Brian Feeney
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Anti Anti-Heroes

As I've walked deeper into my fandom of Marvel comics, I've stayed cognizant of why: pure escapism. The comics aren't just a trip into science fiction and fantasy, but also into the minds of people living in the 1960s and dreaming of future possibilities. They invent dystopias as often as utopias. Aliens invade Earth nearly every month. Strange villains appear from the weirdest corners of the planet. Threats jump from other dimensions or even different time streams. For the last four years, the real world has been hellish, making these comic baddies truly comical.

What I find reassuring in the comics is the insistence that science and invention will always save us. Society-saving devices or machinery are often devised and constructed within minutes of someone running into a lab. Absurd, but inspiring nonetheless. Scientists and inventors are heroes just as much as brawny super-powered people. Most of the original super-heroes were in fact also inventors, doctors, or scientists themselves: Hulk/Banner, Iron Man/Stark, Spider-Man/Parker, Mr. Fantastic/Richards, Ant-Man/Pym, or Thor/Blake. Sixty years ago, the most educated Americans held positions of esteem and honor in our country. It made sense to pair intelligence with science with heroism.

I don't believe in utopias, but I do want to live in a world where doctors and climate scientists and NASA engineers are considered among our leading voices. It is intolerable living among Americans who sneer at and reject them. The QAnon nonsense is related to this rejection of truth and standard virtue. How do we get back to a time when our best and brightest are again revered? I'm not about to say that decades-old comics have the answer. Nor do I believe that the popularity of the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies are going to sway opinion in this way. But I do think we should work our way out of the era of the anti-hero. If we can start reforming our cultural role modals after those who unreservedly deserve it, we might have a better chance at a brighter future. Maybe Hank Pym's Ant-Man is actually exactly what we need right now.

September 18, 2020

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