Between the lovely Anna and three teenage daughters, our house is a little heavy in the estrogen department. It’s just myself and my 10 year old son Tommy to hold up grand man traditions like belching out loud, scratching our privates at will and trying to pretend we heard everything the women were saying when we were really watching TV and didn’t even realize they were even talking to us. No easy task but the boy and I do our best.
It occurred to me recently that Tommy and I don’t get enough man time, especially in the winter when we can’t go outside and play catch, work in the garage or do some other manly things. Tommy’s not a big sports kid anyway, preferring to skateboard and scooter around instead of play soccer or basketball. My skateboarding skills suck, so that’s out. He spends a lot of time playing “World of Warcraft” on his computer and collecting the cards and other stuff related to that game. I’m not big on computer games, an my eyes quickly glaze over when he starts talking about MMORPG, dual wielding Rogues, Warsong Gulch and such. I wanted to find something we could both do and enjoy. I took a page from a friend of mine’s book and started taking my son to a comic book shop once a week, and then to lunch to read and share our comics. It’s called Comic Book Day.
Our first Comic Book Day was a month ago or so. Comics are definitely not what they were when I was a kid. I knew that, of course, but the extent of it still surprised me. Even in the eighties, when I was in high school and college, most comics were still basically PG rated. More “adult” storylines and themes were special format mini-series, like Watchmen or The Dark Knight Returns, and the “mainstream” comics like Spider-man, Batman or other ‘cape and tights’ comics seem to maintain a reasonably kid friendly element. Yes, there was a lot of punching and violence, even deaths, but they were done without a great deal of graphic gore. Today? Hoo boy. In one Batman comic we saw, Batman takes in his illegitimate son (by Talia, daughter of Ra’s al Ghul) briefly. This 12 year old kid precedes to put Robin in the hospital, beats up Alfred and starts beheading people in Gotham. Uhhhh…. I had some explaining to do to my son. Ditto lots of other titles, where gruesome killings, sex and rampant drug use were everywhere… not to mention guns, guns, guns.
Fortunately, both DC and Marvel apparently understand there are kids under the age of 17 who are interested in reading comics, and who have parents responsible enough to want to limit their exposure to gratuitous graphic violence and adult themes. Both have lines of kid friendly books that are very well done and worth reading. Tommy immediately took to Teen Titans GO! and Justice League Unlimited, both well drawn and well written. He doesn’t care much for Batman Strikes!, as he dislikes the character designs (the Joker looks like Killer Kroc with a green wig and makeup). I miss the Bruce Timm/Paul Dini Batman: The Animated Series comic books. Marvel also has a line of kid-friendly books like Spider-man, Fantastic Four, etc., but Tommy isn’t too interested in those right now. We do buy Batman and Detective Comics, but we read them together and we talk about the things that are bad. I’m not big on trying to keep my kids in a bubble… I’d rather they see the world as it is (within reason), learn right from wrong and how not to be afraid.
Personally, I’m having trouble finding comics I have any interest in reading. I am surprised at some of the really poor artwork in a lot of the books out there, especially when it comes to drawing faces. So many artists can draw massively muscled bodies and big breasted women, but the faces on these figures look deformed and bizarre. I’m not going to run any specific artists down as I know how hard they work, and they deserve some respect for that. However, the editors on some of these titles need to point out problems in their art team’s work. Anybody who can draw as well as these guys obviously can should be able to draw a convincing face… or shoe… or chair. Comic book storytelling isn’t just muscles and boobs.
One title I am enjoying is Matt Wagner‘s Batman and the Mad Monk, a special format series set early in Batman’s career. I’ve always loved Wagner’s solid storytelling and plots, and his stylized art reminds me a little of Dave Mazzucchelli‘s Batman: Year One work. Nothing groundbreaking here… just a good, entertaining story and art that compliment each other. Basically this is a ‘reimaging’ of a story from the very beginning of Batman in the late 1930’s, including homages to famous cover images… A cool concept. I also bought and read an earlier effort of Wagner’s called Batman and the Monster Men. Yes, these stories involves some gruesome murders and the suggestion of sex, but they are handled more subtly. Still, these are not books for little kids.
Tommy and I enjoy our Comic Book Day every week, and just wish the publishers would get their products out on time and more often. It’s nice father/son time. Now all I have to do is figure out how to summon a demon familiar so my gnome mage can kick some Horde butt on World of Warcraft.
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