Writing is an Itch. This is a place to scratch.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Heroes Don't Have To Be Super.

Text and Pencil Drawings by
Rattus Scribus© 24 Sept 2010

I have not drawn in many, many years. Anita has been encouraging me to pick up the pencil once more. As an artist I'm about as out of shape as Jabba the Hut, but it sure is fun.

Ever since I could read, I've been a sucker for superheroes and superhero stories. Comics were my first real entrance to the wonderful world of books, and I could not then and still cannot get enough. During my middle and high school years I was not a good student. I hung around some of the worse kids in the school. We made teachers quit. That will give you an idea of my background.

But I loved to read, and I read more than anyone I knew (which may not be saying much). So while school bored me to tears and I barely graduated high school, I was engaging, quite by accident, in a significant amount of self-education. Years later when I got married and started college, all my teachers loved my work; and I owe it to my start in comics. Today, ironically perhaps, I am a teacher.

The comic book stories I read as a child may have been primitive compared to some of today's sophisticated writers. For one, the science was often just plain bad. I still laugh at how many superheroes got their powers from exposure to some radioactive cosmic energy -- gamma ray bombs, rocketing through Van Allen's radiation belt, radioactive spider bites, tumbling into horrifically toxic sludge, and so on. And instead of withering to bacon, the characters end up with the ability to juggle tanks, flame on, scale walls, and control nature.


Nevertheless, I learned a lot. At 10 years old I knew words like inundate, quandary, conundrum, heinous, raiment, refulgent, salutary and munificent. I also understood basic physics concepts like the inseparability of time and space, and why (if E=mc2 is true at all) humans cannot and never will travel Faster Than Light (FTL), despite all the sci-fi books and movies that depict otherwise.

But my love of superheroes was more than just knowledge acquisition, or even childhood fascination with fantastic powers and thrilling adventures. For a time my biggest dream and prayer request to God was to be a superhero. Crazy, I know. But there was practical reason behind the madness.

I wanted to save the world, and the world I grew up in needed saving, badly. For this was the time of Cold War paranoia, epitomized by the Cuban missile standoff that nearly plunged the world into the unthinkable; a time of race riots in virtually every major American city; a time of assassinations -- President Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr, and Robert Kennedy; a time of protests, from the Vietnam War to civil rights to the drug and sexual revolutions.

I wanted to help. But what could one lone skinny kid do about any of this? Comics came to the rescue, because I saw in them, three very important things that have stayed with me ever since.

First, comics stirred in me the beginnings of a social consciousness. Certain superheroes and stories impressed upon my young mind the need to look at evil and injustice in the world and to expose the causes. In many of the first comics I read, problems were often reduced to individual megalomaniacal super baddies who either wanted to rule the world or destroy it. But in the 1960s and early 70s, comics took a big risk and started dealing with systemic social problems like racism, drugs, homelessness, gender discrimination, political corruption and more, all reflective of real contemporary challenges.

Blue Beetle (Hispanic teen Jaime Reyes). Many comics today include ethnically diverse superheroes and social commentary. Such elements were rare when I was a child.

Second, action. Superheroes always took action whenever they saw the innocent threatened with danger, whether human, natural, alien, or mystic. I remember when Martin Luther King Jr. said: "History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people." His exhortation may well have been all the more influential on me because the groundwork had already been prepared by those comic superheroes who took Edmund Burke seriously when he said, all that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing.

Third, there is rarely a convenient time to be a hero. I loved Superman, but the guy is basically a god. When you're invulnerable to all but a rare chunk of your destroyed home planet, being a hero is not much to risk. Comic book writers understood this, and wrote some stories where heroes are marked not by their power, but by their willingness to do an utterly selfless heroic thing, even at great personal cost.

In my top five superheroes of all time is a Marvel character by the name of the Silver Surfer. Issue number five (1969) is titled "And Who Shall Mourn For Him?" The Silver Surfer, an alien being endowed with the "power cosmic" is exiled on earth. Misunderstood and hounded by a fearful and violent human race, he has at last found to his surprise that one human has befriended him, a scientific genius named Al B. Harper, who as an African American knows full well what it is like to be misunderstood, feared and hated.

Al B. Harper, a non-super hero.
Silver Surfer # 5 (Marvel Comics, 1969)
By Stan Lee and John Buscema

But a super-powered alien named the Stranger has arrived and judged humanity to be too wantonly ignorant and savage to live. This affront to the universe shall be destroyed by a (wait for it) "Null-Life bomb," which the Stranger has hidden somewhere in New York. While the Silver Surfer battles the stranger and seeks to change his mind about destroying the world, Al Harper frantically searches for the bomb using a sort of Geiger device.

