The Nature of a Hero in the Eyes of a Child

I’ll admit that I was a bit skeptical when DC Comics began releasing it’s New 52 version of Captain Marvel, and announced that he would be called Shazam from here forward. For those of you who don’t know, Captain Marvel, a powerful but lesser known hero in the DC Universe, is a boy named Billy Batson who was gifted with amazing powers by the wizard Shazam in order to do good and protect the weak. In order to summon his power and transform himself into Captain Marvel, Billy calls out, “Shazam!” DC reasoned, apparently, that the word that invoked his power was better known to their new target audience, and opted to re-name the hero.

They made what was likely a wise choice, given the doubtless hesitancy of many like myself, and began releasing the first story arc of Billy Batson as extra back-up stories in issues of the Justice League, one of their flagship and best-selling titles. That made it easy to read each issue, as it was packaged with a title that I was buying every month, anyway.

Initially, I feared that my skepticism was well-founded. I found Batson to be arrogant and childish in his newfound identity as (I’m trying to bring myself to say it…) Shazam, acting in the immature way that a child would when given amazing abilities. I wasn’t buying it, but I was reading it because I wasn’t buying it, or at least not explicitly. This origin story-arc follows Batson as a fifteen-year-old child, bounced into yet another foster home, through his meeting of the wizard and becoming (it’s not getting any easier to say…) Shazam. And, so the misadventures continued.

Which is why I was pleasantly surprised with the story as it progressed in the most recent issue of the Justice League. Black Adam is proving a more than formidable opponent for Shazam, and terrorizing both the city and the child within the hero. Billy’s friends from his foster home find him having changed back into his childhood self, and hiding in fear because he knows that Black Adam cannot find him as long as he is not in his identity as (oh, fine, I’m getting the hang of it…) Shazam.  The issue ends with Billy attempting to locate the wizard again, insisting that he was given his powers by mistake, and that they need to be taken back by the wizard and given to someone else.

Billy cannot recognize his own ability to be a hero, and cannot recognize the destiny that has been given him. He cannot see beyond his fear, and the reader cannot blame him, because he is, in his own words, “only a kid”, though suddenly entrusted with a man’s responsibility.

Even greater than this, a hero’s responsibility.

Writer Geoff Johns is painting an unexpected component of the nature of a hero, that of a hero who cannot at first find himself worthy, who is attempting to walk through the very human struggle of coming to terms with the tension between courage and terror. I’m fascinated to see how Johns develops (it still hurts…) Shazam, because he is realizing the potential of the character for portraying the process through which a hero overcomes their fear and stands tall to champion those who cannot defend themselves.

Photo Attribution: gualtiero under Creative Commons

Eight Months of Adapting to a New Culture

I’ve always loved to travel, and to see new places. A goal that I sort of secretly held for Karen and I when we were married (and still do, its just more difficult as a student) was also a goal that I tried to keep for myself for years: to visit one new place every year. Typically, we’ve been successful in that.

While I’ve travelled a great deal, and I’ve seen much of what at least my own country has to offer, I haven’t lived in many different places. At this point in life, I’ve lived in three different states. While cultural differences in different geographic locations fascinate me to no end, those same differences can be simultaneously fascinating and frustrating when you’re living with them.  In the South, things moved at an impossibly slow pace (unless one was constructing a new building, in which case it was up practically overnight, because that’s how they seem to define the concept of progress down there), you were waited on when someone felt like it if you went into a business, no one had any clue what to do with snow, and people were always polite to your face, regardless of what they said behind your back.

There were a lot of great things about the South, as well (the weather is foremost in my memory at the moment), but the things that I listed above were the things that I found to be most negative. I didn’t mind them at first, but they began to really annoy me after a while. There were other, specific things to Virginia, as well, like the fact that there was no such thing as an acceleration lane on the expressway, and that you could drive completely insane as long as you didn’t speed, because the only traffic law that any police officer seemed to care about at all was the speed limit (which was always posted incredibly low there).

All of those things are the things that don’t exist here in New England. After just short of eight months here, though, there’s a handful of things that are making me scratch my head in bemusement, and I thought that you might find them funny, as well.

Traffic patterns are just weird if you didn’t grow up with them (Karen did, and so she’s quite comfortable here). I’m glad to say that acceleration lanes are back in my life, but the cities here are just much older than those in the South, and thus were designed around foot traffic, not motor vehicle traffic. This manifests in practical ways, like roundabouts instead of traffic signals at many intersections (of which I’m a fan), but also in chaotic ways to the uninitiated, like streets branching off at incredibly odd angles at intersections. And circular intersections…those are always fun. With poor signage. And, in Massachusetts specifically, there are no lanes when you exit from an Interstate. So, you go from a structured four lanes of traffic to no distinguishable lanes, with traffic coming in from multiple exits on all sides and weaving in and out of each other to reach the outlet to their destination. Seriously, it’s chaos.

