Our World Needs Superheroes

by Robert P. Barsanti

If there is hope, it lies in Comic-Con.

I have been dragged into the tradition of going to Comic Con in Boston. Rourke dresses up in his Cosplay (costume), and I drive him into the convention center in the new South Boston where he joined a migration of superheroes and villains. We park under a hotel, then join Darth, Tony Stark, Maverick, and thousands of others. You know you are in a different time and place when security has a weapons check for the plastic swords and cardboard blasters.

Inside the exhibit halls, Dad has hundreds of opportunities to drop twenty bucks. You can sit inside the “Back to the Future” DeLorean, pose for a lightsaber fight with Darth Vader or get Christopher Lloyd’s autograph. My first few times at Comic Con, I felt embarrassed for the former stars of these shows, like Bill Shatner, but I think I know better now. Everyone dressed up in a Star Trek outfit loved the show and will remember this signature forever. They will put it in a frame, hang it in their office, and show the kids. How often does anyone get to sit in a room with that much love?

Judgements don’t last long at Comic Con. You don’t pony up the money and show up in Deadpool outfit if you want to sneer and snort. Bad attitudes get sent back to the playground or the middle school girl’s bathroom. The dark bullies of our land would look at a forty-year-old man in a handmade Darth Vader outfit and snort. Everyone else asked him to pose for pictures.

Rourke posed for pictures as well. He dressed up as Gordon Freeman, star of Half-Life and Half-Life 2. The games were last updated in 2004, when he was five. Nonetheless, four different people asked him to smile and pose for them, and he complied. More people photographed him in his Gordon Freeman costume than did in his graduation gown. Weighed down with bobbleheads, posters, books, and a key chain, we left after three hours, and he spent the next two hours planning next year’s costume.

Memory is a younger sister; it taunts me with the truth. When I was Rourke’s age, I would not dare to go to Comic Con, even if it had existed back in the seventies. Nonetheless, I had a shield I practiced with. I had repurposed a metal sliding disk for games in the summer. I could throw it, I could hold it, and I could deflect all of the bullets fired at me under the maple tree in the side yard. But I never dreamed of bringing it out to the front of the house. Or carrying it into Boston.

Captain America and Wonder Woman repeated themselves throughout the hall. He was tall, short, young, Asian, and African-American. Wonder Woman tended to be young, but brave. You have to be brave to put that suit on and then walk through a hall full of young men. Courage casts a long shadow and is tinted Hope.

Captain America and Wonder Woman share a characteristic that other heroes don’t have. Superman and Iron Man fly, Hulk and Luke Cage punch, and Spiderman shoots webs. However, Captain America and Wonder Woman only have shields. Key moments for each character involve standing and protecting. Boy, could we use those superpowers right now. The shield and bracelets would be good for the bullets that our well-regulated militia let fly in schools and businesses. Beyond the physical threats, we have so much to protect. We have no military rival, yet, we must be ready to protect people more than ever; the young, the old, the sick, and the other.

Standing requires courage. When you stand, you dare them to move you, to break you, to humiliate you. You can’t run, you can’t fly, and you can’t disappear. You can’t yield. When Captain America stands, he rejects compromise, rationalization, and conciliation. Rooted to rock and morals, he challenges in stillness. Come at me, bro.

Rourke thinks about his future a great deal, as do I. As a young man with Autism, engineering and medicine seem out of reach. Right now, he is experimenting with some 21st century careers that don’t involve avocado toast. I tell him that I want him to be Captain America. He laughs.

It won’t be easy. Most of the villains that threaten our future slip into our lives with a handshake, a check, and a full color brochure. The bad guy doesn’t have a Red Skull, instead he looks a lot like us. For example, the developers of Surfside Commons talk about affordable housing and jobs. The hammer shapes the hand out here. As most of the island residents are connected to building and selling real estate, the answer to almost every problem involves cement mixers and nail guns. Their ideas don’t seem any more extreme than the other ones that dot the moors and fill the streets. It would be easier to step aside and let it go. Thankfully, many are standing and protecting. Captain America has arrived.

The Autism Walk comes this weekend; marking the end of the summer season and the beginning of the academic year. The future looms, for him and for all of us. I have not been very good at standing and protecting; I left my shield in childhood instead of bringing it with me. As a result, we have sharks eating seals off Surfside, restaurants selling their silverware in August, and Russians in the White House. The world I am handing my sons is on fire.

They, however, have Comic Con. At our American core, away from Twitter and Reddit, we have become a nation that welcomes brown Wonder Women, overweight Batmen, and Ms. Thor. In my middle age, I regret that I am leaving my sons a world that needs superheroes. Luckily, they have powers.