That title totally sounds like something out of an episode of the 1966 Batman TV Series, doesn’t it?
“…but the Riddler’s clue, Robin. When is a door not a door?”
“When it’s ajar! He’s going to strike at the jarred fruit exhibit at the Gotham Pavilion!”
“I don’t think so, Robin. That’s too obvious. No, his devious mind works like an onion. You must peel back the onions to get to the core of his twisted scheme.”
“Ajar. Ajar…wait, Batman! Isn’t millionaire explorer Thaddeus A. Jar showing off his priceless collection of souvenirs at the Gotham Millionaire’s Club this afternoon?”
“Precisely, Robin! Good work, chum! Let’s race there fast!”
And yet, it’s all I could really come up with.
When is a door much more than a door?
When it gets me so darn excited, that’s when.
We’ve been making a lot of trips recently to what will soon be our son’s new elementary school for a series of Kindergarten nights designed to get the kids used to the environment, to the lessons (lots of tactile activities, games tied into words, letters, etc), and getting to know their soon to be teachers and classmates.
But you’re going to laugh when I tell you that one of the things that got me the most excited during one of these kindergarten prep nights was…just a door. Sure, the nostalgia of a small school, the same hallways, decorations and smells of the ones I remember as a kid sent me swirling into a delirium of reminiscence. But it was when the little guy asked to use the bathroom and I showed him where it was that I had my mind blown.
Look, they’re still little and they’re still figuring things out, and that includes things we take for granted as adults, like knowing how much/little to show in a public bathroom.
So, yeah. I got so excited about a bathroom stall door, I had to write about it.
I should get out more often. Who knows what I’d find.
Our son has been, I’m not sure what the word would be…categorizing, perhaps? Compartmentalizing?
There’s been a lot of “You a good guy” or “he a a bad guy.” There’s even been some “Me have to fight you, dada,” to which I ask simply, ‘why?’
“Cuz you a bad guy,” he tells me.
Some things I’ve read refer to this as “Power Play,” when children start to play in power roles such as superheroes.
According to Preschooleducation.com, this kind of play crosses all backgrounds, economic statuses and is something many, many children go through.
The article states that while characters change, the common characteristics are:
- There is always a good guy and bad guy. It’s always good vs evil. You’re one or the other. No gray areas.
- There’s always a conflict. It’s the responsibility of the good guys to fight the bad guys.
- Control or power is the issue, always – who will win.
But they also say that children go through it between the ages of four and six. Our son is 2 1/2. And I’m worried that I bear a lot of the blame.
For so long, I’ve been sticking to PBS and Disney shows for him. Sesame Street has been a longtime favorite, and he’s recently jumped into a train phase making Thomas the Tank Engine all the rage at the moment. The toys he plays with the most are stuffed animals, Legos, cars and trucks, a wooden train set, and his Fisher Price Little People. Some of the Little People are generic – a cook, an astronaut, an alien, a farmer, a cow, etc, but some are little smiling versions of characters like Batman, Wonder Woman, The Joker, etc that he received on his birthday. That teamed with my own stuff around the house, he’s seen and recognizes these characters.
So when he saw the box of Adam West 1966 Batman DVDs I got for Christmas, he recognized Batman immediately and went INSANE begging to watch it.
There was plenty of hemming and hawing, until finally I gave in, telling myself ‘well, it’s innocuous enough, right? if I watch it with him, it’ll be okay.’
With its giant props, ridiculous and cartoonish scenarios, I felt like it’s as over the top at times as a Donald Duck cartoon. And I say this all in an endearing way. After all, I’m a huge fan of Batman ’66 myself.
I’ll admit, however, that I have started wondering if this ‘bad guy/good guy’ and ‘me have to fight you’ stuff kicked into high gear because of my allowing him to watch it (always with us there, talking about what’s the bad thing to do, the good thing to do, etc).
Car rides now have him asking me to list off ‘the bad guys from Batman’ or him doing it himself, mumbling “The Joker, The Riddler, Catwoman, Bookworm…” in the backseat and me sitting in the front wondering if I’ve made such a huge slip-up that I’m severely altering my son’s development.
However, it’s also very possible that he might have started doing this anyway, and the names for ‘bad guys’ being rattled off in the back seat could just would have been something else, or something generic otherwise.
I’ve talked to other parents who say their children started these phases early too, but it doesn’t mean I don’t still question my own decisions. So, for better or for worse, I decided to look into this type of play a little more.
In this PBS Parents Expert Q & A, Dr. Michael Thompson, Consultant, Author and Psychologist Specializing in Children and Families, responds to a mother asking about her child often playing the role of the villain when he pretends. She is concerned about him and what it might mean. Thompson’s response is interesting.
