I actually had a bit of time to write this week. Not much, but I did have a nice rush going for a bit.
I’ve gone back to working on my old NaNoWriMo project from last year. I’ve had writer’s block with it, but I think I’m starting to get my groove back.
I’ve also worked on a little bit of poetry. It’s nice to have that kind of emotional outlet. Very freeing. I never should have stopped writing poems.
Summer Reading is still going strong, but I’m glad that I’ve been able to carve out a bit of time for the writing side of me.
Of course, the Library Comic Con is coming up soon…. It takes a TON of planning and prep, and, as the nerdiest librarian in all the land…. well, it’s kind of my baby. Patrons really enjoy it, and I love being able to give my fellow nerds a place to let their nerd flag fly. (There aren’t a ton of opportunities for that in rural communities.)
I’m doing something a little different. I haven’t had the time to write (even one of my short 500-word flash fictions), but I thought I’d take some time share some of the stories that have most inspired me–the stories that I got completely lost within and that made me think, “Wow, I want to be able to do what this author has done.”
My Top 10 Favorite Books
(10) Atonement by Ian McEwan
(9) Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux
(8) The Perks of Being a Wallflower Stephen Chbosky
(7) Looking for Alaska by John Green
(6) The Help by Kathryn Stockett
(5) Recursion by Blake Crouch
(4) The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury
(3) To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
(2) The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
(1) Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
What are your favorite books? I’d love to hear them!
I realized that I haven’t shared some nerdiness in a while. Between that and some extreme cabin fever–come on, COVID-19, haven’t you held us captive long enough?–I ended up coming across some pictures from the last Cincinnati Comic Con I was able to attend.
Nothing quite captures what it’s like to attend a con like cosplay–particularly when characters from different worlds suddenly converge. These were taken from the top floor of the convention hall (where you can overlook the ENTIRE con and just relish in the nerdiness of it all.) And nothing warms a nerd’s heart like Merlin and Mad Madam Mim posing for a photo with Batman (left), actually finding Waldo and Carmen Sandeigo (center), and the Pines twins chatting with Snow White (right).
Ah, conventions… how I miss thee, and how I can’t wait to enjoy you again.
If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that the world is weird.
We’ve faced impending doom in the form of murder hornets, carnivorous rats, thieving monkeys, and even UFOs. (I’m just now realizing how much strangeness has been animal-related….) Of course, that’s just the bizarre news… I’m not even counting all of the other headlines that has us wondering if we should invest in panic rooms. (Though the fact that all of this is happening at the same time just adds to the weird factor.)
This year has been proof that fact is stranger than fiction.
Which begs the question: When does fiction become too strange? As Mark Twain once said, “Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn’t.”
But where does that put sci-fi and fantasy? Obviously, we extend our suspensions of disbelief, but at what point do they start to break?
The answer, of course, can be a matter of taste. Someone who prefers nonfiction and documentaries will probably think even well-loved stories like Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings are too “out there.” Conversely, someone who watches a lot of anime is used to being so far out of the box, they’re not even in its orbit. That dog is also a gun who shoots cannonballs? That’s just a Tuesday.
So while preference will vary from person to person, are there some general guidelines that help make “weird” a bit more accessible? What can a writer with a crazy idea do to make their audiences still love the story… and even love the idea solely for how crazy it is?
There’s no hard and fast answer, of course, but in my time diving into the weird side of stories, here are few takeaways I’ve found.
(1) Build Up To Your Ultimate Weirdness
If your story is going to walk on the weird side, chances are that you’re going to let the audience know right away. Readers/viewers like to know what to expect: What kind of world are we in? What’s normal for the characters and what’s not? However… that doesn’t mean you show you’re entire hand from episode one. It’s a shock to the system to cannonball into cool water–so, instead, you tiptoe your way in. The same is true with storytelling.
Disney’s Gravity Falls, which has gathered a nice little cult following, chronicles a summer that the protagonists Dipper and Mabel Pines spend with their Grunkle (Great-uncle) Stan in his tourist trap called the Mystery Shack. The real mystery, however, is the town Gravity Falls: Grunkle Stan may have fake mysteries in the shack, but all around them is very real weirdness–ghosts, gnomes, unicorns, zombies, etc.
Episode one sets the stage pretty quickly–I won’t give any details, because the twist at the end is pretty funny. But with each episode, the stories get stranger, but also more complex. A deeper mystery is unraveled concerning Grunkle Stan and the entire Pines family. By the end, “Manotaurs” (super manly Minotaurs) seems downright tame when the show’s maniacal, chaos-addicted villain Bill Cypher unleashes “Weirdmageddon” on the town.
