Having been raised amidst entertainments of a number unseen in times prior, this generation of nerds speaks in a language composed primarily of references. Where the conversations of our forenerds were sprinkled with Bible passages and Latin phrases, or where those of our nerdy parents were limited to Monty Python and Firesign Theater quotes, ours are flooded with lines from the limitless movies and television shows which made the corpus of text to which we were exposed while growing up. This being the case, we love to get someone else’s references and to have ours understood. As in all things, there are degrees to this tendency, ranging from the occasional quote by the more reserved to full scene recreations by the most unabashedly geeky.
The men who have given this guilty nerdy pleasure literary credibility are Neil Gaiman and Alan Moore, writers of the Sandman and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen comic book series respectively. In Sandman, Gaiman uses his remarkable knowledge of mythology and folklore to create a backdrop for his characters, littering his world with characters from the legends of all lands, from the goddess Bast to the drunken fairy Cluracan. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen overflows with a surfeit of references to Victorian fantasy literature. The depth and complexity of these references are truly astonishing, and no one without a PhD in Vic lit stands a chance at getting all of them, let alone most.
I just read Gaiman’s 1602, a miniseries in which the characters of the early Marvel universe are in Exploration Age Europe, living at constant risk of being exposed and killed for heresy and witchcraft. In typical style, Gaiman makes his puzzles just difficult enough to keep you wondering if caught everything. Reading reminded me of how frustrating (who is the super-fast kid supposed to be?!?) and nerdily rewarding (two riders on the same horse! I get it!) his stuff can be.
It also gave me opportunity to indulge in one of the pleasures I can refer to only as “guiltiest”: comic book annotations. After discovering Sandman and LoEG annotations online, the secrets unravelled before me. I could enjoy all of the subtleties of the works, without having to acquire a lifetime’s worth of knowledge. They taught me quite a bit, and pointed me towards stories I never would have come across on my own.