My grandfather was a giant if he was five feet. He was the greatest man I knew, and shaped the way I viewed the world and my self so very profoundly. Growing up, my father pretty much walked away from our family. This left my grandfather as the sold male role-model for what were very much my hardest years.
He was an old school Italian man, right off the boat before WWII. He worked hard to provide for his family, and lived by a set of very “old world” social rules. During WWII he was enlisted as MP, but instead of going overseas he was given the option to stay home and instead work MP duties in the city of Buffalo. He did this for the duration of the war. He was blessed by the birth of four daughters. While he loved my mother and aunts dearly, he still always longed for a son. I was the first male in the family born in the United States, and my grandfather treated me as if I was his son rather than grandson.
He was there when I learned to walk and when I learned to talk. He taught me how to read, but did so in a very different manner than most folks. You see, my grandfather loved Comic Books. So, starting when I was very young, my grandfather would take me weekly to the local news stand and we would buy that weeks new comic releases. He would read them to me and used them to get me interested in reading. While most kids were reading The Poky Little Puppy, I was on a steady diet of Spider-Man doing the right thing and Batman out smarting his enemies. Some kids had Clifford the Big Red Dog, I had Kirby Dots. This is important because this defined my personality greatly, and gave me a bit of a hero complex.
My moral code was provided by the idealized man as presented by Stan Lee and Frank Miller, tempered by the wisdom of my grandfather. Think before you fight. If you have to fight, fight smart. Defend those weaker than yourself. Always help others if you can. Never give up, never accept defeat. There is always a way out, even when the situation seems impossible. Combine this with the old Italian ethics of family value, chivalry and faith and you’ll start to get a good idea of my inner thought process.
This is important for my next little bit here. Since super hero movies have started to become popular, each one I go see is almost like reliving a memory with my grandfather. Every time I go through my weekly pull from the comic shop it’s like I can feel him there with me. I know it sounds hokey and sappy, but I’ve been wondering lately what he would think of these modern comics and these modern movies. I wonder if he would still he could still use them to help teach a young child right from wrong and encourage them to read these fantastic tales of heroism. To be honest I’m not sure. I watched the travesty that has become the X-men movie line, and the comics are faring no better in my book. Spider-man jumped the shark in the third movie and is getting a reboot, and the comics have been hit and miss for me most days.
That’s not to say that everything is crap these days. I teared up reading the last Ultimate Spiderman and approved of how it ended. Captain America the movie was well done and held to the spirit of the comics very well, and Ironman might as well have been conceptualized if only for Robert Downey JR. to play the role. Batman: Arkham Asylum and Arkham City are proving to be amazing spiritual successors to the original stories. There are good things there, but I wonder what he would think of them. I know he’d call the Green Lantern movie crap, I can literally hear his voice asking “what the hell is this?!”. I feel I’ve become highly critical of today’s “super heroes” as a direct result of how I was raised.
I picked up the trade paperback for Captain America: Man out of Time and just realized how strongly the old stories hold up, even in today’s climate. I remembered reading the original story with my gramps back in the day, and even with some minor tweaks it was quite fantastic. I wonder what story or origin they’ll have to change next to make it more “hip” or “current” and pray that none of my favorites get hit.
In the end, they just don’t make heroes like they used to.