Thursday, June 28, 2007

What I Would Do with One Billion Dollars

One of the activities I have my students work on is an essay entitled, "What I Would Do with One Billion Dollars." It's a fun activity for them and tells me a lot about them. By forcing them to itemize their expenditures, they discover that they really had no concept of how much a billion is. This leads us to discussions about scientific notation to express very large numbers, and they also have to learn about how much things cost. When they are done with the activity, I inevitably get asked, "What would you do with a billion dollars, Mr. McClain?"

I have done this for probably 15 years now, and I have had no shortage of ideas. The imagination literally runs wild with ideas on how to spend this enormous sum of money.

If I were to receive one billion dollars today, I would:
• give one million dollars to each member of my wife's and my families. The children's money would be placed in trust to be used for their education and the remainder disbursed upon their graduation from college: \$22,000,000
• provide full four-year scholarships to any student I ever had who gained acceptance to a college: approximately \$25,000,000
• give one million dollars to each of my friends: \$35,000,000
• buy four season tickets for the Detroit Tigers in section 135 of the Tigers' Den for the next 40 years: \$480,000
• buy two homes and an apartment: one house near Gulf Shores, Alabama on the bay near my wife's family's bay houses; one along the Manistee River in Mesick, Michigan, where I grew up. I would also maintain a condo on Woodward Avenue in Detroit, near Comerica Park: \$3,000,000

These are things I choose every year, and it totals less than \$100,000,000, 10% of the money to spend. Lately, though, I have added things to my list that I would never have done before.

• I would adopt another daughter from China. We can afford one daughter right now, but a second one would stretch our budget uncomfortably. We would both go back tomorrow to get another child.
• I would help other people adopt with interest-free loans. There are literally thousands of children waiting to be adopted and thousands of parents who can't front the money for it that they would get back in tax credits.

But here's the one I've been thinking about lately, and it is something I feel strongly about:

• I would create a comic book line appropriate for all ages with ascending levels of reading difficulty so that children could learn to read along with their heroes.

The heroes in my comics grow into their roles starting at about five years old, akin to the Power Pack books that Marvel produces. As the kids grow older, they learn about their powers and learn how to behave in the world in a civilized and responsible way. Of course they get into trouble like kids do, but how they handle it would be the way they define themselves as heroes.

If a character dies in this comic book universe, they would stay dead. In the current comics world, death has no meaning. There used to be an expression, "Only Bucky stays dead," referring to Captain America's old partner who died during World War II. Well, guess what? Bucky's back. Death's permanence is an important lesson that kids need to learn.

In my comic book line, heroes would act as heroes. There would be no need for replacement heroes. No hero falls from grace. They may be viewed as threats, but they aren't threats. Sidekicks would be encouraged to strike out on their own and fight evil instead of forever remaining in their mentors' shadows.

In my comic book line, heroes don't fight other heroes. In fact, they only fight at all as a last resort, if there's no other way. Conflict resolution is an important lesson that kids need to learn about as well. If you think that's boring, check out Fantastic Four under Waid and Wieringo.

Speaking of writers and artists, those are the first two on my list. Mark Waid knows more about the Silver Age than almost any other living person. The Silver Age is a feeling I'd like to replicate. Mike Wieringo has a cartoony style that I just can't get enough of. I'd also like to get J. Scott Campbell for the art on my teenage books. I loved what he did with Gen13 and Wildsiderz. I just didn't care for the stories in them.

In short, I'd like comic books that my daughter not only could read, but should read. I wonder how much that would cost?