But when you reach that point, it simply seems like the next logical step in the story. So instead of shaking your head at the “eye-bats,” you’re just cheering for the heroes.
(2) Stay Grounded with Relatable Characters and Situations
The anime Assassination Classroom is a prime example of weird that works. When I first came across the anime, I was certain I’d be able to count the brain cells popping out of existence as I watched it. A super-powered yellow octopus-thing with a smiley-face-head is a teacher and his students have to try to assassinate him or else he’ll destroy the world?
Except, it doesn’t take long for me to start binging the episodes. And, by the end, I’m sobbing at its heart-rendering conclusion. (No spoilers, I promise.) So how did a show with such a crazy premise leave that much of an impact?
Easy: A complex plot with relatable characters. Koro Sensei is the ideal teacher: He cares about his students and does everything in his power to help each and every one reach their potential. He imparts lessons that reach far beyond the classroom. And he’s had to overcome his own twisted past. Each student is also as equally developed. Plus, the show itself is as much about educational theory–what helps students and what hinders them. For example, we’ve all sat through a particularly difficult test, so we can relate when the show likens it to a Colosseum battle.
In the end, you know you watched something completely insane. But what you remember isn’t how outlandish it was, but what you learned from it. (My personal favorite moment? This quote: “The difference between the novice and the master is that the master has failed more times than thenovice has tried.”)
(3) Add Some Humor
It’s a crazy ride. You, as the writer know that. It came from your own imagination, and even you know its crazy. You believe in the story… but how do you make your audience connect with it?
Easy. Make ’em laugh.
But humor is not only a way to form a connection; it’s also a wonderful release. If you can call yourself out on some of the weirdness and let your readers/viewers have a chuckle, then all of the “What the hecks?” that have been building up in their minds can be eased. A good laugh is like turning a valve: It lets out some steam, relieves some pressure.
Dark Nights Metal is a stellar comic arc–as much fun as it is heart-pounding. One of these days, I’ll go into the pure genius of it during one of my “nerdy” posts. But it’s also very strange. The best way I can describe it actually brings me back to a quote from Gravity Falls. The super-chill teenager Wendy describes “Weirdmageddon:” “End of the world…. Those death metal album covers got it shockingly right.”
Of course, that right there brings a chuckle. (Gravity Falls knows how to use humor, too, as does Assassination Classroom.) The same is true in comics.
Of course, weirdness works the best when all three of these elements are carefully utilized. Dark Nights Metal, Assassination Classroom, and Gravity Falls, all not only know how to use humor, but also how to create engaging characters, and how to pace the story.
When these three elements are balanced together, you get a weird story that’s a wild ride but also captivating. Rather than rolling your eyes, you end up getting lost in the strange, outrageous world.
And, let’s be honest. We all like to live in a little bit of weird now and again–if for no other reason then to escape the weirdness of the real world.
But there’s one more attraction of weird stories. They dare to ask that tantalizing question: What if?
And we love that question. Not just because it sends us on fantastic adventures in fiction, but because it reminds us of all that is possible. We might not have to fight extra-dimensional monsters (*knocks on wood because, you know… 2020*), but we do have little battles every day, little doubts. But if we can ask “what if,” then we can keep moving forward.
So never stop asking that all-too-important question. And never stopping reading and watching the stories that remind us to ask it.
Today’s nerdy blog is a little bit different…. A while back, my library’s writing group all drew random prompts. Fate was with me as mine was: If you could have any superpower what would it be? *cracks knuckles* I’d been preparing my whole life for a prompt like this. Today, I thought I’d share that story, mostly because: (A) It’s super nerdy; and (B) It was a ton of fun to write.
We’ll skip the origin story. As a dedicated comic nerd before I became an actual superhero—and, yes, I know how crazy that sounds, but hear me out—I know that origin stories are everyone’s least favorite. I mean, don’t get me wrong: You can’t have Batman without Crime Alley or Spider-Man without great power and great responsibility.
But we all know those stories. We want to get to the action, to the grit, to the “How will they save the day” and the “Does the day even deserve to be saved?”
The latter is for edgier comics, though, and if my real life ever became a comic book, I doubt it would be all that edgy. I don’t think a 4’11” librarian can pull off the angst that, say… Daredevil can.
That’s not to say I haven’t had some hard times in my life. But everybody has. Everyone has had wracking sobs and shaking fists. We’ve all been heartbroken and we’ve all been furious. The difference is whether we let those moments be our molds or our ladder rungs: Do they define us or do they lift us higher?
