I've been thinking a lot lately about my Hypothetical Future Children. I've wanted to be a dad longer than I've wanted to be anything else, and my hopes for these possibabies (can that be a word?) meets with my obsession for pop culture-related lists, the most important of which:
PROPER AGE OF CHILDREN TO BE INTRODUCED TO SPECIFIC SUPERHEROES
FOUR YEARS OLD: Superman's obviously first. He's easy to explain, he can pretty much do anything (laser eyes? sure! spin the world around backwards for time travel? good idea!), and his morality is as basic a one as could be. Kitten in a tree. What does Superman do? Get it down. Building's on fire. What does Superman do? Scan it for life, zip through, save all of the people. Zod's trying to enslave the human race. What does Superman do? Stop him. He's got simple problems that translate well to small children.
LESSONS: Don't let Lois see who you are (keep a fun secret). Make your deadline on that article for Perry (do your homework). Keep Jimmy Olson from falling into that time machine and get slaughtered by pirates (look out for your friends). Stop Darkseid from finding the anti-life equation and destroying all of existence (uh, be against genocide).
These are basic concepts of decency easily understood by anyone. He's the Boy Scout. Truth, Justice, and the American Way, such as it is. Superman fights evil. Check.
SEVEN YEARS OLD: Give the kids Batman. Once the kids can understand what money actually is, they'll maybe understand what it's like to have a nigh-infinite amount of it. But instead of spending all of his money on jelly beans and dinosaur toys—well, not all of his money, anyway—he uses it to try and help other people.
Batman doesn't really get cats out of trees of go up against slum lords the way that Superman does. He's no boy scout; the police are after him, many of Gotham's citizens misunderstand or mistakenly fear him, and he weaponizes fear in a way that a very young child can't really understand. A seven-year-old is getting there, though, so give him/her some moral ambiguity and see how they chew it over.
LESSONS: Train Robin to be strong and to fight crime (be a good older sibling/friend to younger kids at school). Prevent what happened to you from happening to others (do the right thing, even if it hurts). Criminals are a superstitious, cowardly lot (be brave, be rational, and be courageous in the face of evil).
Batman fights, but he thinks first. Use your brain. Check.
TEN YEARS OLD: X-Men sounds about right after a decade. The kids have probably been disappointed enough by real people that they recognize flaws even in those they love and respect—especially me, odds are—and so it's good to give them something a little more realistic. And instead of throwing them into the deep end with some psychotic vigilante who uses guns (ugh) or pure violence as an expression of their psychosis, give them a family. There are so many X-Men that it's tough to find a specific one, but the Wolverine/Cyclops dichotomy is a good one (or the Emma Frost/Jean Grey one, since girls need role models, too).
School is scary when you start realizing just how many people there are. Everyone's different, and this is where you start breaking off into social circles: there's the sportos, the motorheads, geeks, sluts, bloods, wastoids, dweebies, dickheads, etc., and it's tough to know to whom you belong. Forging an identity is so very hard, and this is about the age when the desires arises. So here, kid: have a whole bunch of templates and adjust accordingly.
You could be Wolverine (quiet albeit aggressive loner), Cyclops (strong and silent leader), Storm (noble embodiment of tradition), Angel (haunted rich kid made good), Nightcrawler (physical outcast loved for his eccentricities), Rogue (tragically distant but bursting with love), etc. etc. etc. etc. etc. There are literally dozens of possible leads to take here, and most of them are, to whatever extent, good role models.
LESSONS: Protect those who fear and misunderstand you (give people the benefit of the doubt and love them anyway). Stick with the oppressed, who are more powerful than you can imagine (find friends among the weak, and you'll surely be surrounded by the strong). Never judge or look down upon people for simply being different from you (never judge or look down upon people for simply being different from you).
And this is sorta where it gets interesting, because the lessons are there on the surface. Superman's all allegorical and surface level do-goodery, and Batman, while slightly less allegorical, is still a rich white kid with unlimited resources.
Even worse: which Superman? The ultrapopulist social progressive golem of the original Jerry Siegel/Joe Shuster era? What about the whimsical mad scientist of the Curt Swan days? The corn-fed midwestern savior of John Byrne's Man of Steel relaunch? What about Roger Stern's doomed martyr of the early/mid-90s?
Which Batman? Bob Kane and Bill Finger's gun-toting pulp hero? Or Julie Schwartz's madcap detective? Denny O'Neil and Neal Adams' gritty urban totem? What about Frank Miller's borderline-sociopathic arbiter of justice? Or Chuck Dixon's right-wing law-and-order enforcer? Maybe Grant Morrison's embodiment of the peak of secular humanism?
Even from there, which X-Men team? The terrified original students of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby? What about Chris Claremont and John Byrne's family of marginalized freaks? Or Fabian Nicieza and Rob Liefeld's extremist/survivalist paramilitary group? And there are sub-lineups from there: should X-Factor's government-instigated reunion of the original X-Men be included? What about the rebranding of X-Force as celebrity debutantes?
There's just too much. This is why the comic book industry is collapsing: while you have an X-Men movie that makes people think "Okay, there's Wolverine, there's Patrick Stewart in the wheelchair, and then some stuff with Halle Berry," the comics confuse it by adding decades of various interpretations, focuses, primary metaphors, and layers of allegory picked and chosen by various creators of different literary and political stripes, making it hard to nail down a definitive version of any of them.
But then there's Spider-Man. And I'll have more about him tomorrow.