By Tony C. Asaro
Before I grew to love Bill Bixby’s and Lou Ferrigno’s The Incredible Hulk or Lynda Carter’s Wonder Woman from syndication, before I knew who the Super Friends were or saw goofy cartoon-camp Batman and Robin guest-star on Scooby Doo, before Peter Parker, Bobby Drake, and Angelica Jones won me over on Saturday mornings with Spiderman & His Amazing Friends, before Mighty Mouse made any kind of sense to me whatsoever in any way, shape, or form, before everybody’s favorite bodacious, pizza-scarfing, sewer-dwelling Turtles cowabunga’d their way into my life, well before old reruns of Adam West’s Batman had me *bam* *biff* and *pow*ing my way around the playground, and the better part of a decade before the Tim Burton/Michael Keaton Batman of the summer of ‘89 drove me to find a friendly neighborhood shop within safe biking distance for a 10 year old and start spending my saved-up birthday/Christmas money on my first real comics summer day after blissful summer day, . . when I peel back the layers of the onion to before any and/or all of that, to my very earliest years, to a time in my life well-before I ought to by-any-right have any clear memories at all, there, a single figure stands tall in the spotlight, a sole shining star upon a fresh and unmarred black-velvet mural. He wears red boots, he has an “S” on his chest, he sports a perfect spitcurl across his brow, and whatever’s wrong, whatever catastrophe or emergency seems to be erupting all around us at any given moment, you can believe that he’s got it covered, with ease, with confidence, and with a courteous “have a nice day” on the way out.
Born in 1979, one year after the theatrical release of the original Richard Donner Superman film, I was just beginning to be able to comprehend the basics of the English language and make some sense of the moving pictures splashing across our family’s living room TV screen when there Christopher Reeve appeared as Kal El, transposed from the cinema of a few summers past to the airwaves of broadcast home entertainment, which in those pre-VHS/Betamax/Laserdisc/DVD/
BluRay/Internet days meant the Network TV Saturday Night Movie of the Week, or some similar event. There he was in all his red, yellow, and blue glory, poised and statuesque, catching a falling helicopter with one hand and saving wisecracking Lois Lane with the other, reassuring the panicked citizens of bustling Metropolis that everything was going to be alright with that easy, breezy, confident smile, foiling the dastardly machinations of Gene Hackman’s Lex Luthor, and, most astonishingly of all, flying.
Here and there, to and fro, slowly and softly at times, frighteningly fast at others, floating, zipping, blazing, cruising, hand out in front of him in that classic pose we all know and love, always making it look easy and natural, as if it were a person’s born right to soar through the skies with breathtaking grace. The Superman Pose; it doesn’t get much more iconic than that. It’s the sort of image that’s capable of dispelling nightmares, granting strength and courage in times of anxiety and dark clouds a-gathering, and, when the sun is high and the imagination is hot, inspiring much imitation in the form of infectiously-joyful onomatopoeia-accompanied zooming in fans of all makes and molds, the world over.
ea that a man could fly so fast around the Earth by sheer force of will alone, that the strength of his love for Lois and his dedication to making things right was powerful enough a source so as to allow him to reverse the direction of the planet’s rotation in order to break the laws of the universe and turn back time itself . . no matter if that particular scene has since come to be ridiculed, no matter if it’s particularly consistent with the character as-created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster roughly 80 years ago, the effect of such a display on my young psyche was enormous. By the power of love (cue: Huey Lewis and/or The News) and sheer strength of will, right can be wronged, the day will be saved. You can count on it. That’s some serious, universe-altering philosophy to a two year old; as miracles go, that was substantially more impactful than anything I’d ever seen before. Sure, Luke, Han, Chewie, Leia, and R2 could blow up a big ugly space station or just barely slip betwixt the teeth of a giant asteroid worm or escape the clutches of a justifiably-pissed-off wampa to live to fight another day, but warping the very fabric of space-time on a global scale was another game in another sort of ballpark, entirely. Flying? Reversing the flow of time and snatching back lives from the cold, unflinching maw of Death herself? Space cowboys are a blast, but it’s no easy task to try and match up to the Man of Steel.
We can fly
When I think back to that era, there are two pertinent memories that I’ve replayed thousands upon thousands of times on the soft, amorphous screen of my mind’s eye; they’re inestimably-precious to me, and I think you’ll find they share more than a few similarities.
