Things That Would Have Shocked My 12-Year-Old Self

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!

Views: 655

Comment by Don Collett on October 27, 2012 at 6:27pm

MY 12-year-old self would be amazed that, instead of being riduculed by friends, family and random strangers for his love of comics, he'd find a place to "meet" with people who loved them just as much as he does.

I'm still waiting for my live-action Plastic Man film, though. :)

Comment by JD DeLuzio on October 27, 2012 at 10:24pm

"He knew that SF had never sold well in comics. (EC's acclaimed SF comics were their worst sellers"


Well, maybe not their very worst.

Comment by Philip Portelli on October 27, 2012 at 10:59pm

Martin Goodman (and Stan Lee) felt the same even though Iron Man, Ant-Man, the Hulk, the X-Men and Spider-Man were all sci-fi characters to various degrees.

Not to mention that Green Lantern and Hawkman went from mystic origins in the Golden Age to sci-fi ones in the Silver Age!

Comment by doc photo on October 30, 2012 at 1:44pm

In the summer of 1966, with the success of the TV show, we were inundated with Bat merchandise. Games, toys, paperbacks, magazines, trading cards etc., plus a feature film and the re-release of the 1940's serial. And although there was some spillover to other super heroes, things were far and away Bat-centric. Today it seems as if nearly every other hero receives the treatment that only the Caped Crusader had during that Bat-crazy summer.

Comment by JD DeLuzio on October 30, 2012 at 9:19pm

At the same time, I wouldn't go overboard.


If you know too much about this stuff, you're still a nerd (of course!), and there's still a lot of disparagement of the concept, despite how much has changed. The director of the forthcoming Godzila remake felt the need to insist it won't be SF, but really grounded (you know, a realistic movie about a giant city-destroying radioactive monster)-- and he said this to a Comic-Con audience. Big Bang Theory mainstreams nerds as people too-- in a well-acted Nerd Minstrel Show that reinforces a number of negative stereotypes. Daniel Clowes called the mainstreaming of the most typical forms of nerd entertainment a "cultural downgrading."

Yes, much has changed, but the situation is far more complex than just, the nerds have won.

Comment by Richard Willis on October 30, 2012 at 9:31pm

Big Bang Theory mainstreams nerds as people too-- in a well-acted Nerd Minstrel Show that reinforces a number of negative stereotypes.

I tend to agree with this comment., as much as I enjoy Big Bang Theory as a comedy. I always say it would be better if the writers and the actors had a clue about comics. The most  extreme example of this ignorance was when they were masquerading as the JLA for Halloween and Leonard's Green Lantern outfit was belittled as some guy who walks around carrying a lantern.

Comment by JD DeLuzio on October 30, 2012 at 10:06pm

Oh, I've met those people too, and I would agree with you. I guess my issue is more with the notion that having certain  interests needs to be justified in a way that other recreational interests do not. That has changed less than I think we'd like to believe. In the mainstream, if you watch a hit Iron Man movie, that's okay. If you knew who Iron Man was before he was Robert Downey Jr, you're still a little suspect.

Comment by ClarkKent_DC on October 31, 2012 at 11:25am
Yeah . . . if you know Iron Man's origin because you saw the movie, that's one thing. If you give chapter-and-verse, without prompting, about how the movie origin is different than the comic book origin, and how Hawkeye, the Black Widow and Captain America weren't part of the formation of the Avengers . . . that's when people start to keep their distance.
Comment by Mr. Satanism on November 1, 2012 at 1:25pm

Posts like these are always my favorite.

Comment by doc photo on November 2, 2012 at 11:04am

Speaking to Caps original point - my 12 year old self would be shocked to know that I own every Fantastic Four story ever produced by Lee and Kirby. Back in 1967 when I began reading the series regularly, that would have seemed virtually impossible.

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