Fandom is a funny thing. You think you can recognise other fans – they’ll make obscure references, they’ll have Star Trek mugs, they’ll wear t-shirts with the Green Lantern oath on them. Geeks love their referencing; I think it’s a tribal thing.
But then there are people you don’t come into regular contact with – one day you learn they’re a Fan and all of a sudden you’re dealing with that strange disconnect that comes with newly revealed geek cred.
Take Nicolas Cage. He doesn’t strike me as being particularly geeky. Okay, his son is called Kal-el, which is a major tip off (am I the only one who thinks Clark Cage would have been way more superheroey?), but what pinged my geekdar was when he sold his comic collection in 2002. Admittedly, the geekdar encountered some interference, because I struggle with the concept of a Superman fan selling Action Comics #1, but still. I’m glad he never played Superman but it looks like Nicolas is a geek. He’s One Of Us.
And don’t get me started on Obama. I’d never have pegged him as a Spider-Man collector who makes nerd references in speeches. But he is!
The king, excuse the pun, of unexpected geekery is Elvis. I mean, it’s Elvis. The archetypal rock n roller. They once refused to film him below the waist because of his dancing, for goodness sake, how could Elvis possibly be a geek?!
Well, in all fairness he probably wasn’t. Back in the day, comics were actually mainstream. You could buy them from newsagents and corner shops rather than specialist stores where you have to fight your way past mountains of t-shirts and Twilight memorabilia to get to the comics. But there’s no denying that Elvis was a fan, and when you look at it more closely, he was One Of Us before people made the distinction. Because Elvis was a fan of Captain Marvel Jr.
Some context, and we’ll get the complicated stuff out the way first: Captain Marvel isn’t a Marvel character. Well, okay, A Captain Marvel is a Marvel character, but THE Captain Marvel isn’t; he’s a DC character (nowadays anyway – he was created by Fawcett Comics but became part of DC in the seventies). This explains why DC can’t publish a comic called Captain Marvel (Marvel copyrighted the name), and so has to rely on the name ‘Shazam’ for brand awareness, Shazam being the magic word that transforms young boy Billy Batson into Captain Marvel.
(That last paragraph must hold some kind of record for the number of times the words ‘Captain Marvel’ were used in a limited space.)
Now, back in the day, Captain Marvel was the biggest superhero of them all. It’s hard to imagine that now, because he’s something of a second stringer in terms of his role in the DC Universe, but in the forties he was comfortably outselling Superman and Batman. And, in an effort to broaden the franchise, Fawcett decided to give him a family – his sister, Mary, and his friend Freddie Freeman, who became Captain Marvel Jr. That’s where Elvis comes in.
When I decided to write about this, I googled the subject and it turns out someone got there before me, with an essay that’s way longer and more researched than I could ever hope to achieve – for the full story, check out Captain Marvel Jr and Elvis Presley. Basically, Elvis was a big fan of Captain Marvel Jr, not just in the ‘okay, that was a cool story’ way, but as a major influence, particularly in terms of iconography. Young Elvis’s hairstyle was based on the character; Jumpsuit Elvis’s jumpsuits were based on Freddie’s costume, particularly the cape (it’s a half-cape like the Marvels’, not a full cape like Superman’s) – check out the comparison pictures in the linked article. Even Elvis’s TCB jewellery was adorned with a lightning bolt influenced by Captain Marvel’s logo. Yes, the iconography of the King of Rock and Roll was firmly rooted in comic books, which I think is awesome.
So maybe Elvis was a bit geeky. Maybe we all are, just about different things. And maybe, with geek culture becoming increasingly mainstream (Glee at Comic Con?! C’mon!), we’re heading back to the days when Elvis could become an icon partly by basing himself on a superhero. Comics may be a fringe hobby nowadays, perhaps even facing their final Crisis, but geekery remains, a driving force in pop culture.
So if you’ve always wanted to wear a cape, go right ahead. After all, if it was good enough for Elvis, it’s good enough for you…
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