I tend to lean towards the latter, because… well, like I said, I can’t pull off the doom and gloom.
And besides the past is in the past… in the origin story. And this isn’t really an origin story. This is how Sarah Davidson became the fastest librarian alive.
You wouldn’t think being a librarian has that many occupational hazards. (Though we tend to joke that the compulsion to take home a new book at the end of every work day is a real danger.)
And, yeah, except for the occasional pulled muscle or papercut, things are pretty quiet.
Minus the freak accident that gave me my powers: an early morning storm, a lightning bolt, and me working on the computer. I don’t know how, but somehow the electric shock that surged through the computer and into me… gave me super-speed!
Super-speed is by far the best power. No more driving—because now running is actually faster! Plus, there are technically no speed limits for running. (But who would have guessed anyone would ever be hitting Mach 3?)
Not that I can go my fastest. The speed would tear up the sidewalks.
People are starting to talk about a strange blur throughout this normally quiet small town though. No one’s suspected superpowers… mostly because that idea is crazy.
But super speed also comes with speed brain—which means I can think as fast as I can move. That comes in handy whenever I’m typing—those two books I’ve been wanting to write? I finished them last week.
Now I just have to edit them….
Unfortunately, super speed did not come with super motivation.
Plus, I can vibrate my molecules fast enough to go through solid objects. Locked myself out of the house? No problem!
I can also vibrate quickly enough that I appear invisible… though I haven’t experimented with that much… yet.
But that’s not even the biggest plus to super speed. The best part? Superfast metabolism. This speed is always a part of me, even when I appear to be still. And that speed needs fuel—10,000 calories per day fuel. I can lose the weight I want, and then eat whatever I want just to maintain my new figure!
And that is especially good news for a chocoholic.
It’s been a couple months since I got my speed, and I’ve grown pretty accustomed to it. I mean, there was definitely a learning curve (namely passing out a few times because I needed to eat and then there was that one time I meant to go get my mail, but I ended up in Fiji….)
I never had any patience, but now with super-speed always itching at me, I find it’s nearly impossible to be still. I get up earlier in the morning and then I get three times as much done as I used to. Dishes, no matter how high they’re stacked, take only 5 minutes.
I spend the rest of my free time writing (and wearing out my keyboard) and reading (I’ve already read 200 books this year!) And at work, I can put books away in a blink of an eye. I’ve also already scheduled all the employees for the next five years! And I’ve outlined programming for the next ten!
Huh… maybe speed brain doesn’t mix well with being a planner….
Of course, most of the time there are fellow librarians around. And that means I can’t use my speed (which is like asking a seven-year old with a water pistol not to shoot it). But I manage. I think I’m doing a pretty good job of hiding my powers (as long as no one looks at the floor under my desk—there’s a pretty good sized hole from my incessant foot tapping).
About a week ago, I started wondering how else I could use my super speed. I’ve gotten ahead at work, at home, and with my hobbies. I’ve helped around the house at my parents’, and I’ve even let my engineer brother run some experiments on me.
But today, as I was sitting at my desk, double-checking the schedule for October 2022 for the tenth time, I couldn’t help but wonder if I could do something more.
I’m a pretty… normal person. I’ve never been one to rush into danger. I’m more than a bit squeamish, and I’m very introverted. Even when just reading comic books, I would find myself wondering how the characters could take such colossal risks.
But then I started paying attention to the sirens. This might be a pretty small town, but it’s surprising how often sirens blare.
And that’s when it hit me: Every comic I’d ever read: “With great power comes great responsibility.” “Life doesn’t give us purpose. We give life purpose.” “It’s not who I am underneath, but what I do that defines me.”
What reason is there to have abilities if you don’t use them? And as I ran to the siren, I realized that was true of any ability, not just this strange super speed that had miraculously come my way. If you have the ability to write a story or give a speech that moves people, if you have the ability to open up young minds to the world around them, if you have the ability to make people laugh and forget their troubles—whatever it is, how can you not use it?
This particular siren was just for a domestic dispute. Nothing I could help with. But there will be others—fires, or robberies, or who knows what—where my speed might be helpful.
I’ll keep an ear out, and my running shoes nearby. And in the meantime, I’ll keeping putting away books at lightning speed….
Because I’m Sarah Davidson. And I’m the fastest librarian alive.
Note: I do not own any of the references to DC comics. I am simply referencing them in this parody work.
