Friday, March 6, 2015

All the Young Dudes

Doug: Today I'm going to ask you to think like a 12-year old. For many of us, that's not all too difficult. What I'm looking for is a mental trip back to your formative years, about the time you started "collecting" comics -- that era when you became not only aware of what books and characters you liked, but why you liked them.

Doug: It's long been know around here that I was (and am, I guess) a team book guy. So it's pretty logical that Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes would be one of my monthly go-to's. And while I thought it was really cool that it was a club of super-powered teenagers, by the time I was reading it Mike Grell and James Sherman were doing the art chores. I hate to say it (boy, do I hate to say it!), but I wasn't going to junior high school with any young ladies that looked like Saturn Girl or Princess Projectra! Nor did I have any friends whose older sisters looked like that! So my point is, although the characters were supposed to be "my age" or slightly older, I didn't identify with them as such. I can say the same thing about Johnny Storm, Peter Parker, and the X-Men (granted, the All-New, All-Different team was supposed to be in their early 20s).

Doug: Now what about you? When you were a kid did you gravitate to the youngsters? Were Bucky and Toro favorites of yours in the Invaders? How about Robin (probably close to 19 or 20 by the time most of us were reading Batman Family)? Did you buy Nova because he was a teen, or because he had a cool costume? Was the inclusion of characters specifically designed to appeal to youngsters a spot-on marketing strategy from the Big Two?


Anonymous said...

I've never understood this supposed need to "identify" with characters of my own age/race/sex/nationality etc. My earliest memories are of watching shows like Star Trek, Dr. Who and Scooby Doo - none of those had a five year-old character that I could "relate to" but I still loved watching them. Did I need to be female to like Red Sonja or Spider-Woman ? Did I need to be black and American to like Luke cage or the Falcon ? No, I didn't - and I didn't need specifically teenage characters to make me read Marvel comics.

dbutler16 said...

I'm on board with Colin. I went for characters because I thought they looked cool and/or acted cool. My #1 hero as a kid was Mr. Spock who, while white, was obviously also an alien. The Vision and Black Panther were a couple of my other favorites, in large part because I thought they looked cool.

Also, like Doug I was/am a team book guy, and the Legion of Super-Heroes was by far my favorite DC comic and, with the possible exception of the Avengers and the Claremont/Byrne (/Cockrum) X-Men, my all time favorite comic. Also like Doug, though the Legionnaires were teenagers, I didn't really identify with them as such. They seemed older and in a different universe (literally and figuratively) than I.

The only characters I can ever really remember identifying with on any level are Wolverine (short, hairy, and a loner), Kitty Pride (about the same age as me when she was introduced, plus a nice "normal" suburban teenager who got good grades) and perhaps Timber Wolf (another loner). Even so, I liked these characters for other reasons than that, especially Wolverine, the original bad@ss to me.

Edo Bosnar said...

I'm with Colin and dbutler; as I understand it, the preteen sidekicks were supposedly introduced in Golden Age superhero comics so that the assumed preteen kids reading them would have a character with whom to identify.
However, when I started reading comics at about the age of 5 or 6, my very favorite character was Spider-man. I liked him because he was cool, not because he was anywhere near my age. Same went for other heroes like the Thing, Iron Man, Batman, etc. And I think I liked the Legion and later the (New) Teen Titans in spite of the fact that they were teens, not because of that.
As for Kitty Pryde, when she was introduced to the X-men, I rather intensely disliked her at first - even though at the time I was only about 2 years younger than she was supposed to be in the comics. So much for identifying with a fellow angsty teen.

Oh, and Doug, re: Nova. It was all about the costume for me...

Doug said...

About the only character I could say that I really identified with because he was a youngster was Kid Flash in the pages of Secret Society of Super-Villains. Other than that I'd side with our commenters above -- some who have stated their case quite emphatically!

I wonder if my dog identified with Scooby-Doo?


Martinex1 said...

I am on board with Colin, dbutler, and Edo as well. I liked Hank Pym but was not a super scientist with psychological problems. Thank goodness.

My first introduction to the teenager youngster in comics was probably Rick Jones and I always found him to be a little whiny and needy. He was hanging out with the Avengers, Hulk and Captain Marvel, but always was sad or down about not being part of the team or something.

I liked Kitty Pryde. I did not care much for Bucky or Toro, not because of their personalities as much as they just felt redundant.

I never really considered Johnny Storm a normal teenager. He had cool superpowers, was popular, and drove nice cars. He seemed less befuddled by teenage angst than other characters.

I don't mind young characters, just make them interesting.

J.A. Morris said...

