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How On Krypton Did I Get Here? Part Two: Invisible Hands

By The Comic Book Pusher

Sometimes, the people around us can have a powerful impact on how our lives unfold. Several members of my family had a direct influence on my life as a comic book pusher, mostly without realizing the path their actions were steering me down.
   Certainly my mother had the earliest influence on what would eventually become my comic book pushing ways, however inadvertently. I have no doubt that if she could see how things would eventually turn out, she would go back, turn off that television and instead sit me down with a copy of the Holy Bible or The Art of War.
   It's true. My mother would have preferred I become a priest, or perhaps a military general. I guess it depended on her mood that day, or, more likely, my own behavior that day. Sometimes when I look back at my childhood, I think that just maybe she wanted me to be both. (Perhaps a holy warrior? Sounds like a comic book I've read at sometime or other!)
   For instance, when I would do something especially good she would tell me, "You're going to be a priest someday." (Good lord! No pressure there, Mom!) Then the next day she would say, "You're going to be a great general some day." (I don't know what behaviors may have brought that kind of praise, but she told me that on a regular basis. Maybe it was because I used to play with my G.I. Joe dolls -- ah, that is -- action figures so much. I'm not talking about those little eraser-size things that pass for G.I. Joes today. Oh no! I mean the foot-tall Joes that could be posed in any number of war-action-ready stances! Some even equipped with life-like facial hair!)
   The thing is, my mother instilled in me a great deal of self confidence. Nearly every day when I was a kid, if I wasn't in some sort of trouble or other, she would say, "You're going to be great when you grow up." Her words made me feel good. In fact, they made me feel great. Really great. Like I could do anything. Be anything. Maybe be as great as Superman. Without ever realizing it, she was making me a bigger and bigger fan of the Big Blue Boy Scout.
   There were others who would have their own influences in forming my early love for comic books.
   I had an uncle named Clarence who everyone called "Sarge". He was one of my father's brothers. (My father had eight brothers, all older than himself.) Sarge lived in New York City, but he came to Detroit to visit us for a couple of days once when I was a kid back in the early 1960s. Sarge, being a big New York Mets fan, promised my brother and me that, if we would chant "Lets Go Mets!" at my father (a Detroit Tigers fan), he would send us Superman costumes when he got back home.
   Superman costumes! It may well be that if my uncle had suggested I burn down our home in exchange for such a gift I would have rushed to find the matches.
   That night, my brother and I proceeded to drive my father crazy with the "Let's Go Mets!" chant, much to the delight of my uncle. True to his word, a few weeks later we received Superman costumes in the mail with a note from Sarge that read, "Let's go Mets!". Needless to say, Sarge quickly became my favorite uncle. With all the excitement of a Christmas morning (although it was either early spring or late Fall as I remember, because all the leaves were off the trees), we donned our heroic apparel and became Superman and Superboy!
   Looking at myself in the mirror, I could feel the power surging through my limbs! I could actually feel my muscles growing! I could hear my mother from all the way downstairs! Was my super hearing already kicking in?
   Uh, no.
   "That costume does NOT give you the power to fly, Duane!" she shouted at me all the way from the kitchen. My little brother knew that any behavioral instruction given to me from Mom also applied to him, but she always addressed me directly on these things. I, being the elder brother, was held ultimately responsible for any trouble we would get into when we were together. "Now get down here and get outside and play. And be nice to your little brother. He's the baby of the family!"
   Perhaps the super hearing would kick in later. For now, I was drawn back into sobering reality. It was one thing to own a Superman costume and wear it in the house as I leaped from room to room with my arms stretched out before me. It was quite another to go out into the neighborhood dressed like that. After all, I was six years old now. It seemed undignified. Embarrassing. But a child's ability to overcome the limitations of reality can be remarkable. Couldn't it be at least slightly possible that this costume would give me super strength? Super speed? Could donning this suite make me be like Superman?
   With a great deal of apprehension, and with my "super-baby-of-the-family" brother at my side, I trotted out the door. The two of us "flew" through the yards and ally ways all afternoon playing Superman and Superboy. The older neighborhood kids gawked and laughed. The mom's smiled and waved because they thought we were the "cutest things". There we were, a chubby little redheaded Superman and a skinny little blond Superboy running up and down the sidewalks in utter Kryptonian abandonment. It was all over too soon as twilight set in and it was time to go back in for the night. As I stripped off the Superman costume and got ready for dinner, I realized something that would influence my behaviors for the rest of my life.
   I realized I would never be Superman. I would never be faster than a speeding bullet. I would not be able to bend steel in my bare hands. No fire would spring from my eyes in the form of heat vision. I would never leap tall buildings in a single bound, much less be able to fly. But then, something clicked inside my six-year-old mind, and from that sorrowful realization of my own mortality came a whole new way of thinking about myself.
