Things That Would Have Shocked My 12-Year-Old Self
Oct. 26, 2012: As I may have mentioned a few thousand times, science fiction (and fantasy and horror) were nearly non-existent in American pop culture in the 1960s when I was growing up. The conventional wisdom in Hollywood was that "science fiction doesn't sell," perhaps because all the SF movies in the 1950s were dopey B-movies about giant radioactive insects with really cheap budgets and lousy special effects. Regardless, Hollywood was convinced SF was a loser, and that idea pretty much permeated media across the board.
There were occasionally SF TV shows, but none of them were success stories. Lost in Space and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea became jokes. Star Trek failed after two seasons, and was only extended for an extra year by a coordinated letter-writing campaign. The Time Tunnel only lasted a year. Batman was deliberately silly.
So for kids like the young Captain, who loved extra-normal stuff, the only good material available was early Universal horror movies (Dracula, Frankenstein, The Mummy, etc.) and comic books. Both areas were pretty seriously marginalized, so my friends and I were pretty resigned to being on the periphery of pop culture (and avoided mentioning our passions at school).
Then along came this thing called Star Wars in the 1970s. And suddenly SF, fantasy and horror were cool. This would have shocked my 12-year-old self. Moreover, Star Wars kicked open a door that hasn't ever closed, and more wonderful stuff has poured through that door so that even now, more than 30 years later, my inner 12-year-old remains giddy with disbelief through each revelation. Here are just a few of my favorite things:
* There is an Element Lad action figure. If comic books were a marginal hobby in the 1960s, Legion of Super-Heroes fandom was a subculture within a subculture. While even our parents could name Superman and Batman, most comic-book fans could be stumped at naming any member of the LSH outside of Superboy. And yet, not only did DC Direct release a series of Silver Age Legion of Super-Heroes action figures, they released the figures in the order the characters joined the team. If that doesn't tickle your fanboy heart, your heart comes from Stone Boy's planet.
* There are superhero movies, and they don't suck. When the Captain was 12, the only breakthroughs superheroes made into broader media were bad cartoons, the aforementioned Batman and reruns of the Adventures of Superman TV show. The Marvel Super-Heroes cartoons of 1965 were simply gawdawful, and the initially respectful Superman, Batman and Aquaman cartoons quickly devolved into Super Friends. The Superman show was wonderful, but it was OLD -- often B&W -- and, let's face it, the special effects were nearly non-existent. The fact that Hollywood pours millions into X-Men, Batman, Spider-Man and Avengers movies is astonishing to my inner 12-year-old, and even better, they're popular. I feel a weird sense of affirmation. Speaking of which:
* My mother knows who Wolverine is. My parents -- and most of their generation -- thought of comics as juvenile pap, and knew nothing about superheroes beyond vague ideas about who Superman and Batman were. But thanks to the movies, even my mother has heard of Wolverine. Wolverine! He didn't even exist until 1975!
* I have a Captain America shield. In the 1960s, I could fantasize about a decent Superman, Batman or Spider-Man TV show or movie because I could imagine -- just barely -- those characters being popular/familiar enough that maybe somebody would put up money for such a movie, and maybe enough people would go so that it wouldn't bomb. But Captain America? He was a back-up series in Tales of Suspense, and during the Vietnam War kids and young adults were turning against pro-war jingoism and deeply suspicious of mindless patriotism. I was a big Cap fan, so much so that I made a shield out of a garbage can lid and tempera paint. But a store-bought shield? My 12-year-old self could not imagine such a thing.
* Iron Man is an A-list character. I loved Marvel Comics in the 1960s, but they were the new kids on the block and virtually unknown to non-comics-readers. And, just like DC, where Superman and Batman were the top dogs, there was an hierarchy at Marvel: Spider-Man, Fantastic Four and maybe the Hulk were A-listers, and everyone else was B-list or below. (And even the FF were a bit sketchy; kids at school and church would generally refer to them as "rock guy," "stretchy guy," "fire guy" and the like.) So the idea that Iron Man might someday be A-list was an alien concept to me; that he would headline an Avengers movie unthinkable. And yet, here we are. God bless Robert Downey Jr.
I could go on in this vein, but Gen Xers are probably yawning and younger readers have probably drifted off. I hope not, though, because the whole point of a forum is to share experiences and perspectives. I am always fascinated, for example, how fellow Legionnaire Chris Fluit views Uncanny X-Men, since it was the best-selling comic book of his youth, while it sold so poorly when I was a boy it was canceled when I was 12. So we are both big X-fans, but in my case it's my love for the underdog, while his experience is almost diametrically opposite!
So I hope some of you find this amusing, despite the age/experience gap. Because, honestly, I couldn't be more tickled by today's options, and I hope that rubs off!