“I’m not worried about your son’s gun play as long as it really is play. Children’s play is just play. Play and real violence are two different things. If your son hits people, gets real angry at them, pokes them in the eye, or does scary things to them, that’s a bad sign. If other boys don’t want to play with him; if they leave your house crying, that’s not good. If , however, he is playing with toy guns, running around the house using his imagination, pretending to be someone big and powerful — even a villain — but only only pretending, then I am NOT WORRIED AT ALL. He’s just playing.
You haven’t told me your son’s age, but I think these questions might work for most boys under ten. Is he a loving boy most of the time? Do the teachers at school or preschool tell you that he behaves in class? Does he curl up next to you when you’re watching television? Is he respectful of you and his grandparents? Does he like being read to at bedtime? Does he have good freinds? If the answer to all of those question is “yes” then I am pretty sure that he’s not going to grow up to be a dangerous boy.
Psychologists know that children need to play out many things in their imagination. Boys seem to love to play at being bad, or having super powers. It makes them feel strong and masculine. It is exciting. If you are a good boy in real life, pretending that you are a bad guy can be exciting, because we all have a few villainous fantasies in our minds, don’t we? (Come on, haven’t you ever had a fantasy of breaking the law, or getting even with someone you hated? ) Little boys work these tensions out in their play. And I repeat: It is just play.”
Just as interesting was this research out of the University of Maine that I came across, where children in a preschool environment were observed as the scripts and scenarios for their play was changed over time. Even play that started out as just kids playing with dolls in the corner, over time would have moments of ‘It’s an emergency! My baby has a boo boo!’ and even evolve to children assigning who would be ‘the bad guy’ and ‘take the babies.’ A slightly uneasy teacher went along with it for the sake of the research and found that whether she was assigned as ‘the bad guy’ or if it was to another child, the children always seemed to know and reassure the teacher that it was ‘only pretend.’ It also caused the children to rally and work together to rescue their babies back. I’m paraphrasing, of course, what is a very interesting read, so check it out at the link for something a little more in-depth.
When I first wrote this blog post, it was nothing but self-doubt and self-criticism about my decision and how I felt like a terrible father. With a little perspective from my wife, and more research, I’m finding that the scenario I’m experiencing is not all that uncommon.
Does it still make me uneasy at times? Absolutely, but that doesn’t mean that the worst-case scenarios playing out in my head are coming to fruition and that I’ve started our son down a path of being a criminal.
It means he is learning how to pretend, he’s categorizing.
He’s not getting violent or even real aggressive. He does seem to be truly playing make-believe. And while I would like it to always be the sort of make-believe like being animals on the farm, or something a little more tame, I’m beginning to understand that in growing up comes the need to feel useful, to feel courageous, to feel you’re being brave and helping others.
And that’s not a totally bad thing. If this kind of play can be turned into examples of ‘doing the right thing,’ then maybe I need to stop looking at it as a potential disaster. Instead, maybe I can look at it as an opportunity to take his creativity and new ways of playing and deepen it, understand it, and talk to him about what he’s getting out of it, observe what he’s learning from it, and be a little less restrictive, until reason shows me I need to truly step in.
I’m going to try, at least. After all, I’m learning about all this just as much as he is as we go along.
I’ve gone on and on previously as to why my comic book reading is few and far between these days, likely taking me the full gamut from childhood comic fan to young adult comic aficionado to now being that parent who will one day tell my son that those funnybooks were ‘better in my day!’
With that said, and in all fairness, I thought I should at least give a shout out to the few comic books that I do love to purchase and read, notably because they hold a connection to all the timeless features of comics and characters from my childhood.
Batman ’66 – I’m glad to see the Adam West and Burt Ward era of Batman finally getting a little well-deserved respect. For the longest time, artists, writers, filmmakers, comic readers – they all cringed at the mere mention of the 1966 Batman TV series. I have some friends that still do. But you know what? THEY didn’t make Batman lighthearted, they merely reflected (and accurately, I might add) the Batman comic books of the time period. And catching reruns as a kid (when the Michael Keaton film was coming out, so reruns were everywhere) I loved it. I still do.
Every month I get a comic I can pick up and count on to deliver some whiz-bang-pow fun with very colorful villains just as I remember them. It tells great, done-in-one-issue stories that are like they walked right out of the 60s. It’s a wonderful throwback to simpler times of comic books. I even submitted a proposal for a Batman ’66 story I wrote myself featuring Louie the Lilac and The Minstrel, but alas, any comic with “Bat” in the title these days is big business and small writers like myself are usually not let into the club. Thus, I will continue merely as an entertained reader.
