Marvel for Kids: Still a Tough Sell

I don’t know anything about the upcoming Ultimate Spider-Man cartoon, but I’m hoping it can smooth over a long-standing rift between my daughter and I before it tears our family apart once and for all.

“We’re superheroes!” she said to me the other night, imploring me to tie Fuzzy Blankie around my neck.

“What are superheroes?” I asked her, intrigued even as I obliged, knowing how important Fuzzy Blankie was in the cosmology of the household and not wanting to offend anyone.

She thought hard for a few seconds. “Superheroes… fly around and help the people. They save people in trouble… like Spider-Man!’

I swear to God Almighty Above Us, I did not put her up to any of this.

For you readers who have somehow not been following all of our iFanbiographies since the day each of us was hired: I have a four-year-old daughter, a one-year-old son, and a wife who after all these years regards all of us more or less equally. She lets my daughter decide what we’re all going to watch on TV each night; she reminds me to go potty before long car trips. I’ve made my peace with it.

I love these other three good people who are kind enough to live with me, and I pride myself on not force-feeding any of them comic books. I’m not going to cram my interests down these people’s throats… which is a good thing, because my wife would need a super-scientist to expand her brain mass in order to find a physical way to be less interested. She is the first person in line for a comic book movie—our second date was a screening of X-Men 2, by her request, and she was the one dragging me to First Class and Green Lantern this summer—but it just doesn’t translate to paper. If you, say, took that X-Men source material and piled it on her living room coffee table until it resembled the remains of Pompeii, it could take months. It could take all year. She would never, ever so much as ask, “Hey: what is all this bullshit ruining the living room?” She wouldn’t even acknowledge it was there. It’s like she’s trying to win an indifference contest.

It’s nothing personal. She’s just got a life to lead.

And thank the Lord. Otherwise, I’d have to keep up with my stack, just to get it out of the poor woman’s sight.

Mind you, it’s still a comic book household somehow. My son happens to have a Captain America t-shirt that happens to have spontaneously started appearing on his torso during the last three weeks, but I assure you I had nothing to do with it. This is all just the boy’s mother trying to curry favor with me. I appreciate it! If I could get my hands on some True Blood jammies to reciprocate for her, I would. (“My Mommy is a Fang-Banger”? Seems inappropriate, but who am I to judge? She likes what she likes.)

The question I have now is: given that my daughter spontaneously loves Spider-Man, what do I do about it?

Because—and here’s your Shyamalan twist for the day—I was talking to her about it the other night when she informed me that, judging by his mask, she has decided that Spider-Man is a bad guy.

And who can blame her? Look at him. Look at those pointy eyes. He’s a creep. Right?

Still, knowing better, I try to tell her she’s got Spidey all wrong.

“Spider-Man is a bad, bad guy!”

“No, sweetie! Spidey is a good guy. You shouldn’t be scared of him at all. I’ll show you. Remember how he saved the people? We just need to fire up the ol’ Netflix and watch… well…. Hmmm. The ’68 series is a little too trippy-dippy for a four year old in 2011. Spider-Man Unlimited is, well, the worst possible introduction to the character, and let’s leave it at that. Spectacular Spider-Man is great, if you know anything about high school and care at all about ooohhhkay, your attention has already drifted to the ceiling tiles. Maybe we should talk about the series from the nineties, which to Daddy always looked like drying paint. Which, now that I think about it, I guess it technically is. What does that leave? The unavailable eighties? How do you feel about The Avengers?…”

You can see why I can’t help but await Ultimate Spider-Man. He’ll be younger, and she’ll be older.

Marvel says they want new readers, but what they mean by “new” is a tricky question indeed. When I was at SDCC in 2009, there was a Super Hero Squad signing at the Marvel booth. I saw Spongebob at that booth. I said, “Whatty what?” and never gave it another moment’s thought. Super Hero Squad seemed great but has always been problematic to me because, among other things, it featured Kiddy Wolverine.

For those of you scoring at home, Wolverine’s super power is stabbing people to death. For kids! As tough sells go, it’s right up there with Lucky Strikes.

I can say this much about my girl: as a kid who has no idea what’s under that mask, she does not give a good goddamn what color he is. She has been obsessed for a year by Disney’s The Princess and the Frog and has never once turned to me and said, “The princess doesn’t look like me at all. What do I care about this?”


Jim Mroczkowski would love to take your political B.S. and shove it in wherever seems appropriate. Or Twitter.


  1. Doesn’t Spider-Man appear in that Super-Hero Squad show? Spectacular Spider-Man was great, I never thought I’d say it, but it was better than the 90s Spider-Man. No idea why they cancelled it just to retread the same ground 2 years later. (Never a fan of the Ultimate Spidey)

  2. Could not agree more!  Where are the Marvel All Ages lines?  Kids love Capt Underpants and Diary of a Wimpy Kid…..Marvel and DC need to be more proactive and/or there needs to be more original material to bring younger kids in

  3. very interesting post keep it up 

  4. Great post.  The little Woly & violence fear may be a bit unneeded.  Tom, of Tom and Jerry’s, sole goal is to eat mice and birds to death.  It is the plot of every episode, and as children you and I watched the hell out of those episodes.  Little Wolvy’s violence is cartoony enough that it falls under the same category.  No need to buy her a copy of Dark Knight Returns just because she likes Batman.