Alright… everyone has an opinion about masks. Today’s not about that.
We’ve all been wearing them for about five months now, and while there has been endless discussion and debate and everything else, there are a few things that no one is really talking about. And that’s a shame.
But today, I’m going to talk about what no one else is! Let’s get started:
(1) Fashion statement!
Love sharing who you are with your clothes? Of course you do! I have seen masks that have as much style as a bohemian dress or a t-shirt with a favorite sports team. People are decorating them in a million different ways, or choosing them from countless styles. Love dogs? Cute puppy mask! Wanna be a fashionista? Color coordinate with your outfit and jewelry! The creativity is astounding. Say who you are loud and proud!
(2) Men Can Now Understand Us, Ladies! (At least a little, tiny bit)
Alright gals… we all know how it feels when we finally take our bra off at the end of the day. That feeling of restriction evaporates and we can finally relax. I saw a meme the other day that said masks are the new bras… and guess what that means? Guys can now understand how we feel! (At least in that aspect… now if only we could get them to understand “Aunt Erma,” right?)
(3) You feel like a superhero!
I know what you’re thinking… Superheroes wear masks over their eyes. Wrong! Check out these heroes who were trendsetters and didn’t even know it!
(4) No make-up!
I’ve not worn any make-up since March. My skin feels amazing, and I feel amazing. Make-up isn’t essential for beauty–just our gorgeous positivity.
See someone in the grocery store that you don’t want to talk to? Well, the odds of them recognizing you from a distance and waving you over have significantly DECREASED! Just duck down an aisle and go, go, go!
Listen, all humor aside (though, to be honest, I actually do really like all those mask advantages), I’ve always been one to look on the bright side. Complaining is easy. Being angry is easy. Arguing is easy.
You know what’s difficult? Being positive. I often say you can laugh or cry, but if 2020 has taught me anything, I think the phrase should be amended: You can laugh, you can cry, or you can shout.
For me, personally, I’ve always preferred laughter. I feel better and I’ve noticed the people around me tend to feel better, too.
We have a lot of reasons to feel terrible this year. I’d rather do something that helps to alleviate all of that rather than add to it.
So I hope this list gave you a smile, or maybe helped you look at masks a little bit differently. No one’s having much fun wearing them, but if you can maybe feel like a superhero or snidely tell your husband, “Welcome to my world,” then maybe we can have a few more smiles than groans.
Stay positive, people. We’ll get through this together. Lots of love!
Welcome to insanity, my friend. You have over 80 years of material spanning various continuities in universes where science and magic coexist and death is like a common cold.
It’s a wild ride that will have you confused, frustrated, lost, angry, and a million other emotions….
And you’re going to love it.
Seriously, you will never run out of reading material. You’ll see favorite characters grow and evolve. You’ll learn about humanity in a way that could only be exposed in the outlandish plots of super-antics. You’ll develop preferences for certain styles and gain a real appreciation for this perfect marriage between words and art.
Plus, if you don’t like how a story is going, just wait long enough and either: (A) A new writer will take the reins, or (B) The universe will reset.
In short, reading comics is like when Ron tried to read Harry’s tea leaves in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban: “You’re gonna suffer, but you’re gonna be happy about it.”
Wise words, Mr. Weasley.
But where to start? Like I said, there’s over 80 years of material. Now, that doesn’t mean you have to read everything. Comics in the ’40s, while good for nostalgia, aren’t exactly riveting.
If you want exciting stories that have equal parts action and character development, then you’re going to want to start with something more recent. Of, course, with comics, that means since about the ’80s (give or take). Personal taste will vary.
But, where to start? Here are some tips:
I’m talking more about graphic novels here, which are several comic issues bound together. I recommend these because you can get an entire story arc in one sitting. Keep in mind, these #1s are not like first books in a series. For example, if you get started with Harry Potter, reading Sorcerer’s Stone is where you start, period. There’s nothing before or after. But, like I said, these characters have been around for decades. #1s represent a good starting point for a new “chapter” in these characters’ lives. Events and relationships that happened in the past will be referenced, but you’ll get some exposition along with it.
(2) Crisis Events
These tie directly into #1s. One of the reasons graphic novels may start over is because a crisis event is taking the universe in a new direction. (Other reasons may be more internal within the comic industry. But I’m sticking with more story-based restarts.) A “crisis event” is exactly what it sounds like. A terrible, universe-shaking something happens and the repercussions of it will shape all stories going forward. Here’s an example: DC’s New 52 started after the Flashpoint story line (during which the Flash royally messes up the timeline and then attempts to fix it). From then on, the next volumes were the result of the changes in the timeline. If you start at a crisis event and then go forward, you’ll have a pretty fluid story. (And these events are nothing new–Crisis on Infinite Earths is one of the most famous and it was published from 1985-1986.)