Karen and I live in the “greater Boston area,” but are just across the state line in New Hampshire. Our current city is sort of a bedroom community for the Boston area…many choose to live here because of the cost of living decrease. Because of that, I anticipated some continuity when we moved here, but the differences between New Hampshire and Massachusetts can actually be quite profound. Massachusetts, for example, prefers to regulate necessary things (with which I have no problem). Recycling is legally mandated in many areas. Cleaning the snow off of your car before driving is actually a law. New Hampshire, conversely, really doesn’t like to be told what to do. There’s no income tax here, and no sales tax, either (yet they still maintain excellent public services to their residents, such as health care for children). Don’t want to have insurance on your vehicle? That’s not legally required of you here (which is really concerning to me). Don’t want to wear your seat belt? That’s now a law, either. Very few traffic cameras exist here, and there are fewer laws in general. The license plates say “Live Free or Die,” for crying out loud. Going between the two on a daily basis is almost its own sort of regular culture shock.

Some things that I love about New England? The people are straight forward, but very friendly. They say what they think, and you don’t have to interpret. Pedestrians always have right of way, especially in crosswalks! If you’re in a crosswalk, you barely have to even look. Just walk, because traffic stops for you. Every town has a common, which is sort of cool, and makes a great landmark for navigation.

And, when snow happens (and it always happens), they really know how to deal with it (the main streets were cleared the next morning after 28 inches of snow dumped on us this year).

All that to say, every place has a different set of advantages and disadvantages, things that are irritating and things that are brilliant. I was ready for a different set of advantages and disadvantages, so moving is nice. I’m sure that we’ll do it all over again in a few years, and where will that one take us? Only time will tell…

In the meantime, I’m going to need to buy a lot more cold weather gear.

Through a New Looking Glass?

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The school that I attend is trying really hard to implement an email alert system for things like campus closures due to weather (like the random 8-12 inches of snow that came down last night, just before the first day of Spring…tell me again why we thought moving to New England was a good idea?). This afternoon, while grocery shopping, I received one such email advising that the campus would re-open in time for evening classes. This didn’t impact me, as my classes are all during the day, but it was one of those moments in which I notice similarities that amuse me: the last time I received such an email, I was also grocery shopping, and in the exact same grocery store.

Being as I’m of a certain age, I can remember when receiving email on the go was not perceived as commonplace. That was the era in which smart phones were only in the hands of executives. Of course, the computing power contained in the phone that I carry with me every day would astound the me of those few years ago, as I’m in constant touch with whomever needs to reach me by whichever method they may choose to do so.

The thing is, though, I don’t like being alerted to everything as it happens. I actually have very few audible alerts set on my phone. If I receive a call or a text message, I hear it. If I receive a “priority” email (like work, or Karen), that’s audible. Any other emails? No audible alerts. Social networking messages? Likewise silent. They will show up on my lock screen when I want to check it, but they won’t interrupt what I’m doing by dinging, chiming, or singing to me. I want the information when I want it, not when it wants me.

I’ve heard a lot of talk about Google’s Glass project, coming from all sides. I’m a futuristic, science-fiction-loving, forward-thinker, so I see this sort of “augmented reality” as a natural progression of where we’re going. I suspect, though, that it might also prove to be the moment in which we recognize where science fiction has warned that we might be going, and call a halt to it.

I actually sort of hope so.

You see, the Glass project raises all sorts of interesting concerns, such as the wearer’s ability to record what is going on around them without the people around them actually realizing it. Because of the ability to share what’s being recorded very quickly, both audio and video alike, this takes on a quite different flavor that what we’ve all experienced by ending up in the background of a stranger’s vacation photo. Most of us, I think, would feel very uncomfortable sitting at the dinner table with someone wearing Glass.

I think, too, that having your entire digital life constantly appear as a sort of heads-up display in front of your eyes just might be the information overload that stops us on our road to real-world cyberpunk. I think, also, that having a fixed barrier between us and those around us that is so visual just might prove to be more intrusive than a phone that we can quickly check and then put away.

Or, at least I hope so.

I wouldn’t change the advances we’ve made in the availability of information. I love it, I work in it, and I truly believe that it is for the greater good. I don’t, though, want our daughter to grow up with the expectation of being any more hyper-connected than we currently are. I think that placing data as a barrier between us and those around us de-humanizes us somehow, making us servants to our tools instead of making them servants to us.

Google may just have pushed us over a breaking point with this one. And, since I’m still quite irritated with them over killing Reader, as well as for all the reasons I’ve already mentioned, I can’t say that I’ll be sorry when Glass doesn’t take off.

And I sincerely hope that it never takes off.

Photo Attribution: dannysullivan under Creative Commons