July 26, 2009

"I got it! How about a guy who can eat anything?!?"

As I've mentioned too many times at the quiz, I am the proud uncle of identical twin boys (going on 5 1/2 years old). They're nuts, but in all the best ways. I am their favorite uncle, of course, and inevitably, I've gotten them hooked on one of my favorite interests from childhood, superheroes.

This makes it easy to buy them presents. For Hanukkah, I got them a couple of "personalized" story books—that gimmick where the company fills in a kid's name, hometown, best friend, etc., into a prewritten story, to fool children into thinking it was written especially for them. (One of my guys teamed up with the Justice League to defeat Gorilla Grodd; the other joined forces with a bunch of Marvel heroes to battle Dr. Doom and Magneto.) Lately, I've been buying them (and reading to them) issues of this series……which is well written and pitched at the perfect level for a five-year-old. That's shockingly rare in modern comic books: When they asked for a Captain America story, I bought them an issue of the kid-focused Marvel Adventures, which was way over their heads; it was a wordy, surreal tale of Cap being sucked into the Internet, where he fights literal trolls and firewalls. (They said they liked it, but it annoyed the crap out of me, since they asked for clarification about six times per page.)

Predictably, they dig Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, etc., but really, who doesn't? Oddly, though, they have become obsessed with a rather obscure hero, whom I only vaguely remember introducing them to: Matter Eater Lad.Matter Eater Lad was a member of the Legion of Super-Heroes, a DC team of teenage adventurers from the 30th century, big sellers in the '60s and a background presence ever since then (and stars of a short-lived cartoon a couple years back). The gimmick with the LSH was that each hero had a different power, so after a while, writers needed to get really creative. One guy could inflate himself and bounce like a beach ball; another dude could turn himself to iron. And then, of course, Matter Eater Lad, who could chew, swallow and consume anything in the universe.
What a dumb-ass character. And no, we never did learn details about what happened to Matter Eater Lad in the bathroom. Yet at least the comics industry seemed to realize MEL's lameness, and treated him with the appropriate level of humor (he hailed from the planet "Bismol"—haw haw). And it is the kind of superpower that a five-year-old would be attracted to, since that's the age when you just discover the concept of eating-related comedy, whose fertility fades away by the time most of us reach adolescence. Nearly every time my nephews and I speak on the phone, they ask for more details about Matter Eater Lad: "Can he eat his own head?" "Does it hurt his stomach?" "Can he eat a dinosaur?" "Is he friends with the Flash?" Etc.

There are no Matter Eater Lad T-shirts or calendars, so it's hard to make him the centerpiece of a gift (although I did recently compile a bunch of MEL pictures I found online and sent them in an e-mail for their perusal). I think I'm doomed to perpetually try to explain the character for at least the next couple years—my guys are extremely inquisitive, which is good but can be hella annoying. Still, I am reaping what I've sown. Why couldn't I have been a baseball fan?