While my own little world has been pretty heavily invested in Batman as of late, I was still interested–and frankly, a little excited–to see how well a rival batch of superheroes has fared at the box office. Marvel\’s The Avengers has been the year\’s biggest movie, earning nearly $600 million domestically and about $1.4 billion worldwide since its May release. It\’s the third biggest-grossing movie in history.
Let\’s face it: Marvel knows how to make a great superhero movie. Sure, none of them have the grit or depth of Christopher Nolan\’s Batman sagas, but they are competent and fun–a perfect fit, really, for the summertime moviegoing audience. I\’ve seen and reviewed The Incredible Hulk, Thor, Captain America and both Iron Man flicks, and all of \’em were an absolute hoot: fun, exciting pictures that had (if you were interested in searching for them) some good messages in play.
And, of course, they were extraordinarily effective two-hour advertisements for The Avengers. Not bad strategy, that.
\’Course, it might\’ve all come to naught had The Avengers been terrible. But it wasn\’t. In my opinion, it was the best of the bunch. Maybe that\’s my inner geek speaking: There\’s something about bringing together a bevy of superheroes that brings out my inner 12-year-old. It\’s a little like watching an All-Star baseball game that actually means something.
No surprise, then, that DC and Warner Brothers are now planning a supersize superhero movie of their own: A movie involving the Justice League–a partnership made up of DC\’s biggest costumed crime fighters–is in development now. Word is they\’ve already hired Will Beall (who wrote Gangster Squad) to write the script.
It\’ll be a tougher sell, of course: Green Lantern didn\’t exactly wow at the box office last year, Superman Returns (despite its resonant spiritual messages) didn\’t fare that much better in 2006, and of course The Dark Knight Rises marks the end of the road for Christian Bale and Christopher Nolan in the Batman franchise. And I wonder whether Warner Brothers might actually push Justice League to theaters without all the cinematic lead-ins that Marvel and Universal Pictures so painstakingly pieced together.
I hope not: Personally, I wouldn\’t be nearly as interested in seeing a fresh-out-of-the-box Justice League without getting some motion-picture backstory in play. DC\’s superheroes have the character oomph to make for some fine movies … if they can get the right folks behind it. If they\’re able to flesh out all the characters on the big screen, I\’d be waiting for a Justice League movie like a 7-year-old on Christmas Eve.
But going straight into a Justice League feature, cold? Hmmm. I know there\’s probably a strong drive to get a Justice League movie done as soon as possible–while superheroes are still big and the market\’s still primed. But if they don\’t take their time with this and do it right, I think the Justice League will feel less like a super powered all-star team-up and more a rather cynical grab for money. But I guess we\’ll see.
As you likely know, children\’s author and illustrator Maurice Sendak died May 8 at the age of 83. He was best known, of course, for his book Where the Wild Things Are, but he wrote and illustrated dozens of others.
When I was a kid–and even as an adult, frankly–Sendak\’s \”wild things\” mesmerized me. They\’re absolutely freaky, what with their teeth and beaks and feathers and hair. According to Mental Floss, the creatures were inspired by the way he saw his relatives as a child. \”They were unkempt,\” he said; \”their teeth were horrifying. Hair unraveling out of their noses.\” But the things weren\’t bad, when you read the story: Just wild.
And that fits to a tee, I think, how kids often see the world around them.
I don\’t think most children imagine that the world as a \”safe\” place, really. Even children raised with loving parents and a cadre of well-meaning adults looking out for them might imagine wonders and dangers behind every closet door. I was raised in an incredibly loving family, and yet I still imagined the world was full of magical, mysterious unknowns: A garden full of weeping willows straight from the jungle, a bedroom loaded with mysterious shadows, a statue I was sure came alive at night. As parents, we try to shield our kids from danger as much as we can, but we sometimes forget that kids are very good at creating their own.
And even when they don\’t, kids are more perceptive than we sometimes give them credit for. Despite our best efforts, they often know when things aren\’t going well. They know when Mom and Dad or fighting or someone\’s sick. They might not know the specifics. But they sense the tension, I think. Kids are more tuned to trouble than we give them credit for.
\”I think it\’s unnatural to think that there is such a thing as a blue-sky, happy-clouded childhood for anybody,\” Sendak once said, and his books reflected that. Sure, they were cool and magical … but they expressed a certain wild, not altogether safe charm–as the best kids\’ books do, I think. When I think about the books both me and my kids loved, from The Carrot Seed by Crockett Johnson to The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein to anything by Dr. Seuss, there was a weirdness or even sadness–a wildness in it–that children instinctively recognize and appreciate. They weren\’t altogether safe, if you get my drift.
It\’s interesting, when you think about it: We like to protect our kids, and with good reason. We want to shield them from the harsh realities of life until they\’re better able to deal with it. But when it comes to what we read, I wonder whether we\’ve got it backward. I mean, when you look at the best-selling books for adults, chances are we\’ll see tomes on how to lose weight or how to get money or how to be better leaders or how to, finally, find inner peace–stuff that suggests almost a childlike need to master the world around us. But kids\’ books–these fairy tales and fables, these imaginative fictions–they speak to our souls, sometimes in uncomfortable ways. From Roald Dahl to J.K. Rowling, from Tom Sawyer to The Phantom Tollbooth, books written for kids deal with some pretty intense topics: good and evil, struggle and conflict, disappointment and disaster. As adults, we sometimes imagine that we control our lives–or at least control more than we actually do. Kids are under no such illusion. And as such, I wonder sometimes whether they understand both the nature of danger and grace a bit better than we do.
\”You have to write the book that wants to be written,\” A Wrinkle in Time author Madeline L\’Engle once said. \”And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children.\” I think Maurice Sendak may have believed that on some level. I think he knew what kids know. The Wild Things, for both good and ill, are with us always.