I’m a fairly cynical person, although I work hard (sometimes) on suppressing that cynicism. But there is a part of me that likes to believe in things greater than just me. Even in my cynicism, I still like to read superhero comic books or the more elevated graphic novels as much as the next person, maybe more. And although I never got into Superman or Spiderman, I did become a devotee of Batman, The Dark Knight, The Detective, the Caped Crusader.
Unlike other superheroes, Bruce Wayne, the man who would become the Caped Crusader, had no “special powers,” like super-speed, the ability to fly, or x-ray vision. He wasn’t an alien from another world. He did have the power of money, which he put to good use by making useful tools such as the Batmobile, the Batterang, and his wonderful suit.
One of the reasons I really like Batman, among all the superheroes, is because I’ve read the Scarlet Pimpernel by Emma Orczy when I was young. The Scarlet Pimpernel impressed me as a person of wealth who risked it all, but in obscurity, to help others. This hero didn’t want accolades, didn’t want recognition — he only wanted to be effective — to make a meaningful difference. In regular life, the Pimpernel acted as a foppish fool, at night he was fearless, brave, and decisive.
I am not the only one to be impressed by The Scarlet Pimpernel. Raoul Wallenberg, too, read the books, and was inspired by its protagonist. When the chance came to work for the secret mission from the United States government, this rich Swede immediately volunteered. He wound up saving 100,000 Jewish souls in Budapest — not bad for the mostly-unsung hero. Oh, FYI, the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. now stands on a street renamed Raoul Wallenberg Drive.
Like the Scarlet Pimpernel, by day Batman acted like a playboy millionaire, but by night he dispensed vigilante justice. And the main difference between Batman and his foes wasn’t a vengeful anger or madness — in some ways he was as twisted as the Joker. It was the fact that he never killed.
The very idea of a superhero exhausts me. A person living a double life — like being a sleeper agent or a spy. Hiding a secret, able to trust very few people, giving up intimacy for solitude — it’s not a life just anyone can sustain, especially over long term. Certainly it’s not a life for me. However, just knowing that a possibility of someone willing to do this, even in the comic books, even a novel, or a long time ago in real life, comforts me. That someone would sign up for this kind of dangerous, life-threatening work on behalf of helping others — it’s kinda a cool thing.
We need superheroes and regular heroes. Not all heroes wear capes — Spiderman doesn’t. I’m kidding a bit here. I mean, of course, that regular folks can step up and become extraordinary. I believe it takes one thing for us, humans, as difficult and rare as it can be to become heroes.
It takes kindness.