The other evening I was watching my niece and nephew and ended up having a conversation that left me feeling pretty sad. It had to do with super heroes and, in particular, films based on comic characters.
My nephew was telling me about his school friends and the stuff they liked to talk about. The usual stuff came up, Halloween, wrestling (John Cena), candy, Power rangers (thanks to Netflix, its popular again), Food, music, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles...ya know, the usual kid stuff. Superheroes also came up. My nephew knows quite a few characters, though, and not just the ones who've been in live-action films already. I mean, he is MY nephew so, he's got plenty of information about them, due to my influence and his reading.
The troubling piece of conversation began when he spoke about his one friend telling him about the recent Captain America sequel "The Winter Soldier." His friend was telling him about how cool Captain America's partner, the Falcon, was.
"Uncle?" he said to me, "Does the Falcon use guns in the comic books? My friend said he shoots guns in the new Captain America movie."
I can imagine how crestfallen my face must have become when he asked this.
My sister has made a real attempt to teach my niece and nephew that guns are something that should only be in the hands of the only people who've been properly trained and taught to use and respect them (Policemen, military, hunters, etc.) Anyone else who uses guns, especially in movies, is a bad guy.
My nephew doesn't like guns or swords/knives/cutting. He, like his mother, cares a bit too much about people and gets really upset when someone is actually hurt...or dies.
But, this blog post isn't to harp on guns in movies. It could be but, it isn't.
I was saddened because my nephew was expressing one of his first frustrations in life, about the incorrect balance of the world. In this case it was simply: comic book movies (and the current books themselves, a topic for another time) are woefully not geared toward kids.
I'm not gonna go through ALL the charts and facts that explain this. I certainly COULD devote entire pages to it, though. Several writers have, as this debate rages quite heavily now, in comic book journalism. Many comic publishers (especially ones with super hero properties known worldwide) have struggled with what I call "serving both sides of the pew." The main consumer base for comics are adults, many having grown up on them and still reading the same characters they have for years.SOME (but certainly not ALL) of those readers then in-turn share this love of comics with their children and it is here that the struggle begins with publishers. The parents want to share in the rich heritage of their comic book reading with their offspring but the rates of inflation have risen the comic book from something a child can do chores for change to buy, into a larger purchase, with even some comics clocking in at almost $4 for 20-32 pages! While some publishers have attempted to make the push to digital and offer books via sites like Comixology for $.99 an issue geared toward younger readers, this doesn't in fact always work well enough when the next trailer to a live-action show or film displays a more matured and visceral version of the characters that a kid is reading about. And with a scant amount of cartoon versions to appease their kids with, adult fans have to navigate the water of just how much they will allow their kid to see in a film and how much they want to have conversations about the actions in those films kids will most assuredly ask about (I'm looking at you, Man of Steel, third act.)
My nephew is 8.
He lives in a world where marketing makes kids excited about colorful characters with special abilities, sells him costumes and toys of their weapons and gear, provides him with G-rated versions of stories in chapter books and kid centric cartoons (Teen Titans Go! Super Hero Squad, etc), YET, when a live-action show or film happens, heroes bleed out, get cut, kill, cuss, make-out, and use guns in vivid ways.
"Uncle, I don't like guns. Good guys shouldn't use them. They should use these" holds up his fist in proper fighting posture.
"That's true, buddy." I said.
"And being a super hero is sometimes scary. I don't know if I would want to be one, if I have to use guns or if the only way to beat the bad guy is to kill them. On Spectacular Spider-Man (the animated series) he always webs them up and takes them to the jail. If I become a superhero with bionic powers, I want to catch bad guys like that and make them go to jail, okay?" He asks looking at me for approval.
"That's a good way to do it."
"And if the real bad guys are using real guns, and not laser guns, I'll let the cops fight them...because those guys are crazy."
I was saddened by all that. The fact that he loves super heroes as a concept and believes in justice and standing up for what's right, even when its hard. Those are great things and he should be allowed to enjoy those things, even on the big screen.
But this week's hype over more of these superhero films was bit bittersweet. As I look at the expansive list of films that are coming out based on various super hero properties, I feel such uncertainty about them. How many of these will have marketing that attracts my niece and nephew's attention? Will they remain true to the source material or diverge in a manner that isn't good for the type of kids they are? Why were so many of THESE characters chosen and not other ones? Is the 'kid dollar' not a large consumer? Why no push for more kid-friendly super hero fair?
I could harp on that last part a bit. Tons of stuff comes to mind which could be good super hero onscreen stuff you can take kids to and still be interesting to adults. Power Pack. Teen Titans. Runaways. Robin. Static (yes, I know they'll be a web series but it deserve film treatment). Generation X. Leave it to Chance. Takio. Gladstones school for world conquerors. Metal Men. Kamandi. Ms Marvel (the Kamala Khan version).
There's tons of stuff out there but, I guess, I just have to realize that maybe not everyone thinks about it that way.
So I await more difficult conversations, explaining to my nephew why there are certain sections of the movies that have to be skipped over or that its a film he can't see, because even a traditional super hero he knows has great qualities on the page, may not exhibit those traits in a live-action rendition of his story.