Thursday, January 21, 2016

Batman v. Superman

Oh, the feels. That's what the kids say these days, isn't it, when they're talking about powerful emotions? Because that's what the Batman v. Superman trailers have been bringing out of me.

There are many, many reasons why Batman and Superman are important to me. I've written about it numerous times here on this very blog. They were childhood heroes who served as role models for me when I had none in the real world. They were like surrogate fathers. Maybe that's a bad thing, or maybe it's good. Even though I don't care for this phrase too much, it is what it is. I understand there's room for more than one interpretation of iconic characters. But seeing them on the screen this way never fails to make me mourn for the way they used to be. And seeing fan reaction so overwhelmingly bloodthirsty and hungry for violence between two beloved characters makes me feel very old.

I've written a number of times about how comics kept my hopes alive during the period in which I was abused, but I don't think I've committed to writing how they helped me come out of it. I went to live with my father during the Christmas break immediately following my 12th birthday. My mother gave me the choice of who I wanted to live with because she (and these are her words) thought that my stepfather was eventually going to kill me. It took 0.02 seconds to make that decision and looking back, I probably hurt her feelings with the speed at which I blurted out, "I want to live with Dad."

A few weeks later, my stuff was packed into a few boxes (we lived in a trailer; I didn't own much) and we were driving to the lower peninsula to move me in. My dad had said that he was living in a bi-level house with his new wife and her two daughters. We had the address and we looked up and down the country road that it indicated, and found no house. Eventually, we stopped for directions at a cement block basement with no house above it, protruding from a hill. It had lights on. Turned out that this was it! My mother looked around, and was mortified. There were few windows, no carpeting, but a few area rugs scattered around. None of the rooms had doors except the bathroom, but all had simple curtains drawn across the partitions. She was angry at my dad for lying, but turned to me and whispered, "Are you sure you want to live here?" I nodded quickly, hoping she wouldn't change her mind. In my head I was thinking, Are you kidding? I'd live in a rabbit hole if it meant not getting beaten every day. And so, life began again. I was away from my little brother and sister for the first time since they were born, but I was looking forward to a new life without being hit.

It took some time getting used to a whole new family. My new stepmother was interesting. She was generally pretty nice to me. She had four kids. Two daughters who lived with her, ages 17 and 16, and two sons who lived with their father, ages 14 and 13. So I went from being the oldest in the family to being the youngest. One of the first things I did as a symbol of my new freedom was buy comic books. If we behaved in church on Sunday (which I always did, being eager to please) we received 50 cents, which we could spend at the small general store in town. My stepsisters always bought cigarettes (I told you my stepmother was interesting) and I bought my first comic book ever with my own money. It was a tough choice that first time out, but it was a choice of simple economics. I bought Justice League of America #140. It was a 50-cent Giant, and it had all of my favorite characters in one book. It felt like I was getting away with something sneaky, but it was also liberating because my dad fully supported it. The story had Green Lantern being captured by and taken offworld to face charges that he had destroyed a whole planet.

Of course the Justice League came to his defense. That's what they do. During their investigation in the following issue, Superman and Batman are paired off with one of the Guardians of the Universe, and while they're in space, the Guardian questions the pairing. Batman simply responds by saying, "Superman and I have been friends for a long time. We're the world's finest team."

I have one page of original comic book art left from my collection. That's the one I still own. It symbolizes freedom to me; vindication; a return to the way things should have turned out for me. I survived my abusive situation in part because of Batman and Superman, and they've been with me ever since. Over the years, especially since the Crisis on Infinite Earths and subsequently the Man of Steel mini-series rebooted the relationship between the two heroes, and Frank Miller's Dark Knight put them at odds, they've fought over and over and over again. No matter how stupid or contrived the circumstance, whether mind-control or Kryptonite or (shudder) politics, I just never buy into it. They worked together without incident for decades, thrilling millions of kids like me. And now it looks like they'll clash because Lex Luthor tricks them into it.

When someone tells the new audience that "this isn't your father's Batman and Superman," they're damned right.

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