Saturday, September 19, 2015

When Comics Believed In Kids (part 1)

Kids today.  If they aren't tackling referees during their varsity football games, they're shooting slingshots at traffic on the I-10.  Remember the good old days, when kids could be superheroes, too?

When I think of the Texas high school footballers that tackled that ref, or the 18-year-old "I-10 shooter copycats," I remember my teenaged years and find no relation whatsoever.  I'm not saying I wasn't capable of delinquency, but even my petty pranks had self-imposed limits.  I'd t.p. a house without abandon, but I'd never, say, egg a house.  My philosophy was simple: if we get caught in the act, we should be able to fix it immediately.  Call me a lazy delinquent, but I didn't want to deal with the cops or any other consequences, if I could avoid it.

Today's youth seem to have a different standard.  "If it doesn't get on YouTube, it isn't worth doing."  Society's perpetual quest for celebrity is another topic entirely, but in this context it isn't exclusive from the personal sense of responsibility I'm addressing, and apparently mourning.

Surprise, surprise, I'll use Spider-man as an example.  When Stan Lee and Steve Ditko created Spidey, they sought to establish a character to whom their young readers could relate. So, when puny Peter Parker gets powers, he doesn't take to the streets fighting crime, but he seeks fame and fortune as a wrestler.  That arena could easily be likened to the YouTube or Snapchat of its day, so, in this and so many other ways, Marvel was ahead of its time.

Now, if you know the story, you remember a fame-drunk Peter letting a mugger pass, and this scoundrel soon murders Parker's beloved Uncle Ben.  Spider-man pursues the killer, realizes its the mugger he let escape, and vows to fight crime.  Now, what if -- Marvel fans are familiar with that question, too -- what if Peter had stopped the mugger in the hallway?  Spidey could've pursued his wrestling career and achieved great celebrity with his Uncle Ben alive and well. The responsibility isn't exclusive from the fame.

Lee and Ditko presume that if a youth is capable of realizing his mistake, and willing to spend a lifetime correcting it, he's just that step away from achieving the responsibility in the first place. Peter succeeds a legacy of young superheroes that had it just as hard: Robin, Toro, Bucky, Speedy, Wonder Girl, Kid Flash . . . and that's just off the top of my head. While many of these youngsters were just adolescent echos of their mentors, meant to boost sales, the concept stands: a kid can do just as much good as an adult.

Captain America tested this philosophy every time he broke the fourth wall and encouraged kids to contribute to the war effort by recycling the very comics they just read.  The message was clear: you don't have to punch Hitler in the face.  Help with whatever you have, and, for those kids in the '40s, what they had was comics.  Those kids did recycle their comics, bundling newsprint for the mill like a little newsboy legion (hmm . . .), and while their effort eventually made those old issues scarce and collectible, it also proved them right.  Kids were heroes, too!

If comic books continued this legacy today, perhaps those slingshot wielding copycats, at the legally-adult age of 18-years-old, wouldn't try to deflect and defend themselves as "kids that didn't know better," because we would counter that kids actually do.

To be continued . . .

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