Adventures of Superman – It’s true when I say they just don’t publish Superman comics like they used to. As I’ve mentioned in my lament about comics these days trying to be more evergreen and ready to launch into movies and TV shows, everyone is young, unattached, with very little history to draw upon. This book, however, is different.
And that’s just why I love it.
It’s classic Superman. The Superman we all know, whether we watched George Reeves, Christopher Reeve, Dean Cain, Tom Welling, or just Supes cartoons, you can pick up this anthology, with anywhere from 1-3 stories per issue, and just get classic tales of Superman, the way we all remember him in our memories.
I remember the first time I heard that catchphrase “Who Knows What Evil….Lurks in the Hearts of Men?” or that sinister laugh. I was hooked. Still am.
While the first few issues of this new comic series were more bloody than I would like (I prefer my Shadow a bit more cerebral, like the Orson Welles-era radio plays), the fact that the series keeps itself set in the 1930s is enough to keep me reading.
Another side note on my writing career – I also sent a proposal pitch to Dynamite Entertainment for a Shadow: Classics series, which would adapt some of the old radio scripts to comic form. Alas, once again, it went unanswered. Maybe someone else will pick up on it and do it. Heck, I’d just like to read it. Some of those old radio plays were downright eerie.
Life with Archie – I was never a regular reader of Archie growing up, but sporadically, as a kid, I’d pick up an issue to see what that red-headed ladies’ man was up to. This book intrigued me when I came across it in the grocery store because it’s Archie and his pals all grown up.
On top of that, each book is actually two books. You get one story set in a hypothetical universe where Archie has married Betty and another set in a world where Archie has married Veronica. Yes, Archie apparently gets to have his cake and eat it too.
Either way, he and the gang deal with very adult issues and problems and I love seeing the chances taken by placing these characters in a new, grown-up environment.
So, there you have it. What my comic reading is up to these days. In between these occasional reads, I’ll usually try to sneak in a novel or non-fiction book here and there, or an old comic hardcover or collected edition off my bookshelf, something from the past that I know I enjoyed and will continue to love.
And see, I even was willing to spill the beans to you all about my hopeless attempts at comic pitches that are just out there in the ether. I haven’t quite admitted those to anybody, so there you go. Two for the price of one. 🙂
I’m going to geek out a bit and talk about comic books and families.
It’s no secret that I’ve been a reader of comic books for most of my life. The tastes have changed, as have the characters, topics, and nature of it all, but it dawned on me recently that one of the things that has been a constant staple of my affection and love of the genre is a connection to the idea that characters go through life, change and age, just like the rest of us.
Long before I became a parent, as far back as at the age of ten, I was intrigued by the idea of ‘legacies’ in comic books. By legacies, I mean the passing of the mantle, families, all of it. The mere fact that characters were allowed to grow and change.
These days, I admit that I don’t read too many modern-day comic books. Giant companies like Disney and Warner Brothers own Marvel Comics and DC Comics, respectively, and what they want these days are properties – characters and worlds that they can quickly spread into movies, toys, cartoons and a myriad of other cross-merchandising. For those companies, though, properties need to be timeless.
It used to be that heroes grew up, sidekicks grew up, took over, some died, some had families, and it made it all interesting. Today, executives and editors have chosen to hit a giant, cosmic ‘reset’ button. Now, the heroes of the 40s are gone. Batman, Superman, many of their brethren, instead of being in their 30s/40s with families, etc, are all in their early 20s. No one’s married anymore. It’s all just…uninteresting. And when you read news articles with quotes from these companies and editors, they claim it’s because the stuff before it (generations, families, spouses, etc) were what was boring.
For me it was just the opposite.
While it may sound like the raving of a comic fanboy or grown-up, old nerd, there’s more to it than ‘back in my day…’ I’m 33 years old. I’m a dad. I look in my son’s eyes and I see myself, my wife, our families before us, and all that lies ahead of him.
When I as a kid, comic books, especially DC Comics (of which I was a big reader) told great stories that intrigued me, because the characters had lived life, were changing, and in some cases, were growing old.
I’ll give you a few examples. When I was a kid, I was intrigued with the fact that long before my generation, there was a team of super-heroes known as The Justice Society, who were fighting crime during the 1940s. Even before my parents time, sure, but the thought that there were super heroes during that World War II era fascinated me, especially because these characters WERE STILL AROUND!
Not only that, they were around and older!
Picking up a comic book in the 80s and early 90s, I was finding that the Green Lantern of the 1940s, The Flash of the 1940s, characters like Dr. Mid-Nite, The Hourman were offering advice, guidance, and the occasional side by side fistfight with villains, alongside the heroes of the day. For a ten to twelve year old reader, this was a mind-blowing, yet wonderful concept. Imagine finding out your grandparents had been super heroes, and they and some of their friends were still occasionally hopping into the game, inspiring your parents and people your age to do good.