  5. 3 Dev Adam was written by a four year old. It all makes sense now!

  6. Comics are a tough sell in general for kids. I have two nephews in grade school who LOVE Spiderman, but they don’t have any interest in reading comics. I’ve given them Marvel Adventures….the older one has read Ultimate Spiderman…”eh its ok”, but they LOVE the cartoons, and toys and videogames. Difficult to compete wth stuff like that. 

  7. @wallythegreenmonster: I agree.

    @jimski: You might want to give Marvel Adventures Spider-Man a try. Also, Marvel Adventures Super Heroes, as well as some of the digest-sized reprints, like Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes (the Chris Yost-penned one based on the cartoon), Lockjaw and the Pet Avengers or Thor and the Warriors Four.

    By the way, adorable picture. No jumping on the beds! 

  8. Nice article. I’ve been thinking about the “kids and comics” situation quite a bit lately. I recently spent a week at the Experimental Aircraft Association’s AirVenture show/convention. They have a youth program designed to get kids interested in becoming pilots and it’s pretty damned successful over the last 20 years, particularly in getting girls – it looked like it was Daddy-Daughter day nearly everyday at the show for all the teen to 20-something women I saw with their fathers.

    But it got me wondering if the comics industry and fandom have been trumpeting the “comics aren’t for kids anymore” line a little too loudly for a little too long. Have comics fans and publishers failed to bring in a new generation of readers?

    I’m 29, and I definitely fall toward the younger side of my comic shop’s Wednesday regulars.

    Maybe the high quality of the cartoons and movies is a blessing and a curse? I dug deeper into to the X-Men comics in the early/mid 90s because the cartoon was too cheesy. And you couldn’t get me to read the X-Men Adventures comic – based on the TV show – if you’d paid me!

  9. Dude for a young lady, look no further than Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends, cute doggy and Firestar – perfect, and available on DVD, I’ve got it for my girl (7) we’re getting to it after Batman The Brave And The Bold.

    Also, reconsider the 60s Spidey show, I was about her age when I saw that, and I loved it.

  10. Are you sure Kiddy Wolverine doesn’t just tickle with his adamantium claws?

  11. The 90’s Spider-Man cartoon was GREAT!  What are you guys smoking?  

  12. The lack of quality comic titles targeting kids is one of the biggest clouds hanging over the industry.  Why can’t the business types at Marvel/DC see this danger?  The DC re-boot doesn’t have a kids title worth a flip.

  13. I’ve never had any trouble getting the kids in my life into comics. 

  14. Look at the art this column inspired!:

    This post raises some really intriguing points, and features some fun art to boot.

  15. You know what it’s so weird my nephew likes spiderman but he has no interest in reading comics no matter how hard I try to force feed em to him (if I don’t find a home for my comics I’m not gonna have room to sleep soon) but it’s the strangest thing me? Once I saw the 90’s cartoon and I found out spiderman was having all thesse other cool adventures I was missing out on I was on a mission to find every comic book I could I wanted to read comic books wayy before I ever actualy seen one I guess some people just gravitate to comics and others dont?

  16. Marvel Adventures Spider-Man is amazing! Paul Tobin has created a book with continuity but nothing so involved as the 616 or Ultimate titles.

  17. And you know what as a 10 year old I had no problem relating to a married spiderman I thought it was so cool obviously after going out with mj in the cartoon they’d grow up and get married I always felt like I was getting to read what happens after the cartoon ended

  18. @newtype1089  –my nephews have that some problem. I think its more of a generational thing. Reading is not fun or exciting to kids. Too much stimulation with video games and HD tv and so on. One of the reasons why i really believe in digital comics is that i see it as the future and helping to bring kids back in. Those nephews and my niece who is in Kindergarten will look at ANYTHING on a touchscreen tablet or phone. They like the interactivity and they just cant get enough. It can make reading fun, so i’m all for it.

  19. You’re not giving your daughter enough credit… Can’t you see?  She obviously supports Mayor Jameson.. lol 

  20. I believe I have a few suggestions for you, Jim. They’re not comics, but they are aimed at your daughter’s age. Check your library’s picture book area for similar titles!

  21. Avatar photo captamerica101 (@Autobot_Hunter) says:

    @JokersNuts watch it again and compare it to batman:TAS they were on at the same time but fox censored the hell out of spider-man. i think you can find a list of guidlines on wikipedia. they include “no one can break glass” 

  22. My 4 yr old daughter is also in love with superheroes. She loves the spectacular spiderman, and is about halfway through the ’68 series. (not nearly as good as I remembered it.) The 90’s cartoon scared her (it was a lizard epsode). She likes superhero squad but for some reason her favorite is the toad. (she spent 3 days hopping around the house saying she was the froggy person.) While she likes batman, the brave and the bold bores her.