2006-12-29 - COVER TO COVER by Mark Engblom: Tales From the Kiddy Table
Tales from the Kiddy Table
The Second Childhoods of Superheroes
As the calendar flips from December to January, the familiar sight of Baby New Year not only symbolizes the dawning of 2007, but also brings to mind the baby superheroes of years past. More specifically, the adventures of adult superheroes when they were children, or, in some cases, de-aged from adults into teenagers...or even toddlers!
Like so many whimsical comic book transformations, kiddy superheroes were a more frequent sight in simpler times, when readers were still primarily children and not mortgage-paying cynics. As such, kids were genuinely amused to see child versions of powerful, grown-up superheroes, much as they would be by photos of their own parents as children. It was somehow reassuring to find out that these mighty grown-ups were at one time children themselves, or, if they were de-aged, could re-experience what it's really like to be a kid.
The very first kid-version of an adult superhero was, of course, Superboy, who made his first cover appearance on MORE FUN COMICS #104 (1945). Awww, ain't he cute?
It was only a matter of time before even earlier adventures were chronicled in the stories of Superbaby, shown here on the cover of SUPERBOY #76 (1959). Little Kal-El's baby-talk speech pattern would become the norm for DC's assorted baby superhero stories throughout the 1960s.
Using the Superman template, Wonder Woman was also revealed to have had a child hero past. After learning of her heroic future from the Amazon Time and Space Televisor, a teenage Diana earns the right to become Wonder Girl in WONDER WOMAN #107 (1959)....
...followed a few years later by the revelation of the infant Amazon Wonder Tot in WONDER WOMAN #126 (1961), accompanied by her magical friend Mister Genie.
Despite the childhood heroics of Superman and Wonder Woman, most kid versions of superheroes were reversions from adulthood to childhood, usually the result of a scientific accident or magical transformation.
For example, a renegade scientist known only as "Garth" tries getting Batman out of the picture with a baby ray in BATMAN #147 (1962). Luckily, Batman retained his adult mind and strength, enabling him to resume crime fighting in a...er...slightly less-than-imposing form.
As part of a scheme hatched by the childless adults of planet Baskh, five orphaned Legionnaires are transformed into pint-sized, baby-talking versions of themselves in ADVENTURE COMICS #356 (1967). Thanks to the still-advanced intellect of "Baby Brainiac", an antidote restores them all to teen status.
Covers of the old LOIS LANE series were a perpetual source of humiliation for Superman, especially covers like LOIS LANE #32 (1962). Despite her billing as "Superman's girlfriend", blackmailing her bonnet-wearing boyfriend while cradling him in her arms wasn't exactly "growing the relationship" as we might say today.
Escalating the weirdness to new levels of psychological distortion is the cover of LOIS LANE #57 (1965). Infantized by a mysterious "experiment", Superman receives multiple beatings from his babysitters....who just so happen to be the two loves of his life. Girlfriend mommy-figures breaking tennis rackets on your rear end? Seldom good for the psyche.
As emotionally damaging as Lois' spankings might have been, it's a sure bet Lex Luthor's "brass knuckle special" to the back of Li'l Superman's skull was far worse. ACTION COMICS #466 (1976) finds Luthor stooping to new lows as he rationalizes he can only beat a child version of Superman, claiming to have already killed teen versions of Batman and the Flash (which were actually Luthor-created robots).
In CAPTAIN AMERICA #355 (1989), Cap needs to go undercover...as a teenager! To help him pull off the de-aging deception, he enlists the aid of matter-manipulator Sersi, of Marvel's god-like race The Eternals.
Following the reality-warping effects of DC's Zero Hour, the adult Atom is transformed into a teenager and does what anyone else in a similar situation would do: join the Teen Titans! Though seen here as one of the gang on the cover of TEEN TITANS #6 (1997), Ray was actually the leader of this largely-forgotten incarnation of the team.
In another of comics' most notorious "change of direction" desperation plays, the Avengers enlist a young Tony Stark from an alternate timeline to help battle an evil adult Tony Stark. Seen here on the cover of IRON MAN #326 (1997), the young genius cobbled together his own super-armor, defeated Evil Tony, and briefly carried the title before (yet another) desperate change in direction sent "Teen Tony" to detention.
Even super-villains got in on the "youth movement" in DEFENDERS #16 (1974). Using secrets of a long-dead civilization, Magneto grows his own mutant (not unlike Sea Monkeys), whom he named Alpha, the Ultimate Mutant. Following an encounter with the Defenders, Alpha turns on Magneto and regresses him back to infancy, along with the rest of his Brotherhood of Evil Mutants.
Perpetuating a long-running gag dating back to X-Men Annual #12 (1988), PINT-SIZED X-BABIES #1 (1998) chronicled the further adventures of the mini-mutants. Originally created by freaky X-foe Mojo, the X-Babies are captured by Arcade and must escape from his Murderworld amusement park.
In X-BABIES REBORN #1 (2000), the X-Babies must do battle with the Mojo-created Mitey Vengers. Awwww...ain't that CUTE?
DC takes a shot at creating their own cute-n-cuddly crowd scenes with their "Sins of Youth" event. When the mischievous Klarion the Witch Boy plays a magical prank, the teens of Young Justice become adults while the adult heroes become children. It's up to Young Justice to (literally) be the grown-ups in the room and figure out how to change everything back to normal, all the while learning Important Lessons.
In 2004, the JUSTICE LEAGUE UNLIMITED animated series gave a nod to the kiddy-hero theme in the classic "Kid Stuff" episode. During a sorcerous temper tantrum, boy-wizard Mordred banishes all adults to Limbo, including his mother Morgaine le Fay. Morgaine meets four Justice Leaguers in Limbo and agrees to send them all back to battle Mordred as 8-year olds!
Later that episode, the "Junior Justice League" is helped out by...ready for it?
A baby version of Etrigan the Demon!
All together now: AWWWWWWWWWWWW! AIN'T THAT CUTE??!!!
Mark Engblom is a professional cartoonist and life-long comics fan living in St. Paul, MN. Mark is also the proprietor of Secret Identity: Geek Gear & Gifts, featuring cool stuff inspired by classic superhero comics. Mark's also got a new blog named Comic Coverage. Because, you know...the world needed another comic book blog.