Growing Up

Being one of the oldest continuing storytelling mediums, comic book superheroes are in a weird place. Once, old fans cycled out as new fans cycled in. There was an assumption, no longer true, that most comic book readers had a five year attention span toward the medium, and that this was natural and logical. The medium had a tendency toward repetition. Some smaller publishers even managed to survive off of a very small catalogue of content, simply reprinting the same cycle of old stuff as newer audiences came on board.

That’s changed significantly, and not just in comics. There was a time when being obsessed over a 20 year old cartoon was seen as strange. No longer. With the evolution of Fans (casual) to Fandom (obsessive), there’s a constant struggle between the expectations of the old fans versus the new fans. This is a new phenomenon, and it isn’t always pretty.

When I was growing up, this didn’t really exist. Or maybe it did, and I just didn’t encounter it. All I know is that when I grew up reading comic books, there was nobody there to tell me I was doing it wrong. I didn’t pick titles because of some cultural push but because they interested me. At that point, there was plenty of continuity to deal with, plenty of potential fandom lockout, but nobody judged me for my choices. Or if they did, they didn’t feel comfortable vocalizing it.

It’s strange to realize there are forty-year-old men who are upset that they can’t relate to Spider-Man because he’s aimed squarely at a younger audience. It’d be like wanting the Teletubbies to grow up. Spidey was created with a specific audience in mind, and at some point, you were expected to age out of that audience. That doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy Spidey’s adventures still, but our perspectives as aged adults will see teen Spidey differently than when we were teens ourselves. And that’s how it should be. It’s not that I find Spidey shallow or vapid. It’s just that a lot of the stuff he’s dealing with isn’t completely relatable to me now. Or honestly, even when I was a teen.

There’s something unsettling to me watching adults expect their toys to grow up with them. Maybe it’s because I’ve never bought into the “Darkness” equals “Maturity” assumption to begin with, but I’ve never been interested in watching Transformers as a clumsy war movie or Batman’s rogues gallery changed into a bunch of necrophiliac rapist serial killers in order to justify my like of them.

“See? The Joker killed a bunch of kids! This isn’t for babies!”

At the end of the day, no matter how seriously fandom wants to treat Batman, he’s a man who dresses like a bat and punches out thematic criminals in a setting that only makes sense in its own pocket reality.

Spider-Man was a character created for nerdy teenagers to relate to.

Transformers are a race of robots from space who change into dinosaurs and cars because dinosaurs and cars are fun.

The thing is . . . and nobody likes hearing this, but we’re all getting older. At some point, you’ve gotta outgrow these ideas. Not necessarily stop enjoying them. I still enjoy many of these things, but I also don’t expect them to appeal to me in the same way they once did. And this is me we’re talking about: A guy whose last novel featured a pulpy heroine who fights her fairy godmother, aliens, and one deadly ninja.

As I alluded to in my Homecoming post, a big reason I think the movie works is because it’s an actual, honest-to-Might Robot King update of the core character, and the core character of Peter Parker has always been designed for young people to relate to. Funnily enough, I found a lot to relate to because, like Peter Parker, I’m struggling to figure out where I belong, career-wise, and how to make the most of my particular talents. But that doesn’t mean it was intentional. It just means that a lot of themes are universal in broad enough strokes.

So it’s hard for me to be sympathetic to a 30 year old who feels left out because Spider-Man and his cast of characters is not intended for 30 year old men (and let’s face it. It’s almost always men here) to relate to. And there’s something especially unsettling about 40 year old men running onto the internet to complain that they don’t find Peter Parker’s teen love interest hot enough to have sex with, but that’s a whole other can of worms to deal with.

Keelah Se’lai

Fighting the good fight, Writing the good write,

LEE

 

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