Something hit me today while I was in the middle of College Comp 2 class, listening to a lecture on grammar. As my editor could probably tell you, I should have probably done my best to focus on a lecture of that subject. Instead, I found myself doodling on the assignment sheets. Doodling is something I do a lot in lecture classes, but usually it’s all just aimless squiggles. The reason it caught my attention this time was because I was actually drawing the Flash. I’ve never really been a big fan of the scarlet speedster. I always thought he was great in the JLA series or the Justice League cartoons, but I never really bought his book or paid any attention to his continuity. I don’t really draw him that often, either. The thing is, the last time I could remember drawing him in along the borders of my notebook in class was about a year ago, in College Comp 1, on the back of some hand out, probably relating to a boring lecture on grammar. It kinda’ made me wonder: is there a purpose to this? Is there a subconscious desire for this period in time to move by faster? Am I trying to manifest that by drawing this superhero?
That’s really a product of watching Grant Morrison and Deepak Chopra’s video on superheroes and mythology at last summer’s San Diego Comic Con. Morrison mentioned that a lot of superheroes, especially members of the Justice League, resemble ancient Greek gods. The pagan gods of Greece can be traced back to a time when it is theorized that the human brain wasn’t as developed as today’s version. As a result, human consciousness was different. Supposedly, when a person registered any emotions or thoughts, they manifested themselves as coming from somewhere outside the body. That’s how the ancient Greeks discovered a Pantheon of deities, each one a symbol of whatever emotion or thought that they were experiencing. Now, presumably this happened with all humans at the time, not just the Greeks. When a person thought that they were being possessed by a god of war, or love, or whatever, it was just their own mind.
So, was I drawing the Flash because I was trying to invoke a god, some part of my inner mind that can speed up the boredom of a late night grammar lesson? Hell, I don’t know, but it got the ball rolling on how I was going to open up this column.
There’s no doubt that superheroes inhabit the same space in modern day culture that was once reserved for mythological gods. I’ve mentioned this before. Superheroes embody our imagination, our hopes, and our dreams. More importantly, their powers are just human feelings and emotions, only with the amplifier turned up to 11. These are characters that symbolize what humans have to go through on a smaller, less dramatic scale, every day of our lives. Much of their mythos consists of lessons on how we can face our fears, quell the angry beast in our heart, or turn the other cheek.
There’s a reason why superheroes don’t kill. It’s a very good reason, and it’s one that we, as species, seem to still be too young to understand. That doesn’t mean we’re never meant to. It wasn’t long ago that people showed up in public squares to watch beheadings like most people stand in line to see the new Will Ferrell movie. As a matter of fact, the same night in school that I was drawing the Flash, my teacher told us a story of the beheadings that took place after the French Revolution. Apparently, the crowds would show up in huge numbers to see the killings. People were pretty twisted back then; my professor even mentioned that if a King was to be killed, members of the audience would bring along rags to soak up the blood, which was thought to have healing properties. The entertainment found in watching executions went on for a while until one disturbing incident, when a woman fought and screamed and begged so hard for her life, that it just wasn’t fun to watch. It was shameful. The crowds started to disperse. Isn’t that gross? It almost sounds pornographic, like the crowd just couldn’t “get off on it” anymore, so they found something else to do.
The reason superheroes choose not to kill, despite what you might have read in Infinite Crisis, was summed up best by the Flash himself, in an episode of Cartoon Network’s terrific Justice League animated series. His words, “the only thing wrong with an eye for an eye is that everyone winds up blind”, were simply stated, but spoke volumes about the integrity of a superhero. You can’t put out a fire with fire. You can’t wash a wound with blood. Vengeance doesn’t equal justice, and killing someone won’t change the past. Someone has to end the cycle of death, and these characters understand that. They might look like regular people without those masks, but these heroes are our myths. They have all of the compassion and the rationality that we dream of one day having.
Think about that the next time you turn on CNN and hear of another murderer getting executed, or a terrorist getting hung, or the death figures for the war. Would these people have died if the Justice League were real? It sounds laughable, and absurd, but the lessons are put in these stories for whoever buys the comics, whether they’re 3 years old or 83 years old. In fact, don’t most children learn that it’s best to walk away from a clash before it escalates to violence? Why then do so many adults crave it? Does it comfort them in fearful times? Maybe being the bigger man means not stooping to such terrible lows. Maybe we should think about the long run, and the destruction that comes from these long term wars, and why it is that our most timeless American icons have never used guns or killing to save the day.