The annual Comic Con gathering in San Diego means different things to different people.
For fans of sci fi/fantasy, it's the chance to spend a few days wearing costumes and being with people who actually get you. For movie and television studios, it's the chance to tease their next multi-million dollar, spandex-encased franchises. For the media, it's a chance to glorify a group of people they will spend the rest of the year making fun of. For me, though, Comic Con has been like facing my own brand of crippling Kryptonite -- divorce.
Let me explain via this timeline, and stay tuned for a vintage comic book twist ending:
1990 - I'd just moved to Los Angeles from Boston with my girlfriend of two years. We were both a little uncertain of such a major commitment, but we tried it anyway. And in one of our first trips together as a California couple, she accompanies me on a magazine assignment to San Diego. By accident, we stayed at a hotel filled with Comic Con revelers and from the chain mail-clad woman in the lobby when we checked in to the people running through the hallways all night screaming about which room has the best parties, she and I bonded over our mutual amusement with it all.
2006 - I'd been married for nine years. I'd had two kids. But like 50 percent of the population, this lifetime bonding thing has proven too much to figure out. Before traveling to San Diego, I'd left my sleeping spouse a multiple page, single-spaced note about the problems I saw with our relationship. I did a session on the phone with my therapist while driving down. And I knew that in a few days, my wife and I would be going to couples therapy and probably separating. I'd never felt like more of a failure in my life, so I couldn't miss the irony in me hosting a panel with some cast members of a show called Heroes.
2007 - Separated for close to a year. Adjusted to romantic failure by falling crazy in love for the first time since that separation became. The future was looking bright. Only to get to Comic Con to moderate a dozen panels and have The Crush explain politely that I'd misread her signals with the same ineptitude that the lone stranger in a horror film misreads a dark room as an invitation to come in. Now, that guy's heart and mine had both been ripped out. He was the lucky one. At least he didn't have to try dating again.
2008, 2009 - Divorce finalized, I realize that just as that relationship wilts, the one with my kids should just be blossoming. My son was the right age to appreciate Comic Con so for the next two years, I took him with me in order to a) impress him by moderating panels in front of thousands of people and b) let him meet and get pictures with his favorite actors. One of these two plans worked out fine. Meanwhile, walking the convention floor with my boy while seeing hundreds of happy families dressed together as Wookies or Captain Americas was a constantly reminder that once again, I had made mistakes in life that could prove perilous for those I cared about.
2011 - Superhero movies get sequels. Why not do the same for post-divorce dads? As I arrived in San Diego to moderate a couple of panels, a text buzzed in from the woman I'd been seeing for three months. She'd stopped answering my calls a week or so earlier, and there in text form was her break up message. I'd been trying not to get my hopes up for this one, but the letdown from this romantic rejection replay felt like the emotional equivalent of having to watch those Matrix sequels again.
2015 - After several years without a job that sent me to Comic Con, I decided it was time to go on my own dime and take my daughter, who had embraced her inner geek upon becoming a teen just like I did. From the minute we step onto the convention floor and she sees Flash t-shirts for sale, she was hooked. She wouldn't stop thanking me for the trip, constantly holding my hand and leading me around to see displays of all her favorite books/movies/shows. Every few minutes, she told me how great it is to be amongst her "people."
As we drove back home to Los Angeles, she sat in the back seat, alternately reading the quirky comic books she bought (all favorites of mine) and singing along to her quirky favorite songs (from Buster Poindexter and other non-teen performers I taught her to like). Honestly, I don't think I'd ever seen her more comfortable in her own skin. Which, I realized, is also my skin. I smiled, finally feeling relieved that Comic Con didn't have to be about me flashing on relationship failings.
Instead, I was looking at and listening to my relationship success. I'd finally found the girl in my life....and she was my daughter. Which left me feeling like the hero at the end of every comic book blockbuster. Despite my flaws, I finally focused on positives rather than on my negatives and, in the process, saved a damsel in distress' weekend. Maybe there was even a little, newfound self-confidence sneaking back in for me. Perhaps even enough to risk dating and heartbreak again.....well, I know it's Comic Con and everything, but still, let's not start talking science fiction and fantasy here.