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:
Despite leaving TV news behind me some months back, I made a brief return to television recently.
I had the absolute pleasure recently of appearing on the mid-morning program, “Mass Appeal” to talk about some of the lessons learned during my first year of fatherhood.
Unfortunately, WordPress does not allow me to embed the video from their site, so I’ll provide you with a direct link instead, should you want to check out the on-air clip:
(UPDATE: I’ve just learned some months later, that this page and video are regrettably no longer online, or at least not at this time)
The experience was nothing short of a delight. First, hosts Ashley and Seth were incredibly nice, welcoming, and utterly professional. They made every guest there that day feel right at home and, this is the thing that really does it, they did so not only pleasantly, but so genuinely as well.
Why is this such a big deal, you may ask? Because, believe me, in the world of television, finding personalities that are genuine and not put on for either the audience or guests in the building can be a rare thing sometimes. These guys were the real deal as were their wonderful crew behind the scenes. I couldn’t believe how many people, resources, and building space was dedicated to this one show. You could see the commitment and it was awesome.
Secondly, my appearance on the show meant a visit to Western Massachusetts, one of my favorite places.
Other guests that day included a chef who owned a food cart and was baking some pie for the holidays, Boy Scouts about the annual popcorn drive, a man who showed how to make inexpensive table settings from something as simple as a necktie, and female veterans who were getting makeovers. Quite an eclectic mix, but boy, what a fun show.
I’ve included a few photos from the morning, as well as the video, if you care to watch. I think it went pretty well, and I was over the moon that they’d like to have me back at some point.
In September, I took our air conditioners out of the windows. While one is small, the one for our downstairs is rather large and heavy, and comes with a bunch of extra items that need to be packed away (such as attachments for the window sill, and a remote control, the batteries). In order to make sure I never lose any leftover items that I don’t use upon installation, I pack them away in a Ziploc bag and place that bag a drawer in the room where the A/C is.
When I pulled the bag out this Fall, I was surprised when I came across a note to myself from the past to remind me about making sure I grab the right screen for the window out of the basement. My past-self apparently also wanted to check in on how the boy was doing, noting “P.S. – That kid is pulling himself up. He start running around yet?”
Yes, past-self. He certainly has.
It was actually a lot of fun reading that short note and thinking of how much of a difference there’s been between the start of summer and the start of Fall. At the start of summer, he was still crawling, and only learning to stand. Now, our little guy is walking, climbing, and getting more and more vocal every day. I think my past self would have been quite pleased. 🙂 So amazing what a difference just a little time makes.
At 9 months old, there was no candy to be found in his basket, but he was in love with the large, colorful plastic eggs that were inside. In fact, whenever he spots one sitting somewhere (usually moved by our playful kitties), he has loved picking them up and showing us what he’s found, with a big smile on his face. It’s truly adorable.
He also got a bucket and shovel to play with once the weather gets nicer. What I like about it is that the shovel is rounded, as opposed to pointed edges, meaning he can bite on it, and use it to his heart’s content without poking himself. He especially likes using the shovel when taking a bath to shovel water. It’s hysterical.
The other highlights include a tiger puppet that makes some lifelike roars when you push its paw, a shirt with a robot on it, and some books about bunnies. Richard Scarry’s “I am a Bunny” (about a young bunny experiencing the seasons in the forest) and “The Bunny Book” (about a young bunny and what occupation he may take on when he grows up) are absolutely beautifully illustrated. I love the fact that they are about bunnies, but they’re not about Easter. That means we can get away with reading them throughout the year.
It was a wonderful day all around.
The little guy and I went for a walk (well, I walked, he sat in the stroller) while my wife made a delicious brunch that we had with my parents, followed by a great dinner at her family’s house, complete with an Easter Egg hunt with our niece and nephew (now teens). Since I’ve entered the picture, I’ve gotten to hide the eggs on them each year, which becomes a bit more challenging as they get older, but still fun nonetheless.
While we were all pretty beat by the end of the day, it certainly was all worth it.
I think I’ve hit another milestone of fatherhood.
Sure, I had already been sprayed during diaper changes and been spit up on during burpings.
But as of this this past weekend, (drum roll please), I was pooped on…right into my hand during a diaper change. 🙂
And all I could do was laugh.
That is all.
About a month to go.
Seriously? As I type that first sentence, I just can’t help but ask myself, has 34 weeks really gone by that quickly? Why has it taken me this long to finally sit down and put my thoughts to page? My wife and mother in law suggested writing about the process of fatherhood to be months ago, yet, here I am at 34 weeks before I even typed out a single word. If this is how far behind I am on writing about it, how far behind am I going to be when the kid actually gets here?
These are the thoughts that went swimming through my brain the minute I started thinking about this tonight. It’s just how my mind works. Always a handful of questions, always doubting what I didn’t accomplish or why I didn’t do it sooner. It makes me worried for what kind of a father I’m going to be.
I sit up a lot at night and get lost in my thoughts. I wonder what are child will be like. Will it be a boy or a girl? Will they take after Meg or myself? Will they want to read comic books or go to a baseball game? Then it’s not long before my mind goes to a darker line of questioning that’s just downright frightening. Will they a good person? Will they be kind to others? To animals? What kind of friends will they have? How will they be influenced? Will we live in this small house forever? Where else could we possibly live? What kind of role models we be for the child? Will they even care?
You see what I mean. I thought getting cats made me a worrier. The prospect of another human being that is going to grow into a adult one day, a living breathing member of society, is just plain frightening, and loaded with questions that I don’t have answers to.
And now there’s only four weeks to go and I feel woefully unprepared for this.
Sure, we’ve been taking classes to understand the birthing process. We’ve been, little by little, getting things done around the house – putting shelves up in the nursery closet, assembling the crib, painting a dresser and putting it in the nursery. Tiny steps towards the little one’s arrival.
But yet, I keep having this nagging feeling that I’m supposed to be doing more. It haunts me, this feeling that, if I don’t have x y and z done in plenty of time for this baby’s first step into the house that I’m starting them, and us as a family off on the wrong foot.
It’s because of that feeling that I feel I wasted the first 8 months of this pregnancy. I was so busy crossing things off of lists and running around to make sure “things were done” that I never stopped to take in and appreciate what is going on – the life that is being created and the family that is being created. Now, there’s only one month to go before that child is here and our lives are never again the same. And yet, it’s taken me all this time to stop and realize it, leaving me with four weeks to cherish it while it is here.
You only get one first. Don’t waste it. Take the time to stop, slow down, and appreciate it.