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: 643

Comment by Jeff of Earth-J on October 26, 2012 at 4:11pm

Every year, my company makes a big deal out of Halloween. A theme is chosen, and each department competes with the others in decorating their respective wing. Recent themes have been Disney movies and Dr. Seuss, but this year’s is superheroes. Part of a recent staff meeting was turned over to decoration discussion, and it’s pretty well-know that I make a run to the comic book store over lunch every Wednesday. Another department has chosen the Justice League (“which can be anybody, I guess,” explained the committee chair), so it was determined that the Marvel counterpart to the Justice League is the X-Men. (Yeah, yeah… I know.) Then they started hitting me up for ideas.

First of all, it simply blows my mind that my co-workers even know who the X-Men are. I explained to them that the Avengers are really the counterparts to DC’s Justice League, then, just to observer their reactions, I told them that DC’s counterpart to the X-Men would probably be the Doom Patrol. You can imagine the blank looks I received. One person even accused me of making that up. Then they started brainstorming about which characters they could be. Our manager, who is new to the department, really wasn’t too hip to the idea of dressing in costume. I suggested that if he wanted to participate, he should borrow a wheelchair from the infirmary, shave his head and come as Professor X. I expected to get a laugh at the suggestion that our boss shave his head, but nobody… NOBODY in a room of about 20 people… even knew who Professor X is… which made me wonder why they had even chosen to be “X-Men” in the first place.

They’ve since changed their collective mind to a “superhero training academy.”

Whatever.

Comment by JD DeLuzio on October 26, 2012 at 5:01pm

My cool twentysomething nieces discuss the Avengers with me over dinner.

They read graphic novels at the local high school.

The local library stocks graphic novels.

I own comics and have a PVC set of the JSA standing guard in front of my Harvard Classics, and (so far as I know) no one thinks I'm a serial killer.

We have multiple comic shops in town. They can be classified according to "best overall," "most stereotypical," "most likely to have arcane titles," and "most female-friendly."

I can reflect back on a time, not long ago, when the coolest thing on television was a show called, "Buffy the Vampire Slayer."

Green Arrow has his own tv series.

Hollywood's working on an "Ant-Man" movie.

Comment by Philip Portelli on October 26, 2012 at 5:03pm

What still amazes me:

Hawkeye is in a movie and Green Arrow has a TV show. Archers rule!

Action Figures: Yellowjacket, Scarlet Witch, Doc Samson, the Warriors Three, etc. Truly mindboggling!

Books ABOUT Comic Books: serious discussions on themes, premises and symbollism as the American Mythology it is!

Batman has a son: and the world doesn't end!

Movie Costumes: Finally Hollywood realizes they CAN'T be wearing Spandex!

Comment by Captain Comics on October 26, 2012 at 5:04pm

Good ones, J.D. and Philip!

Comment by Rich Steeves on October 26, 2012 at 5:51pm

What a great list! You articulated what I have been saying to my friends and family for years!

Comment by Captain Comics on October 26, 2012 at 7:01pm

I almost pointed out that Stone Boy's home planet is "Zwen." I assume the other planets in his solar system are Zwho, Zwhat, Zwhere and Zhowmany. 

Comment by JD DeLuzio on October 26, 2012 at 7:32pm

Zwho is the first planet?

Comment by PowerBook Pete, the Mad Mod on October 26, 2012 at 7:59pm

Zidonno. Third base.

Comment by Philip Portelli on October 26, 2012 at 9:11pm

Zwho's the first planet, Zwhat's the second and Zydunno is third.

Comment by Captain Comics on October 26, 2012 at 11:53pm

Lord, I love this board.

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