When action figures were my preferred pastime and comics were still just an occasional diversion, superhero trading cards existed somewhere in between, both in terms of the purpose they served in my life and how much I cared about them. Cards could be action figures, too, if I was willing to look past their lack of mobility. They still had awesome characters in sweet action poses, and that was good enough for me when I wanted fresh inspiration. Also, cards were easier to put away than action figures, and what kid can't appreciate that? So I would literally smash my cards against each other until they got bent, and even that didn't necessarily stop me, depending on how much I liked the character and/or how severe the damage was.
Sometimes, though, and with increasing frequency as I got older, I would pause my destruction of what some consider valuable collectibles to actually read the information they had on the back. I learned a lot about the scope and complexity of both the Marvel and DC universes, and came to appreciate how much more I still had to discover. Reading the cards made me want to read more comics, because there wasn't enough information on the tiny cardboard surfaces. Especially since so many of them also included a little graph of statistics, assigning numbers to each character's agility, strength, speed, etc. I found these charts obnoxious and unhelpful, because they didn't seem to reflect the truth. If Hero A is stronger, faster, and more agile than Villain B, then why does Villain B always kick Hero A's ass when they fight on TV or in my dads comics? I would think to myself. Or something along those lines. But the backstory info, team affiliations, aliases, and other biographical information was all fascinating to me. Trading cards introduced me to so many nooks and crannies of the superhero comicbook maze, and ultimately, like action figures before them, they also introduced me to one of my closest friends.
Aaron and I met through the enrichment program at our elementary school. I've never actually checked with him as to why he picked me to make friends with, but I assume it had to do with neither of us really being friends with any of the other "gifted" kids at that time. Whatever the reason, one day he invited me over to work on a project for class, and if memory serves, I went over to his place without even knowing what that project was going to be. Two strangers, agreeing to get together to make up homework for themselves. Kids are weird.
We pretty quickly discovered that we both had a ton of superhero cards, and that we both liked them because they taught us about characters we'd never seen elsewhere. So we figured, why not pass that joy along to our classmates by writing a report on superheroes? I could be misremembering this, but I believe we wrote about only five heroes and one villain, and I know the villain was Apocalypse. They were all mutants, I'm pretty sure. Basically, we just wrote one-paragraph biographies, a.k.a we plagiarized the backs of some of our favorite cards with one or two original sentences thrown in for any characters we knew more about from the X-Men cartoon. This took, I don't know, two hours of our time at most, but I spent the whole night and much of the next day at Aaron's place anyway so we could watch TV and eat junk food and make immature jokes and do other dumb, boyish things. It was an unexpectedly long and incredibly good hang. The first of many.
Aaron taught me Magic: the Gathering. He told me what D&D was and found a game for us to join and we learned it together. He got me into the drama and spectacle of professional wrestling and we got super into that for a year or so, joining dozens of online fantasy federations. He would play World of Warcraft for hours while I sat behind him, cheering him on and eating Wendy's and just enjoying the show. We got to be nerds together, is what I'm saying, and it's because of Aaron that I was and still am so eager to embrace that side of myself. Aaron was also a big sports fan, and it was through seeing his love for and devotion to that over the years that I finally figured out there's no difference between following sports, comics, soap operas, celebrity gossip, or any other perpetual dramas. We're all just nerds for the things we like, and we all like to be involved in stories outside of our own sometimes.
Aaron will also be one of my groomsmen. We've had periods of not seeing so much of one another, even when we were still living in the same tiny town, but we always reconnect eventually, and we can always count on each other. Plus now we're both in Massachusetts at the same time (I was here for undergrad and then he came for law school right after I left, but now I'm back), so he's more in my life these days than he has been for a while. We're even talking about getting a new D&D game going, which always sets my heart a-flutter. In a place as small as our hometown, I have to think our friendship would've been inevitable, but it was superhero cards that first connected us to one another.
Tomorrow: My first favorite superhero.