Monday, December 22, 2008

Batman, Superman and Childhood Abstractions

I don't know who your favorite version of Batman is. I'll have to admit my favorite would be the one I think about the most, I suppose. The Adam West Batman. But before I lose you, let me say I also LOVE the new movies; I totally enjoyed Heath Ledger's performance, but not because he died. (How many people have you heard say that? I've heard it said at least 4 times. ) But it's funny because you almost feel obligated to qualify your taste because he died before it was released. Ledger was a stupendous actor and this Joker role was another of his amazing portrayals in his brief line of screen personai, God bless him!

My superhero fetish came first from Superman....the George Reeves version. When you're 5 and under, these people are real though I didn't see it in it's original run. It doesn't matter about wrinkles in the costumes or the over-use of "Jeepers!" or "Biff! Bam! Pow!" What matters is these are real people, who exist and they matter because simply because they're real...forget the goody-good lessons because nothing else matters.

I was so young when I watched Superman, it was an abstract thing. I don't remember dialogue, I just remember seeing an image of a man who seemed to be in charge whenever he was on screen; in my mind there was no music or sound effects, maybe just the wind sound for flying and the drum roll within the opening theme. They say that children do not begin to understand abstract concepts until after the age of 6 or 7. Maybe that has changed, I don't know.

Batman, I did see originally. I was 5, and I hate to date myself. I think I got that it was a TV show, but it still seemed real enough, after all they were real people, not cartoons.

Though it's true for most superheros, I'll focus on Batman for now. I'd say he was cool because he seemed impervious to pain, he was logical, smart, he cared about the people around him, especially for the well-being of Robin who occasionally got into a tight spot. Batman would have to make decisions about sacrifice and he seemed to always say "take me instead." Wow. What a sacrifice. Robin had his whole life ahead of him, even though Batman was only in his mid 30s. Gee....the 30s must have been ancient back then.

My hero worship must have developed largely due my alcoholic father. Yet, I could clearly see the differences of men on TV and my dad. My father wasn't all bad and he had some good things about him. But you never get in the way of what your children love, or you'll make an enemy for life. Of course there are things to discern for them, but in this case we are talking about harmless hero worship, so sorry dad, you blew it on this one.

Dad probably also was none too thrilled about the capes, masks or complete disinterest in sports of any kind. I can look back and see why he would question my staring at the baseball mitt and bat, the football. I gave it a try, but I preferred my colored pencils, crayons and markers to any of that. He could at last understand the "artistic side" since he was an oil painter. Maybe that is what scared him the most. "Oh my God, my son is (gulp) an artist!" And we all know about those artsy types.

My love for superheroes also helped develop my love for drawing them. Everything I drew showed a level of interest in the subject, whether it was houses, architecture, space ships, flying saucers, race cars, or cartoon characters.

As much as I loved my Batman, the biggest letdown on Batman was adding Batgirl. This didn't make sense to me because Batman & Robin handled everything quite well. Why did they need a "Batgirl" to help them out now? What a rip-off. Now I look back and see, "oh it was the ratings." Times have changed and so have I. Now I love the inclusion of women and they constantly show me a thing or two about heroism, oftentimes more than men, but I don't wanna seem the least bit sexist. I'm not. There's plenty of room for everybody, period. The teamwork is what really matters the most. I'll save another post for Lynda Carter.

I digress.

Dad had a knack of continually showing off his lack of compassion for his children and their world. He was a stern believer in "Children should be seen and not heard." and showing off the family dog tricks saying things like "I wish I could get the kids to behave as well as the dog does." Umm....we heard ya, Pop.

Back to the drawing board. I'm not bitter, but I was for a long time. Now I look back and know I grew as an artist because I dove head first into fantasy land because of Dad. He never understood how much Batman really meant to me as a child or how much I was saved from lingering depression later in life. Pop had his good side too. Thankfully, he loved Halloween and Christmas, a couple cartoon shows like the Road Runner and the Pink Panther and an occasional, if rare visit to a local amusement park. he also had big dreams and big ideas. These are things I inherited from him and cherish the most. See -- he wasn't bad, he was just drawn that way.

Then again he might have enjoyed life better if he would have traded his Jim Beam and cigarettes for a cape and mask. Come to think of it, he was not lacking in masks.

Ironically, Pop died the exact same day as Frank Gorshin who played the Riddler, May 17 2005.

I can only imagine what a meeting that may have been.

Riddle me this:
There are three men in a boat with four cigarettes and no matches.
How do they manage to smoke?

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