Manchild: Captain, My Captain

Posted by June 6, 2009 Comment

dorkAge: 42. Height 6 foot. Weight: 113kg. BMI: Who knows. But I pump a lot of iron and run up and down a lot of hills here in MT, USA.

I was reading an interview with Hugh Jackman about his workout regimen to get in shape for playing Wolverine. He talked about what he ate, how often he worked out, etc. The guy was obviously very dedicated to shape his body the way he did, and I have a lot of respect for that. One comment that struck home with me is something he said about when his will or strength to complete an exercise started to flag; he would put himself in character and decide what Wolverine would do — invariably he would growl through those last few reps, and then some.

Now Wolverine isn’t the guy that has been my point of reference over the years — I lean more toward Batman and, ultimately, Captain America. I chuckled when I read the Wolverine workout anecdote, because I often use Cap’s voice in my mind urging me on to give that last little bit of effort when I feel like there is nothing in the tank, and it usually works (as long as I’m listening, that is). The first 10K I ran a couple years ago Cap was at my back for the better part of the last 15% of the distance, urging me on like a drill sergeant to keep putting one foot down after the other.

I’d be lying if I said I don’t take it farther than that; these heroic archetypes are deep in me, and I try to live up to the ideals exemplified by many of my favorite characters — whether they are Steve Rogers, the son of Jor-El, or even a certain barbarian from Cimmeria. I was introduced to these characters and stories at a young age, and they have stayed with me my entire life — even during periods when I was not reading the stories in the printed form. Make decisions and stand by them. Lead. Don’t give up.

dorksSo what is it about this stuff that I love so much? Being a fan of comics and pulp fiction and all that really doesn’t land a guy cheerleaders during his formative years. As an adult, it’s even worse; especially when you consider that for all the good stuff, a lot of it is really freakin’ horrible. Yet, I persevere. And my wife, bless her, who was not at all interested in any of it has since gone from shaking her head to even reading some of it.

I’m really not that much of a collector. I don’t have boxes and boxes of action figures on display, even though I think a lot of them are really cool. I don’t even have that many graphic novels or comics anymore; just a shelf in my closet and a stack of a couple long boxes. I try and manage them, because I know in a couple years my storage capacity will be way down — thought I find myself lately getting rid of other things to make room for the trades I intend to get.

In many ways it’s nostalgia; a lot of it goes back to some of my fondest memories from my childhood. I’m not sure where my love of comics came from, I just remember them always being there. My dad would pick them up for me. I was always reading Batman, and Captain America, and used to have some vintage Spiderman stuff that is worth a lot of money now. As a kid, I had action figures too that I played with endlessly. I started out with “Cowboys and Indians” stuff, like the old Johnny West and General Custer action figures; Geronimo, The Lone Ranger and Tonto, plus all their gear and plastic horses and stuff (not to mention the little plastic ones too). I spent a lot of time by myself honing my imagination via made-up battles and adventures these guys would undertake. And GI Joe, don’t forget about him either! The old superhero action figures I had were pretty breakable. Their limbs and stuff were linked inside their torsos by strips of elastic, and every now and then an arm or leg would pop off (or be torn off in battle, of course) and they would fall apart. Somehow, though, my dad was magically able to repair them. I remember one would break, and the pieces would go in his lunchbox when he headed for work. Then I would wait for him to get home; depending on what shift he was on, that might mean getting up in the morning and rushing to his lunchbox to find my toy magically restored (and smelling like the paper mill where he has worked for 43 years). I sometimes wonder how much shit he got from his co-workers as he’d be putting these things back together!

As I got older, I started reading books, and also got into music when I discovered KISS, a band whose comic book image certainly was not lost on me. I was still young when I started reading Tarzan books and things like The Last of the Mohicans and other adventure stories. I visited The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings for the first time probably by the time I was 10 or 12, as my sister had them. They were preceded by The Chronicles of Narnia, and junior high had me following them up with the original Dune trilogy, courtesy of my English teacher.

When my son was born in 1993 and started developing a lot of the same interests I had, it was like getting an opportunity to relive my own youth. I was back buying comic books, action figures, and seeing movies with impossible heroics and teflon heroes. I loved seeing so many of the images that I loved so much in my youth come to life, whether it was the Daniel Day Lewis Last of the Mohicans vehicle (still one of my favorite all-time movies), or about bursting into tears the first time I was in a theater and they teased us with an image from The Fellowship of the Ring. Back in the day my friends and me would cast a live action version of that movie, knowing full well that it would be impossible to make.

Obviously for all my love of this stuff I’ve evolved beyond it. I’m as likely to visit a good villain by reading a book like Blackwater, for example, and I never got sucked into Harry Potter or Twilight. I’d rather have to be deserted on a tropical isle with Naomi Klein than Galadriel (but I’m sure Sheena might be worth having around).

The beauty of age is that I don’t really have to give a shit about whether or not it’s “cool” to like this stuff. Hell, if Michael Chabon, a guy who not only won a Pulitzer but wrote a comic based on it, can essentially write a book in defense of genre fiction, and a verbose blowhard like Cormac McCarthy can mine the theme for his own prize just one year ago, then anyone who thinks it’s immature to dig this stuff can go back to watching network TV shows and feel superior all they want — they ain’t even on my planet.

Maybe it is age that is making me think of all this, I don’t know. I just turned 42 the other day. It was a great birthday, even though I have been going through a lot of angst lately about how things change, not so much with my age as my son’s. We don’t do near as much together, even though we still spend a lot of time talking about cool things — music, art, and genre stuff. He’s more into horror and things than me these days, but that’s cool. Still, I miss the shared enthusiasm we had when a new movie would be on the horizon and we would stand in line together to make sure and see the opening show. So, imagine my immense pleasure, when Friday afternoon we were at the local movies/books/magazines shop and I was looking at the Watchmen display; he walked up, asked if it was a cool movie (“Of course it is!” I answered), then said, “We should go see it tonight.”

And we did.

Chris La Tray, Missoula, MT, USA

Send your own Manchild accounts for publication to richjohnston@gmail.com

(Last Updated June 8, 2009 3:21 pm )

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