This past weekend I watched a new episode of Doctor Who, “Robot of Sherwood”. In the story, the Doctor travels back in time with his companion, Clara because she wants to meet Robin Hood. The Doctor assures her Robin Hood never existed. I will not spoil the show, but suffice it so say they meet someone who claims to be the real Robin Hood in 1190 A. D. — ish.
The entire episode is about heroes. Who are they? How do they become our heroes? Are our memories of these heroes real? Or, do we embellish those memories and raise our heroes to the status of legend? If we were to meet some distant, now long dead hero would that person match the hero we have internalized?
In our postmodern culture, we have taken to deconstructing “heroes”. Over the past few decades our founding fathers have become something less than the idealistic men and women portrayed in our history books. Why do we do this? It is because in postmodernism, all authority is questioned. There is no absolute authority; no absolute at all. Thus, these men and women must have been flawed and we cannot trust what is written about them. In fact, all written or recorded words and events must be discounted.
Is it any wonder that in our current time, our heroes are taken from comic books? Our heroes are fictional? After all, fictional heroes can’t be deconstructed. They are created and the creator of these characters has written only so many words about them. There are no secrets to be discovered outside the mind of the writer.
As a child growing up in the deep pine woods of Northern Louisiana, my heroes were fictional. Someone would ask: Bruce, wasn’t your father your hero? I have written about my father many times on this website. I loved him and he loved me. But, he was never a hero to me. Why? Because in my mind, heroes were larger than life; powerful and brilliant; super powered, in fact. My father was ordinary and I wanted to be anything BUT ordinary!
Doc Savage, Iron Man, Superman, Captain America and the like were my heroes. Yes, I grew up in the golden age of comics when Jack Kirby and John Buscema were crafting and creating characters like the Silver Surfer and Adam Warlock (the first Marvel comic I read in 1967 was Fantastic Four comic where we meet Adam Warlock in his cocoon for the first time.)
In contrast today our heroes are dark and flawed. We cannot embrace idealism anymore. Even Superman, once the ideal hero — “Truth, justice, and the American way” has become darker and morose. What has happened to idealism? When did our heroes aspire to be ordinary?
The only hero to escape this cynical deconstruction has been Captain America. The movies have managed to preserve his idealistic attitude about right and wrong by making those values “safely” anachronistic and nostalgic. But, is it any wonder that Cap’s latest movie is considered by many to be the best movie of the year? (Guardians of the Galaxy notwithstanding). Could it be we are craving just a little bit of idealism in our lives? Could it be we sense that absolutes do exist and that there is such a thing as right and wrong? Could we be longing; striving; hungering for a world that is not postmodern but firm and real and providing a true foundation for our lives?
Maybe our heroes should be ordinary men and women who still have the spark of this idealism within their everyday thinking. These men and women long to help, to aid, to fight against wrong, to try and make the world a better place than they found it. These men and women are our soldiers, our law enforcement agents, our nurses, our doctors, our school teachers, our missionaries — anyone who is willing to risk life and limb to better a person’s life. They are out there surrounding us and meeting our needs everyday.
Now that I pause and think about it, maybe I never considered my father to be my hero. But, rest assured he SHOULD be my hero even as I hope to be a hero to my own children. I will never pass into legend. The Doctor will never bring his companion to visit me. But, I resist a dark, cynical world that tells me I must dwell on flaws and shifting morality. I must reach into the shadows and find that gleaming ray of Light that shines out and illuminates Truth and make sure that someone; at least one sees the Light of goodness.
Who are/were your heroes?
I promise this is my last post on the Avengers.They are, after all, representative of my generations “video” games. We called them comic books.
One small note. I saw “The Avengers” Saturday morning at 1025 AM in a packed theater with my daughter, Casey. There are so many small and wonderful moments in the movie but the one stand out to me took place on a jet. Ironman has just jumped out of the back of this jet to go on his own head to head with two “gods”, Thor and his evil brother, Loki. Captain America, wonderfully out of time, out of sync, and “old fashioned” shrugs into a parachute to go after Ironman and the pilot says:
“Sir, you can’t handle two ‘gods’.” (Or something to that effect.)
To which Captain America replies.
“There is only one God and he doesn’t dress like that.”
I cheered. Go Steve Rogers!
A small town. Main Street. On one side the Grocer. On the other side the Cafe. Next to the Grocer, the Hardware Store. Next to the Cafe, the Post Office. And, next to the Post Office, the Drug Store. Baber’s Drug Store. Inside, the air was warm and redolent with the odd mixture of vanilla soda and sulfur. The classic granite counter with the huge mirror behind it sat just to the right. In the back, the pharmacy. It wouldn’t be much compared to today’s pharmacy. Small and intimate with only a few over the counter medications and a few drugs used by the town’s 525 residents.
I spent many a hot, summer day on Main Street in Saline, Louisiana. The Calico Cafe had been through so many permutations, no one could remember the name of the cafe just a few months before. In the summer of 1966, it was a red checkered tablecloth cafe with burgers and hot dogs and apple pie. Enloe’s Grocery was stacked floor to ceiling with stale sundries. In the butcher’s refrigerated meat counter, greenish slabs of beef drew the occasional fly.
The hardware store was more of a museum. Upright radios from the forties still carried sales tickets. Phonographs from the fifties shown with a sheen of newness. The most demanded items were farm related as this town was the heart of watermelon production in Louisiana. But, Baber’s Drugs was about to forever alter my future.