   I decided that even though I would never be Superman, I could still be like Superman. I would never have super strength, but I could be strong in many ways. I could never have super speed, but I could use my mind to become something greater than the average mortal man. I could never fly, but I could believe in myself, be confident in what I could accomplish and use that belief to lift my spirit and let it soar. I could still live a life of truth and justice. I went downstairs to dinner that night with a whole new outlook on life.
   I did my best to keep those ideals as I grew older, but at times the world can test the best of us mere humans, even those influenced by the standards of the mightiest superheroes. Life's realities just don't always jibe with Superman's ideals.
   As I grew up through the sixties and early seventies, I became more aware of the changing societal attitudes and dramatic social events that were swirling around me. As a result, by the ripe old age of fourteen, comic books began to seem like things of childhood that I thought maybe, just maybe, I should try to put behind me. Even as I struggled with the idea that comics were really just for kids, reality was about to take a staggering toll on my enthusiasm for comics. It was a toll that would turn me away from comic books almost entirely for well over a decade.
   Having made those points about social change and events beginning to influence my attitude toward comic books, it's time for a confession: It was not any of the great social issues of the day (equal rights, the Vietnam War, concerns about the environment) that caused me to start growing up and leaving behind the "things of youth".  What would yank me away from my beloved comic books was . . . my mother.
   Yes, yes. I know what you're thinking:
   "Again with his mother! This guy has a mommy complex!"
   But, no, you would be wrong in thinking that. Most every child like me growing up in America during the 1960s was influenced dramatically by the decisions their mothers and fathers made for them. Most wives were still stay-at-home moms raising three or four kids. (Our family of eight was well above average, but not uncommon in those days.) Like most children, I did not get a voice in matters of such great importance as what was kept and what was left behind when the parents decided it was time for a move. For me, that move was from Michigan to Florida when I was fourteen years old. My mother always told us that she wanted to move to Florida someday, and now it was actually happening.
   Moving day was particularly memorable for me.
   "What's that?" my mother asked as she watched me dragging a large box -- too large and overburdened with its content for me to actually carry -- down the driveway toward the car. It was a tattered and well-used cardboard box that at one time had housed an over-sized appliance of some sort. It was large enough to hold every last issue of my precious comic book treasure, which was comprised of some three hundred awe-inspiring comics.
   "My comic books," I said in a pleading tone and with some tiny hope still in my heart. But even as the words were leaving my lips I could feel the axe falling. From the stern look on her face I knew what was coming.
   She shook her head. "They're not going to Florida."
   Not going? I heard the words, but I did not want to believe them. I was devastated. I knew that no amount of begging and pleading was going to get her to agree to let me bring them with us. After all, my dad wasn't bringing his beloved pool table. There was no way I was going to get to bring my comic books. But I had to try.
   "But they're my comics!" I whined. It was a feeble attempt, lacking in any real enthusiasm, but I already knew I was beaten.
   "You can't bring them to Florida," she said emphatically.
   "Well, what am I supposed to do with them?" I whined again.
   "Throw them away," she said carelessly.
   "What!" I said, stunned by the very idea.
   "Then give them to Ronny," she suggested as she turned back inside, repeating over her shoulder for emphasis, "because you can't take them to Florida."
   There it was. My life of reading and re-reading and re-re-reading the adventures of my favorite characters and heroes was about to be left behind; probably lost forever! No more epic stories in which Clark Kent's secret identity was nearly revealed by Lois Lane! No more gamma ray infused adventures with the incredible Bruce Banner! No more marveling at Wonder Woman fighting crime in her underwear!
   I stood peering down at my cardboard treasure chest of fantastic wonders for a brief moment before resigning myself to the inevitability of the situation. I dragged the box down the sidewalk to Ronny's house; tiny cardboard shavings trailing behind me. It was, perhaps, the longest thirty yards I would ever walk. There was, however, one bright spot in it all. At least my best friend would be able to enjoy my comics while I lived out my life in exile in the far off, mysterious land of Florida, which, as far as I knew, was entirely devoid of comic books.
   As it turned out, comic books could and would be found in Florida, but it didn't really matter by then. Like ocean foam caught in a riptide, my interests would quickly begin drifting toward new horizons as I adjusted to life on the beaches Florida.
   We are not always privy to the events taking place around us that have an impact on our lives. That is doubly true for children. On that fateful moving day, yet another member of my family was about to play a part in my comic book pushing life that would not reveal itself for another ten years, but it would impact my life in a very dramatic way.

Next time in "Confessions":
How On Krypton Did I Get Here? Part Three: Look! Up in sky! It's a bird! It's a plane! It's . . . Spider-Man?

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Anonymous said…
Keep posting stuff like this i really like it

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