Silver Surfer #5 (Marvel Comics, 1969)

Despite the ever-reliable ignorant humans who nearly thwart his efforts, Harper succeeds in finding and dismantling the bomb, but at great cost. An anti-tampering device is set off and Harper is killed, but the world saved. The Stranger then realizes that if one human is willing to lay down his life for his fellow humans, then perhaps the species does have redeeming value. He departs, leaving the Surfer to mourn the only human who, knowing alienation, befriended an alien. Although the world does not even know of Al Harper's sacrifice to save it, the Silver Surfer leaves on his otherwise unmarked grave an eternal flame as a testimony to a real hero.

This story and others like it (and my later introduction to Christianity) taught me that heroes don't have to have super-powers, only the willingness to be available. And that is something we all can do: a helping hand, a kind word, giving with no thought of reward, a shoulder to cry on, support, affirmation, love. These are the every day heroic acts that matter.

Above: A very kind rendition of me, after one of my favorite superheroes: The Silver Surfer. I loved this character not only because he had the coolest superpowers -- he could travel the distant galaxies, skim the surface of suns, and manipulate matter and energy -- but because comics legend Stan Lee made him among the wisest and noblest of heroes. I realized as a child that the Surfer had a wisdom that came with having seen much of the universe, with great civilizations that flourished for a time but are now long since gone, and what legacy did they leave? This cosmic perspective seemed sorely missing among us humans who tend to be imprisoned to the cultural-historical moment.

Heroes don't have to be super.
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20 comments:

bunny said...

way ta' go ruben...busting my bubble regarding super powers...lol

bunny

Angelsdoor * Penny said...

Dear Ruben
GOOD GRAVY, You ARE an artist!! You sure have the anatomy down.. These drawings are wonderful.. I really like your rendition of you.

This is a great post my friend, although you lost me there for a bit with.... (if E=mc2 is true at all) HUH?
I loved comics as a child also. I wish I had saved them.
Enjoy your evening,
Penny

Bonnie said...

Hey Ruben, so much to comment on but I would like to touch on your learning some impressive words at an early age.

I want to relate an incident that happened around 7th grade when a boy named Claude got up to give a report. He was an average student very quiet and shy and while giving his report used the word "plummet." Sister She Shall Be Nameless, stopped him in his tracks and asked him how he came up with the word.I remember he said it just came to him. She continued to humiliate him and basically implied that someone must have helped him because he didn't have the brain power to know the word himself. it was tortureous. He sure could have used a super hero at that moment who would take him and the rest of us to another planet where we would be appreciated and not made to feel like two cents waiting for change.

OMG, it's amazing how I remember this. It happened so long ago. Not sure if this actually applies to your post but it triggered something deep!

~Bonnie

PS - loved Bunny's comment!

Castles Crowns and Cottages said...

Outstanding dear....your drawings are full of potential and you, you are my favorite hero of all....moi

Sarah said...

Ruben, interesting post. I've never been one to read comics, but my husband has always enjoyed them.
My husband is a fan of Michael Chabon works. Have you read THE AMAZING ADVENTURES OF KAVLIER & CLAY? It's an epic historical novel that won the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. You might find it of interest.

You should keep up the drawing. Your work is good!
Enjoy the weekend. ~ Sarah

Angelsdoor * Penny said...

Greetings my friend!
So kind of you to wander over to meet Tink..
Thank you so much! She kept eating the sugar cubes, which explains the belly! haa..
What a great idea.. A rat with a cape to save Tink! Oh yes, pick up the pencil please, would love to see this...
Bless you Ruben,
Penny

BonjourRomance said...

Bonjour Ruben,
Your drawings are incredible, and your post is thought-provoking and interesting! What a talented couple you and Anita make!
Enjoy your weekend together, dreaming of your new studio and office.
Mimi

KarenHarveyCox said...

Your drawings are wonderful, no wonder Anita is encouraging you to pick up those pencils. How wonderful that the two of you have so much in common. I love comics, besides Dick Tracy I loved reading Archie comic books as a kid. Also adored Brenda Star.

Karen

M.A.the2nd said...