The first superhero comics I ever read on a regular basis were Spider-Man comics. By this time, Parker was a young adult and/or a college student. I was a little kid, so it's not like he was "identifiable" to me. This is why arguments that he should ALWAYS be a teenager ring false for me.
Other than Spider-Man, I was also more of a "group book" fan.

I liked Wolverine because I'm somewhat short quiet loner, but I was always a pretty good fighter (for my size & weight class). And I liked Nightcrawler's sense of humor. Marvel has really missed out, I can't believer we've never gotten a Hope/Crosbyesque miniseries starring Kurt & Logan. I digress, sorry. I always thought Storm was an interesting character too. In my mind, she was always the most powerful member of the X-Men, but this was rarely stated (I never really thought of. Kudos to Claremont & Byrne for making her team leader when Cyclops departed.
I also loved Beast and Wonder Man as a duo.

I also never cared much for sidekicks. I liked Batman and Robin as a team (that's what they were in every TV incarnation), but I always knew Batman was cooler than Robin. The most important role that Robin plays is that he helps humanize Batman, not because "kids will identify with Robin."
Cap didn't need Bucky to humanize him, but I never had much use for Bucky either.

I still roll my eyes a bit over the retcon that showed Bucky running around assassinating Nazi spies. He'll always be a 12 year old kid in my eyes.

Humanbelly said...

In THE AMAZING ADVENTURES OF KAVALIER & CLAY there's an off-hand comment that, during the golden age, adding a kid/teen side-kick to a book tended to boost sales by about 11% (I think-). So, in about 20 minutes, EVERY company jumped on that band-wagon, and I daresay it became a corporate mind-set that was hard for the old-guard editors and creators to shake even well into the Silver Age.

Myself? Pfft--- naaah! I never had a particular sense of "relating" to teenage (or younger) characters. Honestly, none of them ever, ever rang even remotely true for me, age-wise. For the most part, it was a very particular, small group of middle-aged/older, white, Jewish fellas writing what their interpretation of teenagers in then-modern society must be. To his credit, I feel like Stan captured a certain breezy chatterbox-ishness that had a uniquely youthful feel to it-- but other than him, yeesh, I dunno. Like Doug said, they none of 'em LOOKED like teenagers. They none of 'em ACTED OR TALKED like teenagers. And heck, I was around teenagers all the time-- there's a limit to how much "relating" could be considered entertainment, even.

It was really much later on that I enjoyed kids/teenagers in stories: Power Pack; Spider-Girl; Ultimate Spiderman.


Karen said...

Well, I'm going to be the outlier in this convo and say that I always gravitated towards characters who I felt were "like me" in some sense -maybe not a ten year old white girl, because obviously there were none in superhero comics, but I looked for characters who had qualities that I felt reflected something like me. So being a young girl who liked comics, science fiction, mythology, Tolkien, Star Trek, science, math -basically, a huge geek/nerd, I was one of the biggest outsiders you could imagine in school. I had a handful of close friends and that was it. Therefore I liked the comics characters that were also somehow different -which is probably why the Vision was a favorite, also the Thing, the X-Men, etc. This was also true for other media, which is why someone like Mr. Spock was also so meaningful.

I never had any interest in any of the female characters because (and forgive me as I know I have repeated myself) they were so worthless. Their identities were largely based on their relationships as someone's girlfriend/wife/sister, their powers were point and zap (never physical), and they were primarily used as hostages. It was only in the mid to late 70s that this started to change. Now if I had read DC I would have had a chance to enjoy Wonder Woman, but well, I didn't break free of Marvel Zombie status for some time.

Like Doug, I did read Legion of Super-Heroes, and I liked the idea of teen heroes working together, but there wasn't a ton of personality there.

On the other hand, Peter Parker/Spider-Man really did have an appeal to me, even though I was much younger, the idea that he was not all grown up was cool. I was always a very responsible kid and his sense of guilt, of duty towards his Aunt May, all of that really resonated.

The kid sidekicks never did anything for me though. In fact, when my older brother dressed as Batman for Halloween, I insisted on being Batman too! No Robin for me.

Edo Bosnar said...

HB, re: "none of 'em ACTED OR TALKED like teenagers." Hear, hear! In most incarnations, the members of the Legion all looked like people in their mid-20s, and talked and acted like adults in their 30s. Same with the New Teen Titans as rendered by Wolfman, Perez, et al.

Anonymous said...

Great topic! I don't think I "identified" with characters who I thought were in some way like me. My first introduction to superheroes was the West/Ward Batman and Robin when I was about 5. As a 5 year old know-nothing - I liked Robin. Why? Who knows? Was it because he was younger - like me? That may have been part of it. But it's probably just as likely because he had a more colorful, eye-catching costume and spouted a lot of "Holy Nonsense"!

