Hard-Traveling Fanboys: Secret Origins (Finale)

Mild-mannered reporters by day, Greg Phillips and Nick Duke share an intense love of comic books that has made them the Hard-Traveling Fanboys. But how did that passion for comics develop? Each week, Secret Origins will shed light on the personal journey Greg and Nick have each taken through the world of superheroes.

Nick: Welcome back, dear readers, to the small corner of cyberspace occupied by the Hard-Traveling Fanboys. We had to take a small break due to Thanksgiving craziness last week, but we’re back this week with a new edition of Secret Origins.

Greg: For those of you who have stuck with us this far into the tale of our mutual comic fandom, let us assure you that you won’t have to deal with our boring ramblings on this particular subject much longer. In the meantime, however, sit back and enjoy the ride as we take you back to the summer of 2008. It was a simpler time: presidential elections dominated the headlines, Twitter was still in its infancy, and Ric Flair was in the midst of yet another retirement.

The man likes to cry.
This happened a lot in 2008.

Nick: It was also quite the year for the two of us, as we attended our first Wrestlemania and also saw a movie we had been waiting for quite anxiously.

Now, I had made no secret of my love for Christopher Nolan’s 2005 Batman Begins, and with the sequel, The Dark Knight, approaching, much of our spring and summer was spent watching and rewatching every trailer or clip we could get our eyes on.

Greg: Yes indeed. We were riding high that year, having seen Marvel work its magic with Iron Man just a month after enjoying the majesty of WrestleMania. But somehow our year wouldn’t feel complete until we’d witnessed the culmination of all those trailers, clips and viral marketing websites.

And then it happened: Space Chimps.


Nick: Yep, Space Chimps. And then, The Dark Knight. Our anticipation was so high that I even called in a couple of favors and managed to get us both spots at an advance screening two days before the movie was released to the general public. What ensued was one of, if not the, greatest experiences I’ve ever had in a theater.

Greg: Oh, it was the greatest for me, to be sure. Just to be able to see such an anticipated film, featuring a new version of comics’ greatest villain, two days before anyone else around me (sans Nick) could see it made me feel special. Like a Super-Hipster or something.

"I don't watch movies unless the director has three names."
“I don’t watch movies unless the director has three names.”

Plus there were only a dozen or so (?) people in the theater, so we didn’t have to worry about folks talking during the movie or kids crying.

Nick: Yeah, it was definitely surreal. I remember going home and writing an overly long Facebook note describing my joy with what I had just seen. However, perhaps my favorite memory from that night came halfway through the screening, just after the scene where Batman drops Sal Maroni off the fire escape during an interrogation. Greg, who doesn’t have quite the sailor’s mouth that I do, turned to me and whispered, “This is the best fucking movie I’ve ever seen.”

Greg: Indeed, I’m not typically fond of using … colorful language, but in certain situations, no other words can apply. The best way I can think of to describe our state during the movie is to compare it to that of Beavis and Butt-Head when they first see the female form. We were transfixed, our mouths agape for the bulk of the movie. At times, I’d glance over to Nick and see him just nodding his head with a big, dumb grin on his face. This movie felt, to me, like the culmination of a lifelong comics obsession. It was the kind of Batman movie I didn’t think I’d get, something that combined the visions of creators like Miller, Loeb, Finger, O’Neill and Rucka into this sprawling cinematic universe.

Nick: Yeah, it would be easy to describe it as the Batman movie I’d always wanted, but that isn’t exactly true. It’d be more accurate to describe it as the Batman movie I never even thought to think possible and thus was completely blown away by. I can honestly say it’s my favorite movie of all time, and I don’t know if it can ever be topped. We could honestly go on for days and days about The Dark Knight, but I’ll keep it brief and just ask one quick question. Greg, outside of Heath Ledger’s legendary performance as The Joker, what was the one moment/performance/aspect of the movie that stood out the most to you at the time?

My first lunch lady looked kind of like this.
My first lunch lady looked kind of like this.

Greg: Probably the Harvey Dent story. The film is very much about Harvey. Here’s a guy who is nobler than Bruce, just as driven, and with the potential to make Batman irrelevant. The way the movie shows his mental (and physical) destruction, along with Aaron Eckhart’s strong performance, left a big mark on me, especially seeing how it affected Bruce Wayne’s mission.

Nick: I’ll echo that. Harvey Dent/Two-Face is my favorite villainous character in all of comics, and it was wonderful to see a serious, faithful, non-Schumacher adaptation of the character on the big screen. TDK definitely fits into the larger story of the Nolan trilogy, but when watching the movie as a standalone story, it’s hard to argue against the movie really being the story of the rise and fall of Harvey Dent. And, as you said, Eckhart knocked it out of the freaking park. Coming into the movie, I was expecting Ledger’s Joker to be amazing because of all the reviews and buzz the performance had gotten. But, walking out of the theater, I think I was more impressed with Eckhart simply because I wasn’t expecting such a perfect Harvey Dent interpretation.