(3) Iconic/Hallmark Issues
Of course, there are some stories that, regardless of where you are in the continuity, will always be referenced. These issues or story arcs are ones that were historic in the comic community–whether because they tackled a serious, real-world issue, or because the stories deeply impacted how fans viewed the characters and their worlds. A few examples of these include:
Batman: “A Death in the Family”
Green Lantern/Green Arrow: “Snowbirds Don’t Fly”
Iron Man: “Demon in a Bottle”
Batman: “The Killing Joke”
Teen Titans: “The Judas Contract”
X-Men: “Days of Future Past”
Warning: These comics do tend to be heavy reads. If you want a crash course in how comics can be just as intense as a traditional novel, with psychological or societal themes,then these are solid places to start.
Alright… now you know what to look for, and while that criteria certainly narrows your options, you still have a veritable ocean of comics left. So now it’s time to start thinking critically. Ask yourself these questions:
(1) What characters do you want to read?
You can’t read everything. Believe me, I’ve tried. You have to figure out what characters most catch your interest. Start out with a few, and then, as become more comfortable with the format and world of comics, add some more. (Believe me, you’ll end up finding favorites you never thought you would. For me, Green Lantern ended up being a very happy surprise.)
(2) How involved do you want to be in the universe?
So, now you know what characters you want to read… but how involved in their world do you want to be? How tied into the overall universe? One of the many cool things about comics is that everything is connected. You might decide you want to focus on Spider-Man, but I guarantee you he’s going to cross paths with the Fantastic Four. Does that mean you start reading FF, too? Maybe. You might find out you like the team. (Johnny Storm and Spidey actually have a pretty funny friendship.) Or maybe you just stay a Spidey purist and just enjoy the FF when they show up. Either way is totally fine. But it can get a little more complicated than that… what about the rest of the Spiders? Miles Morales Spider-man? Spider-Gwen? Venom? Their stories will often directly affect what’s happening with good ole Peter Parker, or at least add interesting layers to who the Spidey character is. Honestly… there’s not right or wrong way to do it. Like with traveling, there’s nothing wrong with exploring one corner of the world and then adventuring outward as you get more comfortable. Maybe you start with visiting different places in your state, then you start taking road trips, then you try traveling abroad. Similarly, you can start with Spider-man titles (because there are multiple: Amazing Spider-Man, Peter Parker, Spectacular Spider-man, Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man, etc.), and then maybe you decide you’re going to read more of the “Spider Family.” And then maybe you branch out into some of Spidey’s other super-friends. Of course, if you decide to just stick with the original, that’s perfectly fine, too–you’ll certainly never run out of stories and adventures with everyone’s favorite wall-crawler. Above all, just remember: This is supposed to be fun.
(3) Are you more of a DC fan or a Marvel fan? Or do you prefer independent comics?
Now, this third tip is up to personal preference; it might not apply to you at all. It is totally possible to love all comics equally–Marvel, DC, and independent titles. But chances are, the more you read, you’ll start to develop a preference. I’m more of a DC fan. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have my Marvel comics I check out as soon as they hit the shelves. (Doctor Strange, Fantastic Four, and Spidey are all favorites.) If you do find, however, that you prefer the characters, worlds, or writing styles of one company over another, that will actually help. Continuities, parallel universes, clones, etc.–this all all happens within both Marvel and DC. It’s easier to be “dedicated” to one or the other. That doesn’t mean it’s impossible to keep it all straight (the more you read, the easier it will be to balance all the many, many stories), but if you’re starting out, it’s helpful to have a focus. It’s kind of like picking a concentration for a major. If you’re majoring in communications, studying both journalism and media production will probably make your brain explode. But if you choose one, you can really dive into it. (Of course that, doesn’t mean you can take an elective or two in the other course–or you know, read certain comics from the other company.)
Remember: All of these tips are just general. I’ve been reading comics “seriously” for about five years now, and these are all things I wish someone would have told me. I didn’t know much going in except: (1) I like the MCU movies, and (2) Batman is cool. Honestly, picking books felt a bit like being plopped down in a foreign city and just having to choose streets at random.
My hope is that, if you’re new to comics, these tips will give you a bit of a map.
