Friday, June 01, 2007

"Simplify, simplify."

That's what Calvin's dad said in the greatest comic strip ever devised (in my opinion), "Calvin and Hobbes," when faced with the dilemma of having "accumulated more than we need" and having "accepted too many demands." Yes, I know it's a quote from Henry David Thoreau, but I prefer to get my wisdom from comics. They filter out all the noise for me because, let's face it, some of these philosophers and poets were windbags of immense proportion.

Speaking of windbags...As I prepare to abandon my own classroom for the summer (I teach summer school at Memorial High School this year) I find that my room is cluttered with too many things. I scarcely have cabinet space for all of it. I can fit everything I need to teach my course in a container no larger than 1.5 cubic feet, and I have done so in preparation for Wednesday, when we meet at the summer school site. So why do I have all this stuff in my room?
I could fill a truck with all the Detroit Tigers and Major League Baseball stuff I bought last year. I tried to use baseball as a theme this year. What better application of percents, proportions, ratios, and geometry is there? The answer is none, but it fell flat on its face. I shouldn't have been surprised, because kids don't much watch baseball anymore. It's not fast enough for them and some of my kids have the attention span of small insects. That's right, small insects. Even some large insects have longer spans. To sound like an old grump, it's the video game generation. Flashing lights and floor-shaking sounds can occupy them for hours, but something that requires more thought than reflexes, and they tune out. I'm afraid that America's Pastime is past its prime. I will always love it, but the hard fact of the matter is that it has gone by the wayside in mainstream culture.

The reason I switched the decor to baseball to begin with was the crisis of faith I had in my other childhood love, comic books. A few years ago, a storyline in DC Comics' "Identity Crisis" miniseries just turned my stomach. Heroes that I loved as a kid, members of the Justice League of America, acted in a very much, that word is not strong enough...violently criminal way; they forcefully changed a villain's personality by violating his very mind and warping it to their own wants. And when Batman, another of my childhood heroes, learned of it, they turned their mind-warping attentions to one of their own. Then, a few months later, in the "Infinite Crisis" storyline, writers had an alternate-earth version of Superboy decapitate a heroine named Pantha on panel, and then rip another hero's arm from its socket, complete with gore. These scenes are not for the faint of heart:

Are you kidding me?? We were in the process of adoption then, and I tried to imagine teaching my daughter to read with this material. I almost literally got sick to my stomach. I wouldn't let her read this as a teenager, let alone a toddler. The comic book that inspired me to learn to read was Superboy. The comic that taught me the meaning of heroism was Justice League of America. And what was I to do with all of the superhero posters that I had laminated and hung in my room? I took them down the next day. I could not in good conscience promote the adventures of these characters as they were going to be written.

Simpler Times
Fortunately, reprints of the classic appearances of these characters are easily and readily available. DC's Showcase series and Marvel's Essentials series have made black and white reprints available at very reasonable prices. There are about 500 pages of comics in each edition of these 1960s and 1970s comics and at Amazon, you can get them for around $10-$11 each. I am going to fill my bookshelves with them next year and get my superhero posters back out. My kids will know what being a hero is all about, and I really don't mind if they laugh at "Mumbling mantas!" as an expression. Looking back on it, I think it's pretty funny too. They may have been simpler times but it sure beats looking at Pantha getting her head knocked off.

No comments: