I never once read a comic book as a kid. All I did was play sports, talk to girls and fit in. It was a happy, easy path.
I’ve got sons of my own now. Three. And they’re all different. The path has not always been happy. And it’s never been easy.
My oldest is a teenager now. He’s a remarkable kid. But he sees the world very differently than I do. Or than anyone does, as best as I can tell. He can see details of designs and structures the way others can’t. And he never forgets them. He’ll walk past something lying on the sidewalk, pick it up, put it in his pocket and then build something amazing around it with junk lying around the house. He can fold a piece of paper into something that looks like a robot, or a spaceship or a basilosaurus like he were following unwritten directions.
He doesn’t like small talk. He’s fascinated by what he can see and make. And he wants to ask you what you think about it. And why you think that about it. And what if it were different. He talks like a 30 year old.
He’s amazing. And everything I’ve never been. And like most unique souls, he doesn’t really fit in too easily.
As a father I was an early failure. I didn’t understand why he didn’t just follow the path. Why he couldn’t just do what everyone else did. I tried the tools I knew. Tough love. High expectations…anger. None of it worked. It just upset him. Of the many regrets I have in this world, my early approaches to parenting my boy are perhaps my biggest. He was just so different from me. And I didn’t know how to connect with him.
One day, on a whim, I took him to a comic book store. And things changed a bit for us.
It’s hard to explain, but if you’ve got a kid like mine, a little quirky, awkward, marching to a different drum, one who sees the world at a cellular level, than this may make sense to you.
There’s something about comic books, specifically Marvel comic books, that made me see the world the way my son did. The exaggerated graphics and the detailed back stories and sweeping struggle of good and evil brought us to the same spot from entirely different planes. Everything has a place in the Marvel Universe. Every character has a power, but a power with limits. And the limits are really the story. Everyone’s flaws, everyone’s strengths, everyone’s scars and triumphs feed into the grand struggle in a connected universe.
Every good guy is good for a reason. Every villain has a reason for their villainy.
And somehow it all maintains canonical integrity through spectacular, cataclysmic, dimensional fracturing adventures.
It’s a designed universe. Top to bottom.
Where I finally met my son, the one I couldn’t access where he was, was when I started letting him explain the detailed expanse of the Marvel Universe to me. From a third grader who couldn’t find anything vivid or detailed or spectacular enough to grab onto in the world around him, to someone who explained to me last week how the truly dangerous villains in the world, the ones you really need to watch out for, are the ones who believe the evil that they do, is actually right. The ones who believe that the world will be better if they get to do the evil they must.
Anarchists and despots are easy work. Misguided zealots, well they’re a problem of a different sort.
Not bad for an 8th grade school drop off discussion.
Stan Lee died yesterday. He created or co-created Spiderman, The Incredible Hulk, Doctor Strange, The Fantastic Four, Daredevil, The BlackPanther, The X-Men, Iron Man, Ant Man and Thor.
More importantly, he created a dialogue between my son and I where there wasn’t one before. And a dialogue between millions of misfits everywhere who found each other on common ground through Stan Lee’s creations.
RIP Stan Lee. Thanks for giving me a place to play with my boy when nothing else would ever do.