Confessions of a Superhero’s Mum


Just over eleven years ago I gave birth to Iron Man.

I didn’t realise it at the time of course. When the midwife handed him to me, she didn’t say ‘Congratulations. It’s a Superhero’. He didn’t have a mini Arc Reactor protruding from his tiny ribcage and he didn’t shoot laser beams from his chubby little fists whenever he was hungry or tired. That would be silly.

So, I here you cry ‒ and will you please stop doing that because it’s very distracting – if my son isn’t called Stark, and wasn’t left on the doorstep with a red and gold helmet tucked in his blanket and a note saying ‘Please look after this Avenger’, then how do I know he’s destined to  assume Tony’s mantle?

I’ll tell you.

What I should make clear from the start is that he’s an apprentice Iron Man, for when the present one chooses to hang up his hover boots and give up his second day job as mechanised saviour of the free world.

My first piece of evidence is the Arc Reactor tee-shirt my son wears, in preparation for having pieces of shrapnel embedded in his chest, needing the Reactor’s electromagnetic forces to stop the metal penetrating his heart (for those of you who haven’t a clue what I’m going on about, I refer you to the franchise.)

But this is not the only evidence I have that my boy will one day save the universe.

My second and main reason for this belief is the training films. Hours and hours of them, seemingly on repeat, a continuous loop of lasers, bomb blasts and nifty flying exercises, all snappily edited and usually accompanied by a pumping heavy metal sound track, like some testosterone-packed corporate video for weapons dealers.

And showing astounding dedication to his future career, it’s not just Iron Man he studies.

There are other training films which include: a muscle-bound blond guy with a stilted English accent wielding his ‘magic’ hammer (yeah, all right, he-man, we get the symbolism)*: a teenage newspaper photographer who fires stringy mucus from his hands and thinks he’s an arachnid (you really should see a specialist about that, Peter)**: a doctor who is really lovely – mostly – if a bit downbeat and introspective (‘You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry’? Yeah, well, you haven’t seen me when someone leaves the toilet seat up, sister)***.

There’s a ton of other egomaniacs being angsty and fighting other egomaniacs – many of them wear cloaks, which seems impractical in a battle situation.

Anyway, I try and be a supportive, liberal parent. I want to nurture, not crush my son’s fledgling ambitions, even if they don’t fit into my pre-conceived ideas of a sensible career path. After all, I did tell him if he worked really hard he could achieve anything ‒ though I confess I was thinking more along the lines of piano lessons rather than arms manufacturing. Anyway, not wishing to dampen his enthusiasm, I let him watch and re-watch his training videos – time and time and time again.

But quite honestly, I can’t face seeing another over-pumped caveman bash another one to smithereens before standing atop a mountain/ skyscraper/ the Golden Gate Bridge or other such iconic landmark, brooding over how sad and lonely it is to be an over-pumped caveman … so I read.

The volume from the TV blares (because, despite my protestations, it is apparently impossible to watch without the sound being loud enough to cause involuntary fracking along the Severn Estuary), but I wriggle into the cushions, push back the recliner, tuck up my toes and read.

At the moment it’s The Axeman’s Jazz by Ray Celestin (very good, if you’re wondering) but another day it’ll be whatever I’m reading at the time.

My flow’s sometimes interrupted as a city explodes or a baddy monologues, but generally, I can concentrate enough to be at least semi-lost in my book.

And all with the knowledge I’m playing my small part in the future saving of the world – probably.

Can and do you read while the TV’s on? Or do you need peace, quiet and chocolate biscuits to concentrate?

*Thor, of course.

**Your friendly, neighbourhood Spiderman.

***King of angst, David Banner – aka The Hulk

Books in the Blood # 6 The Changeover by Margaret Mahy


Is it me, or has the world gone Superhero crazy? 

They’ve been around a long time, of course. Marvel and D.C Comics – the two publications most famous for their superheroic activities – have both been publishing since the thirties. In fact, pretty much all of the Superheroes you can think of – Batman, Superman, the X Men, all of the Avengers – have been around for fifty, sixty, seventy years plus.

I’m going to meander now, but bear with me and I’ll wander back to my point in a mo.

Do you think it might just be possible those early illustrators had deals with DuPont, the manufacturers of elastane, the rubbery stuff known as Lycra. Think of all of those all-in-one, figure-hugging, yes-the-caped-crusader-is-definitely-a-boy body suits ‒ all of the tights.

Forgive me if I’m wrong, but this sort of thing was NOT every day wear for the dapper gent around town in the thirties, was it? Was Bogart wearing a pair of budgy smugglers under his Zoot suit? Did Cagney exclaim ‘Top of the world, Ma,’ clad in a rubbery onesy? If they did, I’ve – thankfully ‒ erased it from my memory.

There was clearly something about a chap wearing his underwear outside his brightly-coloured leotard in the thirties that spoke of manliness, mystery identities and a can-do attitude to an emergency situation that it perhaps wouldn’t if the characters were invented today.

Anyhow, I digress (and lord knows any regular followers out there will know that my posts are pretty much all digression).

The point I was trying to make before I was so rudely distracted by Spandex, is that although Superheroes have been popular all of our lives, they seem to have grown and grown, until you can’t go near a multiplex  cinema during the summer months without being bombarded by crashy, bashy, smashy big-men-and-busty-women-hitting-each-other movies.

It used to be that boys wanted to be train drivers or pilots or rock stars. My son wants to be Tony Stark (Iron Man to the uninitiated).

I guess I don’t blame the film companies. If the budget for one film is big enough to fund a small war, then to stay afloat they need to make a profit big enough to end the same war by buying off the enemy with Ferraris and holiday homes in the Hamptons.

It was different when I was a girl.

Yes, we had the animated Spider-Man (who can forget that theme tune? Even my son knows it and he’s never seen the programme!) and we had Adam West and Burt Ward as the deliciously camp crusader and his feathery sidekick in Batman and Robin (now those boys really knew how to wear Lycra). But none of them made it huge at the cinema.

And even though they had a delightful array of gorgeous girls playing Catwoman, I had no aspiration to be her. The reasons for this were threefold. One, I got out of breath trying to high kick. Two, I could never have been that flirty and seductive – I would’ve turned beetroot red and hidden in the Batcave if asked to be alluring. And three, PVC is unforgiving over dubious curves, a pot belly and knock knees.

What I wanted when I was a girl was to be Laura Chant from The Changeover by Margaret Mahy.

Laura starts the book as a normal girl whose younger brother Jacko is possessed by the brilliantly named Carmody Braque, an ancient, parasitical being who preys on humans, sucking out their life force until they die and he moves on to his next victim.

Now, Laura is, of course not normal at all. She’s a witch-in-waiting, a fact recognised by a boy at her school, the gorgeously dreamy, and if I remember slightly brooding, Sorenson ‘Sorry’ Carlisle – also a witch.

There follow trials, danger, lots of sinister witchy behaviour and a race to save Jacko. In the end, Laura has to sacrifice her normal life and ‘changeover’ to being that of a fully-fledged, pointy-hat wearing, dancing-naked-in-the-moonlight-for-Satan witch to save the wee one (except not the last bit).

I cannot tell you how much I loved this book. I wanted to be Laura so much it was physically painful.

There’s a scene near the end where she creates a miniature zoo on her rug – elephants, giraffes, the lot – just with the wave of her hand.

I wanted to be a witch – I wanted ‘Sorry’ Carlisle – I wanted a miniature elephant.

Hmm. Replace incantations with superpowers, pointy hats and cloaks with Lycra, killer boots and capes…

Maybe I can see why my son is so besotted with Tony after all.