Ruben these drawings are fantastic but what is more amazing is that you started out as not an academic but someone who hated school and perhaps felt the parameters of education were too confining. This is so like my eldest son, Alexander. He hated school, but loved reading and Shakespeare and did not fit into any "box". He wasn't athletic, didn't like sports but was very creative and since the age of 5 had wanted to be an actor. He also has an incredible sense of right and wrong ..... when he was in his final year of NIDA (National Institute of Dramatic Art) he was in Sydney and witnessed a theft. He tore off down Market St. in Sydney and chased the guy for about 4 blocks yelling the whole time "Stop Thief". Alex couldn't stand the thought that someone could steal something and get away with it. So he chased after him, tackled him and waited till police arrived. He was punched and kicked but felt he couldn't abandon what was right ... a lovely American tourist, who also happened to be a detective, helped him detain the thief until the police arrived. I was so worried upon hearing of these heroics but also proud. I so agree that a superhero is not necessarily super but someone who is prepared to do something when they see a wrong perpetrated. I love this post .... congratulations!

best wishes
Frances

The Dutchess said...

RUBEN...this is awesome...please..your drawing skills together with your wit...create a super hero..!!!!

Martina said...

Dear Ruben, your drawings are not so bad for the start - and i love it that you're still fond of superheroes. I'd like to be supergirl - or. at least a powerful witch - to change certain things - maybe one day ;) How about a supersurfermouse character - wouldn't that be cute? Enjoy your weekeknd!

myletterstoemily said...

gorgeous super heroes! my son in law
is such a marvel comics fan, and i know
he would just love your drawings.

they look every bit as good as the comic
book illustrations.

well done!

Dumbwit Tellher said...

I felt like I was a kid again. Gamma rays to radioactive danger to growing up during the Cold War. I remember those bomb drills of ducking under our desks all to well. I would of never thought that comics would of stirred so much in a young mans soul. Very remarkable. In the end I couldn't agree more. The real super heros don't have to be anything more than compassionate and like you stated, available. Love truly is the greatest power of all. Great..great drawings by the way!

Another brilliant post! Wishing you both a lovely Sunday.

Cheers ~ Deb

Martina said...

Thanks for your lovely comment Ruben, can't wait for super-rat conquering the blog-sphere! Have a great day - and take good care of your wife - she needs lots of tea now!

Fete et Fleur said...

Ruben, this was wonderful. We all enjoyed it. True heroes just as you said, are those willing to lay done their daily life to love others.

I love you!
Nancy

Country Wings in Phoenix said...

Good Evening Ruben My Friend...
For gosh sakes, I am going to tell you what I told Anita, if this is what it was going to take to get the two of you to pick up pencils again, you all should have added on a LONG time ago. What talent the two of you have. Together you make one SUPER HERO team. I love reading what each of your write, and now I have more beautiful illustrations as well.

Thank you for sharing with me this evening. I have so enjoyed my visit. Many hugs to you, Sherry

Rattus Scribus said...

Dear Sherry,
First things first. I love the picture header of your blog, and thank you for cluing us into to your friend's delightful blog. I will bookmark it and give a closer look during lunch.

Thanks so much for visiting Rattus Scribus and for you wonderful words of encouragement. Sometimes such words come in most timely fashion, and I believe God is behind those moments. Anita and I are very much talking about our projects. Thanks again. Bless you.

Ruben

Tish Jett said...

Dear Rubin,

I've come for my weekly "hit" of intelligence, creativity, escape and just plain brilliance. And you can draw? Proof positive life really isn't fair.

You and Anita must have such a rich, wonderful life sharing all your talents and plans. And your students! (I had a journalism professor who always said "if you can't say it in words, don't use punctuation," but I can't help it. I just love the LOOK of an exclamation point.)

You cannot imagine how flattered I am to be on your list. Now up you go on mine.

Warmest regards,
Tish

Tish Jett said...

OMG, I committed the most egregious journalistic (and just plain good manners) error. I misspelled your name!!!!

I do apologize. I had a great friend and the managing editor of a major newspaper. His name was Neal. Every time a letter arrived with an application letter for a postiion on the paper with his name spelled, "Neil," he threw it in the wastepaper basket. He also told us, the very least a journalist can do is spell names correctly. You spell a name wrong once, you get a warning. You spell another name wrong, you get the door.

Please forgive me.

Jacqueline said...

Batman...I love you and I always will! I love your Batcave and Batmobile and the mansion...glory be...if there's another life, would you marry me?
~the girl with the curl~