As to when I first started "collecting" comics and "why" I liked them - for me it was the Marvel universe "soap opera" quality. I became a zuvembie in '73. My first favorite was Iron Man. At the time there was a subplot involving Tony kissing Pepper while she was married to Happy. I don't think that went anywhere. But, it made an impression on an 11 year old mind to see an action comic end with the hero being caught in a compromising position with another man's wife. This was all around the same time Spiderman was going through Gwen's death and Mary Jane moving into the picture, the Avengers quadrangle of Wanda/Vision/Mantis/Swordsman, Reed blasting Franklin so Reed and Sue split, etc.

So I loved the action/fight scenes and so forth. But throw in the personal drama and I was hooked.


Garett said...

Interesting topic! My first thought is Robin with Batman vs. Robin in the New Teen Titans. I didn't identify with the kid sidekick- although his corny lines on the tv series were fun- but I really connected with the more capable mature Robin in the Titans. It was a big transformation by Wolfman and Perez-- Robin became a cool character! This is even before his Nightwing persona, when he was still in the shorts. The new Titans came out when I was 12, so bang on. It didn't hurt that he had Starfire lusting after him! He was a serious character trying to find his way independent of Batman, and I could relate to that.

For female characters, I think Wonder Girl was written better in the Titans than Wonder Woman ever was. WW always came across as too perfect, but Wonder Girl was more human. Since I'm on a Titans roll, Changeling was fun for his goofy sense of humour, often expressed in the animals he chose to become. I liked that.

For other heroes, I sometimes related to their powers. I was competitive with running, so I connected with the Flash. I was strong willed but friendly, so Green Lantern was a favorite. I liked Batman for his problem solving intelligence, and Iron Man for his technical inventiveness. I liked Daredevil and Moon Knight because they were cool darker characters, but also if I had some acrobatics to do in gym class I'd think of them jumping, rolling, kicking etc.

While I liked the Hulk as a guest star, and on the tv show, I think one of the reasons I didn't read his book is that I knew enough people in real life who would lose their temper and act out in destructive ways! Partly I was looking for role models in the heroes, along with something cool, fun, adventurous and exciting.

TV shows were more a glimpse into teenage life. I watched The White Shadow when I was 10-12, and I liked the issues the older teens dealt with, along with all the basketball. At age 10, high school students seem so grown up! I also did make it onto the high school basketball team. : )

Martinex1 said...

Rather than age of character, I think I had a relatively shallow approach (initially) to what I liked when I was 8,9,10. What was the costume and what was the power? I liked Yellowkjacket because he was different. He had a cool design (though impractical) and I liked the idea of shrinking and having a powerful sting. I honestly am not sure I thought much beyond that. Eventually the attitude of the character came into play; as I became more sarcastic and rebellious as a young teenager, I think I liked Hawkeye more. Still also having to have a cool and different costume. Sure all of the pathos and drama grew in my attraction as I also grew.

I suspect the lack of young readers today is due to the costumes. The characters don't look as cool. You don't have to be a superhero to wear black leather... big deal. I also think that broad soap opera style conflict plays better to a younger audience as long as you can still differentiate between the good and the bad. Ultimately, as a child I wanted to be heroic and do the right thing; that was attractive. The gray area employed today is too gray; how do you relate?

Regarding the young heroes / sidekicks. I really did not feel any of them had good costumes or good powers. They were always for the most part knockoffs or redundant. I liked Kitty Pryde but she was another Vision. Toro/Torch. Etc.

If Wolverine had stayed a teenager as initially intended, would it have been a different story?

Redartz said...

Good topic, and great comments today! I never "identified" with sidekicks in the comics, being a loner myself I gravitated to solo characters. Of course Peter Parker was tops in my estimation, a few years later I did find Kitty Pryde to be interesting.

Actually, the only 'kid' who clicked with me early on was Jonny Quest. Man, I would have loved to hang out with him and Hadji! Race was very cool, and I admired Dr. Quest, but the boys really ran the show; perhaps that was part of the appeal.

Anonymous said...

I never particularly identified with teenaged characters.

For one thing, when I was 7-12 years old, teenagers (who could drive, and who could go out on dates without chaperones) seemed just as remote and grown-up as adults.

For another, the teens in comics were nothing like the teenagers I knew IRL. Their oh-so-cool hipster jargon was apparently what the middle-aged writers and editors THOUGHT was how teenagers talked.

