Thursday, July 14, 2011

Because Boys Need Heros: "Green Lantern"

I grew up in a family with three girls and one boy and the atmosphere was weighted toward the feminine: my sisters and I played with Madame Alexander dolls, hosted singing "concerts" in our basement, wore Lanz of Salzburg nightgowns and, when we girls were teenagers, experimented with dozens of brands of shampoo.

Now, I'm raising two sons. The experience is filling out my understanding of childhood. Consider this. A friend of our sons comes over for a sleepover with bare feet and empty hands. "Where's your bag, honey?" "Bag?" he answers. He puts his toothbrush on the radiator. "I just brought this."

And so it is I found myself yesterday afternoon driving to a local shopping mall with three 11-year-old boys, including one of my own, to buy tickets to see the superhero-action-adventure movie "Green Lantern." As I played my Duke Ellington CD in the front seat, I listened in on the boys' conversation in the back. They talked about two things: cars and their fathers.

These boys are on the cusp of adolesence, still largely oblivious to girls, but beginning to explore what it means to be a man. My son's  two friends already are taller than me. I am 5' 7". One boy has started to shave and all their voices are beginning to deepen. My sons' friends already had seen "Green Lantern" and were excited to see it again; they said they loved the action scenes and all the special effects. As I drove to the mall, they eagerly pointed out all the red sports cars to one another. And they spoke with great affection about their fathers' quirks; like how one dad always takes extra candy from candy bowls and puts it in his pocket.

If it were up to me, I'd never seen films like "Green Lantern," which is based on superheroes in DC Comics. Despite living with my sons all these years, I have yet to develop an interest in superheroes, whether they are Power Rangers or Jedi Knights. But what I have developed is an appreciation and respect for the role these stories play in the lives of our boys.

Green Lantern has been around since July 1940, when he made his debut in All-American Comics. A Green Lantern wears a special Power Ring and a Power Lantern and is a protector of Peace and Justice. In the movie we saw yesterday afternoon, a wayward test pilot named Hal Jordan is given a mysterious green ring that confers on him supernatural powers and membership in an intergalactic team that keeps evil forces of the universe at bay. His father was a heroic pilot who died in an accident that young Hal saw. Hal feels he can't measure up to his father. Oh and there is a lovely young lady waiting for our hero to redeem himself and discover his inner strength.

I left the movie three times, telling the boys I had to use the restroom. Really, it was to give myself a break from the nonstop noise, jarring visual effects, and predictable plot. But the boys were spellbound, eating up every piece of dialogue.

Hal Jordan: "In brightest day, in blackest night
No evil shall escape my sight
Let all who worship evil's might 
Beware my power, Green Lantern’s light!"

What I kept thinking about during the movie was Odysseus, the legendary king of Ithaca. I had taught the Odyssey last school year to high school juniors and we talked about the traits of an epic hero. The hero doesn't always make the right decisions, the hero is flawed, but ultimately, the hero sets aside his own selfish motives for the greater good.

As the mother of two sons, I have watched both our boys cling to superheroes, especially during the years between childhood and early manhood. While our older son, now nearly 15,  has outgrown his enthusiasm for comic book heroes, I don't think any of us ever outgrow the need for something greater than ourselves to make sense of existence. The ultimate superhero of course is Christ, someone who sacrificed Himself for humanity. Clearly, my 11 year old and his buddies have a longing, a need, for a hero. As we were walking back to the minivan after the movie,  I asked them what they thought of "Green Lantern."  My son piped up. "We can't possibly say until we see the sequels. We have got to see the sequels."

You see, there are Red Lanterns and Purple Lanterns and Black Lanterns and White Lanterns and...


  1. I have marvelled at these very things in my nephews: the attraction to superheroes, their idea of packing (the toothbrush on the radiator made me laugh), how closely they watch dad.
    Some time ago I asked the oldest what he thought of The Fellowship of the Ring, and his answer was that he didn't know until he'd seen the other two movies.
    Aren't boys wonderful?

  2. Tess: Indeed they are. Thanks for stopping by.

  3. My boys all fully grown and now fathers get together and slip into a world of games,movies and electronic stuff none of the rest of us can follow!

  4. I have one of each (boy and girl) and grew up with only one sister. I'm really enjoying how my two are sooo girl is very girly and my boy is such a boy. Having said that, she's definitely a daddy's girl, and my boy is super attached to me. Looking forward to seeing how this plays out throughout their lives (they both seem to love physical things like bike riding AND domestic things like baking at this point!)

  5. @Marissa: I grew up in a girly girl house (two sisters and a lowkey brother) and now have two boys. What is great about them is they both, like their dad, love to cook and bake and have lots of "male" interests such as sports, science fiction etc. Our 12 year old and I are planning our Christmas Eve Feast of Seven Fishes dinner together and the boys shopped with my hubbie last night to get the ingredients. Fun!