What would it take to make someone put on a plastic mask and try to fight crime? This is the question I used to ask while looking at comic books.
Batman fights because he doesn't want anyone else to suffer the same loss he did.
Superman fights to protect those he loves and out of a sense of duty.
Some superheroes have an ego or an alterior motive, but usually it's the same story over and over.
A tragic past and a sense of duty create an individual with the desire and the drive to be a hero. The mask is justified a million ways.
It's not logic that applies to the real world.
In reality, no one runs around in a domino mask and spandex. Or if they do they're just asking to get knifed.
You'd have to be mad to actual try being a "superhero" in the world. I thought as I paid for another issue of Teen Titans.
It's been a few years since I last bought comic books. I never did see how that last arc ended.
Things have changed a lot.
People are scared. Scared people are violent. Racism, sexism, homophobia, and all sorts of other bigotry are on the rise.
The divide between rich and poor has widened.
The only things on the news are bad. Good people die trying to do the right thing and all we can do is remember the dead.
Heroes have become some sort of one time use solution.
The comic book shop closed after a gang war drove everyone who could afford to leave out of the area.
My best friend died a few months ago. Her ex didn't like being an ex.
I'm mad. You might as well call me Batman.
Six years of taekwondo, 12 years of collecting comic books, and countless days spent stewing in anger, frustration, loneliness, and bitter grief have turned me into a ticking bomb.
I am sick of being helpless.
What would it take to make me put on a mask? It's the question I used to ask myself at the end of a story arc, when the Joker was defeated and Gotham was saved.
I know the answer now.
I have to be mad.
Grief and loneliness warp reality. It hurts too much to think that there is nothing that can be done to change the world and end the cycle of violence.
The realization that the system is broken and the world isn't fair hurts. It makes my blood run hot and my heart beat loud.
Eventually you reach a point where you are so desperate to feel something other than pain, that you let the emotions break you.
I sat in the movie theater and as the credits rolled, after Gotham was saved and the Joker taken care of, I decided I wouldn't be powerless ever again.
If it killed me, I was determined to not be helpless and I was determined to prove you can make a difference.
I was looking for a fight. I was looking for a cause.
I found one walking through midtown, passed the empty shell of a building. It used to be a grocery store. Now the only reason people visit is to catch the bus out front.
There was a girl waiting for the bus as I passed. She had a femenist shirt on and her hair was dyed blue. In other words she was just another college student.
We made eye contact and smiled as I walked by. It's a girl thing. That look says, "I see you. I'm your witness." In that moment we are each other's allies in a place where girls disappear.
I made it half a block when I heard the scream of tires and breaks locking up. I looked back.
The girl was carefully glaring at the car that had swerved across four lanes to stop and hurl abuse at her.
The men inside screamed awful things. I guess they were afraid of the ideas that girl represented. Equality. Independence. Girl power. Sexuality. Differences.
"Leave me alone. Go bother someone who cares!" The girl yelled. The men in the car decided to make her care.
I watched them get out of the car. There was no traffic in sight. I could call 911 but they'd never make it in time.
The girl was trapped in the little plexiglass box meant to keep people dry when the bus was late and it was raining.
In that moment, everything came to a head. I was angry. I was so angry.
I was mad at the man who killed my friend. I was mad at strangers from the news. I was mad at politicians and gang members. I was mad at our broken system. I was mad at the men in front of me.
I was straight up, shaking with rage, seeing red, mad. I was do something stupid mad.
I pulled the hood of my sweatshirt up, so it hid part of my face. It was close enough to a mask. I figured it was good enough for a one time use hero.
They didn't see me coming. I got within feet of the first man and launched myself at him. At my black-belt test, I broke three boards with a flying side kick. Ribs break easier than boards.
My world narrowed. All that mattered were my two opponents.
I fought dirty. Kick to the knee followed by an upper cut and finished with a stomp to the groin.
I dodge a punch and caught a knife on my arm. The pain seemed distant. Muscle memory and madness kept me moving. I used the man's momentum to hip throw him and finish him with a kick to the ribs
I was breathing hard. The girl was crying. "Call 911," I ordered. She scrambled in her backpack for her cell phone.
When the girl had given dispatch the location, I ran.
That night, I laid in my dorm room and listened to the sirens outside. The cut in my forearm was bandaged. The nursing student down the hall hadn't asked questions.
The news said the girl was okay. The men would recover and face a trial. The TV anchor called me a hero and asked me to come forward. The girl wanted to say thank you.
That night I bought my armor. Most of it was meant for very clumsy rollerbladers. The bullet proof vest was from an online army surplus. It was almost too easy.
The mask I had from an old Halloween costume. I'd been Batgirl at my first college costume party.
Looks like I'm not just a one time use hero.
I'm not Superman. I'm not wholly good. I am violent and angery. I am broken. I'm a different sort of hero.
Maybe I'm what the world needs. Maybe I'm just nuts and attempting suicide by vigilantism. I guess we'll find out won't we?
What would it take to make you put on a mask?