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Monday, June 6, 2011

Hero Worship

I've been obsessed with super heroes since I was old enough to read.

To be honest, I'm surprised, even at my age, that something like that is far-fetched, or somehow counter-culture, or unacceptable. This notion that comic book love equals nerd never quite computed with me.

Super heroes -- Spider-Man, Batman, the X-Men -- give us the opportunity to fantasize and experiment with people and concepts that simply don't exist in the real world. We are exposed to a concept of absolute justice -- the good guys win, the bad guys go to jail. we are given the opportunity to experiment with power and the consequences of its use. Through these heroic figures, we learn about tolerance and acceptance, about the greater good, and such.

I got beat up a lot as a kid. I have many less than fond memories of running as fast as I could with a 30 pound knapsack on my back, trying to get on a bus and away from tormentors. It's a story many of us can relate to on some level. Comic books were an escape for me, a way for to witness -- safely witness, from the infinite distance of fiction -- justice being done to villains very similar (in my head, at least) to the ones that were in my own life. Spider-Man swung in and kicked guys in the face. Batman did his scary, bad-ass voice. Superman did the laser vision thing. And the bad guys fried. It was all kinds of awesome.

As I got older and puberty set in, I saw myself in a lot of these characters. In my mind, Spider-Man was me, except caucasian and older than 13. It gave me hope because he was married to Mary Jane, an impossibly hot model/actress with gravity-defying body parts and a thing for nerdy guys. Come on, how do you not see the appeal? Batman was, you guessed it, me, billionaire playboy by day, psychotic badass by night. I mean, I'm still working on my first billion, and haven't quite developed my psychotic bad-assery yet, but still. Superman? Right again, me! Mild-mannered writer until the call came in, a plane fell out of the sky, or Timmy got stuck in a well or something, and there I would be, looking to save the day.

People have this appreciation now for these heroes as this massive marketing deal, or this huge movie-making force or what have you. I sincerely hope that we as a people haven't gotten so cynical so as to only reference these cultural icons by their ability to sell tickets and popcirn, because these stories represent much more than that. Super heroes are our Greek Pantheon. Comic books are our American mythology, the tall tales that will define our culture long after we are dust. These stories represent an ideal that is prevalent in the myths and legends of all great civilizations; that the powerful protect the not-so-powerful, shield them from harm, seek justice in their name. It is a noble ideal, that I would pass down to my own children.

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