I admit it.  When I was growing up, I was a comic book junkie.  Comic books were the video games of my generation.  They could keep us occupied for hours (especially the boys) and, for better or worse, they helped shape our characters and perceptions of our world.

I do have a point, so stick with me to the end; but first let me walk down memory lane and share some of my favorite comics and characters and some lessons I learned from them.

Harvey comics:  some of my earliest favorites were Hot Stuff, Spooky, and Baby Huey.  Nobody ever told me that I was opening myself to demonic possession by reading about these cute supernatural “Sad Sacks” or their grumpy attitudes.  I maintain that my love for puns was derived from Hot Stuff, who would regularly visit places like “Clockville” where each inhabitant was some play on words involving time or timepieces.

Dell comics:  Who could help but admire Tarzan or the Phantom?  If I’m not mistaken, the Disney comics were also published by Dell.  In any case, I loved Donald Duck, his Uncle Scrooge, and especially Gyro Gearloose, the inventor.  More grumpy attitudes, but also spirits of adventure, individuality, and learning from our mistakes.

Gilbert comics:  The Classics Illustrated series.  My introduction to the great stories of the world–a stepping stone to my becoming an English teacher.  Twice I tried to collect the entire series; today I have the complete set reproduced on DVD.  I still go back and read them.

Archie comics:  though I would read them all, I was bored by the romantic competitions and themes.  I much preferred the “Little Archies” (does anyone remember them?) which presented the characters at a younger age before hormones or dating ever became an issue.

Marvel comics:  I never got into the universe of Marvel superheroes.  Their realism and more human portrayal left me a bit confused and bored.  However, this publisher put out a series of cowboy comics, such as “Kid Colt”–today they would be politically incorrect, but back then, these western comics presented characters who joined Roy Rogers, Matt Dillon, and the Rifleman among the pantheon of my truly American heroes.

DC comics:  And here I get to my point.  While I read Superman, Batman, the Flash, and Elongated Man, they were merely harmless entertainment.  I never was tempted to put on a cape.  I enjoyed Robin’s naivete and Superman’s playful streak–and I really like “Bizarro Superman” who did everything backwards, and ultimately failed at each endeavor.  But my very favorites, especially as I entered my teen years, were the war stories.

It was during the Viet Nam War, and other Americans may have become jaded or ambivalent about what our “boys” were doing on the battlefield; but Sgt Rock and I knew the importance of fighting for freedom and justice, and against an evil enemy.  The Unknown Soldier reminded me of the impact that one man can make if he’s not looking for glory.  The Haunted Tank united north and south as they fought in a Stuart tank, and the various regiments and battalions were fully integrated racially and ethnically.  The USA was the good guy, and the Germans, Italians, and Japanese were the bad guys as they fought WWII again in each new issue.  When I read these military comics, I was proud to be an American.

As far as I can tell, virtually all the war comics stopped publication in the 1980’s.  I’m sure that today they would be too violent (killing bad guys, and the occasional sacrifice of a heroic figure) and too “hackneyed” and patriotic.  Just as Superman no longer fights to defend “…truth, justice, and the American way…”  Sgt Rock would be out of place except in a VFW or NRA meeting.  And in my opinion, it’s too bad.  Our young people could use some brave and strong American heroes today–even if they had their origin in comic books.

If we could get the guys to put down the video games long enough to read them.