After all, you’ve got one fun journey ahead of you–and it’s full of people who love to share it! (Are there trolls? Yes. But most of us just like to “nerd out” over our favorite characters.)
So… dive in, find what you love, and then spread some love in the comic community. We’re excited to welcome you to this wild, crazy world.
Earlier this week, I wrote about the most famous “Boy Scout” there is–Superman. In case you’ve never heard that descriptor before, “Boy Scouts” are characters whose moral compass always point true north. They know right from wrong and they never waver. They epitomize hope and valor, and you know that, no matter what the odds, they will manage to save the day. If literature’s main goal is to hold up a mirror to humanity, then these characters show us what we can–and should–be.
Obviously, I’m a fan of Superman and characters like him. But there’s another type of character that, while on the complete other side of the spectrum, is just as important when holding up a mirror to humanity.
I’m talking about the antihero.
As much as I love my Boy Scouts, I’m a sucker for a good antihero. Characters you hate as often as you love. Characters that leave you shaking your head over their decisions. Characters that inspire cheers when they become better and groans when they backtrack to their old ways.
But why are these characters important? Well, the mirror they hold isn’t about ideals. It’s a bit more realistic. How? Well, for starters….
Severus Snape (Harry Potter)
Snape, Snape… Severus Snape. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.) But where do I even begin with this character? Loved by some, hated by others, he’s everyone’s worst nightmare of a teacher. While seemingly villainous on the outside, he spent years secretly protecting Harry and fighting against Voldemort. Snape was fueled by guilt and unrequited love. Does such motivation make him a good person? Were his actions ultimately heroic, if they did in fact help lead to the defeat of the Dark Lord? Honestly, there’s a lot of debate in the “Potterhead” community, and Snape is one the most polarizing characters. But here’s one thing I do know: Whatever else he might be, from the day he realized that all of his choices had led to nothing but destruction and despair (the day that Lily Potter was murdered)–from that day forward, whatever his motivations… his actions were always better. Not always nice. Far from perfect–but better. He fought for the light, rather than dark.
In short: The choices of your past do not determine your choices in your future.
Good old Sherlock Holmes. How many times has this character been revisited and interpreted throughout the decades. (My favorite is Benedict Cumberbatch’s “high-functioning sociopath.”) Whatever incarnation you prefer, however, one thing remains: Sherlock isn’t just a detective; he’s a mystery himself. Aloof and consciously separate from the rest of humanity, Sherlock is never quite able to relate to others. He could be a conniving mastermind, but instead… he solves mysteries. He finds justice.
Basically: You don’t have to be like everyone else to still help everyone else.
Red Hood (DC Comics)
Since I’m the one writing this blog, you know a comic book character had to be coming, right? Red Hood: Jason Todd, the second Robin who came back from the grave with revenge in his heart. Who couldn’t understand why Batman hadn’t killed the Joker–why the clown was still alive when Batman knew that there was no chance of reform within his heart–and, worse, why he was still alive when he had beaten the teenage Jason to death. Jason is one of those characters who is constantly evolving: He began as an antagonist and has grown into an antihero. While he and Batman have very different philosophies, Jason still strives to protect the innocent and punish corruption. Batman refuses to kill; Jason on the other hand…. not so much. To paraphrase what he tells Batman: He takes out the ones who aren’t afraid. That’s not to say, however, that he always goes with that option. Often, he finds a way that doesn’t involve killing–usually letting his “I’m even worse than Batman” reputation precede him. He’s even started to come back into the Bat Family fold. In short: He may be the black sheep, but he’ll still always be there for back-up.
So: There is always opportunity–and ability–to grow and change.
These, of course, are only a tiny sampling of the wonderful world of antiheroes. Other characters that force us to look at the shades of gray, both in the world and within ourselves, are: Robin Hood, Gru, Holden Caulfiled, Jay Gatsby, Captain Jack Sparrow, Han Solo, Wolverine (one of my favorites!), Artemis Fowl, Deadpool…. The list can go on and on–just like these characters! Somehow, despite their mistakes and flaws; despite the worst that the world can throw at them; despite everyone telling them “no,” again and again–they keep going and going and going….
From classic literature to television hits, from heartwarming children’s movies to edgy comics–we can’t escape antiheroes.
And why would we want to? Sure, it’s exciting when a knight in shining armor wins the day, but there’s something about watching someone fall and get back up–someone who is far from perfect but who is at least trying–that is undeniably relatable. We all have a little bit of antihero in us (and, if we’re being honest, a bit of Boy Scout, too).
