The hardest part about today's challenge - A day in the life of your favourite comic book hero - was to pick just one superhero to write about...
I admit it, I love comics. Always have. It started as a child when I started reading 2000AD and fell in love with Judge Dredd, Rogue Trooper and Strontium Dog; then, as I grew older, I got into Marvel Comics; The X-Men, New Mutants and The Avengers (to name but a few!). And I still have a soft spot for them...
So, I worked through quite a few possibilities before I finally settled on the story that I finally wrote. I toyed with the idea of writing something gritty based on Judge Dredd, played with concept of something comedic (a day in the life of Galactus - I've always wondered whether he has hobbies and a social life when he's not out devouring worlds) before realising that I was going to cheat a little bit.
Cheat, because the character that follows isn't my favourite comic book character, often because he seems so flat at times; he's such a boy scout of a character that it's often hard to feel excited about him (and it doesn't help that he's ridiculously overpowered). But, I wanted to write something a bit different, something that reflects a little on how might feel to be in that position. So, a minor cheat, but I hope you'll think it was worth it...
On being a hero...
I sit on a mountain top and, as the sun begins to edge its way over the horizon, I close my eyes and listen to the world around me.
A few hundred feet below where I sit, I can hear the soft steps of an arctic fox padding across the snow; further still, a stream flows half a mile away, waters lapping against the jagged rocks that line it; moving further and I can hear the engine of a snow mobile as it is started five miles away. I listen to the undulations in the heartbeat of a man who is standing, cooking, in his kitchen in a log cabin that stands more than twenty miles from me. I can hear a minor congenital defect in the upper left ventricle of his heart that he is, likely, totally unaware of. More than a hundred miles away, several hundred feet beneath the steel grey surface of the Atlantic Ocean, a pod of Blue Whales signal each other, their tails sweeping them through the water with a powerful monotony.
I could go on. I could go further and further, scan the very length and breadth of this world but I have heard enough and so I consciously filter the sounds out again, return to a state of hearing more closely approximating that of this planet’s native population.
I always try to start the day with solitude; it helps me maintain some semblance of sanity. Sometimes it’s a snow topped mountain, sometime a sun baked desert, other times the ink black abyss of an ocean trench; I just need time on my own. Time to reflect on who I am, on what I should be doing.
More than one hundred and fifty thousand people die every single day, most of them the result of simple mortality; lives lost to a battle with time that can never be won, to sickness or old age; but thousands are the result of accidents, thousands more the result of murder. On average, there are four or five people dying as the result of an accident or murder every single minute of every single day. You might find that a hard fact to process, it’s even harder for me to live with.
How do I weigh up the value of lives? How can I weigh the value of lives? Yet I have to do that every single day. I choose to save the fifty people whose ferry is about to capsize, save them with the knowledge that this means that I cannot save the woman whose car is dangling over a precipice, or the young boy choking on a swallowed toy, or the man who will be gunned down by fleeing bank robbers. The truth is, I have to make judgement calls every waking moment of my existence.
And then there are the times that I am prevented from acting because of the illusion that I need to maintain. Lately, that’s something I’ve struggled to justify to myself. The need to preserve my true identity, to protect the lives of those around me and those that I love; that’s always been the rationale for this double life I lead. But how do I balance those lives against the lives that I must sacrifice in order to maintain my true identity? How are their lives any different to the lives of the woman in her car, the choking boy, the gunshot victim?
The guilt follows me, chokes me with indecision, and yet worse than the guilt is the ever present desire I feel to truly fix things. It would be so very easy to save this world from itself, but I cannot bring myself to do so; maybe because I know that my actions could easily see me cross the fine line from hero to despot. I could destroy the nuclear weapons stored in their subterranean vaults, I could crush armies even as they wage their petty wars, I could smite the persecutors from the very face of this planet, I could refashion this world in an image I see fit, could bring about such great changes. But I am afraid to do so.
And so, guilty and afraid, I sit on a mountain top and reflect on who I am and what I should be. I am a hero, if you believe the press –and I should know, I write many of the stories myself – but each day I believe it less and less myself. I am Godlike, yet I am ineffectual. I have the power to alter the world, yet I am afraid to grasp it. I am Superman. But I feel it less and less each day.