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Ben Affleck bulks up for 'Batman': Bad for boys?

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Danny Moloshok/Reuters/FILE

(Read caption) Ben Affleck holds his best picture award for his film "Argo" at the 2013 Vanity Fair Oscars Party in West Hollywood, California in this file photo taken February 25, 2013.

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Parents may worry that the new Batsuit Ben Affleck will wear in the upcoming “Batman versus Superman” movie reveals a physique that isn’t the best healthy role model for young fans. Despite positive reviews of the costume, after images were leaked by Zack Snyder (director of 'Man of Steel) on Twitter, will the new look send the message that you have to "be large to be in charge"?

Going into any discussion of comic book heroes and parenting, we might want to admit that while it’s great for kids to see role models who are doing good, these heroes have traditionally been much larger-than-life physically, and often revenge-driven, emotionally broken people.

However, I still enjoy comics and their film spin-offs with all of my four sons – especially Batman, Ironman. and The Avengers – because I think they provide conversation openers on everything from fitness to character flaws.

At my house today we’re talking about being body-conscious and the new bigger, badder Batman, who promises to be another brooding emotional train wreck who apparently lives at the gym in order to fill out the new clingy suit.

DC Comic fans will recognize the new "Batman vs. Superman" character as being more like Frank Miller’s drawings of Batman as an older, heavy-set, gritty, grizzled, battle-tested hero.

While the look is more old-school cool, what it may teach kids about body image and health may not be the best lessons.

The original DC Batman comics favored absolutely unrealistically huge, bulky characters across the board in the fantasy world of heroes.

The Batman character, created by artist Bob Kane and writer Bill Finger, first appeared in Detective Comics #27 (May 1939). He was originally referred to as "the Bat-Man" AKA, "the Caped Crusader,” "the Dark Knight,” and "the World's Greatest Detective,” according to the Comicbook Sources website. 

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In recent films, some of the actors who have played comic book heroes – Christian Bale as Batman and Robert Downey Jr. as Ironman – have been fit and well-muscled, but were not too large to pack neatly into an average-size Armani suit.

In November 2013, Muscles and Fitness Magazine made a list of the 10 Fittest Comic Heroes based on the actors who played them in the films. While all were very muscular, none seemed too bulky.

However, since this new Batman has gone old school with a more traditional Batsuit made from body-hugging fabric and not armor, the muscle mass has to be packed onto the character instead. That may be a problem for parents who favor reasonable fitness and brains in armor, over bulk in Spandex.

Even the Batmobile had bulked up dramatically over the years according to Autoguide.com.

Social media feeds are overflowing with praise for the bulky bat who one Twitter subscriber on the #BatmanvsSuperman hashtag referenced as Affleck’s “HGH” (Human Growth Hormone) form.

Twitter is buzzing with Batmemes and tweets about Affleck “beefing up” for the role. A sample tweet on the new look: 

“Large and in charge,” is the term my son Zoltan, 19, uses when he talks about the new Ben Affleck Batman, and what he calls the “bromance” boys have with being heavily muscled like their comic book-inspired fantasy heroes.

He says it’s all part of parents and others telling kids – boys in particular – being told to grow up to be “big and strong.”

Zoltan is a Bat-fan who does a solid imitation of actor Christian Bale’s gravelly Dark Knight saying, “I’m Batman.”

He delivered my own parenting line right back at me in “the Bat voice” today in a phone conversation, saying, “You want to grow up to be big and strong, don’t you?”

I cringed, knowing I had said it like a Bat-mom mantra for the past 20 years without ever thinking twice about what “big” means to boys and how much pressure I was placing on their skinny shoulders.

Zoltan, once enamored with being bulky, has completely altered his lifestyle and physique, dropping from 210 pounds to 165 at 5-feet, 11-inches tall since going to college and becoming a supervisor at the local gym.

“Now I know it’s about growing up strong, not ‘big and strong,’” says Zoltan. “Drop the ‘big.’ If you want ‘big,’ then be big-willed about your lifestyle instead.”

Perhaps it is modern fitness-conscious audiences that have driven the comic book heroes away from bulk and toward putting the muscle in what has become known among fans as a “battle suit” and not on the character himself.

As a writer, the newer trend certainly makes sense from the standpoint of hiding a secret identity, since guys built like massively muscular action star Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson tend to draw attention.

Frankly, in order to satisfy the physique requirements of the original super hero drawings it should probably be Mr. Johnson in the Batsuit.

As a parent, the ‘battle suit’ is a blessing, because it allows boys to more easily accept their bodies and not hurt themselves trying to pack on muscles too early or sneak body building shakes into their diets.

Batman and Ironman have been reliable family favorites because neither of their real identities – Bruce Wayne (Batman), nor Tony Stark (Ironman) – have anything more than brilliant minds and lots of cash to throw at their save-the-world methods.

However, now it seems that bulk may be back in our family film diet and that means talking to kids about realistic fitness goals.

It also means paying more attention to what characteristics our kids are imitating after seeing films based on comic book heroes.

Meanwhile, back at the parent cave, we can practice saying in a gravelly voice, “If you want to grow up strong, put down the comic book, turn off the TV, and go ride your bike!”


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