So what do we do with all of this? As writers, we create characters that people can relate to: Whether because they’re what we want to be or because we understand their struggles. As readers… well, as readers we hold on tight to see what’s coming next. Life is rarely predictable… and that is especially true in any story starring an antihero.
So, buckle up, buttercup. We’re in for a wild ride.
Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. USA, Arthur A. Levine Books, 2005.
Doyle, Sir Arthur Conan. The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. United States of America, The Reader’s Digest Association, 1993.
Lobdell, Scott. Red Hood and the Outlaws, Vol. 1: Dark Trinity. Burbank, CA, DC Comics, 2017.
Spend about 5 nanoseconds online and the first thing you’ll see is anger. Hostility. Intolerance.
That’s not to say that there aren’t good aspects of the internet. Scroll long enough and you’ll find heartwarming stories: Strangers becoming pen pals for the lonely elderly in nursing homes; shelter cats and dogs finding their forever homes; a community rallying behind a neighbor fighting cancer.
Sadly, the negative is always going to be louder. Haters gonna hate, as they say. But the good is still out there, always.
But what does this have to do with a nerdy blog post? Everything. Because if there’s one thing nerds know, it’s that heroes never stop being heroes. The good never stop fighting. They might falter. They might fail. But they always get back up.
And today I want to talk about the quintessential superhero, the one who started it all: Superman.
First appearing in Action Comics #1 in 1938, the savior from another planet captured the attention of the world: He was strong, he was fast, and he was always good.
In a time when World War II was only a year away and the escalation of the Nazi party had the very basest, worst part of humanity on display for all to see, it’s little wonder that the idea of a superhero was so captivating.
In that historic first issue, Superman saves an innocent woman from being executed, stops a man from abusing his wife, saves a kidnapped Lois Lane, and begins an investigation into a corrupt Congressman (which was continued in issue #2).
Superman was pretty busy in that first issue, but it epitomizes who he is as a character: He helps, not only with the major country- or world-shaking problems, but also with everyday injustice.
But is such a character still relevant today? Is it realistic to believe in someone who helps whoever and however he can? Someone who is, simply put, a genuinely good person?
I think the day that we say “no” is the day that we stop believing in humanity. The day that we admit, at our core, we are nothing more than selfish, violent animals. The day that we throw our hands up and declare that we will never be any better.
I’m not willing to give up on us. And neither is Superman.
Characters like him are the mirrors that show us what we can be.
Of course, that mirror might accomplish such a feat in different ways as culture changes. In 1938, Superman just lived up to his name. He was super and he made us want to be super, too.
Nowadays, comics are a little different. Superman is still super, but he reminds us of humanity’s potential in a very different way.
In Action Comics #775 (2001), the story “What’s So Funny About Truth, Justice, and the American Way?” pits Superman against a new gang of “heroes.” Known as The Elite, they are powerful and, collectively, stronger than Superman. At first, Superman is happy to have more people willing to fight the good fight. But the story takes a dark turn when The Elite kills terrorists.
Superman appeals to them, saying that it is not a hero’s duty to be judge, jury, and executioner. To do so opens the door to anarchy and violence, rather than justice.
The problem? The public loves the Elite’s no-nonsense attitude. They embrace the revenge that the Elite represents. And Superman quickly becomes little more than a joke in comparison.
Of course, Superman still believes in justice. And he worries what might happen if the Elite stops killing terrorists and turn their attention instead to others. What if they change their mind on what constitutes a danger? What if they become overwhelmed by power and start attacking innocent people? And, a part from that, they have still broken the law by abandoning due process.
Of course, they refuse to come quietly. Consumed by popularity and publicity, the Elite want to broadcast Superman’s attempt at arresting them.
As predicted, they are more powerful and they defeat him. Or so it seems.
Suddenly, Superman returns, proclaiming:
“I’ve made the mistake of treating you people like… people. But now I understand better. I understand what you are. And how to deal with you.”
Seemingly enraged and insane, Superman murders the members of the Elite and (using his heat vision) lobotomizes their leader, the telekinetic and telepathic Manchester Black.
Key word: Seemingly. It turns out that Superman staged the whole thing. No one was killed, and he only gave Black the equivalent of a psychic migraine.
The comic ends with Superman flying away, declaring:
“Dreams save us. Dreams lift us up and transform us. And on my soul, I swear… until my dream of a world where dignity, honor, and justice become the reality we all share–I’ll never stop fighting. Ever.”
