This post is by Joe Stephens
Just many other boys–and mostly it was boys when I was a kid–did, I spent a lot of time with a towel tied around my neck, running as fast as I could, jumping off of things that I probably shouldn’t have jumped off of, and fighting the forces of evil in the person of imaginary supervillains like The Joker, Lex Luthor, and Dr. Sivana. Sometimes I was Superman. If I was feeling like the night, I was Batman. I even had a cape and cowl, though the cape succumbed to a tragic ironing accident. Rarely, I was Captain Marvel as I knew him. He later became Shazam. The woman they call Captain Marvel now isn’t the one I’m talking about. She’s great; she’s just not the one I mean.
Unlike some, though not all, boys my age, I never outgrew this love. I still read the comics, though now I borrow them from my friend Keith, who loves Superman so much that the picture that pops up on my phone when he calls me is Henry Cavill as Supes and the ringtone is the Christopher Reeve-era Superman theme. And I see every superhero movie coming and going–most multiple times while they’re still in the theaters. I saw Avengers: Age of Ultron three times. Most of the time it’s with some or all of, at least the male half, my nerd group. In a perfect world it’s all of us. We like to think of ourselves as kind of our own little Justice League, if you will, though Jonathan would, I’m sure, prefer that we be The Avengers or X-Men. He’s a Marvel guy. Keith and I are DC. It matters.
Why do I like these characters and stories? I could get all sociological and psychological on you (I really could–I’ve read myriad books and articles on the subject, many quite scholarly), but it really boils down to one main thing: at their heart, all that matters to them is doing good.Superman’s parents chose Earth partly because he would be safe there, but also because he could be a shining beacon or right and hope to the people of our planet. And he spends his life trying to live up to that mission. Sadly, we don’t always understand or accept that he’s really here to help us. But he stays true to his mission. He helps. He fights for the right. He protects the weak. He sacrifices himself–to the point of death–to save the world.
There’s a little of Kal El (that’s Superman’s name on his home planet of Krypton for you non-nerds out there) in my hero. And a little of Billy Batson (Shazam) and Bruce Wayne (Batman) too. Maybe someday I’ll write about what specific attributes from Harry Shalan are inspired by which hero, but that’s not my point today. While I like sci-fi and fantasy, I never really enjoyed writing it all that much. But I would argue that detective fiction is a superhero story without the capes and cowls and, mostly, the superpowers. Harry Shalan, the narrator and hero of my stories, and his wife Dee truly are just a little better than the average human being. No, they don’t have the ability to go faster than a bullet or jump over a high building or stop a locomotive in its tracks, but they can survive that bullet when others probably wouldn’t. And they can shoot just a little straighter and hit just a little harder, and think just a little more clearly than the people around them. So they really are, to a degree, superheroes.
But that’s not the way in which they are most like superheroes. They channel my favorite heroes in that they are on this Earth to do good. It’s their mission, their raison d’etre if you will. They protect the weak, stop evil, and right the wrongs. Sometimes people don’t agree with or understand what they do, but that doesn’t stop them. They know they are doing right and they won’t let anything stand in their way, especially when someone’s life or safety is being threatened.
I choose to write about this because, at least in the world of the Shalan Adventures, there’s someone like that. Someone who is a real hero that’s there for the express purpose of saving the day. And because I strive to be that person. I’m not big and strong and fast and I can’t shoot as straight (though I am not a terrible shot) but by watching those movies and reading those comics and writing those books, I remind myself of the importance of doing my best every single day to be a little more. More compassionate, more protective of the weak and oppressed, more heroic. And wouldn’t the world be a better place if we could all be just a bit more heroic.
Sorry, I have to cut this short. I think I hear a cry for help somewhere.
Joe Stephens is a teacher at Parkersburg High School. He is also the author of Harsh Prey and Kisses and Lies, both of which are available in paperback and Kindle formats. The paperback may be purchased from
Amazon, from J & M Used Book Store in Parkersburg, and from the author’s trunk.
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