I did like the Legion and the original Teen Titans, but more for their camaraderie than their ages. I didn't identify with them any more than I did with the Justice League or the Avengers.

I think a lot of kids would prefer to imagine that they could be like Captain America or Batman when they grow up, rather than realize that they are not as cool as Robin or Johnny Storm.

Anonymous said...

I think I'm with the majority here; I liked characters because they looked cool, or because they had lots of great action in their books...Spidey, Batman, DD. The team books just had more of the same (Titans, JLA, Legion). I didn't get into subtlety until much later.

Mike Wilson

The Prowler said...

First and foremost, I must say how much I've enjoyed the guest writers and their postings!

Second and fivemost, I looked up "outlier". It seems the epitome of ironic that some of the very things that make Karen feel "different" are the same things that we hear and think would have been SOO COOL to have been able to do growing up. What I may be mangling, Karen, is that you are our "Queen B"!!!

Third and sixmost, I must fall in line behind Colin, dbutler and Edo (should we put the 16?) and admit that I was attracted to comics for the characters, not for the "kid" characters.

As I've posted before, Sunday mornings were a struggle as Mom tried to dress me for church and I tried to watch Fantastic Four and Thor on the TV. As I got older, Spidey was on The Electric Company so I knew the character before I bought my first comic. But Spider-Man was my first comic. Then FF and Thor. Then the Avengers....and so on and so forth, et al, etc and any of those other terms.

At one time, didn't Marvel have the X-Men's powers kick in when they hit puberty? And with the Inhumans as well, didn't they enter the Terigen Mists at a certain age? Oh shoot, was Marvel telling kids that things may seem weird now but they'll get better!?! Oh they crazy middle-aged Jewish men!!! Who would have thunk that comics were not only good, but good for you!!!
(Everybody's looking for the perfect world
Where you could have everything your heart desires
The perfect boy will meet the perfect girl
And the perfect love will set the world on fire

Well what you gonna do, when one and one makes three
And a vision of the future is impossible to see
Nobody's perfect, not even a perfect fool
If you'll have faith in me
I'll keep faith with you

Ain't no livin' in a perfect world
There ain't no perfect world anyway
Ain't no livin' in a perfect world
But we'll keep on dreamin' of livin' in a perfect world
Keep on dreamin' of livin' in a perfect world).

Anonymous said...

I can't get behind the idea of a Batman or a Superman who are in their late '20's, or even early '30's. I still expect them to be older than me somehow.
I was an idiot at that age!
...Of course, I'm a regular genius now...

Humanbelly said...

Of all the earlier teenagers and sidekicks in the Silver Age, I do think that Johnny Storm may have (somewhat unintentionally) been the one to hit closest to the mark as being the sort-of the "what in the world is this kid gonna make of himself??" type of teenage boy. A late-bloomer at best, and certainly would have been a parent's constant headache and heartache (if he'd had parents). Where was he headed if he hadn't had superherodom thrust upon him? Not a good student, a vocational level of mechanical aptitude-- never gonna be an engineer, absolutely no self-discipline or impulse control (I wonder if ADD issues were ever brought up for the character in later years?), good-natured- but relied on his looks and charm to carry him through his day-to-day life--- where was he headed, do we think?


Martinex1 said...

HB, that is a very interesting take on Johnny Storm. I had never thought of him that way, but can definitely see your point. I always saw him as a privileged but generally nice kid. I took his ribbing of the Thing as part of a fairly normal family life where siblings of sorts bicker but love each other, so that had more impact on me then is rather casual wandering through life. He is actually an interesting character as he is not a natural leader or even a leader at all, and enjoys heroism almost as if it is an extreme sport. As you stated he is not overly bright and particularly in the shadow of Reed probably seems less so. I've always wondered how he would act on a different team; he's probably one major character in the Marvel Universe that has never been an Avenger (at least I don't think so), or a Defender, or anything but on the FF. He's almost like a kid that grew up in the family business and never really stepped out. You've made me think about him differently.

Steve said...

I gravitated to the team books when I was 12 years old - Teen Titans, Legion of Super-Heroes, the JLA, the Avengers, even the C-level teams like The Champions. There was something about the interpersonal dynamics and the range of superpowers that made team books inherently more interesting to me.

At the same time, the solo heroes to which I gravitated - Batman, Spider-Man and The Flash - all had colorful villains and rogues galleries.

As far as identification, the character I most often identified with was Raven. I'm a gay white guy so make of that what you will.

Humanbelly said...

