Michael R. Underwood is the author of Geekomancy, Celebromancy, Attack the Geek, Shield and Crocus, and The Younger Gods. By day, he’s the North American Sales & Marketing Manager for Angry Robot Books. Mike grew up devouring stories in all forms, from comics to video games, tabletop RPGs, movies, and books. He has a BA in Creative Mythology and East Asian Studies and an MA in Folklore Studies. Mike has been a bookseller, a barista, a game store cashwrap monkey, and an independent publishers’ representative. He lives in Baltimore with his fiancée, an ever-growing library, and a super-team of dinosaur figurines and stuffed animals. He is also a co-host on the Hugo-nominated Skiffy and Fanty Show. In his rapidly vanishing free time, Mike studies historical martial arts and makes homemade pizza. He blogs at MichaelRUnderwood.com/blog and tweets @MikeRUnderwood.
These will have mild to moderate spoilers for each property. You have been warned.
#7 Alec Hardison (Leverage)
“Age of the Geek, Baby” says Alec Hardison, smooth-talking, multi-talented Hacker Geek in the marvelous TV show Leverage. Hardison wasn’t just one of the world’s top hackers, he was also a loyal and proud geek. Hardison was a notable change from pop culture geek depictions for several reasons – 1) he is black, counter-programming against the stereotype that ‘only white people are geeks’ (patently untrue, and has been since long before the last few years when many people seem to have stood up and noticed) and 2) he had swagger. Hardison had the same nerdy, obsessive habits which occasionally got him in trouble or laughed at, but he had no shame about his interests. He was also very emotionally mature in his evolving relationship with fellow thief Parker, giving her room to figure out what she wanted.
#6 Chuck Bartowski (Chuck)
Chuck starts out as an under-employed lovelorn super-geek with strong IT skills and becomes a multi-competent techie super-spy super-geek in a healthy relationship. Despite being dangerously over his head for several years running, Chuck did everything he could to protect people, including protecting the people around him from the potential fallout from his life. Chuck never loses his geeky passions, and turns them into assets in many cases. Plus he “gets” the girl not because she’s a prize awarded for his intelligence, but because they grow together and come to respect and trust one another. She “gets” him, too.
#5 Cyd “Codex” Sherman (The Guild)
Most anyone who has played MMOs for any amount of time knows how addictive they can be. But they probably also know about the wonderful community that you can build through those games. Syd “Codex” Sherman knows both of these truths all too well, and that tension forms the core of her story arc at the beginning of The Guild, a popular web-series about a guild in a fictitious fantasy MMO.
This one counts as two, since not only is Cyd Sherman a notable geek in pop culture, so is her creator-performer, geek internet star Felicia Day. Day is the mastermind behind Geek & Sundry, a new media geek empire (also the home of Tabletop, one of my favorite YouTube shows), as well as being a beloved TV actor in properties such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Supernatural, and Dragon Age: Redemption.
#4 Isaac Vainio (Libriomancer)
Jim C. Hines Codex Ex Libris series is a cornucopia of geeky goodness, mostly thanks to the inventive geekdom of Isaac Vainio, a Libriomancer – able to pull objects and more out of books. Isaac specializes in SF/F, where he can produce ray-guns, magic swords, and more. Jim and I wrote our series without knowledge of what the other was doing, and they released within several months of one another. Isaac is a great example of a heroic geek, heroic not just because he’s a geek, but drawing inspiration from those stories as well as using them to assist him in his magical adventures.
#3 Kamala Khan (Ms. Marvel)
Kamala is a geek, through and through. Another character that pushes against the stereotype of the white male geek, Kamala is a second-generation Pakistani-American, as well as a practicing (if sometimes frustrated) Muslim. Kamala was and remains a fan of the Marvel heroes who populate her world, from playing video games to writing fanfic of her favorite heroes. Her fandom is so powerful that in her super-hero origin story, she imagines Captain Marvel visiting her and transforms into her idol as the first use of her powers. Taking her idol’s old identity, Kamala is a pure fan/geek character, a fan of the supers of the universe around her. She’s practically beside herself when she gets to team up with Wolverine (who wouldn’t be?), translating our world’s version of geekdom into the Marvel 616 universe.
#2 Abed Nadir (Community)
In a lot of sitcoms, characters start out with unique character traits and then get more stereotyped over time as those extreme traits are built and built until as a viewer, I wonder how they are supposed to operate. Counter to that trend, Abed becomes more fleshed out and more relatable as the series goes on even as his pronounced character traits and quirks remain.
Abed starts out looking like a stereotypical version of an Autism-spectrum geek guy (which itself can be essentializing – of course there are geeks on the spectrum – but being a geek is not itself an indicator of being on the spectrum). But he’s so much more. The show explores the ways that Abed uses popular culture as an interface, a narrative prosthesis for being able to understand situations and relate to people. Abed shares his passions, and is often denigrated for them, but they serve a powerful emotional and social function for him in the same way that fandom does for many geeks.
#1 Wendy Watson (The Middleman)
And of course, Dub-Dub. Wendy Watson is, for me, the core of why The Middleman worked. Though she’s professionally unflappable and often cynical, Wendy Watson definitely has her passions (FPS video games, comic books, zombie movies, and more), and brings that passion and knowledge to the job of Middleman, fighting monsters, aliens, and other sorts of comic-book evil (as it’s described in the show).
If you doubt her geeky passion, look no further than episode 5, “The Flying Fish Zombification,” when she spends the first third of the episode practically bursting with excitement at the prospect of getting to fight zombies. Or the fact that she bonds with a love interest over a rare gory video game (Gutwrencher 1). Let’s also talk about how Dub-Dub uses her passions for self-care, diving into zombie marathons to allow for emotional healing after a break-up, or how she has developed her passion to the point where she has a Zombie Palate-Cleanser for when Zombies start to get stale, allowing her to be able to go back and enjoy Night of the Living Dead again. Now that’s a geek.
And it’s no surprise to anyone who has seen The Middleman and read the Ree Reyes books that Wendy is a major influence on my own biggest contribution to geeks in pop culture, one Rhiannon Anna-Maria Reyes aka “Ree.” Wendy Watson remains my all-time #1 awesome Geek in Pop Culture.