More recently, the story arc The Oz Effect (2018), has Superman fighting his father, Jor-El, who was saved from Krypton’s destruction and brainwashed. Unlike his son, his time on Earth was spent among the worst in humanity. He warns Superman that the world is ending, and then manipulates people around the world to give into their worst desires (prejudice, violence, etc.).
The arc ends with Jor-El reaching out to his son, admitting that he is being controlled by a more powerful force. Superman returns to his wife and son, his mind spinning over what he has witnessed. Is it possible that the planet he has spent so much of his life believing in and fighting for truly is a lost cause?
The final image leaves the reader with only one thought:
We’ve created a job too big for even Superman.
Now, back to the original question: Is Superman still relevant?
Absolutely. As long as we can strive for better, as long as we need a reminder that we truly are capable of even more than we imagine, as long as we need a beacon to confirm that, yes, there is still good in the world.
Superman may be fictional, but the ideas and hopes he represents are not. As he said, “Dreams save us. Dreams lift us up and transform us.”
The good news: We don’t actually need a visitor from another planet to save us. We just need ourselves–one act of kindness, one selfless thought at time.
The Man of Steel reminds us that, even though we might not live in a super world, that doesn’t mean that we can’t be super people.
Up, up, and away.
Sources: Superman: A Celebration of 75 Years (2013) and Superman, Action Comics: The Oz Effect Deluxe Edition (2018).
But one thing I was never into (mostly because, growing up, my mom said it would “melt my brain”) was anime.
And, even as an adult, I didn’t want to like anime. I mean, I was already into comic books (which is vast and bottomless of ocean of reading/watching material), Harry Potter, Disney, Doctor Who… not to mention any fantasy/sci-fi novel I could get my hands on. Who had time to also be into anime?
Not me. Or so I thought.
My husband has always been a big anime fan. I’d watched an episode or two with him while we were dating, but none of it really grabbed my attention.
Until one night, he wanted to watch the My Hero Academia movie. I figured it wouldn’t be my thing, but what did that matter? I’d be happy to spend time with my hubby and see him enjoying it.
“You might like it,” he told me. “It has superheroes in it.”
Sure, I thought, but cuddled next to him as the movie started.
Long story short… by the climax, I was sitting on the edge of the couch, clutching a pillow, staring wide-eyed at the screen and wondering how All Might and Deku were going to save the day.
After that, came a downright devouring of My Hero Academia, and then some branching out into Assassination Classroom, Pokemon, Fairy Tail, and, most recently Persona5. (I guess you could say that MHA was my gateway anime.)
So what is my point in all of this? Well, for starters…. anime is awesome! (All those wasted years….)
But mainly, my takeaway is this: You never know until you try. Looking back, I realize now that there are a lot of things that I didn’t think I’d like (some that I was even adamantly against), but they actually turned out to be the best possible choices.
When I was a senior in high school, the last college I wanted to go attend was the one only one town away. I wanted to spread my wings and redefine myself far, far from home. But my parents convinced me to give the “closer to home” option a fair try. And, after one college visit… I fell in love with the campus. My closest friends are still the ones I made there (shout-out to my “nephew” who just turned 1!)
Way before that, in the third grade, I resolutely decided I didn’t like Harry Potter. It was popular, so 8-year old me figured it must, therefore, be overrated. I remember my teacher even reading Sorcerer’s Stone out loud to the class, but I stubbornly refused to listen, spending the time doodling instead. Of course, when the movie came out and there was nothing else playing, I did end up relenting. And, well… I eventually became the friend with an encyclopedic knowledge of everything HP and was even one of the thousands who dressed up in character for the midnight release of seventh book.
And now… anime.
Who would have thought that’d I’d find motivation in “Go Beyond! Plus Ultra!”? (MHA) Or that I’d find some oddly inspirational words from a yellow octopus with a smiley face head? (Assassination Classroom).
In short, you can’t judge something without experiencing it yourself. Without giving it an honest try. Without really trying to understand the appeal it might have.
That doesn’t mean you’re going to like everything. Even though I’ve tried it more than once, I don’t think I’ll ever develop a taste for sushi.
But the experience of trying something new? Of stepping outside your comfort zone and saying, “I want to better understand this” and taking a leap?
That is priceless. (Even with sushi. The date night my husband and I went to a local Japanese restaurant and tried different styles of sushi is one of my favorite memories.)
So leave your expectations behind. Try something that you’d never imagined trying. Go on an adventure. Expand your horizons and, in the process, maybe grow a little, too. In short: Challenge yourself and do even more than you thought possible.
Or, as they’d say at UA High: “Go Beyond! Plus Ultra!”