Thursday, 20 September 2012

Who is my favourite super hero?

Particularly after the extreme seriousness of last week, I'm going to try and provide a little bit of balance to the blog by allowing myself to veer off into a few sillier and more casual directions. With that in mind I thought I'd provide a bit of a break this week by talking about something that kept me up last night. The question of who my favourite super hero is*.

From a very young age I had a great interest in super heroes. There's an old story my godmother loves to tell about me where, as a very young child, I unexpectedly jumped off a wall I'd been walking along and shouted “SuperTed”. Apparently I trusted completely that her instincts would to save my fall (she was thankfully equal to the task). On another occasion I remember hurting my throat quite badly by trying to swallow an entire banana in one go after I incorrectly “figured out” that this must be how Bananaman, who always ate them like that, got his powers to work. However I think these cartoon characters always occupied a slightly smaller place in my heart than the real superheroes, the ones who appeared in comics in America (that mythic land of my childhood). Those ones were so much richer and they had such a vibrant history and unseen past that was extremely enticing to me.

My earliest obsession was with Superman. I'm not sure exactly of the ages, but I would guess that he occupies a place in my life from the age of about four to eight. I remember I had a Superman t-shirt and a duvet cover and pillow (and they were wicked cool, I'd wear that t-shirt now if I could get it in my size). I'm not entirely sure about the details, but I think in my young mind I always understood that I WAS Superman, my having so many items depicting him couldn't just be mere chance. I knew that it was only a matter of time before I would grow up and people would recognise me for what I was. I was quite certain that all of his powers were due to me as well, it was a very optimistic and promising imagined world. In that sense I think it is well matched to the hero himself, who is always presented as a symbol of virtue and potential. However I also think it is a fine symbol of the type of young man that I was at the time, supremely confident in my own abilities, trusting all of those around me and with a total faith in the security of my future.

The next focus for my attentions was Judge Dredd. For those of you not aware, Judge Dredd is a policeman in a city of the future. He applies every aspect of the law with a rigid certainty which is often totally unfair on the people he is subjecting to it, but he believes in his city and the order which him and the other judges subject it to. For the first time with Dredd I was able to go out and get the stories for myself, from roughly the ages of eight to thirteen I would often sit in WHsmiths for hours on end reading every comic they had. In Dredd not only had I discovered a world which I could immerse myself in, but I also suddenly had a deeper awareness of all the other things going on under the hood. There were years and years of Dredd stories and in my searching I would occasionally gain a little glimpse at them, at a whole world I wasn't aware of and big impressive events in its past. I never did manage to fill in those gaps but I didn't mind, somehow having my imagination fill them in let them, and Dredd by association, be so much more impressive.
There are all sorts of reasons why I liked Dredd, why he fit well with my life at the time. My Father had a cardiac arrest and was never the same again. I went to a private school and was no longer effortlessly in the top of the class (if I was lucky I was towards the middle). I began to enter my teenage years and the whole world of social pressures and rules which I was poorly equipped to understand. I think these do mirror quite nicely the more hopeless and grim struggle which Dredd's world represented. However I personally prefer to take the view that rather than my enjoying Dredd because of those things, that he came along at as a mirror to them (I'm rather enamoured of this idea that your fictional reality, whatever it consists of, is a microcosm of the macrocosm of you life... or perhaps even the other way around).
Whatever my attraction to him, the fact is that Dredd has some strong associations for me, that he represents in my head a time when my world suddenly became difficult, a thing to be fought against, even when that fight seemed impossible.

The next period of my life probably represented a much wider expansion of my interests, at least as far as comics went. There was one notable stand out though in the form of Batman, who I was probably mildly obsessed with throughout the rest of my teenage years. Through reading him I discovered some brilliant writers and for the first time I felt involved with some of those big events that I'd only heard about in Dredd's world. Batman to me represents the triumph of the normal man. He has no powers handed to him, in fact he had an awful start to life (if you ignore the many silver spoons crammed in his mouth), but he triumphed all the same, becoming a symbol of order and reason in much the same way that Superman symbolised hope and possibility. Batman was the genius polymath that I always half suspected I could be, but he was also dark, he was driven to those things by pain and it didn't ever seem to bring him happiness when he fought for what was right, it was just what he did. I'm struggling to figure out what Batman symbolises for me and my life, perhaps because so many more of those aspects are still with me. I think it is a return to the boundless possibility of my younger self, but a possibility which is now tinged by grim times and hard work. It was around this time that I decided I wanted to be a writer, though I still felt that it would come easy, that I would put pen to paper and be instantly declared a genius. I had no real concept of just how difficult achieving that ambition would be.

What now then? Well through my twenties I gravitated towards more complex super heroes, their worlds filled with drugs and magic and much more complex problems. Often this meant they didn't lend themselves so well to being symbols for me, though they often bore my obsession in much the same way.
However I'm still skirting around the original question which I asked myself, who is my favourite? I have such a well stocked pantheon nowadays that I could (and have) mulled that question backwards and forwards endlessly. There is a sense in which they all, having a particular character and mood, fit for particular situations and places in my life. That there are times when I need to be Batman and others when I need to invoke Dredd to get through the day. Really though, it's Superman, it's got to be Superman. My obsession with him goes back to almost before I could talk and in every other period of life he has always been there, waiting quietly. I in fact did end up being mistaken for him in a way. For much of secondary school my nickname was Superman (because I looked like Clark Kent) and even now people occasionally remark on the similarity. That same optimism has always been there too, that insane certainty that things will work out, that people are good and I can do whatever I turn my hand to. I'm not sure if it's a safe or sensible way to live, having that sense of security at my back, but if the past thirty years have taught me anything it's that life is happier this way.

*[It's probably worth admitting that, somehow, I ended up taking this silly idea rather seriously. I promise that this wasn't planned, I suppose the weight of ideas was just too great this week I'm afraid]

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