Monday, November 19, 2007


Apparently I had an internal alarm clock as a kid that only worked on Saturday mornings as an alert for punctual cartoon watching. My mother tells me it took a herculean effort to get me out of bed on school days, complete with bacon bribery, so it mystified her that I could wake up like a shot at 7 am on the only day she could sleep in to watch men in capes and tights run around saving people.

My favorite show (that I remember) was Spiderman and His Amazing Friends. I'll admit I hoped to grow up to be Firestar someday (what is it about curvy redheaded women who can generate fire?) and would close my eyes at bedtime in my pink footie pajamas to imagine how it would be to fly and set things aflame.

I've always had a thing for comic book heroes even though I haven't read nearly as much as I wish. Last week, a work friend lent me Daredevil: Visionaries (written by filmmaker Kevin Smith, with a pretty awesome intro by Ben Affleck -- and yes, I know I'm not supposed to like the movie, but I do and I watch it pretty much every time TNT shows it) in his kind quest to keep me up with comics. At the time, I was finishing up Fortress of Solitude, which features a storyline you have to believe in to believe the book, a metaphor that mixes comic book heroism with the way we hope in the form a ring that can make boys fly and men (who can imagine) be invisible.

Smith's Daredevil is about the cliches of storytelling and villains, how heroes must inevitably sacrifice the ones they love, how even those entrusted to save us need saving, and how acts of heroism are more about the courage of trying again and again -- and the heart that takes, more than any kind of gift of strength, smarts or hubris. As a heroine tells Daredevil after making a list of all the doomed women he's loved:
I tell you these things not to hurt you, but to help you. Because someone as good as you shouldn't be alone. You deserve to be loved and content and fulfilled in your personal life, because your life as Daredevil will never offer you purchase from the storm. You need a place to hang your heart at the end of the day. You need peace.... Look within yourself for that peace before you look for it in someone else. Because you'll only be setting that someone else up to disappoint you.
Who knew a superhero's woman troubles could echo the questions we all have about affection and the risks we take to share it?

And it's not long before comics take their turn from stuff we dream on to stuff we read to remember what it was to believe implicitly in the day saved. The Fortress book wonders what life would be like if we could spring our friends from the prisons they and the world makes of their lives. And it weaves how those friends spare us from pain in the way they take on the burdens we cannot conceive from our easier vantage.

I think we're all much more capable of saving than we sometimes imagine. There is so much courage in simply loving anyone. There is bravery in being happy. There is some kind of audacity in seeing what is good in someone instead of what is flawed. And there is un-ordinary strength in doing anything that makes us risk what we most fear. Courage being something we have not because we don't have fear but because we do and we know it and we do it anyway.

People and stories save me all the time. Seeing someone else struggle and emerge gives me a simile for how to confront my own made-up villains. Observing a personality unfold in its complexity is a lesson in the mirror that compassion can be. Reading a book with simple or beautiful lines that link to my life make me fold over page edges to mark the spot where the words inked are what I thought I knew before I knew it or what I need to know. The way that words can wrap around us to save us and lift us in something like imagined flight.