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PART THREE: "Heroes and Hope" (April 10, 1995)
We are still talking about heroes, a subject about which the astute among you have come to realize I am somewhat passionate. I believe in heroes, real and imagined, and treasure the message of hope they bring to an oft-uncertain world.
Conventional wisdom has it that comic-book super-heroes have become darker to better reflect the sad world around them. It is a wisdom that conveniently ignores the fact that the super-heroes grew out of the Great Depression, flourished during World War II, and remain popular at a time when the very spirit of humanity has been challenged by natural, political, and social catastrophes of Brobdingnagian proportions.
If comic-book creators and executives have trouble embracing the essential optimism of the super-heroes, perhaps they could be inspired by looking beyond the front page of their newspapers and the lead sound bite of the television anchorman.
There are heroes among us.
Ecru, Mississippi. Lisa Herdahl, 34-year-old mother of six, likes to see religious images in both her home and in her church. But, she doesn't believe these images should be on display in the public school her children attend.
The little community of Ecru, population 800, was stunned by her refusal to allow her kids to take Bible class and participate in daily prayers at their school.
"A lot of people labeled us atheists and devil worshipers," said Herdahl. "But I felt there should be a separation of church and state. I don't believe a public institution has the right to push their religious viewpoint on a kid.
"My parents, who were school teachers, taught us if we had a strong belief in something and believed it was right and good, we should do it."
Herdahl's children attend their church's Sunday school. She says, "It is important to me that the kids have a basic religious background."
Herdahl is sticking by her convictions. Naming the Pontotoc County Public School District "a renegade school district that is continually declining to abide by the Constitution," the American Civil Liberties Union with People for the American Way have filed suit on behalf of the Herdahls.
"I never turned away from religion," she states. "I believe in God and in my faith."
A consultant laughed when told about CITY FAMILY, a magazine whose advertisers target the seven hundred thousand New York City families with annual incomes less than $25,000 mark. "Talk about your non-market," he sniggered.
Just the same, publisher Arthur Schiff knows City Family and its sister mag, La Familia De La Ciudad, are appreciated by their target audience. He says his readers "have a tremendous drive to be middle class."
City Family is written at a third-grade level, with half the magazine in English and half in Spanish. It is available free at clinics, community centers, hospitals, and libraries. In its two years of publication, the magazine's circulation has swelled from 10,000 to 200,000.
Library Journal named City Family has one of the 10 best new magazines of 1993. They wrote, "Edited and written as a literacy tool for the borderline poor, the magazine aims to recognize them as valuable individuals while introducing them to the marketplace as a valuable, if often ignored, category."
City Family is marginally in the red, but Schiff stated that each new edition brings new volunteers and calls from supporters. He will give himself the three to five years it takes the average magazine to become profitable. After that, he hopes to start new editions in other big cities.
Harwich, Massachusetts. Alexis Brown, age 11, was born with cerebral palsy and, almost two years ago, also diagnosed with the chronic illness lupus. However, she is more concerned that other children may not have as much going for them as she does.
Brown has launched BEARABLE TIMES, a newsletter to cheer the days of hospitalized children by letting them know other kids are going through tough times, too. The 16-page quarterly newsletter features stories, poems, riddles, word games, pictures, drawings, and letters from eager pen-pals. It gets limited distribution in Boston-area hospitals.
Brown communicates through her computer keyboard, expressing a personality unaffected by the speech challenges of her illness.
"It wasn't much fun in the hospital, because I couldn't always go to the playroom and visit with the other kids or play games," she writes. "So it was great to get mail."
"I felt bad for some kids, because they didn't get much mail or didn't have many visitors since their families lived far away. So I thought a newsletter would be good for kids. We could share feelings, stories, and ideas."
Most copies of the first issue, financed by Brown's parents, were distributed at New England Medical Center. The mailing list includes the child life departments of other hospitals who'd like to join the Bearable Times distribution network. The Browns have also started getting inquiries through America On Line.
