Continuing my award-winning series on the types of fans I encountered at my Spider-Man gigs, I showcase a trio diametrically opposed to the example of which I spoke in the previous installment (Still, available for your viewing pleasure at www.heroesinmycloset.com. Check local listings.). None of the children pictured in this post represent the categories under discussion. They are here merely to help lighten the subject matter, add a splash or three of color and satisfy those blogophiles who do not like a lot of words. And no, I do not have photos of children that would correspond to those I am about to mention (Shame on any who want to see such!)
Unconsolable, The Screamer screams . . . always! From the moment they first lay eyes on Spidey, a banshee wail erupts from their tiny forms, and nothing short of leaving the store will assuage their hysterics. At least, I can only assume their screaming stops when they depart, as it's the only time one can’t hear them. I understood why there were children afraid of Spider-Man. I had a featureless face; my eyes were big iris-free blobs of white, rimmed with black that extended up at either outer corner like a feline's; I spoke without a mouth, my entire face shifting when doing so; and the inhuman body posture could be unnerving. Even kids who worshipped the Web-Slinger—showing up wearing their Spider-Man Underoos—would occasionally flip-out. For them, it was a case of emotional overload at finally meeting their idol. Heck, there were adults, man and woman alike, who would run screaming when they saw Spider-Man (I’d hate to think what would happen if I wasn’t wearing a mask—cue drum riff).
Still, it didn’t make me feel any less bad when children were scared and cried. But The Screamer tore out my heart. It’s like I’d killed their dog or stolen their favorite toy. I’d turn to them and say in my softest most unthreatening tone, “I’m sorry,” only to be greeted with an even more blood-curdling scream. I’d know better than to even look in their direction, let alone speak to them, but I couldn’t help myself. I felt so terrible that I had done this to them.
And distance had no effect, The Screamer could notice Spider-Man from the furthest point in the store and “Aaaaaaaahhhhhhh!” I felt badly for the parent who held The Screamer, as well. They’d put a stranglehold on Mommy or Daddy, the likes of which would make a professional wrestler envious, and all the while screaming in their parents’ ears as they squirmed and tried to push mom or dad away from Spider-Man while in their arms.
A less dramatic off-shoot of The Screamer was The No-No. In lieu of screaming, these children uttered “no-no, no-no, no-no” in an incessant staccato as if approaching the door to the dentist’s office. They’d still wriggle furiously to get away while in their parent’s arms, much the same as The Screamer, only without the need for ear plugs. More often than not, The No-No would evolve into The Screamer. This would usually happen with a parent insensitive to his or her child’s wishes and went something like this:
The parent—with child in arms—espies the line or crowd from afar and approaches. Maybe the parent even knows of Spider-Man’s appearance and wants to surprise his or her little one.
“What’s going on over there, [insert child’s name]?” Sometimes asked innocently, sometimes uttered with premeditation.
“Look, [insert child’s name]. It’s Spider-Man.”
Despite all the great qualities of the Spidey suit—it’s nigh-perfect interpretation of the character; the ease of movement and relative comfort for the wearer; the vibrancy of its colors; the facility in its tranportation, cleaning and upkeep—it did present an odd downside: one-dimensionality, a tromp l’oeil effect that flattened the character, making him appear like a cardboard cutout, i.e. not real. From afar the affect is more pronounced. A child may not “see” me, even though directly looking at me, or sees Spider-Man, but thinks it is just a display.
Then, I move. My head turns toward the next child in line or a parent, as I deliver a quip or answer a question; it could be a movement as small as Spidey’s hand signing…
“no-no, no-no, no-no, no-no, no-no…” It begins…
In the case of a caring parent:
“Okay, Sweetie. It’s okay. He won’t hurt you. He’s a good guy.” As the child is swiftly redirected away from the signing area.
But I’m exemplifying a bad parent, so after the “no-no”s begin…
The parent continues toward Spider-Man, despite the child’s protestations, the volume and speed of delivering the “no-no”s inversely proportional to the distance from the Web-Swinger…
“C’mon, Honey. Don’t you want to get Spider-Man’s autograph?”
No, you insensitive jerk, they obviously don’t. That’s why they’re wriggling like a fresh-caught Marlin and shaking like a margherita machine, not to mention the continuous ‘No-no”s, which grow in intensity until…
“no-no, no-no, NO-NO, NO-NO-e-e-e-e-e-E-E-E-E-E-E-E-E-E!!!!”
There is no sound on Earth quite so piercing as the scream of a small child. Fire engines get out of the way, when they hear its approach.
It is only at this point that the parent turns away…
“That’s okay…okay…we’re going…” with all the sincerity of an apologizing waiter who has to return to the kitchen with your steak that wasn’t cooked properly.
And worse is the toothy smile these shameful parents sport when they’ve achieved scream-age. They knew their kid was going to scream, the sadistic bastards. The whole grotesque scene was staged for their sick thrills.
Another off-shoot of The Screamer, The Return Engagement begins his or her Spider-Man experience as such but returns, either of their own volition, with the prompting of their folks or by coveting the prize they see their brother or sister holding. Suddenly gone is the terror they so recently experienced. They want a comic dammit and they’re not going to let their parents leave until they’ve gotten one. They scarcely hear their parents chiding as they turn back toward the signing area. Rather than commend the kid for overcoming their fears in order to give a difficult task another go, parents would get pissy toward their child when he or she wanted to try and see Spidey again after an initial first attempt.
“If you cry again, we’re not going back,” they’d admonish. Or worse, a threat: “If we wait in that line again, you’d better not behave the way you did last time.”
The kicker was the perturbed parent who, when their little one wanted to return to see Spider-Man, grabbed their arm and pulled them toward the exit with a “No, I am not going to stand in that line again. You had your chance!” Some added the infamous, “You’d better stop crying or I’ll really give you something to cry about.” Would any of these callous moms and dads react similarly if their kid reattempted to ride a bicycle without training wheels or swim in the deep end of the pool for the first time?
No-Nos never transcended to this category. Rather, the occasional Returner transmuted to a No-No when their fear of Spider-Man turned out to be too great to overcome after all.
“If we get back in line, you’re not going to scream, right?”
Hell, if my brother/sister can do it, I certainly can.
“We’re not coming back a second time . . .”
How hard could it be. Spider-Man is a good guy . . . right?
“Get ready . . . there he is . . .”
I’ll just walk up, take my comic and—“no. no, no, NO, NO, NOOOOOO!”
If I noticed a Return-Engagement, I’d excuse myself from the child I was attending to and make sure the Return-Engagement received a comic from me—either via a sibling, parent or adult nearby—before the Return-Engagement was hustled away by Mom or Dad.
There were those occasional stories, whereby a Return-Engagement faced me successfully with their second attempt. Time would stand still as they drew closer and closer to Spider-Man. An audible hush would still the crowd. Screamer’s were rarely forgotten and quickly gained a reputation that no change in their nom de guerre would extinguish.
The suspense rises and a silent gasp is felt as the child hesitates . . . before proceeding. Now the name. The child’s mouth opens... The tension is palpable. Will it be another scream?
And the child skips back to their parents.
“Another satisfied customer,” I’d playfully say, breaking up my onlookers and the mood.