Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Classroom and Comics vs. the Red Pen of Time

Teachers and superheroes have plenty in common. Their target audience is children, they're both generally altruistic, and, as much as they'd like to work alone, they both usually suffer from the obligations of unions. Just try to convince me Batman isn't paying his dues when he's relegated to Justice League monitor duty. Seriously, teachers and superheroes also share the privilege of having taught me the transcendent, subjective nature of time, a realization I've had recently as the summer of '09 draws ever closer. Allow me to explain.

A few days ago, I heard a teacher describe June as "the end of the year." She was quick to clarify, "Oh, I'm sorry, but I think of a year as September through June -- a school year. I've thought that way since I was five, I guess . . ." Since I've worked with children in an after school program since college graduation, I find myself conditioned to this mentality, too. Whereas most folks make new year's resolutions in January, the beginning of summertime often brings the most change to my life, personally and professionally. It's a generally holiday-free purgatory that only spotlights, under a blistering heat to boot, the importance a school year's structure provides children, which stays with us as adults whether we abide by the teachers' calendar or not. Alas, for most grown-ups, how much does an average work day differ from getting up and going to school as kids, really?

Superheroes are similarly subject to this transcendence of time, though not necessary through the framework of time itself. Consider characters like Superman, Batman, Spider-man, or the Hulk, who have entertained readers for decades. How many different writers and artists have consequentially interpreted or directed the hero differently, developing the character in a way that clearly defines their "era" apart from the others? Peter David's run on The Incredible Hulk taught me this lesson most clearly, as he transformed the gray goliath from a desert-rampaging behemoth to a Las Vegas bouncer, then from the fragmented personality of a tormented child to the combination of these personas that amounted to Bruce Banner's brain in the green Hulk's body. These phases were so clearly defined with their respective supporting casts that I often think of my own life this way, with a rotating roster of acquaintances, so goes the way of life.

A coworker recently emphasized this point by musing about his ever-changing circle of friends. "I had high school friends, then I had college friends, now I have work friends. I don't see the high school and college friends anymore; they don't fit in my life right now." Indeed -- Superman has his Smallville friends, and his Metropolis friends, and unless it's in the context of an hour-long CW drama targeting emo 'tweens, these cliques rarely meet. At one time (my favorite of the Batman eras), the "Batman family" included Robin, Nightwing, Alfred, Leslie Thompkins, Harold the techno-savant, and Ace the Bat-hound. Then came that darn cataclysmic earthquake in Gotham City . . .

There's the rub. For every impression made by a comic book creative team, another comes along to redirect the hero in their own image, with their own agenda -- just as, every September, a teacher engages a new set of students and has the challenge of establishing a life-altering impression all their own, on top of whatever has come before. The parallel is actually quite striking, and brings my argument full circle.

What's the point? Is this train of thought merely more evidence of my inner child's sovereignty in my life? Perhaps -- but it also toughens the kid, teaching him the lesson of adaptability. If the teachers I've so admired in life can essentially move on every nine months -- if even the heroes that can boast the stability of decades' of popularity can experience "eras" in their own right -- so too should everyone. Ah, there's the difference: teachers, and my peers in after school programs, have chosen this crazy, out-of-synch life. Superheroes are merely the whim of fictional and marketing trends and, for all their universal appeal, cannot help but fall victim to the red pen of time. That both teachers and superheroes cater to children is no coincidence, then, because it's in those formative that one makes the decision: Will I perceive the transcendent, subjective nature of time as an enemy, or the lesson always worth learning?

1 comment:

egieling said...

Although life plays out in the season of time... I believe that there is an inevatablity to try and tie all seasons together. Teachers use past lessons to teach future kids. With the desire to see things through... a teacher will allow certain students to latch on. Thus the teacher goes to high school sports games, events, or graduation. Where Smallville and Metropolis never colide on the pages of a comic book you can see the struggle of dual lives played out in Supermans role in each city. He desires the farm and quitness and misses his parents Lana but longs to fullfill his destiny!

We all try to grasp at things past! We all try and keep in touch with friends from HS or College and those of us lucky enough to have work friends. I believe that it is selfish tendancies that make us keep those things seperate! I had my life in HS then moved to College... why can't I have both sets of friends together... Is it a fear that those two groups will like each other more then they like me. They will find out that I am fraud and I loose both groups!

I might have missed the point all together by trying to stay as deep and metaphoric as you... but it sure was fun writing all that... And don't even get me started on Batman and No Man's land and the lessons learned of going it alone!!