There was even a revived Justice Society comic book series in the 1990s that had the aging heroes dealing with their place in a modern world. Whether it was heart attacks, medication, what the public thought of them, whether younger generations of heroes were too violent, or whether they were still making a difference, it was an incredible perspective, and one that I was mesmerized by as a kid. The book sold well and had a great following. Unfortunately, the book’s writer has stated time and again that DC Comics editor of the time, Mike Carlin thought ‘no one wants to read about elderly super heroes’ and abruptly cancelled the series. It was sad.
Even as a pre-teen, I felt that these characters were getting a raw deal due to ageism.
Characters like The Flash (one of my favorites as a kid) was another great example of legacies. You had Jay Garrick, the super-speeding Flash of the 1940s who grew old, retired, occasionally making an appearance to help the younger generation. Then you had Barry Allen, who took up the mantle after Jay retired, was the Flash for a decade or two and then died while saving the world (the way a hero should go out). With that, the former kid sidekick Kid Flash, took up the mantle and became the third generation Flash, and there would eventually be even more speedsters. Once again, the kid in me thought this concept was incredible. It was like discovering your grandparent or elderly neighbor had been a super hero in the 40s, your parent or uncle, inspired to do the same, had done so after him, and then, you knew the time would come when it was your turn, and that, in time, you’d also pass the mantle on to someone else.
Even Batman had some legacy. Back in those days, the story in comics went that Batman had gotten trained by retired 1940s hero Wildcat, and found much inspiration to join the costumed variety of hero while watching the 1940s Green Lantern fight crime while he was a kid.
The fictional character of Batman at that time was in his 30s/40s. Dick Grayson was all grown up and maybe that’s why when Bruce Wayne got injured in a long storyline of the 90s, it just felt natural for me as a reader that Dick Grayson then take up the mantle to become Batman.
It was sadly, not meant to last, and after about a year or less, Bruce made a miraculous recovery and became Batman once again. They repeated the concept some ten years later or so, but again, it didn’t stick.
People grow, they have families, they teach younger generations, they age, and eventually, they pass on. To the young me, it made these characters more believable. Yes, you have to suspend belief when it comes to supermen who can fly, mystery men who move at super-speed and a grown man who dresses up as a flying rodent. When you saw them have emotions, connections, wives, husbands, children, heart attacks and health problems, though, it was tethers to the real world for me.
Then, years later, with years of history, families, characters built upon them in comic books, legacies were thrown out almost completely. The fictional reset button was set, character who had been married and older were now in their 20s, single and unattached. Children the characters had were gone. The generations, the inspirations, that feeling that these were traditions carried on and torches passed, were no more.
Perhaps these days, the people in charge, the executives making decisions and creating comics, movies, etc, think that children, teens and young adults don’t want to have that kind of connection with fictional characters.
For me, that was why I loved them as a kid. I felt like they could very well be real because of the generations and history that were built upon them.
When characters don’t change, when they have to be evergreen so ‘anyone can jump on board,’ they become boring. They weren’t evergreen when I was a kid and I had no problem keeping up. If anything, it made me want to read more.
Many interviews I’ve read for the decision-makers in the realm of comics saying they took away the age, the spouses, the children, because they felt it made the characters boring. For me, it was the growing old, the married lives, the children, that made it all so damn interesting.
It’s a huge part of what made reading comic books fun for me. Maybe that’s why I honestly don’t find them fun anymore.
I think growing older myself, becoming a father has only reinforced what was already there since I was ten years old. It’s why I don’t buy many modern-day comic books. It’s why I’ll dig through 50 cent bargain bins for an old back issue of something from those eras where it was okay to have a middle aged or senior hero.
This long-winded rant, though, is not supposed to be so much ‘what’s wrong with a literary medium of comics today’ as it is an appreciation for the idea that generations carry on. Families grow, they have problems, and sometimes they fall apart. It’s also about the idea that one generation can inspire the next.
We all take cues from those who have come before, whether they are good or bad. Our ancestors passed down traits and lessons to those who would become our great-grandparents, our grandparents, who would then influence (good or bad), our own parents, who would, in turn, make us the people we are. Now we, as parents, have to be the examples and inspirations for the next round.
As I look around at my son, full of hope, joy, intelligence and goodwill, as well as my longtime friends around me as they begin their own families, the comic book geek in me can’t help but look at us as one of those generations of heroes, now setting examples for and priming the next generation of little heroes.
And on that note, I’ll leave you with something slightly related, but just plain fun – an episode of “Batman: The Brave and The Bold” that’s all about legacies: