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?
Very few people have heard of Doc Savage. Back in the 1930’s with the Great Depression covering the land with a dusty veil of hopelessness, magazines with serial stories provided an escape from reality. Long before Adolf Hitler procured the concept for his strategy of producing his master race, the idea that humanity could improve itself through eugenics promised a glowing future. Eugene Sandow considered the father of bodybuilding was a popular figure around the turn of the century. And, the hopes that through heredity, the human condition could be improved to the level of this astounding physical specimen lay behind the formation of many heroic figures in fiction at the time. This idea would later be called the “trans-human” effort to produce a superior human being.
History tells us how well that effort turned out! The pursuit of the eugenically perfect “super man” led to the Nazi holocausts and the horrors of World War II. But, long before the descent into darkness, the ability to perfect the human body fascinated the public. In response to Eugene Sandow’s popularity as the father of bodybuilding and this idea that perhaps the perfect human being could pull the world out of the Great Depression, a new fictional hero was born.
Publisher Henry W. Ralston and editor John L. Nanovic at Street and Smith Publications introduced the world to Doc Savage in March 1933. The series main writer, Lester Dent (under the pseudonym, Kenneth Robeson), wrote most of the 181 stories. Doc Savage’s real name was Clark Savage, Jr. and he was a physician, surgeon, scientist, adventurer, inventor, explorer, researcher, and a musician.
My father passed away in October, 2012 at the age of 98. This will be my first Father’s Day without him. I just recently had a birthday reaching the venerable age of 58. 58! When did that happen? But, this birthday was bittersweet because I was born on my father’s 41st birthday. This was my father’s first birthday without him. He would have been 99. So, birthday and Father’s Day have always had a very special meaning for me. They arrive almost simultaneously each year and in the past, this has meant a blow out party mainly focused on my father. At 98, his last birthday should be properly celebrated! This year, no celebration.
To say I am sad is an understatement. To say I am wistful is a given. But, I want to talk about something entirely different. Movie critics. Now that we have the internet, movie critics are coming out of our pores! If you want to see a movie and want to search diligently, you can find a positive review somewhere, even if the movie is horrendous. Conversely, the “mainstream” critics seem to have an unspoken agreement and routinely pan or praise movies in tandem. Case in point was “Star Trek Into Darkness”. Most of the mainstream critics praised the movie. And yet, according to detractors, this movie has NOT met the financial goals of the studios. Great reviews; poor box office returns. Certainly not on the same scale as “After Earth” which was universally panned by mainstream critics and fanboy critics.
What is interesting is that both of these movies touch on fathers. In After Earth, the father son relationship is at the center of the story. In Star Trek, it is the fatherly relationship between Kirk and Pike that drives Kirk to become the man he must become in order to be an effective captain to his crew. I have not seen After Earth. I will not see After Earth. But, I have seen Star Trek Into Darkness 4 times. Okay, so I’m a Trekker. I have been since I watched the very first televised episode on network television way back in 1966.
Yesterday, my daughter and I went to see “Man of Steel”. I checked out the mainstream critics. They were unimpressed with the movie calling it “dour”, “deadpan”, “lacking chemistry”, “tedious”, and “boring”. Even the fanboy/geek sights were unimpressed. Not on the scale of “After Earth” but for a movie with this much anticipation, the criticism was worrisome. I went into the movie expecting to be disappointed. I was not.
First, let me say that this movie has so much emotion, I cried at least three times. Yes, I am a man. And, yes, I cry sometimes at movies. It has to be a really, really effective movie to make me cry. I am a writer. I am getting older. I have seen every movie trope there is. It takes a lot to impress me. It takes a lot to make me cry. Both Star Trek movies made me cry at very unexpected times. I did NOT see those moments coming and for me, that is the best “thumbs up” a movie can get from Bruce Hennigan.
In “Man of Steel”, I was so moved by key scenes. The artists behind this movie were brilliant in their use of flashbacks and set pieces that spoke volumes without a single word being uttered. Watch for the “rebellion” scene in the truck between Clark and Jonathan Kent. I dare you to NOT hold your breath! Don’t miss the simple, quiet flashback at the end of the story where not a word is uttered but the scene beneath a clothesline is the single most moving moment in a movie I have experienced in years!