At the time in question, when I was pre-grade-school age, the front yard of our house resembled, in profile, a pitcher’s mound. There was a flat bit up at the top near the house, and then it sloped down at a noticeable angle towards the street, with the sidewalk at the bottom. Like any kid, I spent a lot of time in that yard, running around, leaping and tumbling, getting itchy from the grass, playing all manner of ball and catch, picking dandelions and running away from bees, the standard for kids and lawns and sunny days. As such, every inch of that lawn was so cemented in my mind as a setting for play that it would frequently appear as the background for my dreams as well, and often when I would dream of running and playing, of that so-familiar stretch of green, I would reenact one scenario in particular.
It starts with a sprinter’s stance near the wall of the house, on the plateau at the highest part of the lawn, facing down the slope towards the street. I take a deep breath, and I gather all the strength my tiny, rail-thin form has to call upon, and off I go at maximum acceleration. Two or three paces in and I dive forward down the slope, fully laid-out, my best Charlie Hustle impression, but instead of coming back to Earth in the natural grass-stains-all-over-my-
shirt-and-jeans manner, I ride the momentum I’ve just strained for and the barely-there substance of the thin cushion of air beneath me, and as I go further and further down the slope, still not having touched down, it occurs to me that I’ve done it. No one else is around to witness, so it’s going to have to be my little secret, but I’ve finally, finally done it. I’m flying.
Please forgive me if the second of the two memories is a bit more melancholic. I assure you it’s necessary, and that the story-grand isn’t at all complete without it.
When I was three years old, my family and I suffered an unthinkable tragedy in the passing of my little sister, and even though I was very very young and recall next-to-nothing of that time, I do possess and cherish one memory that remains remarkably clear even three decades later. It’s not of loving arms around my shoulder, of which surely there were many, or of kind, soft words spoken to me on the edge of my bed, but rather it’s of a brief moment, sometime not too long after the accident, alone, playing on the driveway. Late-afternoon is turning to near-dusk, and my play is soon to be brought to a close for the day by a call from mom and dad to come in for dinner, and a bath, footie-pajamas, and grape juice and the rest. But before I get called in, I’m running this way and that across the drive, imagination in full gear, eyes on the clouds, always keeping a lookout for that trademark red blur.
In this memory that I treasure so, I’m even sporting some sort of DIY cape tied around my neck, a blanket or a Halloween remnant, perhaps, if not actually a figment of fiction nestled in between the real of it. Swooshing and swooping, concrete to lawn and back, weaving around imaginary foes, making that flying sound that all kids know how to make. And although I am not being dishonest to have called it ‘play’, I can still feel a weight to it, a somber seriousness, even now. If I run fast enough I can even get the cape to stick out behind me, feel the comforting drag of it, use it as an indicator of speed. My hands, of course, are straight out in That Pose; you know the one. I know that it has to end, that I’m being called in, but before I do there’s one more moment, one more try, one more chance to do it right. If I can run fast enough. If I can only run fast enough.
It takes a certain amount of care, wherewithal, patience, and -- ultimately -- literacy to hold, turn, and otherwise manipulate those thin, delicate pages, to grasp the sequence and the meaning of the images laying before you, to read and make some sense of the various thought and speech bubbles and editor’s notes strewn about the page, and to be able to digest and galvanize the whole of that into the intended, singular, glorious, oft-transformative experience of Reading A Comic. So, as with anyone, there was a time, ever so long ago, when I was too young for comic books. But I was never too young for superheroes, and the first, the matrix, the Hero Prime, the character that taught me what a hero is, and can be, and ought to be, was Superman.
ill do what needs to be done, he will sacrifice and fight and strain and struggle to the best of his ability to do what’s right, always and without question, and if he’s still not quite equal to the task he’ll dig that much deeper, deeper than even he thought he could go, and fight even harder, so hard that you think he’s got to break, any time now, he can’t possibly have anything left. But if the peril is still nigh, and innocent lives are in the balance, he’ll keep on going. He’ll break every limit. He will persevere beyond possibility. If he has to spin the world in the wrong direction and reverse time, that’s exactly what he’s going to do. Arms out in front, cape billowing behind, an easy smile, a spit curl, a big red “S” on his chest, teaching us all how to fly.