Sunday, August 31, 2008

Spiderman, Jr., or, "Shine On!"

Would you tell this kid that his heroes are nuts?

This is me at about 4 years old, striking my Spiderman pose. I wanted to BE Spiderman, I thought I WAS Spiderman...I'm told that I would jump on people's backs as if they were the villain, and I do remember the attempt to climb the walls. (And yes, I did take a blanket for a cape, thinking I could fly with of my toybox...I was a smart kid, I wasn't risking the roof...). I remember my Spiderman utility kit for Christmas, Spiderman velcro darts for my fifth birthday, Spiderman underoos...

Was was it about Spiderman that captured my imagination? All the "mature" stuff was over my head at the time, the drama, the first memory was the '67 cartoon, the theme song, the sense of fun and adventure. Superman was powerful, sure, but Spidey was FUN! (Unlike that sad sack Peter Parker, who I didn't pay attention to...) Spidey had humor, he could swing, he had a really cool design, and had the best adventures (my favorite being the "Mystery of Mysterio" episode with the insane backgrounds.) Spidey wasn't just a hero, he had fun and made you want to be a hero, too.

( I should interject a personal note here...while the articulated philosophical ideas were over my head at the time, the idea of what heroes do was not lost on me at that tender age. I witnessed my mother being beat close to death several times over the course of a few years by my "stepfather." A few times, around the age of 7-8, I jumped in and very possibly saved her life. From that early age, heroic stories were not just an escape, or child's play; they were vital. Which is why, many years later, I am personally offended by the idea that heroes, to be presented as "real," had to be "flawed." I am specifically thinking of the example of DC's Ray Palmer, aka THE ATOM, or Hawkeye from Marvel Comics, who were depicted as wifebeaters AND heroes. That's a hard pill to swallow when you've lived through it...some hero.)

Some thirty years later, I know MORE about Spiderman than I did then: the drama, the "real problems for real people," etc. All those things are important. As a fan of Ayn Rand, I took to heart her words in the ROMANTIC MANIFESTO, which seemed to describe my experience:

"Romantic art teaches him to associate [morality] with pleasurean inspiring pleasure which is his own, profoundly person discovery....The ideal which, at the age of seven, was personified by a cowboy, may become a detective at twelve, and a philosopher at twenty–as the child's interests progress from comic strips to mystery stories to the great sunlit universe of Romantic literature, art and music."

Unfortunately, what I found when I "grew up" was not that lead from superhero comics to something more mature, but a trap for heroes disguised as maturity; maturity meaning "defeatist" and "sacrificial." The villains were now to be thought of as victims and the heroes as neurotic and psychotic. I would have liked to have thought that my beloved Spidey was corrupted, but I know now that it was always there, that it all stemmed from philosophical premises that had permeated the culture for decades (centuries?). It was the innocence of a child that was able to discard the rest and focus on the heroic qualities of Spiderman, Superman, Luke Skywalker, etc.. It was the same situation in Rand's day, when she wrote of the phenomenon of the "Avengers" tv show being taken seriously by the audience, to the chagrin of the creators, who meant it as a parody. This was also the case with the "Adam West" Batman, the camp was lost on the younger viewers, who took to heart the crusade of the Dynamic Duo.

My goal in teaming with "Loquacious" Landon Erp (according to Stan Lee...) is to examine this cultural phenomenon, not to ignore the flaws in traditional comic book or heroic literature, but to preserve that spirit that is so important to children, but should have never been lost as adults. There is no "going back", no reclaiming of a "golden age." There are flaws in the philosophies that form our ideas of what it means to be a hero that have to be worked out. Starting with the etymological to the mythological to the psychological, we hope to reclaim the idea of heroism from the villains, and transition the "heroes" from a kid's indulgence to the spiritual fuel which is was intended to be, a protector not of the weak, but an inspiration to be strong in the here and now.

Every superhero needs a catchphrase, so here's one for the future: "Shine On!"


Bosch Fawstin said...

You wrote:

'There is no "going back", no reclaiming of a "golden age." There are flaws in the philosophies that form our ideas of what it means to be a hero that have to be worked out.'

Amen, there's only a forward march towards making those ideas come to life on the page and beyond.