Secondly, this movie was a believable story. I had the privilege of experiencing the first Superman movie in the theaters. I was amazed that a man could fly. Christopher Reeves nailed the character of Superman and the Kent farm scenes were beautifully filmed and moving. But, all of these films were filled with campy, tongue in cheek moments. The assumption was while you may believe a man can fly, Superman could never really exist in our world. He is a comic book character. The reason “Man of Steel” has been labeled as “dour” and “boring” is because it dares to tell a story that is REAL. I believed that Clark Kent could have existed and that somewhere out there he waits to put on the cape and save the world. This movie was never as dark as the Batman movies. But, it carried a serious tone that just worked. Period. Was it filled with comedic moments? No. Was it moving and satisfying as a cohesive, believable story? You bet you!
Third, this movie was about a father and a son. For the first time in all the years I have read comics and watched movies, Jor-El was a real character filled with bravado and idealism and a love for his son that transcended the world in which he lived. Jor-El fought for his son’s future. Jor-El was a true father — wise, strong, and willing to fight for what he believed even if it cost him his life. Russell Crowe has never been better. Jonathan Kent as played by Kevin Costner was perfect. His conflicted fatherhood was obvious — torn between protecting his son from the ridicule of a world that saw him as different with the desire to let his son beat the crap out of a bunch of bullies. Jonathan Kent’s soft spoken, spare words of wisdom were just right. And that scene — oh that scene in the truck. Wait for it and I dare you to not be moved!
Which brings me back to my own father. Experiencing “Man of Steel” brought back so many memories of my father. Like Clark, I grew up on a farm. Like Jonathan Kent, my father was a man of few words to me. He spoke eloquently from the pulpit and sang wondrous songs and was a true ham when it came to showmanship. But, his relationship with me was at best tentative in my early years. Like Clark, I rebelled against my father and the most painful moment of my teenage years was the day I made him cry because of my behavior. In my mind’s eye, I see my father standing on the edge of eternity, with so many years of life behind him and now facing the brink of darkness and he nods at me as if to say, “I hope I taught you well, son. Go change the world.”
One last note. There has been a huge swell of interest in the possibility that Superman in “Man of Steel” was deliberately patterned after Jesus. In fact, I read where the movie studio was hoping that Christians would think this also and go see the movie. But, as usual, the media, the internet movie critics, and the Hollywood “story” machine just don’t get it. Clark Kent, Kal-El is mortal. He is a man of flesh and is given in to temptation and the desire to do harm to others. The telling final battle between Superman and Zod define it all and Superman’s inevitable solution is very, very human.
Let me be very clear here. Jesus Christ was a real person not a comic book character. He existed and history does not dispute this. Some think that Jesus was the product of our imagination; our desire as a primitive people to create transcendent heroes to give meaning to our paltry lives. No, that would be true of Superman, but never of Jesus of Nazareth. Yes, we see elements of the character of Jesus in Clark Kent. But, that is true of any human being. Each of us has the capacity and the desire for altruism, for forgiveness, for love, and yes, for self sacrifice. That does not make anyone of us Jesus. It does mean that those characteristics are there for a reason. We are made in the image of God. God who is creator, sustainer, lover of humanity, and capable of great sacrifice. And yes, capable of the gentle, and sometimes harsh hand of fatherly discipline. Jesus was God in man form. The attributes we see in “Christ” figures are very poor reflections of the true character of Christ. He was without wrong doing. He was without failure. His every word and deed were carefully planned and thought out. His life was the ultimate Story that gives our lives meaning. This cannot be said of Superman.
What we see in Superman and the Doctor and a myriad of “super heroes” is our need for a savior. Can someone please save us? Please? Save us from what, you ask? Ourselves!
For this father’s day, go see “Man of Steel”. For the day after, seek the true Father Son relationship in the person of Jesus Christ. Find your Savior!