Comic books aren't simply 'kid stuff'
BY LINDELL JOHN KAY
Wednesday, December 6, 2017
I’ve been an avid comic book reader since I was 14.
Of course, I watched Spider-Man and Superman cartoons on television long before that and read the occasional comic when it crossed my eyes, but my tangential awareness of all things comic book changed on a fateful day in the summer of 1987.
The adult son of one of my father’s co-workers was moving and had to get rid of two big boxes of comic books. Being a life-long baseball card collector, my father didn’t want to see the comics thrown in the trash so he took them and handed them over to me.
I opened the lids to those boxes as expectantly as the Nazi scientists opened the ark in “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” But instead of my face melting off, my brain exploded. I was literaturarily transported to other worlds, mystic realms and cataclysmic events.
Within those two boxes were three years of Marvel Comics. Every monthly title published by Marvel from 1983 to 1986 was waiting for me to read. I first dove into “Marvel Superheros Secret Wars.” Then a pile of X-Men and Avengers books.
By reading and re-reading those comics I became somewhat of an expert on Marvel history. And I learned a lot in the pages of those comics. The X-Men taught me it’s wrong to hate someone just because they’re different. Captain America taught me the importance of patriotism. Iron Man taught me that a normal person could use his intellect and ingenuity to make a difference. And of course, Spider-Man taught me that with power comes responsibility.
I have been able to share those lessons and values with my kids via comic book, cartoon and cinematic superheros.
But there was a time — back in the 1950s — when well-meaning people tried to outlaw comic books, saying the medium was subversive and detrimental to learning. The burgeoning comics industry, born just a few decades prior, was almost wiped out by McCarthy-era small-mindedness.
The only books to survive the purge were watered-down versions of DC’s trinity — Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman — and generic titles that featured romance and western stories.
And so past that age of unenlightenment, comics were plagued with a stigma of being material suitable only for children. Meanwhile, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created the Marvel Universe in the early 1960s and populated it with amazing characters we all know and many of us love. DC should get the credit for kicking off what’s now referred to as the Silver Age of Comics in the late 1950s with science fiction-infused stories featuring the Flash.
Thanks to those visionaries who didn’t give up under the boot heel of censorship our children have a modern mythology with which to learn life’s lessons. Contrary to what our grandmothers told our fathers, comics don’t dumb you down. In fact, studies have shown that kids who read comics understand sophisticated emotions, espouse richer vocabularies and display deeper reading comprehensions.
Comics are more than super-powered heroes thwarting would-be world-conquering villains. The stories are complicated and captivating morality plays that force readers to take a look at themselves and the world around them.
While it didn't seem likely to ever happen when I was growing up, comics have taken Hollywood by storm in the last decade. There have always been Superman and Batman material out there and a spattering of Wonder Woman stuff. Spider-Man and Hulk had television shows both live action and cartoons. But what we're experiencing now is totally different. The number one show on television — “The Walking Dead” — is based on a comic book.
The biggest blockbusters at the movies this year were all based on comic books. So of course, I’m enjoying it all. It sure beats “Howard the Duck,” the only Marvel movie made in the 1980s.