This is a free edition of Humans Being, a subscriber-only column that searches for lessons in the most popular movies, books, TV shows, and more. Sign up here to get it in your inbox. For full access to future subscriber-only exclusives, subscribe to The Atlantic.
“Nobody cares about Moon Pie,” I told my friend Omar. It was 2017, and I was referring to Moon Knight, the lesser-known Marvel character whom I made fun of for years by never using his actual name.
It was a recurring argument. Omar and I both wrote weekly comic-book reviews at the time, and we would rehash the same fight like siblings: Each conversation would begin with him recommending a character he believed was underrated, and then I would try to agitate him by making fun of their obscurity.
It always worked.
Omar would praise an unfamous character and grow more and more frustrated as I made fun of them. Then I would escalate my insults to every B- and C-list character he held dear: Ted Kord, a.k.a. Blue Beetle (“Nobody cares about Fred Kord, Omar”); Mister Miracle (“Nobody cares about Mister Magic, Omar”); Hobie Brown, the Prowler (“You mean NBA coaching legend Hubie Brown, Omar”).
When I began trolling his newest obsession at the time, Moon Knight, we debated for hours. He told me about his favorite Moon Knight books—written by Brian Michael Bendis, Mark Waid, and Jeff Lemire and Greg Smallwood—but any time he tried to champion lesser-known characters, I told him that no one cares, and that few people buy books about lower-tier characters.
“You stay wanting to bring up sales,” he said. “All I said was that you’d enjoy this.”
In a way, I was right: Many of Omar’s favorite series did not sell well and would often be canceled after a single story arc. Small-name characters struggled to compete for consumers, and major comic-book publishers often gave up on them quickly—a fact I reminded him of often. I was a troll and a Kiley, and I enjoyed my fun while I could. For some of Omar’s favorite books, I was right … but I wasn’t right about all of it. I had seen Omar’s predictions come true countless times before.
“Look at you,” he said, mocking my snobbery. “Look at who you’ve become. You better hope you don’t die before me. I’m bringing this up at your funeral.”
Omar’s favorite characters often became mainstream. It happened frequently enough that I began referring to my superstition as “The Prophecies of Omar,” but it feels more like a law of science: If I make fun of Omar for loving an unfamous character, that character will soon become famous. Like breaking a mirror or saying Macbeth’s name inside a theater, making fun of Omar’s niche character interests came with a predictable result.
Omar had praised Ant-Man before he was given two movies.
Omar had endured Daredevil ridicule before the Netflix series.
Omar had championed Blue Beetle before his recent movie announcement.
Even the Prowler was a key character in PlayStation 5’s launch title, Spider-Man: Miles Morales, and Mister Miracle was planned to be featured in an Ava DuVernay–directed film, New Gods—although that was canceled last year.
And now it’s Moon Knight’s turn.
Moon Knight premiered on Disney+ this week and is Marvel’s latest attempt to turn its treasure chest of lesser-known characters into household names. The strategy has worked in the past: Much of Marvel Studios’ success is based on Marvel characters who have become so popular that it’s hard to remember that they were once actually obscure. Doctor Strange, Guardians of the Galaxy … even Iron Man himself was once a C-list comic-book character with tepid appeal and a short-lived, unpopular cartoon series before leading the Avengers through the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I doubted that Moon Knight would ever become a household name, but the evidence of Marvel’s underdog characters speaks for itself: Ten years ago, your average person hadn’t heard of characters like Jessica Jones, Wanda Maximoff, or Captain Marvel. Today, they might not be Superman, Godzilla, or Sonic the Hedgehog, but their names are undoubtedly recognizable.
Marvel’s latest slate of TV programming in particular is an investment in lesser-known characters like Jane Foster (The Mighty Thor), Kamala Khan (Ms. Marvel), Jennifer Walters (She-Hulk), and Riri Williams (Invincible Iron Man)—all characters whom I love. Today, I find myself as glad for these series as Omar was when he shared Moon Knight, because despite how much I made fun of him for it, he was right: Some of their lower-tier characters have the most interesting stories. Their problem isn’t a lack of quality—it’s that consumers are wary of giving new characters a chance.
After I watched the first episode of Moon Knight this week, I confess that I found myself Googling the books that Omar had mentioned back in 2017, and I plan to read them soon to see how the series compares to the source material. If you’re interested in hopping on the obscure-hero bandwagon too, I invite you to join me. This is the year to do it. (To all of you who have been cheering for these characters all these years, you were obviously right all along.)
And if “The Prophecies of Omar” continue to be true, I leave this sincere gift:
Nobody cares about Mister Miracle. Do you hear me, Omar? Literally no one cares.
Thanks for everyone’s patience as I continue to catch up on emails! Don’t let my flooded inbox and slow response time keep you from reaching out, though—I’ll catch up eventually. This is an especially good week to email me, too, because this week’s book giveaway is Pulitzer Prize winner and New York Times bestseller The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, by Michael Chabon. Just send me an email telling me the name of a character, book, TV show, or movie that you wish were more widely known, and I’ll send the book to a random person who hits my inbox. You can reach me at email@example.com, or find me on Twitter at @JordanMCalhoun.
Till next time; 24 days until my memoir comes out. I hope you preorder. And if you’re in New York, I hope to meet you at my book launch at the Strand—Omar will be grilling me onstage about race, religion, and pop culture.