I’m sort of continuing my thoughts on the nature of a hero, here, with some reaction to a recent comic book issue.
Leading up to this summer’s Avengers film, Marvel is publishing a line of one-shots called Avengers: Origins. While the art in most of the issues has been a bit stylistic for my taste, I’ve enjoyed the stories, which are simple re-tellings of the backgrounds of the heroes comprising the Avengers as they appear in Marvel comics (a larger cast of characters than will appear in the film, which will star only the most well-known of the core characters). I only dabbled in the Avengers titles when I was younger, and never collected them seriously, so these stories have been instructional for me.
I’ve purchased them a bit out of order, and the most recent issue I’ve read is Avengers Origins: Luke Cage. I remember Luke Cage as Power Man when he, partnered with Iron Fist, comprised Heroes for Hire. I was unaware of his origin story. A former gang-banger from Harlem is what looks like the 1980’s, Cage spends time is prison after being framed for a crime he didn’t commit, although he had committed his share. A victim of racist treatment in prison, he volunteers for an experiment that is intentionally botched by a guard who hates him, and endows him with amazing physical strength and near invulnerability. Cage escapes with these powers, and returns to the life he knows: committing crimes in order to survive, all the while plotting revenge for the old friend who had framed him. During one of these criminal ventures, he witnesses an elderly security officer paralyzed as a result of his actions, and flees with this haunting him.
Ultimately, Cage discovers that he can, in fact, use his abilities for good, and decides to profit off of this as “hero for hire.” His actions haunt him, though, and he spends the next several years unable to see himself as a hero, and attempting to make restitution for his actions, until he is finally forgiven by the paralyzed security officer. Only then does he recognize himself as a hero.
Of course, comic history shows us that Cage goes on to become one of Marvel’s more well-known heroes as Power Man. This story resonated with me because it shows a different aspect of the nature of a hero: the hero who has turned from evil to do good. There’s something almost mythological in this: the street-wise fighter who knows the ways of evil but chooses to eschew them for good, bursting through the darkness in a massive display of power to save the day. There’s something amazing about the hero who has previously been on the wrong side of the law, and then repented of their wrongs and moved to a life of restoration. Theologically, this would be repentance: a changing of one’s mind, an intentional turning of one’s life in the direction of good after recognizing the evil.
Of course, not every hero comes from such a background. This isn’t a necessary qualification, although many heroes have experienced some degree of darkness in their lives before becoming a hero.
So, when confronted with the epiphany that the way a villain has been using his or her powers for evil, if that villain changes their course and chooses to do good instead, then they are no longer a villain. They are a hero. And these heroes appreciate second chances, because they’ve received one of their own. Cage escaped his prison sentence, to never be re-discovered. He chose to be a hero in his new life, and thus experienced a sort of cultural forgiveness. Again, this is a theological concept: one who has been forgiven of much, will show greater love to those around them. And this, ultimately, is what a hero does: he or she shows love to those around them, by placing their own lives at risk to save those who cannot save themselves.
I’m not sure how this plays into my fictional explorations of the nature of a hero, but it must somehow, because I think that this is as critical as it is inspiring.
Photo Attribution: Zach Dischner