Guest Post: Dad Weighs In (from The Batmom June 2012)

On Mother's Day I wrote about my mom because she's awesome. I could have done the same for my dad, as he is cool beans as well. But because he's been so interested in and supportive of this blog, and in re-discovering comic books  60 years after first reading them, I invited him to write a post for Father's Day.

I enjoyed a delicious meal with him last night at Armsby Abbey, a craft-brew mecca/gastro-pub in downtown Worcester (try the mushroom flatbread! try the asparagus salad! try the beer and the beer and the beer!). And so I'm late in posting this, but no less grateful he's my pop.

One of the joys of fatherhood is to watch beloved daughters grow to adulthood (and motherhood) and become engaged with them in discussions of weighty issues in modern society. One such issue is comic books, a contemporary art form of great interest to The Batmom (aka daughter!). 

 Superman Nov-Dec 1943; my dad was 7

Superman Nov-Dec 1943; my dad was 7

I was first introduced to comic books at my uncle’s drug store at age 7. The store had several shelves devoted to such literature, and for a nickel I would buy a root beer and spend hours sitting in the store reading comic books.

In 1940s small-town Indiana, a little boy reading comics in the aisles meant free advertising for the store and endless quizzing of yours truly by shoppers re: my favorite heroes.

Comics back then were often truly comic and widely read by many age groups, rather than broken down by "mature," "teen," "everyone," etc. as they are today. Superheroes evolved around this time; Superman, Captain Marvel and Batman and Robin were among my favorites. Feminine heroes were rare: Wonder Women and Mary Marvel are the only two that come to mind. The guys dominated the hero list. Bad guys were wily, powerful and oh-so-evil. They had few superhuman abilities yet presented real challenges to citizens of a simpler Gotham. Modest Clark Kent became Superman in an instant and SHAZAM turned a little guy into formidable Captain Marvel.

The artistry was simple as were the dresses. The women were modestly turned out and their facial expressions were much less dramatic than the characters in today’s comics. Plot lines were believable to the preteen crowd. The good guys always won after a little trouble, with no help from computers, gadgets and the vast technology of the modern world. It was cars, prop planes, telephones and guns galore. Great fun, simple drawings, fewer comments on social mores, less cussing and fewer good guys breaking the law. The bad guys ended up in jail, dead, or otherwise thwarted. They were good reads, and left us happy.

By age 12, my interest in comics had waned, with little exposure since. My current knowledge is limited to those superheroes from my past still going strong after 60 years, plus contemporary comic books as discussed in Batmom's posts and the occasional superhero flick. 

I visited Wonderland Comics with Batmom last winter and read a few Batmans from the recent Night of the Owls run. Enter today’s comic book world, Pop! Yikes! Everyone is on steroids. Muscles and boobs galore. No one smiles; everyone snarls. The costumes are a tailor’s nightmare, and with all the capes, weird masks, belts, shoes and horrible weapons, it’s tough to hit the john on the fly.

In Night of the Owls, Batman and a Muscle Beach graduate Robin take on the Talons, superhuman bad guys who must go the same gym and steroid doctor Batman and Robin do. A token Penguin appearance reveals the villain to be more dramatically evil by artistic design than he was in my day, and he’s overdressed by modern standards.

The drawings are very complex, the settings more supernatural than in my day, and no one is smiling. The advertisements for other comics appear at random and make plots hard to follow. These comics are not for children, what with the complex plots and blatant sexuality. And they’re expensive compared to the dime I used to pay!

It ain’t the same world, but Gotham still attracts heroes and villains. Penguins thrive and comic books sell!

My Uncle Jerry read this post back in June 2012 and commented. He grew up alongside my dad in small-town Indiana. He passed away later that year. From Jerry: I am two years younger than Batmom's Batdad. I also traveled down the comic book highway and have unfortunately lost that other world of make believe. Thanks for the memories. Batbro