Aaron Eckhart brought to life the tragedy of Harvey Dent.
Aaron Eckhart brought to life the tragedy of Harvey Dent.

Greg: It was certainly a pleasant surprise, especially given how disastrous the previous big-screen version of Two-Face had been.

Nick: With The Dark Knight behind us, we were able to turn our anticipation towards another story that had been years in the making. As 2008 drew to a close and 2009 began, we were impatiently awaiting the arrival of the first issue of Blackest Night, the DC Comics event book that served as the final act of Geoff Johns’ Green Lantern trilogy, after Rebirth and Sinestro Corps War.

Do you remember how agonizing that wait was? The hype level was pretty staggering by the time issue 1 finally hit store shelves.

One of the more epic events in comic book history.
One of the more epic events in comic book history.

Greg: Drawing on a seemingly throwaway story by Alan Moore from the ’80s, Blackest Night was looming in the background, being teased, pretty much from the beginning of Johns’ run in 2005. So yes, I definitely remember the anticipation levels being unprecedented heading into the book’s release. We were nervous that the book wouldn’t reach our lofty expectations, but we were nevertheless stoked to see all these threads paid off in what promised to be one of the most climactic battles in DC history. Being a longtime DC guy, I was especially excited to see some of the dead heroes and villains from days gone by return to haunt their friends and colleagues.

Nick: Yeah, pretty much every issue of Green Lantern and Green Lantern Corps since the end of Sinestro Corps War had been focused on expanding the balloon, so to speak. Characters, concepts and threats were being added on a monthly basis, and we couldn’t wait for everything to finally come together in one epic story. And epic it was. It was the first DC-wide event book I ever bought in single issue form, and it was easily my most anticipated title each month it lasted. All in all, it wound up being a great story, albeit one that the impact of has been lessened slightly by editorial decisions in the years since.

Greg: Yeah, it certainly lived up to the hype. Starting right out of the gate by brutally killing two prominent heroes was a bold move, and I remember all of us (our friends circle from college) being floored by the final scene of the first issue.

This was the point when we all collectively realized Johns wasn't playing around with this story.
This was the point when we all collectively realized Johns wasn’t playing around with this story.

Each month, it seemed Johns provided a new twist, a new hurdle for the heroes to overcome. It was such a great thrill ride, trying to figure out how Hal Jordan and his fellow heroes could possibly overcome the threat posed by these Black Lanterns. Plus, DC did these cool revivals of “dead” titles like Catwoman and Weird Western Tales that showed the zombified versions of characters who had died in said titles. It was as thrilling a time as I can remember being a comics fan, including my childhood. In fact, I’d say it had a bit of a nostalgic effect on me, because it truly felt like being a kid again and waiting for recess so I could talk about the latest events with my friends. Plus we got some really badass fights throughout the event, including my personal favorite of the bunch, Sinestro vs. Mongul.

Hal Jordan leading the corps into battle and not acting like a rookie? Hmm.
Hal Jordan leading the corps into battle and not acting like a rookie? Hmm.

Nick: Well, Blackest Night finished up in May 2010, and since then there have been plenty of developments in comics that we’ve discussed and experienced together. However, in May 2010, as Blackest Night ended, I left college, which is where Greg and I met. With me being the last of our friends to graduate, that seems like an appropriate place to end the tale of our Secret Origins.

But, while we won’t be giving you a blow by blow of our personal journey through the world of comics anymore, rest assured that there have been plenty of moments in comics and comics-related media that have affected both of us.

Greg: Obviously the end of Blackest Night didn’t end our friendship or our mutual love of all things Lantern. And while Secret Origins has come to a close, we’ll be back next month with the beginning of a new regular column in which we examine comic book properties that have been converted to other media. We’ll be discussing television shows, movies and even radio dramas. Hopefully, we’ve entertained you with our comic book memories and shown the bonding power of funnybooks. If you’ve enjoyed Secret Origins, we sincerely thank you for your readership and hope you also enjoy our other (mostly) regular columns: Countdown, The Longbook Hunters and another brand new fourth-week feature we’ve yet to name.

Nick: And if you have any suggestions, good or bad, for our new media-related column, we’d be glad to hear them. We’re at the point where there’s hundreds of hours of things to choose from, so the well runs deep with options.

Greg: Just drop us a line at GregP@placetobenation.com or NickD@placetobenation, or contact us on the PTB Facebook page or on Twitter (@gphillips8652 and @nickduke87).

Nick: And be sure to be here next week, when we count down our top five event books! Books where events happen!

In any case, check it out next week.