Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Pretend Heroes vs. Real Heroes

When I was a kid, I really liked comic books. I still remember the first three comics I bought, which started a collection that would eventually number in the several thousands. Marvel Double-Feature #11 featured a reprint story of Iron Man battling the Titanium Man. In Fantastic Four #162 the team joined up with counterparts from an alternate earth to battle the warlord Arkon and his lackey, a cosmic hockey goalie named Gaard. (Yes, I said, "cosmic hockey goalie.") And in Iron Man #77 the Golden Avenger takes on a bevy of villains, including Yellow Claw, Mad Thinker, Firebrand, and the Black Lama.

These stories really resonated with this nine year-old boy. The heroes of these comic books became my personal heroes. Iron Man was my favorite because he was just a normal human with no super powers, but he had created this suit of armor that made him incredibly powerful and able to help save mankind. I also liked the Thing from the Fantastic Four because he was funny and able to clobber his way through all of life's problems.

Over the years I collected the comic books that featured the stories of these heroes. I had dolls action figures of them that I played with all the time. And then, as an adult, I watched in wonder as these heroes of mine appeared on movie screens in well-crafted, amazing motion pictures! (Well, Iron Man. I'm still waiting for a really good Fantastic Four movie.)

I wouldn't say I worshipped these heroes, but I certainly held them in high regard. There's just one problem: they aren't real. They are fictional characters, created from the minds of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, then refined by other writers and artists over the years. Despite all the times they saved their fictional universe, these characters are simply pretend heroes.

There are pretend heroes, then there are real heroes. (Iron Man and the Thing are pretend.)

Sometimes there are real heroes living amongst us, and we aren't even aware of them.

Recently, my neighbor passed away. I didn't know him very well. I met him only a few times, although I saw him often. He would frequently stand on his front porch, shirtless, smoking a cigarette. Occasionally we would wave at each other. The times I did talk to him I found him to be quiet and reserved, although he and his wife were always very kind and generous to my kids, and were very enthusiastic when we would knock on their door at Halloween.

I didn't really know much about him, other than that he smoked on his front porch and was a good neighbor.

After he passed away, I went to his memorial. It was there that I found out that he had served in Vietnam and was awarded two Purple Heart Awards and the Bronze Star, among other commendations. I had had no idea.

My neighbor was a true hero. He risked his life for his country on several occasions.

It's easy to see the stories of the pretend heroes. They are plastered all over the comic books and the movie screens. We don't hear the stories of the true heroes. They usually don't like to talk about them. They don't like to brag; they'll say they were just doing their jobs.

So yes, I still enjoy my pretend heroes. Their stories are fun little fantasies. But, I have a real respect for the true heroes: those who put their lives on the lines in our military, and first responders in the police, fire fighters, and paramedics. By being willing to be there on the front lines of life's most troubling moments, these are the people who are truly heroic.

To them, it's not just pretend.

To them, I say thank you.

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