Friday, August 25, 2006

Heroes and Superheroes

Last evening at Fellow Traveler’s house, meeting one of FT’s sons and the son’s partner, in town for the week (two very nice kids, as I told FT), I was introduced to one of those television shows that those of us with po’ people’s TV have no opportunity to watch and appreciate – Do You Want to Be a Superhero? On the Sci Fi Channel. This is a show where contestants, assuming the persona of a self-created superhero, compete to have comic-book guru Stan Lee develop a comic book based on their character.

This program, as FT’s son noted, has a kind of car-wreck quality – it’s pretty awful, yet you can’t look away. It’s at the end of its run, and the contestants are currently down to three: Feedback, a kind of supernerd so nerdy that he managed to bore a squirming class of elementary-school kids into a glassy-eyed stupor; Fat Mama, a zaftig earth mother type whose belt of power is ringed with donuts; and Captain Victory, a guy with a Jimmy Neutron hairdo who seemed to be doing an impression of Jim Carey doing an impression of Dudley Do-Right in tights and a cape. All three have some poignant human-interest angle in their bios; and I think there’s some reason to believe that Feedback has actually mind-melded with his character to an alarming degree. Anyhow, by the end of the show there was crying and hugging, V-man had been defrocked by Lee, and our living-room panel was rooting for Feedback, whom at one point I’d described as “the Charlie Brown of superheroes.”

(I hope you’re all impressed that I can watch a program like this and then go and read Craig Koester’s Revelation and the End of All Things. Holy Hermeneutics!)

Anyway, this show got me to thinking about my own heroes. When I was a kid I watched all the standard superhero TV shows – Superman and Spiderman and Batman. (This was in the 60’s before there was much X-chromosome representation on the superhero bench.) I even remember throwing a blanket over my shoulders like a cape and running back and forth across the living room in what I thought was an heroic manner. But I never really liked Superman; I actually preferred his Clark Kent alter ego. Batman’s uncaped life was so glamorous that I always felt that his superhero shtik was a little superfluous. I thought Spiderman was pretty cool, but his show was broadcast on a faraway station that went static-y a lot, so I couldn’t watch him every week. But these guys weren’t my favorite heroes, even if they were super. Maybe that was the problem – the superness of superheroes.

No; my favorite heroes had no magic powers. They were people like Sherlock Holmes; Zorro; and my ultimate hero, Robin Hood.

I first met the acquaintance of Robin Hood watching Errol Flynn’s Robin Hood on the local TV station’s afterschool movie matinee. Then I read (precocious kiddo that I was) the Howard Pyle Robin Hood stories. I was thrilled to learn that there really was a Sherwood Forest (and even a Sheriff of Nottingham); I was outraged to learn that some people questioned the historicity of the Robin Hood stories, and even of his very existence: There is so a Robin Hood! I found cartoon versions of the story patronizing and insulting to Robin’s memory.

How I loved Robin Hood. I wanted to be Robin Hood. While my little-girl peers were playing house (to the extent that I was even invited to participate at all I was generally relegated to the role of baby sister – “Just sit there and don’t say or do anything” – or, in one instance, family dog) or Pregnant Barbie (don’t even ask), I was longing to fight for truth and justice, to uphold the poor and the marginalized, to thumb my nose at oppressive and incompetent authority figures, and to live in the woods in the merry company of colorful societal rejects creating our own alternative community.

The more I thought about this, the more it dawned on me: Honey, you’re there. That’s where you live now.

I wish I could time-travel back to my 7-year-old self, and give her a hug, and say, “Just hang in there, kid. It’ll take awhile; but just hang in there, and you’ll make it to Sherwood Forest.”

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