We Need a Hero
I am going to break format a little here (did you know I have a format?). I’m going to take a fairly informal walk through this so at times it might seem rambly (it happens). Anyway, to start things off, I spent my Memorial Day reading about a different set of heroes and a different kind of war. My day was spent within the pages of the graphic novel, Crisis on Infinite Earths. This GN is the compilation of the comic series written by Marv Wolfman and inked by George Perez in 1985.
At the time this was a huge series that spanned the entire DC comics universe. The story was pretty simple and straightforward as most comic stories can be, a major villain seeks to destroy the world and the heroes must defeat them. In this case it is a villain called the Anti-Monitor (I will get into names in a minute). The interesting thing about this story line is not only the heroes were enlisted to defeat his nefarious plan, but also super villains heeded the call. Not quite the standard plan, this one would end all life, as we know it in every universe that had ever existed, parallel timelines and all. So it became a matter of fighting for survival instead of just a fight to bring a villain to justice.
With me so far? We will proceed…
So you have the basic idea of what is going on. Now let’s delve into some particulars. The first is the naming convention that DC uses for their heroes and villains. I mentioned Anti-Monitor already, but wouldn’t you know he is named that because he is the exact opposite of Monitor. And you know it doesn’t end there. I mean seriously, Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Plastic Man… The list goes on and on. Many of us grew up and may have mentioned it in passing but it was never a huge thing. Silly names aside it does make it a bit easier to tell the good guys and from the bad, much like the good cowboys in the white hats vs the bad guys in black.
The only reason I bring it up is because at one point within the story a couple of characters call attention to it. It is this perfect meta moment where you the reader connect to Marv Wolfman the writer in this shared joke. At that moment you can’t take the whole thing too seriously because it is just a comic right? But at the same time you realize it is something more, it is a shared history between the reader and the writer as they delve deeper down the rabbit hole.
Ok, with some fun stuff aside let’s step into a bit of the serious stuff.
I wouldn’t ordinarily tie things together like this but this story ties so well with the idea of Memorial Day that I can’t help myself. See, we have a day set aside to honor our fallen heroes, the men and women who gave the ultimate sacrifice in dark times. Super heroes for many are a representation of such heroes. They are the people who live by a higher ideal, something we strive to aspire to. The powers and abilities are irrelevant in the grand scheme. In essence they are simply the tools that the heroes use to do their job.
This comic shows this in three pinnacle moments within the story. The first is the arc for the first defeat of Anti-Monitor. There is a moment when Super Girl and Batgirl are mid fight and Batgirl has stepped out of the fray. She has found the limits of what she thinks she can do. It isn’t that she is defeated by an outside force, instead it is her own thoughts that bring her down. She lets fear hold her back. While at the same time she has an inner monolog of the selflessness of Super Girl. Though Super Girl has immense power, that which rivals Superman (arguably one of the most powerful to live and of course our first super hero), she rushes headfirst into danger without a thought of her own safety.
I can here it now, “But she’s Super Girl, nothings going to hurt her.” And this is somewhat true. And they do a great job of taking that excuse away. When the heroes confront the villain in his own antimatter universe it turns out that the invulnerability of Superman and Super Girl is gone. They can bleed, they can die. And this is the moment that she shows what it means to be a hero. Despite the danger she puts herself in, she pushes own to do what she can to end the danger for everyone else. In the end she gave her life for the first defeat of the villain.
Sometimes even when we give it everything we can, when we have done all that we think we are capable of doing, it isn’t enough and we have to try again. Like I said, this was the first defeat. The heroes had one a skirmish in the long war to save themselves. The second time the villain went down came through the sacrifice and selflessness of the Barry Allen flash.
Things had changed and at this point he found a way to defeat the Anti-Monitor in his home base, but this attack ended up costing him his life as well. The thing of this victory though, no one knew what he had done. They had suspicions but nothing confirmed till well after the battle. His selflessness was entirely for the greater good. He expected no reward for his efforts and in fact paid a high price for it.
And in the third act of heroism within the story we have Wally West (at the time Kid Flash gotta love the names from DC). We find out that he has an issue, a disability if you will, that if he uses his super power it will bring him closer to death. The thing is, no one knows, he hasn’t told anyone of this problem. Instead he works to the best of his abilities to do what needs to be done. He is called on several times to do what it is he can do, a gift all his own. And he does it, knowing that he is sacrificing himself in the process. Mind you in the end we find that he is the lucky one of these three. For his efforts there has been a change that cures him (comic books…) and eventually he takes on the mantle that Barry Allen has left. We could quibble all day about the ideas here but no matter what we think, in the end it was his choice. He chose to not tell anyone, he chose to risk himself, and he chose to do what was in his power to do.
Heroes are the ones who push through, despite the odds, despite the things that can hold them back. We see them everyday. They are the ones doing the jobs we are not always capable of doing. This is one of the biggest ideals that comic books and super heroes have always represented.
Post Script Edit
I realized I missed one last sacrifice within the story. This one could be one of the biggest ones. See in the last battle there came a time to make a choice. The villain was almost completely defeated, but at the same time, the heroes were on limited time and would not be able to return home if they stuck around to finish the job. One hero had to make a choice, a conscious choice to sacrifice for the greater good. The older Superman from Earth 2 volunteered. He had nothing else to go back to, his wife and the world that knew him were already gone. As ugly as the choice could be it made logical sense. But something else happened in that moment. Superboy chose to stay with him till the end. He could have gone back and lived on, but instead he chose to stay till the bitter end so that Superman wouldn’t die alone.
This selfless act gave a dignity to the sacrifice beyond the valor it represented. The toughest mark of the hero is to stand up when everything around you screams that you shouldn’t, screams that you don’t have to, screams that it doesn’t make any sense. But still they stand up and make a difference when it matters the most.