Restoring Childhood

Or, How It’s All Wil Wheaton’s Fault

Restoring Childhood
Source: John Cassaday

It was late March in 2011. I had been married for about three-months and was living a very adult life. Then Wil Wheaton posted a link to the Primer on The Marvel Universe. This would change everything.

I was very much a child of the 90’s. Besides slap bracelets, Trapper Keepers, and parachute pants, this meant growing up a huge fan of the X-Men in every way possible. When I picture the X-Men, it’s as Jim Lee intended. I played with the action figures—the Weapon X Wolverine was my favorite. I collected the trading cards, including the entire 1994 Flear X-Men set. I watched the cartoon and even collected the VHS tapes that you could only get by showing Pizza Hut you read books in school. I was a huge fan of the X-Men.

But then came middle school.

Source: Jim Lee
Source: Jim Lee

The X-Men were not something that was cool in middle school. They weren’t Pogs or Jinco’s. The X-Men just didn’t fit in. There was also this new thing called the internet that was fulfilling every nerd’s dream. My comic books, toys, and trading cards went into a box in the back of the closet and were replaced with 56k modems and GeoCities. That box in the closet went largely forgotten for many years.

In 2000 I was a junior in high school and the first X-Men film was being released. My friends and I were all very excited, even though none of us had touched a comic book in many years. All of the heroes from my childhood were on the big screen, including Patrick Stewart as Xavier himself. It was wonderful.

But the comics stayed in their box and didn’t travel with me the next year when I left for college.

A decade later while I was packing up my mom’s house as she prepared to move, I discovered the old box of comic books in the back of the closet. Flipping through the old books brought back a few memories of the stories they contained, but most seemed very foreign—distant memories of the weight they used to hold. After all, I was getting married, I was purchasing my first house, I was becoming an adult. I put them back in the box and did what adults with clutter do, see if anyone online would want it. Since they didn’t fit into my adult life, I gave them to someone I knew from Twitter that posted about comic books.

In late March of 2011, about four months into my newly married life, Wil Wheaton posted a link to the Marvel Universe Primer. Iron Man 2 had found success the year before and in a few months Thor was getting ready to hit the theaters. I had read online about people dreaming of an Avengers film, but they were just fanboy dreams at this point. Since there would be no harm to my practical adulthood in reading about comic books online, I opened the Primer wondering what my favorite characters had been up to over the years.

It was fun reading about the different parts of the Marvel Universe—superhero, cosmic, fringe—but when I got to the mutant portion of the Primer, my jaw dropped. While I was off working on a college degree and trying to find my place in the adult world, my cinematic hero—Joss Freaking Whedon—had authored an X-Men run.

At this point, Joss Whedon was known primarily for really great shows on FOX that were canceled before they could thrive (as long as you don’t count Buffy). But to me, those failed shows—particularly Firefly—showed a host of characters and writing that I connected with. His quarky Dr. Horrible was the perfect internet age mini-series. Reading the Primer I learned that at roughly the same time Firefly was being canceled, Joss Whedon was writing the Astonishing X-Men. Not only did he write an entire series run, but according to the Primer his run was the recommended jumping on point to catch up with today’s modern mutans.

The next day I learned what an Omnibus was and ordered the entire Joss Whedon / John Cassaday Astonishing X-Men run from Amazon. Within a week I would begin my exploration into a world that I had left behind almost two decades prior.

Source: John Cassaday
Source: John Cassaday

There was something about Joss Whedon’s X-Men—these were all the characters I grew up with, but everything was different. Xavier was missing and Scott Summers was in charge of the school. Jean Gray was dead—again—and Scott was shacking up with Emma Frost. Kitty Pride, Beast, and Wolverine were all there, but edgier, funnier. Over the few hundred pages, the story unfolded and revealed aliens—it was an X-Men story after all—threats to the the team and to the world at large. But there was also the wit and whimsy I’d come to love from everything Joss Whedon had created. Reading Astonishing X-Men was a wonderful experience.

Despite my adulthood, reading Astonishing X-Men fully returned me into the X-Men’s world. It was as if a small part of me that had been locked away because it didn’t fit into the ideal of adulthood was allowed to come back out and play. It made me so happy I emailed Wil Wheaton to thank him for posting the link to the Primer in the first place.

Over the next few weeks—and thanks to my local library’s home delivery service—I read through every major X-Men storyline since Astonishing X-Men. “House of M,” “Messiah Complex,” and “Second Coming.” When I made it through all of them I moved to the other major events in the Marvel Universe over the last decade including “Civil War,” “Secret Wars,” “Secret Invasion,” “The Winter Soldier,” and anything written by Brian Michael Bendis.

The more I read, the more I was hooked into the Universe. I walked into a comic book store for the first time in a very long time and started learning about all the current options. The X-Men were getting ready to move into “Schism”—essentially rebooting the entire line—which seemed like a great place to start and on the darker side of the X-Men’s world Apocalypse was being reborn in the amazing Uncanny X-Force. Ever Wednesday I was buying new books and was even getting my wife involved in the process.

At the same time, Marvel’s Cinematic Universe was finally coming into it’s own. Thor was followed by Captain America and an announcement that Joss Freaking Whedon was again returning to Marvel to helm The Avengers. And we all know how that turned out.

Comic books are now very much part of my adult life. As I type this I’m wearing a Captain America t-shirt while Iron Man covers my desktop, Wolverine and Kitty Pride are on my iPhone, and a S.H.I.E.L.D. LEGO set sit on the counter across from me—there’s even a current issue of Uncanny X-Men on the coffee table. I am still an adult, yet I’m not afraid to be an adult who enjoys comic books.

It’s all Wil Wheaton’s fault.

Justin Cox Justin Cox

Justin Cox is a donut-loving, word-writing, nonprofit consultant based in Orlando. He also runs The Writing Cooperative on Medium. Come say hello!