SIOUX CITY -- Spencer Kakacek, 16, is that rare individual who happens to be both a DC Comic book devotee as well as Marvel Universe maniac.
"I got into comics when DC began its 'Rebirth' series," the Bishop Heelan Catholic High School 10th-grader said, referring to the comic book publisher's attempt to modernize superhero properties like Batman, Superman and The Flash for newer readers. "However, I like Marvel comics just as well since I find their characters more relatable."
Kakacek's growing collection of superhero reads is now evenly split between DC and Marvel titles.
"I have about five boxes full of comics," he said to the delight of Heelan dean of students Jake Delfs.
"Having five boxes of comics is pretty impressive for a young collector like Spencer," Delfs said.
However, that's just a drop in the bucket when compared to Delfs' personal stash.
He has nearly 40 boxes of comic books at home, plus an "Avengers: Infinity War" movie poster signed by many of the cast members as well as an autograph by Stan Lee, which he keeps in his office.
"Getting Stan Lee's signature was cool," Delfs said, in admiration of Lee, the late creator of such characters as Spider-Man, Iron Man and Ant-Man. "How many people can say they have Stan Lee's autograph?
"Oh, probably millions of people can say they have Stan Lee's autograph," he said, laughing, while answering his own question.
Delfs is correct in saying that comic books are getting a bit of a revival as of late and more people are going public with their fandom.
When it was released into theaters on March 8, "Captain Marvel" -- a movie based on a Marvel comic book -- became 2019's highest-grossing film in a matter of days.
Similarly, "Shazam!" -- a movie based on a DC Comic property starring Zachary Levi -- and "Avengers: Endgame" -- which features an all-star line-up of Marvel superheroes -- are slated to hit movie screens in April.
"The countdown clock for 'Avengers: Endgame' is on and I can't wait," Delfs said in an office dominated with superhero collectibles.
Wait, Delfs doesn't literally have a clock that will count down the hours between now and the movie's April 26 release date, does he?
"I do not," he said. "If I had one, my eyes would be constantly on the clock and I'd never get any work done."
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A comic book reader since childhood, Delfs became obsessed with Marvel's stable of crusaders.
Echoing Kakacek's sentiments, he said it was the relative normalcy of otherwise over-the-top characters like Spider-Man that drew him in.
"When you're a kid, it was hard to identify with someone with superhuman strength like Superman," Delfs explained. "On the other hand, someone like Peter Parker (the alter ego of Spider-Man) was a superhero who was also struggling with the pressures of growing up."
This, he said, is one of the most compelling factors behind comic books.
"There's hero worship when it comes to comics," Delfs said. "But there's also wish fulfillment. I mean, who doesn't want to save the day?"
That sense of superhuman heroics is appealing when you're Kakacek's age, as well as for a thirtysomething like Delfs.
Still, one thing is a different for today's superhero fans.
"Young people are more likely be introduced to Avengers on the big screen than they were in comic books," Delfs said. "It used to be 'read the comic, see the movie.' Now, that's been reversed."
Which isn't a bad thing, he said, since many of the movies have been well-done.
"While some of the DC adaptations have been too dark (in themes) for my taste, the Marvel movies have benefited from good script and spot-on casting," Delfs said. "I grew up reading Iron Man comics and even I have trouble separating the comic version with (actor) Robert Downey Jr.'s performance in the movie versions."
A few years ago, Delfs began a comic book club for students at Heelan. Once a week, members meet to discuss recently released titles, movie or TV spin-offs, or anything related to the topic.
"When I was a kid, comics were comics," Delfs said. "Nowadays, specialty comics can introduce kids to literature, history, you name it. Kids are visual learners and comics can convey certain messages better than any other medium."
But, um, how can we say this without being offensive? Aren't comic books read primarily by nerds?
Nope, Delfs isn't offended. In fact, it's suddenly cool to be a nerd.
Kakacek also doesn't mind being outed as a comic book aficionado. In fact, his fondness for comic books may inspire him toward a future goal.
"When I grow up, I wouldn't mind becoming a video game designer," he said. "That seems like it would be a good career."
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