I liked Batman and Superman and Green Lantern. I had read some of DC comics since I was ten. I had one dollar in allowance and my father and mother had come back to their home town for the weekend from the big city of Shreveport. We stayed in my grandparent’s huge, hulking, sagging house. It was gray with nondescript peeling pain and sagging steps. The inside was dank and smelled of old sweat and dirt. The Formica floors were worn through to the wooden floors and each room reached twenty feet into the air with a long, dangling bare bulb as the only light. My Granddaddy had enclosed the back porch to make another bedroom and this is where I stayed. My bed was old and lumpy with a moldy, stale set of sheets and a quilt. There was one window and I would open the window and lay across the bed with my face pressed to the screen to catch a cool breeze. My grandparents had no air conditioning and only one fan in the entire three bedroom house.
I would look out through that rusted screen through the dangling Wisteria vines at the street that ran along the side of the house. I was bored. It was a short five block walk to downtown. Yeah, we called it downtown. Saline wasn’t much but it was a town. I would wander around the grocery gagging at the rotting meat in the cooler. Once I had eaten a burger at the Calico Cafe and found a pebble in the meat. The hardware store had nothing to interest a young boy. So, I ended up in Baber’s Drug Store.
The soda fountain had long ago been disconnected from water and drains. It was more show than substance. Mr. Baber and a few of his friend sat around a card table playing 42 with stained white dominoes. I wandered around the shelves filled with soap and shampoo and women’s stuff and combs and aspirin. I was bored some more. Until I spotted the comic book rack. It was about four by four feet and sat at angle. I studied the selections. The only DC Comics were comics I already had. What was left? Archie? No thanks! Marvel Comics? What was Marvel Comics?
I picked up a copy of a comic with the title “Fantastic Four”. The cover was intriguing with three blue clad heroes and one man that looked like he was made out of red, crumbled bricks. I remember opening the comic and reading some of the words. This comic was VERY different from DC Comics. I felt like I was intruding on some story that was far too adult for me. The characters, the dialogue, the drawing was, well, advanced. But, I was fascinated. I studied the rest of the comics. Some guy named Spider-Man. Some character called Iron Man. A green guy called the Hulk. And, a group of heroes called the Avengers. Each comic was 12 cents. That meant I could buy 8 comics and still have enough for tax.
I put the Fantastic Four back and just stood there. What was I going to do? These comics were too mature for me; too dark; too edgy. But, I was eleven now. I had hair growing in my armpits, and, well, elsewhere. I had grown a couple of inches just in the last two months. I was growing up. I was becoming a teenager. Maybe it was time to put Batman and Superman aside and try something more, well, advanced. I took out my dollar and studied it. It was my only money for a whole week. If I spent it now, I would get nothing for another week.
I chose 8 comics and plopped the dollar on the counter. Mr. Baber gave me two cents back. I hurried back down the street toward my grandparents’ house. The sky was dark and dusky and a humid window was blowing the fine sandy soil of Saline down the street. I ran as the first drops of rain hit my face and made it into the house just as the bottom fell out.
I stretched out across my bed, face pressed into the cool rain filled air from the window and I shuffled through the comics. First, I read the Fantastic Four comic. Instantly, I was mesmerized; transported across time and space to a magical realm. My face grew warm and my heart quickened at the story of Ben Grimm, the Thing, allowing his blind girlfriend to enter a shattered laboratory where something had formed in the midst of an experiment gone wrong. I gasped as she found the man at the center of the story, now transformed into a super being of terrible ego and energy. I turned the pages faster as she reached out and touched the man’s face. Anyone else would have been blinded. And, then the story ended. To Be Continued . . .
Oh my soul! I was hooked. I read through the Spider-Man. The poor teenage boy had such, the only word I can think of now, angst. Hated by the police. Hated by his enemies. Misunderstood by his girlfriend. Was this what I had to look forward to as a teenager? Turns out that comic was eerily prophetic. Only, I never developed Spidey powers. But the rest of Peter Parker’s troubled life was mirrored by own (except for the police). I went through all of the comics. The Fantastic Four, The Incredible Hulk, Thor, Sub-Mariner, Iron Man, Daredevil, X-Men, and finally, the Avengers.
I spent hours on that bed, the rain filled air cool on my face transported to the inner reaches of my imagination. The innocent, fun filled stories of DC Comics disappeared from my memory. This is where I wanted to be from now on. These were my kind of heroes; flawed, imperfect, but striving to always do what was right and what was good. I became a fanatic for Marvel Comics and collected them for the next 7 years. I spent every spare cent on comics and when my allowance was doubled to two dollars, I was able to expand my Marvel universe.
Now, I am seeing my dreams and my imaginations brought to life. When I sat through the first Spiderman, I had tears on my face. I loved Daredevil in spite of the critics’ harsh words and really loved the Fantastic Four. The critics panned it as too campy. But, comics are campy. How many of us talk our way through conflict with corny sarcastic remarks and sounds like “thwipp” or “katanyow”? And, when I heard Ironman was coming to the theaters followed by my all time favorite, Captain America I saw my boyhood dreams come true.
And now, I get to stretch out on that bed again, face pressed into the cool outside world of imagination and watch as the “Avengers Assemble” cry brings all of my heroes together. You can keep your Man of Steel. You can go brood over that depressing Dark Knight. You can throw yellow paint on Green Lantern. My heroes have arrived and I can’t wait to join the ranks of the Avengers and see real super heroes in action.