Steve, something I saw as sort of an unconscious phenomenon in the late 80's to mid 90's was that every single gay white male pal and co-worker I had (I'm a lower-echelon theater professional, remember) really, really connected with and enjoyed the X-Men. But no one ever articulated- or seemed to even be aware of- the rather obvious societal analog they represented: Folks just like anyone else, except for one difference that they're born with, that they feel compelled to keep hidden, because broader society may well shun them for it. It was just. . . never discussed in those terms at all amongst the theater-comics crowd. (We actually talked artists more than anything else. . . and eventually boredom w/ endless Mutant Angst)


Humanbelly said...

M-ex: Of all the places we might have seen Johnny at his best, I think his few rotations into Marvel Team-Up may have been the most solid and gratifying. He honestly comes across as much more a young man growing up than he did for this last 10 years or so of the FF's own book (pre-Civil War).

He's one of the few "mainstream" Marvel characters to not have established a really strong, solid solo identity, y'know?


Rip Jagger said...

Fascinating topic.

My favorite characters early on were Captain Marvel (Kree version) and the Hulk. Some of that is chance, but I do see that both were extreme outsiders, isolated from friends and family by culture and distance and circumstances.

If I identified with that I don't know, but it's interesting to think about.

Rip Off

david_b said...

Sorry, late to the party, was quite busy yesterday.

Great question and my response would be 'long the same lines as others.

Like Doug, I always envied/liked Kid Flash. Just a great outfit, liked his persona, both in the classic Cardy pages as well in NTT. He was one of the more better written characters, unlike Robin who went from 'tactical leader' in NTT to a quasi-dunderhead in the same month's issue of Batman (late 70s/early 80s..).

I enjoyed the energy of the early Cardy Titans, which Marv and George were able to mimic and improve on in NTT. So as for DC characters, my imagination always went towards KF, Robin, then GL and occasionally Flash as adult identification. Typically they were well-written and exciting as characters. My love of Ideal's Action Boy and his costume sets over his mentor Captain Action bears such evidence.

Enter my Zuvembiedom of 1973 onward... From my early days of watching Captain America on the '66 Super Hero cartoons, both Cap and Spidey were out-right my go-to heroes. Later it was Vision and YJ, yes Martinex1 that YJ outfit kicked major butt.., my favorite for yesrs.

And Tom, I remember that Ironman with Tony kissing Pepper (ish 63) was my first IM issue as well. I remembered that ending very well. Stories didn't have to end with some big fight, they could end (likd with ASM 121/122) with sadness or soap opera-like surprise.

Besides the ones already mentioned, I'd add Thing, Reed Richards, Hawkeye and Swordsman back in the day. You have to admit with Silver/Bronze Marvel, those characters were soooo well-personified, those personalities and continuity made everything so very real.

Dr. Oyola said...

If I may get my academic on for a moment, I think there is an important distinction to be made about the difference between relating to a character or situation and identifying with it.

The former is lazy. It is the kind of thing where because a character is "like" you in some surface way that you like the character and the story. Perhaps "lazy" is too strong a word, but I am beyond tired of students complaining that they don't like something b/c they can relate to it. Relation can be the beginning of engagement with something, but it should not be the end.

Identifying, on the other hand, suggests to me more active engagement with a text, which leads us to have to inhabit the position of a character to develop a fuller understanding and exercise our imaginations in such a way that it's the reader's framing of the story that leads to strong feeling across and despite difference, not because of looking for some kind of similarity.

It is for this reason that while I think more diverse representation of different identity groups along race, gender and sexuality are important, that for decades fans of color could deeply identify with a character like Thor for example (which surprisingly Dwayne McDuffie once called Marvel's "blackest" character).

Freud defined identification as a way that young people emulate and idealize important models in their lives like their parents, simultaneously learning and creating something about themselves in the process. I think the same holds true for superheroes (which is all the more reason to critique them even as we love them).

For myself, I was never a fan of the sidekick characters either. I did like the young heroes in their own right (like Spider-Man), but I also loved characters like Rom and Rogue and the Lizard, who struggled with their own humanity and craved a form of contact beyond what was accessible to them b/c of their situations.

Anonymous said...

For me it was all about Spidey. Here was a teenaged hero who despite having amazing superpowers still had to struggle with everyday issues of life - caring for an aged aunt, paying the rent, juggling school and work, girlfriend issues all the while battling the deadliest supervillains!

- Mike 'too much on my plate; not life issues, just too much food' from Trinidad & Tobago.

Otto Sell said...

It seems that the "younger fans will identify with younger characters" idea didn't really work for a lot of people. For myself, when I was growing up in the'70's, Rick Jones and Snapper Carr were among my least favorite characters. And I absolutely detested Wendy and Marvin and the Wonder Twins on the Superfriends.

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