“We can’t have a backdoor Alfred. We might be tempted to use it.” Batman
…..The enemy agent moved deftly in the shadows of the rural levee. The explosive charge would open a gap wide enough to collapse the entire reservoir and erase the town’s main electrical and power plant. Without power, the CDC research lab headed by the benevolent Dr Alan Goodfellow, would be without alarms and critical defenses. It would now be easier to slip in and steal the experimental drug X9. This drug could alter the course of the war. Axis scientists could manipulate it into a biological weapon capable of wiping out entire cities. The fact that the mile wide tidal wave of water would erase a town of 5000 innocent souls was irrelevant to the saboteur. War required sacrifice and collateral damage was a byproduct of war…….
Every summer my world was awash with heroes and villains fighting in a grainy world of science-fiction gadgetry and black and white morality. Marvel Comics was the Microsoft of action heroes. It’s boxed and bubble narratives featuring mild mannered citizens morphing into champions of justice reassured me that irrespective of the injustice in my own life (chores, school and adolescence) everything would somehow work out for the best.
A typical comic book offered a series of crime, horror or adventure vignettes to millions of youngsters who sat idle, on beaches, by lakefronts, in back yards or on front stoops. Comic afficionados addictively consumed every detail of their favorite comic so they might vicariously follow the exploits of their beloved protagonist. The comic book was widely distributed before consumer protection and truth in advertising laws. The comic’s advertisements would shamelessly promise fluent English in one week, live seahorses, missile firing tanks, XRAY glasses, magic kits and a GI Joe ranger kit replete with black saboteur suit, binoculars, compass, decoder and disappearing ink pen. There was the classic ad that promised to “turn your arm pits into an explosive defensive mechanism”…this was obviously before roll-on deodorant. Comic advertisements promised gainful employment if you chose to sell “Grit” magazine. Grit purportedly was circulated to over 900,000 households and one could keep 5 cents per copy as commission. I am not sure who read “Grit” or whether it was really an adult magazine for dirt farmers. I personally took advantage of one advertisement to sell Burpee Seeds to my neighbors. The day the brown package with colorful packets of morning glory, daisy and aster seeds arrived by post was my first taste of raw entrepreneurialism. Marvel Comics made it all possible.
Perhaps the most famous ad had Mac, the 90lb weakling, bullied by a muscular tormentor who kicks sand on him and steals his girl. After taking world famous body builder Charles Atlas’ “ transform your body from shame to fame “ course, our hero returns to the beach with guns bigger than Jose Canseco, punches out his nemesis and gets his babe back. If this was attempted today, Charles Atlas would get his glutes sued off – – promptly blowing through his product liability insurance policy. Thankfully, things were simpler then and comics reflected our optimism, sense of fair play and need for personal responsibility. The superhero knew right from wrong and always fulfilled their destiny to serve and protect.
My favorite comics were Tales of The Unexpected and Ripley’s Believe It Or Not. Like most fear junkies, I liked to scare the dog dirt out of myself at night. Tales of phantom specters, unexplained phenomena and the paranormal appealed to my need to give form to those things that went bump in the night. Ripley’s bizarre illustrations of people with three foot fingernails or the world’s fattest twins riding mini bikes added dimension to my universe teaching me that life can be stranger than fiction. Yet, I always returned to The Shadow, Batman, and the Human Torch. These cursed crime fighters led relentless lives where they were not accepted in any world – the world of humans or of mutants. This unspoken sentiment resonated with me as my teenaged glands were in the process of transforming me. As I grew older, I abandoned the comic racks of the news shops but never failed to notice when a new generation of comic heroes arrived on the scene. Each protagonist represented the embedded contradictions of a present day society both cursed and blessed by its powers. It reminded one to be careful about wishing for something. You might get it.
And, don’t you think we are missing a few superheroes who could help bring equilibrium to the far corners of today’s troubled society? I have submitted the following ideas to DC Comics to consider:
Compliance Man – Hopkins Sarbanes, is a city college graduate working in corporate America. The son of a steel worker, who went insane upon losing his job in a greed driven corporate merger, Hopkins fronts as a mild mannered middle manager, while all the while using his uncanny ability to root out corporate fraud. Hopkins always tells the truth. He blows whistles, exposes greedy CEOs and steers the partner that he has never met, Rex Regulator, to hives of corporate malfeasance. Compliance Man keeps moving from town to town, job to job and relationship to relationship. His compulsive candor is in fact, a curse as he cannot lie when asked the question, “does this outfit make my bottom look big?” Sarbanes will never find rest until there is “equity for all and no inside trading.”
Leech – After waterskiing through an industrial spill in Thailand, British oil magnate, Sir Lancelot Boyle, transforms into an inflation fighting slug every time oil hits $ 100 a barrel. Cursed much like Prometheus, Leech cannot transform back to human form until the black gold dips below the trigger price of $100. By day, he benefits from the mercurial price of oil and by night, he becomes Leech, breaking up illegal cartels, sucking the blood from Middle Eastern sheiks and finding alternative energies.
Clown Boy – Wrigley Toster is a bookish, underachieving teen who mistakenly experiments with his fathers’s Rogaine and is subsequently electrocuted in his jacuzzi while listening to an iPod. When he awakens, he is afflicted with red hair that seems to grow by the minute, feet that require size eighteen DDD shoes shoes and a shrunken glutemus maximus that causes his pants to dangle precariously from a jutting tail bone. Like most teens, his super powers of telepathy and telekinesis appear erratically and often only in the afternoon and after midnight – and always when their is no adult supervision. Wrigley can suddenly finger drug dealers, pedophiles, obsessed parents, imbalanced coaches and fellow teens at risk. He is a champion for the rights of the marginalized and the socially awkward. Wrigley is secretly in love with Brittany Bindleglass, head Varsity cheerleader, straight A student and editor of the school paper. Thanks to information shared by the enigmatic carrot topped hero, Brittany routinely busts the lid off of news stories happening right underneath the noses of the faculty and police in their cocooned, overachieving town. Will Brittany learn Clown Boy’s real identity? Will he die his hair black and try to ask her to the senior prom ? Will Clown Boy’s arch enemies, Zegfried and Roy, attempt trouble in Anytown, USA ? Clown Boy does have a dark secret: he is rendered useless by any type of manual labor or PBS television programming.
As we evolve as mankind, we will always develop new heroes – – individuals cursed to walk the fringes of society in the name of justice. Comic books protect an important part of our literary garden – a place where the ordinary and extraordinary collide in simple illustrations and sound bites, a place where the fate of the universe lies in the balance and good and evil are easily distinguished.
If I were a super hero, I’d want to be called “The Squid” – soft body, tentacles that never let go and a penchant to waste tons of ink.