thor!” I shout uncontrollably. “How fares Asgard?” The God of Thunder turns at the sound of my voice and smiles.
“Natasha! Asgard fares well! How fares your S.H.I.E.L.D?”
“Collapsed, but Fury is still around!”
What follows is a ten-minute conversation about how a fictional intelligence agency is doing. A crowd gathers. They laugh at our quips and discussion of Thor’s mischievous brother Loki— dead at the moment, again—smiles never leaving their faces.
Marvel is more than just kickass characters in leather jumpsuits.
When we are done, the crowd begins to disperse, and my sister and I get some high fives from other fans. We start to make our way to the back of the convention center when I hear a small voice and feel a tug on my sleeve. I turn to see a small girl with blond pigtails rocking a Marvel comics T-shirt. She looks at Nicole and I with wide eyes.
“Hi Natasha! Hi Wanda!” She grins and then hugs me. “You’re my favorite superhero ever!” She runs back to her mother while Nicole and I squeal over the adorable child.
Stan Lee died in November 2018. Though he may have left this earth, his memory lives on in those who were touched by his stories. Many fans flocked to his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame the day after his death to pay tribute to Stan the Man. I only wish we could have heard him say his own catchphrase one last time: Excelsior!
Marvel is more than just kickass characters in leather jumpsuits. The world of superheroes with superpowers has helped me cope with my own issues and fears. I have bad anxiety and depression, which is not a good combo. In middle school my anxiety attacks were so bad, my mother considered taking me to the hospital. I could not calm down and could have hurt myself. High school was no different. I found comfort in comics and Marvel movies. Whenever I was at home depressed or felt an attack brewing, I would watch a Marvel movie. The original six Avengers in their circle, ready to take on whatever came their way, saved me. It gave me the chance to escape into another world, to forget everything that had happened that day—the nonstop bullying, the internal turmoil—and focus on heroes. I still do this today. When I have an anxiety attack, I think to myself, if the Avengers can get through an alien invasion, then I can get through this attack.
A lot of the characters in Marvel had extremely tough lives. Black Widow was taken from her family at a young age and forced to be a child spy for the KGB. Scarlet Witch lost her parents, brother, and country. Yet they pressed on, fought for what they thought was right, and protected people from peril, even if it meant their own demise. This is a powerful message for anyone reading or watching: no matter what you are going through, there is always a way to power on.
Nicole and I make our way down the outside steps to where others have gathered for the Marvel photoshoot. The X-Men, Avengers, and Fantastic Four are all assembled. There are even some Deadpools running around breaking the fourth wall. The woman in charge of the photoshoot calls everyone together for a group shot and we swarm together in a mosh pit-like formation. “Hero poses!” The woman cries out and we all let out an excited squeal. I ball my fists up and pose for the camera. There is nowhere else I would rather be, no other character I would rather portray. “Got it! You’re all super!”
I belong in the Marvel Universe. It’s my home.
Headline photo courtesy of Janelle Gaudet.