Hirst: Comic books to the rescue

Commentary
No caption.
No caption. Photo by Adam Lior Hirst.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved comic books. My earliest memories (and cutest baby pictures) are of my dad and me dressed up as Superdad and Superbaby, attending Purim festivities as Betman (the Hebraic equivalent of Batman), waiting in line for Space Mountain at Disney World as my dad told me the origin story of Captain America, at Passover Seder observing the similarities between Moses being cast on the waters of the Nile and Superman being launched from Krypton to Earth and asking my dad why the Guardians of the Universe in the Green Lantern comic books looked like David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first Prime Minister.

My dad began a comic book collection before he was a teenager. I’ve since added volumes to it. They were among the first things I learned to read. And I’ve always liked them.

I’ve been called childish for it, but I’m not sure I mind. As we age, I think, we should challenge ourselves to retain our childlike creative energies and clear outlook toward the world. In essence, we should strive see the world through a child’s eyes.

Elementary school children are our best fiction creators. Children dream up “imaginary friends.” They play make-believe. They purchase plastic swords and guns and become samurai and ninjas and cowboys (oh my!). They hike small hills and envision themselves scaling Mount Everest. They sit at recess with their friends and give voices to action figures. Left to their own devices, they fantasize worlds and people that have never been.

I read comic books to be reminded of this potential. The books feature astonishing, uncanny, incredible heroes — and this has little to do with their super powers. Spider-Man, though just a teenager, is able to battle the Kingpin and Venom while looking after his Aunt May, dating Mary Jane Watson and excelling in physics at Empire State University. Bruce Wayne, made himself the “world’s greatest detective” through sheer determination and force of will. Though he has no super powers of any kind, he is considered by consensus to be the greatest superhero in the Justice League. He keeps Gotham safe from his “rogues gallery” while running a multi-national corporation. The Avengers regularly save the world from imminent destruction.

I read their stories and am reminded that though we are mortal, we have great power (and thus great responsibility) to improve ourselves and remake the world.

Superheroes battle supervillains across dimensions and alternate universes that are organizationally, morally, aesthetically different than our own. In images of alternate worlds, I am reminded, as I am in my study of history at Yale, and as I was as a child, that our world is neither the only one that has ever existed nor the only one, which could exist. If wars had different victors, if elections had different losers, if certain men had settled for less than an ordinary life, the world would, of course, be different. Perhaps then, we have the power to change it.

They also give us insight as to how make that change. A childhood of comic books prepared me for my adolescence and early adulthood. By grappling with current events in a fictional setting, I was able to dispassionately consider controversial events. Take the “X-Men” comic books for example. From their first adventures in the 1960s, mutants have had to fight for their civil rights. Some, like Professor Xavier, believe that peace between mutants and humans is possible. While fighting against threats to existence itself, they work for mutual understanding. Others, like Magneto and his Brotherhood of Mutants, believe that mutants, Homo Superior, will never be accepted by Homo Sapiens. They fight to gain their own places separate from humanity.

Reading comic books throughout college has prepared me for my post-Yale life. As corporate offices replace summer camp, overtime supplants snack time and cubicles rather than jungle gyms become our habitat, it is easy to become just another boring, common suit. Flipping through “X-Men,” “Batman,” “Green Lantern” and “Captain America” comic books has kept alive my childhood faith and creative spirit, and prevented me from becoming a complete cynic.

You may not share my love of comic books, but you share my love of superheroes — just look at movies like Iron Man, Hulk Batman Begins and the Dark Knight. The characters have an appeal because real or not, they remind us of our childhood selves, our best selves.

Fifteen years later, you might now recognize them as fantasy; I recommend you use them as grist.

Adam Lior Hirst is a senior in Branford College.

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