Friday, November 11, 2011

Revisiting My Dorky Childhood



by Scott Hales (bio)

image from beyondhollywood.com

When I was in sixth grade, my parents would force me to do my homework by threatening to take away my comic books. The rule was that if my report card had anything lower than a B on it, my comics would go straight to a “secret” hiding place in my parents’ room--a cabinet in their TV stand. Math was usually my Kryptonite. I don’t think I ever got a B or higher in sixth grade math. Seventh grade math was a little better, especially when I got demoted to the dumber math class. The dumb math class was good for my comic book habit.

As titles go, I was an X-Men fanatic. This was in the early 1990s, when Jim Lee, and later Andy Kubert, were penciling a brand new X-Men title. John Romita, Jr., I believe, was penciling Uncanny X-Men, but I didn’t like his work as much and I could tell you why with all the geeky elitism my twelve-year-old self could muster.

I gave up comic collecting around the time I turned fourteen--after a girl in my ward gave me a look when I mentioned that I owned nearly one hundred comics. It was the kind of look that let me know a girl like her would never go for a guy who still treasured a collection of kiddy magazines.

Fourteen was a strange age for me. I was beginning to attend church dances, which meant for the first time in my life I was talking with girls who weren’t a) my playground enemies, b) my relatives, or c) imaginary. I was also coming to realize that most of what I thought was cool—drawing, comics, Trivial Pursuit—most other people saw as dorky. This was before YouTube, remember, when one could still experience deep social alienation for being a dork.

So I left comics reluctantly. I gave most of them away to my younger brother and his friend. A few of them—my favorites—went into a box in my parents’ basement, and I moved on to other things: dating, college, missionary work, and marriage.

Then parenting came along and I determined that there was no real shame in using my kids as an excuse to revisit my dorky childhood. I mean, even though I had set aside my comics at fourteen, part of me still longed for the Stan Leesian mythology I had so callously sacrificed on the altar of teenage acceptance.

So, when my oldest daughter was born, I exposed her early to the geek culture of my youth, especially Star Wars, Gumby, and Batman: The Animated Series. This continued even after the births of my next two daughters, although—strangely—I never introduced them to my beloved X-Men.

Last spring, however, I wrote a paper on Captain America for a graduate seminar on International Modernism. For six spectacular weeks, I was once more immersed in the Marvel Comics Universe, catching up on seventeen years of lost time and enjoying every minute of it. I also discovered that you can watch all five seasons of the classic 1992 X-Men animated series on Marvel.com for free.

Since then my daughters and I have been working our way through the series. It started off a little rocky as I had to explain, among other things, what a mutant was and why Professor X had no hair and rode around in a hovering yellow wheelchair. I also had to put out the nightly fire that was their meltdown over the frustratingly inconclusive cliffhanger format of every episode. 

“They make it like that so you’ll tune in next week,” I would explain.

“I want to tune in NOOOOWWWWWW!!!!” one would scream.

“NOT FAIR!!!” the other would shout.

And so on.

But they caught on and calmed down after a while and even developed superhero crushes on Beast, Wolverine, and especially Gambit. This seemed perfectly natural to me since I had my own hard-core superhero crush on Rogue back in the day.

My wife has been patient with our new X-Men obsession, although she still doesn’t like it when we hum the theme music at the dinner table. Now and then, she’ll sit down with us and watch an episode, but I can tell she’d rather be watching Hugh Jackman and the live-action X-Men than their animated counterparts. I know this by the number of times I catch her rolling her eyes or staring at the computer screen with a face that’s obviously trying to figure out how she ended up with four dorks and a mortgage.

“What are you doing to our children?” is a question I get asked a lot these days.

And I admit I worry about about it too. Like the time my four-year-old stood by the sliding glass door, raised her arms to the sky, and said with her best Storm voice, “WINDS from the SKY!! THUNDER and LIGHTNING!! RAIN!!! FALL, FALL and DESTROY EVIL!!!”

Or the time my seven-year-old gave me a hug before leaving for school and said, “See ya later, bub.”

But then I remind myself that I did stuff like that all the time when I was twelve--and I turned out fine.

So I keep telling my wife, at least.

We still have two more seasons of X-Men left and my plan is to continue this dorky father-daughter superhero bonding thing well after full in-dork-trination is achieved. Marvel.com has plenty of animated series available for streaming. Enough, probably, to last into my youngest daughter's own sixth grade year. My vote is that we tackle every episode of the Fantastic Four or The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes next.
    
After that, who knows?
My seven-year old brought this picture home the other day from school. I thought it was sweet. Until my wife pointed out that my daughter left her out of the picture. Oh well. At least yellow bolts of action-packed mutant awesomeness are shooting out of the TV screen!

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