Comic super heroes gave this gay Atlanta man his coming of age edge.

By Buck C. Cooke

WHEN I WAS 4 YEARS OLD, a world of four-color fantasy opened up to me, and it would become a life-long obsession.

I was introduced to comic books by the kid next door, who would become my childhood best friend. I imagine I enjoyed them at first because they contained new adventures of characters I watched on TV, like Batman, Superman, and my favorite, Wonder Woman. I don’t really remember, I just know I was hooked.

Because I was so young, my mama would have to help me read some of the words until I was old enough. I used to ask her if she had washed her hands before we’d start to read them. I was precocious, to say the least.

Over the next couple of years, I started following the narratives and reading series instead of just picking up random books, learning more about the worlds inhabited by the characters. I read comics published by DC and Marvel and I was all about the super heroes.

I really liked books with teams of heroes – It was more story and action for your money, I reasoned – and I was drawn to the female characters in particular. They were fierce! They had badass costumes and they were so much fun to draw.

WONDER WOMAN CAPTIVATED ME in a way the other series didn’t. She was drawn as such a sexy and strong character, and something about her Amazonian heritage resonated within me because I liked mythology. I was fascinated.

I also loved “Justice League of America,” partially because Wonder Woman was a frequent member, but also because a plethora of other exciting heroes were a part of the team, like Hawkman, Hawkgirl (yes, she was still “girl” at that time even though she was a grown-ass woman), Zatanna, and Black Canary. “The New Teen Titans” was another favorite series.

In 1983, I discovered the X-Men, Marvel’s merry band of mutants, when they guest-starred on an episode of one of my favorite cartoons, “Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends.” I started reading “The Uncanny X-Men” along with “New Mutants” and subsequent X-related series, the bulk of which were written by Chris Claremont.

From the time of their creation in 1963, X-Men and mutantkind stood in place for the “other” in society. Mutants were the victim of extreme prejudice and often violent harassment. Parallels from their stories can be drawn to racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, and religious persecution.

As I matured and came to sense something of the “other” in myself, I became incredibly attached to these characters and sought out back issues of the comics, reaching all the way back to the introduction of the new line-up of the X-Men in 1975, which included Storm, Nightcrawler, Colossus, Banshee, Thunderbird, and Wolverine.

They were multi-ethnic and hailed from different countries. To me, it was like the TV show “Fame” with super powers.

PRIOR TO ANY AWARENESS OF feminism and social justice, seeds were being sown in my young mind as I read about the adventures of X-Men, Wonder Woman, and other heroes. Yes, comic books contained some hot, muscular men in skintight costumes (especially the way Alan Davis drew Captain Britain), but my connection to those books was more deep and meaningful than that.

The heroes upheld the principles of fair play, righted wrongs, and defended those who couldn’t defend themselves.

As I struggled with coming out to myself and others, I often drew parallels between my secret self and having a secret identity, just like the superheroes in the stories I loved. Comics also provided a safe haven for me when life would get too rough.

I struggled with depression since I became aware of my sexual orientation. The characters in my comic books were like old friends I knew wouldn’t abandon me.

Even as a grown man, I find comfort and excitement in the pages of comic books. I never know what will come on the next page, just like I never know what adventure awaits in real life.