Chantel Brown, Alexis' mother, says help from family members is important to the effort and adds, "We also got a big financial boost from a wonderful man here in Harwich, Bob Spidle." Spidle, a plumber, met the Brown family when he installed special faucets in their home several years ago.
Pine Bluff, Arkansas. Steven Hines, a 17-year-old who has a delinquency record, rushes inside a burning mobile home to see if anyone is trapped within its melting, marshmallow-like walls. He rouses and singlehandedly carries its stunned occupants from this violent blaze. He saves a dozen children ages 4 to 13, and their two adult babysitters, both in their 70s.
It isn't until hours later that Hines actually realizes what he has done. "I got scared then," he says.
Akron, Ohio. Loretta Hummeldorf, the head coach for women's basketball at Cleveland State University, hears a motorist scream for assistance as he is attacked by a teenager. A second boy has already gotten into the man's car.
Hummeldorf blocks the victim's auto with her own vehicle and gets out to confront the would-be carjackers. She takes a punch, but holds her ground. The teens see her take another step toward the kid who hit her and take off running.
Police call Hummeldorf a heroine who put herself in jeopardy to help someone she didn't know. She will receive a commendation from Akron's chief of police.
Hummeldorf, sporting a black eye as a result of her courage, was self-conscious about her actions.
"I saw someone in trouble and just reacted. I would hope if I was in that position, someone would help me."
Cleveland, Ohio. The parents of Allison Makar plan to start a video library for kids at Rainbow Babies and Childrens Hospital in memory of their 3-year-old daughter, who died last fall at her home in Maple Heights.
Allison spent about 130 days at the hospital over 13 months, receiving treatments for acute myelogenous leukemia. The nurses there once gave her a bag with 300 suckers and suggested she give them out to people who did nice things for her.
Once, after a 42-day stay, Allison would not leave until she had walked up and down the hallway giving out suckers to everyone on the floor. She carefully went through the bucket, picking out just the right one for each person.
"She gave them to doctors, nurses, cleaning crew, everyone," said Jim Makar, her father. "I'm thinking all these people don't want suckers. We got to the end of the hall and turned around to see everybody in a white coat with a sucker sticking out of their mouth. It became her trademark."
Jim and Mary Makar have set up a fund in Alli's name through the hospital. They presented the hospital with $10,000 and their daughter's videotape collection. The goal is to buy a player for every patient's room and start a video library.
(Donations may be sent to the Alli Makar Memorial Fund, care of University Hospital, 11100 Euclid Avenue, Cleveland, OH 44106. Attention: Department of Development.)
What, you may ask, does all this have to do with comic books and super-heroes? It's a fair question.
Call it a challenge. Call it a challenge to the publishers, editors, writers, and artists of the classic super-heroes to once again embrace the basic optimism of this singular genre. Call it a challenge to look to the real world for its examples of courage and kindness and promise, then apply those lessons to the stories they bring us.
Call it a prelude. Call it a prelude to a discussion of why DC Comics, perhaps the worst but, by no means, the only offender, should be ashamed of what it's done to its legendary super-heroes in recent years. Call it a prelude to a discussion of how DC can restore those heroes to their former glory.
Next week: some real good reasons why DC Comics should start thinking seriously about this stuff.
Followed by: Tony saves the DC Universe.
Can't you just *feel* them holding their breath at 1325 Avenue of the Americas?
Discuss this column with me at my Message Board.
Heroes and Villains: Real and Imagined
Title Page >>
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Part 2 |
Part 3 |
Part 4 |
Part 5 |
Part 6 |
Part 7 |
"My Back Pages" (September 22, 2001)
"My Heroes Have Always Been Heroes" (March 24, 1995)
"There Are Heroes Among Us" (April 5, 1995)
"Heroes and Hope" (April 10, 1995)
"Crisis of Faith" (April 19, 1995)
"Oklahoma City" (April 26, 1995)
"Making It Right" (May 16, 1995)
"Columbine High School" (May 4, 1999)
"Unfinished Business" (September 23, 2001)