Back in December, my brother-in-law gave my son a Christmas gift: a Justice League DVD. Almost instantaneously, it was lost in a massive pile of holiday debris: brobdingnagian plush polar bears, princess dresses, Lincoln Logs, multi-billion piece Lego sets, blahblahblah… plus, not surprisingly, a host of other videos. From the start, my kids had little interest, and occasional attempts at adding it to the 5-disc rotation was met with disinterest, booing and occasional violence from the under-10 audience.
Flash forward four months, and my kids are head-over-heels with the arrival of Justice League Unlimited, Season One on DVD. Each day, every day, I hear three squeaky little voices pleading, begging, screaming in blind naked (literally and figuratively) desire for more up-close-and-personal contact with lycra-clad superfolk.
Being the awesomest dad in the greater Boston area, I acquiesce more often than not… and in the process, I’ve discovered that they’ve absorbed some important lessons from the good fake people at the Justice League.
Awesomeness can be boring. Granted, there have been a couple of episodes where Superman has been given a bit more depth and gravity (seriously… this is actually quite a well-written and developed cartoon series), but by and large while the little’uns appreciate his heroism, admire his strength, know he’s capable of doing anything and saving everyone… they’re also kinda bored by him. The lesson: flaws matter.
It’s kind of amazing how – even at the tender ages of six and four and four – my kids can instantly recognize the cool factor in Batman. He’s dark, he’s tormented, he’s too-serious… which makes the brief moments where he’s deflated or shows some glimpse of humor that much more engaging. They intuitively grasp that while Superman’s perfection is what makes him super, Batman’s humanity makes him fascinating. Plus, they’re still under the impression that he can fly because 1) bats can fly; and 2) he has a cape. The lesson: antiheroes rock.
In this show, The Flash is the go-to comic relief dude. He’s lightning-fast, but his brain generally seems to move at half-speed — leading to frequent occasions where his ego and self-confidence collapse beneath the crushing weight of reality (see: his failed attempts at charming superbabes). He’s kind of the Johnny Drama of the Justice League, and just as in Entourage… that’s worth its weight in gold. The lesson: humor is redeeming.
Green Lantern is presented here as a taciturn, shaven-headed black guy very much in the vein of Samuel L. Jackson’s Shaft. With, you know, a magic ring that gives him super badass powers. He can fly, he can magically make green… anything, really, with his ring, and he seems extremely pissed off almost all the time. My kids respect this immensely. The lesson: brooding, powerful loners have a powerful allure.
My twin daughters love Hawkgirl because she’s just as badass tough as any of the guy superheroes, plus her wings look cool. My son loves Hawkgirl because… well, actually, I’m not sure, but he seems to be under the impression that her name is Hotgirl — which isn’t too far from the truth. The lesson: everyone loves a hotgirl… I mean, a Hawkgirl.
Everything I wrote about Superman? Applies equally well to Wonder Woman… or did, until they saw an episode recently where she went totally batshit vengeance crazy and killed a bad guy. I think it was actually a robot or something, which makes it okay and not completely morally abhorrent, but it was a shocking enough wake-up call that my girls suddenly perked to life and started paying real attention to Wonder Woman, which was a first. What do I make of this? I’m not entirely sure, but… The lesson: someday, my girls are gonna kick everyone’s ass.
He doesn’t have any super powers. What he’s got is a bow, a lot of trick arrows (that explode, or burst into walls of glue, or just pin things to other things in traditional arrow fashion), the ability to hold his own in any fight… and a real way with the ladies. He is the charming, womanizing rogue of Justice League, and my girls find him a lot of fun. This, obviously, disturbs me profoundly as he’s the prototype for every bad boy who’s going to drive them crazy and break their hearts starting in another ten years or so. What disturbs me even more is the fact that I find myself kind of liking him a little bit. The lesson: women are drawn to the bad boy. Always.
He’s actually a peripheral character in this show, which disturbs me because I remember pretty clearly him being a charter member of the Super Friends… but this isn’t the Aquaman we remember from Super Friends. This is a gnarly underwater warrior-king with serious facial hair, long, flowing blond locks that you imagine look great to all the mer-babes underwater, and some kind of really fucked-up looking harpoon thing instead of a left hand. How does he get that harpoon thing instead of a left hand? In one of the episodes (it might’ve been on the original gift DVD… I’m not sure) some bad guy chains him to the side of an underwater cliff and leaves him and his infant son to die in some geological disaster. Aquaman gets one hand free in time, but the other one is stuck… and he realizes that both he and his son are about to die a horrible death… and then he looks at his hand, and we realize: he’s going to pull an Aron Ralston in order to save his son.
Blew. My. Kids’. Minds. The lesson: love demands sacrifice.