It was impossible to miss the fans in Captain America shirts and DC backpacks attempting pull-ups with the Marines near the Javits Center as it hosted the New York Comic Con.
The recruiters were skinnier than the typical Marine—they seemed chosen for their ability to blend in with people at the Con. They shouted encouragement as the superhero fans tested their strength but clammed up when asked why Marines were recruiting at Comic Con.
Not everyone was a fan. “Fuck the military,” says Jeff, 28. He’s been going to NYCC for six years and this is the first time he’s seen military recruitment. “They’re here looking for that 17-year old kid, the odd nerd who will go home and be like ‘fuck you Mom, I signed with the Marines.’”
In comics, be they Avengers, Justice League or Dark Horse favorites like Hellboy, there are good guys and bad guys. Heroes make quippy one liners to lead the USA to save the day.
But in reality, there aren’t villains that shoot lightning from their fingertips or lasers from their eyes. It’s easy to forget the casualties of the wars we fight many miles away. The wars we fight always occur over there, across oceans and continents. They never touch us here, so it’s easy to prey on nerd fans who like Star Wars.
Using comic book and video game culture to increase military readiness isn’t new. In a 1997 Wired story , a Marine officer told the writer the military used games like the ultra-violent Doom II, “that might teach an appreciation for the art and science of war.” Writers for games like Call of Duty have advised the military on using war games in training for actual wars.
Despite the overlap with video game culture, this was the Marines’ first year at NYCC. The officer in charge would not say why; perhaps because it was the convention’s biggest crowd yet or perhaps because comic book universes grow more popular with each new franchise installment. Regardless, the recruitment station was full of enthusiastic fans eagerly trying their strength and chatting about Marvel.
One fan was particularly sought after. Surrounded by eager Marines, Eddie, 25, did pull-up after pull-up in his Spider-Man outfit. He thinks recruiting at Comic Con was smart, “given the fan base.” He has family in the military and supports it but he’s not keen on joining. “The military now? I’m not sure,” he says. “They asked me to and I said no.”
War isn’t a comic. It’s not Star Wars, where the villains have the red weapons and wear black hoods. It’s not Call of Duty or Doom, nor is it Wonder Woman or Iron Man. War isn’t LARPing and the armed forces should know better.