No one is perfect, Player One. And in the geek canon, it’s usually the characters who are outside the norm—those with extraordinary gifts and questionable quirks—who deal with the greatest inner turmoil. They struggle to be accepted not just by society, but by potential love interests (sometimes I think there are more broken hearts in comic books than there are character deaths and resurrections).
Change can be good—evolution ain’t just for Pokémon, after all. But there’s a difference between changing your costume and trying to rewrite your whole origin story. How many times have comics readers seen a “new take” on a familiar character completely erase everything that made the character cool and interesting in the first place? How many character reboots have alienated fans so much that the writers had to find a way to bring back the classic version?
Longtime comics readers can easily name a slew of characters who struggled to come to terms with their issues and eventually found a way to accept themselves. The same story arc is popular in other forms of pop culture (not to mention serious literature, but that’s a different story). You can do the same. Here are some examples, both success and failures, that we can all learn from.
Poor Billy. His pursuit to reinvent himself includes becoming a supervillain, joining the Evil League of Evil, and finally defeating Captain Hammer. Just as he wants to change himself, he wants to change all of humanity. Unfortunately, this gets in the way of the pursuit of his love interest, Penny, a bright-eyed, sweet woman who dedicates her time to helping people less fortunate. In the end—spoiler alert!—Dr. H gets what he wants, but loses the girl in the worst way possible: he accidentally kills her.
The Lesson: Let this be a warning, Player One—leave death-ray building to the professionals, or your potential girlfriend could die. More realistically, trying to hide who you really are will likely blow up in your face, possibly killing a romance before it begins.
Of all four of The Fantastic Four, Ben Grimm is definitely the least fantastic-looking. Reed Richards, Susan Storm, and Johnny Storm all got to stay human-ish and dress in sexy, formfitting outfits while nevertheless acquiring superpowers. Ben? Dude is a giant hunk of orange-colored rock in blue shorts.
Ben struggles with his appearance throughout the series, his angstbsometimes amplified by brief reversions to humanity. But eventually he comes to realize that he’s more than just his looks. Over the years, Ben manages to develop relationships with a number of women in spite of his monstrous appearance, including Alicia Masters, Debbie
Green, and Sharon Ventura, better known as Ms. Marvel.
The Lesson: A craggy exterior isn’t a dealbreaker. Keep trying, and you’ll find someone who can see the hero underneath.
In the classic ’90s sitcom Family Matters, we’re introduced to Steve Urkel, an awkward teenager who represents just about every geek stereotype you can imagine. After years of trying and failing to win the affections of his neighbor Laura Winslow, Urkel invents a serum called “Cool Juice” that transforms him into his ultrasuave alter ego, Stefan Urquelle.
It works, for a while. Stefan and Laura even get engaged. But the transformation is doomed to fail. Stefan is self-centered and pompous and vain. In the end, Laura asks him to turn back into Steve.
The Lesson: There are no shortcuts to change. Trying to cover your faults with a fake personality just makes you seem shallow. Better to be honest about your flaws and work to improve them, and find someone who appreciates you warts and all.
Hank McCoy of the Marvel universe had a rough time growing up. A mutant blessed with huge hands and feet, he was referred to as Magilla Gorilla by his classmates. Eventually, his self-image took an even bigger beating when he transformed into the furry blue werewolf/cat-looking creature known as Beast.
But does he let all of this get him down, or embark on a rampage against those stupid humans? No. He goes on to become a political activist and uses his genius intellect to inspire change and take down monstrous, godlike superbeings. Oh, and Kelsey Grammer played him in the third X-Men movie (that’s less a spoiler alert and more a warning).
The Lesson: Work with what you’ve got! Shake what your mama gave you. When people draw the wrong conclusions about you because of superficialities, there’s nothing sweeter than proving them wrong.
Also known as Blackwing, Bohusk, much like Beast, had a tough childhood. Having been picked on and nicknamed Beak due to his fledging-chick-like appearance—his face a mess, his arms like wings—he eventually enrolls at the Xavier Institute, is taken under the wing of Beast, and joins the X-Men.
As he becomes more sure of himself, Bohusk becomes involved with and falls in love with fellow mutant Angel Salvadore (later known as Tempest). While this relationship begins because of a dare (isn’t that how so many romantic comedies start?), it eventually blossoms into something genuine. The couple has children, they get an apartment together, and frankly, it’s one of those rare comics relationships that doesn’t end in epic disaster.
The Lesson: Put yourself out there, even though you’re not perfect. Bohusk was far from the most confident, charismatic, or human-looking mutant around. But he pushed himself past his comfort zone, which created an opportunity to click with Angel and, eventually, live the life he’d always wanted.
Excerpted from The Geek’s Guide to Dating by Eric Smith. Reprinted with permission from Quirk Books.